2/23/17  – Indy 11 face Butler Fri Eve, Ranieri out as Leicester City L, Champs League Record Setting Scoring, MLS Start

Ok so its official now – with Cladio Ranieri getting the sack at Leicester City on Thursday – the dream season where the magical team that could – the team with the least money in the EPL who won the 2016 EPL Title is officially over.  Those who follow the game know that City is struggling this year just above the relegation zone – just 1 season after winning the title.  Heck they had not scored this calendar year despite returning almost the entire squad from last year’s magical season.  They are still alive in Champions League and the 2-1 loss on Wednesday leaves room for them to still advance to the Elite 8.  Hard to believe the same guy that worked miracles last season with a roster that won the EPL could be fired just 9 months after such a remarkable feat.  But that’s football in the EPL I guess.  It sounds like he lost the locker room which is sad – not many on that squad are really great players – and Ranieri is responsible for making many of them a lot of money. For me I will watch – but I will no longer be rooting for Leicester – ah the sad state of Soccer in Europe making what Leicester did last year even more amazing.

Wow – there were some fantastic Champions League games this week with the highest 1st leg games ever – an amazing 8 goals scored with Man City 5 vs Monaco 3 and 6 with Atletico 4 vs Leverkusen 2.   Looking forward to the return games March 7/ 8 and March 14/15.

Hard to believe but the Indy 11 and MLS seasons are right around the corner.  In fact MLS kicks off next Friday night with Portland hosting new club Minnesota United at 9:30 pm on Fox Sports 1, while the other new team Atlanta United will host NY Red Bulls on Sunday on FS1 at 7:30 right after Orlando City opens its new stadium with NY City FC on ESPN at 5 pm.  Meanwhile the INDY 11 will play a preseason match vs Butler this Friday at 5 pm at the Butler bowl.

This weekend in we get Atletico hosting Barcelona on Sunday @ 10:15 pm on beIN Sport, while Tottenham host Stoke Sun at 8:30 am NBCSN, and Leicester and their new manager host Liverpool Mon at 3 pm on NBCSN.

EPL

Leicester right to sack Ranieri – Mark Odgen

Ranieri pays price for sticking with his players

Social Media response to the Sacking

Timeline on Ranieri

How did Leicester go from Fairy Tale Champs to Relegation Zone?

Rooney I am staying here

Rooney to China?

Is Arsene Finally Going to be Out at Arsenal?  – Jon Wilson SI

Man U comes from Behind to beat Blackburn on Ibra goal

Mark Clattenburg to Ref for Premier Games before heading to Saudi for more $

Have to Love FA Cup football as Arsenal readied to play 5th Division side Sutton United on Monday –  ps they won 2-0.

 

Champions League

Power Rankings – Shaka Hislop

Highest Scoring Champ League 1st Ties Ever

Vardy’s Strike Gives Leicester City a Lifeline in 2-1 loss to Sevilla

GK Schmeichel Keeps Leicister afloat

Man City vs Monaco was Flawed but perfect – Marcotti ESPNFC

MArcotti’s Musings

Atletico pastes Leverkusen 4-2 on the road

Juve use sendoff to help in 2-0 win at Porto in the battle of Legendary Keepers

Renaldo pulls off sick move in Champions League Game

Keeper Love – 2 of the top goalies of all time played Wed Buffon vs Cassillas

Ikar Cassillas Interview

Vote Goal of the Week

 

MLS + Indy 11

Real Madrid Might Face MLS AllStars in Chicago Aug 2

Full  Rosters MLS teams

Predicting Starting Rosters for Starts on March 4

Jonathan Spector a good Fit at Orlando City

Critiquing New Jerseys in MLS

Standout Transactions this offseason and nice discussion on MLS

Coach Hank Breaks Down the Roster so Far

Indy 11 to Face Butler at Butler Bowl Friday night, 5 pm

 

US

US soccer Players Re-Wind – Christian Pulisic almost scores UCL Goal

Dempsey is Cleared to Return to Club Soccer

US Carli Lloyd joins Man City Ladies

Former US Right Back Steve Cherundolo the Mayor of Hanover – coaching for his club still in Germany

What to Know US U20 Qualifying for World Cup this week

US U20s lose 1-0 to Panama despite being up a player for 60 minutes

Pulisic dad returns to states to coach in USL

 GOALKEEPERS

Ikar Cassillas Interview

GAMES ON TV  

Thurs,  Feb 23

12:30 pm Foxsport2 AS Roma vs Villarreal

2:55 pm FoxSport2    Tottenham vs Gent

Fri, Feb 24

5:30 pm Facebook     USA vs St. Kitts and Nevis

Sat,  Feb 25

9:30 am Fox Sport2   Bayern Munich vs Hamburger (US Bobby Woods)

10 am   NBCSN             Chelsea vs Swansea

Sun,  Feb 26

8:30 am   NBCSN         Tottenham vs Stoke City (US player)

9:30 am Fox Sport2   Ingolstad vs Borussia Mgladbach  (US Johnson)

10:15 am beIn Sport? Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona

Mon, Feb 27

3 pm NBCSN                   Leciester City vs Liverpool

Weds, Mar 1  – She Believes Cup

4 pm ??                             France vs England Women

7 pm Fox Sports 1      US Women vs Germany

Sat, Mar 4  – She Believes Cup

4 pm ??                             France vs Germany Women

5 pm Fox                      US Women vs England

Tues Mar 7 – She Believes Cup

7 pm  Fox Sports1      US Women vs France

Highest-scoring Champions League first leg ties ever – ESPN Stats & Info

Manchester City and AS Monaco combined for eight goals during the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie — and they weren’t the only clubs with a potent attack.The 34 goals scored in the first leg ties were the most in Champions League history, surpassing the 26 scored in 2013-14, according to ESPN Stats & Info.City won 5-3 at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday, highlighted by a frantic second half in which the two teams alternated claiming the leaBayern Munich scored five goals against Arsenal on Feb. 15, Paris Saint-Germain scored four times in a shutout of Barcelona on Feb. 14 and Atletico Madrid won 4-2 at Bayer Leverkusen.Four players — City’s Sergio Aguero, Monaco’s Radamel Falcao, Bayern’s Thiago Alcantara and PSG’s Angel Di Maria — all contributed a brace for their sides.That doesn’t compare to 2014, when three players scored a brace in the same game. Real Madrid won 6-1 away at Schalke in the first leg, with Cristiano RonaldoKarim Benzema and Gareth Bale all spurring their club to victory.Madrid, who eventually won the Champions League that year, advanced past Schalke on 9-2 aggregate. City and Monaco need to combine for just three goals in the second leg to match that output — and if the first leg is any indication, it seems entirely possible it could happen.

The players have failed Leicester this season but Ranieri has paid the price –

Ian Macintosh- ESPNFC  – Former Newcastle United chairman Freddy Shepherd once said that sacking Sir Bobby Robson in 2004 was like “shooting Bambi.” He had it easy.Leicester City’s decision to sack Claudio Ranieri is like shooting Bambi, if Bambi had just won you the GDP of a medium-sized European nation on the lottery and had the winning ticket held gently in his mouth, a sparkle in his eye and an impish grin on his face. This is the most controversial, most cold-blooded, most ruthless decision taken by a football club in recent years.And yet it’s the right decision.With Ranieri in charge, Leicester were going down. They have been wretched this season, profoundly awful in every way, and there has been nothing to suggest that their form would change. Don’t let Leicester’s improved second-half performance against Sevilla fool you. In fact, let it guide you. Leicester started the season badly and have been increasingly dreadful as the season progressed. And yet oddly, they remain competitive in Europe. Almost as if the players are raising their game for the big occasions, but lowering their standards for the day-to-day grind. Imagine.The noble course of action would have been to do nothing. If decisions in football were determined by honour alone, everyone concerned would conclude that Ranieri’s achievements last season were so spectacular, so earth-shattering, that he above all others had earned the right to oversee Leicester’s relegation. Faith in him should have been constant and unwavering until the very moment that their demotion was confirmed. He deserved nothing less.But this is football. Modern football, so cruel and calculating. And this is relegation in 2017. This is not Manchester United being relegated in 1974, when the blow was merely an embarrassing setback not even considered worthy of removing the manager. Relegation in 2017 means that your snout is hauled roughly out of the cash trough. It means that your players will leave. It means that the ones who stay will lose interest. It means sweeping redundancies behind the scenes. And while it’s easy enough to say that you’ll rebuild and return, it’s much, much harder to do.Look at Aston Villa, former European Cup winners, now spiralling toward the third flight with five points from a possible 30 since Boxing Day. Look at Nottingham Forest, look at Leeds United, look at Blackburn Rovers. Look at the devastation caused by the gulf in revenue between the Premier League and the Championship. Relegation from the Premier League is a catastrophe to be avoided at all costs. No matter who you have to sacrifice. No one can be bigger than the club.It is abundantly clear, regardless of what has been said publicly, that the bond between Ranieri and the players has perished since their triumph. They are simply not playing for him. Their title success last season was the product of many factors, but most of all, it was a product of a good, regular XI playing at their absolute peak, giving all that they had to give, refusing to buckle under pressure, on the pitch or off the pitch. No one could say that those players have come even close to replicating those performances of late. Right up until the moment on Wednesday night when it seemed that they would be humiliated by Sevilla in front of everyone. Then they deigned to care.Rumours that the dressing room was lost some time ago are legion in Leicester. Performances in 2017, and remember that they haven’t so much as scored a single Premier League goal since the turn of the year, certainly support those claims. It would not be the first time that a successful manager has swiftly lost his players. Jose Mourinho was rumoured to be nowhere near as popular in the Chelsea dressing room as was made out towards the end of his first spell at the club, and indeed toward the end of his second. Footballers can be selfish. Footballers do not always enjoy sharing their praise with their superiors.Ranieri did not deserve this. He has made mistakes this season, certainly. He has been too loyal to some, too untrusting of others and his frequent tactical changes failed utterly to reverse the team’s fortunes. But he did not deserve this. There were those who, as he lifted the trophy on that unforgettable day in May, hoped that he might recognise that no one could ever exceed such a moment, and that he might retire and walk away at the very pinnacle of his career. It’s too late for such a dignified exit now.It is some compensation that his place in history, both for Leicester and for the English game, is secure forever. He was not the first to lead an unfancied provincial club to the title, but given the huge inequalities in the game, he may be the last. He is, and always will be, a genuine legend.As for the players, they have no such consolation. Do or die, they are damned regardless. If they go down, with ample time to save themselves, then they will not be able to blame Ranieri for their shortcomings. If they improve and stay up, as you very much suspect they might now, then searing questions will be asked about their sudden rediscovery of competence.This is a sorry episode in the season, a glaring moment of sobriety after the giddiness of that incredible night in May. But if Leicester were to have any chance of staying in the top flight, this is what had to happen.Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.

