12/16/16 Wow Seattle Wins 1st MLS Cup, Champ League Sweet 16 Set, Renaldo wins POY, Indy 11 NASL future still in doubt?

So first Wow Seattle – my Sounders Gang Green –finally win an MLS cup.  Two months ago they fired their coach Sigi Schmidt and lost US Superstar Clint Dempsey (heart issues) for the season.  They also picked up Nick Lodiero as a true #10 and the rest as they say is history.  After 120 minutes of  honestly being dominated by Toronto at home, 20 shots and 8 on goal to zero shots actually on goal – the Sounders won the game on the 6th shot in the shootout 5-4.  Disappointing to see the showcase the Superbowl of American soccer come down to a zero/zero tie and a shootout after 120 minutes of truly exhilarating soccer.  Altidore was just barely off target all night long as he man-handled the center of the Seattle defense but his shots and his amazing header at the 114 minute mark which was unbelievably saved by the Seattle keeper Stefan Friei (formerly a Toronto keeper) the SAVE OF THE YEAR in MLS were not able to find the back of the net.

The over capacity crowd of nearly 40,000 red clad and maybe 3K Seattle supporters in the upper corner provided a raucous atmosphere unlike few in US professional sports.  And Fox Network and Fox Sports 1 I thought did a fine job with pre-game, post game and in game Coverage.  I would have like to have seen more shots of Seattle’s Crowd – last year in Columbus the green of Portland on the endline was overwhelming and this year is seemed to disappear because of the camera angles simply not scrolling over the portion of the crown until the shootout.  Still overall I thought it was a well delivered final.  Honestly if there was a true soccer god – Toronto deserved to win it in OT on the Jozy Altidore header but soccer can be a cruel sport in that the better team doesn’t always win.  Still make no mistake that Toronto introduced itself as MLS Soccer Royalty this season and should be a force to deal with especially at the FORTRESS in Toronto for a long time to come.

As for Seattle what can you say but perseverance was the middle name of this team, and on this night – they found a way to win on the road after beating the West’ best team in Dallas and its 2nd best team in Colorado on their long quest to their first title.  Seattle has long been a bastion of soccer in America since joining the MLS 7??? years ago – and for some like me just the chance to watch the GREEN Masses on TV is enough to make me a fan.  But for Seattle to make the run this year – with so many things going wrong by mid-season was a bit of a miracle.

Congrats to Renaldo who rode the World Cup win and Champions League win with Real Madrid to win his 4th Ballon d’OR  – Player of the year edging out Messi and Greizmann of Atletico.  Renaldo and Real Madrid will go for their 2nd straight World Club Cup Trophy in 3 years as they face Japanese club  on Saturday morning at 5:30 am on Fox Sport 1.  That will be followed by Man City hosting Arsenal on NBCSN at 11.

Champions League ROUND OF 16 DRAW:

The first legs will take place on Feb. 14, 15, 21 and 22, and the second legs will take place on March 7, 8, 14 and 15.

Manchester City v Monaco
Real Madrid v Napoli
Benfica v Borussia Dortmund
Bayern Munich v Arsenal
Porto v Juventus
Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid
Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona
Sevilla v Leicester City

A quick glance at the Champions League Sweet 16 gives us some Intriguing games as poor Arsenal gets the raw end of the draw with a match-up against German power Bayern Munich.  Man City seems to have an easier draw with Monaco and Leicester City gets one of the easier Spanish teams in Sevilla.  The other battle of huge teams features Barcelona vs PSG – though PSG is not the team they were over the past 2 years.  I want to take this time to wish everyone a safe and Happy Holiday’s and a Happy New Year !

MLS Cup

Seattle Win leaves both teams in disbelief ESPN FC McIntyre

Frei’s Transcendent Save Sparks Sounders to 1st MLS Cup Grant Wahl SI

Gritty Seattles Improbable Run – Graham Parker with hi-lites

Sounders Finally Make MLS Cup Breakthru – Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

Win was unbelievable –Morris

Toronto vows to come back stronger next year – Graham Parker EPSN FC

Save of the Year in MLS – MLS Cup History

How Seattle and Toronto can avoid post MLS Cup Hangover – Arch Bell ESPNFC

Indy 11/NASL

The Game of Soccer in America – what about the American players?

What Does the Future hold for NASL and the Indy 11 – Indy Star

NASL Future and whats happening

Statement about 2017 season and NASL?

Vote best 11 Moments of 2016

Champions League

The Draw

Arsenal get Bayern Munich Screw

Real MAdrid Advances to World Club Cup

EPL + World

World Rankings

EPL Predictions

Loris Blunders cost Liverpool the Win again

Costa Strike keeps Chelsea on top

 

GAMES ON TV

 

Sat. Dec 17

7:30 am NBCNS            Crystal Palace vs Chelsea

9:30 am FS1                   Red Bull Leipzig vs Heatha BSC –

2:45 pm beIN Sport     Juventus vs Roma

Sun,  Dec 18

5:30 am Fox Sport 1 FIFA CLUB WORLD CUP – Real Madrid vs Club America  SET THOSE DVRs

11 am NBCSN                Man City vs Arsenal

Mon,  Dec 19

2:45 pm NbCSN           Everton vs Liverpool

Weds,  Dec 21

2 pm FS1                           Red Bull Leipzig vs Bayern Munich

Sat,  Dec 31

12:30 pm NbCSN        Liverpool vs Man City

Weds,  Jan 4

2:45 pm NbCSN           Tottenham vs Chelsea

Rumors swirl as future of NASL, Indy Eleven remains unclear

Matthew Glenesk , matthew.glenesk@indystar.com6:54 p.m. EST December 15, 2016

It’s been more than a week since the United States Soccer Federation postponed its sanctioning announcement regarding the North American Soccer League – home to the Indy Eleven – and the United Soccer League.On Dec. 6, the USSF said it was delaying its decision seven to 10 days. Friday is Day No. 10. So where do things stand?Well, that’s a question with no clearer answer than a week ago.NASL, which has lost three teams this offseason, is tenuously holding onto its second-division status. USL, which continues to grow and has the backing of Major League Soccer, lies in the third-tier of U.S. Soccer with hopes of moving up to Division 2. However, both leagues would need concessions from USSF to satisfy Division 2 requirements.Reports Thursday from Empire of Soccer and Big Apple Soccer cited sources claiming the NASL plans to stave off dissolution and will compete in 2017 with eight to 10 teams.”That is the goal,” the source told Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer. “Not every ‘I’ is dotted or T’ is crossed.”Which teams would make up that eight to 10 club projection is unclear.

  • Defending league champions New York Cosmos disputed reports the team had folded despite canceling all player contracts and furloughing front office staff.]

The Carolina RailHawks franchise rebranded last week as North Carolina FC, eyeing a future bid at MLS expansion, but didn’t commit to either the USL or NASL in its announcement.

ll this club turmoil doesn’t paint an optimistic picture for the future of the NASL.Cosmos chairman Seamus O’Brien told The Guardian this week that playing in a league with fewer than eight teams is not an option for them.“There are a number of folks with the NASL, many of my colleagues there that believe in the future. It’s not that we don’t believe in the future of the league – it’s just that we can’t play in a seven-team league,” O’Brien told The Guardian. “As a business, you’ve got to react to that. And that is what we have done. We are trying to tidy everything up as professionally as we can in the interim and look for how to move forward, that’s what we are here to do.”Puerto Rico FC president Thomas Payne echoed those sentiments to Nipun Chopra, an Indy-based soccer blogger, and cited a potential USL-NASL merger as a potential option.“A league with only 5 to 6 teams is not competitive and not meaningful, and ultimately not something we’re interested in,” Payne told Chopra. “This is why we hope this merger will happen, or we’ll continue to explore our other options.”A merger between the two leagues was shot down at a board of governors meeting earlier this month, according to Sports Illustrated.So where does that leave Indy Eleven?A report by Sports Illustrated last week suggested Indy Eleven were one of three NASL teams ready to leave for the USL.After last week’s USSF announcement to postpone its NASL/USL decision, Indy Eleven released a statement which didn’t mention either league.“To our fans & partners. We cannot thank you enough for your incredible patience as these unique circumstances continue to be resolved. Know that Indy Eleven continues to plan ahead for the 2017 season at Carroll Stadium and that we provide updates as possible.”Part of the holdup could be the potential negotiations of exit fees for clubs leaving the NASL. FiftyFive.One delved deeper into that aspect Thursday. Wes Burdine of FiftyFive.one writes:”The current stalemate is a high-stakes soccer version of the prisoner’s dilemma. Each club that is currently viable needs to have a league to play in for the 2017 season. However, to discourage defection, the NASL made the cost of leaving its league very high under normal circumstances. And that creates a strong financial incentive to stay as long as possible before jumping ship. Leave the NASL too early and risk paying millions in exit fees. Jump too late and a club may find itself without a league to play in, suspending play for its first team for an entire season (at best).”The NASL operates in near secrecy, so gathering information on particulars is hard to come by. FiftyFive.One got its hands on 2014 league paperwork, and while things may have changed since then, if the 2014 bylaws are taken into account, the two most recent defections (Ottawa and Tampa Bay to the USL), would have been required to pay $1.5 million each, according to FiftyFive.One.”The remainder of clubs, assuming they decide before December 15, would have to pay out $2 million each, unless the league drops below seven teams, at which point a club would only have to pay $25,000 to exit.”So what’s happening with the NASL?Like we said earlier, that’s a question with no clearer answer than a week ago.Stay tuned. From Indy Star

Seattle’s MLS Cup triumph leaves Toronto and the Sounders in disbelief

TORONTO — As one would expect, the scene in the Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders locker rooms couldn’t have been more different after the Sounders beat TFC 5-4 on penalty kicks to win MLS Cup on Saturday night after 120 scoreless minutes.Champagne flowed on the victors’ side. Tears did on the other. Despite the contrast in emotions, the one feeling players on both teams seemed to share was disbelief.After all, the hosts had the better of the play all night long. They managed 19 shots in all, seven of them on goal, while Seattle became the first squad in 21 MLS Cups not to put a single attempt on target. Yet when it was over, it was the Reds left wondering how they had been beaten in this typically chippy title decider. Meanwhile, the Sounders were almost sheepish about the good fortune that landed them their first championship. They knew they stole this one, not that they really cared.”It can be a cruel game sometimes,” Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley, one of two TFC players to have his penalty saved by match MVP Stefan Frei in the tiebreaker, said afterward. “The margins are so small. We were strong and brave and went after the game in a hard way, from the first minute to the 120th. On a different night, if you get a goal — if you get the first one — you probably get a few more. But that’s the game. That’s how it goes.”The home side could have gone ahead just two minutes into the contest, when Jozy Altidore whistled a low shot just wide of Frei’s net after a neat combination with Sebastian Giovinco. The Reds absolutely should have scored in the first extra-time session, but Frei magically parried Altidore’s looping header around the post.”That save was darn near impossible, and he pulled it off,” said Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey, a onetime MLS keeper.”It looked like it was going to go in, and then all of a sudden here comes his paw,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer added in his post-match news conference. “I think we were fortunate to get the game to penalty kicks.”No doubt. And as Altidore pointed out, “it’s a game of luck at that point.”Even Frei, who spent five seasons with TFC before being traded to Seattle three years ago, admitted that the outcome was harsh on his former club.”I have to say I’m not a big fan of PKs,” Frei said. “I guess somehow you have to decide the game, but for me football is a team sport. That’s the beauty of it. It sucks that it has to come down to an individual.”This isn’t to say the Sounders don’t deserve credit for their win. They were able to limit TFC, which had scored a gaudy 17 goals in five playoff games to reach the final, mostly to half-chances in front of an overflow crowd of 36,045 at frigid BMO Field, putting them in position to take the honors.”They always had numbers around the goal and around the box when we got into those areas,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said. “We just couldn’t get that final pass to someone who could finish it. A game like that needs a goal sometimes to loosen up one of the teams defensively. The longer the game went on, the harder they were protecting their goal.”They came into a tough place and held strong and came away with the win. Congratulations to them for doing so.”It always takes at least a little luck to hoist a trophy, though. And for whatever reason, all of it seemed to be on the visitors’ side on this night, from Frei’s save to the spot kicks that were missed by Bradley — who was flawless the rest of the way — and defender Justin Morrow and even to the winning kick by Sounders defender Roman Torres, who had failed to convert a penalty in practice the day before. “I’m glad he missed that one and not the one today,” Frei said.”I thought they dominated us, to be honest,” said Seattle midfielder Cristian Roldan, who absentmindedly wrung out a champagne-soaked Sounders scarf as he spoke to reporters, smiling faces all around him.Down the hall in TFC’s dead-silent space, Toronto native Jonathan Osorio, his eyes still red from crying, struggled to compose himself as he fielded questions.”We controlled the whole game,” he said, his voice breaking. “You lose on penalties in a game where the other team didn’t have a shot on goal. What can you say?”Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN. 

Stefan Frei’s transcendent save sparks Seattle Sounders to first MLS Cup

QUICKLY-In an instant, MLS Cup turned on its head, when Jozy Altidore’s looping header that was earmarked for the upper right-hand corner of the goal was swatted by a soaring Stefan Frei.

GRANT WAHLSunday December 11th, 2016

TORONTO — Here’s one great thing about sports—and, especially, about soccer. You can slog through a night of mostly nothing, of missed chances and utterly unmemorable exchanges, and then out of nowhere comes a moment so transcendent that you know it’ll be seared into your cortex for as long as you roam this earth.That’s what happened on Saturday here in the 2016 MLS Cup final. Seattle and Toronto played a tense but unfulfilling game, the kind where even neutrals shake their heads and wonder when it’s going to get good. At one point toward the end of regulation, before the penalty kicks, Seattle star Clint Dempsey (out due to a heart condition) informed coach Brian Schmetzer on the bench that the Sounders didn’t have a single shot on goal.He was right. It was a record low for an MLS final.But then in extra time of a 0-0 game, something truly magical happened, the kind of moment that can redeem an otherwise stultifying night. Toronto’s Jozy Altidore received a cross and unspooled a looping header back across the Seattle goal. It looked certain to be the goal that would put Toronto ahead in front of a sold-out crowd of more than 36,000 mostly TFC fans.Time froze.So did the feet of Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei. He had already moved from the near-post to the center of the goal with the flight of the cross, and now Altidore, who had scored in a record five straight playoff games, was heading the ball back across the area from where he had just come.If you stop the video and look at the expression on Frei’s face, there’s a moment when something fires in his brain and you can see a look of engagement take hold. It’s a completely different expression than the one Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had recently when teammate Gary Cahill sent an own-goal looping past him. Courtois’s gaze was one of despair. Frei’s was one of possibility.As the ball that would determine the fate of the 21st MLS Cup final hung in the air, Frei exploded back to his left, took leave of his feet and stretched with the grace and determination of a soccer Nureyev. Somehow he thrust his left hand behind him and to the ball, parrying it wide of the goal.“Well done by Jozy trying to go against the side where I’m coming from—it’s probably exactly how you want to hit that one,” Frei said. “Sometimes as a goalkeeper you feel like you’re not going to get to a ball, but you never know until you try. I tried to keep my feet moving and give it my best shot.”From his vantage point on the sideline, Toronto coach Greg Vanney saw Altidore hit the ball and thought it was heading for the back of the goal.“I thought the ball had eyes for that corner it was heading toward,” Vanney said, “and I thought [Frei] was maybe caught a little bit in the middle of the goal and wasn’t going to get there.“But just because it was kind of looping and it didn’t have a lot of gas behind it, it just gave him enough time to set his feet and get back across the goal. It seemed like he almost pulled it out from behind him in some ways. It was one of the great saves I’ve seen in a big moment. Because that goal to me ends the game.” Seattle’s Jordan Morris was nearly speechless about it afterward. “An unbelievable save,” he said.How often does Frei find himself reaching behind himself to make a save?“Usually something will have broken down for you to do that,” he explained. “But sometimes it’s just ‘throw technique out the window’ and just try to make the save.”Frei would use his same left paw to make a save on Michael Bradley’s attempt in the penalty-kick shootout, the one that finished in the sixth round with Justin Morrow’s kick off the crossbar and Román Torres’s confident trophy-winning clincher for Seattle.nd so the Sounders won a final without having a single shot on goal. But that hardly means they didn’t earn it. Frei allowed this to happen with that save in extra time. And to hear him tell it, that defining moment came down not just to a man straining to make the save. It came down to all the practices and all the games since Frei came to Seattle, after two years of injuries and coaches’ choices had led Toronto, of all teams, to trade him away three years to the day before Saturday’s final.Frei thanked not just his goalkeepers coach, Tom Dutra, but also his Seattle goalkeeper backups, Charlie Lyon and Tyler Miller, and the Seattle organization for “their simple belief in me to give me a chance in Seattle. At that point I had been on the bench or rehabbing for two years. So for them to take a chance and then go through growing pains but keep on reassuring me that ‘you’re the man, we’ve got your back, we believe in you,’ it allowed my confidence to come back.”“You need people around you to believe in you so that you believe in yourself.”That belief paid off in extra time here, when Frei made the greatest high-stakes save in MLS history.

