So we are down to the final in the European Cup – so I next week I will go through comparing the COPA American Cup to the European Cup and why I think the COPAs were better. But for now lets enjoy this SUMMER OF SOCCER Finale as the European cup will bring us the Host Nation – FRANCE fresh off an opportunistic win over the World Champions Germany at home on Thursday. Though Germany were better in the 1st half – the unfortunate hand ball on the German captain turned the tide just before half. And I thought France really outplayed them overall in the 2nd half though Germany did the post twice in extra time and made the French Keeper Loris make one hell of a save in the 92nd minute. I said before I thought the winner of France and defending World Champs Germany would lift the trophy on Sunday afternoon – I really actually hope that Portugal both gives them a game and maybe even takes it to extra time where anything could happen. Renaldo has come alive for his country when called upon here the last few games and has Portugal on the brink – 12 years after his last appearance in a final. At 31 this could be Renaldo’s last real chance to lift a trophy for his country – I for wouldn’t mind seeing that. Anyway coverage starts at 2 pm for the 3 pm final on Sunday on ESPN.
US Ladies Play at Chicago Soldier Field on Sat 1 pm
Not sure why this isn’t getting any local play or even any really soccer play – but the US ladies play just 2 more tune-ups before departing for a shot at another Gold Medal in the Olympics. The team which has some new names and new players will take the field Saturday at 1 pm on Fox Sports 1 (12 noon Chicago time) Tickets are still available! Hope Solo could collect her World Record 100 shutout.
INDY TO GET CHAMP TROPHY SAT NIGHT
So our Indy 11 return home this Saturday night at 7:30 pm at the MIKE and on Wish TV 8 vs Minnesota United. The 11 will receive their 2016 Spring League Championship Trophy before the game – so arrive early to take in all the festivities. The 11 came from behind once again this past Sat night at NASL league newcomer Puerto Rico as new player Souleymane Youla scored in extra time to secure the 1-1 tie and keep the Indy 11 as still the Only NASL undefeated team in 2016. This game will mark the 1st game in league play for new signee Torrado – that should be fun to see. MLS heats up this weekend at Seattle returns Clint Dempsey to the lineup for a home matchup with the LA Galaxy Sat at 3 pm on ESPN.
Carmel FC – Also Summer CFC Technical Training continues in July.
If you are a goalkeeper – I am beginning my personal Monday night GK trainings July 11, 18 + 25 if interested RE:or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Griezmann becomes Frances Leader Ian Macintosh ESPNFC
Bragging Rights on line Seattle host LA Galaxy Sat 3 pm ESPN VIDEO
Saturday, July 9:
United States women vs. South Africa, friendly, 1:00 p.m. (Fox Sports 1) in Chicago
Seattle vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN Deportes)
Indy 11 vs Minn @ the Jake 7:30 pm TV 8, BeIn Sports
New York Red Bulls vs. Portland Timbers, 6:00 p.m. (ESPN2,
Sporting Kansas City vs. New York City FC, 8:00 p.m. (Fox Sports 1)
Wednesday, July 13
Indy 11 vs Ft Lauderdale – @ H The Jake – 7:30 pm Wish TV 8, BeIn Sports
Saturday, July 16
Indy 11 @ Minn – 8 pm BeIn Sports
Sunday, July 17:
Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders, 2:30 p.m. (Fox, Fox Deportes)
Montréal Impact vs. New York City FC, 5:00 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN Deportes)
Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:00 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes)
Sat, July 23
Indy 11 vs Edmonton – @ H The Jake – 7:30 pm Wish TV 8
Sat, July 30
Indy 11@ Miami – 8 pm BeIn sports
Soccer Camps – Boys and Girls -Ages 6 – 14
Kick in the Grass – 3 v 3 Soccer Tour at Badger Field July 9th
Goal2Gol Soccer Camp
CHS Men’s Head Coach Shane Schmidt, a former U-20 US National Team player, runs his annual camp from 9 am to 2 pm July 11-15. $175 @ River Road Fields.
Post2Post Soccer Camp
Former Pittsburgh Head Coach Sue-Moy Chin and Former Iowa Coach Carla Baker run their annual field player camp for players of all abilities July 25-28 — 9 am to 3 pm $195 each @ Badger
Carmel High Boys – Youth Soccer Camp –2nd to 6th Graders only
Run by CHS Boys team players – Thurs, Aug 4 (9:30 am till 12 noon) – CHS Practice Fields River Road and 126th . 2nd to 6th Graders only – Cost $35 to CHS –- First 100 players to sign up. Sign Up Here https://www.ticketracker.com/store/item?catalogItemId=8741 Email Shari if you have questions email@example.com.
If you are a goalkeeper – I am beginning my personal Monday night GK trainings July 11, 18 + 25 if interested RE: or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Portugal vs. France: Euro 2016 final tale of the tape
The ESPN crew debate who will reign supreme in the final: France or Portugal?
The final of the 2016 European Championship is set, with Portugal and France out to battle for continental honours. Here is a position-by-position breakdown of how the teams will fare on the field on Sunday.
Portugal’s Rui Patricio is a good, competent goalkeeper and his fine penalty shootout save to deny Jacob Blaszczykowski proved crucial in the quarterfinal against Poland. It’s no surprise that Everton, flush with cash now, are reported to be interested in his services. But for all his strengths, he is not Hugo Lloris.The French goalkeeper is indubitably one of the world’s best now. It’s not just that he’s agile and brave, nor that he has the reactions of someone who cracked the Matrix some time ago; he does the less spectacular things well, too. He deals well with crosses, distributes well and exudes confidence.
VERDICT: Portugal have a good goalkeeper. France have a nearly perfect one.
It’s no coincidence that Portugal have looked far more resilient since the introduction of Jose Fonte in the knockout stages. Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe and Bruno Alves are all established centre-backs, but all are approaching the end of their careers. Fonte is 32, so no spring chicken himself, but age has not yet wearied him. He’s more mobile, aware and cautious than the others. And he needs to be. Right-back Cedric Soares’ inexplicable switch-off against Poland which resulted in Robert Lewandowski’s goal could have seen his team eliminated. Fonte’s calming influence is needed more than ever.
What a month it’s been for Samuel Umtiti. First he signs with Barcelona, then he breaks into the national team at just the right moment and ensures that no one at club or country has cause to regret their faith in him. Alongside Laurent Koscielny, who has been solid throughout the summer, they make a formidable pair. The only concern is the physical state of Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna on the flanks. So much depends on their ability to get up and down the wings. But neither of them are young and with so little recovery time after the semifinal, can they cope with the Portuguese threat?
VERDICT: Both defences are vulnerable, but you’d trust the French back line more. Just.
Renato Sanches is pivotal to this Portugal midfield. Whereas it looked slow and cumbersome in the early games, since his arrival it has looked dynamic and aggressive. Sanches can drive attacks forward, fearlessly running at players with the ball at his feet, but he also knows when to fall back into line and help defend. William Carvalho, suspended for the Wales game, will be important too, holding the back of the midfield together against those surging Paul Pogba runs.
And how Pogba can run. This has been a mixed tournament for the man tipped to soon be the most expensive in world football. He has not been a failure, as some have suggested, nor has he been consistent. But he can break any team, given the chance. Blaise Matuidi, on the other hand, has been excellent; mobile, intelligent and blessed with a well-rounded skill set that makes him good at everything. The biggest surprise has been Moussa Sissoko, miserable for Newcastle United in England but increasingly useful to France head coach Didier Deschamps. And then there’s Dimitri Payet, the saviour in the group stage, but waning in the knockout rounds. Has he got anything left in the tank?
VERDICT: Portugal have improved, but France should dominate the middle.
What can you do about Cristiano Ronaldo? Not very much. If you hope to battle him on the ground, he’s quick and brilliant. If you hope to battle him in the air, he’s strong, brave and quite possibly in possession of anti-gravity boots. You can try to frustrate him by tripping, clipping and elbowing him, but that just makes him angry, and you won’t like him when he’s angry. And, of course, if you double-team him, you leave room for Nani. On his best days, Nani is half the player that Ronaldo is, but half a Ronaldo is still more than enough to turn a game. Nani is quick and, when he doesn’t overthink things, he can be deadly. Portugal have their weaknesses, but not in this department.
Poor old Olivier Giroud. A target man in more ways than one — both for crosses into the box and howls of abuse whenever anything goes wrong. He is not in the class of Ronaldo or even in the class of his sidelined compatriot Karim Benzema. But he does have his uses. If he wins the ball in the air, he can release the whippet-like Antoine Griezmann. Theirs is the old-fashioned but highly effective “big man, little man” partnership, and it’s been enough to take them to the final. Whether it will be enough to win the European Championship remains to be seen.
VERDICT: Ronaldo is the trump card, but France certainly have goals in them.
Portugal boss Fernando Santos has had a good tournament, proving himself brave enough to make sweeping changes when necessary and communicating with honesty and integrity when he has to explain them. He knows the weaknesses of this team and he has learned how to hide them. Portugal haven’t quite clicked this summer, but they’ve made it all the way to the final anyway.Deschamps is another manager who has been forced to react in almost every game, discovering that his intricately laid plans don’t work quite as well as his improvised ones. But he has held himself well throughout the tournament, rarely betraying the stress he must be under, praising his players where he can. He’s nearly there.VERDICT: A dead heat. Two good managers, doing their best with the resources available.Iain Macintosh is a writer for ESPN FC.
