2/12/16 Champ League R of 16 Tues/Wed, EPL top 4 Battle, US results Men/Ladies, Games on TV

Ok lets start with Champions League which kicks off the Round of 16 Knockout Stages starting Tues/Wed this week and next with a couple of interesting matchups.  French leaders PSG host Chelsea again this season on Tues FS1 at 2:45, while Roma will host Real Madrid playing without right back Marcelo on Wednesday same time and channel. (see full game reviews below)

Interesting game vs Canada for the US Men last weekend – a game that saw the US dominate possession (as they should against a CONCACAF foe), outshoot them 10-1 and finally win 1-0 on a last second goal by Altidore.  So after the month long US camp what did we learn.  Altidore is back in the best shape of his life maybe and really gave fine effort in both games – scoring goals in both.  I thought his pairing Morris up top was a little stronger than with Zardes but the competition was tougher vs Iceland really.  I thought Lee Nguyen was the real winner of the camp – his play on the wing but really sliding into a #10 role was impressive.  It would be interesting to see him as a true #10 with Bradley serving the #6 role sometime.  While I do like Jones and his tenacity (his 6 game suspension) will keep him from playing vs Guatemala next month so I just don’t understand why he played him so much. (Especially at center back vs Canada – seriously he’s the worse Center back EVER!!) Why not allow Birnbaum to play his natural center slot and show what he can do while the European players are not available?? I really don’t understand the German sometimes.  Anyway – I thought

So the EPL has some big games on Sunday – as the top 4 teams in the table square off on NBCSN.  It starts with Arsenal hosting league leader Leicester City at 7am, followed by Man City hosting 2nd place Tottenham at the Etihad at 11:15 am.  Man I wish the Foxes of Leicester City would just add an American player so I could jump on the bandwagon full scale, either way you have to love one of the smallest payrolls in the EPL holding first place with just 13 EPL games to go.   Saturday also has US speedy defender DeAndre Yedlin and Sunderland hosting Man U at 7:45 am on NBCSN, while US Goalie Tim Howard may or may not be in goal as the Toffees of Everton host West Brom at 10 am.  Chelsea and new US defender Matt Miazga (might be on the traveling squad) will host New Castle United at 12:30 pm on NBCSN.

Around the leagues – Juventus will host Serie A leader Napoli Sat at 2:45 on beIN Sport looking to make up the 2 pts they trail in the table, while 3rd place Fiorentina host 4th place Inter Sunday morning at 6:30 on beIN Sport.   In La Liga Real Madrid will try life without left back Marcello as they host Athletic Club Sat at 10 am on beIN sport, while on Fox the Bundesliga will feature a number of good games including Borussia Dortmund vs Hannover 96 on FS2 at 9:30 Sat, and Ausburg hosting Bayern Munich Sun at 11:30 am on Fox Sports 2.  Finally the US Ladies are back in Action for Olympic Qualifying vs Mexico Sat at 4 pm on NBCSN, and again Monday night vs Puerto Rico at 8:30.

Champions League Sweet 16

Champions League Previews

Outside Chance US Matt Miazga could play UCL for John Terry

Paris and Chelsea meet for the third year in a row

PSG well placed to win, but Chelsea a good bet for the away goal too

Hazard  must be Difference maker for Chelsea vs PSG – ESPN FC Phil Lythell

Zidane centre stage as Real Madrid visit Roma full preview

Zenit comes off Winter Break to face Benfica test

Belgiums Gent and struggling in Germany’s Wolfsburg seek first-time success

 

What to Watch 4 – ESPN FC Video

PSG Issues prior to Chelsea Showdown

PGS Marginal Favorites over Chelsea

Zenit favored over Benefica tues

Real LB Marcelo out for Roma Matchup with Seperated Shoulder

Novelty for Gent vs Wolfsburg

Why Juve can Handle Bayern

Tues, Feb 16

2;45 pm  FS 1         PSG vs Chelsea

2:45 pm FS2           Benefica vs Zenit St. Pete

Wed, Feb 17

2:45 pm FS1           Roma vs Real Madrid

2:45 pm FS2           Gent vs Wolfsburg

Tues, Feb 23

2:45 pm FS 1          Arsenal vs Barcelona

2:45 pm FS 2          Juventus vs Bayern Munich

Wed, Feb 24

2:45 pm  FS1          Dynamo Kiev vs Man City

2:45 pm  FS 2         Eindhoven vs Atletico Madrid

EPL + World

Top 4 Battle Royal – NBC Soccer

Leicester Downplays EPL Title Winning Odds – Adam Murray ESPN FC

Neutrals want Leicester to Win title

The Foxes can knock Arsenal out of the Title Race and More of the Huge Game ESPNFC

Now do you Believe in Leicester- SI Avi Creditor

EPL Predictions for Huge Weekend at the Top EPSN FC

Man City and Spurs in a Title Showdown ESPN FC

Mourinho is the wrong man for Man U – Ryan Bailey Yahoo

Mourino and United a Perfect Match – McCarthy Omnisport

Juve Coming after League Leader Napoli on Saturday says world class keeper Buffon – ESPN FC

Men In Blazers

EPL Standings

Italy Table

Germany Table

Spanish Table

French Table  Nantes just 3 pts off 2nd.

USA

US ladies Christen Press Goal –holy crap Messi like

3 Takeaways for USWNT win over Costa Rica 5-0

Alex Morgan scores fastest goal in US History

Altidore’s late goal rescues US in Wasteful Friendly vs Canada

US Camp and 2 Wins – what did we learn – SI – Brian Straus

US U23 Jerome Kiesewetter makes Strong Impression SI

US Stuart Holden Announces Retirement

NASL + Indy 11

Indy 11 Squad coming into Focus

Indy 11 add La Liga Mid Gorka Larrea

11 Add defender Stephen Deroux

Bloody Shambles – NASL things

Indy 11’s EamonZayed –bloody Shambles-

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Friday, February 12

2:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1 and GolTV Español: Mainz vs. Schalke 04

Saturday, February 13

7:45 a.m., NBCSN and NBC Universo: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

9:30 a.m., Fox Sports 2 and Fox Deportes: Borussia Dortmund vs. Hannover 96
9:30 a.m., Fox Soccer Plus : Darmstadt vs. Bayer Leverkusen
10:00 a.m., NBCSN: Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion
10:00 a.m., USA Network: Norwich City vs. West Ham United
10:00 a.m., Extra Time: Crystal Palace vs. Watford, Bournemouth vs. Stoke City, Swansea City vs. Southampton

10 am  beIn Sport –  Real Madrid vs Athletic Club
12:30 p.m., NBCSN and NBC Universo: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

12:30 p.m., Fox Sports 2: Köln vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

Sunday, February 14

6:30 am beIn Sports: Milan vs Genoa

7:00 a.m., NBCSN and Telemundo: Arsenal vs. Leicester City
9:05 a.m., NBCSN and NBC Universo: Aston Villa vs. Liverpool

9:30 a.m., Fox Sports 1 Hamburg SV vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach

11:15 a.m., NBCSN and NBC Universo: Manchester City vs. Tottenham

11:30 a.m., Fox Sports 2 and GolTV Español: Augsburg vs. Bayern Munich

2:45 pm, beIn Sport  Fiorentina vs Internazionale

 Mon, Feb 15

8:30 pm NBCSN  USA Women vs Puerta Rico

Tues, Feb 16

Champions League

2;45 pm  FS 1               PSG vs Chelsea

2:45 pm FS2                 Benefica vs Zenit St. Pete

 Wed, Feb 17

2:45 pm FS1                 Roma vs Real Madrid

2:45 pm FS2                 Gent vs Wolfsburg

 Thurs, Feb 18

Europa League

1 pm Anderlecht vs Olympiachos, Dortman vs Porto, Fioreentina vs Tottehman, Midtiland vs Man U, Villarreal vs Napoli

3 pm Ausburg vs Liverpool, Sporting Portugal vs Bayern Leverkusen, Valencia vs Rapid Vienna, Galatasaray vs Lazio

  Fri,  Feb 19

2:30 pm bEIn Sports Bologna vs Juve

5:30 + 8:30 pm NBCSN – Olympic Qualifying Semi Finals – USA vs?

 Sat,  Feb 20  FA Cup Weekend

7:45 am NBCSN Arsenal vs Hull City

 Sun, Feb 21

9:30 am Fox Soccer Plus?  Bayern Leverkusen vs Borussia Dortmund

10 am Fox sports 2?   Chelsea vs Man City

11:30 am Fox Soccer Plus – Schalke vs Stuttgart

5:30 pm NBCSN  Olympic Qualifying – Finals – USA vs? 

 Tues, Feb 23  Champ League

2:45 pm FS 1 Arsenal vs Barcelona

2:45 pm FS 2 Juventus vs Bayern Munich

8 pm  FS1? Queretaro vs DC United

10 pm FS2? Seattle Sounders vs Club America

 Wed, Feb 24

2:45 pm  FS1 Dynamo Kiev vs Man City

2:45 pm  FS 2 Eindhoven vs Atletico Madrid

8 pm Tigres UNAL vs Real Salt Lake

10 pm LA Galaxy vs Santos Laguna

 Tuesday, March 1:

D.C. United vs. Querétaro, CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg, 8:00 p.m. (TV TBD)

Santos Laguna vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg, 10:00 p.m. (TV TBD)

  Wednesday, March 2: 

Club América vs. Seattle Sounders, CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg, 8:00 p.m. (TV TBD)

Real Salt Lake vs. Tigres UANL, CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg, 8:00 p.m. (TV TBD)

 Sunday, March 6: 

Portland Timbers vs. Columbus Crew, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN Deportes)

Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City, 7:00 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes)

Los Angeles Galaxy vs. D.C. United, 10:00 p.m. (UniMás, Univision Deportes)]

 Friday, March 25: 

Guatemala vs. United States men, WC qualifier, time TBD (beIN Sports,)

 Tuesday, March 28:

United States men vs. Guatemala, WC qualifier, time TBD (ESPN2,-Columbus, OH)

MLS TV Schedule for 2016

What to watch out for in the Champions League
Published: Sunday 14 February 2016, 12.00CET
Can Guus Hiddink’s return help Chelsea oust Paris? Will Zenit emerge sparkling from their winter break? Is Edin Džeko headed for the bench at Roma?
Can Hiddink work Chelsea magic again?
When Guus Hiddink was appointed Chelsea’s interim manager back in 2008/09, the Dutchman remained undefeated in the UEFA Champions League, overseeing wins against Juventus (3-2 on aggregate, round of 16) and Liverpool (7-5 on aggregate, quarter-finals) – and only being denied a place in the final by Andrés Iniesta’s last-gasp equaliser in the semi-final second leg. Hiddink, therefore, registered two victories and four draws in his six UEFA Champions League matches and has compiled a similarly unbeaten domestic record since succeeding José Mourinho in December.