Toronto FC heartbroken but resolved to rebound, fight for MLS Cup in 2017

TORONTO, Canada — The pain on the faces of Toronto FC’s players was palpable. How could it not be after the most crushing of losses, 5-4 on penalty kicks to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday after a scoreless MLS Cup final that really shouldn’t have been?The Reds had their chances to go ahead in the match both early and late and send a record BMO Field crowd of more than 36,000 long-suffering fans into the frigid night air celebrating the championship season they’d been dreaming about since they arrived in the league a decade ago.They couldn’t do it.”Some days a team can dominate all they want and the ball just won’t go in the net,” red-eyed Reds midfielder and Toronto native Jonathan Osorio told reporters afterward. “It wasn’t meant to be for us this year.”On another night, TFC forward Jozy Altidore might have been holding the Cup and MVP trophies when it was over. But he flashed a shot wide in the opening moments and was denied by Sounders keeper Stefan Frei’s ungodly save in the first extra time period; Frei ended up taking home the hardware instead. And when the contest went to the tiebreaker, there was a sense in the stadium — and on the sideline — that the Reds had squandered a golden opportunity.”In all honesty, when it comes down to penalty kicks, I was a little bit numb,” coach Greg Vanney said during his post-match news conference. “By that time, the game was gone in a sense. I was in a position where I was disappointed with penalty kicks.”Such a hard-fought season and this game in particular, and for it to end in penalty kicks, it’s just not the way you want to finish a game like that.”Whenever the suffering eventually wears off, though — and whenever big-spending TFC inevitably does take a title — 2016 will be looked back upon as the season when the league’s most historically hard-luck club finally turned its fortunes around.”There are a lot of lessons to take away from this run that I think will only make us better going into next year and stronger as a group as we try to get back to this and come away winners,” Vanney said.Sometimes teams have to lose to win. It took seven consecutive postseason failures for the Sounders to reach the summit. Toronto used the embarrassment of being routed by rival Montreal in the club’s first playoff game in 2015 to help it get to this year’s title match, beating the Impact along the way. Getting this close to glory cuts so deep; the idea for the hosts is that they will redouble their efforts in an attempt to avoid ever feeling that way again.That was the message in TFC’s dressing room, and it wasn’t just lip service.”This one is going to sting for a little while, there’s no two ways about it,” TFC captain Michael Bradley said. “Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.”But ultimately, the hope is that at some point when you can start to process it all, that both individually and collectively we’re able to use this as even more fuel for what we’re trying to do. That we use it to make us even more determined and make sure that the group is able to use this. Not only are we coming back to this point, but when we do get back to this point we’re better for it and we’re ready to take the next step.”

Stefan Frei came up with the biggest save of MLS Cup, batting away Jozy Altidore’s looping headed effort.

There’s no reason in the world the Reds can’t do it. Toronto’s three designated players, Altidore, Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco, are all still on the right side of 30. A revamped defense that posted three shutouts in six postseason games (including on Saturday) will have an extra year of experience together. Vanney, whose cool demeanor and tactical acumen impressed greatly during this run, will be an even better coach. The Reds have gone from being the most dysfunctional organization in MLS to enjoying one of their best runs over the past three seasons.This is not the same old TFC, even if the heartbreaking ending is a familiar feeling for its supporters. The Reds will be back.”I’m proud of the team, I’m proud of the organization,” Altidore said. “The whole city was behind us and you kind of feel like we let them down, but I don’t think we did. I think we showed them what this could be.”There’s a long period now to reflect, refuel and try to get back at it again. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but at the end of the day, we’ve made a lot of steps forward as a club.”Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN T

MLS Cup win against Toronto helps validate staying with Seattle – Morris

Jordan Morris called his Seattle Sounder team’s penalty-kick shootout win in the MLS Cup final against Toronto FC “unbelievable,” adding that he was thrilled to have stayed with his hometown club instead of making a move to Europe after graduating from Stanford.Morris, 22, was a homegrown player for the Sounders, but had trained with Bundesliga club Werder Bremen after winning the national championship in college and ultimately chose to play in MLS.Although he and his Seattle teammates were largely held in check during 120 minutes of regular and extra time against Toronto, the team prevailed 5-4 in the shootout, making for a dream ending for the player whose father is the Sounders’ team doctor.Morris said after the match: “It’s been an unbelievable year with a lot of ups and downs, but those two championships are something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid. It’s been amazing. “I love it here [in Seattle]. I love being able to play for my city and represent my city and play for the best fans in the league and play in front of my family. It’s been an absolutely unbelievable year and this just kind of caps it off. “It was a very tough game, it was cold, this is a tough environment to come into, and all credit to Toronto, they are a very, very good team and they made it really difficult for us.”But the thing about this team is we are a team and we always fight. Everyone is fighting until the last minute and at the end we were probably playing for PKs a little bit and thought we could win that way, which we ended up doing.”Seattle didn’t register a shot on goal during the match, but were kept in it by finals MVP Stefan Frei, who saved a sure Jozy Altidore goal in extra time and made a save on Michael Bradley’s PK attempt to help set up the win for the Sounders.Frei was equally ecstatic following the match, crediting his teammates for not giving up even when they were out of playoff contention as the MLS regular season entered its final weeks.”It’s just about not quitting, you know,” Frei said. “We put so much hard work into this. It’s a credit to our keeper coach and my fellow keepers, we push so hard on a daily basis and I think that save [on Altidore] was a culmination of that.The former Toronto FC keeper went through some hard times during his spell in Canada, but admitted that those hard times helped get him to the position he is in today.”It was amazing. I think success feels like success when you go through hard times and hardship,” Frei said. “I’ve always been fortunate to have good people around me and help me out and help me bounce back and they’ve got me into this situation today and we wanted to make the best of it and I think we did make the best of it and we’ll celebrate that.”As an athlete I think confidence is everything and once we strung a couple of results together, I think that confidence started picking up. We made an incredible achievement just making it into the playoffs, but we didn’t want to stop there we wanted to make history. “[Penalty kicks] are such a brutal thing you know. I love football for it being a team sport, but it’s gotta come down to something right? Roman [Torres] on the night. A big center-back to step up and be calm cool and collected and the rest is history.”Follow @ESPNFC on Twitt

How Seattle and Toronto can avoid a post-MLS Cup hangovers in 2017

MLS Cup 2016 is done and dusted, and now thoughts turn to 2017. Champions Seattle Sounders and runners-up Toronto FC will be keen to not suffer the post-MLS Cup blues that afflicted 2015 finalists Columbus and Portland in 2016. But how? Injuries are a given; every MLS team will see players miss time in the treatment room. But there are various other factors at play. Here are three steps that the Sounders and TFC can take to avoid a post-cup slump.

  1. Address roster needs ASAP

The large majority of MLS teams have had nearly a six-week advantage over Seattle and Toronto when it comes to offseason planning, so both clubs need to work quickly to get their rosters firmed up for 2017 and try to avoid mistakes, such as the ones made by Portland last winter. The Timbers never recovered from the departures of left-back Jorge Villafana and winger Rodney Wallace. Their replacements, Chris Klute and Lucas Melano, respectively, failed to meet expectations, and a team that only conceded 39 goals in 2015 ended up coughing up 48 in 2016.For Seattle, adding depth up front will be a must. The status of Clint Dempsey’s heart ailment is still uncertain, and there is a good chance that Nelson Valdez leaves the club. The Sounders could also use some help on the wings, so that area of the pitch will have to be a priority of general manager Garth Lagerway.Some depth in defense would be wise too. After struggling for most of the season, Tyrone Mears did well down the stretch and in the playoffs. But he’s 33 years old, so Seattle should look to shore up the right-back position.Making sure Armando Cooper returns in 2017 needs to be one of the main priorities for Toronto FC. The Panamanian midfielder arrived over the summer on loan from Arabe Unido and extending that loan or perhaps an outright purchase would make sense. Cooper is so effective in Greg Vanney’s 3-5-2 and is just the type of player whose play can make the difference between a loss and a draw on the road. Should free agent Will Johnson also depart, bringing in some more experience in midfield would be wise.Like Seattle, defensive depth would help Toronto stave off any dips in 2017. Drew Moor was terrific in 2016 playing in the middle of a three-man back line, but he’ll be 33 when the season starts. A sturdy, versatile backup for Moor would be welcomed.

  1. Limit the road woes

Out of the 34 away matches played this season by Portland and Columbus, the two teams combined for a paltry two wins, and both of those by the Crew. After a 2015 season in which they earned 23 points away from Providence Park, Portland mustered a mere six points in 2016. Columbus was not much better; 22 points in 2015 turned into 10 points in 2016.In 2016, Toronto matched Portland’s 23-point road haul, while Seattle’s late charge saw them conclude the regular season with 16 points. Keep in mind that a single road win for Portland would have made all the difference in making the playoffs, as opposed to becoming the first MLS Cup champion to miss the next postseason since 2006.

  1. Spare us the drama

Outside of injuries, there is nothing that can throw a team off course more than bad chemistry and off-field issues, and Columbus and Portland had their healthy share of it in 2016. The Crew’s 2016 will largely be remembered for the bizarre dust-up between Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain back in May. Two players who were so integral to Columbus’ 2015 run suddenly could no longer co-exist, and days later the joint-top scorer in MLS for 2015, Kamara, was shipped to New England. There’s no question that impacted Columbus’ season.There were extracurricular headaches in Portland too, namely with the drunken driving arrests of Liam Ridgewell and Jake Gleeson in October, which wrapped up the Timbers’ disappointing season.Toronto remained a steady, drama-free bunch in 2016 thanks in large part to hard-working veterans like Michael Bradley, Moor and Johnson. However, if a European club swoops in and tries to pluck Bradley away, there would be a leadership vacuum in the TFC locker room.Seattle’s chemistry really came alive in their late-season charge, with the dance-loving Roman Torres leading the way after his return from injury. Will we see the same post-match boogie in 2017 now that they are champions? Or will the hunger and music fade together? Maintaining that cohesion stands to be Brian Schmetzer’s biggest challenge in his first full year as coach.Arch Bell covers CONCACAF 

UCL draw delivers big games like Bayern vs. Arsenal and lots of pressure

Take a deep breath and remind yourself: We have nine weeks, one transfer window and a whole load of holidays to run between now and the moment the Champions League anthem rings out and these teams actually stride on the pitch for the Round of 16.The landscape could be a whole lot different, for better and for worse. That said, neutral viewers got served up the two blockbuster clashes they — and broadcasters, sponsors or anyone who likes to see a potential winner out early — wanted.Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona pits two juggernauts in a high-stakes collision. Unai Emery may be a knockout competition specialist but PSG are adding up to less than the sum of their parts right now. Success in the Champions League (and knocking out Barcelona) may be his best shot at a lifeline. Equally though, Luis Enrique may have a lot more credit stored up, but his deeper squad and domestic rotation has drawn criticism. With Barcelona already six points off the pace in La Liga, an early exit might prompt some at the Camp Nou to reconsider the way forward.The pressure extends to Bayern and Arsenal, too, albeit in different ways. For Arsenal, it’s five straight seasons of Round of 16 exits and there’s obviously a cruel irony that after finally winning their group, they get stuck with the Bavarians. The Gunners’ European record hasn’t impacted Arsene Wenger’s job security and that likely won’t change here, but he knows the clock is ticking and he won’t have too many more shots at the big one.Over at Bayern, Carlo Ancelotti knows his job is probably safe — the Bavarians tend not to be trigger-happy — but having overcome a slow domestic start, he knows a misstep here won’t help his transition out of the Pep Guardiola Era, particularly given his reputation as a Champions League specialist.Speaking of Guardiola, on paper Monaco is a wonderful draw for his Manchester City side after conceding four goals in their last league game. More than most, though, he ought to be aware that Leo Jardim’s uber-tactical counterattacking style is precisely what has outdone City in recent weeks. He needs to find countermeasures.Rational observers know better than to ascribe too much importance to a knockout competition like this one but then owners, fans and media are often not overly rational. And there is little question that Champions League success can provide a lifeline; it would be somewhat ironic for Guardiola given his three years in Munich when he dominated domestically but missed out in Europe.In many ways, that will be the theme for Roger Schmidt and Diego Simeone when Bayer Leverkusen face Atletico Madrid. Both (particularly Simeone) have a strong enough legacy at their respective clubs that failure here won’t bring the sack. But it’s the converse that applies: with hiccuping starts domestically, a run in the “big cup” could turn a mediocre campaign into a success.Nuno Espirito Santo at Porto also had a star-crossed start to the season. He too will be judged more on domestic matters (his team are currently four points behind leaders Benfica) but tripping up Juventus would give him some serious sporting capital. It would also be hugely disappointing for Max Allegri in his third season in charge. Indeed, given the enormous investment on veterans in the summer and the club’s belief that they need to take advantage of this window of opportunity, a false step at this stage could be costly come the end of the season.So are there also managers who can relax a little bit, knowing the pressure is off?Sure. Claudio Ranieri for one. Leicester City have made history getting this far, just as they did winning the Premier League last year. His reckoning, if it comes, will be on the home front. Given the circumstances (lack of serious summer spending, his first season in Europe), his opponent Jorge Sampaoli could chill a little bit knowing the benchmark for Sevilla this season is La Liga, where they’re doing well. (That said, anyone who has seen him prowling the touchline knows all too well the man doesn’t really relax, ever.)Benfica coach Rui Vitoria, too, is in as solid position. He won the league and reached the CL quarterfinal last season, he’s top this season and facing a Borussia Dortmund side that blow hot and cold under Thomas Tuchel. Dortmund’s youth and frenetic style of play make them one of the more unpredictable sides (for better and for worse) in Europe and Tuchel, in his all-important second season at the Westfalen, knows he needs to find some consistency. There is little question that the screws are wound tighter on him than on his counterpart.Finally, there’s Napoli and Real Madrid and here, Napoli and coach Maurizio Sarri has little to lose. They won their group and the draw was cruel to them; all they can do is pit their wits against the defending champions and hope the Bernabeu alumni (Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol) extract a modicum of revenge. Heck, you wonder if Sarri will call upon his predecessor, Rafa Benitez, for some intel and whether Rafa will want to share some pointers given that this time last year, he was on the hot seat at Real.Speaking of which, Zinedine Zidane is obviously under pressure like every Madrid boss before him. But given their lead in La Liga, the 35-game unbeaten run, the fact that he won it last year and that he’s Florentino Perez’s hand-picked choice, you figure it’s not quite ratcheted up to 11 as it might have been with some of those who came before him.Managers come and go based on what happens in Europe. It shouldn’t be that way, not to this degree at least, but it often is. That’s why the stakes are so high for so many. But as we said at the top: Two months can be an eternity. And it can all look so different come early February.Gabriele Marcotti is a Senior Writer for ESPN FC, The Times and Corriere dello Sport. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti. 

Chelsea stil No. 1 in Power Rankings, Real Madrid No. 2, Juventus No. 3

  1. Chelsea(no change)

To win a league title, sometimes you have to nick a result when not at your best. Chelsea did that twice last week, first against West Brom and then at Sunderland. Back-to-back 1-0 victories mean Antonio Conte’s men have won 10 straight league games.

