MLS Finally Wins CONCACAF Champions League – Seattle Wins !!!
It was a huge night last week when Seattle finally lifted the CCL Trophy for the first time in the 17 years by becoming the first ever MLS squad to win it – 3-0 at home (5-2 on Aggregate) over Mexican La Liga side Pumas UNAM. (Relive the Final Here) and YES I CRIED!! (check out this fans video from the stands) Now, first things first, since Seattle came into MLS in 2009 – they have been the model of consistency since they entered the league 13 years ago as they have won the MLS Cup twice, the Supporters Shield, and the US Open Cup multiple times. They entered the league and immediately shattered attendance records regularly averaging 35K plus for their regular season home games. On this night they broke the CCL Record for Attendance with 68,972 fans on hand to see history made. I became a fan when I saw those huge AMERICAN CROWDS for soccer and it just grew as they signed Deuce (American Superstar Clint Dempsey). Someday I will stand in that glorious stadium and root on my Ganggreen!! Just as important though is the culture of the Sounders fans – and feel of the crowd around the city and around the stadium pregame. It is the penultimate setting in the US for game – especially a big game like this one. The TV Coverage by Fox Sports 1 was spot on check it out with the goals– treating this game with the respect it deserved – listen to that crowd! Oh and just in case you wondered – 1.5 million watched the CCL final at 10 pm EST on FS1 & in Spanish in the US almost 1 million more than watched the CCL Real Madrid vs Man City game the same day on CBS and Univision.
Indy 11 Ladies Win 6-1 on Road after 3-1 inaugural win
Braces by Soderstrom & Bulatovic, 3 assists by Lynch fuel offensive outburst in first @USLWLeague away contest at Flint City AFC 6-1. Indy Eleven captured a 3-1 victory over Kings Hammer FC in the Inaugural Match of the USL W League, the new 44-team women’s pre-professional league under the United Soccer League umbrella. The historic triumph for Indy Eleven was played in front of a sold out, standing room-only crowd of 1,571 fans at the Grand Park Events Center. Rachel McCarthy’s pair of goals early in the first half lifted Indiana’s Team to a comfortable cushion, and Carmel Dads Club, Carmel High School alum and current Butler standout Katie Soderstrom’s 78th minute finish sealed the win after the KHFC cut the deficit back to one just before halftime. Read all about it !! The Indy 11 men head to Memphis Sat night at 8 pm on ESPN plus
Big Games this weekend
Saturday we get the FA Cup Final Liverpool vs Chelsea at 11:45 am on ESPN plus as Liverpool is still alive for the Quad – 4 Cups – if they can beat Chelsea on Saturday. (Don’t ask me why this game is not on ESPN or ESPN2 – but I for one will be watching at Liverpool Bill’s house!! Here’s a Preview. Of course Pulisic started his 3rd straight game with Lukaku up top playing the #10 spot where he thrived again. Pulisic Scores for Chelsea. I see Liverpool being just too much for Chelsea to keep up with so I am calling for a 3-2 Liverpool win – with Pulisic scoring a goal – if he starts in the 10 spot again – if he doesn’t start 3-1 Liverpool. (Interesting Pulisic Rumors to Juventus). In other EPL action – Leeds United and US coach Jesse Marsch are begging for a win at home vs Brighton. Leeds has had a player red carded out the last 2 games – against top level teams in Chelsea and Tottenham. They still need to make up points on Burnley who are 1 spot above the relegation line with Leeds on the wrong side. EPL table They play Sunday at 9 am on Peacock while, Tottenham host Burnley at 7 am and West Ham hosts Man City at 9 am both on USA.
Good Luck to our Carmel FC teams playing in Challenge Cup/State Cup and President Cup games coming up this weekend and next – we’ll have GK Training Mon at RR 5-6:15 pm and Thurs at Badger 6:15-8:15 and Tues/Wed at Shelbourne. Former Carmel FC GK Coach and Indy 11 Goal Keeper Jordan Farr of San Antonio was voted at the Top USL Player as voted in the USL for April. Speaking of Farr – here’s a nice interview he did in San Antonio. Man this Superfan is a god also huge news that EA Sports ends partnership with FIFA, will rename iconic video game.
BIG GAMES ON TV
(American’s in parenthesis)
Fri, May 13
10:30 pm Para+ Portland Thorns vs Seattle Reign (NWSL)
Sat May 14 Germany last day
9:30 am ESPN+ Wolfsburg (Brooks) va Bayern Munich
9:30 am ESPN+ Dortmund vs Hertha
9:30 am ESPN+ MGladbach (Joe Scally) vs Hoffenheim
10 am ESPN+ Sheffield United vs Nottingham Forrest (Horvath)
11:45 am ESPN+ Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Liverpool FA CUP FINAL
2:45 pm Para+ Roma vs Venezia
3 pm TUDN Charlotte vs Inter Miami
3 pm ESPN+ Real Bettis vs Barcelona
7 pm Univision America vs Puebla
7 pm Para+ NY/NJ Gothem vs NC Courage NWSL
8 pm ESPN+ Memphis 901 vs Indy 11
8 pm ESPN+ Chicago Fire vs Cincy
8 pm Para + Racing Louisville vs Houston Dash NWSL
10:30pm ESPN+ LA Galaxy vs Dallas
Sun, May 15
7 am USA Tottenham v Burnley
9 am USA West Ham vs Man City
9 am Peacock Aston Villa v Crystal Palace
9 am CBS SN Napoli vs Genoa
9 am Peacock Leeds United (Jesse Marsch) vs Brighton
9 am Peacock Wolves vs Norwich City (Stewart)
11:30 am USA Everton vs Brentford
12 noon CPBSN Milan vs Atalanta
1:30 pm ESPN Atlanta United vs New England
12:30 pm ESPN+ Atletico Madrid vs Seviila
5 pm Para+ San Diego Wave (Morgan) vs Chicago Red Stars NWSL
4 pm ESPN Seattle vs Min United
Mon, May 16
3 pm USA New Castle vs Arsenal
2:45 pm Para+ Juventus vs Lazio
Tues, May 17
2:45 pm USA South Hampton vs Liverpool
Weds, May 18
3 pm CBS SN Europa League finals-Frankfurt vs Rangers (Sands)
7:30 pm Para+ Racing Louisville vs Sand Diego Wave (Morgan)
7:30 pm ESPN+ NY Redbulls vs Chicago Fire
8:30 pm ESPJN= Nashville vs CF Montreal
Thurs, May 19
2:45 pm USA Everton vs Crystal Palace
3 pm Peacock Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Leicester City
Sat, May 21
2 pm ESPN+, Desp Freiburg vs RB Leipzig (German Cup Final)
3:30 pm Unimas Columbus crew vs LAFC
6 pm ESPN+ Cincy vs New England
6 pm para + Portland Thorns vs Houston Dash NWSL
7 pm TV 8 Indy 11 vs NY RB 2 @ the Mike
7:30 pm FOX Nashville SC vs Atlanta United
10:30 pm Para+ Angel City vs KC NWSL
Sun, May 20 Final day EPL/Italy/Spain
11 am USA Arenal vs Everton
11 am USA Brentford vs Leeds United
11 am Peacock Burnely vs New Castle
11 am Peacock Liverpool vs Wolverhampton
9 am Peacock Brentford vs Leeds United (Jesse Marsch)
11 am Peacock Norwich City (Stewart) vs Tottenham
11 am Peacock Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Watford
12:30 pm ESPN+ Barcelona vs Villareal
5 pm Para+ NY/NJ Gotham vs Racing Louisville NWSL
6 pm Para+ Portlant Reign vs Washington Spirit NWSL
10 pm FS1 Portand Timbers vs Philly
Weds, May 25
3 pm CBS SN Europa Conf finals-Roma vs Feynoord
10 pm Para+ Portland Reign vs KC NWSL
Sat, May 28 Champions League Final
3 pm CBS, TUDN Liverpool vs Real Madrid Final
Seattle Sounders Deserve Every Bit of Praise for Winning CCL – Demarcus Beasely MLS.com
How Seattle Won the CCL in the Most Sounders Way Possible – BackHeeled.com Joseph Lowery
How Seattle have Built and Maintain A Contender – Matt Doyle – MLS.com
Its Fitting Seattle Wins it All – Brian Straus SI
Seattle Goes Continental – Grant Wahl
Seattle’s Win is Huge – what’s Next for Sounders – Seattle Times
Indy 11 W Win Opener Nuvo News
15 Players To Watch – USL Women
Liverpool vs. Chelsea: Men’s FA Cup final talking points: Who will win at Wembley? Which players are key?
Top Premier League teams may only have to win six matches to lift the men’s FA Cup, but Saturday’s final (11:45 a.m. ET; stream live on ESPN+, U.S. only) will still feel like a marathon more than a sprint for Chelsea and Liverpool. This weekend’s fixture concludes the 150th edition of the world’s oldest cup competition, a milestone that the Royal Mint have deemed suitably grand to create a special £2 coin in celebration.The outcome feels like a coin flip, too. Chelsea and Liverpool contested a hugely entertaining Carabao Cup final at Wembley just 76 days earlier, goalless at the end of 120 minutes and decided by the finest of margins — a penalty shootout ending 11-10 as Blues goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga skied his spot-kick over the crossbar.
For Chelsea, this will be the 61st game of a grueling season that started with a UEFA Super Cup triumph in Belfast, continued with Club World Cup success in Abu Dhabi, and is now ending under sanction amid a dramatic takeover following the U,K, government’s decision to punish current owner Roman Abramovich for alleged ties to Russia President Vladimir Putin.
Blues head coach Thomas Tuchel has admitted his players are showing signs of fatigue after such a demanding campaign, and Jurgen Klopp can empathize; Saturday will be Liverpool’s 60th game of 2021-22, and both clubs will end on 63 matches as the Reds’ season ends in Paris with a Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 28.
Although Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes are beginning to fade as Manchester City continue winning in relentless fashion, Klopp’s side still have a chance of pulling off an unprecedented quadruple. The next leg can be secured at Wembley.
Who needs this more?
Given the history at stake, probably Liverpool. Klopp has sought to deflect any quadruple talk, but success in four competitions would elevate this Liverpool team to indisputable status as one of the greatest in English football history. It is, however, the prize they covet least given the Premier League and Champions League titles are still in play.
Tuchel will feel his players deserve something to show for the professionalism they have displayed while the club’s existence has felt uncertain. Abramovich issued his first statement attempting to distance himself from the club the night before the Carabao Cup final on Feb. 23. Ever since, Tuchel has had to field questions on everything from war to morality while maintaining morale among a group of players and staff facing restrictions over day-to-day operations resulting from the terms of a special government licence granted to keep fulfilling fixtures.
A consortium led by Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly is now seeking U.K. government and Premier League approval to complete a takeover. Boehly is likely to be at Wembley on Saturday as Chelsea prepare for a new era. What better way to start than with the club’s ninth FA Cup win? For their part, Liverpool would move level with Chelsea on eight wins should they triumph.
Any injury issues to consider?
Saturday will be the fourth meeting between these sides this season, with the previous three encounters technically ending in draws, and Chelsea’s ability to compete with Liverpool has been based upon a high-pressing game housed in a 3-4-2-1 formation. It is for this reason, more than any other, that Tuchel will be tempted to restore Kai Havertz to lead the attack at the expense of Romelu Lukaku, who has started the past two Premier League games, scoring three times.
Lukaku caused Liverpool problems off the bench in the Carabao Cup final, and that “impact substitute” role could prove effective once again. Tuchel must decide whether Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner, or Hakim Ziyech play alongside Mount. Werner’s finishing is often in doubt, but his pace is not, and that speed will be a useful weapon against Liverpool’s high line.