However, his charges must now overcome a Paris Saint-Germain side who have not lost in 44 domestic fixtures – putting Chelsea’s untarnished 12-game sequence under Hiddink into perspective. The Dutchman, though, has plenty of UEFA Champions League pedigree, having taken PSV to the 2004/05 semi-finals – again undone by an away goal, this time from AC Milan’s Massimo Ambrosini – and claimed the trophy with the Eindhoven club in 1988.
Paris v Chelsea, Tuesday

©FC Zenit St Petersburg
New Zenit signings Yuri Zhirkov and Aleksandr Kokorin
Will Zenit roar out of hibernation?
Goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev, defender Igor Smolnikov and midfielder Viktor Fayzulin definitely miss Zenit’s last-16 opener against Benfica through injury, while another midfielder, Aleksandr Ryazantsev, is doubtful. That and a lack of competitive football during the Russian winter break might be cause for concern.

Training camps in Qatar, Portugal and Spain could help keep Zenit sharp, though, enabling André Villas-Boas to bed in in three signings – former Terek Grozny anchorman Maurício and Russian internationals Yuri Zhirkov and Aleksandr Kokorin, both ex-Dinamo Moskva players. “Benfica look quite strong now,” said Zenit’s Portuguese coach. “They haven’t lost for quite some time. But they have their biggest matches ahead and you can be 100% sure we will take on Benfica with full commitment.”
Benfica v Zenit, Tuesday

©Getty Images
The goals have dried up for Roma’s Edin Džeko
Nine or false nine for Roma?
This is probably Luciano Spalletti’s biggest dilemma for the visit of Real Madrid. Roma had great expectations when they recruited Edin Džeko last summer, but the Bosnia and Herzegovina ace has scored only four times in Serie A. Meanwhile, forwards Stephan El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti have shone since joining Roma in January, with the latter operating as ‘false nine’.

“When you have a bad period at a big club it’s always going to cause a stir,” Spalletti said of Džeko. “But I’m sure we can help him out of this situation.” Ominously for the No9, the coach famously led Roma to 11 straight wins in 2005/06 while using Francesco Totti as a striker; he adopted the same tactic when the Giallorossi eliminated Madrid in 2007/08. Will he try to surprise the Merengues again or does he rely on Džeko coming good?
Roma v Real Madrid, Wednesday

The success of Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s well-drilled Gent side ensured some interest in his players over the winter recess. The fact Gent kept hold of all their biggest names – agreeing contract extensions until 2019 with Belgian Player of the Year Sven Kums, goalkeeper Matz Sels, Nana Asare, Moses Simon and Danijel Milicevic – was a major triumph. “I like it here,” midfielder Kums said. “I always said I could easily see myself staying here.”

Their guests, meanwhile, are not having an easy time. Wolfsburg have won once in eight Bundesliga outings, forward Bas Dost is injured, Nicklas Bendtner is out of sorts, and Basel rebuffed their approach to sign Breel Embolo in the winter. Goalscoring duties will likely fall to Max Kruse, Julian Draxler and André Schürrle.
Gent v Wolfsburg, Wednesday

Premier League leaders Leicester can knock Arsenal out of the title race

  1. How will Leicester deal with increased expectations?

Leicester City’s jaw-dropping 3-1 win at Manchester City last weekend ensured we’ve all just about come to terms with the Foxes as title-winning material. Any remaining sceptics will surely be converted should they repeat that feat at Arsenal on Sunday. But Claudio Ranieri must cope with a new issue that goes by the name of “expectancy.” It is a different type of pressure to win when it is demanded of you. Even Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has fed the media the line that Leicester are now favourites for glory. Arsenal stumbled after leading from the front earlier this season and now it’s the Foxes’ turn to be the team everyone wants to defeat, or at least avoid losing against.

In September, Arsenal beat Leicester 5-2 in a game that totalled 43 shots — one of only two losses for Ranieri’s side from 25 fixtures. It was a gloriously nonsensical encounter of attack versus attack that Arsenal prevailed in, yet logic dictates that to upset this Leicester team then the opponents should not play into their hands by pressing high and thus leaving themselves open, like City did last Saturday. No matter the tactics, only a victory will do for Wenger’s third-placed team, for leaders Leicester have it within their power to knock Arsenal out of the title race by making the gap eight points.

  1. Can Manchester City cope with Tottenham?

Manchester City were badly exposed against Leicester. Although two of the Foxes’ three goals came from set pieces, the threat of further humiliation remained with Manuel Pellegrini’s side lacking the relentlessness of their opposition. Leicester were quicker to the loose balls and faster to spring forward. Anything resembling a re-run of this performance against Tottenham on Sunday will not be acceptable.

Speaking after last week’s 1-0 win for Spurs, defeated Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores likened the North London team to “animals,” such was their ferocity. Mauricio Pochettino has at his disposal an insatiable crop of players, who thumped City 4-1 in September. Martin Demichelis, who in particular had a poor game against Leicester, will again have his work cut out against the effervescence of Dele Alli & Co. With focus on Leicester, the title dream remains for under-the-radar Spurs.

  1. Who is more fragile: Aston Villa or Liverpool?

One of Liverpool and Aston Villa have won two and lost just one of their last five top-flight matches, managing three clean sheets in the process. It’s not Liverpool. Bottom-of-the-table Villa are staging something resembling a revival despite the general consensus that they are doomed no matter what they do — eight points still separate them from safety with 13 games left. Liverpool, meanwhile, are the same number of points (12) from the bottom three as they are from fourth place. All is not going according to plan for Jurgen Klopp, whose side have shown flashes of genius but also a worrying trend to collapse and concede from set pieces.

  1. How will Chelsea cope without Kurt Zouma?

The screams of pain from Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma when he fell awkwardly in last Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Manchester United were haunting and did not bode well for the 21-year-old. It was confirmed he will be sidelined for six months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. During an utterly miserable season for champions Chelsea, Zouma has been one of a few bright lights. The France international has been an ideal foil to the experienced but ageing John Terry in the heart of defence, helping Guus Hiddink to a so-far unbeaten return to Stamford Bridge. Now, re-enter Gary Cahill in his place, a man looking to get his campaign back on track ahead of representing England at Euro 2016. That starts at home to Newcastle on Saturday evening.

  1. What is going on at Stoke?

It seems like only yesterday that Stoke City were flavour of the month. They were going to rule the world with Mark Arnautovic, Bojan and Xherdan Shaqiri strutting their stuff in attack. But the wheels have come off somewhat. Three straight losses have been endured, not to mention departures from the FA Cup and League Cup. There is still a 10-point gap between them and the relegation zone, but dreams of European qualification are beginning to fade. Goalkeeper Jack Butland said that “words need to be had” in light of their slide from seven to 11th in the table. A trip to Bournemouth awaits this weekend when a win for the Cherries would see them just two points below Stoke, who badly need captain Ryan Shawcross back from injury.James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC.

 

PREDICTIONS FOR WEEKEND IN EPL

Arsenal may never have a better chance to end their 12-year wait for a Premier League trophy but Leicester stand in their way and remain the story of the season.

The pair clash on Sunday when the top four are all in action against one another. Manchester City, fighting Arsenal and Leicester in the title race, face a Tottenham side who have emerged as surprise contenders as well.

Manchester United, meanwhile, seek to get closer to those above them in the hunt for the top four and the Champions League spots. Louis van Gaal’s men kick the weekend’s action off with a trip to relegation-threatened Sunderland.

Each week, ESPN FC’s club bloggers will preview their match and give a prediction. Do you agree or disagree? Have your say below by voting in the match poll.

 

ARSENAL: If Arsenal are to shake off the reputation of finding it difficult to get going when the going gets tough, this is a game they have to win. With Alexis Sanchez back, Mesut Ozil pulling the strings and plenty of experience in the side, the Gunners will respond and take three points.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Leicester — Andrew Mangan

LEICESTER: Claudio Ranieri’s men are fully capable of completing an unlikely hat trick of improbable Premier League wins against Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal. The Gunners thrashed the Foxes 5-2 in the corresponding fixture back in September, but Ranieri’s confident City are defending far better and can take at least a point from the game
Prediction: Arsenal 2-2 Leicester — Ben Jacobs

 

MAN CITY: This is an absolute crunch fixture for City against a side that have won their past four league matches. It could not be tougher for Manuel Pellegrini’s embattled, injury-plagued men. As usual when the chips are down, and they are certainly down now, we must expect the unexpected.
Prediction: Manchester City 3-2 Tottemham — Simon Curtis

TOTTENHAM: City are the Premier League’s Jekyll & Hyde. On their day they are world beaters; on an off-day they are also-rans. Spurs haven’t had a great track record at the Etihad in recent years, but it’s a grittier, stronger and more confident side this time. Spurs to edge it.
Prediction: Manchester City 1-2 Tottenham — John Crace

SUNDERLAND: The home side must raise their game to overcome even an unconvincing Manchester United at the Stadium of Light. Manager Sam Allardyce’s task is to make his players, from the ever-dangerous Jermain Defoe to new boys Jan Kirchhoff and Wahbi Khazri, believe an upset is possible.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Manchester United — Colin Randall

MAN UNITED: Sunderland last won in the Premier League a month ago, but their past three games — two losses and a draw — have been closer than their relegation place suggests. United, with a revived Wayne Rooney and improved attacking form in their past three, should narrowly prevail.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United — Musa Okwonga

ASTON VILLA: The visitors have a great recent record in this fixture, having won the past four Premier League encounters here. Villa’s 2-0 victory against Norwich just about keeps slim survival hopes alive but Remi Garde’s team need to follow that with further wins to stand any chance of staying up.
Prediction: Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool — Kevin Hughes

LIVERPOOL: The Reds go to Villa Park with more firepower than they’ve had available all season, as Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Philippe Coutinho all came through the midweek loss at West Ham and will help lighten the load on in-form Roberto Firmino, who has five goals in his past five Premier League starts.
Prediction: Aston Villa 0-2 Liverpool — Dave Usher

 

CHELSEA: Newcastle would happily settle for a draw which is all Chelsea under Guus Hiddink seem capable of at Stamford Bridge. Supporters harbouring hopes that Hiddink will rest key players for the forthcoming Champions League game with PSG and give the youth a chance to play with purpose will probably end up disappointed.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Newcastle — Mark Worrall

NEWCASTLE UNITED: The visitors head to Stamford Bridge on the back of what has become a rare winning feeling. Chelsea have been up-and-down this season but much depends on the performance of Georginio Wijnaldum, who can’t seem to tick away from home.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle — Lee Ryder

 

EVERTON: Three clean sheet wins in a week has reinvigorated Everton as they prepare for the visit of West Brom on Saturday. But the home side must be wary against a defensive visiting team primed to crash the Goodison party like so many others through this season and last.
Prediction: Everton 1-0 West Brom — Luke O’Farrell

WEST BROM: The Baggies have just one league win in 2016 and their squad has been decimated by injuries to several key players. Ben Foster will need to keep up his good form if Tony Pulis’ side are to get anything from the game at Goodison Park.
Prediction: Everton 1-0 West Brom — Matthew Evans

 

CRYSTAL PALACE: After stemming the run of five straight defeats with a draw at Swansea last weekend, Palace will be hoping for their first win of 2016, against a stuttering Watford side. Connor Wickham is back and most fans are hoping Alan Pardew will play him with Emmanuel Adebayor up front in a more adventurous 4-4-2.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-0 Watford — Jim Daly.