  1. Real Madrid(no change)

Real Madrid refuse to lose these days as Zinedine Zidane’s side extended their unbeaten run to 36 games with a last-gasp win over Deportivo and then handling Club America 2-0 in the Club World Cup on Thursday morning. What’s truly remarkable about their form is how they find different ways to win: Sergio Ramos’ injury time header secured the victory on Sunday while Cristiano Ronaldo turned in a superb 90 minutes against the Liga MX side in midweek. Ignore them at your peril.

  1. Juventus(no change)

When Torino opened the scoring on derby day, it looked like Juventus might lose for the second time in three league games. However, Gonzalo Higuain picked a good time to end a Serie A goalless run dating back to October by scoring twice in an eventual 3-1 win.

  1. Barcelona(+1)

After three straight league draws, Barca needed a boost, and a trip to bottom-of-the-table Osasuna provided just that, though it took almost an hour to break through. In the end, Luis Enrique’s side cruised to a 3-0 win with Lionel Messi scoring twice.

  1. Roma(+1)

In the battle of second and third in Serie A, Roma prevailed 1-0 against Milan. The win was built on a fine goalkeeping display by Wojciech Szczesny, who saved a penalty to set the stage for Radja Nainggolan’s winning goal. Next up for Roma? Juventus.

  1. Bayern Munich(+1)

Since a blip at the start of November, when they took one point from two games, Bayern have reeled off three straight wins. The latest, which when combined with a Leipzig loss took them back to the top of the Bundesliga, was an emphatic 5-0 triumph vs. Wolfsburg.

  1. Nice(+2)

Nice were knocked out of the French Cup midweek vs. Bordeaux but not to bother: After all, it just means that Lucien Favre’s league leaders can concentrate on securing what would be a miraculous Ligue 1 title. Last weekend, Les Aiglons swooped into the Parc des Princes and took a 2-0 lead over Paris Saint-Germain. Though Unai Emery’s side eventually rallied for a 2-2 draw, the result was yet more proof at how this team can more than handle their own in French football this season.

  1. Benfica(new)

The best team in Portugal continue to stay out in front of the competition, beating their nearest rivals Sporting CP 2-1 in last weekend’s derby. Goals by Eduardo Salvio and Raul Jimenez secured all three points. Rui Vitoria’s side are four points clear atop the table as the season approaches the halfway point.

  1. RB Leipzig(-5)

The surprise Bundesliga leaders suffered their first defeat of the season — an equally surprising 1-0 reverse at relegation-threatened Ingolstadt. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side are now second, but they retain a healthy six-point advantage over third-placed Hertha Berlin.

  1. Sevilla(new)

Jorge Sampaoli’s first European management job couldn’t be going better as Sevilla continue to flourish under his intense tutelage. Sitting comfortably in third place just a point behind Barca, they got back to winning ways last weekend with a 3-0 win at Celta Vigo, with Vicente Iborra coming off the bench to score an improbable hat trick. This team is still a work in progress, but it’s safe to say they’re ahead of schedule.Dropping out: Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan

Los Blancos arrived to Yokohama on Sunday, where they’ll try to win their second Club World Cup trophy in three years.

Zidane’s “brutal truth” policy had the French manager admitting an unconvenient fact: he is rather unfamiliar with their Club World Cup opponents next Thursday.  Back-to-back CONCACAF Champions, Club América, will be the team Los Blancos will battle against in order to reach a spot in the tournament’s final. As uncomfortable as it may seem, Zidane revealed he’s had barely a glimpse of the Mexican club’s tactics prior to Thursday’s game.”I watched their games along with my staff. I saw their game against the Korean side, a Derby they played recently and one more Cup match and that’s it. Honestly, I knew nothing about them until a few weeks ago. We have to sit down, analyze them and decide how we’ll play against them,” Zidane stated.Club América is the most-winning team in Mexico. Las Águilas (The Eagles) have won 12 league titles in their 100-year history, and they have already sealed their spot in the Apertura 2016 final, but had to postpone that matchup to play in the Club World Cup. The Mexican side has racked up 16 straight games without a loss, all of them under current coach Ricardo La Volpe, who took the job back in September as Ignacio Ambriz’s replacement.Speaking about the competition’s format, Zidane revealed that Los Blancos will have to deal with a number of issues if they want to add one more trophy, especially due to jet lag and other reasons.”This tournament is different from the one I played. Added to that, we’re a bit tired after the long flight here. We followed the advice of experts that prepared this trip, but to be honest with you, I’m really tired,” Zidane added.

HEATH, NAMED 2016 U.S. SOCCER FEMALE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

tobin-poy-heath-winnerDec 13, 2016

CHICAGO (Dec. 13, 2016) – Tobin Heath and Ashley Sanchez have been voted the 2016 U.S. Soccer Female and Young Female Player of the Year, respectively.Heath, who has long been a fan favorite for her entertaining style of play and dynamic work with the ball, wins the award for the first time in her ninth year with the U.S. Women’s National Team. She won after earning 40 percent of the vote. Crystal Dunn came in second with 34 percent.

“It’s obviously an honor to win an award like this, especially when you look at the list of amazing players who have won it before,” Heath said. “This year was a difficult one for our team, but overall we played some great soccer so it’s humbling to be recognized individually. I’m just proud to be in the company of all the great players that were nominated and all of the players that played for the USA this year. I couldn’t have accomplished anything without the support of my teammates and my coaches, and while it was a fun year for me personally, I’m excited not only about my own future, but also the future of this team as I know we have a lot more room to grow and many more goals to achieve.”

This year saw the 28-year-old Basking Ridge, N.J. native elevate her game to an even higher level. Heath played in 22 games, scoring six goals while recording eight assists tying for second-most on the team with Dunn. Both numbers were career bests for Heath, who this year competed in her fifth world championship for the USA. She played 1,747 minutes in 2016, good for second-best on the team.

Heath was one of the USA’s best players at the 2016 Olympic Games where she recorded two assists. In her fourth season playing for the NWSL’s Portland Thorns FC, Heath finished the year with 10 assists – a new league record – in only 14 appearances for the club – while helping PTFC to the regular season title. She was named to the NWSL Best XI.

Earn your Degree While You Watch Your Kids Soccer Practice – ½ the time and cost of Traditional Schools

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12/9/16 MLS Finals Seattle vs Toronto Sat Night 8 pm on FOX, NASL in trouble, Champ League Draw Sweet 16 Draw Mon

MLS Finals Seattle vs Toronto Sat Night 8 pm on FOX, NASL in trouble?

 So its time for the finals in the MLS – with 2 of the most popular and best teams in MLS going head to head as Toronto with (Altidore, Bradley, Giavinco and Indy youngster Eriq Zavaleta) host the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night 8 pm on FOX (yes Fox not Fox Sports but Fox).  Now Fox Sports will have pregame starting at 7 pm and post game after of course.  And again I don’t care what the soccer purest say – Playoff Soccer is really cool –and I plan to be watching to see if young American Jordon Morris (yes Dempsey is still out with the heart ailment) can bring a title home to the best soccer city in America – Seattle!!  Make your plans now to clear your schedule Sat night or set those DVRs as this one should be a doozy at the 40K full BMO Field in Toronto.

Got a chance to watch El Classico and boy does Ramos know how to finish things late or what?  Another almost 90th minute header to tie the game with Barca was just what Real needed to garner the tie at Camp Nou.  I also got a chance to watch the Chelsea v Man City match –and what a job the Chelsea coach has done with Chelsea.  It’s a completely different team now with basically the same players as they solidified their top spot in the EPL.

So on my Christmas wish for the Indy 11 is that they have a league to play in next season.  Sad to hear the issues with NASL and the Cosmos – and perhaps the decline of the league?  I have no doubt the Indy 11 will land somewhere.  Perhaps a move to USL – with rivalries in Cincy, Louisville, Nashville and will be the best move for the club.  Already the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Ottawa, OKC, and San Antonio have basically bolted to the USL.  Got my fingers crossed.

MLS

Who will win the MLS Cup?  ESPN FC

David Villa is MPV

Legacies are at Stake

How’d they Get here TFC

5 Reasons TFC will Win – Arch Bell

Why Seattle Will Win – Arch bell

MLS will consider Playoff Changes for 2017

MLS not to blame for NASL issues –Garber Says

Toronto wins Classic in OT at home –must see video here is you didn’t see –best playoff game ever

Jordon Morris Goal Sends Sounders to MLS Final

Seattle Rides Wave of belief to MLS Finals Finally

3 Reasons Seattle Won ESPN Jeff Carlisle

Seattle Advances to 1st MLS Cup – SI

Toronto becomes Model MLS Franchise ESPN FC

Classic Match-up in Final with 2 of the top teams in MLS

EPL

American fan caught wearing a Chelsea shirt to Everton Game is Ostracized

Indy 11/NASL

Statement about 2017 season and NASL?

Vote best 11 Moments of 2016

Champions League

Dream Matchups in Round of 16?  Video

GAMES ON TV

Sat,  Dec 10

9:30 am FS1                   Bayern Munich vs  Wolfsburg 

10 am NBCSN                Arsenal vs Stoke City

12:30 pm NBCSN        Leicester City vs Man City 

8 pm FOX                                                 MLS Finals – Toronto vs Seattle

Sun,  Dec 11

7 am NBCSN                   Chelsea vs West Brom

9:30 am FS1                   Borussia Mgladbach vs Bayern Leverkusen  

9 am NBCSN                   Man United vs Tottenham

9 am beIN Sport          Torino vs Juventus

9:30 am FS2                   Schalke vs Bayern Leverkusen

11:30 am NBCSN         Liverpool vs West Ham 

Mon,  Dec 12

3 pm beIN Sports       Roma vs AC Milan

Tues,  Dec 13

2:45 pm NbCSN           Everton vs Arsenal

Weds,  Dec 14

2:45 pm NbCSN           Middlesborough vs Liverpool

3 pm ??                             Crystal Palace vs Man United

Toronto vs. Seattle: Which of league’s biggest clubs will win MLS Cup?

As we gear up for Saturday’s MLS Cup final, ESPN FC asks league contributors Jason Davis and Arch Bell to look exclusively at Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders to shed some light on who’s best positioned to lift silverware on Saturday night at BMO Field.

Do Toronto and Seattle have anything left?

Jason Davis: Even if Toronto FC wasn’t buoyed by hosting MLS Cup, there would be plenty of reason to believe it had enough left to win the title. Still, the long break before the game comes as something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, it allows both Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore to recover from minor injuries. On the other, it could leach away the form and confidence that has carried them to this point.

Arch Bell: Considering Seattle handled the international break between the conference semifinals and finals so well, I see no reason why there should be any worry about the two weeks between their win in Colorado and Saturday night. If anything, the break will allow some of their recently injured players, such as Roman Torres and Jordan Morris, to heal further. Seattle will be ready to go.

Lessons learned from regular-season matchups

JD: If TFC learned anything from a 1-1 draw with Seattle back in July, it’s that Morris is a dangerous player. A weakened Toronto team went up a goal at BMO Field, only to see its lead erased when the rookie split a pair of defenders, stopped on a dime and curled in a right-footed shot. Both teams will look very different on Saturday, but Morris will be there, and Toronto will be wary.

AB: Not a whole lot. The two teams played with vastly different squads in a 1-1 draw on July 2 than the ones we’ll see on Saturday. There was no Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore for TFC, plus Armando Cooper had not yet arrived. While for Seattle, ex-coach Sigi Schmid still had the pre-Nicolas Lodeiro Sounders in a 4-3-3, and Torres was out injured. It’s hard to glean much from their only meeting this season.

What one player on your team will cause trouble for your opponent?

JD: Despite the presence of Giovinco, the answer is Altidore. Giovinco is always dangerous, but Altidore’s form is otherworldly at the moment. Every aspect of his game — from his touch to his hold-up play and beyond — has been excellent during TFC’s playoff run. Seattle has the physical center backs necessary to deal with some of what Altidore can do, but the forward’s vision and passing are impossible to counteract completely.

AB: Lodeiro. The Uruguayan international is the ultimate playmaker and makes the Sounders attack go. Whether from the run of play or on set pieces, Seattle is a pass away from scoring if Lodeiro is over the ball. Oh yeah, and he’s a clinical finisher, as evidenced by his four playoff goals.

What one player on the opposing team should you be afraid of?

JD: Lodeiro has taken MLS by storm since arriving in late July and helped Seattle push all the way to MLS Cup. Toronto will need devote serious resources to stopping the Uruguayan, a choice that necessarily opens up space and opportunity for other Sounders players. That’s how good Lodeiro is, and how wary of him Toronto must be; due to his dynamic ability to impact the game all over the field, shutting him down comes first.

AB: Giovinco. Altidore was a beast in the conference final versus Montreal, but Seattle’s two big center backs should have better success against the U.S. international. Giovinco’s wizardry creates a different headache altogether, since the former Juventus man is so good at spinning off defenders or creating space for himself. Seattle cannot afford any lapses when Giovinco is in the area.

JD: Toronto has already shaken its reputation as MLS’ most historically incompetent franchise with this run to the final. But a victory at home in front of the TFC faithful would only further establish the club as one of the league’s elite. Spending without winning is just another form of failure; an MLS Cup championship would elevate Toronto into a select group in one fell swoop.

AB: Everyone knows how big the Seattle-Portland rivalry is in MLS, so last season when the Timbers left Columbus with the 2015 MLS Cup in hand, it had to have stuck to the ribs of all Sounders fans. But redemption awaits, and a championship would be a sweet reward for Seattle followers who have put up the best attendance numbers in the league. More important, they would regain top-dog status in Cascadia.

Predictions

JD: Toronto 2-1 Seattle. With the support of the crowd and the firepower at its disposal, this is Toronto’s championship to win. Altidore’s form and a smart defensive plan will be enough to get TFC two goals (one on a set piece) and a title.

AB: Toronto 1-2 Seattle. Seattle’s late-season and playoff momentum will be put to the test by a rowdy home crowd and the TFC attack, but the visitors will hold firm, as Lodeiro’s two assists will pace the Sounders to a first-ever title.

 

Wiebe: MLS Cup is about more than hardware – legacies are at stake

December 8, 20166:43PM ESTAndrew WiebeSenior Editor

TORONTO – Twenty years from from now, a group of middle-aged men will gather to celebrate history. They’ll come from all over, bringing wives, sons, daughters, even grandchildren together to remember a moment of sporting glory that transcended themselves.They’ll tell stories, forgotten details resurfacing as they take turns driving the narrative. They’ll walk out on to the pitch for old time’s sake, highlights from long ago flashing across a massive video screen as triumphant music and soundbytes pulse through stadium speakers. They’ll wave to an adoring crowd, and mothers and fathers will tell their children about these men, the legends who captured the star stitched above the crest on the jerseys they wear proudly.These men will forever be known as MLS Cup champions, but they’ll also understand titles are about far more than the gaudy rings they wear on their fingers to commemorate that frigid December night at BMO Field. They’ll know that night was about more than a trophy, more than a ring, more than another entry in a dusty record book.They’ll know that night gave birth to a legacy, personal and collective, that lived on long after they said goodbye and their careers came to a close. Those men will be 2016 MLS Cup Champions, and that night has yet to come.On Saturday at BMO Field (8 pm ET; FOX and UniMas in the US; TSN and RDS in Canada), either Toronto FC or the Seattle Sounders will lift MLS Cup for the first time, writing the final chapter of a story that will be told for decades, a story that elevates men who kick a ball for a living to conquering heroes. They will be the winners. The losers will watch as the confetti falls and celebrations unfold in front of them. They’ll be remembered, too, as the team that inspired a city but fell just short.And while the margins on Saturday night will be razor thin, the implications are glaring and obvious. Sports are about defining moments, and none delineates between winner and loser more clearly than a championship game.Would Landon Donovan be universally remembered as the best American soccer player of all-time without the five MLS Cup championships he won with the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy? Without the record five goals he scored in those games? Without the big-game resume that screams, ‘I’m the best this league has ever seen, and I’ve got a handful of rings to prove it,’ would the league mint an MVP trophy that bears his name and image?