Leicester right to sack Claudio Ranieri

There was an ominous change of mood at Leicester City before a ball had even been kicked this season, after their remarkable Premier League triumph during the 2015-16 campaign.Two days before the champions faced FA Cup winners Manchester United in the Community Shield at Wembley, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri held a press conference at the club’s Belvoir Drive training ground. At it, he complained about the attitude of his players during the preseason and the delivery of 19 Azure Blue sports cars, given as presents by club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha to the squad for winning the title three months earlier.”There are some gifts, only for them?” Ranieri said. “Let me think about the match, not the cars. It’s not important to me to think about cars.”The Italian was irritated by the gesture, believing that his attempts to focus his players on the challenge ahead, rather than backward toward the prolonged celebrations of the summer, had been compromised by his employers.Last summer, at Leicester’s Los Angeles training base, Ranieri first noted the altered mindset of his players. They had been happy to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Santa Monica and photo shoots with actor Will Ferrell, but on the pitch, they were hammered 4-0 by Paris Saint-Germain, and Ranieri was alarmed.”I want more than the maximum; that’s why I was not happy in Los Angeles,” he said. “I did not see the same mentality together. Everybody worked hard, but not as a team, and that is the difference.”Unfortunately for Ranieri, though he saw the danger signs, he was unable to prevent the team’s fall from grace and his fears of complacency back in August went unheeded. The players took their eye off the ball, wallowed in their achievement, and could not rediscover the magic.As a result, after being told on Feb. 7 that he had the “unwavering support” of the ownership, Ranieri was sacked Thursday, less than 24 hours after Jamie Vardy’s first goal of 2017 in a 2-1 first-leg away defeat against Sevilla gave Leicester genuine hope of progression to the Champions League quarterfinals.They may still get there, but they will have to do so without Ranieri.But while the European dream remains, Leicester hover just one point above the Premier League relegation zone, and survival is the priority. The club’s owners believe the team has a better chance of achieving that with somebody else in charge of the team.That could be Roberto Mancini, Alan Pardew or even Nigel Pearson, the architect of Leicester’s “great escape” two years ago and the man who made way for Ranieri in the summer of 2015.If no appointment has been made by Monday, assistant manager Craig Shakespeare and first-team coach Mike Stowell will be in charge when Leicester host Liverpool at the King Power Stadium, by which time they could find themselves in the bottom three.Hull and Swansea have dragged themselves from seemingly doomed positions after changing managers since the turn of the year, and now Leicester must hope for a similar change of fortune. If they are to do that, they will need more from the men on the pitch as well as a new manager.Of Ranieri’s title winners, perhaps only goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel could claim to have performed anywhere close to his best this season.Losing N’Golo Kante to Chelsea before this season was a hammer blow, but were Leicester really about just one man last season?  Vardy has scored just seven goals this season, and none in the league since early December, while Riyad Mahrez has gone from the heights of being crowned PFA Player of the Year to performing like the misfit who once struggled during a trial with Scottish outfit St Mirren.Wes Morgan and Robert Huth have seen their rock-solid central defensive partnership crumble on a weekly basis, and Danny Drinkwater has reverted to being the journeyman he had become before last season’s heroics alongside Kante.Ranieri was let down by the players he guided to the title; he attempted to fire them up again after last season, but nobody was listening. But that is also a failing of the manager: If his message is not getting through, he needs to be smart enough to change it, and Ranieri was unable to do so.And although sacking him appears brutal and lacking in any kind of recognition of what he achieved last season, this is the right decision. Ranieri had time and public backing to turn it around, but with relegation beginning to loom large, Leicester could not gamble any longer on loyalty.Not all fairy tales can have happy endings, and Ranieri has discovered that the hard way. But the time in Los Angeles suggested he knew what was coming anyway.Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him 

U.S. Soccer’s Carli Lloyd seals Manchester City move

By Jonathan Smith | Feb 15, 2017

FIFA World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd has joined Manchester City on a short-term contract.U.S. national team captain Lloyd will play for the current FA Women’s Super League champions in the 2017 Spring Series, FA Women’s Cup and UEFA Women’s Champions League.The 34-year-old could stay with City until June 1 if they reach the Champions League final before returning to the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States.The signing is a major coup for City, who remained unbeaten last season as they won their first Super League title as well as the FA Women’s Cup. They also reached the Champions League quarterfinals, where they will play Danish side Fortuna Hjorring in March, and Lloyd is eligible for both legs.”I’m incredibly excited to be joining Manchester City — a club, which is leading the development of women’s football both on and off the pitch,” Lloyd said.”Having played in the U.S. throughout my career, the chance to fulfil a long-held ambition to test myself in a new footballing environment, as well as playing in the Champions League, is something I am relishing.”With the challenge of the Spring Series and the FA Women’s Cup ahead of us too, I really can’t wait to pull on my City shirt in front of our fans and make them proud.”The signing of the two-time FIFA Player of the Year is a major statement from City, who have invested heavily in their women’s team.Lloyd, who scored a hat trick for United States in the 2015 World Cup final, will train at City’s £200 million ($248m) state-of-the-art Etihad Campus, where Pep Guardiola coaches the men’s first team.City women’s head coach Nick Cushing said: “We are a successful team but a young team too, having only entered the Women’s Super League three years ago, so adding players to our squad with substantial experience is crucial to our development.”Carli has had an incredible career and is recognised as one of the best in the world. There is much we can learn from her that will help us to improve as a team. We are all looking forward to working with her over the coming months.”Lloyd, who has scored 96 goals in 232 appearances for United States, joined Houston Dash after the 2014 season and is expected to return to the Texas club.As well as European competition, she will play for City in the Spring Series — a one-off competition created to bridge the gap between seasons — as the FAWSL moves from being a summer league to the traditional football calendar.Two other U.S. internationals, Crystal Dunn and Heather O’Reilly, have also moved to England, with Chelsea and Arsenal, respectively.

#HANKSPEAK – Indy 11 PRESEASON BY POSITION

Coach Hankinson breaks down the roster fit for 2017 so far

Feb 14, 2017

The “Boys in Blue” hit the field on Wednesday for the first time in 2017 with mostly familiar faces leading the line at Grand Park. Head coach Tim Hankinson touched on trialists and new additions in yesterday’s hit on the guys being back in town; today he spoke with IndyEleven.com about how the roster is shaping up as a whole, his tactical approach to the 2017 season, and how he feels this year’s squad may be Indy’s most balanced yet.

Goalkeepers

Starting with the ‘keepers, Hankinson only saw Plan A as the option – keep Jon Busch and Keith Cardona and let their work from the 2016 season continue. By exercising their options, he got exactly what he wanted.

“Jon has hinted after the season at possible retirement, but I’m not buying it yet (laughs). But, he’s prepared himself again physically to have a great year. He and Keith were great work partners last year, and part of Jon’s responsibility other than preparing himself for games is to grow Keith’s readiness,” Hankinson said.

“Buschy” manned the net most weeks in 2016 while Cardona continued to develop, with the latter seeing minutes towards the tail end of the year to gain some valuable reps. Now their work continues, but with the caveat that Cardona will step into a more advanced role.

“For Keith, it’s the biggest year of his career. He’s got to develop the performance that makes us unquestionably look at him as the future,” continued Hankinson. “For him, the future comes now. If Jon does retire, he’ll want to be considered the man that Jon has been for us, and he may be the next man. It may be a bigger year for Keith than any other player on the team.”

Defenders

In front of those two is a solid defensive core that includes returning players Lovel Palmer, Nemanja Vukovic, Colin Falvey, Marco Franco, and newcomer Kwame Watson-Siriboe. Like with last year’s signings, Hankinson stressed leadership and ability to work within the system that he built – one that was successful throughout the whole of last year.

“It brings back the ‘know-how.’ They have confidence in each other, they know what Jon [Busch] wants from them and are confident in that, and they’re confident in our defensive concept as a whole,” said Hankinson. “Getting a new defender to step in amongst three experienced ones makes that transition easier. Even our younger players that are developing are there as well and out to prove that they can do a job.”

One of thse “younger players” will be the 13th returning member from last season’s squad … whose official return is set to be announced on Wednesday.

Midfielders

With the addition of Ben Speas into an already active midfield, the group of Brad Ring, Gerardo Torrado, Don Smart, and Sinisa Ubiparipovic will no doubt be fighting for time, and that’s before any newer additions or returning players are announced (again, this could include another official addition as early as Wednesday).Hankinson likes the prospect of a selection headache, though, saying that “great competition” is in order ahead of the season opener on March 25 in San Francisco.

“Clearly, either Brad [Ring] or Gerardo [Torrado] can hold down the midfield in that No.6 role, and sometimes it’s even effective to use them together when we’re trying to solidify our presence in that part of the park,” explained the 2016 NASL Coach of the Year. “Having players that are as strong defensively as Brad and ‘G’, it gives us the luxury to be able to play a guy like Sinisa [Ubiparipovic] as a playmaker.”

About the ‘new guy’ Speas, Hankinson appreciates the versatility the ex-Minnesota United FC performer – and more newcomers – will bring to the collective.

“In looking at new players like Ben Speas, who we have penciled in as an outside midfielder, he can also play as an attacking midfielder at the top of the diamond, and we’re hoping to bring one or two more guys in that are equally as versatile.”

Forwards

Up top, the balance in scoring once again falls between the partnership of the clinical Eamon Zayed and his workhorse of a partner, Justin Braun. The former quickly smashed club records for the most goals on both a season and career basis with 15 regular season tallies, thanks in part to notching the first two hat tricks in NASL play by an Indy performer. Meanwhile, Braun’s eight goals and five assists solidified him as another big threat, placing him in the NASL’s top 10 in both categories. After cueing smoke from the Brickyard Battalion stand at a prodigious rate in 2016, Hankinson is hoping for even more from the dangerous duo.

“I’m expecting even more production out of our front two than last year, but only because they already have that understanding, that partnership, that I touched on earlier. I remember many practices early on last year where we had to stop the entire practice because those two did not yet grasp the other’s tendencies – we won’t have that this year,” said Hankinson. “Those things are understood now. What were misunderstandings then have transitioned to fluency now. As the season went on last year with so many minutes and games under their belt, they depended on each other to be successful. That’s where we get to start. The production should be seen early and often.”

With most of the pieces in place for the 2017 season, the almost coaching veteran is now hoping that his decisions pay off.

“I think we may be even more attacking this year. When we started last spring, for example, you generally don’t attack as well when you don’t possess the ball. But, we weren’t a good possession team,” said Hankinson.

“Now I think we have players, and confidence, and knowledge of how to work together, that should get us off to a quicker start and create more opportunities from the get-go. As I said, the competition for playing time and a starting spot will take senior players who assume they will return to their starting role and drive them to new heights. It will be a battle.”

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2/20/17 Champ League Tues/Wed, Indy 11 Preseason game at Butler Fri 5 pm, US

So disappointing to see US youngster Pulisic sit the pine for 80 minutes – in the 1-0 loss for Dortmund @ Benefica.  I thought Dortmunds mistake was not putting in the American earlier – after blowing chance after chance in a game where they outshot the home team 6-1 it was Pulisic who added new life to Dortmund with his lightening quick runs.  He had a few good runs that could have led to assists and 2 blistering shots from the top of the 18 on corners.  His first deflected and would have scored if not for the lucky reaction save by the Benefica keeper.  Ten minutes earlier on the sub and perhaps Pulisic finds an assist in the game – he was that good in his 14 minutes on the pitch.  Maybe next game they will offer him the start?  Great games this week – as Bayern Leverkusen and Mexican star Chichirito face Atletico Madrid Tues and Man City hosts Monaco.  Let me know if anyone wants to meet to watch the games somewhere for a late lunch!   The Indy 11 start preseason at Butler on Friday night at 5 pm.

Champions League

Chicarito Great since the Break for Leverkusen

Oblak can Return in Net for Atletico

Can Leicester Find a Way to Get a Result Despite Recent Dropoff

Renaldo pulls off sick move in Champions League Game

GAMES ON TV  

Sat, Feb 18

9:30 am Fox Sport2   HerthaBSC (US John Brooks) vs Bayern Munich

10 am Fox Sport 1      Huddersfield vs Man City – FA Cup

12:30 pm FS1                Wolverhampton vs Chelseas – FA Cup

Sun, Feb 19

9 am Fox Sport 1         Fulham vs Tottenham FA Cup

9:30 am FS2                    Borussia M’Gladbach (US Johnson) vs Red Bull Leipzig

11:30 FS1                         Blackburn vs Man United FA Cup

Tues,  Feb 21 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Bayer Levekusen vs Atletico Madrid

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Manchester City vs Monaco

Weds,  Feb 22

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Sevilla vs Leicester City

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Porto vs Juventus

Weds, Mar 1  – She Believes Cup

4 pm ??                             France vs England Women

7 pm Fox Sports 1      US Women vs Germany

Sat, Mar 4  – She Believes Cup

4 pm ??                             France vs Germany Women

5 pm Fox                      US Women vs England

Indy 11 and MLS

Nice story in SI about Indy 11 MLS Expansion Chances. Brian Straus

US Soccer

Bob Bradley I am an American Coach – Players Tribune

Predicting the Starting 11 in Qualifiers for US – MLS.com Doyle

Champions League

Bayern Brilliant at Home in 5-1 blowout of Arsenal

How it Happened at Bayern

Hope for Barca and Gunners – Great 2nd leg comebacks?