The probable absence of Mateo Kovacic is a significant blow as Tuchel views his intelligence in possession as vital to Chelsea’s ability to dictate games. Kovacic spent Friday attempting to rejoin training following an ankle problem in a last-ditch attempt to be fit alongside N’Golo Kante, who has suffered a series of nagging muscular problems. There is a little more optimism surrounding Kante, and he is more likely to partner Jorginho in central midfield. If both Kovacic and Kante are deemed unavailable, Ruben Loftus-Cheek — who scored in Chelsea’s semifinal win over Crystal Palace — will be drafted in.
Jurgen Klopp made five changes for Tuesday’s win at Aston Villa and left-back Andrew Robertson is certain to be recalled, as is Mohamed Salah following his 18-minute cameo at Villa Park. No Liverpool player has scored more goals than Sadio Mane (12) since the beginning of February and so he will surely start, leaving Klopp with the decision of whether to pick livewire Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota, or Roberto Firmino as his third forward. In midfield, Fabinho will be a big miss after suffering a hamstring injury against Aston Villa on Tuesday, but he should be fit for the Champions League final at least.
Who are the key players?
Salah, Mane, and Diaz are all obvious threats for Liverpool but looking a little deeper, Chelsea’s Mason Mount will feel he has a particular point to prove. The 23-year-old was guilty of two bad misses in the Carabao Cup final either side of half-time, which would have turned a goalless game in the Blues’ favour.
Mount was in fine form with a goal and an assist in Wednesday’s 3-0 win at Leeds and although Tuchel will make changes to that XI, Mount is expected to retain his place. He’ll be looking for space in an area of the pitch that looks certain to be vacated by Fabinho.
Jordan Henderson replaced Fabinho at Villa Park and the England international will have a key role in stopping the supply line to Chelsea’s forwards while also helping Liverpool break the Blues’ press. Thiago Alcantara was one of those initially rested at Villa Park before coming on for Curtis Jones with the scores level against Villa and it was the Spaniard’s pass which launched the attack that led to Mane’s winning goal.Thiago produced arguably his best performance for Liverpool in last month’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City and will be desperate to play, having missed the Carabao Cup final after picking up a hamstring injury in the warm-up.Ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea, take a look back the EFL Cup final which ended with an unforgettable 22-kick penalty shootout.
This is the first time two German managers have contested an FA Cup final. It is the 19th meeting between the pair, with Klopp firmly in the ascendancy having won 10 and drawn five. Both are establishing themselves among the greats at their respective clubs, with Klopp becoming only the second Liverpool manager to lead a team into four major finals (League Cup, Europa League, Champions League and FA Cup) while Tuchel has achieved the same feat at Chelsea, something only previously done by Jose Mourinho.Impressively, Tuchel’s success comes after just one year and 108 days as head coach. Chelsea have lost the past two FA Cup finals but only one of those came under Tuchel, as his predecessor Frank Lampard was beaten by Arsenal in an empty Wembley due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Klopp’s status as one of the game’s great modern-day managers is assured no matter the outcome, but for Tuchel, a victory would be a validation of his methods and a reminder ahead of what will be a busy transfer window at Stamford Bridge that Chelsea can still rival the best despite a change of ownership and a somewhat disappointing Premier League campaign.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool
It is difficult to see how this will lack goals like the Carabao Cup final did. Although Chelsea beat Leeds comfortably in midweek, their recent form is something of a concern. Liverpool’s superior options in attack should give them the advantage.
Havertz, Mane and what a Chelsea vs Liverpool FA Cup final says about modern strikers
Michael Cox May 13, 2022 The Athleitc
The last time Chelsea and Liverpool met in the FA Cup final, the story was all about proper No 9s.The main character in the backstory didn’t actually play, but this match in 2012 came less than 18 months after Fernando Torres’ shock £50 million transfer from Liverpool to Chelsea, which initially left Liverpool reeling but eventually caused Chelsea more problems.By this point, Roberto Di Matteo — Chelsea’s third manager in Torres’ time at the club — had given up trying to integrate the Spaniard, and reverted to playing Didier Drogba up front instead. We all know the story with Drogba and cup finals, and after Ramires opened the scoring, Drogba put Chelsea 2-0 up.Two minutes later, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish sacrificed midfielder Jay Spearing and turned to Andy Carroll, the striker who had been desperately signed on the night of the Torres transfer. Carroll soon scored, and with the wind in Liverpool’s sails, they relentlessly knocked hopeful crosses into the box towards him. Eventually, he met one with a powerful header, and ran off celebrating.Unfortunately for Carroll, the ball hadn’t actually gone in — Petr Cech had made a remarkable save, and Chelsea hung on for a 2-1 win. save (Getty Images)
All this seems remarkably long ago, and come Saturday’s final Jordan Henderson will be the only survivor from that day. But really, what dates this story is that it was a cup final based almost entirely around No 9s. It was about Torres moving from red to blue, about Drogba being the cup final hero, about Carroll nearly being Liverpool’s saviour. A decade on, it all feels a bit Roy of the Rovers.This weekend, it’s unlikely that the starting line-ups will feature a striker.Jurgen Klopp seems likely to continue with Sadio Mane through the middle. Mane arrived at the club and played excellently on the right, then after Mohamed Salah’s arrival switched seamlessly to the left, and now after Luis Diaz’s instant impact has again been redeployed, this time through the middle. It’s arguably rejuvenated Mane’s Liverpool career, and suddenly the club have a new look in the final third.Thomas Tuchel could field Romelu Lukaku, who has scored in back-to-back games to put himself in contention. But it’s more likely that Tuchel will field a front three selected from Mason Mount, Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz, probably with Havertz leading the line. Comparing Drogba and Carroll with Havertz and Mane demonstrates how much football has evolved over the past decade.The idea that players deployed as a centre-forward might not be natural, old-school No 9s is hardly new — we’ve been talking about false nines for more than a decade — but this season has been particularly notable for it. From Manchester City being likely to win the league without a recognised centre-forward and Arsenal happily ditching Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang because he offered little outside the box, to Manchester United signing the world’s highest international goalscorer of all time but regressing as a team, this has not been a vintage season for pure finishers.But whereas Mane and Havertz might have been grouped a decade ago as false forwards, more accustomed to playing elsewhere but shoved up top through circumstances rather than design, the reality is that they’re actually entirely different players.While Mane is primarily considered a quick player adept at running in behind the opposition defence — in keeping with Liverpool’s preferred style of full-throttle attacking football — he’s actually, in another way, a natural centre-forward. Few other players in the Premier League (and surely no one else who is around the 5ft 9in mark) are as adept at dropping short to receive the ball with their back to goal and using their body to shield it. Mane is so dangerous in those situations in part because he’s happy spinning either way, comfortable shooting or passing with either foot. He’s also good at winning free kicks from defenders in tight situations.On paper, Havertz is the opposite — more of a natural centre-forward at 6ft 3in but more comfortable at arriving late in the box rather than being permanently stationed there. At times he’s shown an eye for goal, including in last year’s Champions League final. Eleven Premier League goals since signing nearly two years ago isn’t a particularly impressive return, although he hit 17 and then 12 in his final two Bundesliga campaigns, suggesting he can find the net on a more consistent basis.Maybe the most significant thing, though, is that even the players over whom Mane and Havertz are likely to be favoured are not, arguably, traditional No 9s either. For Liverpool, Diogo Jota briefly felt like a penalty box No 9 because he scored several headed goals, but is a small, quick attacker who played a wider role at Wolves. Roberto Firmino was originally considered a false nine who played as a No 9 so frequently he increasingly felt like a conventional centre-forward. Divock Origi is the closest thing to a target man, and is fielded there as a Plan B, but from the start has often played from the left as Klopp wants a better link man through the middle.From Tuchel’s perspective, Werner — who could start here if Chelsea want to exploit the space between Liverpool’s defensive line — has managed just 10 goals from 56 Premier League appearances and increasingly feels like a useful decoy runner rather than a genuine goal threat himself.Even Romelu Lukaku, the £100-million man intended to be a prolific goalscorer, has suffered badly in his second stint at Chelsea, in part because of his mid-season interview with Italian television where he complained about his role at Chelsea, presumably wishing to play a more mobile role running inside from an inside-right position, as he did at Inter. Lukaku does not consider himself a Diego Costa, an Olivier Giroud, a Drogba or even a Torres.We don’t have to go back 10 years to find the last Liverpool v Chelsea meeting at Wembley, however. That came three months ago in the League Cup final, an absolutely belting end-to-end game that created 4.4 xG worth of chances, but precisely zero goals. If something similar happens this weekend it will feel somehow fitting.
It’s Only Fitting That Seattle Breaks MLS’s CCL Glass Ceiling
For all the jokes about what Seattle has invented as it relates to American soccer, the Sounders have been a model MLS franchise and make for a worthy trailblazer.
- BRIAN STRAUS MAY 5, 2022 Sports Illustrated
going to strike somewhere in MLS territory, then Seattle was the perfect place. It’s a city that embraced domestic pro soccer through multiple leagues and decades with a rare, sustained fervor. And it’s home to a club that then set a standard of ambition, consistency and success in a league designed to suppress it. The Sounders have always put pressure on themselves to raise the bar and win, even when the surrounding structure doesn’t. So they have, and that ethos and championship culture paved the way for Wednesday’s historic victory before yet another raucous, record crowd at Lumen Field.Where MLS teams had stumbled and failed for two decades, the Sounders now stand triumphant. After overcoming two early injuries, they easily defeated Mexico’s UNAM Pumas, 3–0, in the second and deciding leg of the Concacaf Champions League finals (last week’s opener ended 2–2). Seattle became the first MLS club since 2001, and the first in the tournament’s home-and-away era, to claim the continental title. Raúl Ruidíaz, the Peruvian striker who has been one of many big-ticket signings the Sounders nailed, tallied goals on either side of halftime. Playmaker Nicolás Lodeiro, an Uruguayan veteran who has been the creative inspiration behind the club’s recent success, potted Seattle’s third. U.S. national team winger Jordan Morris, an Emerald City native and the son of the club doctor, set the table for his side’s two second-half strikes. The stars shone brightly.Along with the coveted CCL trophy comes an invitation to the next FIFA Club World Cup, which will feature an MLS squad for the first time. Then there’s the eternal pride and long-term bragging rights that come with being the first to do something so significant (D.C. United and the LA Galaxy won regional crowns before MLS teams were forced to travel). The annual CCL faceplant by MLS entrants was excruciating. Meanwhile, a Liga MX club had been Concacaf champion every year since 2006. There’s never been a streak like that anywhere in the world, and the Sounders will forever be the team that ended it. For those outside the city annoyed by Seattle supporters accused of behaving like they “invented soccer,” it’s about to get worse.“The first thing only happens once—making history,” said Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the CCL MVP who made a tremendous save on a second-half Pumas header when the score was still 1–0. “There will be many more Concacaf Champions League winners, but there’s only one that does it for the first time from MLS. And so we wrote ourselves into the history books today, and I’m so proud of my team.”It takes time to make history, and Wednesday’s climactic 90 minutes represented the final steps of a lengthy journey that began when the Sounders, a four-time champion in American soccer’s second tier, entered MLS in 2009. They immediately set attendance records and established an on-field standard, finishing third in the Western Conference and winning the U.S. Open Cup. An unprecedented run of success followed. Across the ensuing dozen seasons, the Sounders won two MLS Cups, four conference titles, three more Open Cups and a Supporters’ Shield. Their streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances is a league record. And in each of those 13 seasons, they finished among the top four in the West. The Sounders are just about the only safe MLS bet.It’s popular to break MLS history down into eras. The league’s 1.0 era was defined by caution and contraction, NFL stadiums, incomprehensible team names and the D.C. United dynasty. MLS 2.0 was anchored by the construction of soccer-specific stadiums and the Designated Player rule, and at its peak it was dominated by Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, David Beckham and the LA Galaxy. Then came rapid league expansion, the next generation of arenas, the growth of the academy system and an increase in roster spending. That’s MLS 3.0. The Sounders are its flagship club.General manager Garth Lagerwey, who helped build small-market Real Salt Lake’s mini-dynasty in the early 2010s, and coach Brian Schmetzer, a Seattle soccer lifer who worked under the late Sigi Schmid before taking the helm, have come close to solving a notoriously inscrutable league. They’ve hit on numerous high-profile signings and become a desired destination for established MLS vets. They’ve also developed several homegrown stars, from the likes of Morris and U.S. workhorse Cristian Roldan to 16-year-old Obed Vargas, who bravely stepped in for the injured João Paulo midway through Wednesday’s first half.Seattle hasn’t been content to tread water, see its club valuation increase and hope to maybe make a splash in the transfer market. It’s played to win since day one and it’s learned to do so en route. It took eight years to break down the MLS Cup door. And it took seven CCL appearances and six CCL failures, the most in MLS since ’09, to solve the continental puzzle. The Sounders aren’t the highest-spending team in MLS but they’re typically near the top, and they’re likely the best at constructing a competitive roster under the league’s complex and sometimes stifling rules.“Since ’18, we’ve really had this [core] and we’ve tried to add one piece a year without subtracting,” Lagerwey said before the match. “We really do feel like this is the best group that we’ve had and we’ve been very methodical about it, very strategic to build to this moment. I can’t say the last five years is all about winning the 2022 Champions League. It wasn’t that specific. But it was, ‘Can we get better every single year before we get too old and take a shot at something like this, something really cool like this?’”