WATFORD: The Hornets were understandably defensive against Tottenham last weekend and although they avoided a thrashing, they never looked like getting a positive result. With Palace in woeful form they must try to be a little braver at Selhurst Park, but goals remain a big problem for both teams and it’s unlikely to be a thriller.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-1 Watford — Michael Moruzzi

 

BOURNEMOUTH: Eddie Howe’s men need more bite up front against Stoke City after struggling to hit the target in their last game, when Arsenal eased home 2-0 on the South Coast. With relegation rivals picking up points, a win is vital. Matt Ritchie and Benik Afobe will want to produce better performances.
Prediction: Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke — Steve Menary

STOKE: Fans will be hoping that a trip to the seaside will revive Stoke’s ailing fortunes. A long-awaited return for Ryan Shawcross is on the cards, but should he not make it, the rest of the team will need to dig deep to overcome a side enjoying an impressive debut in the top flight.
Prediction: Bournemouth 1-1 Stoke — James Whittaker

 

NORWICH: The defeat at relegation rivals Aston Villa was the tipping point for many Norwich fans. Alex Neil needs a positive result after six straight losses to check the clamour for managerial change. City must cash in on any signs of FA Cup fatigue from the visitors.
Prediction: Norwich 2-1 West Ham — Paddy Davitt

WEST HAM: Slaven Bilic’s men had an exhilarating but tiring extra time win against Liverpool in the FA Cup and Norwich should view this as a must-win. Expect Neil’s men to heap the pressure on and look to exploit weary legs.
Prediction: Norwich 1-1 West Ham — Peter Thorne

SWANSEA: Francesco Guidolin’s Swans are still a work in progress. The side look far better overall, but still have trouble turning leads into wins. In-form Southampton are not going to make Guidolin’s task any easier this Saturday, but with Swansea playing better defensively of late, another stalemate wouldn’t be a surprise.
Prediction: Swansea 1-1 Southampton — Max Hicks

SOUTHAMPTON: After taking 13 points from their past five matches, Southampton are right back in the shake-up for a European place, thanks to a new-found defensive solidity. You have to go back to their FA Cup third-round defeat at home to Crystal Palace for the last time they conceded a goal.
Prediction: Swansea 0-2 Southampton — Alex Crook

 

Leicester City’s magical run continues with 3-1 win over Manchester City

BY AVI CREDITOREmailPosted: Sat Feb. 6, 2016

NOW do you believe?  Leicester City went into the Etihad on Saturday and extended its lead at the top of the Premier League table, beating Manchester City 3-1 on the strength of defender Robert Huth’s two set-piece goals, which sandwiched Riyad Mahrez’s strike in the 48th minute. The result comes days after a spirit-lifting win against Liverpool sparked by Jamie Vardy’s wonder-strike, and it gives Leicester a six-point edge over Man City through 25 games.At this point last season, Leicester, with just 17 points, appeared certainly headed for relegation. Now? A very real contender to lift the Premier League trophy in one of the most remarkable stories ever.Here are three thoughts on the match:

Leicester is comfortable in its own skin

Leicester makes no secret of what it’s trying to do when it takes the field. While the visitors were aggressive from the opening kick and won the chance necessary to take the early lead, they reverted back into their defensive shell, looking to strike with the opponent committing numbers forward. Leicester doesn’t want the possession battle, nor does it care if it’s even close, as SI’s Liviu Bird wrote in his tactical breakdown of the club’s approach. What the Foxes do is defend cleanly, possess with a purpose, counter as well as anyone in the league and be efficient on set pieces. The biggest question has been whether Leicester could sustain its success given its style of play, which isn’t typically conducive to such an elongated run. Yet the club has answered every question it has had to, no matter if the doubters will still linger. Perhaps it’s time to stop questioning how this is all happening and start marveling at why.WATCH: Mahrez strikes on the counter with lethal finish  Consider this: In 180 minutes against Manchester City, the league’s most prolific attack entering Saturday’s action, Leicester conceded just once, to Sergio Aguero in the 87th minute Saturday with the game’s result long decided.

Huth the unsung hero

For all of the plaudits thrown–deservedly–at Vardy and Mahrez for Leicester’s success, there’s been a vital piece of the puzzle in the back, and that is Saturday’s two-goal scorer, Huth. The 31-year-old German has been steady as they come in marshaling Leicester back four, and he’s come through in the clutch against top competitors with six points against Manchester City and Tottenham coming at the direct result of his goals.Leicester has given up two goal in six games in 2016–the first oddly enough to woeful Aston Villa in a surprising 1-1 draw, the second with Saturday’s result decided–and it’s about time Huth and his back line mates Wes Morgan, Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs (who, to be fair, was on the right end of a controversial call that could have seen Man City awarded a first-half penalty) get their due for their role in Leicester’s success.Huth had not scored multiple goals in a game since doing so almost five years ago to the day for Stoke City against Sunderland, and he’d only scored more than twice in an entire season three times in his 12-year career. Is there a more appropriate symbol for Leicester’s achievement on the day?

Leicester’s very real title chance

Leicester plays at Arsenal next week with all of the pressure solely on the Gunners, regardless of their result Sunday against Bournemouth.PAfter that? It’s a relative cakewalk on Leicester’s fixture list, with seven of its last 12 games coming at home and the degree of difficulty not really being ramped up until the final stretch of games at Manchester United, vs. Everton and at Chelsea.At this point, the question isn’t so much whether Leicester will finish in the top four and reach the Champions League–it is now 13 points clear of fifth-place Manchester United–but if Leicester can do the unthinkable and win it all.The Foxes also have the advantage of not playing in any other competitions this season. Manchester City still has the Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup. Tottenham has the Europa League and FA Cup. Arsenal has the Champions League and FA Cup. While they might have deeper squads on paper than Leicester, they’re going to be stretched thin. At what point do Manuel Pellegrini, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsene Wenger put their focus in the league? That’s not a problem for Claudio Ranieri, and as he has for most of the Foxes’ magical season, he can just sit back and smile.

Manchester City and Tottenham in title showdown at the Etihad

The ESPN FC

Sunday’s meeting between Manchester City and Tottenham is a potentially pivotal clash in the title race.

City go into the game on the back of a disastrous 3-1 defeat to leaders Leicester City while Spurs have won their past six in all competitions. The form guide would seem to favour the visitors but will it go that way?

Manchester City correspondent Jonathan Smith and Tottenham correspondent Dan Kilpatrick preview this weekend’s match at the Etihad.

Will the winner of this season’s title come from this match?

Jonathan Smith: I’m setting myself up for an embarrassing fall, I know, but I still see City as the favourites. If they have Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne available for the last two months of the campaign, they can reel the others in. Both times they won the Premier League, in 2012 and 2014, City won their last five games of the season to pile the pressure on their rivals, who ultimately buckled.

Spurs are certainly starting to look really menacing, though. Mauricio Pochettino is such an impressive manager and is getting the best out of his squad. My only doubts would be whether they have the belief that they can win it and the possible extra and unnecessary strain of the Europa League.

Dan Kilpatrick: I reckon the champions are more likely to come from Arsenal vs. Leicester, simply because I see Claudio Ranieri’s men as the favourites.

This season has made mugs of everyone who’s attempted to predict anything but I can see two away wins on Sunday, making it difficult for City to recover the confidence and points to haul it back.

What will this match reveal about where the title is heading?

JS: There’s a lot of doom and gloom around City after the Leicester defeat but a win would put a completely different complexion on the situation. If results go their way they could be third, three points off the top.

It’s become the biggest game of the season. City are under immense pressure to get a result — particularly as they haven’t beaten anyone from the top six all season. Spurs have only been talked about in recent weeks as potential title winners. If they can replicate what Leicester did, it will put them firmly among the favourites and that can bring its own pressure.

DK: A win would be massive for Tottenham. Since mid-November, Spurs have enjoyed a relatively kind run of fixtures, so Sunday has long been regarded as a milestone. Mauricio Pochettino’s mantra is “one game at a time” — Eric Dier even said recently he’s only aware of who their next opponent is, which I didn’t fully buy — but the manager and players will also have been looking at this game as a benchmark. Win, and it’ll be impossible to ignore Spurs’ credentials.

Where will the match be won and lost?

JS: Harry Kane is the danger man that I would be most concerned about and I’m sure the striker will try to isolate himself with Martin Demichelis as much as possible. The veteran Argentine is a wily old defender and often doesn’t get the credit he deserves. But there’s no hiding his lack of pace and, Kane’s speed and sharpness could cause him real problems. It’s a big ask but if Demichelis can keep him quiet, it will go a long way to securing a victory.

DK: While I agree that Kane vs. Demichelis is important, I’m interested in the other end.

Kevin Wimmer is yet to put a foot wrong but hasn’t been seriously tested yet and Sergio Aguero, who loves playing Spurs, will give us a better idea of the Austrian’s quality. If Wimmer and co. can restrict him, Spurs have a great chance of winning.

Who’s the better manager?

JS: I’m mightily impressed with Pochettino. His Spurs side is greater than the sum of its parts with every player knowing their role. And his ability to improve players is remarkable. I’m stunned by the improvement in Eric Dier in the past 12 months while Dele Alli and Kieran Trippier seemed like gambles at the time but now look like they could both go to Euro 2016 with England. His team are quick, fit and aggressive and clearly have a close bond.

It’s the complete opposite of Manuel Pellegrini’s side who can often look like a team of individuals. It may seem harsh to be overly critical of the City boss but you can’t help but feel that this side should be achieving more and it will be fascinating to see how things change under Pep Guardiola.

DK: Agreed. Sir Alex Ferguson apparently thinks Pochettino is the best manager in the league, and I don’t think he’s far wrong. The Argentine inherited a rotten squad devoid of cohesion and desperately short of balance and quality. In 18 months, he’s transformed Spurs into title challengers while making the club a profit.

As Jonathan says, the team is greater than the sum of its parts, rendering it routinely impossible to pick a Spurs man of the match. Alli and Dier started the season as a League One rookie and an out-of-position centre-half, respectively, while Erik Lamela and Mousa Dembele were derided as expensive flops.