Would Bruce Arena, the godfather of US soccer coaches who is currently taking a second crack at the US national team job, be given that honorary title or considered for that job (again) without the two MLS Cups he won with D.C. United or the three he lifted with the Galaxy alongside Donovan? Would his coaching tree have branches across the country and globe without those triumphs?

How would our perception of the Revolution, five-time MLS Cup runners-up and never champions, change had a few of those finals gone New England’s way? Might the MLS careers of Steve Nicol, Taylor TwellmanShalrie Joseph and Steve Ralston be remembered differently with a championship or two (or three or four)?

We know the answers to those questions. Championships change everything.

 

Michael Bradley doesn’t need to be reminded that he could be the captain to deliver Toronto FC the title that could complete the club’s transformation from laughing stock to regional powerhouse. Lifting the Phillip F. Anschutz Trophy on Saturday night could be the defining moment of his MLS – and perhaps even club – career. It could make him a Toronto icon.

 

Jordan Morris could be the hometown star who did what so many before him could not and bring MLS’s ultimate prize back to Puget Sound. He could, at just 22 years of age and in his first year as a pro, seal his place in Seattle and Sounders lore, a young man forever close to the hearts of a city full of soccer fans who helped redefine the MLS paradigm.

 

Sebastian Giovinco could lay claim to the unofficial title Best MLS Player of All-Time should he cap off the most productive two-year span in the history of the league with a championship. Nicolas Lodeiro could be the savior who finally took the Sounders to the summit.

 

Jozy Altidore could prove his doubters wrong by capping off an MVP-worthy and potentially record-setting postseason with the Cup itself. Unfair as it might be, Clint Dempsey could be remembered in Seattle for the game his body wouldn’t let him play.

Seattle general manager Garth Lagerwey could prove he’s more than Real Salt Lake’s moneyball title in 2009, a man who can spend big and win big, too. His equivalent in Toronto, Tim Bezbatchenko, could inspire Theo Epstein comparisons for his relative youth, innovative approach and turnaround of a moribund franchise with unbridled ambition and rabid support but little to show for it.Sounders fans could finally parade through downtown Seattle with the prize they’ve coveted above all others, a prize their arch rivals beat them to just last year. Reds fans, meanwhile, could claim the legitimacy they’ve craved since the very beginning, sweet redemption for all those seasons they showed up to watch a team destined to implode in the most painful way possible.Anything could happen. Only one thing will.For two clubs and two cities, Saturday night will change the course of their sporting history. Twenty years from now, one will look back on Dec. 10, 2016 fondly, memories flooding back with the sharpness and clarity that comes with victory. The other will wonder what might have been.That day has yet to come, but there’s more than hardware at stake. Legacies ride on it.

 

Five reasons why Toronto FC will beat the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup

With Saturday’s MLS Cup tilt between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders now just days away, ESPN FC takes a look at five reasons why Toronto will take home the championship.

  1. Giovinco makes it go

Simply put, Sebastian Giovinco is a difference maker every time he steps on the field — 17 goals and 15 assists in 28 regular-season games say it all. Rarely does he ever have a bad day and Saturday’s tilt should be no different. His low center of gravity will make defending difficult for Seattle center-backs Chad Marshall and Roman Torres, and with zero goals in the two legs versus the Montreal Impact, the former Juventus man is poised for a big-time performance in MLS Cup.

  1. Altidoreen fuego

Jozy Altidore delivered arguably the finest performance of his career in Toronto’s second-leg extra-time victory over the Montreal Impact. A big, physical test awaits against the Sounders’ aforementioned center-backs, but the confidence with which the United States international is playing is undeniable. For a player who has been riddled with hamstring and fitness issues, his energy in 120 minutes versus the Impact was impressive. Another outing like that on Saturday and it’s hard to see TFC losing the cup.

  1. The better bench

While Seattle does have options, Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney has better offensive weapons at his disposal on the bench. Tosaint Ricketts has been terrific this postseason, with two goals and an assist, while Benoit Cheyrou filled Giovinco’s shoes with aplomb to tally the series winner versus Montreal. If the two teams are tied entering the final quarter hour, the introduction of Ricketts or Cheyrou could prove decisive for the Reds.

  1. A strong spine

In Toronto’s 3-5-2, one of the things that stands out immediately is the strength of the team’s spine. The five-man midfield is led centrally by Michael Bradley, while the three-man defense boasts Drew Moor at center-back. An MLS Cup winner in 2010, Moor has the calm and experience that Toronto will need in the back while coping with Seattle’s dangerous attack. Bradley similarly marshals the Toronto midfield, while Clint Irwin is also a steady hand in goal.

  1. Red storm rising

With 36,000 expected to attend MLS Cup, BMO Field will be a cauldron on Saturday night. The rowdy Toronto faithful played a big part in pushing their team past Montreal, and now with the chance to snap a 23-year title drought in all major North American sports, Toronto fans will assuredly be at their loudest. In terms of fan atmosphere, it has the makings to be the most memorable final in MLS Cup history.Arch Bell covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .

 

Five reasons why the Seattle Sounders will beat Toronto FC in MLS Cup

With Saturday’s MLS Cup tilt between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC now just days away, ESPN FC takes a look at five reasons why Seattle will take home the championship.

  1. Lodeiro leads the way

He has only been in Major League Soccer for a few months, but Nicolas Lodeiro has quickly risen to the top as one of the league’s best players. The Uruguayan playmaker sets Seattle’s table and his inch-perfect crosses into the area will pose problems for the Toronto FC defense. There is no denying the importance of the former Boca Juniors man to his side and the feeling is that he will get the better of Michael Bradley in midfield.

  1. Big game Jordan

Whether at the collegiate, international or club level, Jordan Morris has a knack for coming through in the clutch. He scored the winner in the United State’s last victory against Mexico, a 2-0 friendly win back in April 2015, and bagged a brace in the final to help lead Stanford to last season’s College Cup. And, of course, he came up huge with his winner in the semifinal second leg at the Colorado Rapids. This is a player who thrives in the big moments.

  1. The land of Oz

There will be no bigger test for Sounders defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso than neutralizing TFC danger man Sebastian Giovinco. Luckily for Seattle fans, Alonso is one of the best in the league at his position; he’ll tackle, deflect or block passes and frustrate opponents to no end. To boot, he’s an accurate passer. The Cuban veteran can still cover a lot of ground and assuming his knee is healthy, he can be the guy to finally halt Giovinco.

  1. The boys in the back

Chad Marshall and Roman Torres make up one of the most intimidating center back pairings in the league and should enjoy more success than Montreal had in stopping TFC forward Jozy Altidore. Their experience should provide the Sounders with some needed calm in the back. Each player can also be an X factor on set pieces. With Lodeiro capable of serving up a perfect ball on a free kick, a goal via header from Marshall or Torres would be no surprise.

  1. Destiny’s child

There is just something about this Seattle side that screams destiny. Other Seattle teams have had more talent, but this squad has gotten hot at the right moment and is brimming with confidence. They took down Supporters’ Shield winner FC Dallas and then went to Colorado and became the first team all season to beat the Rapids on their home turf. With players who have played in soccer’s biggest games (Lodeiro in the Argentine Superclasico vs. River Plate and Nelson Valdez for Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich), the Sounders will be unflappable on Saturday night in Toronto.

MLS will consider playoff format changes for 2017 season

MLS will consider changing its playoff format in 2017, with regular season record serving as the first tiebreaker in the conference semis and finals among the possible tweaks, the league’s Vice President of Competition told ESPN FC on Thursday.”I think we believe that the format we have now works, but we’re always open to improving as much as we possibly can to make it exciting for fans and fair for our clubs,” MLS VP Jeff Agoos said in a phone interview three days before Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders meet in the MLS Cup final.”Every year we have a discussion over our playoff format.”LS has changed its postseason set-up frequently during its 20-year history. The playoffs have grown from eight to 12 participants as the league more than doubled in size. Two new teams, Atlanta United and Minnesota United, will grow the circuit to 22 members in 2017.The league’s technical committee will discuss possible changes from the drastic — such as introducing a group stage similar to what is used in tournaments like the Copa America or World Cup — to the comparatively benign — like eliminating away goals as the primary tiebreaker in two-leg series — it meets next month.Whether that’s a World Cup-style format, whether that’s single elimination like March Madness, whether we keep the format we have now — those are all things that are on the table and open to discussion,” Agoos said. “If they can improve our playoffs, we’ll certainly take a very hard look at it.”The away goals tiebreaker was introduced in 2014 to mixed reviews.”When we didn’t have away goals, people were criticizing us for that,” Agoos said. “Now that we do have away goals, people are criticizing us for having them.”That rule ensures fewer series are determined by extra-time or penalty kicks. But it can also limit how much home teams are willing to attack, especially if the aggregate score is tied late in the decisive contest.”We will be discussing the away goals rule in our January meetings, as we’ve done in the past,” Agoos said.Only two of 12 two-leg series have been decided by away goals over the past three seasons. Nonetheless, Agoos said there is a growing sentiment to consider using regular season record as the first tiebreaker instead.”I think this will be the first year we really try to put a focus on the higher seed advancing,” he said. “We’ve had some technical directors that have wanted to have that discussion. But we will also look at different alternatives.”Whatever modifications are adopted, if any, they won’t be made lightly.”We’re very reluctant to change things unless there’s a real strong sentiment one way or the other,” he said.”We changed our playoffs a number of times, and we want to create some level of consistency so our fans understand,” Agoos continued.”But that doesn’t mean we won’t change it if we think it’s the right thing to do.”Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.

 

 

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12/2/16 MLS Finals set Seattle vs Toronto, El Classico Sat 10:15 am, Arena New US Coach Finally, Champs League Tue/Wed 12/6+7

 

Ok folks I don’t care what the soccer purest, the Euro elite say – Playoff Soccer is Cool.  After witnessing a Semifinal in person for the Indy 11 and the MLS finals last season in Columbus and now after watching THE most Exciting Soccer Game I have seen this season – Toronto defeating Montreal in OT at BMO in the freezing rain Thursday night I am here to tell you Playoff Soccer can be pretty fantastic.  This winner advances game came down to a goal in the last 10 minutes to tie it up for Toronto at 5-5 on Aggregate.  Then in OT Altidore made a magical turn and run delivering the assist to take the lead followed by an insurance goal and Toronto advances to host the MLS Finals versus my Seattle Sounders next Saturday night 8 pm on FOX (yes Fox not Fox Soccer).  The title match features some of the best and most recognizable stars in MLS including local/IU star Toronto’s Eriq Zavaleta as the 2 teams will battle for their first title as neither of the storied franchises (among the most popular in both the Western and Eastern Divisions) has ever been this far before.  Make your plans now to clear your schedule next Sat night or set those DVRs as this one should be a doozy at the 40K full BMO Field in Toronto.

Looking ahead to this weekend El Classico features Barcelona hosting Real Madrid Sat at 10:15 am on beIN Sport as Barca looks to cut into the 6 pt lead the Madridistas currently hold in La Liga I like Barcelona at home in what is almost a must win for them as close to ½ billion people will watch around the world.  In the EPL – Man City hosts Chelsea in a battle of top 2 teams Sat AM at 7:30 am on NBCSN. Champions League returns Tues/Wed this week with 4 of the 16 slots in the Knockout round still available for 7 teams.

US Soccer finally did what had to be done and fired Klinsmann last Friday (right after I finished my story LOL).  I had hope when the German was hired and while he did some good things while in charge of US soccer – has he really moved the needle forward?  Honestly this past year – I think the US has looked as bad at times as at any point in the last 15 years and no further along with the PROGRESSIVE Soccer that Klinsy promised.  Now its up to the coach who some consider the best US coach ever – Bruce Arena to pick up the pieces and get the US to the World Cup.  Do I think we will qualify – sure – honestly I also think the team will play better now that Bruce is in charge.  Expect him to actually settle on a line-up and have players understanding what their role is on the team.  I certainly expect him to continue to use the German American players like Brooks and Johnson but lets hope Timmy Chandler has seen his last game in a US Jersey.  I will be interesting to see what he does for a line-up but in my mind the 4-4-2 has served us well with Altidore and Woods up top.  The defense needs to find a steady left and right back so Johnson can move up to wing to compliment Pulisic.  Don’t be surprised to see to changes in the middle as the Jones/Bradely tandum has shown to be a major weekness.  Not sure what he does with Bradley but I think if we want to get ready for Russia in 2 years Jones needs to become a super sub not a starter so we need to find a new two-some in the middle of the park somehow.  Bruce has 3 months to get his group ready for the next qualifiers in what will be key games in qualifying top 3 in Concacaff.

GAMES U MUST SEE  

Sat,  Dec 3

7:30 am NBCSN            Man City vs Chelsea

9:30 am Fox Sport 1 Borussia Dortmund vs Borussia Monchengladbach

10:15am beIN Sport Barcelona vs Real Madrid 

Tues, Dec 6

Champions League

2:45 pm ESPN2            Bayern Munich vs Athletico Madrid

2:45 pm Fox Sport2  Barcelona vs Borussia M’gladbach

Weds, Dec 7

Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport1  Real Madrid vs Dortmund 

Sat,  Dec 10

12:30 pm NBCSN        Leicester City vs Man City 

8 pm FOX                                                 MLS Finals – Toronto vs Seattle

MLS

Toronto wins Classic in OT at home –must see video here is you didn’t see –best playoff game ever

Jordon Morris Goal Sends Sounders to MLS Final

Seattle Rides Wave of belief to MLS Finals Finally

3 Reasons Seattle Won ESPN Jeff Carlisle

Seattle Advances to 1st MLS Cup – SI

Toronto becomes Model MLS Franchise ESPN FC

Classic Match-up in Final with 2 of the top teams in MLS

USA

Classy Goodbye from Klinsy

5 Things Bruce must do

US Pulls plug on the Grand Klinsmann Experiment – SI Straus

Klinsmann undone by arrogance  USA Today

Why Bruce is the perfect guy to replace Jurgen USA today

Interesting Responses on Twitter

Which Players have New International Life with Bruce in Charge? SI

All part of why he was fired – SI Straus

How Alex Morgan’s Family Invested in her Soccer Future

EPL

Liverpool Goes Top but Contino Injury a worry

Chelsea’s is Contes Team Now  ESPNFC

Swansy wins 5 goal thriller for Bradley’s first win 5-4

US Manager Bradley gets first win for Swansea

Swansea player Ratings

World

El Classico –Barca struggling

Barca needs the Win more

El Classico subdued but still important

Argentina/Brazil 1 & 2 in the World US down to #28 lowest in 12 years

Germany Wrap-up

Serie A – Italy wrap-up

Juve -Alves and Bonucchi hurt as they lose

Best Goalie Saves Oct 16

Best Goalie saves Last Week

Indy 11/NASL

League Meetings Start – Are the Cosmos/League folding?  ESPNFC

Year in Review – Goalkeeper

Year in Review – the Defense

GAMES ON TV

Fri,  Dec 2

2:45 pm beIN Sport                          Napoli vs Inter

2:30 pm Fox Sport 1                         Mainz vs Bayern Munich

Sat,  Dec 3

7:30 am NBCSN            Man City vs Chelsea

9:30 am Fox Sport 1 Borussia Dortmund vs Borussia Monchengladbach

10 am NBCSN                 Tottenham vs Swansea

10 am CNBC                   Crystal Palace vs Southampton

12:30 pm NBC              West Ham vs Arsenal

10:15am beIN Sport Barcelona vs Real Madrid 

12:30 pm FS2                Red Bull Leipzig vs Schalke

2:45 pm beIN Sport  Juve vs Atalanta

Sunday, Dec 4

8:30 am NBCSN            Bournemouth vs Liverpool

9:30 am Fox Sports 1 Darmstadt vs. Hamburg SV

11 am NBCSN                Everton vs Man United
11:30 am Fox Sport 1 Augsburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

Tues, Dec 6

Champions League

2:45 pm FS1                   Man City vs Celtic

2:45 pm ESPN2            Bayern Munich vs Athletico Madrid

2:45 pm Fox Sport2  Barcelona vs Borussia M’gladbach

2:45 pm Fox Soccer  Whip Around Coverage of All Games??