Cristiano Ronaldo winning Euro would give him special place in history
PARIS — Yup, this would be a game-changer. For all the silverware Cristiano Ronaldo has won at club level, helping Portugal become European champions would be something different.It’s not simply about the old argument over whether you can be in the conversation about being the greatest of all time (GOAT) if you never win the sport’s biggest prizes. That’s a popular, if silly, equation which infects other sports as well: Just ask Barry Sanders or Dan Marino, Elgin Baylor or Allen Iverson. Indeed, it’s often used to refute the GOAT claims of his archrival Lionel Messi. He’s been in four major finals for Argentina and lost every last one, most recently last month’s Copa America final.You can rationalize away that argument in many different ways, most persuasively the fact that football is a team sport and whether or not you win titles is often down to other factors, like the talent around you.But winning a major tournament at the international level is a wholly distinct experience. And if Ronaldo did it with Portugal, who were not among the pre-Euro favorites, it would be entirely new.Since 2003, when Ronaldo joined Manchester United, and through his years at Real Madrid, he’s generally been the best player on the best team (or close to it). Most of the time he stepped on the pitch, he was the favorite on the heavy favorites and, perhaps, an instant turnoff to the kind of neutrals who instinctively cheer on the underdog.There’s nothing underdog about Ronaldo. Not in the way he plays. Not in the way he talks. Not in the way he looks. Not in the way he dresses. That’s fine. He doesn’t pretend otherwise. In fact, he embraces it.But this Portugal side is different. This is a classic side in transition, a blend of veterans on the slide or close to it (Pepe, Nani, Bruno Alves, Joao Moutinho, Ricardo Carvalho) and inexperienced guys who have yet to hit their prime (Raphael Guerreiro, Joao Mario, William Carvalho, Renato Sanches, Danilo, Andre Gomes). It’s not a coincidence that going into the semifinal against Wales, Ronaldo had 42 more caps on his own than the rest of Portugal’s outfield players combined, minus Bruno Alves and Nani.What’s more, before the victory over Wales, they hadn’t actually won a game in regular time of 90 minutes, drawing all three group stage matches, going deep into extra time against Croatia and beating Poland on penalty kicks. They alternated periods where they created plenty but finished poorly with moments when they seemed content to defend and do little more. Ronaldo, Nani and the keeper, Rui Patricio, are the only players to have started every game and, especially in midfield, we’ve seen manager Fernando Santos continually tweak his personnel in search of the right fit.On the flip side, Portugal have defended extremely well in most matches (Hungary being the exception), worked tirelessly — though not always effectively — in midfield and displayed a level of unity and team spirit we rarely see from top sides.In short, they scrapped and clawed and bruised their way this far. Don’t take it from me. Ask Ronaldo.”We are a team, a unit,” he said after the Wales game. “I’ve done my best to work hard and help out, not just by scoring goals but by fighting and scrapping. We’ve all done it together.”That’s the quality of Ronaldo we don’t usually see, the fighting and scrapping part. Not because he’s lazy — he isn’t — but because most of the time the teams he’s played for don’t need to fight and scrap to the degree we’ve seen from Portugal in this tournament.This is a blue-collar, hard-hat team. That makes it different from the usual canvas on which Ronaldo works, but also distinct from the others in the GOAT conversation. Consider the other obvious parallel, the one with Diego Maradona’s performance at the 1986 World Cup. That, too, was a scrappy, humble team with a resident superstar. The difference is that Maradona carried the side through the knockout stages. Ronaldo hasn’t done it to the same degree. While his goal against Wales was as immense as it was important, for most of the knockout phase he hasn’t had his scoring boots on right. He’s been crucial, and without him they may not be here, but he hasn’t been the one-man juggernaut that Maradona was on a comparably talent-challenged side in 1986.But that doesn’t diminish Ronaldo. On the contrary, it shows a maturity and willingness to sacrifice his role and find other ways to make himself useful while he waits for the finishing mojo to kick back in.People often comment on his diva tendencies. In the right context — say, Real Madrid, the self-described Harlem Globetrotters of football — it’s not a problem. A little extra showbiz does no harm. But here, at least until the likes of Joao Mario and Renato Sanches become the players their agents say they will become, Portugal don’t need a diva. They need a big brother, someone to take responsibility, give reassurances, chase away the fears and be the first into battle.Ronaldo has embraced that role, even when he hasn’t been at his best.This is uncharted territory for him, an entirely different habitat.Winning the Euros would mark not just his first major trophy with his national team, but his country’s. It would mean succeeding where the Portuguese legends — Eusebio and Mario Coluna to Luis Figo and Paulo Futre — have come up short. It would mean doing it while proudly carrying the underdog label, unlike 2004, his only other appearance in a major tournament final, when Portugal were heavy favorites against Greece.It won’t have much of an impact on the GOAT debate, because opinions are highly fossilized and unlikely to change. But if Ronaldo’s team becomes the champions of Europe on Sunday, it will shift the needle in another way. He will have done it without a top-drawer supporting cast, while enduring a finishing slump and donning a hard hat and work boots.That, for a guy in the GOAT conversation, may well be a first.Possibly, it may also end up being more satisfying than the solar system of league titles, Champions League trophies and Ballon d’Or honors he has piled up.Gabriele Marcotti is a columnist for ESPN
Griezmann, Ronaldo take center stage in France vs. Portugal Euro 2016 final
Euro 2016 host country France defeated Germany 2-0 on Thursday and will now face Portugal in the final.
The 1984 European Championship. The 1998 World Cup. The 2016 European Championship? France is closing in on a third straight major tournament win on home soil after beating world champion Germany 2-0 in a compelling, captivating, stunning semifinal at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille. It will now play Portugal in Sunday’s final in at the Stade de France in Paris.Portugal may have preferred to face Germany, given its record against France. Portugal has not beaten France in 10 games, and it’s lost two semifinals, at Euro 2000 and the 2006 World Cup (both decided on controversial penalties). There were also two recent defeats in friendlies. This tournament has seen teams break lengthy hexes in the last two rounds, though, with Germany overcoming Italy for the first time in competitive play and France beating Germany for the first time in a tournament since 1958.Here are a few opening thoughts ahead of an intriguing final clash:
This final is about the two Madrid-based stars
If Portugal’s run to the final is credited to one player, Cristiano Ronaldo, the impact of France’s main man has been greater.Antoine Griezmann scored both goals against Germany and has now got six in the tournament, three ahead of anyone else (and that includes Ronaldo and Dmitri Payet). All of France will want Griezmann to score again in the final: Les Bleus have never lost when the Atletico Madrid striker has scored. His latest brace means France has now won eight games and drawn two when he has found the back of the net.Athletico could be responsible for the smartest transfer business all summer by extending his contract (and increasing the buyout clause) before things got underway in France. More than Paul Pogba, more than Gareth Bale (even more than Hal Robson-Kanu!), Griezmann is the one player who is closing the gap on Lionel Messi and Ronaldo atop the world’s individual hierarchy.Perhaps Sunday, he can bridge it even further and draw some revenge for the Champions League final, where Atletico fell to Ronaldo’s Real. Griezmann missed a penalty in regulation, and both converted in the PK shootout–where Ronaldo’s spot kick clinched the victory.WILSON: Portugal rides its defense, Ronaldo’s heroics into Euro final
Portugal’s selection dilemma
Portugal coach Fernando Santos was without the suspended William Carvalho against Wales and has a selection dilemma on his hands: to keep Danilo, who is more consistent and was excellent in the semifinal, or restore the Sporting youngster. He has also reworked his center back pairing, with Pepe injured and Bruno Alves joining the faultless Jose Fonte. Pepe may return if he recovers in time, but Ricardo Carvalho, who started Portugal’s first game, has slipped out of the reckoning.This is why Santos, after the Wales game, spoke of Portugal’s squad depth.”We’re not the best team in the world, but we know that we are not pushovers, either,” he said. “We work hard. And above all, we are a team. A team of 23, plus all the fans too.”Santos has made Portugal so hard to beat. In his 13 competitive matches in charge, Portugal has won nine and drawn four. He has quietly rotated his team throughout the tournament, but kept the same 4-4-2 shape with the unlikely strike partnership of Ronaldo and Nani at the top. Both have scored three goals (Ronaldo has added three assists, Nani one), and Nani says he has taken on a surprising mentor role.“We try to pass our experience because we have been through a lot of the things which are new to the younger ones,” he said.
A worthy champion will be crowned
Cynics have claimed that the draw clearly favored the host nation, and this was its biggest test. Beating Germany, which in the first half played some of the best football we have seen this summer, shows that it would be a worthy European champion.Can we say the same for Portugal? Why not? Even though it was a third-place finisher in its group, it has had a tougher run to the final, beating Croatia (in extra time), Poland (on penalties) and Wales (in normal time) compared to France (Ireland, Iceland, Germany). It has proven to be tough side to break down, even if it lacks the obvious flair of its opponent Sunday.A thrilling final awaits.
France seize the moment against a dominant Germany to reach Euro final
Antoine Griezmann scored a brace to put the hosts into the final against Portugal on Sunday.