As for Pellegrini, I look at his squad and this season’s Premier League and think City should be doing far better.

Pick one player from the opposition who’d get you over the line in the title race.

JS: Kane is Tottenham’s standout player but I’d always go with Aguero ahead of him. Clearly City’s defence is their weakness so I would probably pick Toby Alderweireld as the man who would make the biggest difference.

Spurs have conceded the fewest goals in the Premier League this season and Alderweireld is the senior figure at the heart of the defence. He was impressive at Southampton and has stepped into the Tottenham back-four without any problem. His leadership and organisation is something City could do with and the fact he hasn’t missed a minute of Premier League football would be a big bonus, particularly as Vincent Kompany has been such a huge miss.

DK: Aguero. Spurs are short on strikers and Aguero would improve any team in the world. Pochettino’s men would be comfortably clear at the top with the Argentine, who would have turned a lot of their draws into narrow victories.

That said, I disagree with Jonathan. If I had to pick one of Kane or Aguero for Spurs, I’d stick with Kane. Fitness has to be taken into account when considering a player’s overall quality and Kane is capable of playing 50 games a season. Aguero isn’t.

Prediction

JS: 1-0 to City, Aguero making the difference.

DK: 2-1 to Spurs, who’ll have too much for a depleted home side.

 

 

Three takeaways from the USWNT’s win over Costa Rica

Goal.com Wed, Feb 10 11:15 PM PST

Seven months after the U.S. national team last played a meaningful match, coach Jill Ellis returned to competitive play with a tried and tested lineup.For all of the experimentation and turnover that has defined the Americans in recent months, nine of the 11 players who started the Women’s World Cup final were on the field Wednesday in Frisco, Texas, for the start of Olympic qualifying.While established star Alex Morgan’s two goals — including a stunning 12-second opener — grabbed the headlines, it was the pair of newcomers who left the biggest impression.

Here are three takeaways from the U.S. team’s 5-0 thrashing of Costa Rica:

CRYSTAL DUNN LOOKS READY FOR PRIME TIME

 

One of just two cuts for the World Cup from the 25-player roster the U.S. carried last spring, Dunn responded to that snub with a remarkable blend of on-the-field dominance and off-the-field poise. Scoring a league-leading 15 goals on her way to NWSL MVP honors, Dunn earned a recall — and promptly carried that fine form to the national team by netting four times in seven caps this past fall.The 23-year-old certainly looked like she belonged Wednesday, drawing a ninth-minute penalty kick that Carli Lloyd coolly converted before getting her own name on the score sheet with a scrappy strike in the 15th minute. Dunn caused plenty of problems with her pace and precision on the dribble from a wide midfield role, and combined well with right back Ali Krieger (her Washington Spirit teammate).While Dunn has been at home as a winger for the U.S., she has extensive experience at fullback for club and country. It’s also worth mentioning she thrived as a lone striker and occasionally played central midfield for Washington last season. If healthy, she’s a lock for Rio — where 18-player rosters place a premium on versatility.

SO DOES LINDSEY HORAN

 

Although Dunn is a natural replacement for Megan Rapinoe while the winger recovers from a torn ACL, few would have pegged Lindsey Horan as the heir apparent to Lauren Holiday in the middle. But just as the now-retired Holiday transitioned from forward to box-to-box midfielder, Horan appears perfectly comfortable making the same leap.Horan used her first touch to put her stamp on the game Wednesday, pinging a 50-yard ball that Lloyd nodded into the path of Morgan for the Americans’ opener. Putting her strength and 5-foot-9 frame to good use, the 21-year-old roamed into the opposing box with regularity to offer an extra target — winning the header that led to Dunn’s strike.Plenty of players have gotten looks in defensive or box-to-box midfield roles in recent months — including Kristie Mewis, Becky Sauerbrunn, Tobin Heath and Meghan Klingenberg — but that starting slot next to Morgan Brian is Horan’s to lose.

IS THIS ALEX MORGAN’S YEAR?

 

The up-and-comers, of course, weren’t the only players to shine Wednesday. With what U.S. Soccer says is “believed” to be the fastest goal in the national team’s history, Morgan landed herself a spot on highlight reels for years to come — and added a headed strike in the 62nd minute for good measure.Limited by injuries in recent years, Morgan hasn’t come close to replicating that prolific 2012, when she racked up 28 goals and 21 assists en route to the FIFA World Player of the Year shortlist. Yet even a hobbled Morgan was enough to lead the line for last summer’s World Cup-winning squad, and her ability to create danger behind the back line was on full display against Costa Rica.With the 26-year-old looking sharp and fully recovered from post-World Cup knee surgery, this could be the year that Morgan consistently returns to “elite” status. For U.S. fans, that might be the most welcome development of all.

USMNT Camp wrap: Winners, looking forward

BY BRIAN STRAUSTwitter EmailPosted: Tue Feb. 9, 2016

Reasonable people can disagree about whether Jurgen Klinsmann has made sufficient progress in his four-plus years in charge of the U.S. national team, but the recently concluded winter camp illustrated one of the uniquely American factors that are beyond the manager’s control.The MLS season is long. The offseason is as well. Take, for example, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, two of Klinsmann’s most important players. When Toronto FC kicks off its regular season campaign on March 6, the veteran pair will have gone 129 days without playing for their clubs (they did appear in a couple of World Cup qualifiers in mid-November). That’s more than a third of a calendar year, and it makes the national team’s annual January camp as much or more about maintenance as it is about tactical or technical progress.In the past, Klinsmann has been frustrated by the fitness level of MLS players in the middle of a lengthy offseason. This year, instead of fighting it, he adjusted his expectations and the day-to-day intensity of the month-long gathering in Southern California. Rather than a referendum on his MLS-based player pool, he said camp would be about “get[ting] them back on track and try to get them going and step-by-step give them a head start to 2016.”​Friendlies against under-strength Iceland and Canada would give the players something to look forward to after nearly a month of training, but the games wouldn’t reveal much about where the U.S. is headed. Neither opponent presented much of a challenge, and roster changes—there were early departures and late arrivals—impacted Klinsmann’s tactical options even further. In fact, the coach called both games “scrimmages.”Altidore, who scored in the 3-2 win over Iceland and Friday’s 1-0 defeat of Canada, indicated that Klinsmann got the focus and message right.“I thought it was a bit more relaxed, in terms of, he let each player kind of be the driver of their own camp, to kind of do what they thought best to prepare them for the season, which I thought was cool,” the forward told Fox. “I thought it’s a huge plus. I thought I took advantage of it. I think a lot of guys did.”All of which, Klinsmann will hope, will put his players on firmer footing heading into a critical week in late March. The senior team will face Guatemala home and away in the middle two of six World Cup qualifying semifinal round games. Meanwhile, the U-23s, managed by assistant Andi Herzog, will face Colombia in a two-game playoff for the final spot in this summer’s Olympic tournament. “Hopefully the benefit comes at the end of March,” Klinsmann said. “This is really the bigger picture, that we are well prepared for Guatemala, obviously with the Europeans and the Mexican players coming in and same for the Olympic team—that everyone who is eligible for the Olympic team takes this as a head start, got four weeks under his belt. They all worked really well. The whole spirit of the camp was great.”Even if the real dividends aren’t evident for another six weeks, and even if the two friendlies didn’t replicate the grind of a CONCACAF World Cup qualifier or the talent the U.S. will face in this summer’s Copa América, Altidore’s comments and performance indicate that this camp did create storylines and trajectories. Some players benefitted, others may not have and trends and questions emerged.Here’s a closer look at a few:oto: Cal Sport Media/AP

The winners

No camper will hit the 2016 season with more momentum thanAltidore, who not only scored twice last week, but who put together a pair of energetic and engaged performances. Again, the opposition wasn’t the toughest. But for a player dogged by health issues who occasionally has had difficulty finding the game or connecting with teammates, it was a good sign that he was a consistent, 90-minute threat.The agony of recent hamstring injuries prompted a shift in Altidore’s approach.

“The past two years we really rough for me,” he told Fox after netting the 90th-minute winner against Canada. “Two big competitions that I was really looking forward to and the fact that I wasn’t able to play through injury was for me really ridiculous. So I tried sit home and think what I could do better to try to minimize that and one of the things I thought was my diet … We came to the conclusion that if I cut some muscle, cut some weight and make myself a bit leaner, maybe it would help me … I feel better. I feel lighter and I feel more mobile.”Klinsmann took notice.“He’s hungry. He wants to prove himself, that this is 2016, ‘This is my year,’” the coach said. “He knows there’s a huge tournament coming up in June, so he started really on the right foot this year. And he deserved that goal. He deserved it.”Elsewhere, don’t expect to wait another year to see Steve Birnbaum in a U.S. jersey. He was part of the 2015 winter camp and made his debut against Chile, but didn’t get another shot until Klinsmann sent out this year’s invitations. The D.C. United defender was dominant in the air, tallying a goal and assist against Iceland and creating some havoc versus Canada, and showed some versatility by shifting to right back on Friday evening. There’s a ton of competition in back, but also plenty of uncertainty. Add Birnbaum’s name to the depth chart.  ​Mix Diskerud and Lee Nguyendemonstrated welcome flashes of composure and comfort.

The former had a rough debut season in MLS and didn’t make much of an impact for the U.S., but Klinsmann stuck with the New York City FC midfielder and started him alongside Michael Bradley against Canada. Diskerud responded with a smart and effective two-way showing.“We all know that there is such a talent potential, such qualities, but he got into kind of a very difficult situation last season with [NYCFC] because of the incoming players, Pirlo and Lampard, and then they push him wide,” Klinsmann said. “He knows he has to fight through that … ‘You’ve got to bring out your elbows.’ That’s what he needs to learn and that’s what he did also in a couple situations. He got physical. This is what he needs to add to his game … [Against Canada] he did really well.”Nguyen was effective as a playmaker, especially against Iceland, and warrants another look at a position where the U.S. remains somewhat thin. Columbus Crew winger Ethan Finlay, who set up Altidore’s winner, and U-23 forward Jerome Kiesewetter, whose strength and ability to find space behind behind the back four unsettled both opponents, also demonstrated obvious promise, as did U-23 teammate Kellyn Acosta, who was far from overawed at left back and right back despite neither being his preferred position.