Weds, Dec 7

Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport1  Real Madrid vs Dortmund 

2:45 pm Fox sport2   Tottenham vs CSKA Moskva

2:45 pm Fox States? Leverkusen vs Monaco

2:45 pm ESPN2            Olympic Lyon vs Sevilla

2:45 pm ESPN3             Porto vs Leicester City

2:45 pm ESPN3            Juventus vs Dinamo Zagreb

Thurs, Dec 8

Europa League

1 pm FS1                          Zorya vs Man United

Sat,  Dec 10

9:30 am FS1                   Bayern Munich vs  Wolfsburg

10 am NBCSN                Arsenal vs Stoke City

12:30 pm NBCSN        Leicester City vs Man City 

8 pm FOX                                                 MLS Finals – Toronto vs Seattle

Sun,  Dec 11

7 am NBCSN                   Chelsea vs West Brom

9:30 am FS1                   Borussia Mgladbach vs Bayern Leverkusen

9 am NBCSN                   Man United vs Tottenham

9 am beIN Sport          Torino vs Juventus

9:30 am FS2                   Schalke vs Bayern Leverkusen

11:30 am NBCSN         Liverpool vs West Ham 

Mon,  Dec 12

3 pm beIN Sports       Roma vs AC Milan

Tues,  Dec 13

2:45 pm NbCSN           Everton vs Arsenal

Weds,  Dec 14

2:45 pm NbCSN           Middlesborough vs Liverpool

3 pm ??                             Crystal Palace vs Man United

Thurs, Dec 15  –           FIFA CLUB WORLD CUP

5:30 am Fox Sport1   Real Madrid vs ??

El Clasico: Everything you need to know about Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

Saturday’s Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid is the latest in a long line of epic clashes between Spain’s top two clubs. With Real holding a six-point advantage over their rivals, a win for Zinedine Zidane’s side could prove decisive in the title race. Here’s what you need to know.

MADRID — As many as half a billion fans are expected to watch Saturday’s Clasico at the Camp Nou on television as Cristiano Ronaldo’s high-flying Real Madrid travel to a Barcelona team increasingly reliant on their superstar Lionel Messi to save their season.

Form guide and team news

Barcelona (WWWWDD): The hosts enter the game having been held to draws in each of their past two league games.

Real Madrid (WWWWWW): Barca’s stumbles have allowed Madrid, winners of six straight in La Liga, to pull away in the title race.

As for who will play on Saturday, Barca hope to have Andres Iniesta available following a month-long absence through injury. Jordi Alba is nursing ankle and knee knocks but could yet play. The home side’s formidable front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar are all fit.As for Real Madrid, well, one part of their attacking triumvirate will not be in action due to Gareth Bale’s long-term ankle injury, though Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema are available. Midfielder Toni Kroos is also out.

Real are focused on the title

Zinedine Zidane’s side are in a position they’ve not been in for a long time. They currently sit six points ahead of Barcelona — they have not been further in front since 2012 and that was after El Clasico. It was also the second meeting that season, won in the spring as the season headed into the final weeks.That night, Ronaldo’s goal at the Camp Nou completed a 2-1 victory that effectively won them the title; afterwards, Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola congratulated Madrid on being league champions. That was the only league title Madrid have won in the past eight years. Too long, they know. It’s been striking to the players and the manager at a club whose identity has been built through the European Cup, a competition they almost feel is their own, and one they have won twice as many times as their greatest rivals, explicitly say that the league is the priority this season.And so, El Clasico tends to define the season; this time it might go a very long way to actually deciding it. Win and Madrid would be nine points clear, with a head-to-head advantage, too. Barcelona would have to do four games’ worth of catching up. And yes, there are 25 games to go but that would be a huge gap. “A fist on the desk,” Nacho called it.The Catalan side are also in a position they’ve not been in for a long time. They’ve experienced something similar(ish) from the other side a few times in recent years, but not so early in the season. When these two teams last met, everyone knew that if Barcelona won, the title race would be over. They lost 2-1 and, as it turned out, it was still over although it got mighty close.That night, April 2, 2016, a run of 32 games without a Barcelona defeat came to an end, but they still won the league. They didn’t need to win then; they need to win now. Pessimism has taken hold.”If we win on Saturday, things will look different,” Gerard Pique said. But? But “if we lose, things will become very complicated.” The defender admitted: “Madrid have the luxury of being able to lose. We don’t.”Luis Enrique said: “It would be over the top to kill us.”Some fear that a defeat would kill their title chances.

How are Madrid playing?

It’s hard to really put your finger on it. Madrid are unbeaten in 32 games, a brilliant run whichever way you look at it, and yet some doubts linger, odd though that sounds. Ridiculous, in fact. They have rarely dominated in the spell, only occasionally really sparkled. That said, the variety and strength in depth is quite astonishing. No other team in Europe’s big five leagues is still unbeaten. They drew four games in a row, granted, but just when it seemed set to go wrong, just when it felt like maybe they were being found out, Madrid started winning again and never stopped. When the game that everyone declared a first real test came around, they passed it brilliantly, beating Atletico Madrid 3-0. They went to Atletico, the team that don’t concede, and put three past them. Another hat-trick from Ronaldo.

Barca are struggling badly

Madrid’s upcoming away fixtures are about as tough as it gets, offering hope that they will drop points: Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla and Celta in that order. That gives Barcelona the chance to make up ground but, with 27 points from 13 games, this is their worst start to a season since the Frank Rijkaard era.Barca drew with Real Sociedad at the weekend and their manager even said that was a “miracle,” so comprehensively had they been outplayed. After the match, Piqué talked about “attitude” and insisted: “If we play like this it will be very difficult to win the league.”That game was the worst, Luis Enrique said, but it was not really a one-off: Messi had produced a mind-bending display to pull them through against Sevilla, they had been fortunate in Valencia, they were unable to score against Málaga and they have been beaten twice. At Celta, they were overrun. Something that used to happen very rarely is being repeated now. El Clasicois an obligation, but an opportunity to. “A chance to rebel,” Javier Mascherano called it.

Will Zidane go for the jugular?

It’s a big decision for the Madrid boss. In the absence of one or more of the “BBC” — Bale, Benzema and Cristiano — he has tended to take the opportunity and add an extra midfielder, as he did so effectively against Atletico. So, with Bale out, expect something similar.But how does the lead at the top of the table impact his decisions? Does it mean caution? A desire to ensure (in so far as you can ever ensure anything) that they do not see that lead reduced and the title race opened up? Or does it mean that he will be tempted to go for it and leave Madrid in a position about which most could have barely dreamed? In big games, he has tended to tighten up.

It’s never ‘just a game’

After 114 years of the biggest footballing rivalry in the world, one thing is clear: no game has what this game has in terms of sport, politics, society and identity. “Just football?” one headline ran a few years back. They knew the answer: Madrid-Barca is never just football. But the football is the best, too. So are the players: you have to go back two decades to find a FIFA World Player of the Year winner who hasn’t played for Madrid or Barcelona.This game really is Spain’s derby: it’s not just that government figures show that over half of all football fans here declare themselves Madid or Barcelona supporters, it’s that even those who support someone else almost always support one of these two as well or at least have a non-negotiable preference for one or the other. They weren’t always the biggest, but they are now. And that’s not going to change.

Real’s historical edge

This will be the 232nd competitive Clasico although it’s only really over the past 10 years or so that they’ve started calling it that, a term borrowed from Argentina. It used to be the derbi.It’s pretty close, too: Barcelona have narrowed the gap in recent years but just when it looked like they might even it up, Madrid pulled away again. Madrid have won 93, Barcelona 90 and there have been 48 draws. Oh, and Madrid and Barcelona have scored 390 and 376 goals respectively.The chances of this finishing 0-0 are slim: the last time that happened was Nov. 2002, some 39 games ago. So, that’s jinxed it. Sorry.

The man in black

Well, he’ll be in yellow, the supporting actor so often elevated to lead role. This time, it’s Carlos Clos Gómez’s turn.Usually, the storm around the referee is decidedly ugly. Clos Gómez, curiously enough, has given both Barcelona and Real Madrid more yellow and red cards than their opponents over the games he has taken charge; there can’t be many referees with a record like that. Barcelona have never lost a league game with him, in 20 games; Madrid have won the same number — 18 — but lost four.These stats don’t really mean anything, per se, but try telling everyone that in Spain. Classy as ever, Zidane tried but they didn’t really listen. With depressing inevitability, there are some already moaning about the refereeing in this clasico, a game that hasn’t happened yet.

The return of Iniesta

Enrique would have liked him to play some minutes in the Copa del Rey in Alicante this week but he was suspended. He is, though, training fully with his teammates and his manager says he is “fully fit,” so it seems likely he will play his 34th clasico: more than anyone else, ever. They have missed him; that midfield looks very different with him in it.”We have missed him muchísimo,” Sergi Roberto said. “He is pure Barcelona.” The Barcelona that some have missed of late? After all, Iniesta doesn’t just play; he makes others play too. Over the past two years he has become a kind of combined Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, the Barca legend with whom he combined so well for so long in midfield.”He has the same ability as Xavi to keep the ball but he also has the ability to go past people,” Enrique says. “Pure magic”, his manager called him. As for Piqué, arguably Barcelona’s outstanding player this season, he insists that, “relax, I’ll be there.”

Don’t forget the benches

Barcelona spent over €100 million on strength in depth: of their five recent signings, only one (Umtiti) was really seen as a starter but so far, it hasn’t worked. At Madrid, meanwhile, 19 different players have scored this season: of the outfield players, only the injured Casemiro and curious case Fabio Coentrao have not got goals. They have had injuries — of the team that started the Champions League final in May, only Dani Carvajal has not suffered an injury this season and he suffered on that night — and yet they have overcome them all. Sometimes, in fact, they have even looked better.Will they miss Bale, out for at least the next two months? Of course they will. Only they have done a good job of not missing anyone. Casemiro was the one they thought they would miss most, the man with no replacement. But after an uneven start, Mateo Kovacic has stepped up.

Enrique vs. Zidane

“We’ve got the best squad since I have been here… but we’re still stuck with the same lump as a manager,” Enrique said. The knives are out, that’s for sure. But then there’s always been a slightly odd sense that people don’t trust him. He has been here before and, he said, “you all ended up climbing on the bandwagon.” In 2014-15, it was a treble-winning bandwagon. The following season came a double-winning one.As for Zidane, the victory over Atlético was very much his success. Tactically, he surprised everyone with Isco just behind Ronaldo and read it right: at last, a Madrid derby where they weren’t outnumbered in midfield. Until then, most assumed that Zidane — soft, smiling, smooth, serene Zidane — was good with the group but maybe not much of a coach despite winning the European Cup. Now, it seems he has won almost all of them over. 32 games, remember. Top of the table. A European trophy.Statistically, it’s the best start to a managerial career that anyonehas ever had in Spain. Forza Football ran a poll this week: Is Zidane a lucky guy or tactical genius? The latter won, 73-27.

Players to watch? Try all of them

No game on the planet has this much talent — even without Bale, even if Iniesta doesn’t start in the end, even with Alvaro Morata and Toni Kroos still injured. Isco’s position will be especially interesting; will he be entrusted with a key role again? And will it be in what Zidane calls his “natural position,” No. 10, one that normally doesn’t exist in Madrid’s set-up?If Iniesta doesn’t play, that “other” midfielder will be under pressure to perform. Who will it be? Andre Gomes, Arda Turan or Rafinha? Denis Suarez is the player who appears best suited to their style, and best able to support Sergio Busquets in midfield. But no one has been as decisive as Rafinha, whether winning the ball back or scoring goals. For Madrid, Luka Modric’s return is cause for celebration.

But don’t forget those two

Forgive the stating-the-bleeding-obvious answer, the men to watch are clearly Ronaldo and Messi, the embodiment of their clubs for so long now. And they still are.The constituency is incredible, really. Ronaldo first came to Madrid in 2009. Seven years and 26 clasicos have passed since then. Plenty of players have been and gone, too: fourteen of those who started his first clasico are no longer around. Stars have come: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Bale, Neymar, James Rodriguez, Suárez, Isco. And they have had had an impact: Ibrahimovic scored the winner in Ronaldo’s first Clasico, Bale got that Copa del Rey final goal, Suárez scored the winner last year. Yet no one has had an impact like Ronaldo and Messi. No one has managed to eclipse them.Last year for the first time, it looked like something was shifting: arguably, Suárez was La Liga Player of the Year and Bale seemed to be becoming Madrid’s most decisive footballer. But here we are again. Them, again. Men who have marked an era, scoring just short of 600 La Liga goals between them. Top scorers in their clubs’ histories, two of the three top scorers in clasico history, too — Alfredo Di Stéfano stands between Messi, in first with 21 goals, and Ronaldo, in third with 16 — and the top two scorers in this league the season too.And so it goes on.Sid Lowe is a Spain-based columnist and journalist who writes for ESPN FC, 

Title-starved Toronto beats Impact in instant classic to advance to MLS Cup

TORONTO — If Toronto FC’s enthralling 5-2 win over the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference final second leg wasn’t the best playoff match in Major League Soccer’s 21-season history, it was close.The only other game that’s even in the conversation is a 2003 affair between the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes that the Quakes — who would go on to hoist the MLS Cup that year — won on a second-leg golden goal after trailing 4-0 on aggregate earlier in the decisive contest.Yet even that famous comeback by the Quakes, which took place on a narrow, pockmarked field inside a college football stadium in what was a lifetime ago for the league, didn’t have the big-time atmosphere that backdropped this match, let alone the constant momentum swings that turned Wednesday’s tilt into an instant classic.The Impact, who led the first leg 3-0 at one point, held a 4-2 advantage in the total-goals series after Dominic Oduro opened the scoring in the 24th minute in the decisive second match. But TFC roared back through Armando Cooper and Jozy Altidore to make it 4-4 before half-time and swing the series lead on away goals in their favor.Montreal edged in front once again on Ignacio Piatti’s strike early in the second half before Nick Hagglund’s powerful header sent the series to extra time, where Toronto scored twice and ultimately prevailed. TFC, which had never won a playoff game before this season, will now host the Seattle Sounders on Dec. 10 in MLS Cup. Still, the drama of how it got there won’t soon be forgotten by any of the 36,000 in attendance who watched through 120 minutes and a downpour at BMO Field.”There were so many twists and turns along the way. Down 1-0, up 2-1, 2-2,” Reds captain Michael Bradley said after the game, noting the added tension of the final 25 minutes, when another Montreal away goal would’ve required the hosts to score two more to advance.”At 3-2, it was on a knife’s edge because obviously we were pushing, we were the team that was still for the most part getting chances, but one play the other way, and all of a sudden we have a lot to do.”In most two-leg playoff series, an early goal by the visitors to go up by two overall would have been a hill too high to climb for the home side. But even after Oduro and the Impact struck first, Montreal never seemed in control and TFC never seemed likely to give up. Still, coach Mauro Biello rued the three set-piece goals his team gave up. And the Impact’s inability to find another tally before the extra period — during which time away goals don’t serve as the tiebreaker — was their undoing.”We’re disappointed,” Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush said. “We had the advantage, lost it, and got it again. Lots of emotions throughout the game. Toronto deserved the win — I think that they were the better team, especially in the overtime session — and I think that if we were to win the game, we had to do it in regulation, when the away goals gave us the advantage. Unfortunately, they capitalized on their chances in overtime.”As the drama unfolded during the match, TFC coach Greg Vanney was too busy concentrating on what he could do to influence the outcome to appreciate the craziness on display. Indeed, it was two of Vanney’s three substitutes, Benoit Cheyrou and Tosaint Ricketts, who scored in the 98th and 100th minutes to seal the victory.When it was finally over, though, Vanney, who spent 10 seasons in MLS as a player, was able to take a larger view of the contest’s — and the series’ — place in league lore.”The game tonight was a roller coaster,” Vanney said. “It went from obviously giving up the first goal, which wasn’t in the plan, to fighting back and getting back on top coming into half-time. So we’re preparing to lock down the game, and lo and behold we give another one back. … It’s been a stressful week just trying to do everything I can to make the guys feel like they’re ready to go in this game. They proved they were ready and then some.”Once I took a step back from the celebration, [I could appreciate] the excitement of the two games, the quantity of goals, the amount of attacking and back-and-forth and twists and turns,” Vanney said. “I can’t imagine that the experience of emotions that people went through, that there aren’t a lot of new soccer fans. For me, it’s the most exciting playoff event that I’ve ever been a part of or that I’ve ever seen.”On that front, he’s far from alone.Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC.