MARSEILLE, France — Sometimes, all it takes is for your opponent to scratch on the eight ball.France’s 2-0 defeat of Germany at Euro 2016 wasn’t undeserved; it was simply a reflection of the nature of this sport. Whether you dominate or are dominated, sometimes winning or losing rests on other factors, such as luck or individual brilliance. If it goes your way, it doesn’t mean you’re undeserving. It just means you were there to seize the moment when the gods smiled on you.Now France have a chance to win their fourth major tournament and their third on home soil after Euro 1984 and the 1998 World Cup.”It was a very tough game. Germany really made us suffer,” France manager Didier Deschamps said. “But we never gave up. And we suffered together — the players on the pitch, the fans in the stands and watching at home. And that saw us through.”We made history tonight. We don’t have the power to solve all the problems of the French people, but we can generate happiness and confidence. And that’s important.”Deschamps stuck with the starting XI that pummeled Iceland, a strategy that was somewhere between bold and foolhardy. It’s one thing to leave Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba on their own in midfield when you know your opponent is physically exhausted and likely to sit deep in their own half. It’s quite another to do it against manager Jogi Low’s Germany, a team predicated on committing waves of moving bodies forward intent on passing through your lines. An extra holding midfielder comes in handy in those situations.That said, Low had his own decisions to make. With Mats Hummels suspended and both Mario Gomez and Sami Khedira injured, Low switched from the 3-5-2 employed against Italy to the more familiar 4-2-3-1. Emre Can joined Bastian Schweinsteiger, an injury doubt until 24 hours earlier, in front of the back four, with Toni Kroos in the hole. Thomas Muller was up front, with Mesut Ozil and Julian Draxler wide.Perhaps fueled by a rousing rendition of their anthem — nowhere is it more appropriate for “La Marseillaise” to be sung than here — Les Bleus came out of the gate on the front foot. Seven minutes in, we saw perhaps the best move of the tournament: Antoine Griezmann and Matuidi combined on a stunning series of first-time passes (including a back-heel) that resulted in Griezmann firing on goal, only for Germany keeper Manuel Neuer to palm the shot away.It was the sort of move that jacks up the decibel count. But Germany — in case you had not realized it by now — are not easily fazed or intimidated. Schweinsteiger and Kroos wove their spidery webs increasingly closer to France keeper Hugo Lloris’ goal. Can thundered his way through the middle, sometimes becoming a de facto adjunct striker. Muller fired an uncoordinated effort wide. Lloris had to make a tremendous strong-handed stop from Can’s deflected snap shot, which bounced on the way in. And Schweinsteiger fired high.All Germany lacked, perhaps, was a bit of precision in the final third, but it was as sustained a spell of dominance as you’re likely to see against a top side.Still, this is a low-scoring sport and things can turn in an instant. Two such situations went France’s way late in the half. First, Olivier Giroud caught Jerome Boateng in possession and trundled through with a clear path at Neuer’s goal. It may have been an optical illusion, but the Frenchman seemed to slow down even as he ought to have been accelerating. Nor did he hear — or heed — the desperate Griezmann steaming through on Giroud’s right. Instead, Giroud’s run was brought to an end by an outstanding tackle from the unheralded Benedikt Howedes. As the ball trickled out of play, Giroud got up slowly, incredulously, while Howedes clenched his fists and let out an earthy scream.It seemed that the way things were going, this was the only opportunity France would have. Instead, just before half-time, they got another — this one out of the blue.Schweinsteiger led with his arm in contesting a corner kick that was headed toward Patrice Evra and deflected the ball away with his hand. Referee Nicola Rizzoli, after advice from the official behind the goal, who had a clearer view, pointed to the spot. It was a baffling mental error, eerily reminiscent of the penalty that Boateng gave away in similar circumstances against Italy, which nearly cost them the game.Griezmann buried it from the spot, and for the first time in 525 minutes of Euro 2016 football, Germany were in the hole. It was entirely against the run of play.”The goal was a shock, because until that point France had not really created anything,” said Low. “I had to calm my players down in the dressing room, because it makes no sense to waste energy with anger. But it changed everything.”There’s obviously some Didier fairy dust doing the rounds because, almost straight after the restart, France had another sterling opportunity. A delightful long-range daisy cutter from Pogba found a wide-open Giroud who — again — hesitated and lost the moment. His finish was blocked, a clear-cut chance evaporated.At this stage, you got the sense that Germany might take over. Their dominance had been sterile thus far, but that old cliche — screw up an opportunity at one end (and it was two for Giroud) and get punished at the other — would kick in. Except more misfortune was on the way for Germany. Boateng went down with a muscle injury at the hour mark and Low sent on Shkodran Mustafi.Germany were patient, perhaps too patient — Low would later say the French counterattack was a concern, especially Pogba and Griezmann — and the minutes ticked by without the one-sidedness of the first half.Low waited until minute 68 to send on Mario Gotze for Can, and Deschamps countered, finally, with N’Golo Kante. Barely a minute passed and it was 2-0. Germany tried to play the ball out of the back after a restart. Pogba, growing as the game went on, led the press and stuck a big boot between Mustafi and Joshua Kimmich to steal the ball. A quick look up and an early ball for Giroud, and Neuer’s punch cleared the ball, but only as far as Griezmann, who sent it straight back in, past the Germany keeper.”That was great work from Paul,” Griezmann said. “I sort of waited around to see if the ball might come out to me, and it did.” Low was rather less pleased.”We try to play from the back, yes, but in that situation, when it’s three against three in our own area, you just have to get the ball away because it’s too dangerous,” he said. “We didn’t do that.”Everything was turning a deep, French blue.Germany sounded the charge. Minutes after conceding the second goal, Kimmich found the post from distance. Draxler’s free kick came close. Kroos, metronomic as ever, found Howedes, whose close-range header was a smidgeon high. Then, in injury time, Lloris pulled off the save of the match when he kept out Kimmich’s header.The crowd roared, the players and the fans did the borrowed “huh” hand clap, and Deschamps beamed like a child with a gold star.Low, as ever, was coldly analytical. When asked what Germany did wrong, he simply said: “Nothing.””I have to compliment my players,” he said. “We were the better team. It was just bad luck that we conceded. We still created the best chances. We didn’t have the luck we needed.”At the World Cup in 2010 and at the Euros in 2012, we were eliminated in the semifinals by opponents [Spain and Italy, respectively] who were better than us,” he added. “Today, that wasn’t the case. We were better than the French.”You may or may not agree with him. Certainly, to Deschamps and to the French, it matters little. Sometimes it’s not just about being better throughout the match. It’s about being better in the blinks of the eye that decide it.Gabriele Marcotti is a columnist for ESPN
Antoine Griezmann overcomes slow Euro 2016 start to be France’s leader
MARSEILLE, France — Didier Deschamps may be a bit of a romantic at heart. As the last seconds of France’s semifinal victory over Germany ebbed away, he chose to withdraw Antoine Griezmann from the fray and allowed the 25-year-old to stride off the pitch to a thunderous ovation from a delighted Velodrome. He deserved every last ripple of the applause.This is a man who was reduced to tears by Germany’s victory over France in 2014. A man who missed a penalty in the Champions League Final just six weeks ago, yet still had the courage to take another when his country needed him. A man who started the tournament so indifferently that he was dropped for the second game and didn’t score his second of six goals until the knockout rounds began. And he is the man who, with two more goals to his collection, has sent France to the final in Paris. But afterward, he was keen to share the credit.”It’s a whole crew behind us,” Griezmann said. “A load of work done by the physios, the staff and the players that haven’t played any minutes but still work like crazy. It’s a group effort. We’re so thrilled to get to the final and we’ll make the most of it tonight. I missed my penalty in the Champions League final and I wanted to make sure that hit the back of the net.”Griezmann is rapidly emerging as the man of the tournament, growing in confidence with every game. He skitters around the final third, little thrusts of pace pushing him into positions where he might find sustenance — like a header down from Olivier Giroud, or a long ball over the top from Blaise Matuidi. He’s always moving, always searching — like a fox in your backyard after a particularly enthusiastic barbecue, convinced that there’s a bit of sausage out there in the grass somewhere. On six occasions now, he has been proven right.It’s a far cry from the Griezmann we saw in the first game against Romania, nervously swinging at the ball, radiating anxiety at every turn. Deschamps might be a romantic, but knew he couldn’t risk another performance like that in the second game against Albania. Griezmann was duly replaced by Antony Martial. He returned again for the meaningless third group game against Switzerland and did enough to retain his place for the first round of 16 against Ireland. And that’s when his tournament burst into life.Giroud will be mocked for aspects of his performance in Marseille, but it was back in Lyon versus the Irish that he helped unlock Griezmann’s brilliance and set him on his way. Giroud’s tireless work in the air, smashing into Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh and winning the knockdowns, gave his younger teammate the chance to run into space. Griezmann had already brought France back from a goal down with his own powerful header. Three minutes later, Giroud put him through and France were in front.Their relationship began to flourish. “He’s a little man who gives us a little bit extra,” said Giroud in Marseille, before correcting himself. “A lot extra.”Giroud, of course, is not favoured by a comparison to the Atletico Madrid man, looking somehow even more glacial than usual. When Jerome Boateng inexplicably mistimed a header on the halfway line, the comparison looked even harsher. Griezmann would have been in the penalty area in seconds, looking to loft the ball over Manuel Neuer’s head. Instead, as Giroud trundled into life, empires rose and fell, stars burst into their glorious death throes far away in the night sky, and Giroud plodded on like spaghetti sliding slowly down a kitchen wall. When the next opportunity like that emerges, all of France will pray it falls to Griezmann.And now France return to Paris in search of victory and, perhaps, some degree of catharsis. Last November, while her brother was playing for France against Germany at the Stade de France, Griezmann’s sister was caught up in the Paris terror attacks. Maud Griezmann escaped the Bataclan Theatre unharmed but 89 people were killed. Eight months later, memories and emotions surrounding that awful night will continue to be revisited. Griezmann, though, will seek to maintain the focus he has shown throughout.”Just before the Romania match, the President came to talk to us about the security measures in and around the stadium and we were pretty calm. It was our duty to win the matches to entertain the French people and go all the way. That’s what we needed to do as the French national side.”And now they are just a single step away from glory. One win against a Portugal side that, whatever its strengths or weaknesses, is certainly a less foreboding prospect than Germany.”We’re like kids,” grinned Griezmann. “There’s a whole country behind us and we have to give 100 percent for them.”Now we have to win the final.”Iain Macintosh is a writer for ESPN FC.
Germany coach Joachim Low: We were the ‘better team’ against France
Germany coach Joachim Low believes his side were the “better team” in their Euro 2016 semifinal loss, though he conceded that France are worthy finalists.Didier Deschamps’ France side spent the large majority of the game on the back foot, with Germany ending the game having had 65 percent possession.However, despite having the majority of the ball, Low’s team struggled to create many goal-scoring opportunities and they eventually fell to a 2-0 defeat.And Low, who guided Germany to World Cup success two years ago in Brazil, couldn’t pick a major fault in his side’s performance and put the result down to bad luck.”We were the better team,” Low said. “We put in a lot of effort, showed good body language, got forward and were good in one on ones.”We were unfortunate to concede a penalty a minute before half-time, that was bad luck. We had our chances but didn’t score.”Today we didn’t have the luck we needed; in 2010 and 2012 when we went out, the sides were better than us. Today we were better than the French but for the goals and result.”But despite his opinion of his own team’s performance against France, Low said he thought Les Bleus would go on to win the final against Portugal.”France have succeeded in getting to the final — if you win 2-0 you deserve it,” he said. “I think France will win against Portugal — Portugal haven’t convinced me that much so far.”France have a very good side but we were the better team today.”
Germany had 65 percent possession and 17 shots on goal, but only six were on target.