Wish we’d seen more from…

  • Darlington Nagbe, who was so outstanding as a central playmaker during the Portland Timbers’ run to the MLS championship, missed the start of camp because of the birth of his second child and played only 58 minutes as a reserve. His potential as a future partner for Bradley remains tantalizing, but there probably wasn’t enough time to establish the sort of chemistry and consistency that might make the difference in March.“Fitness wise he’s not there yet,” Klinsmann said. “But we know Darlington, two weeks from now, is up to speed.” PORTER: Nagbe is ‘for sure’ a player USMNT can build around

Gyasi Zardes emerged as a favorite of Klinsmann in last year’s camp and showed flashes of why last week. He works hard and has decent vision. But his touch still betrays him a bit too frequently, and his finishing needs to improve if he’s going to make a stronger case to start when the games matter most.Considering big-picture insignificance of the Iceland and Canada games and the do-or-die nature of the U-23 team’s Olympic playoff, it was a bit surprising that players like Perry Kitchen, Wil TrappMatt PolsterKhiry Shelton andTim Parker didn’t get more of a look. Klinsmann learned nothing by deploying Jermaine Jones at center back against Colombia or by fielding Michael Orozco and Brad Evans against Iceland, for example. Bradley didn’t need to play 180 minutes. The wins are nice, but it seems like there were a couple of missed opportunities to get younger players some valuable experience.And we saw too much of Jones, who faces a six-game suspension that likely will force him out of next month’s qualifiers. Keeping Jones fit shouldn’t have come at the expense of testing out a partnership or two that might take the field in March.to: Cal Sport

Three things to watch moving forward

  1. Seattle’s strikers

Jordan Morris will be the most scrutinized MLS rookie since 14-year-old Freddy Adu signed with his hometown club in 2004. The new Seattle Sounder came late to camp following a training stint with German suitor Werder Bremen and did reasonably well partnering with Altidore against Canada. He’ll be vital for the U-23s, and his start with the Sounders will indicate whether he’s in frame for the Copa América. CREDITOR: MLS, Sounders get carried away with Morris hype

Meanwhile, club teammate Clint Dempsey was given the month off by Klinsmann. Dempsey, 32, led the U.S. with nine goals last year and very much wants to play in the Copa and chase down Landon Donovan’s scoring record. Was skipping camp the right move for an aging player? Will Dempsey and Morris be competing against each other for minutes with both club and country? The immediate future of both the U-23 and senior sides may depend heavily on the form of the two Sounders strikers.

  1. Defensive questions remain

Klinsmann hasn’t the same back four in consecutive games since the 2014 World Cup, and nothing emerged from the recent camp that might clarify things heading into March. Matt Besler played well apart from an early error against Iceland but wasn’t under too much pressure, and Acosta showed well at left back—a very thin position for the U.S.—but several other younger defenders didn’t get much of a look while leading veterans remained with their clubs. John Brooks struggled at last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup but is back in form with Hertha Berlin, Omar Gonzalez is doing well at Pachuca and Geoff Cameron is battling an ankle injury but may be back by the time the U.S. reconvenes.From hybrids such as Fabian JohnsonDeAndre Yedlin and Brek Shea to players closer to the fringe like Tim ReamVentura AlvaradoJonathan SpectorMatt Miazga and Greg Garza, the potential defensive pool is as large as ever as the World Cup cycle approaches its midway point.

  1. The Olympic hurdle

Regarding the U-23 team’s quest for an Olympic berth, Klinsmann said last month that, “We have to do everything possible to give them all the help in the world to make it happen …  For the Olympic team and for that generation, it’s extremely important to have an experience like the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This is big for these players.”To get there, they’ll have to defeat Colombia, which qualified for the playoff by winning the silver medal at last year’s South American U-20 championship, finishing above Uruguay and Brazil. Herzog won’t have a ton of time to work his team before the March 25 opener in Barranquilla, nor the ability to call players’ in against their club’s wishes.Defeat would be far from shocking.The question is whether it would be considered a significant black mark against Klinsmann, a coach and technical director who suffered through a difficult 2015 (In addition to the senior team’s defeat at the Gold Cup and ensuing Confederations Cup playoff, the U-23s finished third in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying). At 1-0-1, the U.S. has some cushion in a relatively easy World Cup qualifying group. Points are there for the taking against Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago and St. Vincent and The Grenadines.If the U-23s fail, Klinsmann’s long-term plan and his reliance on veterans toward the end of this winter camp likely will fall under the microscope.

USA’s Jerome Kiesewetter makes strong impression to start crucial year

Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

BY BRIAN STRAUS

Twitter Email

Posted: Fri Feb. 5, 2016

Jerome Kiesewetter remembers bonding quickly with the boy who was just like him.

“I met him when I was young. I would say 5 years old,” Kiesewetter said. “I started going out and playing soccer with my mom in our neighborhood and he was there, by himself. We kind of introduced each other and then started playing every day together.”

They had more than soccer in common. John Brooks also was the son of a U.S. serviceman and a German mother and both Berlin natives, from an early age, felt their American ties. Brooks spoke English at school and Kiesewetter, who’s about two weeks younger, was impacted by an early trip to New York City he took with his mother and sister.

“I slept over at his house and he slept over at my house. He’s family to me. He’s my brother,” Kiesewetter told SI.com. “We were talking about it when we were younger … We would say to each other, ‘Maybe one day we would play together for the [U.S.] national team. That would be so sick.’”

PLANET FUTBOL

Improved approach makes Lee Nguyen a U.S. January Camp winner

by Brian Straus

Fifteen years ago, the odds of two little boys living five minutes apart in a neighborhood south of downtown Berlin eventually turning pro and representing a country across an ocean were close to incalculable.

But Kiesewetter and Brooks already have played together with the U.S. U-23s and at this rate, it seems almost inevitable that they’ll fulfill their dream and be teammates at the senior level.

Brooks, of course, already has played for coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s side. Kiesewetter was at home in Tempelhof, watching, as his friend scored the stunning, 86th-minute goal that lifted the Americans past Ghana in their 2014 World Cup opener. It was past midnight in Germany, and Kiesewetter’s screams woke his mother up.

Kiesewetter was the first person Brooks called from Natal.

Perhaps Brooks, who just signed a new contract with Hertha Berlin, was similarly excited last Sunday, when Kiesewetter, 22, made his senior international debut against Iceland. Kiesewetter didn’t score, but the powerful, 6’0″ forward made an instant impression. He entered the friendly in the 75th minute and within about six minutes, he’d hit a couple dangerous crosses and helped win three corner kicks. Playing high and to the right in a 4-2-3-1, Kiesewetter was imposing, fearless and a magnet for the ball. In the 89th, he ran onto a feed from Darlington Nagbe, took on Birkir Saevarsson (Iceland’s most experienced defender) and drew a foul. The resulting free kick led to Steve Birnbaum’s game-winning goal.

Kiesewetter told reporters following the game that he had “goosebumps” and that it was “just amazing to represent my country.” His prized souvenir was the substitution card he handed the fourth official when stepping onto the StubHub Center field.: USSoccer.com

​“I think playing wide, he’s very talented, because he has terrific speed. A bit like DeAndre Yedlin, his weapon is speed, and then going at people and not being scared about anything,” Klinsmannsaid of Kiesewetter following the first of a pair of friendlies that will close out this unique January camp. The Americans will finish up with a game against Canada on Friday evening outside Los Angeles (10:45 p.m. ET; Fox Sports 1, UniMas).“In the beginning [he was] a little bit overwhelmed. ‘Oh my gosh, I’m with the senior guys.’ Then one step at time, he kind of settled and became calm on the ball and more relaxed,” Klinsmann said. “[Against Iceland] I think he came in for 20 minutes. This is not enough time to think too much. I think that helped him. Just a simple message: ‘Go in there and give it a go. Go against people one against one’—his huge strength. Obviously he’s very fast, and just try to create simple situations. I think within five minutes he had already three crosses and almost two ended up in goals. So this is a wonderful introduction to the senior level, if you can have that influence … That is a nice start for Jerome and we hope he continues to grow and continues to work hard, which he does.”Kiesewetter has been grinding, but his career hasn’t yet matched his friend’s. The same year Brooks reached Hertha’s senior squad, 2012, Kiesewetter left their hometown club for VfB Stuttgart. He played with the reserves, returned to Hertha on a 2014 loan and then was back in Stuttgart, where he made two brief Bundesliga appearances last spring. But the 2015-16 season has been a struggle. Die Roten are in 15th place, two points beyond the relegation zone. There was a managerial change in November. Meanwhile, Kiesewetter has been playing exclusively with club’s second team.“I think I’ve developed there very much, both as a player on the field and as an individual off the field” he told SI.com. “I’m by myself for the first time—living by myself, cooking for myself … For me, the most important point is just to get my playing time and to show how good I can be, how much I can help the team. That’s why I play soccer. I don’t play soccer to just fool around.”He’s certainly helped the U-23s. Brought to the attention of U.S. Soccer coaches by Brooks, Kiesewetter was part of the squad that secured qualification for the 2013 U-20 World Cup and then returned to the fold under Andi Herzog, Klinsmann’s assistant and coach of the team vying for a berth in this summer’s Olympics. Frequently paired with Jordan Morris, Kiesewetter tallied six goals in 16 games for the U-23s and tied for the golden boot in last year’s CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament with four.This winter, he’s part of a group of around 10 American U-23s who’ve been training with the senior players while preparing for March’s home-and-home qualifier against Colombia. The survivor will move on to Rio de Janeiro. Kiesewetter said that this camp represents his longest stay in the U.S. and a priceless opportunity to learn from veterans like Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Jozy Altidore. It has strengthened his ties to his second home and kindled hope for the future.“I think it’s great how hard they work,” Kiesewetter said of the U.S. veterans. “Maybe they are 30 or 31 years old and you think they rest a little bit more, but it’s the complete opposite. You see them work every day. It’s amazing. This guy is earning so much money and he’s played so many games, but he still works hard and it’s just amazing to see. That inspires me.”Considering Kiesewetter’s climb, it makes sense that it’s the effort, rather than the success, that strikes a chord.“Guys like Michael and Jozy, they had their ups and downs but they work their way out,” he said. “I’d rather have the advice from the guy who was down and picked himself back up than a guy who was always in the right away and everything went right. That’s even more important … I’ve had my ups and downs also. I think a lot of top players have them.” There have been plenty of ups over the past month.In addition to Sunday’s excitement and the opportunity to trai with the national team, Kiesewetter saw both the Los Angeles Kings and Los Angeles Clippers live—“It was great to go to my first NBA game. You can’t compare it to German basketball,” he said—and was able to spend a bit of time at the beach and enjoy some Southern California weather.His father, who moved to Texas many years ago, is planning to attend Friday’s game, according to MLSSoccer.com. There was no contact throughout most of Kiesewetter’s childhood (he took his mother’s last name) but his father reached out several years ago and the pair have become close since then. “Soccer brought us back together and I really appreciate that and our relationship is getting better and better. It’s good to have him back in my life,” Kiesewetter said.Considering Kiesewetter’s performance against Iceland (and that of outside back Kellyn Acosta) and the do-or-die nature of next month’s playoff against Colombia, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him, Morris and several other U-23 players get more significant minutes against Canada. This is the last chance to hone in on the partnerships and patterns of play that might make a difference in an uphill climb to Rio. The magnitude of the opportunity is far from lost on Kiesewetter. Representing the U.S. in the Olympics would be another big step in a dream come true, and would provide a massive stage to show what he can do. He’s eager to find a place to play regularly and very well may be on the move when his contract with Stuttgart expires this summer. There is plenty at stake in 2016.“It’s a very important year,” Kiesewetter said. “But it’s started good. Let’s say that.”