Madrid Scorers Show up for 3-1 win at Home vs Napoli

Barcelona undone by PSG Pressing Upfield

PSG Show their worth vs Barca

PSG Blow out Barca 4-0

Benifica slip by Dortmund 1-0 at home

Player Ratings for Dortmund in loss

MLS expansion city profile: Indianapolis

BRIAN STRAUS  Friday February 10th, 2017

Market Analysis

It may very well be the most underrated sports city in the country. Indianapolis has only two major league teams. That’s not a lot. But the public and political commitment made to the Colts and Pacers is notable, as is the region’s connection to the sports world beyond the “big four.”It begins, of course, with the iconic Indy 500, which consumes the city each Memorial Day weekend. It’s the planet’s largest one-day sporting event. There’s the Brickyard 400 as well. It’s not nearly as old as its open-wheel counterpart, but it remains a highlight of the NASCAR calendar and one of the circuit’s richest races. Back in the city, the Indianapolis Indians are minor league baseball’s second-oldest team—they first took the field in 1902—and last season they attracted the second-highest average attendance below MLB. The Indiana Fever have won a WNBA title and draw crowds that exceed the league average. And Wayne Gretzky began his pro career with the old Indianapolis Racers.Indianapolis is the site of the NCAA and the NFHS, which governs sports at the high school level. Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse is home to several well-known Cinderella basketball stories, from the Bulldogs’ two recent Final Four runs to Milan High’s stunning state title in 1954. The Hickory Huskers won their championship there as well—that one’s much easier to find on film.Super Bowl XLVI, seven men’s and three women’s Final Fours, the Big Ten football championship, the 1987 Pan Am Games, the 2002 FIBA world championship—they all were hosted in Indianapolis.Now the city that calls itself the “Crossroads of America” and its three-year-old NASL club, Indy Eleven, hope to attract MLS. And they’re using that impressive, if under-appreciated, sporting culture as a lure. “No city in the country has made sports a focal point quite like Indianapolis—and no city is better equipped to welcome Major League Soccer,” the Eleven’s bid summary reads.It calls Indianapolis, “A city that has fully embraced the role of sports as a both a driver of growth and the centerpiece of its civic identity across the last four decades.”

That civic identity and commitment will be central to Indy’s bid, since the market itself doesn’t particularly stand out from its MLS expansion competitors on raw numbers. Indianapolis anchors the 34th most populous metro area in the USA. That’s not too small for MLS—San Jose is 35th and Salt Lake City 48th—but it means Indy will have to excel in other areas. As a media market, it’s a more attractive 27th. That’s higher than several expansion rivals.Four Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in the area and multinationals like Honda, Salesforce and Rolls-Royce have significant presences. Forbes named Indianapolis as the country’s 10th best city for young professionals thanks to the area’s job growth and relative low cost of living. Indy Eleven president Jeff Belskus used to be president and CEO at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He knows Circle City sports, and he said top-tier soccer would be a perfect fit.“There is momentum for our stadium. We’ve got good local ownership. Indianapolis is a sports market,” he told SI.com. “[MLS] is so logical for us … [The response to the MLS bid] has been overwhelmingly positive. Folks look forward to having MLS here in Indianapolis and feel like it would be a great addition to this community.”

Ownership Group

Indy Eleven and the MLS bid are led by Ersal Ozdemir, a native of southern Turkey who moved to Indiana to study civil engineering at Purdue. He made his millions as the founder of Keystone, a construction and real estate company now based in Indianapolis. Ozdemir launched the Eleven in 2013 and hired soccer start-up savant Peter Wilt to build the team and front office.Ozdemir is very well connected in Indianapolis. His board memberships include the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the University of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He also co-chaired a host committee ahead of Super Bowl XLVI.Joining Ozdemir in the MLS investor group are National Bank of Indianapolis and Indianapolis Business Journal chairman Mickey Maurer, Heritage Environmental Services president and CEO Jeff Laborsky, Elwood Staffing CEO Mark Elwood and Mohr Auto Group founder Andy Mohr.

Stadium Plan

The plan is to rely on Indy’s love for sports. The city, county and state’s support for athletics is hard to miss on a stroll through Indianapolis’s small but dense downtown. The massive Lucas Oil Stadium isn’t only the “House That Peyton Built.” The $720 million venue opened in 2008 thanks largely to the collection of tourism-related taxes (food, hotels, rental cars, etc.) in the city and surrounding counties. The Colts chipped in $100 million.The Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse opened its doors in 1999 and cost $183 million. It was paid for through similar means, and the Pacers have collected additional millions since then to cover operating and maintenance costs. Marion County’s Capital Improvement Board, which managed the funding of the two major league arenas, also funneled $20 million toward the Indians’ stadium and $53 million toward renovation of Indiana Farmers Coliseum, which hosts the ECHL’s Indiana Fuel and IUPUI basketball.The key to adding a soccer stadium to that portfolio, Belskus said, is the creation by the state legislature of what is called a Professional Sports Development Area (PSDA). Once the PSDA’s boundaries are defined, the city and county can pass bills providing for the collection of taxes within the footprint. Indy Eleven is asking for the creation of a PSDA that would enclose the stadium it hopes to build between the NFL venue and the White River. Belskus said the taxes would be raised through stadium usage—from tickets, concessions and parking to the salaries of those who work there.“If you don’t go to events at the stadium or you don’t work at the stadium, you don’t pay,” Belskus explained.The stadium would be owned by the city and leased back by the club, which also intends to contribute some $10 million toward construction, which Belskus estimates would cost around $120 million. Ozdemir and his partners will foot the entire MLS expansion fee.In 2015, the Eleven’s first attempt to secure stadium funding died in committee. The Indiana State House agreed to funnel user taxes toward a new venue. The senate preferred to spend money to upgrade Carroll Stadium, the Eleven’s current home on the campus of IUPUI. The government was willing to raise $20 million and spend the money, it just couldn’t figure out how to do it. Nevertheless, Belskus said those “yes” votes indicate a genuine interest in soccer. “That’s part of the reason for our confidence and optimism about getting this done. They’ve shown support in the past,” he said.MLS’s expansion standards require the new stadium, so that’s the goal. And the key will be explaining the project to the public.“We’ve been paying attention to social media and down at the State House in terms of the reaction, and reports have been positive and the coverage has been positive by and large,” Belskus said. “The only negative we seem to run into from time to time is, I’ll call it ‘stadium fatigue.’ People don’t necessarily understand the project and they’re afraid we’re asking for tax increases or that we’re trying to take money away from other projects, neither of which is the case. That’s the only negative we run into.”

Soccer and sports scene

Despite the robust sports scene, the Eleven have carved out their niche and been a noteworthy soccer success story over the past three years. They play in a convenient stadium (Carroll is within walking distance of downtown). They’ve got a cool logo featuring the Victory statue from Indy’s imposing Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. And at the start, they had Wilt’s experience and savvy. Combined, that helped attract sell-out crowds eclipsing 10,400 at every NASL game in 2014. That figure included 7,000 season ticket holders. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is a big soccer fan, lives near Carroll and has stopped by on occasion.Indy struggled on the field in ’14 and ’15 and attendance dropped to 8,362 per match last season. Still, over those three years, only Sacramento Republic has brought in more fans among clubs below MLS. The Eleven’s on-field fortunes turned last year, with the club finishing second in the regular season standings before losing the NASL final to the New York Cosmos on penalties.The semifinal victory over FC Edmonton, which drew 9,700, was the biggest soccer game played in Indianapolis in some time. The senior men’s national team has never played in Indiana, and the women visited Indianapolis twice in the late 1990s. In August 2013, nearly 42,000 showed up for a Chelsea-AC Milan friendly at Lucas Oil Stadium. And the city has hosted four neutral-site U.S. Open Cup finals, most recently in 1997.Bloomington, which is home to Indiana University’s juggernaut soccer program, is about 55 miles south of the city. The state boasts a strong youth soccer base, which includes approximately 65,000 registered players. Carmel United SC, which is now part of the Chicago Fire Juniors program, won U.S. Soccer Development Academy titles in 2008 (U-16) and ’09 (U-18).Beyond the soccer field, the Colts play to capacity crowds and the Pacers are averaging 16,704, which is some 1,200 seats below capacity.

MLS Pros

Indy has a strong, established fan base and a good brand. Bringing a proven entity into MLS should be more comforting than starting something from scratch. And an MLS team might provide an obvious regional rival to either the Fire or the Columbus Crew, two clubs which still haven’t managed to stoke much long-term reciprocal hatred. The proposed stadium location is attractive and pretty much the MLS ideal. Indianapolis boasts a growing downtown, and there’s plenty of food, drink, entertainment and recreation available within a short walk of the site.

MLS Cons

The Eleven are relying on politicians. That’s not a comfortable place to be, and the lack of certainty surrounding the project will turn off MLS if the league is ready to name teams No. 25 and 26 before the required votes are cast. That would lower Indy’s odds. MLS loves a public-private partnership, but sometimes those don’t work out. Soccer came close but ultimately failed two years ago, and it’s still a few hurdles away from the finish line now.In addition, Indianapolis doesn’t really represent a hole in the MLS map. The Midwest is crowded with existing teams and expansion hopefuls, and there are several other directions MLS could go. The Eleven have three years of traction. But Detroit has a bigger market and investors with NBA cache. St. Louis has those deep soccer roots, Cincinnati boasts bumper crowds and Nashville has a coolness quotient plus the Ingram family’s billions. Indy is a mid-size market that has work to do if it hopes to stand out from the crowd.

Deputy Commissioner’s Thoughts

SI.com reported that Indy planned to bid for a team on Jan. 30, the day before expansion applications were due. Ozdemir had not gone public with his intentions and as a result, MLS commissioner Don Garber and other officials hadn’t commented on the city’s prospects.MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott conducted a media conference call after applications were submitted and said, “The thing that I think is interesting is … the team there has been successful from its perspective, and they have begun work on a downtown stadium plan. Other than that, I don’t have a lot of specifics to comment on with respect to their plan, but those were two components that obviously we’re aware of.”

Armchair Analyst: Predicting Arena’s USMNT squad for World Cup qualifiers

February 6, 20179:22PM ESTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer MLS.com

LISTEN: Don’t let the Super Bowl get you down. The ETR crew is here to help you forget (unless you’re a Revs fan), starting with USMNT January camp redux and the latest MLS news. Once that’s out of the way, FourFourTwo’s MLS ace Paul Tenorio calls in to explain why it’s possible Chicharito could arrive in MLS this summer — and just how much cash it would take to get the deal done. You won’t want to miss any shows leading up to opening day, so be sure to subscribe on iTunes!

Bruce Arena’s first camp in his return to the helm of the US national team is in the books. We laughed, we cried, we learned a lot and we scored a very little. These are all things that are to be expected as players shake the rust off every winter, and as I wrote elsewhere, I’m much more pleased about The Process™ than I am discouraged by the lack of goalscoring.  Why’s that? Because when the games really matter, Arena will be able to call upon guys like Bobby Wood, Christian Pulisic and Fabian Johnson. Put those guys in a coherent system, and you’ll get results more often than not.  With that in mind, here is the 23-man roster I’d expect to see Arena call for the must-win qualifiers against Honduras and at Panama at the end of March. I’m going to include some bonus call-ups as well, since Arena has hinted he’ll be calling more than 23 players in next month.

GOALKEEPERS

Guzan would have the No. 1 job sewn up if he was playing at all, but he’s not. He’s played 180 minutes since August, and unless Victor Valdes strains a muscle that number’s not likely to budge.  So I have Rimando at No. 1, with Hamid (please get and stay healthy, Bill) edging out guys like Luis RoblesDavid Bingham and Ethan Horvath for the No. 3 job. If he’s not fit, one of the other guys – let’s say Bingham – gets the nod instead.

Bonus: If Tim Howard is close to healthy, he’ll get called into the squad.

LEFT BACKS

  • Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
  • Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna… for now)

Johnson eventually became a very good defensive player, highlighted by his performance this past summer in the Copa America.
Prior to that, when Jurgen Klinsmann was playing Johnson at RB or LB, he’d just cut our primary wing playmaker (Landon Donovan) and wasn’t calling in our creative central mids (Sacha KljestanBenny FeilhaberLee Nguyen). Our pool has now developed a few wide playmakers (Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe & Paul Arriola), and Arena has committed to getting a playmaking central midfielder on the field as well.That means Johnson is less crucial as a wide attacker, and in fact resource allocation suggests he’d be best used as a LB.
Villafaña straight up won the job with a great performance at camp, though he could lose it if he doesn’t find a club that’ll put him on the field.