Germany were playing without Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez, who were both injured in the quarterfinal win against Italy, and the suspended Mats Hummels, while Bastian Schweinsteiger and Emre Can made their first starts of the tournament.Jerome Boateng also left the semifinal on the hour mark with an injury, and Low said Germany were not the same side without the missing players.”There were injured players, Khedira and Gomez, Hummels was suspended and Boateng went off injured — they’re hard players to replace,” Low said.”The side did everything I told them, showed a lot of courage so there’s nothing to reproach them for.”Antoine Griezmann’s penalty put France ahead against the run of play before half-time before adding a second goal by poking home a loose ball.Low said the 72nd-minute strike was a momentarily lapse in an otherwise good defensive effort.”We didn’t get the ball away from a dangerous position — we did that quite well throughout the game,” he said. “We dominated France, most of all in midfield, but for this goal we didn’t.”We created pressure in the second half but there was always the danger on the counter — we invested everything and we tried everything, and we had our chances.”It was an abrupt end to the tournament for the reigning World Cup champions, but Low said he looked ahead with optimism.”This was a good tournament for us. We have great energy in this side, they showed great effort — also in training in Evian — and in the games they’ve proved their great team spirit.”It was impressive how players who didn’t play helped the side, so there’s going to be a short analysis but I haven’t seen too many errors in this tournament from us. Overall, we have a great side.
Germany suffer “that kind of game” as France triumph in Euro 2016 semifinal
MARSEILLE, France — Here, at last, almost at the end of the competition, was a match that truly delivered. Germany vs. France — the World Cup winners against the European champions-elect, in the country’s finest stadium — served up a classic battle between contrasting styles. It was 90 breathless minutes full of drama, incident and an overall quality of football that lived up to its “final before the final” billing.However, for the dejected players of the losing German side who mostly shuffled through the Stade Velodrome mixed zone with drooped shoulders, all the excitement and sense of occasion was long gone an hour after the final whistle, dissolved into the wet, heavy Marseille air along with their hopes for a second consecutive trophy triumph.In their tired minds, the big night had already shrunk to resemble a sad but rather mundane event, the kind of game that everyone who’s ever played or watched football at any level has witnessed a hundred times, the kind of game where you play well enough to win but contrive to lose anyway, the kind of game that stubbornly refuses to go the way of cheers and hugs and only ever ends in sighs and shrugs. Because that, too, is football.And it was that kind of game. “This one is relatively easy to explain,” said Germany’s Toni Kroos with a wry, philosophical smile. “France played the way we expected and we found the solutions we had hoped to find. But then we conceded a second penalty [after the one against Italy] in a way that you simply cannot prepare for. You have to deal with that. And we dealt with it, quite sensibly. We had chances, we had France running [after the ball]. But we didn’t score the goals.”That was the crux of the matter on Thursday night. Germany manager Joachim Low believed his team was “the better side,” dominating possession and pushing the hosts deep into their own half. “If we had played at home like [France played], the crowd would have booed us,” said keeper Manuel Neuer of France’s, but it all counted for nothing on the scoreboard. Football is like that, and you can’t even say it’s unfair. That’s just the way it is.Who would know that better than a German national team that for decades have been specialists at grinding results against the run of play? France turned the tables on them. After losing two World Cup semifinals against the bogey team on their Eastern border, despite having the better team, France managed to win from a position of relative weakness.To put it differently, the Germans left the competition feeling that they had beaten themselves.Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger’s instinctive, fatal handball just before half-time put Germany on course for defeat even though they had, for 30 minutes at least, “played the best football at the Euros,” as Kroos said. “It was a reflex,” the inconsolable Schweinsteiger explained. “It’s always difficult when you mark zonally, there’s so much movement.” Nobody blamed referee Nicola Rizzoli for the call.”I understand why he gave it,” said Neuer, “but from my keeper’s point of view, I can tell you: I would have saved that ball anyway.” Sadly, the laws of the game don’t concern themselves with such subtleties.A series of needless mistakes at the back — a risky pass, a bad first touch, a keeper making the rash decision to come out and tip away the cross instead of staying put — gifted Antoine Griezmann, who converted the penalty kick after the handball, a second goal 18 minutes before the end. By this time Germany must have realized it wasn’t going to be their night. They created three or four more decent opportunities but couldn’t score. It was that kind of game, an everyday occurrence at the worst possible time.Never a player to admit guilt easily, Neuer maintained that it was “better to lose this way” than to go out in the semifinal as the inferior team, as they had done in 2008 and 2010 (both vs. Spain) and in 2012 (vs. Italy). “We’ve done well on the whole; there’s a good mix for the future, as well,” said the Bayern goalie.General manager Oliver Bierhoff was less able to see the positives, on the other hand. “It’s frustrating, it’s unnecessary,” he said. “You don’t have to go out that way.”Two lapses of concentration were simply two too many at this stage of the competition, and against a side that had in Griezmann precisely what Germany were missing: a striker in a rich vein of form, so hot that he can burn a path to the final in France all by himself.Asked for a quick word on his goal-less Euros, Thomas Muller, the man who was supposed to be Germany’s Griezmann, answered with an expletive. It wasn’t meant as a curse, more as a descriptive noun. “My game was tonight typical of our team on a whole; we worked hard but got nothing in return,” said the Bayern forward, with deep disappointment evident in his voice.Muller, 26, mustered only a couple of scuffed half-chances before the break and even fewer in the second half. He looked utterly überspielt: “played out,” mentally drained, without energy and ideas. Without the injured Mario Gomez and Marco Reus, who once again pulled out on the eve of the tournament, Low’s squad lacked cutting edge. All the fine possession play and crosses from useful positions could never make up for that deficit.New players could emerge in time for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, just as Joshua Kimmich, Jonathan Tah, Julian Weigl and Leroy Sané have emerged since the World Cup in Brazil. With a bit of luck, one of them will either be a striker or will be very good at doing a striker’s job.Muller will still be there, too, even if Schweinsteiger will probably call it a day. In the aftermath of elimination, he felt too raw to make the decision to resign: “I haven’t yet had the time to think about [it],” said the Manchester United midfielder. He had naturally envisaged a different ending; there was no sense pretending that Germany could be content with going out at the penultimate hurdle.”When you’re together for six weeks, all that matters is the title,” said Bierhoff.If there was any solace, though, it could be found in the fact that this was ultimately only that kind of game for Germany. It’s neither a one-off nor a historic chance missed, but the sort of bad result that can happen only if you play well to begin with. They’ll get a chance to do better in two years’ time.Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC’s German football expert
Cristiano Ronaldo: Portugal have ‘dreamed’ of making Euro 2016 final
Cristiano Ronaldo said Portugal have “dreamed” of making the final of Euro 2016 “since the very beginning.”Portugal progressed to the tournament’s final after beating Wales 2-0 and Ronaldo opened the scoring himself with a superb headed goal in the 50th minute.But despite his own individual performance, he preferred to focus on the entire team right down to medical staff.”It’s what we have dreamed of since the beginning,” Ronaldo said. “We knew it would be a long road and we’re still in the tournament.”We have believed right from the start. We had difficult moments, but it’s like I always say: It’s better to start poorly and have a positive ending.”The players deserve it, the coach deserves it. The entire medical staff as well. They have been doing an excellent job with the players’ fitness.”We haven’t won anything yet as I said a few days ago, but the dream is still alive.”The Portugal captain hailed the team’s togetherness throughout the tournament, and said he always believed they would advance to the latter stages of the competition.”Of course we are a team. The national team are a unit. That’s how we’ve been acting since the start. I’ve tried to help out, not just by scoring goals but by fighting, scrapping,” Ronaldo told UEFA. “To get to the final you have to have all 23 players in the squad fighting.”I’m very happy. I believed in my heart that we’d go far. Maybe it didn’t start as we wanted to but this is not a 100-metre race. This is a marathon.”He added: “Portugal are not just about Cristiano Ronaldo, we are a team. But I was able to score today and I’ve helped the team get to the final by scoring a goal.”Teammate Cedric Soares was also full of praise for his nation’s performance, and said they will prepare the best they possibly can for Sunday’s game.”This is all about winning and that’s why we’re going to Paris,” said Soares, whose team will face either France or Germany in the final on Sunday. “France and Germany are both amazing teams, but we’ll prepare the best we can for the final.”It’s amazing. Incredible to be in the final, it defies description but we’ve earned this, we deserved the congratulations.”We were united, focused, but we have to congratulate Wales too, it was the first time they reached the semis, we knew they were a good team but we came out on top.”Ronaldo and Portugal were stunned on home soil in the final of Euro 2004 by unlikely champions Greece in the former Manchester United star’s first taste of the tournament. “Euro 2004 was special, I was just 18 and it was my first tournament. Now we are in the final again and we hope we will win it,” Ronaldo said.”I didn’t think many people thought we would make the final but we have and that makes me very proud.”Portugal forward Nani, who scored the second against Wales on Wednesday, admitted his goal came as a surprise and said the victory was cause for celebration.”It’s a weird feeling [to have scored],” Nani said. “It was a surprise goal; it was instinct.”I didn’t even have time to prepare my celebration. I just wanted to celebrate and dedicate the goal to my family who were there in the stands.”I’m very happy to play my part and help our national team. It’s an honour to represent our country — this amazing national team that’s doing an excellent job.”At this moment we have to celebrate, because it’s an amazing moment. It’s a historic moment for our country. And we have to celebrate.”Follow ESPN FC across social media o
Ronaldo, Portugal accept manager’s challenge to reach Euro 2016 final
Cristiano Ronaldo broke the deadlock shortly after halftime and Portugal march on to the final on Sunday.
LYON, France — On Oct. 11, 2014, Portugal coach Fernando Santos took charge of a battered side — they had just lost a home European qualifier against Albania — for the first time in a friendly against France. The game ended in a 2-1 defeat for the Portuguese, but far more important than the result was a challenge laid down by the new manager.