Jordan Morris’ goal helps Sounders reach their first MLS Cup final

Jordan Morris scored in the second half and the Seattle Sounders advanced to the MLS Cup final for the first time with 1-0 win at the Colorado Rapids on Sunday.Morris’ strike in the 56th minute opened a two-goal advantage for the Sounders after last week’s 2-1 win in the first leg, and they advanced 3-1 on aggregate while handing the Rapids their first home loss of the season.The Rapids, entering the game knowing they needed a goal, had all of the early pressure as Jermaine Jones lashed an early shot off-target before his glancing header from a corner also fell wide of the net.Midway through the first half, Kevin Doyle had a chance when he raced onto a long pass, but his ball through the six-yard box went untouched.Jones remained dangerous, looping another shot high following a corner and delivering a cross to Shkelzen Gashi, who had space in the box but decided to try for a spectucular volley that he could not keep on target.Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, who took over in midseason after Sigi Schmid was fired, decided to show more signs of attack after halftime and was rewarded by Morris’ goal within 11 minutes.Nelson Valdez played Morris in on goal with a through ball, and the former Stanford star took a touch before beating Colorado goalkeeper Zac MacMath with the outside of his boot.Morris stayed down after colliding with MacMath, who was playing in place of the injured Tim Howard, but he quickly returned to action after having his knee taped on the sideline.Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso was not so fortunate after picking up an injury and had to be replaced by Oniel Fisher in the 74th minute.With Morris’ goal, Colorado needed two goals to force extra time but despite increased pressure could not find a clear opportunity in the final quarter-hour.Seattle has qualified for the playoffs in each of their eight seasons in MLS but had never before made the final. The Sounders had twice made it to the conference final but fell to the LA Galaxy in both 2012 and 2014.They will host the Dec. 10 final if the Montreal Impact hold on to beat Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference final. Toronto will host the final if it can overturn a 3-2 deficit in the second leg on Wednesday.

Seattle riding a wave of belief, hard work and luck to MLS Cup final

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Brian Schmetzer had just been asked what he made of leading the Seattle Sounders to their first MLS Cup final, especially given the struggles the team had earlier this season.”I’m very proud of this franchise,” he said. Then his voice quivered, and his eyes welled up.He then said, “The fans deserve that. They deserve it.”Schmetzer’s sense of Sounders history runs as deep as anybody’s. When a reporter mentioned that the Sounders played in two NASL championship games in the 1970s, Schmetzer quickly corrected him, saying there was one in the 1980s as well. Schmetzer ought to know, as he was part of the Seattle team that lost the 1982 Soccer Bowl against the New York Cosmos 1-0. He was also the team’s manager in 2005 and 2007 when the Sounders won championships in what was then known as the USL First Division.On Sunday, Schmetzer and his players added to the team’s history. The Sounders rode Jordan Morris’ second-half goal, along with some rugged and at times desperate defending, to claim a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids in the second leg of the Western Conference finals, and a 3-1 aggregate triumph.”The significance of this is it’s now, and we are creating these moments,” he said later, having regained his composure.”The moment that we created for the 200-plus fans that drove or flew all the way here on a holiday weekend to Colorado, to the 40,000-plus fans we have every home match, it’s very significant.”It’s significant to the fans that were watching us in Memorial Stadium back in the ’70s. It is significant. It’s another chapter, but we’re not finished yet.”We have to make sure that all of this culminates with something really big, really great, a really special moment that people will take for many years.”Schmetzer is right of course, but in some respects, Seattle has already done something special this season. Back in late July, the Sounders were in ninth place, had just fired manager Sigi Schmid, and hired Schmetzer on an interim basis. Never mind an MLS Cup final appearance, a spot in the playoffs seemed to be pure fantasy. Nothing was going the team’s way.But Schmetzer rallied his side. Sure, the acquisition of Nicolas Lodeiro revived the team’s attack, even after Clint Dempsey was sidelined with a heart ailment. Roman Torres returned from a knee injury to help solidify the back line. Young players like Cristian Roldan and Morris expanded their games and emerged as players who could be counted on. Even Nelson Valdez, the poster child for Designated Player busts, regained his scoring touch once the playoffs started.Yet Schmetzer deserves his share of credit for getting the team pointed in the right direction again, and convincing the Sounders that what seemed impossible was indeed possible.That said, Schmetzer has had help of a different sort. Seattle has arguably had better teams in its MLS past, the 2014 Supporters’ Shield-winning side in particular. But there was something that always scuttled the Sounders’ MLS Cup dreams. There would be injuries to key players, like Ozzie Alonso or Mauro Rosales. Or there was a loss of form for individuals at the wrong time.Now, after seven years of MLS Cup playoff disappointment, fate, it would seem, has finally decided to smile on the Sounders. The team is mostly healthy, though Dempsey and Brad Evans can still be counted as significant losses.Seattle has peaked at the right moment. And it sure helps if your opponents start seeing attributes like health and form evaporate. If you find yourself benefiting from a dubious refereeing decision or two, so much the better. That dash of luck hasn’t been lost on Seattle, though it’s been the residue of hard work as well.”Those are all variables that are difficult to kind of align so that they come into play at the right time when we need it,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said.”But I think for us this year, that’s what happened. We had do-or-die games for the last three months of the season.”I think it instilled a good work ethic to win playoff games. Our confidence soared. We had guys healthy.”All those things I think are factors that you need to be in your favor in order for you to have a chance of winning the trophyIt also helps when you have a goal scorer like Morris. Much like the team itself, Morris had his ups and downs during the regular season. But along the way, he has shown a greater ability to ride out difficult moments during games and stay engaged.That attribute was on display in the second leg. Morris had been battling a stomach virus for the previous two days, and looked short of his peak. But the best goal scorers in the world have a knack for converting the one chance they get in a game, and that was what Morris did Sunday, neatly putting away Valdez’s pass.”The kid is not only strong physically, dealing with the [diabetes] that he has, but he’s also strong mentally, and I think that was what you saw today,” Schmetzer said.Morris even gamely carried on after taking a knock from Colorado goalkeeper Zac MacMath right after scoring. Morris lay on the ground for several minutes, and that led to an exchange with the Sounders’ team doctor, Dr. Michael Morris, who yes, is also Jordan’s father.”He just came out and was checking that all the ligaments were in there, but he was pushing where the guy cleated me,” the Sounders forward said. “I never yell at my dad but I was kind of yelling at him there.”Morris convinced all involved that he was OK, and then finished out the 90 minutes. When asked about his ability to better deal with such challenges, Morris indicated the only change is in his head.”I think I’m just playing with more confidence, and confidence is going to help you play whether it’s at the beginning of the season or the end of the season,” he said.”You try not to think about those things, but your play on the field is going to be about your confidence, and I just feel confident that the guys have been so supportive and helped me through tough times, and so I’m just playing with more confidence.”The same can be said for the Sounders, and now they’ll carry that belief into their first MLS Cup final.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

Toronto vs. Seattle presents some intriguing matchups in MLS Cup

On Sat night Dec. 10, the city of Toronto will host the MLS Cup final for the second time, but the circumstances couldn’t be more different from the previous encounter back in 2010. That edition featured two nondescript teams in the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas and was largely bereft of atmosphere.This time around, two high-profile sides will be featured in Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders. And if Wednesday’s edge-of-your-seat victory by TFC over the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conf final is any indication, the energy from the BMO Field crowd should be off the charts.As for the game itself, there are intriguing matchups all over the field, and even on the bench. Here’s a quick breakdown of what can be expected in MLS Cup.

 The coaches

Neither Toronto’s Greg Vanney nor Seattle’s Brian Schmetzer was expected to reach the final as coach, but for different reasons. In some quarters, Vanney wasn’t expected to last the season, with reports overseas emergingthat he was going to be replaced by a foreign coach. But the TFC brass rightly opted for stability, and that has proved to be the correct call. Vanney not only has successfully melded the team’s designated players with its more humble elements, but he’s also made some astute tactical changes along the way — most notably a switch to a 3-5-2 — that have proved highly effective.Schmetzer wasn’t even a head coach at the start of the season, serving as Sigi Schmid’s assistant. But when Schmid was fired with the team in ninth place in the Western Conference, it was Schmetzer — with the help Nicolas Lodeiro’s midseason arrival — that turned the team around. He’s managed to push the right buttons as well, helping young players like Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris grow while also squeezing some goals out of Nelson Valdez, who had been a disappointment before the playoffs. Most of this has been done, mind you, with star forward Clint Dempsey sidelined by a heart ailment.

Seattle’s attack vs. Toronto’s defense

Since Lodeiro’s arrival in late July, the Sounders have been heavily reliant — some would say too reliant — on the Uruguayan. But there’s no doubting Lodeiro’s effectiveness, and his mobility will pose an immense challenge to Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley. The U.S. captain will need to avoid getting pulled out of the center too much, but Vanney’s recent insertion of Will Johnson into the lineup should give Bradley some help in this regard.Another critical piece will be Morris. Toronto’s wing-backs, Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow, love to get forward, and with Morris excelling on the wing in recent matches, his runs in wide areas could force them to stay home more than usual. And Morris’ speed alone will be a threat to Toronto’s back line, which struggled to defend transition opportunities against the Impact. Emerging force Roldan and Andreas Ivanschitz — who has been battling injuries but started the second leg against the Colorado Rapids — will also be relied upon to take some of the creative burden off of Lodeiro.Seattle did look vulnerable to high pressure in the second leg against Colorado, with Tyrone Mears and Roman Torres often forced to just boot the ball long instead of playing out of the back. That is an approach that Toronto might want to make use of, especially with a partisan crowd cheering them on. If Beitashour and Morrow can contribute in this manner, it could have the effect of rendering Lodeiro and Morris ineffective.Toronto’s attack vs. Seattle’s defenseJozy Altidore’s performance in both legs against Montreal was immense, as he bullied the Impact’s back line. Fortunately for Seattle, it has two center-backs in Torres and Chad Marshall who don’t mind engaging in physical battles. The pace and elusiveness of Sebastian Giovinco is another matter. Seattle’s defenders will need to avoid getting into too many one-on-one encounters with the Italian. That will require Osvaldo Alonso to be at his tenacious best while also getting help from Roldan and outside backs Mears and Joevin Jones.Toronto feasted on set pieces in the Eastern Conference final triumph over Montreal, but Seattle’s size in the back should see it compete on more level terms in this department.Finals often see supporting players pop up to take the role of hero. For Toronto, Armando Cooper could very well be that player. The Panamanian is the most creative player operating in TFC’s three-man midfield and has shown an ability to stay strong on the ball and wriggle out of difficult situations.Bradley remains TFC’s metronome in attack, despite encountering some peaks and valleys in his performances. There have been moments when he has lost some critical physical battles, including one in the run-up to Montreal’s first goal on Wednesday. But his ability to pick out teammates over distance is a key element of Toronto’s attack.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. 

Champions League – Results and What they Are Playing For on Final Group Day

Twelve teams are through to the UEFA Champions League round of 16, with seven more vying for the four remaining berths when the group stage concludes on 6 and 7 December.

  • Through:Atlético Madrid (group winners), Barcelona (group winners), Leicester City (group winners), Monaco (group winners), Arsenal, Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid
  • Can qualify on matchday six:Benfica, Beşiktaş, København, Lyon, Napoli, Porto, Sevilla
  • Cannot finish in top two: Basel, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Celtic, Club Brugge, CSKA Moskva, Dinamo Zagreb, Dynamo Kyiv, Legia Warszawa, Ludogorets Razgrad, PSV Eindhoven, Rostov, Sporting CP, Tottenham Hotspur
  • Qualified for UEFA Europa League round of 32: Borussia Mönchengladbach
  • Will finish fourth: Celtic, Club Brugge, Dinamo Zagreb, Dynamo Kyiv
  • Full standings
  • TUESDAY 6 DECEMBER: all kick-offs 20:45CET

All information in this article is subject to final confirmation from UEFA. These examples may not cover all potential situations.

Group A: Basel (2 points) v Arsenal (11, through),  Paris Saint-Germain (11, through) v Ludogorets Razgrad (2)

  • Paris have the head-to-head advantage over Arsenal on away goals so will clinch first place with a win or as long as the Gunners do not overtake them on points.
  • Ludogorets have the head-to-head advantage over Basel on away goals so will seal third spot with a victory. Basel need to finish ahead of Ludogorets on points or will come fourth.

Group B: Dynamo Kyiv (2) v Beşiktaş (7), Benfica (8) v Napoli (8)

  • Napoli beat Benfica on matchday two so will qualify with a draw. Whoever wins that game will go through in first place, and both will be through regardless if Beşiktaş lose.
  • Beşiktaş qualify with a win and would top the group if the other match is drawn. If Beşiktaş draw they will only progress if Napoli lose, since Benfica have the head-to-head advantage over the Turkish side, unlike the Serie A club.
  • Dynamo will finish fourth.

 

Group C: Manchester City (8, through) v Celtic (2), Barcelona (12, through) v Borussia Mönchengladbach (5)

The positions are settled: Barcelona first, City second, Mönchengladbach third, Celtic fourth.

Group D: PSV Eindhoven (1) v Rostov (4),  Bayern München (9, through) v Atlético Madrid (15, through)

  • Atlético have won the group with Bayern second.
  • PSV must beat Rostov to pip them to third place.
  • WEDNESDAY 7 DECEMBER: all kick-offs 20:45CET

Group E: Bayer Leverkusen (7, through) v Monaco (11, through), Tottenham Hotspur (4) v CSKA Moskva (3)

  • Monaco have won the group with Leverkusen second.
  • CSKA need to defeat Spurs to finish above them in third.

Group F: Real Madrid (11, through) v Borussia Dortmund (13, through), Legia Warszawa (1) v Sporting CP (3)

  • Madrid require a victory against Dortmund to pip them to first place.
  • Legia have to beat Sporting to overhaul them in the race for third.

 

Group G: Porto (8) v Leicester City (13, through), Club Brugge (0) v København (6)

  • Leicester have won the group.
  • København have a head-to-head advantage over Porto on away goals so will come second if they win and Porto do not.
  • Brugge are consigned to fourth position.

Group H: Lyon (7) v Sevilla (10), Juventus (11, through) v Dinamo Zagreb (0)

  • Juve are through and will top the group if they win or if Sevilla fail to win (due to Juve’s superior head-to head record).
  • Lyon must overcome Sevilla by a margin of two goals or more to grab second ahead of their visitors. Sevilla won 1-0 at home so OL must better that victory in order to overtake their guests. One-nil would not be enough for Lyon as Sevilla would have the superior goal difference in all matches. Any other Lyon win by a one-goal margin and Sevilla go through on head-to-head away goals.
  • Dinamo will finish fourth.