Late Altidore goal rescues wasteful U.S. in friendly win over Canada

BY BRIAN STRAUSTwitter Email

Posted: Sat Feb. 6, 2016Jozy Altidore ended a frustrating evening and rescued the U.S. national team, along with the smattering of fans in attendance at StubHub Center and those watching at home, from a third consecutive scoreless draw against Canada with an 89th-minute goal, lifting the Americans to a 1–0 win outside Los Angeles.The U.S. is now unbeaten against Canada in 17 consecutive games (9-0-8) dating back to 1985.Next up for the Americans is a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala in late March and a home-and-home playoff between the U.S. Under-23 team and Colombia that will send the survivor to the Olympics. Although there wasn’t much to take away from this four-week camp tactically, and although many who will participate in those games next month weren’t in California, there certainly were members of the senior and U-23 teams who entered 2016 needing a physical or mental boost. And there were good signs over the past week for several men who have some significant responsibilities ahead.

Here are three thoughts from Friday’s win:

Altidore rescues a wasteful U.S.

After scoring three goals in last weekend’s 3–2 win over Iceland, the Americans couldn’t buy one for most of Friday. They were a couple minutes from being shut out by Canada’s Maxime Crépeau, a 21-year-old who spent 2015 with the Montreal Impact’s USL team. Crépeau made six saves and benefited from a miserable night of finishing from the American attackers.Canada started brightly, but the U.S. was the better team for most of the match. It didn’t matter. Jordan Morris (16th minute) and Altidore (17th) came close early, with Altidore hitting the right post twice on the same shot. An active Gyasi Zardes, who was playing on the right wing, was the provider on each occasion. In the 38th, Morris and Altidore linked up (something coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he wanted to see on Friday) but the new Seattle Sounder sent his lofted shot just wide.​Altidore missed on a header in the 54th, hit a shot straight at Crépeau a minute later and nearly chipped the goalkeeper in the 83rd. The Toronto FC veteran was making good runs, but the final product just wasn’t there as the game inched toward what seemed like an inevitable scoreless draw. The hosts had managed 16 shots with no luck.Then, finally, Altidore broke through. Late substitute Ethan Finlay hit a perfect, floating cross from the left. Altidore beat defender Sam Adekugbe to the far post and sent his header back past Crépeau. It was Altidore’s 33rd international goal, leaving him one behind third-place Eric Wynalda on the alltime U.S. leader board.“The [pass from Finlay] scores the goal—the pace of it, the positioning of it—I just had to be there to knock it in,” Altidore told Fox following the game. “As a player, you kind of find this moments where you say, ‘This is the one.’”

The positive individual signs

Klinsmann referred to the games against Iceland and Canada as “scrimmages,” which says all we need to know about how important the results really were. This camp, which combined senior and U-23 players, really was about getting those in the middle of a long MLS off-season prepared for a long, important year ahead.Altidore was the big winner. After missing most of the 2014 World Cup and 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup with injuries, he resolved to change things up this winter. He altered his diet and training, lost 10 pounds and was in rhythm and involved against Iceland and Canada, taking 10 shots and scoring twice across the two matches. “Just the past two years were really rough for me,” he told Fox. “I thought if I cut some muscle, cut some weight and made myself a bit leaner, it would help me … I feel better. I feel lighter and I feel more mobile.”Elsewhere, Morris didn’t look out of place and German-born winger Jerome Kiesewetter, Morris’s U-23 strike partner, made an impression once again as a reserve. Captain Michael Bradley was smart, consistent and at times appeared to be in midseason form. Mix Diskerud started next to Bradley in central midfield on Friday and was sharp at times, perhaps signaling that he’s ready to put last year’s disappointing campaign with New York City FC behind him, while Finlay and Kellyn Acosta were among the new national teamers who whet the appetite for more. Zardes improved over his performance against Iceland. Lastly, Steve Birnbuam’s knack for winning balls in the air leaves him in frame to battle for additional minutes in back.

Klinsmann makes puzzling defensive choices

Jermaine Jones is not a center back, and Klinsmann has tried the veteran midfielder there before without success. Jones also is unlikely to play in next month’s qualifiers. The six-game suspension he incurred for bumping a referee during last fall’s MLS playoffs will kick in as soon as he signs a contract (even if it’s outside MLS), leaving him ineligible to face Guatemala.Yet Jones started in the center of defense on Friday. Birnbuam, a center back with D.C. United who had a goal and an assist in the win over Iceland, was at right back and Acosta, a defensive midfielder for FC Dallas, started for the second straight game on the left. Matt Besler was the only defender in his natural position. And all this was happening was in front of goalkeeper David Bingham, who was making his international debut.​Klinsmann’s back four wasn’t bad, although the adventurous Jones was fortunate not to be whistled for a first-half penalty kick after taking down Canada’s Cyle Larin. But it was pointless. Friday’s result was meaningless. Klinsmann did have limited options with the departures of campers Matt Miazga (to Chelsea), Michael Orozco (to Club Tijuana) and Brad Evans (injury), but the manager easily could have started Birnbaum alongside Besler while taking a longer look at one of his U-23 players on the flank (debutant Brandon Vincent, who relieved Acosta at the start of the second half). That would have told the coaching staff a lot more about each team’s potential (the senior and Olympic squads) than giving the 34-year-old Jones a run at a position he won’t be playing for club or country.The back four that started against Canada will never play together again. Shutting out Canada (again) in a friendly wasn’t worth the lost opportunity to plant the seeds for future chemistry or offer an Olympic hopeful some senior international experience.

U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden announces his retirement

BY SI STAFFPosted: Wed Feb. 3, 2016

A day after announcing he had become a father, U.S. men’s national team midfielder Stuart Holden made another announcement: That he is officially turning the page to the next chapter of his professional life. Holden announced his retirement from playing Wednesday, cutting short a once-promising career that was beset by injuries. Holden suffered multiple significant knee injuries, starting March 2010 in a friendly against the Netherlands and beyond–both with Bolton and with the U.S. national team–and the 30-year-oldpenned a first-person letter on U.S. Soccer’s website to announce his plans.Holden wrote:

It’s time to stop fighting my body. I’ve known for a while, but I’ve struggled to admit it to myself and to others. The countless sleepless nights, the aches and pains, and the constant mental battles were all signs pointing to a new path. But every time I was about to utter the three big words “I am retired”, all the memories of walking into roaring stadiums, scoring last-minute goals, and being part of amazing teams dragged me back! The same never-say-die attitude that drove me to fight like hell my entire career wouldn’t let me say the “R word”. I met every setback – and there were many – with a positive attitude. I responded to every disappointment with an “OK. What’s next?” Now, again, I must answer that question. What is next is being proud of my accomplishments, giving thanks to those who have supported me, and smiling at whatever the future holds, the first of which is a baby girl.

Holden was a standout for the Houston Dynamo before moving to Bolton and earning the club’s Player of the Year honors in 2011. He made a return to the national team in time for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, but he suffered a torn ACL in the final against Panama, and he never played a competitive game after that.In the midst of his latest rehabilitation stint, Holden has been a TV analyst for Fox Sports and ESPN FC, something he will continue to do going forward.As he wrote:

The most recent opportunities will keep me in the game as a broadcaster, a coach, and maybe even as an owner one day. Who knows? Not me. What I do know is that I am 100% at peace with my decision to retire from playing, and I am 200% excited for the future. True closure has been hard to come by, but man it feels good.

Champions League

PSG riddled with issues ahead of Champions League tie with Chelsea

A win is a win. Whatever the gam; whatever the way; whatever the circumstances. Some wins are more important than others, some more significant and some luckier. But they all count and all bring something to the team. And the victory for PSG against Marseille on the weekend is no exception, coming just over a week before the reigning French champions’ biggest game of the season against Chelsea in the Champions League last 16.Some victories, however, can also surprise and the 2-1 PSG victory against their arch-rivals in a hotly anticipated Classique at the Stade Velodrome unexpectedly did just that. Of course Paris’s two goalscorers on the night, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Angel Di Maria were not a surprise. They are both having a great season and it was expected that they would carry the team in this huge match. They did not disappoint. What was surprising, however, was that PSG were not actually the best team on the pitch. They were second best in terms of attitude, aggression and desire.Now, the Parisians might be 24 points clear at the top of the Ligue 1 table, unbeaten domestically since the start of the season and if they are not motivated to play Marseille, their biggest rivals, there is an issue. Yet on Sunday, it felt like the players were not that committed, or at least lesser so than their opponents. They were complacent, slow, sloppy in their passing and struggled.You could assume that everything will be different against Chelsea on Tuesday at the Parc des Princes. But again, you would have assumed the same before the Marseille clash. And it didn’t happen.They didn’t deserve to win, no one will dispute that. But the most surprising is how overran they were in midfield. For a while now PSG’s three-man midfield has been one of the best in Europe. The trio of Marco Verratti — Thiago Motta — Blaise Matuidi is perfectly harmonious. Verratti has the foot, Motta the brains and Matuidi the legs. They understand each other so well and are the powerhouse behind the success of the team.On Sunday, Verratti was missing and there is every chance that he will be missing the Chelsea clash rather than starting. Replaced by Adrien Rabiot, the PSG midfield lost 39 balls in total against Marseille, more than any game this season. Rabiot, Motta and Matuidi (three left-footed players by the way) were beaten by the Marseille midfield. The Marseillais were more aggressive, more determined and just plain better. The absence of Verratti can explain the bad day the PSG midfield suffered, especially Motta, who was unrecognisable on the night. Motta will be a key player against Chelsea next week. Not only does he need to protect the back four, but he is also the one who starts PSG’s attacks.The form he showed against Marseille was worrying. If Motta can be overrun against Marseille, imagine what will happen against Chelsea in what promises to be a much more pacy and intense game.If Verratti is not fit, it’s likely that Rabiot will replace him again. At 20, Rabiot is one of the most promising young French players. But he can still be hit-and-miss. He gave a world class performance away at Real Madrid in the group stages, but was poor against Barcelona last season in the quarterfinal first leg, losing a ball that led to Neymar’s goal after just 18 minutes.Offensively, too, there is a question mark on who will play up front with Ibrahimovic and Di Maria. Lucas Moura has still not convinced when given the chance, especially in big games like last Sunday’s when he was such a disappointment. Edinson Cavani has been on the bench since the start of the year. He could come back for the Chelsea game, but in what state mentally after being dropped for six weeks?Defensively, Thiago Silva is back to his best but David Luiz is in a different place. He still has a few nagging injuries with a dodgy knee and a fragile hamstring. The Brazilian defender also refused to be substituted out of Sunday’s match, leading to a clear the air session with Blanc on Tuesday.At least, Paris still have their two best defenders, which is not the case for Chelsea after the terrible injury suffered by Kurt Zouma on Sunday against Manchester United. It is a big setback for the Londoners, as the Frenchman became a starter under Guus Hiddink. It’s a disappointment for France as well, as Zouma was the favourite to be the fourth centre-half picked by France coach Didier Deschamps for this summer’s Euro 2016, along with Raphael Varane, Laurent Koscielny and Mamadou Sakho.So not everything is rosy in Paris. A week won’t be enough to resolve some of the issues, but there are enough positives to still make them favourites against Chelsea.Julian Laurens is a London-based 

 

PSG vs Chelses Preview

The lowdown A lot has changed since the champions of France edged out the soon-to-be-champions of England on away goals this time last season. PSG have become even more dominant domestically while Chelsea have slumped. The Parisiens crossed a psychological rubicon by defeating Chelsea in the last-16 stage, even after having Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent off early in the second leg, and are under some pressure from their Qatari owners to build on that and make at least the semi-finals.