Bonus: DaMarcus Beasley forever!

RIGHT BACKS

  • DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)
  • Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest)

Yedlin, who’s been called “the best fullback in the Championship,” is a lock to start if healthy. Lichaj, who’s been one of the most consistent fullbacks in the Championship this decade, has plenty of experience playing on either flank and 11 US caps to his name, so there’s no real worry that he’ll be overwhelmed in the moment or suffer from the same type of adjustment pains that have plagued other Euro-based players.

Plus he’s one of the few guys out there who’s equally adept at both right and left back, which is handy when making up gameday 18s. His ability to play either spot could make it very easy for Arena to drop down to three fullbacks, and then add a bit of extra depth elsewhere on the roster.

Let’s get back to Yedlin for a minute. He’s been awesome this year, particularly on the overlap:

We saw against both Serbia and Jamaica that the US can lack both width and penetration if the fullbacks don’t push forward, and Yedlin – with his 1.3 key passes per game – brings both. He also has the kind of electric recovery speed that is necessary when pushing the game, which the US will have to do.Bonus: Graham Zusi will be at this camp as a right back, but I don’t think he’ll appear.

If you’re wondering why Timmy Chandler, who’s starting for a top three team in the Bundesliga isn’t on this list: The US are 9-10-6 all-time when he starts, and 2-3-2 in official competitions. Enough.

Hat tip to the great Paul Carr for those numbers.

CENTER BACKS

  • John Brooks (Hertha Berlin)
  • Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)
  • Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca)
  • Steve Birnbaum(D.C. United)

Brooks had the single worst performance I can ever remember from a US player in that 4-0 loss at Costa Rica, and was the man who lost Rafa Marquez on the Mexican game-winner in Columbus days earlier. I don’t, however, believe that’s the real John Brooks. I believe the real John Brooks is the guy we saw in last summer’s Copa, and the guy who goes 90 minutes every week for Hertha Berlin.There’s concern on that second part in Cameron’s case, as he’s been hurt for nearly four months now. But he’s supposedly on the verge of returning, and if he gets games over the next six weeks then there’s no reason for Arena to go in a different direction.Gonzalez, who is having another strong year in Liga MX, and Birnbaum round out my group of four.

Bonus: I expect at least one, and perhaps all three of Matt BeslerMatt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman to be called in. And it wouldn’t shock me to see Arena officially carry five CBs instead of four, at the expense of one of the FBs.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDERS

Here’s the part where I start splitting hairs. In short: I think it’s important to carry two guys who are specifically, unambiguously defensive midfielders on the roster. Clearly that’s Bradley’s best spot and it’s his job to start, and at this point I think McCarty is the second-best option in the pool.

Bonus: You could talk me into Perry Kitchen or Danny Williams, for sure. But given the roster integration and chemistry issues at play here, I think it’s much more likely we see those guys during the Gold Cup in summer.

CENTER MIDFIELDERS

These guys are all technically “central midfielders,” but I have a suspicion each is more likely to be used out wide by Arena in what I think will be a 4-1-3-2. If Pulisic is on one side of that “3”, then the other can/should be balanced by a more conservative, more defensively robust player who’ll tuck inside to help in possession and in maintaining defensive shape. Jones is suspended for Honduras, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t start vs. Panama. To me it feels like the starting role vs. the Catrachos comes down to the veteran Bedoya, or the relative newcomer in Lletget.

These guys can and do all play the box-to-box role if Arena wants to change from a version of the 4-4-2 to a version of the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3.

Bonus: I bet Kellyn Acosta will be in camp.

PLAYMAKERS

  • Kljestan (RBNY)
  • Feilhaber (Sporting KC)

In an alternate universe this has been the defining positional battle of the decade for the US. Oh well, at least they’re back now!I thought Feilhaber was the better player against Serbia and Jamaica, and it was his creativity that led to the only goal under Arena thus far:

That said, Kljestan was the better player in MLS last year, and he was very good when he got on the field for qualifiers late in the summer. Creating instant chemistry with Bradley and Pulisic – even against relative minnows – is not something to take lightly.Either way, both of these guys should be on the roster, and one of them should be on the field. It’s also important to note that both are about as honest as any No. 10 in the world when it comes to defensive tracking, which should allow Arena to comfortably trot out a 4-1-3-2/4-3-1-2 without worrying about defensive structure and integrity. Nguyen’s lack of the same is why I think he’s on the outside looking in.

Bonus: If Emerson Hyndman keeps getting on the scoreboard for Rangers, I’d be happy to see him called into this camp. But I do think it’s much more likely we see him in the summer.

WINGERS

  • Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
  • Nagbe (Portland Timbers)

Pulisic is the starter, and hopefully this generation’s version of Donovan – an inventive, lightning-quick attacker who can take good moments and turn them into decisive moments.Nagbe is different in that his productivity has only sporadically matched his potential, but he showed well against Serbia in stretching the field, and will get a chance to do so for Portland this year, too. There seems to be real hope that this is the year the switch is finally flipped and he becomes a dominant attacking player.Even if that doesn’t happen, though, Nagbe still brings so much stuff to the table. I could easily talk myself into starting him on one side of the midfield with Pulisic on the other, and tasking Nagbe with staying tight to the central midfielders in order to bolster possession and gum up opposing transition opportunities. He’s done that job for his club before, and it’s literally the first job he ever did for his country when he made his debut against Trinidad & Tobago in November of 2015.That might make one of the three guys listed as central midfielders above expendable, but I’m not even close to sure of that.Bonus: I hate myself for leaving Arriola off this roster, because he’s been so good for Tijuana this year. You could argue he’s been the best two-way wide player in Liga MX, and he’s certainly been productive in his US appearances thus far.

FORWARDS

These guys are pretty clearly the top three in the current forward stable, and Morris does, of course, have a level of comfort playing wide if Arena wants to switch to a 4-2-3-1.Let’s all remember that the best part of 2016 was 1) the chemistry the first-choice center defense showed with Bradley at d-mid, and 2) the chemistry Altidore and Wood showed up top together when pretty much everything behind them was falling apart:

If they’re starting in front of a midfield that has a sensible structure, Pulisic on one of the wings, a true No. 10, and a pair of fullbacks who threaten on the overlap, then I’m pretty confident they’ll figure out a way to put the ball into the net more than once.

Bonus: Gyasi Zardes is pretty clearly in the mix here if he gets healthy. And I want Juan Agudelo to be because his hold-up play is arguably the best in the pool, but he needs to start banging in goals right out of the gate for New England.  There’s also that Clint Dempsey fellow. ESPN’s Taylor Twellman reported last week that Arena swore Dempsey wouldn’t be involved in the March qualifiers, but Deuce has been cleared to play and has now actually taken the field for Seattle in preseason. It’s just 30 minutes and I’m sure it’s a long way back to full fitness, but if he’s kicking the ball in anger for the Sounders come March, I can’t imagine he wouldn’t have a role in a pair of do-or-die games for the US.

And here, for posterity, is my XI vs. Honduras:

Wood/Altidore

Pulisic//Kljestan/Lletgit

Johnson/Brooks/Cameron/Yedlin

Rimando

I Am an American Coach- Bob Bradley

FEB 15 2017

HOTO BY HARRY TRUMP/GETTY IMAGES

BOB BRADLEY   VARIOUS CLUBS / MANAGER

When I was introduced at Swansea City, I was asked what it meant to be the first American manager in the Premier League. My answer was simple and straightforward: I was proud. Very proud. But then I quickly switched gears because I didn’t think any of Swansea’s diehard supporters would care about that angle. A day or so later, a journalist wrote that I was defensive about being American. That was wrong. I just didn’t think it mattered.

Maybe I was wrong about that.The thought of being an American manager rarely crosses my mind. My ideas and philosophies have been shaped by the experiences I’ve had around the world, with players and coaches from all types of backgrounds. A great friend, former Seton Hall coach Manfred Schellscheidt who studied at the German Sport University Cologne, helped me to understand the differences between a pair of German coaching legends, the practical Hennes Weisweiler and the studious Dettmar Cramer. I coached Hristo Stoichkov, a Bulgarian, who had a lot to say about the influence of Johan Cruyff, a Dutchman, at Barcelona. The Frenchman Youri Djorkaeff told me a wonderful story about the time before the 1998 World Cup that Aimé Jacquet pulled both him and Zinedine Zidane aside and told them, “You two must be the sunshine for the French team.” I went to Egypt after the 2011 revolution to manage the national team. Just a few months after I arrived, 74 fans lost their lives in the tragedy in the stadium at Port Said. The next time the national team got together, I looked into the eyes of players who had held dying young men in their arms inside the dressing room. I challenged them to be a united example for their country.But for as much experience as I’ve had with the game all over the world, I am an American first and foremost. When I was a teenager I went to a basketball camp in northern New Jersey where Hubie Brown asked us, “What do you catch a pass with?” There was silence in the gym after somebody immediately said, “Your hands.” And then Coach Brown said, “No, my friend. You catch a pass with your eyes.” A decade later, when I was an assistant to Bruce Arena at Virginia, I became friends with the assistant coach of the women’s basketball team. His name was Geno Auriemma. The three of us would huddle quietly in the soccer office (conveniently located next to the visitors’ locker room in University Hall), where we would listen to greats like Dean Smith, Jim Valvano and Mike Krzyzewski address their teams.

I’ve learned a lot from observing Sacchi, Ferguson and Guardiola. I also learned just as much from watching Pete Carril — the former men’s basketball coach at Princeton, where I was the soccer coach from 1984 to ’95 — teach his players the importance of a good pass. I still learn from the intelligent way Gregg Popovich handles his team and the media.

When I took the UEFA Pro Licence course, which is required to coach in a top league in Europe, I explained to a few of my Norwegian friends that there are no basketball coaching licenses in the U.S. Coaching is a craft. You learn from playing, doing, experimenting, emulating, adjusting. You never stop learning. You learn from your players, from your experiences.

You learn from the game.

Before the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, I wanted our national team players to hear another voice besides my own. A voice of experience. Someone who understood winning. So I had Bill Russell join us for a few days. His wisdom on how to both compete and give to teammates fit perfectly with our work to be a team with a strong mentality. That was ready to fight until the last whistle. I think it helped us win our group, which we did when Landon Donovan scored a stoppage-time winner against Algeria.

When I was done coaching the U.S., I wanted new challenges. I wanted to get better. To prove myself. So I went to Egypt. The dream for all Egyptians was to go to the World Cup.

After the massacre in Port Said in February 2012 the Egyptian Premier League stopped play. Because of that, players went unpaid. There was great uncertainty. The national team was forced to play important home matches in empty stadiums. Nearly every day, I was asked by reporters and colleagues, “Why are you still here?” My answer was always the same: As a leader you have responsibility. You must be an example. You can’t be the first one out the door.  O BY SCOTT NELSON/SI/GETTY IMAGES

The Egypt national team won seven of eight qualifiers but did not make it to the World Cup. It will always be one of my biggest disappointments. More than anything I wanted Mohammed Aboutrika to finish his career playing in the World Cup in Brazil. During my two years in Egypt he was my blood brother. It was an honor to coach him.A few months later, I had the chance to return to club football. This time in Europe. I took over Stabæk in Norway in January 2014.The club was struggling financially and operating on a very small budget. Most of my friends and contemporaries told me to stay away — that there was no way to survive in Norway’s top league and that relegation was a certainty. But this small club had a big heart. It had soul. The first year we battled to finish mid-table. In the second season we competed with Norwegian powerhouse Rosenborg until the final weeks before finishing third and earning a place in Europa League. My players and I were proud of what we accomplished. I felt ready to take on another challenge.

I went to France and took over Le Havre A.C., a member of Ligue 2, in November 2015 — the first time I had joined a team in the middle of a season. The team did well, but the last day of the 2016 season was a roller coaster. A mix of pride and disappointment. We won 5–0 that night, but it wasn’t enough. We finished tied with Metz for third place. The top three teams in Ligue 2 would be promoted to Ligue 1. We had the same points. The same goal differential. The next tiebreaker was goals scored. Every player pushed until the very end, but we fell one goal short.