With Champions League breakthrough, Seattle Sounders stake their claim to title of best club in MLS history
Sam Stejskal May 5, 2022 = the Athletic
The noise began with a low murmur from a smattering of the 68,741 fans in attendance at Lumen Field for the Seattle Sounders’ historic CONCACAF Champions League victory against Pumas on Wednesday night, but quickly grew to encompass the entire stadium, getting louder and louder with every measured, celebratory step taken by Nicolas Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris. At that point, midway through second-half stoppage time, the result was all but official. Lodeiro had put the game and series completely out of reach minutes earlier, tapping home a rebound after Morris caromed a shot off the post to give Seattle a 3-0 lead in the second leg and 5-2 advantage on aggregate. The wide margin afforded head coach Brian Schmetzer the luxury of subbing off his three attacking stars for a curtain call.As they made their way toward the sideline, Lodeiro and Ruidiaz in lockstep, Morris trailing closely behind, the crowd built into a deafening crescendo, saluting their captain, their ruthless striker and their hometown hero as their Sounders marched toward becoming the first MLS team to ever win the CCL.From the moment they joined the league back in 2009, the Sounders have, in one way or another, consistently raised the bar for MLS. When the final whistle blew on Wednesday, as Lodeiro sprinted onto the field in a jubilant celebration and the crowd erupted in one last moment of rapture, they raised that bar to an unprecedented new level. Even before they won the CCL, the Sounders were the most successful MLS organization of the last decade. It’s only fitting that they became the first to take the continental crown. “It’s an amazing club, an amazing fan base. We do a lot of things right, here in Seattle,” Morris said afterwards. “Going into the year, this was such a huge goal for us, to be the first MLS team to win this. And to have done it now, to have made history, it’s incredibly special.” It’s easy to look at the club’s 13 playoff appearances in 13 seasons, two MLS Cups, four U.S. Open Cups and one Supporters’ Shield and think that a night like Wednesday was in some way preordained for the Sounders.So easy, in fact, that the narrative heading into the second leg felt almost unnervingly confident. Fans and media (this writer included) who were so used to seeing MLS teams fall short in this competition over the years seemed convinced that the Sounders would take care of business after they drew 2-2 in Mexico City in the first leg last week. It was as if the league’s collective CCL scar tissue had been removed and the long, mostly sad history of Seattle sports had been forgotten, replaced by a rare, rave green-tinged sense of optimism.But there are no guarantees in no professional sports, no teams of destiny. And nothing about the Sounders’ journey to the CCL title was inexorable. That was made abundantly clear on Wednesday. The final score didn’t indicate as much, but the second leg was difficult for Seattle, which was dealt two serious blows early in the first half. Starting left back Nouhou was subbed off due to a thigh contusion in the 11th minute and star midfielder Joao Paulo, an MLS MVP finalist in 2021, was taken off in the 29th after suffering what Seattle fears is a torn ACL. The injuries threw a dark cloud over an otherwise picture-perfect evening in the Pacific Northwest, but Seattle beat it back. At the end of a relatively ugly first-half, after looking like they’d head into the locker room without creating a single clear opportunity, they took the lead through a deflected Ruidiaz effort.As soon as his shot hit the back of the net, Ruidiaz wheeled off toward the north stand of Lumen Field, flying over the advertising boards and sprinting to Seattle’s reserves and academy players, who were watching the match from a field-level suite. His Sounders teammates raced to catch him, joining the broader, organization-wide party as one straggling player picked up the ball and punted it high into the seats. The crowd became so loud that the press box began to vibrate, the first of a few moments during the match in which it seemed as if the fans were causing the stadium to shake.“I told them after the game that (they were) freaking awesome. They’re awesome,” Schmetzer, another Seattle native, Sounders lifer and card-carrying member of the Emerald City Supporters group, said of the fans. “The connection between the fans and the players is the spirit of this club. You heard it when the teams walked out tonight, you heard it during the game, it was awesome, really awesome. You felt the energy in the building, the players felt it. It was spectacular.”
Pumas responded well to Seattle’s goal, nearly equalizing in the 65th. Winger Washington Corozo got to the endline and lofted a cross to the back post, where 6-foot-4 attacker Diogo de Olivera rose over Kelyn Rowe, another native Seattlite who was only playing because Nouhou had been forced out, and directed a powerful header on frame. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who had arrived at Lumen Field just like any other fan and left it having been named player of the tournament, quickly got down to his right for a massive save. Fifteen minutes later, Ruidiaz called game, finishing off a beautiful counterattack to effectively secure the trophy for Seattle. Midfielder Albert Rusnak, a calming influence throughout the match and an architect of the first goal, was once again at the heart of the play. He shimmied past several Pumas players in the Sounders half before finding an escape valve in 16-year-old midfielder Obed Vargas, who had come on for the injured Joao Paulo in the first-half. The Alaska native, who signed a homegrown deal with the Sounders in December, continued the impressive start to his professional career on Wednesday, not shirking from the moment and sliding in well for Joao Paulo despite his age and inexperience. After receiving the pass from Rusnak, he quickly found Alex Roldan, with the ball eventually making its way to Ruidiaz for an emphatic strike.It was a classic Sounders goal, the exact type of transition opportunity that they feast on. It also iced the match. The fans certainly sensed that, with most of them turning on the flashlights on their phones in the moments after the goal, waving them back and forth as if they were at a rock concert. “I got a little choked up,” said Frei, who, as the longest tenured Sounder, has been in the middle of so many of the biggest moments in club history. “I had to tell myself, ‘Hey, there’s still some game left, like relax, take it easy.’ But it’s special, very special. As a little kid, this is what you dream of. You close your eyes and you envision a stadium full of people like this, chanting you on, this is it. To have the opportunity to live out that dream is precious. I cherish it.” Ruidiaz’s second strike set the table for Lodeiro to finish things off in the 88th. It was a simple goal, a close-range finish into an empty net, but it was full of meaning — and it was appropriate that Lodeiro was the scorer. The driving force behind the Sounders’ MLS Cup titles in 2016 and 2019, the 33-year-old has probably done more than any other player to construct a championship culture in Seattle, starring in the midfield, setting a high standard in the locker room and helping players like Cristian Roldan grow into leading figures on and off the field. As Seattle GM Garth Lagerwey said after the match, ‘Lodeiro is the best Sounder of all-time. Period.” The ovation he received when he exited with Ruidiaz and Morris in the final moments was exceedingly well-deserved. But he’s far from the only one that contributed to this title. It’s true that Sounders benefitted from the fact that the biggest Liga MX teams didn’t qualify for this edition of the CCL, but they are absolutely worthy champions. And their journey to this point extended well beyond the start of the round of 16 in February. Unlike many other teams in MLS that are now using their resources on signing young players with the idea of developing and transferring them for profit, the Sounders have constructed themselves over a number of years precisely and exclusively for moments like Wednesday. They’ve hit on their biggest signings in Lodeiro and Ruidiaz; they’ve plucked players like Nouhou and the Roldan brothers from disparate developmental paths and helped them mature into massive contributors; they’ve acquired experienced, valuable players from within MLS in Rusnak (who probably played the best match of his young Sounders career on Wednesday), Frei, Rowe, Fredy Montero and Will Bruin; they’ve gotten good-to-great returns on international signings like Joao Paulo, Arreaga and Yeimar Andrade; they’ve even had production from their academy through Morris and, more recently, Vargas and Josh Atencio. And in Schmetzer, they have a coach who keeps the operation running smoothly. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve found a way to keep their core together. Lodeiro, Morris, Frei and Cristian Roldan have each been around for all four of the club’s MLS Cup appearances. Everyone in the starting lineup on Wednesday other than Rusnak, who joined the team this winter via MLS free agency, has played in at least one MLS Cup for Seattle. Most of the current players got further championship match experience last summer, when Seattle lost the Leagues Cup final to Mexican club León.There isn’t any one explanation for how they’ve done this. An ability to successfully manage the salary budget and legally manipulate the MLS roster rules, a patient scouting process, an increased emphasis on youth, a willingness to be proactive with succession planning, a healthy locker room environment, a little bit of luck and some smart behind-the-scenes investments (Seattle was quick to add a second team, and was one of the first clubs in MLS to hire a data analyst on the sporting side), have all played a role in the Sounders’ success. It’s led to a virtuous cycle in Seattle, which, despite the fact that it isn’t really viewed as a sexy market in the other North American pro sports leagues, has only grown into a more attractive destination for soccer players, coaches and staffers over the years. “Because we have the continuity, the standard that we hold ourselves to is quickly absorbed by our new players,” Frei said. “They’re integrated very quickly. That’s maybe why players want to come here. You want to play your precious few years hopefully for trophies, and we’ve proven and shown that we generally speaking have the opportunity to get into those positions.”Seattle’s extensive experience in huge elimination matches — not all of which have ended well — helped significantly in the CCL. The Sounders are an extremely talented team, boasting perhaps the top front six in all of MLS and one of the more robust defensive groups in the league. But they needed more than just skill to survive in the Champions League. Whether in the second leg of the semifinal against New York City FC, when they were down 2-0 deep into the second half of the first leg of the final or after the injuries upset their plans on Wednesday, the Sounders repeatedly met obstacles in their run through the the competition that might have derailed a less experienced team. Every time, they cleared them.
“This is the most special one. I think this one means more to me than past trophies that I’ve won,” said Cristian Roldan. “When you’re the first one to do it, that puts you in the history books forever. No one can take that away from you.”