“I called my players together in the bowels of the Stade de France and told them that our goal was to be right back here two years later for the final of Euro 2016,” he said after Wednesday’s 2-0 semifinal win against Wales. “And now we have done it. Now we have a final to play. And I don’t just want to play it. I want to win it.”With his dark eyes and often dark demanour, Fernando Santos doesn’t often give way to emotion, beyond a certain melancholy orneriness. But after this win on Wednesday, he was positively beaming. His men had upheld the oath they made that day.”We’re not the best team in the world, but we know that we are not pushovers, either,” he said. “We work hard. And above all, we are a team. A team of 23, plus all the fans too.”The gods of football protocol move in mysterious ways, which might explain how we ended up with both teams in their second strip and, in both cases, green: dark for the Welsh; minty fresh for Portugal.Both sides also ended up without two projected starters. For Wales, it was the suspended Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies, replaced by Andy King and James Collins. Portugal were without the banned William Carvalho, who was ably spelled by Danilo. And they also lost Pepe after he failed a late fitness test; in came Bruno Alves.Portugal did not win because of the absentees, but they did serve as a reminder that the difference between medium-sized nations and smaller ones is often measured in depth beyond the first XI.King, as natural a replacement for Ramsey as you’re likely to find, did everything the Arsenal man normally does, but he simply didn’t do it as well or with as much quality. Collins, a big, bruising center-half, was asked to play on the edge of a back three in a role usually filled by Davies, whose day job is left-back and an attacking one at that.Contrast this with Portugal. There is a drop-off from Pepe to Bruno Alves, but we’re still talking experienced, veteran and uncompromising center-backs. And Danilo, if anything, was a better match than Carvalho in a game like this.More important was the fact that Fernando Santos was able to welcome back Raphael Guerreiro, perhaps the best left-back in the tournament when fit, and he also seemed to have found the right midfield balance ahead of Danilo, with Renato Sanches and Adrien Silva joining Joao Mario.And yet the first half felt as if the contest could have gone either way. Ten minutes in, Ronaldo tumbled to the ground and complained energetically; replays showed Collins had him in something between a headlock and a sleeper hold when Cedric Soares’ crossed into the Welsh box.Meanwhile, a Hal Robson-Kanu cross found King cutting in ahead of Jose Fonte to head just over the bar. It was the kind of chance that left you wondering whether Ramsey might have had more luck.As for the two marquee names, Ronaldo was often frustrated in the first 45 minutes, though just before the break, he did well to get on the end of an Adrien Silva cross. His timing, however, wasn’t as good, and the chance went over the bar.Bale was often driven wide by Danilo’s presence, though he had a decent whack from 12 yards after a set-piece corner routine caught Portugal entirely unprepared. The Welsh star also unearthed at least one of his mighty gallops that wreaked havoc in the Portuguese lines and ended with a shot at Rui Patricio.As the teams filed back out after half-time, you felt each had a path to victory. For Wales, it meant keeping Portugal in areas where they could not inflict damage and were waiting for either the moment of individual brilliance or an opposition mistake.
For Portugal, it was also about those two factors, but they had a third weapon on their side: Their passing and movement simply meant they had a wider range of solutions and, in football, that often equals creating more situations where you can make your individuals count AND force errors.Both came together in minute 50. Portugal played a short corner and, from Raphael Guerreiro’s subsequent cross, Ronaldo cleverly lost his marker. James Chester tried to pick him up as the ball came in, but he was no match as the man from Madeira rose into the sky and powered the ball under the bar.When you see Ronaldo take to the air like that — part kangaroo, part levitating holy man — you’re reminded that if the rest of his skill set was entirely mediocre, he could still make a living as a one-trick pony target man on a mid-table side.”That first goal was going to be crucial,” Wales manager Chris Coleman said later. “We lost our concentration for five minutes, and when you’re up against the quality of a team like Portugal, then they’ll capitalize on it.”Wales were still absorbing the shock and regrouping when Ronaldo struck again, pouncing on a short clearance and unleashing a shot from the edge of the box. He may or may not have mishit it but, either way, it flashed into the area where Nani, who had shaken off Collins, deflected it past Wayne Hennessey. (Renato Sanches appeared offside and that might have thrown the Welsh defense but, in any case, he was not interfering with play.)It was a kick to the gut and a further swing of momentum, which was already going Portugal’s way. Ronaldo sent a scary free kick — perhaps the best one he’s taken for a long time in a national team shirt — whistling over Hennessey’s bar.Ronaldo’s reaction — mouth open, jaw locked, fists clenched, eyes wide — told the whole story: He was close to berserk mode. A few minutes passed before Portugal were on the verge of the knockout blow again. A nasty Nani shot was parried away by Hennessy, and Joao Mario tucked the rebound just wide.By this point, Coleman had called up whatever artillery he had left and on came Simon Church, Sam Vokes and Jonny Williams. But Portugal were unfazed. They could smell it. Bale stormed around the pitch, but all he could muster were two long-range efforts, with not quite enough Welsh mustard to beat Rui Patricio.At the final whistle, both teams saluted their supporters. The Welsh put on red shirts, which they then threw into the stands. And their fans? They stood as one, as they’ve done throughout this tournament. And they sang what has become their Euro 2016 anthem: “Don’t take me home … Please don’t take me … I just don’t want to go to work …”They’ll have to now; it’s over. At least in some ways. But not in others.”I told my players that this tournament may have ended, but it’s not the end for them,” Coleman said. “They’ll be here when I’m long gone. Tonight was simply a challenge too far.”Indeed it was. On the night when it all come together for Portugal, the Dragon was slain. Just as it was in 1958. Back then, it was a man named Pele who scored the winner as a Welsh legend named John Charles was forced to watch from the stands. On Wednesday, it was a man named Ronaldo, perhaps on the way to legend status himself, and Ramsey was the forced absentee.Portugal can look ahead to a match against Germany or France. Ronaldo, the only man to have been to the final before, back in 2004, was philosophical:”I was just 18 back then; it was my first final,” he said. “Now, we’re one step away from being European champions. Dreaming is free, so let’s keep dreaming.”Gabriele Marcotti is a columnist for ESPN FC, The Times and Corriere dello Sport. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.
Cristiano Ronaldo steals headlines from man-of-the-match Adrien
Cristiano Ronaldo broke the deadlock shortly after halftime and Portugal march on to the final on Sunday.A controlled and dominant display by Portugal on Wednesday resulted in a 2-0 victory over Wales to book a place in the Euro 2016 final on Sunday in Paris. Portugal will face the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between hosts France and reigning World Cup champions Germany.Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani scored goals any centre-forward would be proud of, further justifying coach Fernando Santos’ decision to play the two wingers as strikers in this tournament. Each has notched three goals in Portugal’s six matches so far.Ronaldo, the captain who scored and provided the assist for Nani’s goal, will inevitably hog the headlines, but midfield dynamo Adrien did the most to make Portugal tick Wednesday, with a forceful and skilful display in the centre of the pitch
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK, Rui Patricio, 7/10 — Did not have a whole lot to do, but did his job when called upon, especially when diving to repel a wicked swerving shot from Gareth Bale in the 80th minute that could have put Wales back into the match.
DF, Cedric Soares, 8/10 — After watching Vieirinha play the group matches, Soares has taken his chance with both hands in the knockout stages. Competent both in his defensive duties and when lending a hand in attack, he produced one brilliant robbery of the ball followed by a dangerous cross into the Wales box in the 25th minute. Not afraid to try his luck from range.
DF, Jose Fonte, 7/10 — Fonte’s participation in this tournament is a neat metaphor for his whole career. The Southampton captain had to work hard for years as he steadily made his way to the top of the game. Initially not a starter at Euro 2016, Fonte patiently waited for his chance. He has played the past three games, has not put a foot wrong, and looks odds-on to start the final on Sunday.
DF, Bruno Alves, 7/10 — A surprise selection after Pepe’s injury, the big centre-back let nobody down, using his strong aerial game to good effect to help nullify Wales’ threat from set pieces.
DF, Raphael Guerreiro, 7/10 — His fourth game for Portugal at Euro 2016, his fourth highly positive performance. Composure, invention, incisiveness all rolled into one. Fans of A Selecao will be praying he remains fit for the final.
MF, Joao Mario, 7/10 — Much more involved than against Croatia and Poland, Mario showed flashes of what he is capable of with some excellent combination play, particularly with club colleague Adrien, and generally kept the ball well. Will be disappointed not to have scored when he followed up Nani’s effort in the 66th minute.
MF, Danilo, 7/10 — A sound display in his usual style, keeping things simple and using his height and muscle to good effect. Almost capped the night with a goal: Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey just managed to keep out Danilo’s shot after a strong run into the box.
MF, Adrien, 8/10 — Man-of-the-match performance from the Sporting Clube de Portugal captain, bossing the centre of the pitch with a typical all-action display. Combined tenacious tackling and tracking with swift passing and clever combinations. Another player, like Fonte and Cedric, who did not feature in the group phase but who is now surely a certainty to line up in the final.
MF, Renato Sanches, 6/10 — The 18-year-old sensation showed his rawness with a series of errant and rushed passes, especially in the first half when he looked ill at ease wide on the right. Improved significantly in the second half, and he will have an important role to play in Paris, for sure.
FW, Nani, 8/10 — It’s remarkable to think that Nani was probably the most contested starter among Portugal fans in the lead-up to Euro 2016. He has been a revelation in his new centre-forward position. The news that he has signed for Valencia will only further boost his confidence. Scored his third goal of the tournament with an opportunist strike and threatened to add to that tally. Reborn.
FW, Cristiano Ronaldo, 8/10 — For the second match running, Ronaldo was denied a clear penalty as James Collins somehow got away with a headlock more in keeping with a wrestling ring than a football pitch. Ronaldo’s thumping header broke the deadlock, his mishit shot led to Portugal’s second, and he twice came close to scoring again, once after rounding the keeper but running out of angle, and from a free kick that just cleared the bar.
MF, Andre Gomes, N/R — Kept Portugal in the ascendency when he replaced Sanches, and on one excellent break set up a great chance for Ronaldo late on.
MF, Joao Moutinho, N/R — Replaced an exhausted Adrien for the last 10 minutes. Steady as ever.
FW, Ricardo Quaresma, N/R — Given five minutes, it was time enough to win a dangerous free kick on the edge of the box.
Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports | By Larry Brown | Last updated 7/7/16
US women’s soccer team members wear Equal Play for Equal Pay shirts. Hope Solo on Twitter
The US Women’s national soccer team is preparing to get as vocal as possible about their mission to receive equal pay and treatment as the Men’s national team.According to the New York Times, ahead of their game Saturday against South Africa in Chicago, theUSWNT plans to wear T-shirts endorsing an “Equal Play Equal Pay” message. The players union is also creating temporary tattoos with the same slogan for the players to wear on the field during their matches.Due to the terms of their collective bargaining agreement with the US Soccer Federation, the team is not allowed to strike. But they will have a chance to renegotiate terms when the current agreement ends after the year. The Olympics also frown upon athletes using the Games as an opportunity to make social and political commentary, but the women are looking to use their platform leading up to Rio to their advantage.Among the complaints from the women’s team — led by Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and Becky Sauerbrunn — is that their travel conditions, field conditions, and pay are all significantly worse than what the men receive. While it’s true that in the past the men received more in TV money and brought in more fans/ratings and higher ticket prices, the opposite has occurred lately due to the recent success and explosion in popularity of the women’s team.
SOLO POISED TO HIT CENTURY MARK FOR SHUTOUTS
WITH ONE MORE SHUTOUT, HOPE SOLO WILL ADD ANOTHER MILESTONE TO HER LEGENDARY CAREER
WNT Jul 8, 2016
Hope Solo’s first shutout did not come like many that would follow under bright stadium lights in front of a massive, screaming and adoring crowd. It came more than 16 years ago during an 8-0 win at a closed-door international – the U.S. played those back then – against Iceland in Davidson, North Carolina. There was only a smattering of people in the stands.It was a modest debut for what would grow into a spectacular career, perhaps the best for an international goalkeeper. And against South Africa on July 9 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Solo has a chance to achieve a milestone never before reached when she goes for her 100th shutout.Should she hit the century mark in the next match, the shutout would come in her 197th cap, giving her a clean sheet in just under every second match she has played for the USA. It’s a remarkable achievement, especially considering the amount of important matches she has played in World Cups, Olympics, and qualifying for those tournaments. And despite the increasing competitiveness of the women’s game internationally, the wins and shutouts have continued to accrue at the same rate.
She’s earned shutouts on dusty fields on the southern coast of Portugal, in ultra-modern stadiums built for a World Cup in South Korea, in massive multi-purpose stadiums in China, in the soccer-specific stadiums of the USA and in some of Europe’s green cathedrals. Playing behind a strong U.S. team for her entire career, Solo has had her share of matches in which she was not called upon to make many saves, but during her tenure there has been a much more common scenario. These are matches that feature several dangerous moments, ones that happen in a flash, where she has stepped up to keep an opponent off the board with a brilliant save or a brave punch in goal area traffic, bringing crowds to their feet, impacting games tremendously, and yes, enabling her to earn a bushels of shutouts.“She has the ability to remain totally focused for 90 minutes, whether it’s making saves in the 20th, 45th or the 92nd minutes,” said U.S. goalkeeper coach Graeme Abel. “That focus and efficiency in her performances allows her to remain in control at all times, and it’s a huge positive for any team to have a player like that in goal.”
Solo’s athleticism has always been world class, and when you add her in prodigious kicking game, her physical abilities are perhaps peerless to any goalkeeper who has ever represented her country. But it is her mental game and her tremendous competitive focus that has pushed her into the realm of the best-ever at her position.Her mentality and ability to lock in and focus on the job at hand while directing the defense and owning her penalty box are legendary.They say you practice like you play, and anyone who has ever played with and against Solo in practice knows of her tremendous training ethic.“Hope’s attention to detail both on and off the training field and her drive for perfection while evaluating video is a key factor in transferring performances from practice to match days,” said Abel. “Those qualities are main reasons that she’s had so much longevity in a position that continually evolves.”Another impressive stat is where she has earned those shutouts, with more coming in difficult environments abroad (53) than on U.S. soil (46). Of her 99 shutouts, almost a third have come in FIFA or CONCACAF tournaments, earning 16 in World Cup and Olympic play, and another 15 in World Cup or Olympic Qualifying.Her shutouts have come against 28 different countries, with 10 each against CONCACAF rivals Canada and Mexico. A total of 37 of her shutouts have come against European teams and 52 against the likes of world powers like Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, England, France, Japan, Nigeria, Norway and Sweden.In 2016, Solo has earned nine shutouts in her 10 wins so far, including seven in a row, tying her own record for most consecutive games played with clean sheets (she had seven in a row back in 2005). One must think, considering the way the U.S. team is playing so far this year, she has a good shot to break her personal record of 13 shutouts in a calendar year, set in another Olympic year in 2008.Of course, Solo and the U.S. team famously earned five consecutive shutouts in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, allowing a goal against Australia in the first match and two to Japan in the World Cup Final, but in between the USA completely smothered opposing attacks.It was the match against Australia where Solo made two other-worldly saves, and several more that would qualify as tremendous if it wasn’t for her two stops in the first half that perhaps changed the course of the World Cup.In just the fifth minute of the match with the scored tied 0-0, Australian attacker Emily van Egmond unleashed a blast from just 16 yards out that was headed into the upper right corner before Solo threw her body to her left and with a brilliant reaction save, pushed the ball off the crossbar with both hands.That set the stage for Megan Rapinoe to put the USA up 1-0 in the 12th minute. Just a minute later, Solo amazingly topped the first save with another lighting reaction to push away Sam Kerr’s point-blank volley with her left hand.But perhaps one of her most important “saves” of the World Cup came when she didn’t even touch the ball.In the 59th minute of a tight Women’s World Cup semifinal match against Germany, Julie Johnston was whistled for a penalty kick for pulling down massive striker Alexandra Popp. Up stepped Celia Sasic, one of the best penalty kick takers in the world. Solo played the mental game with Sasic and won it, making her wait about three minutes before the kick was taken. The German star missed just wide left to keep the score at 0-0.No German player — man or woman — had ever missed a penalty kick in a World Cup. That miss set the stage for Carli Lloyd’s heroics when she converted a penalty kick in the 70th minute, and for a Kelley O’Hara goal that finished off the game near the end to send the USA back to the World Cup Final.It was just another example of how Solo impacts games, which she does with her voice, her presence and her soccer savvy, helping her defense defuse chances before they come to fruition. These are all factors that have been keys to her earning so many shutouts as well.Those were just a few moments of many, albeit under the brightest of lights, that spotlight the impact Solo has on matches. Whether she gets the shutout or not (and her 99 so far shows that she often does), what has been abundantly clear is that whenever she’s in goal, it’s highly likely the U.S. will get the win.“To be able to set records and reach milestones such as these at any level is a great achievement,” added Abel. “But to do it on the world’s stage is just a phenomenal feat.”
Jurgen Klinsmann hails U.S. advances but calls foundation ‘fragile’
United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann has told CNN he believes the foundation for soccer in the United States is “fragile and disconnected” in comparison to some of the systems in place for world football powers such as England, Germany, Spain and France.Klinsmann, 51, said that the growth of the sport in America has been remarkable and believes soccer has truly arrived in the nation.However, the California-based coach called the challenges facing the U.S. a complicated puzzle compared to other countries and one that’s “not perfect yet” in a wide-ranging interview.”The foundation in the United States is still fragile and disconnected compared to other countries,” Klinsmann said. “The youth leagues do their own thing, the professional system is not really connected to the amateur system, and that’s not really connected to the college system.”So there are holes in the system, like in a Swiss cheese, and there’s a loss of quality. We’re working on connecting those pieces, on connecting player development, and on continuing to build a pyramid in this amazing country.”Klinsmann led the national team to the country’s best-ever finish in a Copa America at the competition’s 100th anniversary edition, which was hosted in the U.S. last month.The fourth-place finish came after winning a challenging group and advancing to the semifinals, before being outclassed 4-0 by Lionel Messi and Argentina and then losing to Colombia in the third-place playoff.”It’s a bigger puzzle in the United States than in other countries, and it’s not perfect yet. That’s what makes it so exciting; we’re building something great here,” Klinsmann said. “We don’t have a system in place like France or Germany or even South American countries.”If you look at the FA in England, it’s more than 100 years old and they already have their infrastructure, scouting, coaches’ education, national training center, and the pyramid is connected.”There’s relatively little infrastructure work to do in England because it’s all there. Here in the United States, building that infrastructure is still important. That’s what’s so fascinating and rewarding about this.”Klinsmann said he understands the frustrations of U.S. fans who want to compete at the highest level with the world’s top teams, but the Germans urged patience by saying there’s “no gain without pain.”He added: “The transition is happening step by step. We’re playing against the bigger nations, we’re attacking those bigger nations and holding our own against them.”There’s no growth without taking risks. And there’s no growth without failure along the way. We’re getting out of our comfort zone, and we’re making some big strides forward.”The next step is to become one of the best soccer nations in the world. The USMNT has become an important engine for growth in the United States. We’re trying to do everything we can to make the national team as successful as possible in the World Cup, which is the benchmark for everyone around the world.”
Clint Dempsey said he would be open to a super-sub role off the bench for the United States at the 2018 World Cup if that’s what the team asked of him.Dempsey, 33, was back to his best for the U.S. at the Copa America Centenario, scoring three goals for the Americans as the team reached the semifinals only to lose to Argentina and then Colombia in the third-placed match to finish fourth.By the time the World Cup in Russia rolls around, though, Dempsey will be 35, and he admits he would be willing — and possibly forced — to be used as a substitute.”Yeah, I could do that,” Dempsey told Colin Cowherd on FS1. “It would be tough, but at the same time you have to look at it in the right way.”You have to say, ‘All right, if I do play, am I fit enough that I can go 90 minutes nonstop?'” Dempsey said. “Or is it, ‘Do I put in a 60-minute shift, 70-minute shift and get subbed? Or do you come on maybe later in the game when everybody’s tired and try to get goals?”So being a goalscorer, that does appeal to me, that I could come on in a game and change it. I would be open to it.Dempsey added that it was an honour to represent his country in any capacity, having done so 131 times, scoring 52 goals, just five behind the all-time mark for the U.S. set by Landon Donovan.”[I’ve] been able to play in three different World Cups,” Dempsey said. “That would be nice to be able to say that you were in a fourth. Not a lot of people can say that.”The one-time U.S. captain also talked about youth development and player identification, underscoring some of the challenges and opportunities that exist for up-and-coming soccer players in the States.Asked if “pay-to-play” scenarios for youths was a detriment to kids whose families couldn’t afford expensive travelling teams, Dempsey said: “I think so. I think that’s fair. Especially if you’re trying to play club ball.”To some of the clubs’ credit, they do have scholarships, they have players they help in being able to deal with the fees. I was lucky enough to play for a club that helped me with that.”It’s difficult for kids to get that right type of coaching, get that development. And if you’re growing up in a small town, really all you have is the recreational league that you can play in, the high-school team that you can hopefully play for, play in men’s league, Hispanic leagues on the weekends, and hope that someone can see you there.”