The night ended with supporters embracing players on the field.

All those experiences led to my opportunity at Swansea. The 2016–17 season had already started at Le Havre, but I got word that Swansea might be interested in making a coaching change. I knew if I went there that I would be entering a tough — maybe impossible — situation. The team had started poorly and the takeover by American owners had angered the club’s supporters. But managing at the top level of English football was the ultimate challenge. I had worked hard to prepare for this opportunity. I had to go for it.  O BY KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/GETTY IMAGES

As the first American manager in the Premier League, I fully understood how hard it was going to be to establish myself. Without the benefit of a preseason, the work to change the team would have to be done gradually. The key in the short run was to take enough points to satisfy critics and restore confidence with the players.When I first arrived I met with a group from the Swansea City Supporters’ Trust. I knew that they were disappointed that they hadn’t been consulted before I was hired. So I spoke candidly to them. I said, “I understand there’s some work to be done, and I understand what this club means to all of you. I’m here to do things in a way that makes the supporters proud of what they see on the field, and to make sure that the connection between the club and its most faithful supporters is strong.”

My first meeting with the players didn’t last long. We needed to get to work. So I gathered them together and said, “I’m looking forward to working with all of you. I don’t arrive with the answers. I have come to listen. To observe. To get to know you. For you to get to know me. To make you a better player and a better person. I have my ideas on how we should do things and what the team should be about, but this is about all of us.”

After 70 days with the club, I had dinner with the owners and the chairman. There was confidence and optimism that night following an important 3–0 win over Sunderland at the Liberty a few days earlier. We had won a respectable eight points from my eight matches in charge and, more importantly, had two wins and a draw in our last four games.

But in the week that followed we lost two away matches. The script was familiar. We’d start well, but concede the first goal. Playing from behind meant taking risks and opening up. Confidence dropped and we were not able to build on our positive results.OMy postgame interview after a 3–0 loss to Middlesbrough only made matters worse. I said that we needed to show more resilience “on the road” (the English prefer the word away), and referred to a penalty kick as a “PK.” People on social media screamed that American sports terms had no place in the Premier League.

By the time we returned home to the Liberty for our next match against West Ham, I knew the pressure was on. But I am battle tested and never doubted myself. As a coach you must understand that the one thing you cannot control is the result. You control the work. You control the message. I have always encouraged my players to play without fear, and the West Ham match was no different. Again we started well, but our failure to clear a free kick saw us go down 1–0. Changes at halftime didn’t change the result. We lost 4–1. By the end the frustration and anger from the supporters was clear.  As always, I was the first one to the training ground the next morning. My routine stayed the same. In the morning, recovery for the starters and on-the-field work for the guys who hadn’t played. In the afternoon, video work and preparation for the next match against Bournemouth. When I arrived home that night I received a message from the chairman: “Would you meet me at the academy?”

When I got that message, I knew exactly what was happening.

As they say in the Premier League, I got the sack. I failed. Failed to put my stamp on the team at Swansea. To give it a real identity. A real personality. I never managed to find the right balance between attack and defense. I couldn’t find the answers for this group to play with the commitment and passion that so many of my other teams possessed. We never found consistency or confidence.

Paul Clement followed me as manager and has done an excellent job. Team shape has improved and the confidence has returned. Yes, Paul benefitted from the transfer window that I never had. But that’s football. It can be a tough business and it’s important to respect good work. Full credit to Paul.

One last word for the supporters. I loved my time at your club. I was committed to making it work. I’m sorry I couldn’t be your manager longer.For 85 days I put my heart and soul into Swansea City. I listened and observed. I watched games over and over. I constantly engaged the players and staff to figure out how we could become a good team. I pushed training and challenged the players to believe. To get better. To understand me and my ideas. I drew on all my experiences, and was never afraid to be myself or to take responsibility. With the players. With the staff. With the media. And with all the people I met in Swansea. It’s the only way I know.To get anywhere in life you must experience failure. I remain proud and strong. I am ready for the next challenge.And yes, I am an American coach.BOB BRADLEYCONTRIBUTOR

Aubameyang, Dortmund forget their finishing boots at Benfica

Wasteful Borussia Dortmund suffered a highly undeserved 1-0 loss at the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday night, after being the highly dominant team over 90 minutes.

Positives

There are very few teams that take the game to Benfica like Dortmund did on Tuesday night. After an atrocious performance in their 2-1 shock defeat away to bottom Darmstadt on the weekend, the Black and Yellows were in need of a good performance. Although the result didn’t show it, the BVB players in unison told reporters after the game, that they will progress to the next round with the same performance at the Westfalenstadion.

 

Negatives

There is no way past looking at the spurned chances. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fluffed a hat trick of clear cut chances — including a weakly taken penalty. BVB have only themselves to blame for coming home empty-handed.

Manager rating out of 10

7 — Thomas Tuchel’s team were the dominant side and looked better prepared than the hosts but were just unable to finish off their chances.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Roman Burki, 6 — Not much to do for the goalkeeper, who was unlucky the ball bounced perfectly for Kostas Mitroglou.

 

DF Erik Durm, 5 — A solid showing by the right-back, who is often times doing the dirty work so his teammates can shine.

 

DF Lukasz Piszczek, 5 — Missed his marker when Dortmund conceded the goal in the 48th minute.

 

DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 7 — A resolute performance by the Greek centre-back, who had Benfica’s attackers in his pocket more often than not. With BVB putting pressure on the hosts upfront, Papastathopoulos could win many balls by moving out of his defence.

 

DF Marc Bartra, 8 — “Very good,” Sokratis said about his partner in defence after the match. There is little more to add to describe Bartra’s performance. As the game went on, the Spaniard moved further forward and conducted the play.

 

DF Marcel Schmelzer, 6 — Could have attempted a flat pass behind Benfica’s back line more often from his advanced position as left wing-back.

 

MF Julian Weigl, 8 — Weigl must like trips to Portugal as he is awarded a lot of space, especially compared to the Bundesliga where he is marked out of the game more often than not. Said after the match that he “didn’t mind” the space with a cheeky smile. He was a big reason why Dortmund could impose their dominance.

 

MF Raphael Guerreiro, 6 — Linked up well between Weigl and the attack, but lacked accuracy for a fully glorious performance.

 

MF Ousmane Dembele, 6 — The 19-year-old was BVB’s focal point in the first 20 minutes, as he wreaked havoc in Benfica’s half. With a little more calmness, he could have lobbed Ederson rather than putting the ball straight at the Benfica keeper. Went off the boil in the second half.

FW Marco Reus, 6 — The 27-year-old ran tirelessly for his team tonight, making important runs in Gegenpressing.

 

FW Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 3 –– For all the clear-cut chances he missed — including one of the most unconvincing penalties ever to be taken by a Dortmund player. Arguably a harsh rating, but it was a truly dreadful night for the striker, who has lost his finishing touch since the turn of the year.

Substitutes

FW Andre Schurrle, 3 — With Tuchel getting frustrated with Aubameyang, Schurrle got a run-out in the 62nd minute. However, it wasn’t much of an improvement.

 

MF Christian Pulisic, NR — Introduced in the 82nd minute for Marco Reus, the youngster couldn’t pull off a mazing run through the Benfica backline.  (Ok this sucks – Pulisic had 2 solid shots in 12 minutes of play – had a solid cross that Dortmund couldn’t get a head on and a mazing run through the backline that served a perfect ball across the goal that no one could get a foot on – 15 more minutes might just have lead to an assist for the American –man his deflected shot that he blasted in the 90th minute could have changed his life! – OBC)

 MF Gonzalo Castro, NR — Replaced Raphael Guerreiro with eight minutes left on the clock. Won some balls deep in the opponent’s half, but didn’t find the right solution going forward in the hectic minutes.Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.Sponsored Headlines

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2/14 Champions League Sweet 16 Tues/Wed, Barca vs PSG, Dortmund @ Benfica Tues, Wed Arsenal @ Bayern Munich, Real host Napoli 2:45 on FS1&2

Anyone up for a Champions League late lunch Tues or Wed 2:45 pm of either week let me know at shanebestsoccer@gmail.com.

So Champions League Round of 16 Returns this week on Tues/Wed with 4 matches including huge games featuring PGS hosting Barcelona on Tues 2:45 pm on Fox Sports 1, while Dortmund and US youngster Christian Pulisic face Benefica on the road on FS2 and Arsenal traveling to Bayern Munich Wed at 2:45 again on FS1, while defending champs Real Madrid host Napoli on FS2.

Champions League

Champions League Predictor – ESPNFCTV

Can Real Madrid win back to back Trophies? While All Else have Failed?

Dortmund under pressure vs Benfica

Marcotti – PSG vs Barcelona both coaches on the Line

PSG captain Thiago Silva is out vs Barca

Will the EPL Strike Back in Champions League Knockout Round?

Arsene Wenger faces delicate Situation with Ozil off form for Arsenal heading into Bayern showdown

Xfactor for each team in Champions League Sweet 16

Why each team in Sweet 16 can win -Fox Sports Soccer

10 Best Goals of the Group Stages?

 

The Sweet 16 Records UEFA

Bayern’s Phillip Lahm Set to Retire after season

Biggest comebacks in Champ League History

Paris SG prepare to face Barcelona Again

How Brilliant has Falcao been for Monaco?

Monaco not looking easy for Man City

Napoli thinks they can take Real Madrid

US Christian Pulisic Assists on goal in Dortmund win in German Cup

GAMES ON TV  

Tues,  Feb 14 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Benfica vs Borussian Dortmund

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         PSG vs Barcelona

Weds,  Feb 15

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Bayern Munich vs Arsenal

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Real Madrid vs Napoli

Thurs, Feb 16 – Europa League

1 pm Fox Sport 1        Gent vs Tottenham

3 pm Fox Sport 1        Man United vs Saint Etienne

Fri, Feb 17

2:45 pm beIN Sport  Juventus vs Palermo

 Tues,  Feb 21 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Bayer Levekusen vs Atletico Madrid

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Manchester City vs Monaco

Weds,  Feb 22

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Sevilla vs Leicester City

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Porto vs Juventus

Champions League round-of-16 W2W4: Real’s chances to repeat, Bayern vs. Arsenal (again!), must-watch Monaco

Repeat? Get Real

No club has ever won back-to-back European Cups in the Champions League era. But that doesn’t mean Real Madrid cannot be the first.Things are complicated, however, by a fixture pile-up caused by the FIFA Club World Cup and the postponement of their league game at Celta Vigo last weekend. Plus, after going a record 40 games unbeaten, Real have wobbled since the turn of the year, a little like they did in Carlo Ancelotti’s final season two years ago.Real also go into the round of 16 as a second seed after failing to top their group for the first time in four years. Zinedine Zidane’s side trailed Sporting at the Bernabeu until the 89th minute and in Poland vs. Legia Warsaw until the 85th.There is a suspicion that, even for a club like Real that defines itself by this competition, winning La Liga is slightly more of a priority this season. After all, they’ve been Spanish champions only once in the past nine years.

Gabriel Jesus to galvanise Man City?

Has any other club signed as big a talent ahead of the second half of the season? Julian Draxler at Paris Saint-Germain comes to mind, but that’s it. Sure, it would maybe have been better if Man City had addressed their defence. But Jesus can inspire them.Pep Guardiola has reached the semifinals of the Champions League every year during his coaching career and City themselves reached the last four a year ago. And did they not also beat Barcelona in November with arguably the performance of the group stages?The Champions League is not the Premier League. In Europe you still have to be aggressive and control second balls — something Guardiola admits he has needed time to get to grips with in England — but the emphasis often lies elsewhere.There are other nuances. In the Champions League, Guardiola can perhaps be himself a little more and play the football he would like to play. Not that he has compromised his philosophy these past six months. Monaco will be a big test, though. A trap, even.

Auf wiedersehen, Arsenal?

Not necessarily, for Bayern Munich have their own problems. There has been a dip in intensity under Carlo Ancelotti, although his relaxed approach to high-pressure situations is often held up as the reason why he is the most successful manager of all time, along with Bob Paisley, in this competition.Bayern didn’t allow opponents to breathe under Guardiola. But that has changed. In the group stage, for example, they lost to Rostov. Changes to a more counterattacking style haven’t exactly helped Thomas Muller, while Renato Sanches hasn’t made as big an impact as was hoped, though it is early days.Then there are other personnel issues to consider. CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge criticised Jerome Boateng in November for taking on too much outside of football. Last week, captain Philipp Lahm announced he will retire at the end of the season. The timing of the announcement surprised Bayern rather than the decision itself. Not everyone is on the same page.