As Lagerwey and owner Adrian Hanauer spoke about in the buildup to the match, this win has the potential to serve as a jumping off point not just for Seattle, but for the entire league. Winning the CCL one time doesn’t mean that MLS is now on par or better than Liga MX, but the Sounders’ victory is an important symbol of the narrowing gap between the two circuits. The victory should make at least some U.S.-based Liga MX fans take MLS a bit more seriously, an important consideration for a league that could always use a larger audience. It will likely add some additional meaning to the CCL, as well, raising the level of intrigue in a competition that has struggled to create much momentum after years of Mexican dominance. The result could even add some extra juice to the reformatted Leagues Cup, which will see every team in MLS and Liga MX compete against each other in a standalone, month-long tournament that will be held for the first time in 2023. MLS still has plenty of work to do, but this was a needed first step. The win also secures a place for the Sounders at the next FIFA Club World Cup. The date, location and format of that competition have not yet been determined, as the November/December World Cup in Qatar has thrown off the global soccer calendar, though Lagerwey said that Seattle has been told that it will likely be held next February in the Middle East. Whenever and wherever it takes place, Lagerwey giddily noted that it could include a date for the Sounders against Liverpool or Real Madrid, who will face off in the UEFA Champions League final in a few weeks in Paris. “It’s not for giggles against their reserves, we’re gonna play them for a trophy,” he said. “I mean, this is what you do it for, right? That’s just amazing. It just is. I’d love to be real cool and calm and be like, ‘Ah, it’s no big deal,’ but it’s a big deal.” Winning the CCL is a big deal in its own right. The result is a fantastic achievement for the entire club, but it holds special meaning for Lagerwey, who lost the 2011 final when he was GM of Real Salt Lake. That defeat was particularly painful. RSL drew 2-2 at Monterrey in the first leg before losing 1-0 in the return leg — their first home loss in nearly two years — to drop the series. He’s been chasing the CCL ever since, talking about his desire to win it from the moment he arrived in Seattle in January 2015.“I warned everybody, I said look, this is all or nothing,” Lagerwey said. “This could be incredibly bitter. If we lose this game tonight, we would just be the third (MLS) finalist in five years to get beat. Nobody cares. You get consigned to the dustbin of history. But our guys stepped up. They won it. We were indomitable. We kept hanging in, showed the fortitude in Mexico to equalize and then to come here and to put on the show we did, I mean, it’s just a special group of guys. It’s the best Sounders team we’ve had.” On Wednesday, the best team the Sounders have ever had created perhaps the best moment the club has ever had. In doing so, they gave Seattle a legitimate claim to the title of best club in MLS history. That was never inevitable, but, considering their path to this historic CCL title, it’s certainly fitting.
HOW SEATTLE WON THE CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE IN THE MOST SOUNDERS WAY POSSIBLE
By beating Pumas 3-0 on Wednesday night, the Seattle Sounders became the first MLS team to win the Concacaf Champions League
- With smart movement in central midfield, effective defending, and quick transitions, the Sounders were deserved winners
- Pumas’ desperation played directly into Brian Schmetzer’s hands and helped Seattle close out the game
© Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
The crowd at Lumen Field on Wednesday night wouldn’t let up.
They cheered relentlessly for over a minute while three of the Seattle Sounders’ stalwarts, Nico Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz, and Jordan Morris, left the field and swapped places with their substitutes. Up by multiple goals in the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League Final, the game was over. Those three players – along with the rest of their teammates, the coaching staff, and other members of the club – certainly earned that ovation.
For the first time in the tournament’s modern era, a Major League Soccer team had officially won the CCL.
The Seattle Sounders beat Pumas UNAM 3-0 on Wednesday night in the second leg of the final, giving them a 5-2 aggregate win over their opponents from Liga MX. MLS teams have played in the final before, but none of them could clear the last hurdle. Real Salt Lake fell to Monterrey in 2011, the Montreal Impact (RIP) lost to Club América in 2015, Toronto couldn’t get past Chivas in 2018, and LAFC dropped out against Tigres in 2020.
Becoming the first MLS team to win this region’s Champions League is a historic achievement. With that in mind, it’s difficult to think of a team that deserves it more than the Seattle Sounders. Since joining MLS in 2009, the Sounders have qualified for the playoffs every single year. They’ve also won the Supporters’ Shield and lifted two MLS Cups since 2014. With on-field consistency and impressive roster builds, they have become the model MLS franchise.
Still, plenty of impressive MLS teams have tried and failed to add the CCL trophy to their cases in the past. So how did Seattle do it? How did they take down Pumas on Wednesday? Well, they did it the Sounders way.
Let’s dive into some of the key pieces of that second leg.
LODEIRO’S OFF-BALL MOVEMENT
Against Pumas, Brian Schmetzer set up his Sounders team in the same formation that he’s used for so much of his MLS coaching career. He used a 4-2-3-1, complete with a double pivot behind Nico Lodeiro, who played as a No. 10. Pumas, on the other hand, started the game in a 4-3-3 shape with a lone No. 6 behind two No. 8s. On paper, those two midfield shapes cancel each other out. One team’s defensive midfielder overlaps with the other’s attacking midfielder and the double pivot in the 4-2-3-1 overlaps with the eights in the 4-3-3.
For stretches of Wednesday night’s game, those two midfield shapes really did cancel each other out. In particular Higor Meritao, Pumas’ defensive midfielder, carefully monitored Lodeiro and denied him any real breathing room between the lines.
What do you do when you can’t find space in one part of the field? Wait, actually, let me rephrase that. What does a No. 10 do when they can’t find space in one part of the field? They move. And then they move some more. That’s exactly what Lodeiro did to free himself from Meritao.
In one moment, Lodeiro would drop deep and to one side to ditch Pumas’ midfield.
In the next moment, he would drop deep and to the other side, far enough away from Meritao that the Brazilian didn’t dare follow him.
And in yet another moment, Lodeiro would move into one of the halfspaces as part of a midfield-wide shift for Seattle. That’s exactly what happened in the buildup to the Sounders’ first goal. Lodeiro relocated to the left halfspace while Obed Vargas pulled Meritao forward. With Meritao out of the picture, Lodeiro received the ball and went on to earn the free kick that led to Ruidiaz’s goal in the 45th minute.
As that clip shows, Lodeiro was just one part of Seattle’s midfield machine. Albert Rusnak provided a calming touch and had the MLS assist for the first goal. Vargas wasn’t as comfortable, but the 16-year-old subbed on for an injured Joao Paulo in the first half and ate up some valuable minutes. Vargas wasn’t the only substitute to come on for an injured starter early in the game, either: Kelyn Rowe stepped in for Nouhou, who left the field with a right quad injury in the 11th minute.
Seattle didn’t create many obvious chances until later in the game, but their midfield and their depth certainly gave them an edge.
KEEPING JUAN DINENNO AT BAY
Juan Dinenno, Pumas’ striker and the Concacaf Champions League’s leading scorer, is a dangerous man. He scored twice against the Sounders in the first leg of the final, even while dealing with an injury, and was looking to do more damage on Wednesday.
When in possession, Pumas had one primary directive: find Dinenno via direct forward passes into the channels and via crosses into the box. After targeting him multiple times in the first five minutes, it was clear that the Argentine striker was the key piece in their attack.
Seattle, to their credit, didn’t let Dinenno have anywhere near as much influence on this game as they did in the away leg. Center backs Yeimar Gomez Andrade and Xavier Arreaga generally did a good job of staying with Dinenno. The Sounders’ center backs weren’t perfect – Yeimar failed to clear a cross that resulted in Dinenno’s first and best look of the game and Arreaga put in a needless challenge on Dinenno in the 60th minute that gave the forward a free kick in Zone 14 – but they did enough.
With effective defending in their own third and some strong counter pressing higher up the field, the Sounders kept Pumas at bay for the vast majority of the game. Down 1-0 with roughly 10 minutes remaining, Pumas started to throw numbers forward in hopes that providing their No. 9 with a little extra help would change things.
It did. Just not for Pumas.
IT’S IN SEATTLE’S DNA
One of the things that makes the Seattle Sounders a consistent threat to win trophies in MLS (and now in regional competitions, too) is that they’re built to blitz you as soon as you take one too many risks in possession. With players who thrive in attacking transition like Morris and the Roldan brothers, the Sounders love to run.
There were plenty of moments on Wednesday night for the Sounders to run, but the best ones came as a direct result of Pumas’ desperation. They needed to score and were willing to push plenty of players forward to do so. Putting a group of four or five guys in the box and another group in the final third became the new normal for Pumas towards the end of the match.
If that was Pumas’ new normal, Seattle’s was breaking the game wide open in the space left behind by their opponent’s aggressive, disorganized positioning. The Sounders’ second and third goals didn’t come from any sort of crazy tactical innovation. No, they simply came from classic Seattle transition attacks.
Here’s a look at the second goal, where Jordan Morris moved behind Pumas’ backline.
And here’s a screenshot of Pumas’ scattered defensive shape less than 15 seconds before Seattle’s third and final goal.
With dangerous transition attacks, a strong defensive performance, quality midfield play, and their depth on full display, the Seattle Sounders lifted the CCL trophy in the most Seattle Sounders way possible. It just felt right.
They’re MLS’s first CCL winner – and that feels pretty right, too.
Seattle Sounders made CCL history… Which MLS team wins it next?
By Matthew Doyle @MattDoyle76 Wednesday, May 11, 2022, 10:06 AM
Last week I wrote a column titled “The Blueprint” in which I went through Seattle’s methodology in building a roster that has, for 13 straight years, competed at or near the top of MLS, and that had left them uniquely positioned to break the Concacaf Champions League curse and actually bring home the first CCL title for MLS since that competition had been remade.
Twelve hours after that column was published, the Sounders obliged by going out there and winning the damn thing over Pumas. It was a huge day for Seattle, and it was a huge day for MLS.
It is not likely to be the last huge day for MLS. As I pointed out in that column, smart teams around the league are following the same sort of best practices the Sounders have laid down in terms of roster building – putting resources into the core, being agnostic about talent acquisition, veering toward proven, high-end commodities, etc. Teams that do that, and have the right combination of coaching and ambitious ownership, give themselves a chance to be next through the regional tape and into the Club World Cup.
That is what the blueprint is for, right? Not only to be good and win stuff in MLS, but to continue to grow into the types of teams that can consistently compete internationally. The Sounders showed it can be done. Twenty-seven other teams definitely noticed.
So who’ll be next? Let’s dive in:
Why they’ll do it
The Black & Gold check damn near every box. They have been ambitious in their DP acquisitions over the years, and have been just as ambitious with their U22 Initiative shopping. They have brought contributors in from the USL Championship, and found value via the SuperDraft. They have sold guys on for GAM when they needed to have more flexibility to make moves within the league, and have been clear-eyed, in the last window, about spots they need to upgrade.
That last window, with the additions of Kellyn Acosta, Ryan Hollingshead and Ilie Sanchez, gave them the type of veteran core that had been culled out of the team over the previous couple of years. But it’s worth remembering the guys who are holdovers from the previous couple of years not only have title-winning experience (I still think the 2019 Supporters’ Shield-winning LAFC side is the best I’ve seen in MLS) but actual CCL experience.
That goal’s pretty as a picture, and it came in the actual CCL final against a Tigres side that, no disrespect intended, is a damn sight better than the Pumas team Seattle manhandled last week.
So they have the pedigree, they have the core, they have the structure, and under new head coach Steve Cherundolo they look a lot like the type of team that’s going to get their next CCL chance as soon as next year.
Why they won’t
Two reasons: DPs and depth.
LAFC have been ambitious with their DP signings, but they’ve missed on a couple. Andre Horta was here and gone in an instant, while Brian Rodriguez has all the talent in the world, but has yet to turn that into productivity. Carlos Vela, meanwhile, is just not the guy he was in 2019, and probably never will be again.
LAFC have the chance to make another big DP signing this summer given there’s an open slot with the departure of Diego Rossi. My guess is it will end up being a midfield playmaker (spending on DP 10s is almost always a good idea), which brings us to the depth part: there are good reasons to think one or both of Jose Cifuentes and Latif Blessing could end up in Europe before the summer’s over.
That’s a lot of moving pieces to juggle in some of the most important spots on the pitch. Seattle had to deal with the same, and they coped by getting at least some of the answers from academy products. LAFC can’t replicate that yet – their Homegrown pipeline has promise, but it’s yet to produce an Obed Vargas or Josh Atencio type of contributor.