New York Cosmos and NASL working to survive as league meetings open

The future of the North American Soccer League appeared to be in peril on Tuesday, as club owners and potential investors met for crisis talks in Atlanta.The NASL, which operates as a second-tier league under MLS, ended the 2016 campaign with 12 teams, but recently saw the Ottawa Fury and the Tampa Bay Rowdies leave for the third-tier USL, while Minnesota United is set to join MLS next season. Numerous reports have said the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers and Rayo OKC are in financial trouble.But the biggest blow of all could come from the league’s marquee franchise, the New York Cosmos. A report early on Monday stated that the Cosmos would be shut down. This comes on the heels of an Empire of Soccer reportthat the Cosmos had furloughed much of its front office staff.However, a club source denied that the Cosmos had ceased operations.”We’re in league meetings over the next couple of days,” said the source. “Based on the outcome of those meetings, then we’ll make a decision on the club’s future.”Another club employee added, “We’re working, but there’s no point in selling tickets when there’s no games scheduled. There’s a lot that’s up in the air.”The Cosmos have been a success on the field, winning three league titles since joining the NASL in 2013. Attendance has been another story. This season, the club averaged just 3,775 at Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, which saw them ranked eighth out of 12 teams and below the league average of 4,734.It would appear that the NASL has a stark choice in front of it. It could shut down and see some of its teams be absorbed by the USL — which is angling for Division II status — or it could attempt to carry on.According to one former NASL team executive, the Cosmos, and chairman Seamus O’Brien, have no interest in moving to the USL, and see themselves as a Division I franchise. They had hoped to accomplish that through the growth of the NASL.The Cosmos could have joined MLS in 2012, but rather than spend $100 million or so on an expansion fee to join the league, the Cosmos wanted to invest that money in the club’s infrastructure. To that end, the Cosmos submitted plans to the state of New York to build a stadium near Belmont Park in 2012, but four years later, the Cosmos and three other bidders have yet to hear back from the state’s Empire Development Corp. to see which proposal will get approved.”O’Brien’s vision is media, television rights, and with the Cosmos being a global brand, he saw the club as being at the forefront of that,” said the source. “That’s where he saw the future, so for him, the USL is just not an option. No second-division league in this country has ever been on TV. It just doesn’t happen.”That’s why the big issue for them was [the NASL] getting first-division status so they could sell sponsorships and TV rights deals. They didn’t just want to have a team. For now, they didn’t really care how many fans showed up. They were trying to get a stadium built and get TV rights down the road.”One source attending the meetings in Atlanta indicated that new owners for the Cosmos were being pursued, and that four investor groups interested in starting NASL expansion teams were also in attendance. It was unknown how far along those talks are.The prospect of new teams entering the NASL hasn’t done much to ease the sense of impending doom surrounding the league. If the Cosmos are shut down, and Ft. Lauderdale and Oklahoma City fold as well, then the NASL would be left with just seven teams, including the expansion San Francisco Deltas, who are set to come on board in 2017.According to standards for Division II leagues as set forth by the U.S. Soccer Federation, a second-tier league must have eight teams in its first season, 10 teams by its third year, and 12 teams by its sixth year, though a USSF spokesman confirmed that exceptions have been made in the past for the NASL.A USSF board meeting is set for next week, and a USSF spokesman said that “a review of all [U.S.] leagues is on the agenda.” At a roundtable with reporters earlier this month, USSF president Sunil Gulati said, “I’m fully confident based on the meetings that I’ve had that [the NASL] will go forward.”The current incarnation of the NASL was formed out of a split among teams in the USL. A hybrid league existed for the 2010 season, before the NASL emerged as a standalone entity for the 2011 campaign, and it positioned itself in direct competition with MLS.The league was much more decentralized, had no salary cap, and began competing with MLS for players. That strategy proved to be unsuccessful, as there was always the threat that MLS would start poaching the NASL’s best franchises. The Montreal Impact, part of the NASL’s inaugural season in 2011, had already committed to joining MLS. Minnesota United will now follow suit next season.Another NASL team, the San Antonio Scorpions, positioned itself as an MLS candidate, but the team folded in 2015, and its stadium was sold, paving the way for a new USL entry owned by Spurs Sports & Entertainment.Much of the NASL’s funding came from a now-disgraced sports marketing firm, Traffic Sports USA, who at one time had ownership stakes in three teams. When Traffic USA president Aaron Davidson, who also was chairman of the league’s Board of Governors, was indicted for his part in the FIFA corruption scandal, his involvement with the league ceased.But separating the NASL from Traffic’s sizable investment proved more difficult. Just last week, a report in The Telegraph stated that Traffic offloaded all of the Class B shares it owned in the league.The hope was that the settlement would spur more investment in the league. The coming days will determine if that indeed comes to pass.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. 

Klinsmann Undone by Arrogance – USA Today Nate Scott 

Jurgen Klinsmann is out.U.S. Soccer announced on Monday afternoon that it was parting ways with Klinsmann following two consecutive World Cup qualifying defeats, including a humiliating 4-0 loss to Costa Rica.In looking back at where things went wrong, a clear narrative comes through: There were too many promises, and not enough tangible changes. In the end, Klinsmann’s arrogance did him in.Klinsmann had a tall order when he came in as the USMNT coach and U.S. Soccer technical director in 2011 — not only was he tasked with taking the men’s national team to the next level, he was responsible in overseeing a new, bold youth development plan that would foster the next generation of American talent. Klinsmann’s resume was dazzling. He had coached the mighty Germany national team, as well as mega club Bayern Munich. No longer would U.S. Soccer settle for a good American coach. It was setting its sights on the world.Klinsmann came in saying all the right things. It was time for the country to think bigger. He preached a bold vision: American players should no longer settle for MLS teams — they must reach for bigger European clubs. The national team would become more ambitious, more stylish, more forward-thinking. They wouldn’t be content to sit back and defend. It was a brand new day in American soccer.He even demanded more of the fans. He challenged America to become a nation where soccer fans would confront American players in the grocery store when they missed a sitter. He wanted his players hungry, challenged, pushed forward to greatness, and a collective nation behind them. It was all so exciting.And then it all slowly came apart. Klinsmann’s promises for a new stylish, attacking style of soccer failed to materialize. His harsh comments about MLS soon grew into a rift, especially after the domestic league kept improving, paying its players more, getting better. All of a sudden seriously talented players were popping up in the league, but Klinsmann seemed to still have his eyes set on Europe.This all came to a head before the 2014 World Cup and Klinsmann made his decision to leave Landon Donovan behind, a decision that may have been justified at the time but seemed to many fans to be a crass way to send a message about what was expected of American players.Klinsmann’s teams put in uneven performances, and his maddening tactical gambles did nothing to inspire confidence in American supporters. Perhaps what was most frustrating was the seeming lack of development — for all the talk of an exciting new style of play, the team sure looked to play a lot like it did in the past. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but American fans had been promised more, and they weren’t getting it.Perhaps most importantly, Klinsmann never quite figured out how to perform both his roles as head coach and technical director at the same time. As head coach, he was responsible for picking the best players available to him and getting results. As technical director, he was in charge of pushing the sport forward in America. These two were often at odds with one another — Klinsmann would call out a player (or entire league in MLS’ case) publicly, a fair thing to do from a technical director looking toward the future. Then, as head coach, Klinsmann would be stuck wondering why those called-out players were so reluctant to trust him.In the end, Klinsmann is responsible for his own undoing. He couldn’t get the most out of his teams, and he never figured out how to perform both roles he’d been given adequately. In a small twist of irony, it was also his call for a more demanding national team fanbase that brought about his end. Seeing what was happening, he lashed out, saying those same American fans he challenged weren’t smart enough to understand what he was trying to do.  That arrogance smacked the most. The fans got smarter, they got more demanding, and when he wasn’t delivering, they pushed for his ousting. In the end, he got what he wished.

Bruce is the Right Guy

By: Nate Scott | November 22, 2016 7:50 am  

He isn’t the sexiest pick, but Bruce Arena is the right man for the USMNT job right now.If Arena is named the next head coach of the U.S. national team, as USA TODAY Sports‘ Martin Rogers reported is likely to happen this week, it will be a smart decision from U.S. Soccer. It will also be the safe one, but in this instance, safe isn’t a bad thing. And safe isn’t a boring thing. In this case: Safe is smart.As long as Arena is only being hired to see the team through Russia, this makes sense. He’s well liked and connected in U.S. Soccer, he’s gotten better as a coach in his decade gone from USMNT, and he can do a job for now. He’s also the perfect answer to Jurgen Klinsmann, who was fired on Monday after six years as the head coach of the USMNT.Why is Arena the smart choice? Well, for one, he’s a fantastic manager, someone who’s shown an ability to win at every level. His Los Angeles Galaxy teams over the last decade have produced some of the most gorgeous, free-flowing, attacking soccer in MLS. He’s shown an ability to work with established veterans and rising stars, young and old alike.He brought along Gyasi Zardes into the first team and into the national team picture, had great success with Giovani dos Santos and Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, and got the last bit (and more) out of Landon Donovan. He convinced Robbie Rogers to come out of retirement following Rogers’ decision to come out as gay, then helped Rogers reinvent himself as an outside defender (and one of the best in the league).Arena is also a smart choice because of his close ties with MLS, which is an underratedly important part of everything going on right now. Klinsmann spoke negatively of the domestic league many times, a decision he made to try and push players to top leagues, perhaps not realizing that by doing so he was alienating a great portion of his talent pool (and not realizing how quickly the level of MLS was improving). Arena will have no such problems. And while he will have to explain his comments about foreign-born American playersto his team, I highly doubt he’ll make the mistake of continuing to express that opinion, as Klinsmann did with his negative view of MLS throughout his tenure.

The complaints that Arena is merely a re-tread, a running back of a coach who already had his shot with the team from 1998-2006, are fair. U.S. Soccer should be looking forward, not backward. But for now, if this is merely a stewardship position to see the team through the 2018 World Cup, I’m on board. From there, U.S. Soccer can get more ambitious, perhaps bringing in someone like Oscar Pareja, the FC Dallas coach who’s shown a unique ability to foster and develop young talent and build attacking teams.This is all about the situation. The U.S. is in the middle of a qualifying campaign and can’t bring in someone right now who wants to tear the thing down and start fresh. The team needs someone who knows the players, knows the organization, and can get results quickly. That’s Arena.It’s been a decade since he was in charge of the USMNT, and he’s only gotten better as a manager. He’s more adaptable, more forward-thinking, and has built some beautiful teams in Los Angeles. If he can resist the urge to bring back his old favorites (I love Donovan but now is not the time), he’s the right choice to get the U.S. to Russia.

Which players have new international life in Bruce Arena’s USMNT?

ALEXANDER ABNOSTuesday November 22nd, 2016

In the space of a week, the complexion of the U.S. national team has changed entirely. Gone is the eternally-optimistic, build-for-the-future ethos of Jurgen Klinsmann, undone by a duo of bad results in World Cup qualifying and prior events that signaled that his project simply wasn’t quite working out the way U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati thought it should.In his place is the pragmatic solution: Bruce Arena, back as national team manager for the second time, with a simple mandate: Correct the course of the team in World Cup qualifying, and lead it to success in Russia in 2018. Hanging in the balance of the change, of course, are the players. “No names are off the table,” Arena insisted in a Tuesday conference call with reporters following his hiring announcement. “However, I’d say it’s highly unlikely that we’re going to bring many new players into the program. We’re at a time when we need to get results.” In other words, Arena’s changes will likely be incremental, not sweeping.With that in mind, here are the players who could benefit from the change in leadership atop the U.S. men’s national team–and some who could find themselves on the way out of the picture sooner rather than later.

 

Players who could benefit 

Dax McCarty, New York Red Bulls

Among Klinsmann’s missteps as U.S. national team coach was his dead-set insistence on playing Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones together in central midfield. This happened regardless of formation or tactics so long as both were even remotely healthy, and doing this created a sudden lack of experienced depth at the position. In the meantime, Jones and security blanket Kyle Beckerman got up there in age (Jones is 36, Beckerman is 34), and McCarty was developing into MLS’s best all-around midfield facilitator. However, the Red Bulls linchpin never received a cap under Klinsmann despite getting a handful under Bob Bradley (the last coming in 2011). Arena will be well aware of McCarty’s talents, having been a coach in MLS for almost the entirety of McCarty’s pro career. The Red Bulls captain has a great reputation as a teammate around the league, and is good enough of a two-way player that he would be capable of stepping in as a starter when Bradley is injured, unavailable, or badly out of form. He plays within himself, works for the team, and has shown willingness to mentor younger players; The quintessential Arena player.

Benny Feilhaber, Sporting Kansas City

In his previous stint as U.S. manager, Arena was known to reward players for consistently good MLS performances with a chance at the national team level. That’s how Clint Dempsey began his national career as a young player, and how players like Jimmy Conrad and Brian Ching were able to be valuable contributors as first-time call-ups despite being MLS vets. For Klinsmann, those situations happened far less often. Feilhaber was the prime example of this, with the midfielder receiving no call-ups since 2014 despite racking up 28 combined assists in the 2015 and 2016 regular seasons (in the league’s top three both times). A personality clash between Feilhaber and Klinsmann may have had a lot to do with Feilhaber’s absence, and the players’s pointed comments toward Klinsmann before the start of the 2016 season certainly didn’t help. On a Tuesday conference call with reporters, Arena indicated that those incidents won’t have much bearing on Feilhaber’s future. “I think they and others are good players,” said Arena in response to a question about Feilhaber and Queretaro left back Jonathan Bornstein. “We’re going to give those type of players an opportunity to be back in the national team program.”Based on play alone, Arena would be crazy not to. For a team that has talented strikers but often lacks the dynamism to break teams down in the final third, a creative presence like Feilhaber would be a welcome addition.

Matt Hedges, FC Dallas

Count Hedges in the “undeservedly spurned” camp along with Feilhaber and McCarty. The FC Dallas man has been an every-game starter for FC Dallas since his first season in the league, became club captain in 2014, and was named the 2016 MLS Defender Of The Year. That’s an impressive résumé, but it only earned him one cap under Klinsmann—a substitute appearance against Panama in a February 2015 friendly. Unfortunately for Hedges, Arena will already find the cupboard well-stocked with center back options. John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Steve Birnbaum have all gotten time under Klinsmann, and while all have experienced dips in performance, all have proved they belong at the international level. Still, look for Hedges to get a shot to break into that group, where he could earn a role similar to Birnbaum or, perhaps, displace Gonzlaez or Besler if either is off his game. Earning a first-choice starting nod alongside Brooks and Cameron is unlikely in this cycle, but you never know.

Robbie Rogers, LA Galaxy

Whereas McCarty, Feilhaber, and Hedges could earn roles on the national team thanks to their good MLS performances, count Rogers as a player that will benefit for some slightly different reasons. For one thing, he fills a position of need. Klinsmann never sufficiently addressed the U.S.’s gaping hole at left back in his five years at the helm of the national team, evidenced by playing Besler there this year, despite the fact that he hasn’t played there at any level since his rookie year with Kansas City in 2009. Rogers started his career (and earned 18 U.S. national team caps) as a winger, but has been a dependable member of Arena’s Galaxy teams at left back since returning to the league in 2013. In 2016 he even showed some flexibility by switching to right back to make room for Ashley Cole.There are a few other players who could benefit the same way: Jorge Villafaña, Bornstein and Justin Morrow, for instance. But none of those players has the trust of Arena the same way Rogers does, having worked with him at the Galaxy for years. That is all to say nothing of Rogers’ considerable skill set, which balances hard defensive work with intelligent runs forward and consistently good service from wide positions.

Ethan Horvath, Molde | Bill Hamid, D.C. United

Like Rogers, Horvath and Hamid are the players best-positioned to take advantage of a positional weakness. With Tim Howard injured (and aging) and Brad Guzan struggling to get time at Middlesbrough, the U.S. goalkeeper position is as wide-open as it’s been in several generations. Klinsmann declined to groom a true successor to the Howard/Guzan duo, which means Arena may decide to do so in the team’s first games under his watch.

Horvath is inexperienced at the full international level, but he has been getting consistent time as the No. 1 for Norwegian power Molde, and has experience training with the group under Klinsmann. However, Arena is a coach that values experience very highly, so Horvath’s age (21) may count against him. Hamid isn’t that much older at 25, but he already has six seasons of strong play as D.C. United’s No. 1 under his belt. Based on that and his superb shot-stopping ability, he may be the one to come out the best from this leadership change.