How they got here

PSG They finished second in a group headed by Real Madrid, who took four points off the French side though were slightly fortunate to do so. The French club won home and away against Shaktar Donetsk and Malmo in the group, raking up 12 goals in those four matches.

Chelsea Their dreadful start to their defence of the Premier League title coincided with some wobbles in Europe, where they lost to Porto and drew with Dynamo Kiev, but they emerged on top of their group, contributing to Porto’s surprise elimination, before manager Jose Mourinho was dismissed in December.

Key players

David Luiz, PSG PSG made him the world’s most expensive defender when they paid Chelsea close to €70 million (Dh291.4m) for him in 2014. He then scored a decisive goal against his old club to help eliminate the London club from last year’s Uefa Champions League.

John Terry, Chelsea In open conflict with the club he has played for throughout his career about whether he should have his contract extended on terms he favours. Would love to reinforce his case with a high-class showing against PSG’s vaunted front players.

Points to prove

PSG Are France’s finest just flat-track bullies? PSG’s domination of Ligue 1 is almost surreal, so vast is their advantage at the top, so long is it since they lost to compatriot opposition. But like their totem, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, their domestic achievements are not matched by a long list of European club honours. They need their lavish spending to show a better dividend in the very late stages of the Champions League.

Chelsea They have registered some improvement since Guus Hiddink, a former winner of the European Cup as a coach, took over as interim coach following the sacking of Mourinho. But they will struggle to finish in the Premier League’s top four, which means their only chance of being in next season’s Champions League is by winning this one.

Verdict PSG to go through, with a slightly more comfortable margin of victory than the away-goals, extra-time drama of the 2015/16 meeting between the two clubs.

ZENIT St. Pete Russia vs Benifica

he lowdown The Russian champions have not been as solid domestically as they were when they won the title in 2014/15. But in Europe they have found their swagger, and they would see Benfica as one of the more preferable possible opponents at the last-16 stage. The Portuguese, who will host Zenit just after their top-of-the-table domestic meeting with Porto, have a strong home record in Europe and two Europa League final appearances in the last four seasons. Zenit can take confidence from having won at the Luz in the group phase of last season’s Uefa Champions League.

Key players

Axel Witsel, Zenit Became one of Zenit’s trophy signings when the club hired him from Benfica during an eye-catching splurge on expensive recruits in 2012. He remains one of the game’s most admired central midfielders.

Jonas, Benfica The wiry Brazilian striker, signed from Valencia in 2014, is a candidate for the Golden Shoe thanks to his glut of domestic goals. His confidence is high coming into the tie.

Points to prove

Andre Villas Boas, Zenit The much travelled, still youthful coach will leave Zenit at the end of the season, hopeful of landing the same calibre of prestigious job he has held in the past – the likes of Porto, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur. An extended run in Europe will burnish his reputation. His Porto past guarantees a raucous greeting from “benfiquistas”.

Julio Cesar, Benfica The veteran Brazilian goalkeeper, 36, won the Champions League with Inter Milan in 2010. Since then he has suffered some downturns, notably when he languished as a reserve choice at English club Queen’s Park Rangers. Hopes to show that, in elite company, he still has his sharp reflexes.

Verdict Zenit to go through, thanks to their result in the Russian leg.

GENT (Belgium – think Leceister City) vs Wolfsburg German

he lowdown There is a temptation to wonder if Gent might be to the Uefa Champions League what Leicester City are to the current Premier League, upstart outsiders who, before we know it, might be five matches from the main prize. The Belgians, who only won their first domestic league last year, are in uncharted European territory. But then so are Wolfsburg, in the knockout phase for the first time in their history, though in poor form over the last three months in the Bundesliga. Whatever happens, either one will give a novel look to the quarter-final line-up.

How they got here

Gent The debutants overcame Valencia, twice Champions League finalists this century and Lyon, semi-finalists in 2010, in the group phase, where they also were the only team to take any points from Zenit St Petersburg, to whom they finished second.

Wolfsburg They claimed an even bigger prize, by going through from what turned out a tight quartet, at the expense of Manchester United, who they beat on Matchday 6, leaving United third behind PSV Eindhoven and last season’s Bundesliga runners-up.

Key players

Sven Kums, Gent The Belgian league’s player of the year as Gent won the title, he has again been influential in central midfield this term. The captain leads by example and scores goals important goals as well as setting them up.

Julian Draxler, Wolfsburg Signed last summer to compensate for the loss of Kevin de Bruyne, the 22-year-old creative midfielder made an impact in the group phase and, with his poise and creative vision, can open up the best defences.

Points to prove

Gent Belgian football is supposed to be enjoying a golden generation, with its strongest national team, on paper, for perhaps 30 years. But the domestic competition remains a lightweight in European terms. The best Belgian players almost all employed abroad. Gent’s Champions League campaign is showing not all the talent is exported.

Andre Schurrle, Wolfsburg The pacey striker has performed only in fits and starts for Wolfsburg, since joining from Chelsea. He needs to remind his national coach, Joachim Loew, he can be as influential as he was for Germany at the 2014 World Cup.

Verdict Wolfsburg to shrug off recent domestic setbacks and sneak through.

Real Madrid – vs Italy’s Roma

The lowdown Both clubs have changed head coach since they made their respective journeys into the knockout phase, Roma reaching back to their past by returning Luciano Spalletti to the post six-and-a-half years after he finished his first, innovative spell there, and Madrid also harking back to former glories with the appointment of Zinedine Zidane, once an epoch-defining Madrid player. Two teams inclined to brisk counter-attack should provide goals.

How they got here

Madrid They produced one of the competition’s more embarassingly one-sided scorelines when they walloped Malmo of Sweden 8-0 in their last group match. They finished top thanks to having edged Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 at home. The clubs from the Spanish and French capitals cleaned up easily in their remaining games against Shaktar Donetsk and the mauled Malmo.

Roma will not want to look back too closely on their previous trip to Spain when they go to Madrid for the second leg. They lost 6-1 to Barcelona at Camp Nou in the group phase. But they still did just enough – including drawing 1-1 at home against Barca – to qualify ahead of Bayer Leverkusen.

Key players

Karim Benzema, Madrid The France striker, who is close to Zidane, becomes ever more important to Madrid as Cristiano Ronaldo’s regularity as a goalscorer dips – CR7 has been accumulating lots of goals but with more blank days than usual between them – and Gareth Bale struggles with injury.

Radja Naingollan, Roma Madrid can be vulnerable against hard pressing in midfield. At his energetic best, the bullish Belgian galvanises Roma and closes down the kind of space Luka Modric and Toni Kroos can thrive in.

Points to prove

Zinedine Zidane He is still a novice as a head coach. At home, he has overseen some emphatic wins in the Primera Liga, and some expressive performances. On the road, his Madrid have looked more inhibited. He will make his managerial debut in international club competition up against a wily and experienced opposite number, in Spalletti.

Stephan El Sharaawy He signed by Roma in the January window, after six months on loan at Monaco and a career with AC Milan that had stuttered, has ambitions to go to Euro 2016 as one of Italy’s strikers. A good show in Europe’s principal club competition would advance those.

Verdict Madrid to progress, in the competition that represents their best chance of a trophy this season.

The Incredible Journey of Indy 11 Éamon Zayed! Welcome to Indy Mr. Hat Trick!

By: James Cormack Bloody Shambles

From playing in front of a few hundred on rainy days at Morton Stadium in Dublin with Sporting Fingal to scoring a hat trick in front of 90,000 fans in Tehran with Persepolis, one would imagine Éamon Zayed has quite a few stories behind him.Zayed arrives in Indianapolis after his most recent stint playing for Sabah United in Malaysia alongside one of Africa’s more notable players, El Hadj Diouf of Senegal.Born in Dublin (Ireland’s capital of course, not Ohio), and if you have listened to any of his interviews it’s not hard to recognize by his accent he is definitely a Dublin boy, but Éamon’s nationality as far as the sport of football goes is Libyan.Zayed played for Ireland’s Under-21 national team scoring 5 goals in 12 games, but as often happens in international football, players with an option to play for more than one nation after that age can and do opt to make switch. Éamon did, and elected to play for Libya. He has appeared for the Libyan national team before, during and after the Civil war of 2011.It would take a big map and a lot of pins to plot out the playing career of this center forward. From scoring against teams as far flung as Kuala Lumpur and Equitorial Guinea and taking on Liverpool in Champions League qualifiers, for an Irish lad he has racked up a lot of air miles and probably ate a lot of very fancy foods too!
From the many exotic places Éamon has played, probably the most memorable and most talked about in his career recently has been the hat trick he scored for Persepolis in a city derby with rivals Esteghlal. Persepolis were 2-0 down in a match played in front of 90,000 supporters. Zayed was introduced to the game with 30 minutes remaining and scored three goals. The first came on the 81st minute and the last in the second minute of stoppage time.ne of the more bizarre stories surrounding that game is that of one young fan in his early 20’s dying of a heart attack through sheer excitement after the third goal went in. Iranians are extremely fanatical and passionate about soccer and apparently this kind of thing is not uncommon. Éamon was asked by the club to make a statement to the newspapers offering his condolences and sympathy to the family of the young man.After this performance Zayed was plastered onto about every newspaper and magazine that could be imagined in Iran, he regularly had people paying for his dinner, coming up to him and just handing him money or kissing him and thanking him for such a memorable game. Éamon also became affectionately know as “Mr Hat Trick” among the Persepolis faithful in Tehran.Life in Iran was not always fun and high times for Éamon however. After Persepolis, Zayed moved on to play for Aluminium Hormozgan ( that’s Al-yoo-mini-yum for all you North American spelling police out there). After a season at Hormozgan his contract was up and Zayed sat down to discuss the money he was owed. The club offered him a third of the money he was due, which obviously to any player, was unacceptable to Éamon. The club threatened to withhold his passport and the situation boiled down to him not being able to leave until he agreed to vastly reduced terms. Achieving 60-70% of your agreed amount is considered a good deal in Iranian football.From here Éamon Zayed’s love affair with Iran ended and he once again returned to Ireland in 2013 to play for his fifth league of Ireland club Shamrock Rovers. This would become six after he was loaned to Sligo Rovers in 2014. Zayed has also played for Bray Wanderers, Sporting Fingal, Drogheda and Derry City. Éamon won the PFIA player of the year award in 2011.His final destination before putting pen to paper with Indy Eleven was 8,983 ,miles away in Sabah, Malaysia. When he arrives in Indianapolis and laces up his cleats, he will do so on his fourth continent. If he can repeat his productivity in Indy as he has everywhere he has gone, you can most definitely expect to see goals in 2016!At at least four of his clubs Zayed has maintained a record of a fraction over 1 goal in every two games played, for a striker anywhere in the world this is an enviable record. At his last club Sabah United he only played 21 games but netted 11 times.From the day he signed for Bray Wanderers back in 2002 until leaving Malaysia, Éamon Zayed has made 339 club appearances and scored 171 goals. It is never easy to predict how a player will adapt to a different league, but for a striker who has played just about everywhere you might be forgiven for assuming he will maintain that average and score around fifteen goals in 2016. One can only hope!If Tim Hankinson can build a team that can provide good service and Zayed can adapt to the NASL quickly, the loyal supporters of Indy Eleven could be looking at a cult hero in the making.
Welcome to Indianapolis Éamon Zayed, please bring your shootin’ boots, we need them!