Why they’ll do it
Primarily because the Soccer Gods have a great sense of humor and it would be funny if the Pigeons won a continental title before Man City did. Even Red Bulls fans have to admit that would be hilarious.
Beyond that, though, the best arguments are that NYCFC have a veteran, winning core, a reliably excellent Homegrown pipeline to build depth (as well as occasional high-end starters), and are breaking new ground with their recruitment and integration of top U22 talent, primarily from South America.
It all culminated with a team that, last month, beat the ever-loving hell out of Seattle in the second leg of the CCL semis and forced an all-time performance out of Stef Frei to put the Sounders through. The fact NYCFC did that without some key contributors, and have subsequently played the best ball in MLS without some key contributors, is at least a little bit frightening.
I mean, Talles Magno was one of the very best players in CCL of any age. Full stop. He, Thiago Andrade and Gabriel Pereira could all end up being in the top 10 of this year’s 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list, and Santi Rodriguez would be there as well if he wasn’t just a few months too old. Only LAFC are in the same ballpark as NYCFC (heh) when it comes to leveraging the potential of the U22 Initiative.
Why they won’t
They have zero home-field advantage in CCL play, and it’s fair to question their DP situation. Plus it’s very likely Taty Castellanos is gone this summer.
Let’s go in reverse order: I’m not sure Taty is irreplaceable, and they’re certainly going to get a lot of money for him (though reports say it’ll be less than the $20 million they’d hoped for). But he will be very, very very difficult to replace, and even if they spend their entire windfall on the next No. 9, there is zero guarantee that guy will be as good as Taty has been.
And bear in mind he’s been this good despite the fact he’s not a DP! Which brings us to the other issue… NYCFC’s DPs aren’t great in the same way that Seattle’s are. Magno, as mentioned, is excellent, but Maxi Moralez is 35 years old and has clearly lost a step, while new center back Thiago Martins has been… less than convincing thus far.
Now think about Seattle’s DP triumvirate of Raul Ruidiaz, Nico Lodeiro and Albert Rusnak, and how significant they were in getting that team to the top of the mountain. It’s a different kind of player profile, and if NYCFC want to win the CCL next year (I think it’s very possible they’ll qualify once again), they probably need a rethink on how to use those slots.
The final issue is the home-field advantage bit. You probably remember the fact Concacaf does not certify Yankee Stadium for CCL play, but you might already have forgotten NYCFC played home matches at three different venues (Banc of California Stadium; Rentschler Field; Red Bull Arena) during their 2022 CCL run.
I am of the opinion an MLS team needs every advantage possible if they’re going to win this thing – just look at how the Sounders maximized their home-field advantage throughout their run. NYCFC doesn’t have anything like that.
Why they’ll do it
The Union have a well-defined system of play that got them all the way to the CCL semifinals literally last year, and has them atop the East this year. They are a club that’s used to winning now, and that was built via repetition and excellence in the type of core the Sounders have boasted since 2009 (rotating pieces in and out).
They also have a pipeline of depth thanks both to their excellent academy as well as Ernst Tanner’s eye for undervalued overseas talent. Add in Jim Curtin’s developmental chops, and… honestly, do you remember last year’s Eastern Conference Final? They were without 11 players due to health & safety protocols, and they still gave NYCFC hell. I don’t think even the Sounders could’ve been down so many contributors and run the Pigeons so close.
What ultimately proved fatal for the Union in that game, as well as last year’s CCL final and previous playoff and US Open Cup runs, was a lack of top-end, final third quality. And so this offseason they went out and brought in two new DP center forwards to go with playmaker Daniel Gazdag (who was essentially a DP last year and is not classified as one this year).
They have very clearly tried to address what they very clearly needed to address.
Why they won’t
I like what I’ve seen of Uhre so far, and love how Carranza has taken his chance with the Union. I remain lukewarm on Gazdag, though I’ll happily admit he’s been much better over two months of the 2022 season than he was at any point in his five months of work last year.
Are those guys as good as Ruidiaz/Lodeiro/Jordan Morris/Cristian Roldan in the final third? Or Castellanos/Magno/Andrade/Rodriguez/Moralez? I don’t think you’re a gimlet-eyed cynic if you say they’re not.
The other issue for the Union could be their nature as a club regarding player sales. It’s part of who they are, so if someone comes calling for Jose Martinez or Kai Wagner (it seems likely in both cases), or Carranza or Gazdag or, I don’t know, Jack Elliott, then those players will be sold. And while the Union have the pipeline to replace them, there is a difference between “replace them and continue to be a good MLS team” and “replace them and continue to be a team that could conceivably win CCL.”
Why they’ll do it
Yeah, this one might tick some folks off, but the Galaxy have in Greg Vanney a coach who’s been there before (you remember Toronto FC’s 2018 run, right?) and a history of spending like they really, really mean it. If you have a proven coach and proven ambition, and patience to let that coach build, you’re going to be successful.
And so what we’re seeing now is a Galaxy team that, with a third of the season done, is third in the West and is tied for first overall in goals allowed. They have allowed just a single goal from open play all season, and my god does that represent a massive departure from the past eight years of Galaxy soccer.
Beyond that, just look at their roster balance. The vast majority of these guys are in their prime, and many of them have international experience (that includes Mark Delgado’s CCL experience, and damn would it be a nice story if he was able to get redemption for his late miss in the second leg of the 2018 final).
There’s still a ton of work that needs to be done on this roster, and much of that is continued internal development of many of the young players on the team, but you don’t have to look too hard to see a foundation that could make LA matter again.
Why they won’t
For all their spending, their DP situation is dire. Chicharito has been excellent since the start of last year, but he’s weeks away from his 34th birthday. Douglas Costa, who they signed this offseason, has been a cipher, while Kevin Cabral profiles (and produces) more like a U22 Initiative signing – a toolsy kid who can be compelling, but is frustrating much, much more often than not.
Beyond that, there’s just been significant calcification in the front office, as profiled by Paul Tenorio in the Athletic. The tl;dr is the reason the Galaxy have been bad for so long is that since Bruce Arena left, there was never any sort of blueprint followed on how to be good.
So Vanney is trying to drag them kicking and screaming into the TAM era, while trying to be the first coach to make any sort of dent in terms of Homegrown development, while fixing the defense, and adding veteran pieces, and is doing all this with two massively underperforming DPs. It’s a lot.
I think the above three teams (LAFC, NYCFC and Philly), as well as the Sounders, could plausibly win CCL next year. I don’t think the Galaxy could do that. But if Vanney gets the type of support he needs in continuing to retool the whole organization, and gets a mulligan on one of Costa or Cabral, there is a pretty obvious path for them to get it done in 2024. And that might be (probably would be) soon enough for them to be next.
Why they’ll do it
It’s the same argument as for the Galaxy – a proven coach and ambitious, high-spending ownership. The difference is Toronto are 12 to 18 months behind in their development, so the core the Galaxy have developed does not yet really exist for the Reds.
And so Bob Bradley is throwing the children to the wolves right now. In part it’s because he has no choice, since the roster was gutted this winter, but in part it’s because Bradley is building something for the future, and guys like Ralph Priso, Kosi Thompson, Luca Petrasso, Jayden Nelson and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty are expected to be part of it. Given their talent and Bradley’s history of developing kids with potential into high-level pros, I am not doubting the outcome here.
The other thing to factor in here is TFC have historically dominated the Canadian Championship, winning seven of 10 tournaments from 2009 to 2018 (they could make it technically eight of 12 if they win the 2020 final which – and I am not kidding here – has not yet been played, and is scheduled for June 4. North American soccer is weird, y’all), so they usually have the clearest shot directly into the tournament.
Also, the same argument as the Galaxy is I don’t think there’s any legit chance they will get it done for the 2023 version of the CCL. But if no MLS team gets it done next year, I don’t think it’s crazy to think that TFC could climb the mountain by 2024 or 2025.
At the very least, this is fun as hell:
Why they won’t
There’s no actual guarantee any/all of those kids will turn into core pieces of a good team, and my god are TFC’s underlying numbers brutal this year. This does not, right now, look like an “Insigne will arrive and put them over the top” situation. This looks like an “Insigne will get here and despair at how broken things are” situation. I’m not sure they have more than two players who would be starters on good MLS teams, and that’s not great!
So there’s just so much rubble to clear. The best thing possible would be to get out of Bradley’s way and let him get to work clearing it, but even that is no guarantee – remember, when things went bad for LAFC, that was a mess of their own making. While it’s never been public as to who called the shots on things like trading Walker Zimmerman, I think it’s fair to assume Bradley had some say in how that team’s roster management went.
The other issue is in goal. I think all the other possibilities I’ve mentioned, including the Sounders, are in a better spot at that position than TFC are.
The Next Group
They’ve got the pedigree, a great youth pipeline and Wilfried Nancy sure seems like a great coach thus far. But they’re likely to sell their best player (Djordje Mihailovic) in this window or the next, and ownership doesn’t seem too likely to go out there and spend big to replace him. On top of that, there has been a decades-long lack of stability with regard to front office vision and a lack of patience with the coach.
What happens, for example, if they run into a prolonged patch of bad form? The Union had patience with Curtin when that happened in 2015 and ‘16. Will Montréal show Nancy the same faith?
Just based upon spend and ambition they should be at the top of this list, but Atlanta’s acquisition approach has often just been asset collection rather than having some guiding principle with regard to how the pieces actually fit, and so since Tata Martino left they have been collectively less than the sum of their parts.
That could change – it feels like it is changing under Gonzalo Pineda. But he’s trying to reorient an aircraft carrier there, and isn’t the only one with a hand on the tiller, so it’s going to take some time.
Plus there’s the Josef issue. Will he ever be the same again?
I’m not even kidding. They’ve already got one killer DP in Lucho Acosta, and it looks like they’ve got another in Obinna Nwobodo. Both those guys are the right age to keep doing this for years, and aside from them, they are rapidly building out a foundation of MLS veterans this team had previously lacked, so it’s not entirely shocking they’re finally winning, is it? Plus they just crushed their SuperDraft class, and in Brandon Vazquez have a center forward who certainly seems to check all the right boxes.
As some of the previous regime’s contracts come off the books, Chris Albright and Pat Noonan are going to have all sorts of room to maneuver and keep adding quality, and if there’s one thing Cincy’s ownership has shown, it’s that they’ll open the checkbook. Now that said checkbook is being given to folks who seem to know how to use it…
Obviously 2023 is way too early to think about Cincy in these terms, but the title of this column isn’t “which MLS team wins it next year?” it’s “which MLS team wins it next?” If the door stays open in 2023 and 2024, Cincy might be the ones to walk through it in 2025.
The odds are against them, of course, but that’s true of any MLS team. That includes Cincy, now that they’re finally playing like one.
Tottenham vs Arsenal: Top-four race takes another crazy turn
Andy EdwardsThu, May 12, 2022, 4:37 PM·3 min read
Tottenham vs Arsenal: The Premier League’s top-four race took another crazy turn on Thursday, as Spurs hammered the Gunners 3-0 in the 191st north London derby.
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Harry Kane scored the first and second goals (his 14th and 15th of the Premier League season), with Rob Holding earning a pair of yellow cards for fouls against Son Heung-min, who added goal no. 3 just seconds into the second half (his 21st, one behind Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in the Golden Boot race).
The result leaves Tottenham (65 points) one point behind Arsenal (66 points) in the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League. With two games left for each side, it’s all to play for and looking likely to go all the way to Championship Sunday (May 22).
Tottenham will face relegation-battling Burnley (home) and already-relegated Norwich City (away), while Arsenal have 14th-place Newcastle United (away) and relegation-battling Everton (home) still to come.