Can Mertens make Madrid pay?

In December, on the day Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick for Real Madrid in the Club World Cup final, Napoli’s Dries Mertens went one better and scored four. With 13 goals in his past eight appearances — that’s one every 54 minutes — there isn’t a hotter player in Europe at the moment. The papers in Italy are calling him “Dries Armando MaraMertens.”

Goalkeepers’ union

“For me, you the best!” Ikea Casillas tweeted at Gigi Buffon. “I don’t choose, we are the best!” Buffon replied. The best goalkeepers of their generation meet again when Porto play Juventus and, while Casillas has declined dramatically in comparison with Buffon, who remains as brilliant as ever, his performance against Sporting recently did roll back the years.

24 Jan

Iker Casillas 

 @IkerCasillas

@gianluigibuffon , what do you think? For me, you the best!! https://twitter.com/championsleague/status/823877048947142656 …

 Follow

Gianluigi Buffon 

@gianluigibuffon

@IkerCasillas @ChampionsLeague I don’t choose. We are the best

8:47 AM – 25 Jan 2017

Eye of the Tiger

It looked like Radamel Falcao was finished but El Tigre is back as top scorer for Europe’s top-scoring team. Falcao’s goal-per-game ratio in European competitions is 0.91. To put that into context, of players with more than 30 career goals, it’s higher than Gerd Muller (0.89), Ferenc Puskas (0.88), Lionel Messi (0.82) and Alfredo di Stefano (0.77).

Must-watch Monaco

Monaco have scored 101 goals this season, which is quite the contrast to the defensive team that counterpunched to the quarterfinals the season before last. They haven’t evolved completely, though: This team isn’t top-heavy.Instead, it has great balance between youth and experience, physicality and finesse. Plus, Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Kylian Mbappe and Thomas Lemar are all superstars in the making. Leonardo Jardim can outcoach the best of ’em, too.

The Eagles’ nest

Benfica vs. Borussia Dortmund pits some of the best young stars in Europe against each other. Among them, the full-backs capture the imagination. Nelsinho is on Bayern’s short list to succeed Philipp Lahm and it remains a mystery why Barcelona let Grimaldo go. Meanwhile, Raphael Guerreiro, Portugal’s left-back at Euro 2016, has been reinvented as a midfielder since moving to Dortmund.

The madness of King Jorge

For the first time in four seasons, the Europa League will have a new winner because three-time winners Sevilla are not defending their title. Instead they are moving up a weight, like a prizefighter, and their knockout pedigree is second to none.Jorge Sampaoli’s crew ended Real Madrid’s record-breaking unbeaten run in January and few are giving Leicester a chance. Sevilla’s games are often spectacular — what else would you expect when you sign seven attacking midfielders in two windows — and, while Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino is out, the philosophical spirit of Marcelo Bielsa lives on.

Dortmund must grow up

“Stay young. Stay foolish” would be an appropriate motto for Dortmund right now. Thomas Tuchel’s team is very talented, but very raw. While it is hard to expect consistency from young players, some are taking longer than others to get used to the way things work.

Dortmund can blow teams away; they were the top scorers in the group stage with 21 goals, and Tuchel is one of the smartest coaches out there. But their defence is shaky and their away form miserable. They’ve won just three times on the road all season in the Bundesliga.

Have Barca forgotten how to play?

Well, that was the subject of an article in El Pais last week. Barcelona have frequently looked ordinary this season, which is quite extraordinary given that Luis Enrique has got Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar to call upon.But that’s something of a general theme this season. Real, Barca and Bayern all remain formidable but don’t appear, at least so far, to be the forces they were. Opponents have more reason to believe.

Is this the Old Lady’s year?

When you’ve won five league titles in a row and then sign your rivals’ best players, creating the (false) impression of having killed the competition at home, then greater scrutiny of European performances is guaranteed.Juventus’ midfield isn’t as good as when they reached the final two years ago and they have struggled, relatively, for balance this season. But only Atleti defend as well and Juve are every bit as reliable as they are versatile.Their new “Five Star” formation, with Mario Mandzukic sacrificing himself on the left, has brought back memories of the role Samuel Eto’o played during Inter’s 2010 treble win. Might it be the difference, the final piece of the puzzle? The Old Lady is humble enough to recognise that she will also need Lady Luck on her side.And finally …Never ever rule out Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid.James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.

2/9 Champions League Tues/Wed, Indy 11 Releases Spring Schedule, US beats Jamaica, Liverpool vs Tottenham on Sat 12:30 NBCSN

So Champions League Round of 16 Returns this week on Tues/Wed with 4 matches including huge games featuring PGS hosting Barcelona on Tues 2:45 pm on Fox Sports 1, while Dortmund and US youngster Christian Pulisic face Benefica on the road on FS2 and Arsenal traveling to Bayern Munich Wed at 2:45 again on FS1, while defending champs Real Madrid host Napoli on FS2.  Anyone up for a Champions League late lunch Tues/Wed of either week let me know at shanebestsoccer@gmail.com.

The Indy 11 have released their Spring NASL Schedule with a majority of the roster returning for this season, and the NY Cosmos a shell of their former selves, I suspect Indy will be the team to beat this spring.  Season tix and the ever popular 8-Flex Pack are on sale now as the season kicks off March 25 with the first home game Sat – April 1 vs Puerto Rico at 3 pm.  Nice story in SI about Indy 11 MLS Expansion Chances.

The US Men wrapped up their 2 week Jan camp with a 1-0 win over Jamaica as the MLS players battled to prove to new coach Bruce Arena they belong in the 23 when the US returns in late March for their ever so important next 2 matches vs Honduras and in the Hex.  I thought a few players made good impressions that should lead to their inclusion in the future including Forward Jordan Morris, MF’s Feilhaber, Lletget and Nagbe, and defenders 23 year-old Center back Walker Zimmerman of Dallas FC really looked good along with Villafana on the left.This weekend Liverpool faces a must win match at home vs Tottenhamn on Sat at 12:30 on NBCSN, while Arsenal look to get back on the winning track vs Hull City Sat at 7:30 am.

GAMES ON TV  

Sat, Feb 11

7:30 am NBCSN            Arsenal vs Hull City

9:30 am Fox Sport1   Ingolstad vs Bayern Munich

12:30 pm NBCSN        Liverpool vs Tottenham

12:30 pm FoxSport2                         Schlake 04 vs Hertha BSC + US John Brooks

2:45 pm beIN Sport                          Osasuna vs Real Madrid

Sun, Feb 12

8:30 am NBCSN            Burnley vs Chelsea

11 am NBCSN                Swansea vs Leicester City

2:45 pm beIN Sport  Caglairi  vs Juventus

Mon, Feb 13

3 pm NBCSN                   Bournemouth vs Man City

Tues,  Feb 14 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Benfica vs Borussian Dortmund

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         PSG vs Barcelona

Weds,  Feb 15

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Bayern Munich vs Arsenal

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Real Madrid vs Napoli

Thurs, Feb 16 – Europa League

1 pm Fox Sport 1        Gent vs Tottenham

3 pm Fox Sport 1        Man United vs Saint Etienne

Fri, Feb 17

2:45 pm beIN Sport  Juventus vs Palermo

Sat, Feb 18

9:30 am Fox Sport2   HerthaBSC (US John Brooks) vs Bayern Munich

10 am Fox Sport 1      Huddersfield vs Man City – FA Cup

12:30 pm FS1                Wolverhampton vs Chelseas – FA Cup

Sun, Feb 19

9 am Fox Sport 1         Fulham vs Tottenham FA Cup

9:30 am FS2                    Borussia M’Gladbach (US Johnson) vs Red Bull Leipzig

11:30 FS1                         Blackburn vs Man United FA Cup

Tues,  Feb 21 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Bayer Levekusen vs Atletico Madrid

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Manchester City vs Monaco

Weds,  Feb 22

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Sevilla vs Leicester City

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Porto vs Juventus

Weds, Mar 1  – She Believes Cup

4 pm ??                             France vs England Women

7 pm Fox Sports 1      US Women vs Germany

Sat, Mar 4  – She Believes Cup

4 pm ??                             France vs Germany Women

5 pm Fox                      US Women vs England

Indy 11 + MLS

Reactions to Bidding for an MLS Team

Nice story in SI about Indy 11 MLS Expansion Chances.

Indy 11 Releases the Spring Schedule

Indy 11 Release on Schedule

Bloody Shambles How Indy 11 Gets to MLS – Brandon Cockrum

Bloody Shambles- USSF makes D2 a Shambles with USL and NASL competing

Tickets — Season tix and the ever popular 8-Flex Pack

12 Teams Vying for MLS next 2 Teams  ESPN FC

MLS Talking Points for 2017

USA

US Starters vs Honduras?  ESPN FC?

Bruce Arena Back in Charge – SI – Grant Wahl

Arena won’t Favor Europe Based Players over MLS – it Just depends – ESPNFC = Jeff Carlisle

US Morris Scores in 1-0 Win

Zimmerman and Benny Feilhaber Show Well in Win over Jaimaica  Player Ratings Jason Davis ESPNFC

How Does Bruce Integrate MLS with Europe Based Players –  SI Brian Straus

By the #s  2017 Camp Wrap-up US Soccer

Bobby Wood scores for Hamburg

Grant Wahl – SI – Mail Bag on US

Gulati – US Soccer and USWNT will come to an Equitable Agreement on CBA-  SI

German supports US World Cup Bid for 2026

US U20 Team Announced for WCQuals in Feb.

Champions League

The Sweet 16 Records UEFA

Bayern’s Phillip Lahm Set to Retire after season

Biggest comebacks in Champ League History

Paris SG prepare to face Barcelona Again

How Brilliant has Falcao been for Monaco?

Monaco not looking easy for Man City

Napoli thinks they can take Real Madrid

World /EPL

Power Rankings

Leicester’s Fairy Tale is Turning into a Horror Story  Ian Darke ESPNFC

#INDYMLS – HEAD COACH TIM HANKINSON, M BRAD RING, AND GK JON BUSCH REACT

Part of Indy’s solid returning core comment on Indy Eleven’s MLS Expansion bid

Feb 1, 2017

When Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir delivered the team’s bid to MLS HQ on Tuesday, there was an unparalleled buzz arising in the Circle City. Through the world’s game, Indiana’s team was looking to rise to the highest level of American professional soccer and put a feather in the cap of the nation’s best sports city.Meanwhile, Indy Eleven head coach Tim Hankinson and his team are preparing for the road ahead. The 2017 season promises to be a challenging one as clubs like the Cosmos and Miami FC reload ahead of what will be an exciting postseason push for The Championship Final, and coach Hankinson, midfielder Brad Ring, goalkeeper Jon Busch, and the rest of the “Boys in Blue” are all ready to get to work.With plenty of past experience in Major League Soccer, coach Hankinson sees a clear road ahead for the club, assuring the fans that while the process is long, they are in the right place.”I started with the league in 1996, running the first L.A. Galaxy open tryout. We had that in Pasadena and that day we assessed over 1500 players,” said Hankinson. “You could see the excitement in player of all walks of life and areas of the world wanting to be a part of it.”Since then, Hankinson’s roads have taken him all over the country, and the world, leading the way for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Colorado Rapids in Major League Soccer before continuing his career outside of the United States. If there is one thing he’s sure of now, though, it’s that the league is growing – and will continue to grow – past his expectations.”Being a part of the league in its first nine years, you saw it evolve from its first stages and growing pains. Now 20 years later, you look at the magnitude of the league and marvel at it. It’s recognized worldwide, and that’s why it’s attracting worldwide talent and players.”Jon Busch is no stranger to Major League Soccer, as well. A veteran of over 18 years at America’s highest level, Busch sees similarities between the markets he has played in and the City of Indianapolis.”I think [an MLS club] would be a tremendous addition to the city. As far as the fan base, the Indy Eleven fans – especially the Brickyard Battalion, Slaughterhouse group, and other supporters – are the best fans in the NASL. I think that an MLS club would be a just reward to all of their work from day one as fans.”Additionally, with his entire professional career spent in the American game, the goalkeeper believes that this city and this market have the credentials to take soccer to the top behind the support of both the fans and the front office. However, that won’t distract the team from reaching their potential this year, with the ultimate goal of winning The Championship Final come November.”It’s exciting times for everyone – whether you’re a player, a coach, a fan, or a staff member, etc. There’s a lot that goes into it from placing the bid to getting the franchise, so we aren’t going to get ahead of ourselves as players.We understand the work ahead of us and, for us, it’s business as usual for the upcoming NASL season,” said Busch.”Indianapolis has what it takes, though. I’ve been fortunate that two out of my three MLS clubs have been in the Midwest with Chicago and Columbus. This situation is more towards the Columbus side where you have an extremely passionate fan base dedicated to the team, and the fans stick through no matter what happens. This is one of the most consistent cities I’ve ever seen, and it would be a fantastic place to put a Major League Soccer club.”Another Indy Eleven star who has spent time in the MLS, Brad Ring echoed Busch’s statement with one of his own.”Indy Eleven has been the top team in the NASL since our existence in terms of an exceptional attendance and unmatched atmosphere,” said Ring. “We have a proven and committed fan base as well as a devoted owner. I have no doubt that Indianapolis would improve an already thriving MLS if selected.”Make no mistake, though. Despite all the buzz behind the bid, coach Hankinson & co. are locked in on the top prize this year. For them, it’s the only thing to fight for.”I certainly think that every player aspires to take the next step in their careers and players who perform at the highest level of the NASL might have an opportunity,” said Hankinson. “But Indianapolis is a city of winners, and we want to elevate that profile this season and in seasons to come. It all begins in two weeks with the first day of camp, and we go from there.”