Indy Eleven Gameday & Match Preview
Indy Eleven vs Minnesota United FC
Saturday, July 9, 2016 – 7:30 p.m. ET Carroll Stadium – Indy Eleven
- Indy Eleven: 0W-1D-0L, 0 pts, 5th in NASL Fall Season
- Minnesota United F: 1W-0D-0L, 3pts, 1st in NASL Fall Season
- Click here for the complete NASL Fall Season standings
- Local: WISH-TV
- National: beIN Sports
Indy Eleven began their 2016 Fall Season trek away from home at Puerto Rico FC in a one-all draw with the expansion side. A first half that featured plenty of action, PRFC began the match on the forefront and looked likely to be first on the scoresheet. Kicking their way through the opening 45 minutes, the physicality was upped a notch as the match matured though neither team were able to capitalize on a limited number of chances in a scoreless first half.After a flurry of chances for the “Boys in Blue,” the hosts did eventually end up opening the scoring as forward Hector Ramos nicked in a cross from Kyle Culbertson in the 74th minute to swing momentum back in their favor. Continuing to battle back, though, “Indiana’s Team” pushed against the grain to create a few chances in the final 15 minutes and right at the death, they got the goal they were looking for. Defender Nemanja Vukovic swung in a lifted cross off a set piece, and there to meet it on his NASL debut was forward Souleymane Youla. The Turk nodded the delivery across the line and Indy Eleven ended up stealing an important point away from home.
Last Time Out – Minnesota United FC 5 : 1 Carolina Railhawks
Minnesota United FC made quite the statement in the opening game of the fall slate with a 5-1 thrashing of Railhawks FC at home last Saturday night. Two goals from Christian Ramirez, both within five minutes of each other, got things off right for the hosts, and the midfielder also bagged an assist on Stefano Pinho’s finish in the first minute of added time to make it 3-0 at the end of the half. In the 47th minute, Tiago Calvano added a fourth goal to fully boost the rout, and Christian Ramirez completed his hat-trick in the 75th minute on the back end of a cross from midfielder Danny Cruz.The consolation goal for Railhawks FC came in the 90th minute from Matt Watson, but it was hardly enough to put a dent on Minnesota United FC’s party as they highly impressed in the fall opener.-> TICKETS | Craft Beer Night – Indy Eleven vs. Minnesota United FC <-
Eleven on Revenge Watch
Though the 4-2 win over Minnesota United FC on May 21 in the Spring Season was as sweet as the club had seen in history, the problem with every big win is the return – and there is none bigger than Saturday for the Loons. As Indy Eleven hoist the Spring Season trophy pregame, no doubt the former spring champions will look on with a glimmer of revenge in their eyes ahead of one of the biggest clashes of talent in the Fall Season.Despite being just 1/22 of the way through the second portion of the year, this match has a lot of promise. Firstly, it features the two top goalscorers in the league in Christian Ramirez and Eamon Zayed. The former jumped to the top of the charts with his first week hat-trick, while Zayed sits solely in second after his hat-trick to end the spring against Carolina. From a team standpoint, the game also features two of the best defenses in the league as the Eleven have conceded just nine goals in eleven matches to the Loons’ 13 goals in the same frame. With Saturday night’s contest being the fall home opener and against one of the fall’s strongest sides, “Indiana’s Team” can circle this match on the calendar as a must win.
Spring Season Champs Means Little in Fall
It would be all too easy for Coach Hankinson’s side to sit back and coast through the fall – after all, winning the spring means automatic placement into the four-team playoff in November – but that isn’t the mindset. Hunger is the mindset, and the desire to push forward and keep their place as the team to beat in the NASL.Champions, unbeaten, etc. it’s all great. But when the Loons travel to Indianapolis for the first of two meetings between the sides in one week, the “Boys in Blue” have the challenging task of putting it all at the back of their mind. Knowing that this week is the first of a few where the team is in action multiple times in a seven day span, the Spring Season feat must serve only as a motivational reminder of where this team has been, but also where they can go moving forward.Indy Eleven OG’s: How Brad Ring, Don Smart, and Dylan Mares keep riding the Eleven wave
Who to Watch, Indy Eleven edition: GK Jon Busch
He’s one of, if not the, best ‘keepers in the league with one of the best defenses in front of him, but Saturday’s task at hand for Jon Busch may be his toughest in an Indy Eleven uniform so far.The Loons are red hot right now and have plenty of attacking options at their disposal, while Indy Eleven will be missing their stalwart and captain Colin Falvey in the center of defense due to injury. While Cory Miller has proven an incredibly effective replacement, it’s likely that “Buschy” will be facing a few shots on goal Saturday night – just as he could have been had Falvey been fit. Regardless, the 18-year MLS vet will have a big test on his hands (and feet) on Saturday night.
Who to Watch, Minnesota United FC edition: FW Christian Ramirez
An easy pick for Player of the Week, Minnesota United FC forward Christian Ramirez was the star of the show on Saturday in his video game-like performance that featured three goals and one assist in their 5-1 win. amirez, who now leads the league in goals (8), is capable of scoring from any angle and has proven to be more than your typical bundle of a forward. His first goal against Carolina was a dipping volley that Railhawks FC ‘netminder Akira Fitzgerald had no shot to save, while his second goal was a simple capitalization on a defensive error that allowed him to slot home. Before completing his hat-trick, Ramirez laid off for midfielder Stefano Pinho for the team’s third goal of the game, and he finished off the day by tapping home from two yards out for the last of the Loons’ five goals.With a lethal combination of pace, skill, and finishing ability, Ramirez is the one to watch Saturday night.
Match-up to Mark: FW Eamon Zayed/Justin Braun vs. GK Sammy Ndjock
While plenty has been said about Minnesota’s attacking threat, it’s Indy Eleven forwards Eamon Zayed and Justin Braun who present an equally tough-to-handle tandem. Two of the top scorers in the league, Zayed and Braun bring different assets to the game that bring plenty of problems to the opposing defense and ‘keeper. ayed is tall, strong, and physical, but also possesses the innate ability to slip in behind a defender like a true poacher. Meanwhile, Braun is quick, but also physical, and has an intelligence element in his game that makes him tough to mark, and tough to follow. Loons ‘netminder Sammy Ndjock has been excellent this year and proved as much in last week’s win over Railhawks FC, but if Zayed and Braun get plenty of touches on the ball Saturday night, he may have as much to deal with as he did in the 4-2 Eleven win in May.
Bring Us Your Best – Indy Eleven v Minnesota United PREVIEW 7/9/2016
|Midfield choices, who starts and who doesn’t? (Nicki Paterson and Gerardo Torrado pictured)|
By: James Cormack
The one thing you can probably be sure of, tomorrow’s match between Indy Eleven and Minnesota United is unlikely to be a dull encounter. These two sides have never been involved in a draw, in seven previous encounters Indy Eleven have won three and Minnesota has won four. All three of Indy Eleven’s victories have been at Carroll Stadium.
This match will also see the leagues two highest scoring players face off against each other, Éamon Zayed and Christian Ramirez. Goals are something that has never been lacking when these two meet, in all seven meetings a total of 28 goals have been scored, an average of four goals per game.
The teams last met on May 21st in Indianapolis with the result going 4-2 in Indy Eleven’s favor. Since that match both teams have won 6pts in NASL League play, Indy with a win and three draws and Minnesota with two wins and two losses. Indy Eleven opened the fall with a lackluster draw in Puerto Rico while Minnesota started with a bang defeating Carolina Railhawks 5-1 at home.
|Danny Cruz and Omar Gordon|
Both sides progressed from their opening matches in the US Open Cup against USL opposition and both teams exited at the hands of MLS opposition. During the season break both teams played in exhibition play against Liga MX opposition. Indy Eleven defeated Mexican champions FC Pachuca 1-0 while Minnesota fell to León 4-2.
Coming into the last game Minnesota United were on a hot streak with five wins and a draw in six games, the defeat to Indy Eleven saw a mini slump which ultimately was responsible in some part for the Loons missing out on the Spring Championship. Minnesota ended the Spring with the 3-1 win over Miami and put five goals past Carolina in their fall home opener. Despite some key injuries within their roster they are finding their feet again and are scoring for fun.
Christian Ramirez emulated Éamon Zayed’s heroics of scoring a hat trick against the Railhawks by scoring one of his own against the same team last weekend, also grabbing the golden boot top spot from Zayed. Since the final game of Spring Indy Eleven have scored three goals in three games against Chicago Fire, CF Pachuca and Puerto Rico FC.
It is fair to say both teams have been struggling with various injuries over the course of Spring, despite still being undefeated Indy Eleven have had their share of dropped points and sub par games. This game is going to be a close contest, maybe we’ll see the first ever draw, who knows? Minnesota will be keen to make up for the previous encounter and as ever Indy Eleven will try to keep up their record of raising their level in the toughest games.
So can we expect many changes…?
As far as Minnesota goes it seems like they have found a good formula in their last couple of games, despite missing key players such as Ben Speas they have found a good midfield combination that has complimented their defense and are allowing less goals. Main problem is they can’t start the same line up as last week because Jeb Brovsky picked up a red card and is suspended.
To me it always seems weird to see a Minnesota lineup without the versatile Vicentini in it so he would be the obvious choice to slot in alongside Pitchkolan. Otherwise I doubt there will be any other changes to their starting XI.