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Tottenham vs Arsenal final score, stats, results
Final score: Tottenham 3, Arsenal 0
Goal scorers: Tottenham (Kane 22′ – PK, 37, Son 47′), Arsenal (None)
Shots: Tottenham 16, Arsenal 8
Shots on target: Tottenham 6, Arsenal 4
Possession: Tottenham 58%, Arsenal 42%
3 things we learned – Tottenham vs Arsenal
1. Tottenham players believe in Conte, and vice versa: In the early days of Antonio Conte’s reign, it was unclear whether the manager thought that all but a select few players were woefully unqualified to play for him, or if he was conditioning a squad of players, long criticized for being mentally weak, to take the next step in their progression. Six months later, it is quite clear that Conte has made a massive impact on the Tottenham players — both as individuals and collectively — to the point that they can just about flawlessly execute his game plan against the likes of Liverpool (no matter what Jurgen Klopp thinks of it) and Arsenal, in the biggest games of their season, with their entire season riding on the results. Now, imagine a world in which Daniel Levy hired Conte this first time he had the chance, rather than appointing Nuno Espirito Santo for 10 games.
2. Indiscipline in the big game: Speaking of big games, it’s not at all an exaggeration to say that Thursday’s north London derby was the biggest game Arsenal have played since celebrating their last St. Totteringham’s Day, in 2016. The chance to clinch their return to the Champions League, after four seasons in the Europa League and, shockingly, no European qualification whatsoever this season (despite the creation of a third-tier competition), proved too big of an occasion not just for the young Gunners, but most notably for one of the longtime veterans in the squad, Rob Holding. From the opening whistle, Holding appeared intent on targeting and riling up Son Heung-min with cleverly disguised cheap shots from behind. The home fans quickly got on his case and were utterly delighted when Holding was shown a second yellow card for delivering an elbow to the face of — you guessed it — Son in the 33rd minute.
3. And yet, Arsenal still hold all the cards: As euphoric as Thursday’s derby drubbing will have felt for Tottenham and their fans, it is still Arsenal who, should they take care of business in the final two games of the season, will qualify for the Champions League.
US Coach -Jesse Marsch’s hopes of rescuing Leeds are unraveling after brutal Chelsea loss
May 11, 2022Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC
LEEDS, England — Jesse Marsch walked into an impossible job when he became Leeds United manager at the end of February — he just didn’t know it at the time. But as Chelsea sent his team closer to relegation from the Premier League with a 3-0 win at Elland Road on Wednesday, the brutal reality of the challenge that Marsch accepted has surely set in.
Despite having an FA Cup final against Liverpool to play on Saturday, less than 72 hours after kick-off in this game, Chelsea were still too strong for Marsch’s wilting side as goals from Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and Romelu Lukaku ended a three-game winless streak and edged Thomas Tuchel’s team to the brink of Champions League qualification.
For Leeds, though, this was another damaging blow. They have now lost three on the bounce, conceding 9 goals along the way, and it won’t get any easier: the first-half red card earned by Dan James for a shocking tackle on Mateo Kovacic means Leeds’ £25 million record-signing will be suspended for the remaining games of the season. James will join
“Two tackles in the last two games that are a little bit crossing the line and hurting the team,” Marsch said. “I’m not going to blame or finger-point any of our players, they’ve given everything they can, but we have to stay within boundaries in not jeopardising ourselves.”Throughout their recent tailspin, which has sent Leeds into the bottom three, Marsch has watched on from the sidelines, unable to stem the tide.Leeds, promoted back to the top-flight in 2020 under Marcelo Bielsa after a 16-year absence, have been unravelling for much longer than Marsch has been in his position at the club. Bielsa was fired on Feb. 27 after a run of nine defeats 12 games, with his team’s defensive inadequacies exposed by conceding 14 goals in his final three games in charge.But while the rot had clearly already set in, Marsch has seen his chances of halting Leeds’ slide hit by injuries to key players, indiscipline and his unhelpful habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.The former New York Red Bulls coach, who lasted less than six months in his post as RB Leipzig coach before leaving last December, has publicly questioned Bielsa’s training methods, complained about American coaches being compared to comedy character Ted Lasso and, prior to this game, admitted to motivating his players with quotes by historical figures including Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.In response, one English newspaper compared Marsch to David Brent, the Ricky Gervais character from The Office, while Ted Lasso began to trend on Twitter in the UK as Chelsea began to overrun Leeds on Wednesday.It is unfair to use the Lasso comparison on Marsch, a coach who built a strong reputation during his two-year stint as FC Salzburg coach, but with Bob Bradley also suffering from ridicule during his brief — and unsuccessful — spell in charge of Swansea City in 2016, Marsch’s difficulties at Leeds are unlikely to help other American coaches land a Premier League job anytime soon.But although he walked into a much tougher job than he could have imagined when agreeing to replace Bielsa, Marsch could have done better with Leeds.They were 16th in the table when he arrived, two points above the bottom three, with Everton and Burnley both beneath them. Bielsa had taken 23 points from 26 games, but although Marsch’s return of 11 points from 11 games is better than that of his predecessor, it is not enough to suggest he has made a meaningful difference.”None of us have lived this,” Marsch said. “In big games we make the exact same mistakes.”When Marsch walked through the door at Elland Road, Newcastle were two points ahead of Leeds. They are now 9 points clear of Leeds and safe from relegation thanks to the impact made by Eddie Howe since his midseason appointment as manager.Under Marsch, Leeds have shown glimpses of a revival — fighting back from 2-0 to win 3-2 at Wolves in March was a highpoint — but it has generally been the same story as under Bielsa in terms of too many bookings and too many goals conceded.Only bottom team Norwich, with 78 goals allowed, have conceded more than the 77 shipped by Leeds. Meanwhile the 97 yellow cards issued to Leeds players this season is a Premier League record — they have hit 100 cards when you count the three reds they have received.With two games left to play, at home to Brighton and away at Brentford, Leeds can still escape the relegation zone with Burnley on the same number of points and Everton only two points clear.But Leeds have to show they can escape their nightmare, without key players and with a coach who is still struggling to get to grips with the Premier League. It’s not a good combination.”I believe we can still fight for every point left,” Marsch said. “Until the red card there were a lot of good things. But now, our focus is totally on recovering and preparing for Sunday. We have six points to play for and we have to do everything we can to get them.”
Manchester City and their Champions League odyssey: when will it end?
Oliver KayMay 6, 2022
It was a baptism of fire. One moment Manchester City’s players were walking out into the cauldron that is the Allianz Arena. The next, they were listening to the Champions League anthem, that jaunty sample of Zadok The Priest. Then, after a blast of the referee’s whistle, it felt as if hell had been unleashed.
“Oh my god, we got absolutely battered,” Micah Richards tells The Athletic, recalling the evening of September 27, 2011. “Our first away game in the Champions League and we were playing Bayern Munich. (Arjen) Robben and (Franck) Ribery, honestly. They kept switching. I couldn’t get anywhere near Ribery. Then you had (Philipp) Lahm overlapping on that left side. Honestly, we got battered.
“You listen to that music as a kid. Me and Joleon (Lescott) used to laugh about it. You walk out and hear it, ‘We’ve arrived!’. But then the game starts and… oh my god, these guys aren’t just elite — they are elite elite. It was a step up and I didn’t appreciate how special it was until Ribery gave me a hiding.”City struggled in their early Champions League campaigns (Photo: Sandra Montanez/Bongarts/Getty Images)
It is best remembered as the night that Carlos Tevez, a disillusioned substitute, refused to resume warming up in the second half. Roberto Mancini was furious and the club fined Tevez two weeks’ wages and suspended him for two weeks, accusing him of a breach of contract. Tevez, indignant, returned to Argentina and stayed there for months before returning to play an important role in that season’s dramatic finale.
But away from the Mancini-Tevez bust-up, City’s difficulties that night offered portents of what was to follow. They were left with one point from their first two matches in the Champions League, having drawn 1-1 at home to Napoli a fortnight earlier. They beat Villarreal home and away, but then came a 2-1 defeat away to Napoli, another of those nights when their midfield was swamped and their back line overrun in a raucous atmosphere on foreign fields. They took 10 points but failed to get through the knockout stage. Ignominy followed the next season: three draws and three defeats from a group containing Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax.
“Bayern beat us, Napoli beat us, Borussia Dortmund beat us, Ajax battered us,” Richards says. “We didn’t get through the group under Mancini. We were still getting used to it. It was a different level; a whole different thing. Every time we made a mistake, we were punished.”
It was easy for City to play the “inexperience” card in those days, particularly when as Champions League newbies their low coefficient ranking threw up some unforgiving draws (Napoli, Bayern and Villarreal in 2011-12 when Manchester United were knocked out of a group containing Benfica, Basel and Otelul Galati; Real, Dortmund and Ajax when United were drawn with Galatasaray, Braga and CFR Cluj a year later). “The reason we have not qualified yet is that we were in the toughest group in the Champions League, simple as that,” Vincent Kompany said back in 2011.
More than a decade has passed, though. This season was City’s 11th campaign in the Champions League. They have made the knockout stage in each of the past nine seasons, reached their first semi-final in 2016, the quarter-finals in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the final last year and the semi-finals this year.
Over the past five years they have been, by any analysis, one of the best teams in Europe. That is probably an understatement; for long periods, while setting an incredible standard in winning three Premier League titles in the past four seasons (and still on course for a fourth in five seasons), they could very reasonably claim to have been the best.
But there is still no European Cup. Since taking over from Manuel Pellegrini in 2016, Guardiola has elevated their football and their domestic performance to an extraordinarily high level, while repeatedly taking them to the later stages of the Champions League, but it is as if there is some fatal flaw in his team: the chaotic 6-6 draw with Monaco in 2017, which saw them knocked out on the away goals rule; the way they were overwhelmed by three Liverpool goals in 19 minutes in the quarter-final first leg at Anfield in 2018; another chaotic tie and away-goals defeat by Tottenham in the quarter-finals in 2019 (albeit with last-minute VAR heartbreak); the error-strewn display in losing to Lyon in 2020; the weirdly passive performance in last season’s final against Chelsea; and now this, going into the 90th minute of the semi-final second leg with a 5-3 aggregate lead over Real, only somehow to snatch defeat from the jaws of what felt like it should have been an emphatic victory.
Even upon second viewing, it is hard to make any sense of Wednesday night. City were in total control, 5-3 up on aggregate, twice threatening on the counter-attack through Jack Grealish in the closing stages.
As Guardiola said, “It’s not like the last 10 minutes (Real) attack and attack and attack and you suffer.” Real’s threat was largely notional until Eduardo Camavinga’s pass was turned towards the six-yard box by Karim Benzema and swept in by Rodrygo. And then, with Real smelling blood like a great white shark, City just seemed to succumb to the inevitable.
The goal came from nothing. But how and why did City allow themselves to be overwhelmed? Even at that point, they were still 5-4 up on aggregate. Why did Ederson, whose distribution is often immaculate, boot the ball long, surrendering possession at a time when City just needed to stay calm and take the wind out of their opponents’ sails? Even with six minutes’ stoppage time indicated, what did they have to fear but fear itself?
Yes, they were playing against the great Real Madrid, but for all the justifiable lauding of the way they overcame adversity to defeat Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in the previous two rounds, City had seemed to have the beating of them — just as they did when beating them home and away in 2020.
The Real team that won four out of five Champions League titles between 2014 and 2018 has largely been replaced. Of those who remain, Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric had all been hooked by the time Real forced their way back into the tie. That left only Dani Carvajal and Benzema (and, more remotely, Nacho and Marco Asensio) as players who had contributed to the Spanish club’s glorious past in this competition. And yet suddenly Real’s young players grew in stature as their City counterparts, many of them more experienced than their opponents, froze.