Let the Games Begin! Indy Eleven Learns 2017 NASL Schedule

Regular Season Opens on the Road March 25 at San Francisco Deltas;

Slate of 16 Home Games at IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium Starts April 1 vs. Puerto Rico FC   –  17-Game Season Ticket Package and New 8-Flex Voucher Pack Now Available

INDIANAPOLIS (Monday, February 6, 2017) – In conjunction with the North American Soccer League, Indy Eleven has released its 32-game schedule for the 2017 NASL regular season, to be evenly split between a pair of 16-game Spring and Fall Seasons. Within each season, every club will play the other seven opponents home and away, plus two additional matchups.Indy Eleven will begin the defense of its 2016 NASL Spring Season title on the road Saturday, March 25, by serving as the Inaugural Game opponent for expansion side San Francisco Deltas. Kickoff for the season opener at historic Kezar Stadium in San Francisco is set for 10:00 p.m. ET.A week later on Saturday, April 1, “Indiana’s Team” starts its 16-game home slate at IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium with a 3:00 p.m. kickoff against Puerto Rico FC. Indy Eleven will look to continue its 19-game regular season undefeated streak at “The Mike” dating back to October 2015 when it welcomes the Caribbean Club Championship participant to the Circle City.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017 INDY ELEVEN SCHEDULE

“This year’s roster is full of players that tasted some success and got to the cusp of lifting the Soccer Bowl Trophy last year. The fire that has been burning since last November’s final will be a great motivator to fight our way back and get the job done in 2017, and we’re excited to get things underway,” said Indy Eleven head coach Tim Hankinson, who captured the NASL Coach of the Year award following his debut season with Indy Eleven last year.All but one of Indy Eleven’s 16 home games in 2017 will fall during weekends, the lone exception being the Wednesday, Sept. 13, contest against North Carolina FC. All other games will fall on Saturdays until the regular season finale on Sunday, Oct. 29, against North Carolina FC.The Spring Season Champion and Fall Season Champion will each earn a spot – and semifinal hosting rights – in The Championship, the league’s four-club postseason tournament. The remaining two postseason spots will go to the two clubs that collect the most combined points over the course of the overall 32-game competition (Spring and Fall Seasons).“Over the years, our intense split-season competition has produced the drama and excitement that fans crave,” NASL Interim Commissioner Rishi Sehgal said. “The 2017 season will be no different, and we can’t wait to watch our clubs battle each other week in and week out.”In conjunction with today’s schedule release, Indy Eleven is introducing its new 8-Flex Pack, featuring eight ticket vouchers that can be turned into tickets for any of the team’s 16 regular season games at Carroll Stadium. For more details, visit www.indyeleven.com/flex-pack.Fans looking to catch every game can take advantage of discounts of up to 48% versus single-game pricing and enjoy a plethora of exclusive benefits by securing 2017 Season Tickets, which will include all 16 NASL regular season matches plus a bonus game (U.S. Open Cup, exhibition or playoff). Visit www.CueTheSmoke.com for the full listing of benefits and prices.Fans can stay tuned to www.indyeleven.com/schedule to keep track of updates to the 2017 Indy Eleven calendar and visit www.nasl.com/schedule to see the full schedule for the league’s seventh season of play.

Who should Arena start when the U.S. resumes World Cup qualifying?

Now that the January camp is over for the U.S. men’s national team, attention is firmly focused on the World Cup qualifiers next month, at home versus Honduras on March 24 and in Panama four days later.We asked our writers to name the lineup they would like to see coach Bruce Arena select the next time the national team takes the field (suspended and long-term injured players were not considered).

Jeff Carlisle

With Tim Howard unlikely to be fit, Arena really has no other choice than to go with the experienced Brad Guzan, even if he hasn’t been playing at club level. The back four reprises the group that performed so well at Copa America (if Geoff Cameron can’t go, Steve Birnbaum could slot in). In midfield, Jermaine Jones’ suspension means a start for Sacha Kljestan. The big question is on the right. Gyasi Zardes would provide more speed, but the onus will be on breaking Honduras down, which suits the craftier traits of Darlington Nagbe or Alejandro Bedoya. Clint Dempsey is unlikely to be back, so Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood play up front.

Doug McIntyre

It’s hard to see Howard being ready, but Cameron, who has been out since October with a knee injury, is close to returning for Stoke and should be match-fit by March. Jones’ absence through suspension actually helps Arena select a more balanced lineup; Bradley is the ball winner, with playmaker Kljestan behind the two strikers, while speedsters Christian Pulisic and Gyasi Zardes (whose hard running defensively will be key) are on the wings. That said, it wouldn’t be a shock me to see Bedoya on the right.

Jason Davis

Goals are needed against Honduras, and since Altidore is most effective with a strike partner, Wood is the obvious choice to play alongside. In midfield, there are obvious questions of balance; Kljestan provides better defense (to go with his playmaking) than Benny Feilhaber. Nagbe, thanks to his ability on the ball, gets the call opposite Pulisic. Lack of full-back options means Fabian Johnson plays in defence and Omar Gonzalez fills in for the injured Cameron. The only keeper getting club playing time, Nick Rimando, starts in goal.

Noah Davis

, right now, Altidore and Wood are the best options. Meanwhile, Kljestan is disciplined and covers plenty of ground and should be Bradley’s partner. (Yes, Bradley should start and continue to do so.) Run the attack through Pulisic, who’s shown in limited time that he’s the most creative and dynamic player on the field. Assuming Cameron is fit, he’s a sure starter along with John Brooks. While DaMarcus Beasley is a bit of a stretch at left-back, he knows the position and has the experience of playing in big games.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena won’t favor Europe-based players over MLS talent

U.S. men’s national team manager Bruce Arena indicated that when it comes to building his roster for the March World Cup qualifiers, “it doesn’t matter” whether a player is playing domestically or overseas.Arena just concluded the U.S. team’s annual January camp, one that saw him get a close look at 31 domestic players. But with the MLS season not set to begin until March 3, there are questions as to how sharp they will be heading into the critical matches against Honduras in San Jose, California, on March 24, and then away to Panama four days later.As a point of comparison, foreign-based players will have been playing for about eight months. But Arena insisted he’ll look at each player on a case-by-case basis.”We’re going to follow every player, both in Europe, Mexico, the U.S. and Canada, and decide on who we think are the best group of players to help us get some results,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “It doesn’t matter where they come from. We have players in Europe who aren’t playing.”We have players in Europe that are playing a lot. It’s the same case in Mexico. And then in the U.S. the players we’ve had in camp are for the most part the players that will be under consideration for the March roster.”They have a bit of a jump, so they have another six weeks or so to be prepared for the March camp.”Arena added that he’ll be visiting U.S. players playing in Germany, England, and Mexico over the coming weeks.Included in that group are fringe players like Nottingham Forest outside back Eric Lichaj and Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola, with Arena stating that they were under “strong consideration” for the March camp.”[Those visits] will help us make some final determinations as to how he’ll piece together our roster,” he said.One player who hasn’t been seeing time is Middlesbrough goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Guzan, who will join MLS expansion side Atlanta United in the summer, has been stuck on the bench behind starter Victor Valdes. But Arena said Guzan remains very much a candidate to take the field against Honduras.”Brad Guzan is a very experienced goalkeeper, and as we saw in the case of Nick Rimando in the January camp, that experience means a lot,” said Arena. “Because they’re not getting games on a consistent basis doesn’t mean you can rule them out. I think Brad has shown enough that he’s still a strong candidate to be our No. 1 goalkeeper.”Guzan’s status is impacted in part by the groin injury Tim Howard sustained back in November that required surgery. But Arena wasn’t necessarily ruling out Howard being on the squad either.”[Howard] is on schedule to maybe start the first week of the MLS season. Having said that, [his recovery] could be off a couple of weeks, and perhaps he won’t be a candidate for March. But right now he’s in the picture, and that’s a positive as well,” Arena said.Arena also seemed more optimistic about the status of Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron, who has been sidelined by a knee injury since October.”[Cameron] is making progress and he’ll be back in full training shortly,” said Arena.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle. 

Arena’s next challenge: Integrating abroad-based U.S. players with little prep time

Bruce Arena will visit and evaluate players based in Europe and Mexico over the next few weeks before picking his U.S. roster for March World Cup qualifiers.  BRIAN STRAUSThursday February 9th, 2017