 

NASL Veteran Defender Stephen DeRoux Latest Indy Eleven Signing

Jamaican Left Back Brings Roster to 22 Ahead of Monday’s Report Day in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS (Friday, February 12, 2016) –Indy Eleven took one of the last steps towards finalizing its 2016 roster today with the signing of yet another veteran presence in defender Stephen DeRoux. Per club policy, terms of the contract that brings the 32-year-old left back to the “Boys in Blue” will not be released.  The native of St. Mary, Jamaica, is the 22nd player signed by Indy Eleven in advance of its third season of NASL play, for which preparations will officially begin Monday when the team reports to the Circle City for physicals. As the holder of a United States Green Card, DeRoux will not count against the team’s allotment of seven international player slots, leaving Indy Eleven with one such spot to fill.“The addition of Stephen DeRoux rounds out what we believe will be the deepest and most experienced defensive corps in the NASL this season,” said Indy Eleven general manager Peter Wilt.DeRoux’s move to Indianapolis reunites him with head coach Tim Hankinson, who coached the Jamaican during the 2013 season with the San Antonio Scorpions. Across the last three years DeRoux set records for the most games (74) and minutes (6,234) played in Scorpions history, overtaking his new Indy Eleven teammate Greg Janicki in both categories.“Stephen has established himself as one of the elite left backs in the North American Soccer League,” said Hankinson. “His ability to bring a warrior mentality to his defending duties and yet attack with great skill and speed makes him a dangerous dual threat.”Last year, DeRoux finished second on San Antonio in games played (28), games started (25) and minutes played (2,244) from his left back position – and finally tacked on his first goal for the squad in October. DeRoux has most recently suited up for the Milwaukee Wave in the Major Arena Soccer League, staying sharp in the offseason by playing in three games since signing in January.“I want to thank everyone at Indy Eleven for the opportunity to contribute and play for a top-class organization that is second-to-none in the NASL. I feel very excited, humbled and blessed for this new chapter in my career to begin and look forward to great things,” said DeRoux. “Every time I came to Indianapolis with San Antonio I got goose bumps and my adrenaline was flowing because of the way the crowd supported their team to the end. As a player I can’t wait to be on these fans’ side rather than be against them.”DeRoux has been in North American soccer circles for over a decade, starting his professional career with three seasons for Major League Soccer’s D.C. United from 2005-07. From there, DeRoux would jump to the USL First Division from 2008-10, suiting up for Minnesota Thunder and Montreal Impact, helping the latter to the 2009 USL Championship. After a year of indoor play with the MISL’s Baltimore Blast in 2011, DeRoux would go back to the Caribbean in 2012 to help the Puerto Rico Islanders during their first season in the NASL and run in the CONCACAF Champions League.Head to www.IndyEleven.com/roster for details on all of the “Boys in Blue” as the club’s roster continues to grow leading into the preseason next week. Fans can also visit the team’s social media channels andwww.IndyEleven.com/preseason  to keep up to date on all things Indy Eleven heading into the team’s third NASL campaign.Indy Eleven begins its 2016 season on the road on Saturday, April 2, at the Tampa Bay Rowdies. “Indiana’s Team” kicks off its home schedule at IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Stadium on Saturday, April 9, against the rival Ottawa Fury, followed a week later by a visit from the defending NASL Champion New York Cosmos. Fans can currently secure their seats at Carroll Stadium via the team’s 2016 Season Ticket package or the new Starting Eleven Flex Pack; for more information, visit the “Tickets” section of www.IndyEleven.com, call 317-685-1100 during regular business hours (9a-5p weekdays) or email tickets@indyeleven.com.

Indy Eleven Adds Former Spanish La Liga Midfielder Gorka Larrea to Roster

Former Spanish Youth International Brings “Boys in Blue” to 21 Players with Preseason Approaching
Indy Eleven bolstered its strength in the middle of the field today with the signing of veteran Spanish La Liga midfielder Gorka Larrea. Per club policy, contract terms will not be announced.Larrea becomes the 21st player to sign with Indy Eleven – and the fifth to occupy one of the club’s seven international player roster slots – ahead of the team’s third season of play in the North American Soccer League starting in April. Preseason preparations will begin when the team gathers for the first time in Indianapolis next Monday, Feb. 15.“Gorka’s experience in Spain’s top two divisions combined with his time spent with Montreal [Impact FC] in Major League Soccer creates a great fit of experience and a working knowledge of the professional game in the United States,” said Indy Eleven head coach Tim Hankinson. “He is a true defensive midfielder that is most comfortable sitting in front of the defense and can act as a fifth back when that situation is necessary.”The 31-year-old Larrea brings ample playing experience in his native Spain, including time early in his career with the powerhouse country’s youth international teams, with him to the Circle City. The defensive midfielder played 22 games in Spain’s La Liga (first division) with Real Sociedad from 2003 to 2006 and Levante UD in 2010. He also played more than 100 games in the Segunda División (second division) for four clubs between 2006 and 2013, twice helping squads earn promotion to La Liga – UD Almería in 2006/07 and as captain of Levante in 2009/10.Larrea most recently suited up for Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact FC, making nine appearances during the second half of the Quebec club’s 2014 season.“Gorka provides added talent and depth in a key midfield position,” said Indy Eleven general manager Peter Wilt. “He comes highly recommended from Montreal as someone that will not only help on the field, but serve as a great voice in the locker room as well.”On the international scene, Larrea represented Spain on various youth teams, making 15 appearances from the U-16 to U-23 levels alongside future stars of the game like Andrés Iniesta and Fernando Torres. He was part of the squad that won the 2001 UEFA European U-16 Championship and also helped the Spanish U-23 side win the 2005 Mediterranean Games.”I feel extremely happy to be a ‘Boy in Blue,’ and I thank the club greatly for this opportunity. I talked to Coach Hankinson and he expressed to me his enthusiasm for the competitive spirit of the team,” said Larrea. “Soccer should bring fans happiness, so we will have to play very hard and with passion to make them proud of us. I will do my best to help the team achieve our goals, be hard to beat, never give up and dream big along with our supporters.”Visit the IndyEleven.com roster page to more info on Larrea and the rest of the “Boys in Blue” as the squad continues to grow leading into the preseason. Fans can also visit the team’s social media channels and the IndyEleven.com preseason page to keep up to date on all things Indy Eleven heading into the team’s third NASL campaign.Indy Eleven begins its 2016 season on the road on Saturday, April 2, at the Tampa Bay Rowdies. “Indiana’s Team” kicks off its home schedule at IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Stadium on Saturday, April 9, against the rival Ottawa Fury, followed a week later by a visit from the defending NASL Champion New York Cosmos. Fans can currently secure their seats at Carroll Stadium via the team’s 2016 Season Ticket package or the new Starting Eleven Flex Pack; for more information, visit the “Tickets” section of www.IndyEleven.com, call 317-685-1100 during regular business hours (9a-5p weekdays) or email tickets@indyeleven.com.

Juventus taking aim at Napoli lead – Gianluigi Buffon

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon says Napoli fully deserve to be at the top of Serie A, although he is hoping to knock them off their perch on Sunday.The Azzurri hold a two-point advantage over the Bianconeri heading into Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash which few people would have been predicting as such after the two teams first met this season back in September.Napoli won that game 2-1 to take them to tenth in the standings, six points adrift of the early-season pacesetters Inter. Juve were a further four points behind, just two clear of the relegation zone.”We were both in an embryonic phase when we first met this season,” Buffon said in interviews with Sky Sport Italia and Mediaset, summarised on theItalianclub’s website. “Everybody was writing us off, which was only normal. Maybe they were underestimating our technical value and our morale, which have led us to do what we have done in these four years, and what we are doing again now.” While Massimiliano Allegri’s men have won their last 14 in a row, Napoli are on their own eight-game winning streak, which is why they are first and second heading into Sunday’s Juventus Stadium clash, and justifiably so, according to Buffon.“After several years in the second row, now they have been up there for a long time and they deserve to be there,” Buffon said of his side’s opponents. “They have everything it takes to confirm their status too.“They want to prove that being top is just a logical consequence of the hard work they have done. I think both sides will play to win and if Napoli succeed, they will gain a decent advantage with 13 games left. For us, [winning] would not change much other than boost our morale because winning would be the cherry on top of this 14-game marathon of wins.”One of the most intriguing battles this weekend will be between the two Argentineans currently at the top of the scoring chart: Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain, 28, with 24 goals and Paulo Dybala, 22, with 13.“They both have different characteristics,” Buffon said. “One is more of a finisher; a true goalscorer — Higuain has already shown down the years that he’s a phenomenal striker, in spite of a few moments when he was being criticised.“Paulo’s class is outstanding and he’s got huge margin for improvement. He plays more between the midfield and the attack.”

 

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Proud Member of the Brick Yard Battalion – http://brickyardbattalion.com, Sam’s Army-http://sams-army.com ,  American Outlaws  https://www.facebook.com/IndyAOUnite

The Old Ballcoach  – Coach Shane Best

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