Indy Eleven may elect to start the same lineup this week as they did last. It is unlikely Colin Falvey will feature and will be given as much time as possible to recover from his groin injury, we have the comfort of knowing we have a post season to look forward to so there is no point in bring players back prematurely and risking further complications.
Jair Reinoso also is unlikely to be ready and although Don Smart may feature in the 18 man roster the likelihood of him getting a lot of time on the field is slim, may not yet suit up. One of the big question marks is who will start in the midfield.
|Siniša Ubiparipović is a threat!|
Gerardo Torrado is now eligible to play, although he was given time off to return home to tie up personal affairs it is not clear how long he has been back or if he has been in training (did not see him in the trophy presentation rehearsal) my gut feeling is he will be in the 18 man roster but may not start the game, possibly used in the second half to tighten the screw if required.
I would see it as logical for Tim Hankinson, while not wanting to make too many changes, to use the fact we have qualified for post season as an opportunity to take advantage and implement some player rotation so that key players are getting adequate competitive field time. Considering that if there are any changes to the lineup this week I expect Lovel Palmer will start in place of Franco, and possibly Souleymane Youla in place of Justin Braun.
I have been impressed with Youla so far but I feel he needs more game time and experience in this league, and Braun with his pace and physicality would be a menace to bring on later when the game has slowed and legs are tired.
That one is a big ‘if’ though but not unlikely, Zayed and Braun together caused the Minnesota defense and Sammy N’Djock to have nightmares at the Carroll, but I think Braun coming on later could also cause the same difficulties. So we have options and no harm in using them.
Wild Card lineup: Given that we know Tim Hankinson can sometimes pull surprises from the bag, I am not ruling out the possibility in a change of formation and Indy could start with a 4-2-3-1 and elect to bring in a part of the roster we often forget.. Siniša Ubiparipović could be that pivot behind a lone forward that could help find a way to the Minnesota goal, he is also a player more than capable of striking from anywhere inside the final third? A triangle of passing between Ubi, Ring and Paterson could put both wings and the center forward into dangerous positions.
Potential Starting XI: Busch, Palmer, Miller, Janicki, Vukovic, Mares, Ring, Paterson, Gordon, Youla, Zayed. Subs: Cardona, Franco, Braun, Torrado, Keller, Ubiparipović, Lacroix.
We don’t need to ask if we can win, we know we can…..
I think the key to pulling of a win in this game will be not only how we deal with Minnesota’s midfield coming forward, but also how we find a way of playing through them in attack. It will certainly be more difficult than the last game. There is nothing to say the Loons defense or goalkeeper won’t be as shaky as they were last time, but getting to the point of pressuring them may be the difficult task.
The Minnesota defense and midfield will be much more connected and the rout to goal will be more difficult. Indy will need to look upon every set piece and corner as gold dust and make sure that they take full advantage of them.
We may see some route one football although I hope not too much, we have physical players up front that have the ability to win balls in the air and take full advantage of them. With Vicentini and Pitchkolan in the mix in front of the back four that may prove a lot more difficult.
Quick accurate passing and taking advantage of space when it is available will be the key to getting to and behind the Minnesota defense and finding goals, a far as us defending we will have to press hard in midfield and break down any Minnesota attack as early as possible, I know the way we setup we some times like to let the other team come to us, that could prove costly against this Minnesota team in current form.
Who to watch…?
This may come as a surprise, but if I had to put a bet on a player being MVP this week I am going to pickJon Busch, in the absence of captain Colin Falvey he provides a lot of experience and communication at the back. Minnesota are going to go for the throat, and I have a feeling Busch, with a big performance, could be the Adams Apple that frustrates Minnesota all night.
MLS Talking Points: Players face former clubs, Galaxy and Sounders renew rivalry
Goal.com 1 hour 14 minutes ago
This weekend marks the beginning of the second half of the 2016 Major League Soccer season, and the Week 18 slate features rivalries, reunions and familiar faces in new places.LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena and Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid will renew acquaintances as the two most successful coaches in MLS history square off in a battle of Western Conference underachievers. FC Dallas looks to maintain its hold on first place in the Western Conference with a win against a San Jose Earthquakes side that has yet to lose a match at home this season.In the East, Kei Kamara’s first match against the Columbus Crew since being traded will grab plenty of headlines, while former New York Red Bulls winger Lloyd Sam is expected to make his D.C. United debut this weekend, as DCU takes on the Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium.The post-Adrian Heath era begins at Orlando City, with the Lions playing their first match since the club parted ways with the popular coach. Perhaps it is fitting that Orlando City’s first match without Heath will come against the other team in MLS to undergo a coaching change this year, the Houston Dynamo.Here is Goal’s guide to the major stories to watch for in MLS Week 18…
IT’S A BIG WEEKEND FOR … REUNIONS
Kei Kamara’s departure from the Columbus Crew was one of the must surprising developments of the season, and this weekend Kamara will get his first chance to exact revenge against the team that traded him just months after they were in the MLS Cup final. Kamara’s trade to New England hasn’t really worked out for either team so far, as the Revs and Crew are both currently outside the playoff places in the Eastern Conference.Chris Pontius will also have a chance to face his former team this weekend, as the Philadelphia Union winger faces off against D.C. United in a battle of Eastern Conference rivals. Pontius has enjoyed a career renaissance with the Union, who have enjoyed a surprisingly strong first half of the season. He already faced D.C. United once this season, in a 1-0 Union victory in May, but will look to have more of an impact on the result this time around.
DON’T MISS … LA GALAXY vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
The LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders have traditionally squared off as Western Conference leaders, but this time around they will face off as underachieving teams in desperate need of points.The Sounders are tied for last place in the West, with just one win in seven matches. With Clint Dempsey back from international duty and the club expected to add reinforcements in the now-open MLS transfer window, a reversal of fortunes is expected. That turnaround can start at home on Saturday against a Galaxy side mired in its own slump.The Galaxy enjoyed a 2-0 win against Vancouver last Monday, snapping a seven-match winless slide. With Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes back from international duty, a Galaxy surge could very well be in the cards. Saturday’s trip to Seattle should show us just how close the Galaxy are to hitting their stride.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
If you’re a fan of seeing top center backs taking on the best forwards in MLS, then this weekend’s slate of individual battles is for you. Here are the top 10 individual matchups to watch this weekend in MLS:
- Matt Besler vs. David Villa.NYCFC is on a roll right now, and Villa is the key to the club’s attack. Sporting KC has the central defenders to contain Villa, led by Besler, who should be ready to make his first post-Copa America start.
- Michael Parkhurst vs. Kei Kamara. The former Crew teammates face off for the first time since Kamara was traded, and you can rest assured Kamara will be desperate to score a goal or two.
- Osvaldo Alonso vs. Steven Gerrard. If the Sounders are going to stop the Galaxy attack, then Alonso needs to keep Gerrard under wraps. The English midfielder is coming off a two-assist game against Vancouver.
- Dax McCarty vs. Darlington Nagbe. This matchup should be fun to watch, as the Red Bulls and Timbers face off in a battle of two of the league’s best midfields.
- Chad Marshall vs. Robbie Keane. Containing the ever-dangerous Keane is never really a one-man job, so look for the Sounders to give Marshall some help to try and stop the Irish star.
- Matias Laba vs. Jermaine Jones. The Rapids failed to score in their last match, and they will need Jones to shake free of the tenacious Laba if they’re going to find goals in Vancouver.
- Matt Hedges vs. Chris Wondolowski. Whether it’s Hedges or the in-form Walker Zimmerman, FC Dallas must contain Wondolowski to have any chance of pulling off a road win in San Jose.
- DaMarcus Beasley vs. Kevin Molino. Beasley has quietly put together a stellar season, and the Dynamo will need him at his best to slow down the dangerous Molino.
- Marcelo Sarvas vs. Roland Alberg. Sarvas has been one of the keys to keeping D.C. United in the Eastern Conference playoff picture and he will need to lock down the red-hot Alberg if D.C. is going to win in Chester on Saturday.
- Sacha Kljestan vs. Diego Chara. If the Timbers are going to grab a road win at Red Bull Arena, Chara will need to keep Kljestan from having too much room to operate.
Sounders welcome Dempsey back for LA visit, first in “series of big games”
July 7, 20168:52PM EDTAri LiljenwallContributor
TUKWILA, Wash. – Crunch time may have arrived earlier than usual for the Seattle Sounders.Ahead of their home matchup with the LA Galaxy at CenturyLink Field on Saturday (3 pm ET, ESPN), the Sounders sport a 5-9-2 record, a mark that leaves them tied with the Houston Dynamo for last place in the Western Conference with 17 points.The MLS season is still less than halfway through, and Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid stopped short of using the term “must-win” while speaking with reporters after his team’s practice on Thursday. But given their current position on the table, Seattle’s upcoming slate of games has suddenly become much more high-stakes than your typical July fixtures.“We’ve got a series of big games [coming up],” Schmid said. “I know they were in different competitions but we’ve had three positive results in our last three outings. So we’re going to be ready to play [on Saturday] and put our stamp on the game and compete.”The Sounders have netted an MLS-low 14 goals in 16 games thus far in 2016, leading to some speculation that Schmid might consider tinkering with the new 4-3-3 formation Seattle implemented before the start of the season – a change that has yet to pay consistent dividends.But if he has any plans to make any sort of notable tactical adjustments, Schmid didn’t divulge them on Thursday.“We’re committed to getting the best players onto the field,” Schmid said. “I’ve always said formations are a reflection of players’ tendencies. You can play what you call a 4-2-3-1 and sometimes it’ll look more like a 4-4-2.“That’s something [the media] likes to talk about more than me…I know everyone loves to talk about that because it’s simple. There’s no explanation needed, just numbers.”As they try to reassert themselves into the Western Conference playoff picture, the Sounders hope the return of Clint Dempsey can provide a remedy to those attacking struggles. The star forward hasn’t started a game for Seattle since May 21 while on US national team duty at this summer’sCopa America Centenario, but will be available on Saturday.Schmid also said on Thursday that defender Chad Marshall passed the MLS concussion protocol and has been cleared after he exited last weekend’s match against Toronto with a migraine. Panamanian center back Roman Torres, however, is still a few weeks away from his return to the lineup as he continues to rehab from a torn ACL suffered last season.