Is that something innate? Is it, to use that popular term, something in the DNA of both clubs? Is it something that stems from Guardiola, given that so many of his Champions League defeats over the past 11 years (and they include those against Real and Barcelona when he was in charge of Bayern) have involved at least two goals conceded in quick succession? Is this is a coach who is so fixated on possession and control that, when a match suddenly takes an unexpected twist, with momentum lost and the pressure ramped up, their Achilles’ heel is so exposed and they don’t know how to cope?
The mind goes back to something Guardiola said in April 2018 when City, having barely dropped a point all season in the Premier League, were preparing for that fateful quarter-final first leg at Anfield. “In the bad moments, you have to remain calm,” he said, certain there would be a storm to be weathered at some point the following evening. “Madrid, Barcelona, they are taking a cup of coffee (in those difficult moments) because they know their chance is coming. That’s the big difference.”
For so much of the past few years, in the Champions League as well as domestically, City have looked like the perfect illustration of how a top-class team should perform under pressure. Their Premier League record has been phenomenal. But against Monaco, against Liverpool, against Tottenham, against Lyon, against Chelsea and now against Real, control and composure have been lost suddenly and they have paid the price.
Yes, there has been misfortune too — questionable refereeing decisions, most recently Daniele Orsati’s failure to punish Casemiro for either of two bookable offences in the first half on Wednesday — as well as individual errors in defence and glaring misses like Raheem Sterling’s against Lyon in 2020. But increasingly the hard-luck stories have been outweighed by the sense of opportunities not taken.
We come back to the familiar question of whether a team needs to win the Champions League to be considered truly great. A personal view, vehemently held, is that the City teams of the past five seasons (perhaps more the 2017-19 period than this season or last) will certainly go down as one of the best club sides we have seen in this country, just like Arsenal’s “Invincibles” of 2004, who also fell well short on the European stage — as did the Chelsea team of the mid-2000s, who were highly unfortunate in that regard.
But there will always be naysayers and sometimes only a European Cup or two can bring something irrefutable to the argument, as it did for the great Liverpool teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s and the great Manchester United sides of 1999 and 2008.
Winning the Champions League is not, on its own, a badge that confers greatness upon a team, just as falling narrowly short on the European front does not necessarily mean a dominant and at times mesmerising team like Guardiola’s City — or early Wenger-era Arsenal — should be casually dismissed from such conversations. It is a knockout tournament in which unpredictable things can happen; Chelsea were arguably the best team in Europe under Jose Mourinho in the mid-2000s, but certainly not when they finally won the Champions League under Roberto Di Matteo in 2012 (or when they won it again under Thomas Tuchel last season).
The mention of Chelsea is apposite, though. Chelsea started out from a much stronger position after Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, but they reached the semi-finals in their first, second and fourth seasons under the Russian’s ownership, reached the final in year five (losing on penalties to Manchester United) and reached the semi-finals again in year six, performing heroically against Guardiola’s wonderful Barcelona team, only to be frustrated by some bizarre refereeing decisions and then by Andres Iniesta’s spectacular stoppage-time goal, which levelled the tie and sent Barcelona through on aggregate.
Long before Chelsea finally won it in 2012 — with, it is worth spelling out, a patched-up team which had just finished sixth in the Premier League under a caretaker manager — it had assumed the feeling of an odyssey. With City, too, it has become an odyssey, but it is one that has often been felt to lack a certain… ardour, if that is the right word. Since those early years under Mancini, they have tended to progress serenely through the group stage, playing free-flowing football, only to crack when the pressure is on in the later stages of the tournament.
Does this club and this fanbase really feel the Champions League the way, for example, Real or Bayern or Liverpool do? It has often felt not. European nights at the Etihad Stadium have at times been a hard sell. The club has frequently been at war with UEFA, European football’s governing body, over Financial Fair Play regulations, which have presented obstacles of a type that early Abramovich-era Chelsea did not face, and other disciplinary issues. City’s supporters make great play of booing the Champions League anthem. That is their right, but perhaps it doesn’t add to a sense of occasion.
But anyone who was at their quarter-final second leg against Liverpool in 2018 or that dramatic night against Tottenham in 2019 would dispute the notion that City were handicapped by their home crowd. The same goes for the semi-final first leg against Real last week, when City, in a raucous atmosphere, produced a performance of the highest intensity and technical quality, only to end up with a mere 4-3 advantage to show for a game they dominated.
And no amount of ambivalence or anti-UEFA feeling among the City fanbase could explain the collapse against Lyon in an empty stadium in Lisbon in 2020, or the unusually flat performance in last season’s final (this time with a restricted crowd) or indeed the disintegration in the final minutes at a rowdy Bernabeu on Wednesday night. These defeats were on Guardiola and his players. No excuses this time.
Whatever any of us might think of the ownership model, the motivation behind it or the vast sums that have been spent to transform City beyond recognition, it is a club run by smart people. They always recognised it was going to take time to develop a mid-table club into one that could win the Premier League and, from there, to compete for — and, ultimately, win — the Champions League.
The mind goes back to an interview City chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak did in 2012, in which he spelt out the step-by-step approach, “year one was to learn the ropes and manage change, year two to up it a notch and compete for a Champions League position while improving the infrastructure and culture of the club” and so on. They had just won the Premier League title in year four, which was bang on schedule, and year five was going to be about trying to maintain that level domestically while challenging in Europe.
Both publicly and privately, it has been measured — far more so than at Paris Saint-Germain, whose takeover by Qatar Sports Investments has warped French football so much that even winning an eighth Ligue 1 title in 10 seasons, by a huge margin, has left an air of disillusion and a growing sense of futility. Their president Nasser Al-Khelaifi declared as far as back as January 2014 that they had to win the Champions League “within the next four years at most”. (They, like City, are still waiting, having at times shown that same penchant for implosion when the stakes have been highest.)
At City, there has always been a recognition that European glory is not a divine right and that there are more variables in a knockout tournament. But it is correct to say there was an expectation, internally as well as externally, that a club winning five Premier League titles in the first 13 seasons of Sheikh Mansour’s ownership (which is as many as Chelsea have won in 19 seasons under Abramovich) would by now have won the Champions League at least once.
It is not as straightforward as suggesting that Guardiola was hired to win the Champions League, but it was certainly a significant part of his brief. Over the past six years, it is the one area in which he has fallen short (although there would be greater appreciation of his work in moulding Phil Foden into such a high-class performer if he had done more to integrate others from an excellent youth academy into the first-team squad).
The interesting question is whether, having not yet been able to steer City to Champions League glory, he has become part of the reason why they are falling short. Speaking personally, the instinctive answer has long been a firm “no”. But there was also a feeling, watching him address his players on the pitch at the end of normal time on Wednesday and then the way they started extra time so nervously, that perhaps on this particular occasion they needed a simple message rather than whatever tactical instructions he was trying to impart in such a manic, feverish manner.
There were no “overthinking” accusations here. Tactics didn’t lose that game for City. Events — and City’s inability to come to terms with them — did. More and more, these matches in the latter stages of the Champions League are coming down to teams’ ability or otherwise to adapt to dramatic changes in the dynamics of a high-stakes encounter. City and PSG, the new kids without the Champions League pedigree, have fallen victim to that, but so too at various times have Barcelona (against Liverpool in 2019, Bayern in 2020 and PSG in 2021), Liverpool (against Atletico Madrid in 2020) and indeed Real (against Ajax in 2019, City in 2020 and, very nearly, Chelsea in 2022).
It is a phenomenon of modern football that doesn’t seem to play to Guardiola’s undoubted strengths as a coach. But would City wish to sacrifice those strengths for a more pragmatic coach like Jose Mourinho or Antonio Conte, who last won a Champions League knockout tie in 2014 and 2013 respectively? Of course not.
Or even a coach like Zinedine Zidane or Carlo Ancelotti, whose calm air of detachment has brought better results in the Champions League in recent years? No. If Guardiola wishes to stay in Manchester beyond next season, the City hierarchy will be delighted to extend the arrangement, as indeed they should be.
But if success in the Champions League is self-perpetuating in the case of Real in particular — and not just from a financial perspective — it certainly feels as if repeated failure can weigh heavily on a group of players when the pressure is at its most intense. A kind of fear seemed to take hold of City the moment Rodrygo reduced the aggregate deficit to 5-4. Would that fear have been so intense had City done themselves justice and beaten Chelsea in last season’s final? We can only hypothesise, but very feasibly not.
It is the kind of thing that City, so faultless in the Premier League for much of the past five years, just haven’t done in the Champions League.
Even some of the praise for holding firm away to Atletico Madrid in the previous round felt — like some of that directed at Real for their supposed resilience in restricting City to a mere 4-3 victory in the semi-final first leg — a little excessive. Against Atletico, City performed nervously in the second half but survived. Against Real, they were in control for 89 minutes but then Real scored and it was as if the roof had fallen in. The team has evolved beyond recognition, and has been one of the best in Europe over a sustained period of time, but in some ways it was reminiscent of those Mancini-era capitulations in Munich, Naples and Amsterdam.
It was just the kind of scenario that Richards, who left City in 2015, was dreading when we spoke on Wednesday afternoon before he headed for the NBC Sports studio. He talked about how far City have come since those naive, early days in the Champions League, but there was also a nagging fear that their profligacy might be punished by a team with Real’s killer instinct.
Richards was asked whether, given their excellence in the Premier League, City truly need to win the Champions League. “I get asked this all the time,” he said. “Sometimes I play it down because of how well they’ve done in the Premier League; what they’ve done in the Premier League is nothing short of sensational, especially with how good this Liverpool side is.
“But the Champions League is a different thing. They do need to win this competition. The majority of people would say City are one of the best teams in Europe, if not the best. But you’ve got to show that. You’ve got to win the European Cup because it propels a club to a different level.
“Me personally, I would rather win the Premier League. But for the club, for where Manchester City are and where they want to go and for people to put them in that top bracket, globally, that is what they need. So I’m not going to play it down. They do need it. And it’s about time they did. To take the club to the next level, it’s got to happen. So come on, please, I need it. We need it.”Spool forward a few hours and another eagerly anticipated Champions League night had ended in chaos and anguish for City and their supporters — just like an occasion back in September 2012 when, on their first visit to the Bernabeu for a group match, they went into the closing stages 2-1 up only to be pegged back by an 85th-minute equaliser from that man Benzema and beaten by a last-minute goal from Cristiano Ronaldo. The day before that particular game, Mancini had told reporters he believed City were now in a position to challenge for the Champions League. “If you drive a Ferrari, you can win,” he told us with a laugh. “We used to drive a Fiat, maybe a Cinquecento, and it is not so easy. But now we drive a Ferrari.”Maybe so. And one day, as Al Mubarak said in 2020, they will surely crack it. But the longer this journey goes on, the more those unexpected bumps in the road seem to leave them in a tailspin.
|US National Team News|
|We are gearing up for an exciting summer! The Men’s and Women’s Para team are kicking things off in May at the IFCPF World Cup in Spain. Then the U.S. Men’s National Team opens June with two friendlies and two Concacaf Nations League matches and the U.S. Women’s National Team will close out June with two friendlies before heading to Monterrey, Mexico in July for the Concacaf W Championship. All this, plus our Youth National Teams are back in action and there is a new Insiders perk, check it all out below! World Cup Hype and What the Team is doing to prepare Now that the U.S. Men’s National Team has qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the team will kick off its preparation for the world’s biggest stage against Morocco on June 1 at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, before USA-Uruguay, presented by Allstate on June 5 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.. The USMNT will then play its final home match prior to the World Cup as it begins its Concacaf Nations League title defense against Grenada on June 10 at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas. The team will close out the summer international window with a visit to El Salvador in its second Nations League group stage match on June 14. Tickets for the three home matches are available now at ussoccer.com/tickets. With the youngest team to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the time is now to get behind the USMNT. During the seven-month qualifying gauntlet, Gregg Berhalter’s side set a number of unprecedented records, read up on all the facts and figures around the team’s successful road to Qatar and check out ussoccer.com’s World Cup Hub for info leading up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.|
More than a debut: Angel City FC’s home opener felt like the start of a new NWSL era
Meg Linehan May 4, 2022
That’s how long it took for women’s professional soccer to return to Los Angeles. The last time an LA team featured in a domestic league, it was the Sol back at the start of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS). After winning the shield in that inaugural 2009 season, their final match at the Home Depot Center (now Dignity Health Sports Park) in Carson was the WPS Championship. The LA Sol lost to Sky Blue FC thanks to a Heather O’Reilly goal in the 16th minute, in front of only 7,218 spectators.They didn’t know it at the time, but the Sol were a fleeting dream, dissolved before the league’s second season.
