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.
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
2:45 pm ESPN2 Bayern Munich vs Athletico Madrid
2:45 pm Fox Sport2 Barcelona vs Borussia M’gladbach
Weds, Dec 7
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
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
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
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
El Classico subdued but still important
Argentina/Brazil 1 & 2 in the World US down to #28 lowest in 12 years
Juve -Alves and Bonucchi hurt as they lose
League Meetings Start – Are the Cosmos/League folding? ESPNFC
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
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
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
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.
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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