Players who could suffer 

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt

Chandler’s form for his club has never translated into consistent success with the U.S. Klinsmann insisted that Chandler was the right play over DeAndre Yedlin in the November qualifiers, and based on how Chandler was playing for Eintracht Frankfurt alone, he may have had merit in that call. But time and time again, Chandler failed to deliver with the national team, and it doesn’t appear the switch was going to flip anytime soon. Fullback isn’t the USA’s deepest position, so it’s likely Chandler remains in the conversation at the very least, but Arena needs to be turning to players who can perform when called upon, not those whose potential fails to materialize on a different stage.

Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake

Over and over, Klinsmann found ways to praise Beckerman the same way: “A pure giver.” Klinsmann wasn’t wrong in that assessment—Beckerman performed a valuable role for the U.S. when he was used, shielding the back line and distributing the ball effectively. However, Beckerman is now 34, and after an uneven season with Real Salt Lake, Arena could decide that Beckerman’s time with the national team is finished. That’s due in no small part to the play of younger options that are more likely to be able to continue at the 2018 World Cup, including Perry Kitchen and McCarty. Beckerman should be considered one of Klinsmann’s success stories in his time as U.S. manager, but it’s looking more and more like his time may be up.

Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes

Similar to Beckerman, it seems from the outside that Wondolowski stuck around in Klinsmann’s U.S. squads mostly because of intangibles. Wondo may still be a reliable goalscorer at the MLS level, but outside of a few flashes with the U.S., there was never much reason to believe that he’d be an automatic starter (again, age has something to do with that). Aside from his locker room presence, the primary reason to bring Wondolowski to a World Cup would be for his goal-scoring instinct in the box and…well…He shouldn’t be in contention for a 2018 spot, so Arena would be well within his right to drop him.

Julian Green, Bayern Munich

One of the many contradictions of Klinsmann’s tenure was his insistence that playing regularly at club level is a must for any national team player. Green’s inclusion on the 2014 World Cup squad went directly in contrast to that, as did his continuing call-ups despite a mild uptick in performances with Bayern Munich. There’s no doubt that Green is a talented player, and he’s still young enough that a long and bring national team career could be in his future. But for an Arena-led team that’s trying to win now, one wouldn’t think there would be much use for Green until he finds consistent playing time and good form at the club level.

Michael Orozco, Club Tijuana

If Hedges is to get a shot, someone else will have to make room. Orozco could well be that player, having been given multiple chances to make an impact for the U.S. and never quite seizing his opportunity, save for that memorable game-winner in a friendly vs. Mexico at the Azteca. That’s not to say Orozco won’t still get invited to a camp or two—after all, he is a veteran with international experience, which Arena values. But at this point there aren’t many signs that he’ll be involved in the U.S.’s plan for Russia. He’s sporadically been involved in Club Tijuana’s.

Jermaine Jones, Colorado Rapids

Of all of Klinsmann’s favored players, perhaps no one was as consistently relied upon as Jones. As SI’s Grant Wahl covered recently, Jones wasn’t just a lock to start under Klinsmann, he was usually a lock to play 90 minutes as well. Klinsmann proved as much in the past set of qualifiers, where he played Jones for all 90 minutes of both despite his just having returned from a sprained knee. Jones isn’t likely to be entirely dropped from the national team now that Klinsmann is gone. Ultimately, Arena values quality players with experience, and Jones has all those things in abundance. But Arena is also perceptive enough to realize that Jones’s days as a 90-minutes-or-nothing mainstay are over, particularly since he never really found a way to gel effectively alongside Michael Bradley in the middle of the park.

U.S. Soccer pulls the plug on its grand Jurgen Klinsmann experiment

QUICKLYJurgen Klinsmann promised to lead U.S. Soccer into a new era, but after over five years, his position became untenable for a number of reasons, and he’s been fired.  BRIAN STRAUSMonday November 21st, 2016

Defiant to the last, Jurgen Klinsmann maintained this weekend that a U.S. national team in “a transitional phase” remained on course to reach Russia and that he needed more time to implement his ambitious plans for the program.He’s not going to get it. After all, Klinsmann already has had more than five years, and with next to no tangible improvement evident and the pressure mounting following this month’s historic World Cup qualifying setbacks, U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati finally pulled the plug on U.S. Soccer’s grand experiment. Klinsmann was fired Monday. He departs with a 55-27-16 record (28-13-6 in official competition), one CONCACAF Gold Cup title, plenty of unfulfilled promises and what’s sure to be a complex legacy.“Many are aware of the historic victories … but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come,” Gulati said in a statement announcing Klinsmann’s dismissal.“While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction.”No immediate replacement was named, though SI’s Grant Wahl is reporting that Bruce Arena will be brought in as soon as Tuesday.“With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth-consecutive World Cup,” Gulati said Monday.Klinsmann’s departure was tough to imagine a month ago, especially for Gulati, who staked so much of his own reputation and the federation’s finances on the charismatic German coach.  “We have not had a coach in 27 years that has started World Cup qualifying and not finished World Cup qualifying,” Gulati said before the U.S. kicked off the 10-game final round. “We’ve never changed coaches in the Hex … and I expect that to be the case here.”But no one expected the defeat, regression and tension that was just around the corner.

Klinsmann told The New York Times this weekend that, “If you really want to move up to the top 15 in the world, you need to have consistency in what you’re doing.” He was referring to his job security, but the comments are ironic considering his approach to managing the national team. On November 11, hours after Gulati offered his vote of confidence, Klinsmann sent the U.S. out to face Mexico in new formation that featured several players, including 18-year-old attacker Christian Pulisic, in new positions. The Americans were overrun in the first half and reverted to a more comfortable 4-4-2 only after veterans Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones requested the change during a stoppage.At the end of a troubling evening, the U.S. had lost to Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, for the first time and Klinsmann was blaming Bradley, Jones and defender John Brooks for the defeat. Four days later, the U.S. was destroyed, 4-0, in Costa Rica. Several players appeared unfit or out of place and the capitulation during the second-half in San Jose was stunning to long-time observers of the national team. The U.S. had lost consecutive qualifiers for the first time in 15 years and earned fewer than three points during the first two games of the Hex for the first time.Klinsmann was hired to do more than win games. He was tasked with setting U.S. soccer on a new course—changing and improving the way American players are developed, the way they think about the game and the way they approach their careers.There were some good results along the way. The U.S. won the 2013 Gold Cup in spectacular fashion and finished first in the Hex that same year. Klinsmann proved to be an effective recruiter and enticed several promising dual-nationals to pledge their international futures to the U.S. There were results that remain open to interpretation. The Americans escaped a tough group at the 2014 World Cup and took Belgium to extra time in the round-of-16, but were outplayed by a significant margin in three of their four games. And they finished fourth at the Copa América Centenario this summer with a 3-3-0 record, beating the teams they should beat and losing to Argentina and Colombia (twice) by a combined 7-0.Then there were the results that proved to be part of Klinsmann’s undoing. It’s tough to imagine a coach in just about any other country in the world surviving the equivalent of the fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, which featured a moribund group-stage performance and the first home loss to Jamaica in national team history. Klinsmann lost a qualifier to Guatemala this year, suffered a four-game home winless streak to CONCACAF foes last year and saw his hand-picked coaches fail to qualify for two consecutive Olympics. As technical director, he bears responsibility for national teams at all levels.Additionally, his teams never played the proactive, attacking soccer he promised on a consistent basis. That’s evident via the eye test and is supported by plenty of statistics. For example, over the past three tournaments plus last year’s Confederations Cup playoff, the U.S. was outshot by a combined 292-169.Klinsmann has bristled when these issues are raised. He’s argued that catching up with the sport’s elite takes time—he’s surely right about that—and that those criticizing him don’t necessarily appreciate what soccer at its highest level requires. He maintained those positions this weekend, telling The Times, “What you need to do is stick to the facts. Soccer is emotional and a lot of people make conclusions without knowing anything about the inside of the team or the sport …. The fact is, we lost two games. There is a lot of talk from people who don’t understand soccer or the team.”Last summer during the Copa América, he told reporters, “Over time we always said we want to move this program to another level. I think we did that over time. There will be some setbacks and there’s also a lot of explanation from your end that needs to be done to the casual soccer fan or kind of the more emotional soccer fan, so we still go through a lot of education explaining why certain things happen when there is a setback.”Insulated by Gulati’s commitment and the idea that any criticism stemmed from impatience or ignorance, Klinsmann appeared untouchable. But alienating U.S. Soccer’s customers—the fans—became a genuine issue. Public support for the manager has waned in recent months and attendance has been down. And publicly blaming his players following defeats, to say nothing of the constant tactical uncertainty, seemed to be wearing thin inside the locker room.“There’s a need to support each other,” Bradley said following last week’s rout in Costa Rica. “In moments like this, it does you no good to point fingers, to be looking around trying to figure out who you can throw under the bus. That’s not how it works and that’s not what real teams are all about.”Without the fans, without the locker room and with the margin for error in World Cup qualifying now almost gone, Klinsmann’s position was increasingly untenable. If there was a time to cut the cord, it was now. The next qualifiers aren’t scheduled until March, as Gulati said. There were questions about whether Gulati still would have faith that Klinsmann’s vision could come to pass, that more time might do the trick or that he’d share the embattled manager’s view that criticism or pessimism are signs of the very culture he was trying to change. There were questions about whether Gulati would absorb the financial cost of the firing or whether he had tied his own ego, mandate or legacy too closely with Klinsmann. Gulati answered them Monday. There had been one too many plunges on this roller coaster ride, one too many head-scratching decisions, one too many tough results. Faith in Klinsmann had been shaken and couldn’t be recovered. After five memorable, intriguing, controversial years, U.S. Soccer will move forward without the man who promised to lead the way.

Alex Morgan shares how her family invested in her future

By Alex Morgan Posted: 10/10/16 Updated: 11/07/16

Dear seven-year-old Alex,

I know you’re still really little, and that you’re probably too busy kicking the soccer ball out in the yard to pay me much mind right now, but I want you to take a second to look around at what’s happening at home every day.If there was ever a perfect example of a family functioning as a team, it’s Mom, Dad, and the three Morgan girls—Jenny, Jeri and little Alex.Everyone is pitching in and doing their part right now.Mom is the family’s very own version of wonder woman. She just started taking night classes to earn her MBA so she can continue to help provide everything you and your sisters need. (Some nights, when she’s not around to make dinner, Jenny, who is all of 13 years old, fills in … and she’s become a really great cook! You’ll love her chicken enchiladas). Mom has virtually no time off. Monday through Friday, she’s either working or going to school. So her only breaks are on the weekends. But you know better than anyone that she’s not using those days to sleep in or relax. She’s sacrificing her Saturdays and Sundays so you and your sisters can participate in sports.From the time you started playing soccer two years ago, she’s always been the team mom. And not just any team mom — she is, like, the greatest team mom in the history of soccer.It isn’t only that she never misses a game. And it isn’t just the orange slices and strawberries she brings for halftime. She’s doing everything she can to make sure you and your teammates are having fun. In fact, Mom just finished making hair ties for everyone on your team — she even used glitter glue to put each girl’s uniform number on her hair tie. How cool is that?And while Mom is transitioning between homework and hair accessories, Dad has been busy learning everything he can about your sport.He’s always been a baseball guy; he didn’t know the first thing about soccer. But when you told him a few months ago that you’re really starting to love the game, and that it was important to you that he watch you play, he got serious. Fast.Pretty soon he will sign up for referee classes, and he’ll ask you to join him. You’ll have great fun spending time with him and bonding over the sport of soccer. You’ll even get your own whistle and ref some youth games with him. Then, in a few years, Dad will move on to taking coaching classes. He’ll coach you when you’re nine, and, like Mom, he’ll go way beyond the call of duty. He’s going to be out the door every morning at 5:30 to work at his construction company, but he’ll always — always — be home in time to take you to practice. And you won’t ever hear him complaining about it.When you’re 13, Dad will do something that you’ll remember as long as you live. By that point, you’ll have developed into one of the best rec players in Southern California … and you’ll have done it in hand-me-down cleats. You’ll be O.K. with that. But, make no mistake about it, one of the best feelings of your life is going to occur when Dad comes home one day from work and tells you he wants to buy you a brand new pair of cleats.Trust me, you have no idea how cool it will be.He’ll take you to the sporting goods store, walk you back to the shoe department, find a salesperson and then say to that guy, “Can you bring us the very best cleats that you have?”Your mouth will drop when you hear those words. You’ll think you might be dreaming. But it’s going to be real, Alex.And get this: The cleats that salesman comes back with are going to be $320.When you see the price tag, you’re not going to know what to do. You’ll be thinking about all the things your dad could’ve bought for himself with that money—some new pairs of jeans, or replacement tires, or his own pair of top-of-the-line shoes. So you’ll kind of freeze there for a second.”Well, what are you waiting for, try them on,” he’ll say. “What do you think?”You’ll love them, of course. But …

“Dad, they’re sooooooo much money.”He’ll look you in the eye, and smile, and then say, “Let’s get ’em!”And at that moment, if it wasn’t clear already, you’ll realize just how much your parents are investing in you. Honestly, those cleats won’t look much different than a $100 pair—which, of course, would’ve been fine. And that’s the thing. That’s what will make it so amazing. The ones he buys you will have nicer leather than all the others, but the average person wouldn’t know they were special.

You and Dad, though, the two of you will know.He wanted you to have the best. And that will mean the world to you. When you wear them, do everything you can to make your parents proud, Alex. They’ll be proud of you anyway, no matter how well you do, but you know what I mean. Show them how much you appreciate their support, because you’re going to continue to rely on them as you get older.Things aren’t always going to go your way.For a while there after you get the fancy cleats, it will seem like you can do no wrong. You’ll continue to improve for the next few years, but heading into your senior year of high school—very soon after you get called up to the Olympic development program for Southern California and commit to play at Cal — you’ll tear your ACL.It will be your first major injury, and you’re going to be devastated, Alex.But your parents will pull you through. Right after the injury happens, they will mobilize on your behalf. They’ll call around and find you one of the best knee doctors in the entire world to perform your surgery. Then, for the next five months, they will help you in every way possible as you rehab the knee.They’ll leave work to take you to physical therapy, then go back to work, then come back and get you, then take you over to soccer practice—and, yeah, you’ll still show up to every practice, even when you can’t play.Initially, Mom will take several days off work so she can take care of you and help you with your exercises.This will be a running theme throughout your life, Alex. Both Mom and Dad will use up all their vacation days to be with you or to watch you play soccer. Every year, when December rolls around, there will be no vacation days left for them to take an actual vacation.But you know what, that will be O.K. with them, honestly, because they’ll see how skilled you become as you get older. They’ll take so much pride in your accomplishments, and they’ll be there for you, in the stands, as you experience your finest moments on the pitch. When you score your biggest goals and turn around, you’ll always see family members … jumping up and down, going nuts, showing you love.

That’s special. Don’t ever take that for granted.

When you score that huge goal in 2010 against Italy in the 94th minute to help ensure that the U.S. would advance to the World Cup, it will be a moment you always remember—the first time you are a real difference maker for the national team. That will be the point in time when you know for certain that you belong among the best players in the country. And, of course, Dad will be there, in Padova, more than 6,100 miles from where he lives because … of course he will. He’s going to be at every game you play, Alex, no matter where it’s being played.

You still aren’t going to be a starter on the national team at that point. But almost two years later, in Manchester, England, you’ll make it clear to the entire world that you’ve earned your starting spot with the team, and that you’re among the best soccer players on the planet. At the London Olympics, you’ll score the biggest goal of your life to send the American team on to the gold medal match. That goal will come in the 123rd minute, Alex.Wow.And, you’ll be happy to know that your whole family is going to be there to celebrate with you.Plus, get this: You’ll win the gold three days later.Alex, take my word for it, this sporting life you’re about to embark on is going to be incredible. In addition to the gold medal, there will be a World Cup championship in your future. And as a professional, you’ll play before passionate fans in Rochester, Seattle, Portland, and Orlando.All along the way, your family will be there for you. Know that you can rely on them. I realize you’re only seven right now, but look closely, Alex. Things are already moving in a wonderful direction. Sure, Mom’s working a ton, and Dad doesn’t yet know how the game of soccer works.But just you wait.They’re about to become the best soccer parents a girl could have. And all that you will achieve, you will owe to them.

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