On Friday night, almost 13 years later, women’s soccer finally returned to the City of Angels. This time, at the Banc of California Stadium, as Nina Simone promised a new dawn and a new day over the speakers before first kick, the long-awaited return took place in front of a loud, joyous sell-out crowd of 22,000. From the stands full of supporters to minority owner Jennifer Garner, captured by cameras, they celebrated wildly, hitting triple digits on the decibel scale. First, it was Vanessa Gilles in the third minute, heading in a goal, before the expansion side struck again via Jun Endo only 10 minutes later.A dream start, a story so good it could only happen in Hollywood. But maybe it was the dream returning for good, in all the right ways — and maybe some new ones too.Angel City’s founding owner and president Julie Uhrman isn’t hard to spot as she moves through the pregame fan fest outside the stadium. The Angel City shirt and scarf combo help, but as she makes her entrance a few hours before the game, there are surprised looks of recognition on fans’ faces as she passes. Her family is in the crowd, and her twin sister Amy is by her side for most of the day. (Their resemblance fools me the first time; but by the end of the night I’m pointing out to folks that they’re about to try to talk to the wrong sister.)Being trailed by the team’s head of communications and a video crew (and The Athletic) helps up the conspicuous factor, but it’s clear that Uhrman doesn’t really mind the attention. She poses for selfies, checks in on fans waiting in line for various activities to make sure they’re enjoying themselves.Uhrman’s kids find her in the crowd, holding hand-written signs. The theme is very clear and very cute: “You did it, Mom!!!” They’re not without a little gentle parental heckling, though. Her son’s sign asks how many magazine covers she’s been on, noting that he’s lost count.She swings out to where the supporters’ groups are gathering, where her fellow founding owner Alexis Ohanian is already deep in a conversation with some folks from Rebellion 99, before one final walk through. Based on conversations with both the club and the supporters, this is one of the areas that could still use some improvement: for all of Angel City’s focus on community building and their stated appreciation of the supporters’ groups, there’s a sense that the front office still doesn’t quite grasp how a “supporter” is different from a “fan.” The team is still learning about the supporter infrastructure, and how independence from the front office is important. Angel City’s built an infrastructure around community in a way no other team has, but still needs to figure out how to truly value the external accountability supporters can provide.But even that challenge is progress in its own way.The fan fest brings back memories of WUSA, the first pro league started after the success of the 1999 World Cup — of my walking through a whole block of sponsor activations heading into Nickerson Field in Boston before a Boston Breakers game, of the pomp around the first-ever league match between Mia Hamm’s Washington Freedom and Brandi Chastain’s Bay Area CyberRays. It’s not the only time it feels like the past and present are colliding, especially considering Hamm is now an investor in Angel City.Reading back a report of that first WUSA match, the crowd is described as being “dominated by soccer moms and dads and screaming kids by the thousands.” That’s not the case at Banc of California Stadium at all. There are, of course, families and kids everywhere, but there’s also a full bar in the fan fest, along with a booth from whiskey brand Jane Walker, a sponsor. It’s still a family friendly event, but it feels far removed from those days of WUSA, or even the earlier years of the NWSL.“I was thinking of that (WUSA-opening) Washington game, actually,” Julie Foudy says a little later on, back inside the stadium. She reminisces that, for the players after the 1999 World Cup, the formation of WUSA was like “giving birth to a baby.” And when the league folded in 2003, the players who had spent so much time, and were willing to take pay cuts to keep the lights on, were crushed.“Now we’re sitting in on the ownership side as (former) players,” she says, “to be able to give in that sense meant so much to us. It’s really going to be emotional.”For Uhrman, the defining emotion of Friday night is pride, as feelings run high for most of the afternoon into evening. Long hugs, the threat of tears, a pause just to look around and take it all in — she’s not the only one experiencing the emotional release of the long journey to the first regular season game, but she is at the center of it all.“Proud of the team, proud of the club, proud of this community,” she says shortly before taking the field with the rest of her fellow owners. “Proud of everyone that believed in us and then those who came along after. There were people who didn’t believe in us, and then they’ve been converted.”It’s been almost two years since The Athletic (slightly) ruined a vacation Uhrman was on in the summer of 2020 by reporting that the ownership group and the NWSL were in advanced talks to bring a team to Los Angeles, longer still since the first conversations around the potential of such an idea. But even now, only moments before their first regular-season game, it still feels like the start of it all for Uhrman. There’s a whole season ahead. Now, maybe, they’ll finally learn what the normal day-to-day of a NWSL club is like.
“That’s the part that’s incredible,” she says, “knowing that this is the beginning.”There’s a lot that happened on Friday night that I’ve never really seen at a NWSL game before in my 10 years around the league, but the best exampleof “only Angel City would do this” is a pink carpet for the many team owners to walk for pregame interviews with media.For the owners who do roll through, it’s an interesting mix of those with deep ties to women’s soccer and women’s sports, and those who are relatively new to the landscape. When Billie Jean King shows up, she beelines down the carpet to Ohanian for a giant hug (made slightly hilarious thanks to their height difference) as she declares him an ally to everyone watching.Ohanian’s in a good mood himself. He made it a priority to show up early and head out into the fan fest to talk to as many people as he could manage before the game. While he didn’t even know the NWSL existed when he first started tweeting about women’s soccer during the 2019 World Cup, he’s now one of the most intriguing examples of this new class of NWSL owner: fully bought in, but in some ways, free of what came before.
“What’s exciting is that it’s still such a young league,” he says. “From the jump, that was one of the things that made this such an interesting opportunity for me. There was not this long precedent of decades of, ‘This is how we do things.’ There were lots of reasons why that was a disadvantage, but one key reason why that was, and I think will continue to be an advantage, is because we can dictate a different way of doing things.”
At the complete other end of the spectrum when it comes to women’s soccer experience, Mia Hamm frames the night in the greater historical context.
“With WUSA, we had no idea what was gonna happen. It was like, ‘We live for today, and then tomorrow we wake up and we do it all over again,’” she says. The fact that the NWSL is entering its 10th year helps assuage some of those carpe diem vibes, but Hamm doesn’t want anyone taking the night for granted.
“We use this energy to continue to build tomorrow, on the days after, because it can’t just be one day. It’s like anything in life, it’s a constant renewal and reinvestment.”
Angel City investor Abby Wambach, who played in WUSA, WPS and the NWSL, speaks to the shift that’s happening within the league right now, being driven by the players at multiple levels — from the negotiation of the collective bargaining agreement by the NWSL PA to players forcing change at the ownership level.
“When you’ve been given crumbs for so long, when you get crumbs plus a little more crumbs, you’re super grateful,” she says. “That’s what it felt like to be a part of the early stages of the NWSL — ‘Wow, we have a league, we should be grateful, we should just not ask questions, we should be fine with being on crappy buses and in crappy hotels.’
“What you see here (with Angel City) is a combination of so many people getting together and going, ‘No. It can be different. It can be this, don’t do that.’ We can make this whatever we want.”
That’s a huge part of the appeal of Angel City: that the team is free of the fear that has driven decision-making in women’s soccer for so long, that there’s no worry about proving the value of the team or the game — it’s taken as a foundational fact. As freeing as this is, however, that doesn’t mean it works out perfectly. The team still has to follow the new CBA; Angel City’s rightfully been criticized for building a brand first, roster second and many NWSL supporters are not willingly embracing the club’s use of NFTs.
There’s not just room for growth, but improvement. It’s not a bad problem to have on day one.
“This isn’t just about this year, right?” Wambach asks. “We’re still a new club. There’s going to be growing pains.” The important part for her as an owner is that she feels the club has opened the doors to everyone, that there are so many different voices in the mix at the ownership level.“It’s not just about even the women here, the owners, the team. It’s about the Billie Jeans, it’s about Title IX, it’s about all of the big steps and little steps that needed to be taken in order for us to get here and to be here with pride,” she says. She takes one of those long pauses, glancing at her fellow owners to her left and right, a hallway full of video crews and media, an area already jam-packed with people long before the game kicks off.“You know, this is really awesome. Here’s a pink carpet. We’re out in this freaking huge stadium, brand new stadium. It’s just a good day. It’s a really good day.”That good day only gets better. There’s an endless parade of owners out onto the field for pregame ceremonies — though the club finds out the hard way what happens when you have fireworks launch from the field, as the smoke lingers through the lower bowl. Brittany Howard and Tia P. are in front of the supporters’ safe standing section with a full brass band, launching into the club’s anthem before the players enter. Julie Foudy leads the full stadium in a clapping pattern in the way only she can, with an absurd amount of enthusiasm and zero shame about being over the top. A giant tifo is raised overhead across multiple sections of the safe standing sections — it promises Un Nuevo Amanecer; a new dawn.Nina Simone starts to serenade us all as the players shake out their legs, exchange high fives and quick words before the whistle. The wait, after all this build-up, feels infinite.Not every game is going to have a lead-in like this, but with 15,000+ season tickets sold, the team isn’t going to need to hit the high of this moment for every single game either.Angel City holds on for dear life against the North Carolina Courage for a 2-1 win to start the regular season. Walking the Banc during the game, everywhere feels like a party. The lines for merch and beer are long at every stand in the concourse. Most surprisingly, I only spot two USWNT jerseys the entire night. Mostly, the crowd is a sea of Angel City jerseys or black T-shirts — an impressive saturation level for a new team.At one point, I end up right behind one of the goals, sitting with a friend for a few minutes — which happened to be the very moment when Debinha clawed one back for the Courage, watching one of the game’s best from only a few yards away. My friend tells me later that the folks sitting in front of them bought season tickets as a family — their kids don’t play soccer, but they wanted to show them what was possible up close. We think for a moment about how many kids in that crowd were getting their first taste of women’s pro soccer, about how many lives it’s going to change, and it’s a little overwhelming.Finally, after what feels like an endless amount of stoppage time and a masterclass from Angel City goalkeeper DiDi Haračić in clock management, the final whistle presents another perfect, dream moment on the field. Los Angeles-born captain Ali Riley doesn’t hold back her tears, and there are hugs everywhere, players soaking in every single second of celebration from the sell-out crowd.“I’m gonna start crying again,” Riley says after the game, in front of a full press conference. “I have waited for a moment like this for 12 years. I hoped to get drafted to the LA Sol, but they folded before I had a chance. I’ve been all over the world. To be here, with my parents watching this game, for us to win, to feel the love, the support, I think we proved that anything is possible in women’s sports.”Watching from the press box, the celebration on Friday night is truly understandable — not just because of the upset, but because the first game, despite being the first, is the end of one part of the team’s journey.“I know it was just game one,” Riley continues. “It’s a moment I’ll never forget. No matter what happens this season, no one can ever take tonight away from us and this crowd. To feel that was unbelievable. I’ll never forget this.”