Bruce Arena got to spend three and a half weeks with more than 30 U.S. national team veterans and contenders right on his Southern California doorstep. Arena has lived in the L.A. area since becoming coach of the Galaxy back in 2008, and when he left the MLS club to take over the U.S. in November, he had to move his office just a few feet down the StubHub Center hall.The commute and surroundings were familiar, and Arena and his staff (comprised of his former Galaxy colleagues) were able to use weeks of practice and then friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica to make a thorough evaluation of their players’ progress and potential.Now comes the hard part.In about five weeks, Arena will have to select the players he intends to call in for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Honduras (March 24) and Panama (March 28). The Americans’ 0-2-0 record, which leaves them last in the six-team Hexagonal, was the catalyst for Jurgen Klinsmann’s dismissal. The climb out of the CONCACAF cellar must begin next month, meaning the new (and former) manager has to get this roster right. And although he now has a pretty firm grasp on the domestic player pool, Arena won’t have been able to spend any time working with the men based abroad, nor will have had the opportunity to see how they mesh with their MLS counterparts under match conditions.It’s going to take a few very productive days of practice next month, and a lot of homework between now and then, to figure it all out.“The goal now is to merge our players abroad with our domestic players and come up with the best roster for those games against Honduras and Panama,” Arena said Thursday during a media conference call. “We’re working right now with a pool of approximately 40 players, give or take a few numbers, and we need to break it down to somewhere near 25 players to call in for March when we report to San Jose [California, the site of the Honduras match].”So Arena and his staff are going to hit the road. He went abroad in early December, shortly after taking the job, and saw and/or met with Fabian Johnson, Christian Pulisic, Timmy Chandler, Bobby Wood and John Brooks during a few busy days in Germany. That was before the recent national team camp, however, so Arena now should have a better idea of the team’s needs, strengths and how those players will fit in next month. “We’re going to visit them,” Arena said of his Europe/Mexico-based contingent. “We remain in contact with all of these players and as of today, we’ll probably have had contact with every player in our pool … emails, phone conversations, and then visits. I’ve already been in touch with most of these players personally, visiting players in Germany in December and I plan to go back in the next week or so, as will other staff members. We’ll be going to Germany, England, Mexico, as well as following the players in the United States.“We understand how we’re going to play. We have a depth chart, and we’re going to sit down and have some conversations, make sure the players understand what we’re trying to do before we even get [to San Jose].” If it’s a challenge, it’s a good one to have. Arena said he thought Wood, Pulisic and DeAndre Yedlin, who’s at Newcastle United, all have been playing well and that Johnson and Brooks are healthy and returning to form. Arena also mentioned Julian Green, who scored his first goal for VfB Stuttgart on Monday, and Timmy Chandler, who’s suspended for the Honduras game but has been solid at Eintracht Frankfurt.“Certainly those players are going to be given strong consideration,” Arena said.English Championship-based defenders Eric Lichaj and Tim Ream also received a Thursday shout-out, as did Liga MX regulars Paul Arriola and Omar Gonzalez.“I think in particular Lichaj and Arriola are players right now that we have to strongly consider for the March camp. We’re going to get to see those players in the next couple of weeks to help make some of those decisions,” Arena said.Two big names that Arena likely won’t be able to see this month are veteran goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Howard was hurt in the November loss to Mexico and the subsequent surgery on his groin kept him out of the Colorado Rapids’ conference finals series against the Seattle Sounders and then January camp. Guzan has been stuck on the bench at Middlesbrough. He’s played only five times for the Premier League club this season.Arena had praise for Nick Rimando, who was the No. 3 goalie for most of Klinsmann’s tenure and who shut out Serbia on Jan. 29. But the manager said he hadn’t given up on Howard and Guzan.“Brad Guzan’s a very experienced goalkeeper and as we saw in the case of Nick Rimando in the January camp, that experience means a lot and just because they’re not getting games on a consistent basis doesn’t mean you can rule them out,” Arena said. “Brad has shown enough that he’s still a strong candidate to be our No. 1 goalkeeper.”Arena added that Howard’s prognosis at the time of his injury was a break of 12-16 weeks.“He’s on schedule to hopefully start in the first weekend of the Major League Soccer season,” Arena said. “Perhaps he won’t be a candidate for March, but right now he’s in the picture and that’s a positive as well.”It’s a picture that came into slightly sharper focus last month. Benny Feilhaber and Dax McCarty are back, Sebastian Lletget and Jorge Villafaña are legit, and there is an increasing plethora of permutations in defense. There are more questions in goal than usual, and how the U.S. will balance winning the midfield while providing Jozy Altidore with the support he needs to thrive remains uncertain. Now throw in all the foreign players and the uncertainty of early season fitness and form for those in MLS, and you get a sense of the scope of Arena’s task.Now the process of narrowing that picture begins.

In-need U.S. men’s national team re-enters Bruce’s unchanged arena

  • Bruce Arena guided the U.S. men’s national team to unparalleled success, and now he’s back as a Band-Aid to help the Americans qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

GRANT WAHLThursday February 2nd, 2017This story appears in the Feb. 13, 2017 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. 

In mid-January, a few days before he led the U.S. men’s soccer team into practice for the first time in 11 years, coach Bruce Arena settled in for a long dinner at Mangiamo, his favorite Italian haunt near his home in Manhattan Beach, Calif. One of Arena’s companions ordered a Cabernet from Chateau Montelena and told the story of the scrappy Napa Valley winery: how in 1976 it competed in a blind-tasting challenge—the so-called Judgment of Paris—against leading French vintners and won, to the shock and consternation of Old World connoisseurs.Arena, 65, nodded, knowing full well that this was a conversation about soccer, too. If the history of a football culture were all that mattered for World Cup success, “then we should just drop out of FIFA because most of the other countries are far more advanced,” said Arena. “But that’s not the way Americans think. We can be the best. We are advanced enough now to move the sport forward on our terms with our culture. We will eventually be the envy of every country in the world. I hope to be alive at that point.”No coach has done more to raise the global profile of U.S. men’s soccer than Arena, who first took over the team following a last-place finish at World Cup 1998 and then led the U.S. to the quarterfinals in 2002 (before a first-round exit in ’06 led to his departure). Yet the challenge to start Arena’s second tenure is more immediate: to qualify for World Cup ’18, by any means necessary.“That,” Arena says, “is my only goal right now.”The U.S. is one of just seven countries to have competed in every men’s World Cup going back to 1990, but that streak is in real danger after two straight losses—zero points—to start the final round of regional qualifying, in November, led to the firing of coach Jurgen Klinsmann.“Once we decided a change was going to be made, I think Bruce was very much the obvious choice, given three things,” says U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. “One, his record and experience. Two, his knowledge of the player base and the work at hand. And three, the timing issue: There’s a relatively short period of time to get ready for our qualifiers. You put all those together, and the catchphrase would certainly be safe hands.”Arena believes that to best position itself, his team needs to pick up at least four points—a win and a tie—in its next two qualifiers, against Honduras (in San Jose) and at Panama, in March. That would bring the U.S. out of last place in the six-team, 10-game CONCACAF Hexagonal tournament, from which the top three (and perhaps even four) will qualify for Russia.

Arena won’t make sweeping personnel changes; he believes it’s too late to experiment. But he spent the U.S. team’s January camp preaching a return to the defiant aggressiveness that defined the U.S. teams of Arena (from 1998 to ’06) and Bob Bradley (from ’06 to ’11).We need to take initiative, regardless of who we are playing,” says Arena, who famously preached “first tackle, first foul, first shot, first goal” in the locker room before the U.S.’s World Cup 2002 upset of Portugal. “We can’t be intimidated. We want to compete like we compete in everything we do in our society. We are aggressive people. We want to be leaders in every field.”Arena was plenty busy in the 10 years he was away from the U.S. job, guiding the LA Galaxy to three MLS championships, bringing his MLS total to a record five (along with five NCAA titles at Virginia). But he always watched the national team closely, and never in public. His feelings were just too personal, especially when Costa Rica drilled Klinsmann’s outfit 4–0 in November and several U.S. players appeared to quit on the field.“He felt terrible,” says his wife of 40 years, Phyllis. “It really bothered him.”The culture of pride that Arena helped build was buckling under Klinsmann.“I was always proud during Bob’s tenure,” says Arena. “Whether [the team] looked good or didn’t, there was fight—the right mentality, the understanding of team and playing together. In this business, results don’t always go your way, but you want to make sure the group is there collectively, and during Bob’s tenure that was the case.”“The last four or five years [under Klinsmann], I just didn’t feel a connection to the program,” Arena continues. “There were too many swings up and down along the way that didn’t show the same culture that was developed after ’98. Right or wrong, Jurgen marketed a concept that never got there—about how good they were going to be and the style of play. We [coaches] don’t have a lot of control over that. If you want us to play like one of the great countries in the world, it’s not likely to happen in the short term. That doesn’t mean [our style is] wrong or bad—that means we’re playing the cards that are dealt to us.”

et Arena isn’t here just to bury Klinsmann, whose U.S. team, after all, did advance from a difficult group in World Cup 2014 before performances started dipping in the two subsequent years.“He brought enhanced visibility to the program,” Arena says, “and he convinced U.S. Soccer that the national team demands a certain level of support it never had before. I remember going to Europe [on scouting trips] and having to buy a cellphone and a SIM card because they wouldn’t give me a global phone. I know I step into a position that is greatly supported.”The other side of that equation: With greater investment come expectations that are higher than ever. Hundreds of millions of dollars—and, in many ways, the continued growth of American soccer—are riding on the U.S. qualifying for 2018. Failure is not an option.

**********

On the first night of the U.S. team’s January camp, Arena spoke at a dinner for the players. He welcomed them, told them it was an honor to be back and laid out his plans for the year ahead, including July’s Gold Cup. But he couldn’t help but drop a wisecrack: “I did these camps back when we played the Gold Cup in January—remember that, Beaz?” Arena said, motioning to DaMarcus Beasley, the oldest field player in the room. “Beasley was about 30 years old at the time,” Arena deadpanned in his native Brooklynese. Everyone laughed, including Beasley (who was a 19-year-old midfielder on that 2002 roster). The Bruce was back.

Eleven years after Arena last coached the U.S., he may be older and a little wiser, but not much else has changed. “The nuts and bolts of Bruce are pretty consistent,” says U.S. assistant Dave Sarachan, who has worked at Arena’s side going back to the 1980s. “All the details are covered. His passion to win hasn’t changed. His instincts are still good. I’d say he’s got a greater perspective on what the game can bring, the highs and the lows; his patience is better. . . . But the ball-busting, the little jokes and jabs here and there? Nothing will change on that end.”For U.S. captain Michael Bradley, the shift in the team’s tenor under Arena is palpable.“From the first day Bruce came in, he’s done a really good job of setting the right tone and making sure guys understand that we let some things slip,” Bradley says. “He has been clear in terms of what he wants to see, what he wants our team to be about. It’s exactly what we needed at this moment.”Away from the field, the biggest changes for Arena since 2006 are his two grandkids—Wayde, 4, and Holden Bruce, 3—who live a block away in Manhattan Beach and are constantly visiting the man they call Pepaw. Their father, Kenny, is also an assistant on the current U.S. staff. And while Arena has never been a social media guy, his late-in-life willingness to laugh at himself has led to multiple Internet memes, whether it’s been a photo of Arena swigging from a champagne bottle at the podium after winning the 2014 MLS Cup title or a snap of him cuddling with his dog at home.To hear Arena, he’s more prepared than ever to take on the challenge. With experience, he says, he can see things on and off the field more quickly, can talk to players and already sense what they’re going to say. In comparison with 15 years ago, he says, “I’m probably more understanding—yet I also understand when you need to bring the hammer down. I still have the ability to communicate with players at any level. Anyone can put 11 players on the field, but how you deal with it off the field is equally important.”In Arena’s camp there are no curfews (as Klinsmann had), and agents are allowed in the team hotel lobby (after being banned by Klinsmann). In January, players were required to attend team breakfast and lunch but were free to go out on their own for dinner. Arena essentially has two rules: Be on time, and no cellphones at team meals.“I don’t think that being called into the national team means you need to be locked in prison for 30 days,” he cracks. “What’s the point of that? Are we going to change their diet and habits for the next 300 days of the year? If you go out and have a beer, the world isn’t over. And I have no interest in sitting in a hotel lobby, checking on curfews and all that other s—. I have enough headaches to deal with.” Don’t expect many changes to the starting lineup—Play the cards you’re dealt. A few things are clear, though:

  • He sees Bradley, 29, as a defensive midfielder.Whereas Klinsmann often tried to use the U.S. captain in an attacking role (with mixed results), Arena wants Bradley in a ball-winning position in front of the back line. “He’s a guy who can help you in buildup and possession,” the coach says. “He’s got a great work rate. He’s a leader. He’s vocal. So he checks a lot of boxes.”
  • Sacha Kljestan could get a lot more playing time.The 31-year-old attacking midfielder had a career year with MLS’s Red Bulls in 2016 (six goals, 20 assists), and he earned a long-awaited callback to the national team. Now he could become a starter. “We need a better player in the midfield in terms of passing and being more creative,” Arena says. “Sacha has some skills that we need on the field.”
  • The German-based Americans who rose under Klinsmann will still play a big part.Though none of them were involved in the January camp, which took place outside of a FIFA international window, Arena clearly values their roles. He started his new tenure in December by visiting five players stationed in Germany: winger Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), forward Bobby Wood (Hamburg), midfielder Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach) and defenders John Brooks (Hertha Berlin) and Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt). “That’s an important part of it,” Arena says. Their performance will be crucial in the eight World Cup qualifiers of 2017. The 18-year-old Pulisic, in particular, is on the verge of stardom.
  • Clint Dempsey won’t play an immediate role.The No. 2 all-time U.S. men’s goal scorer, now 33, has been one of the national team’s few reliable finishers in big games, but an irregular heartbeat has kept him from playing competitively since last August. Dempsey has started training again with MLS’s Seattle Sounders, but Arena has ruled him out from playing for the U.S. in March.

After four decades of coaching soccer, almost nothing is new to Arena. He has an abiding belief in the American footballer, and he thinks today’s U.S. players are technically better and more physically advanced than their predecessors.“But mentally, whether they’re better or not is a question mark,” he says. “One would think that if you’re physically and technically better, you should be better—but I’m not ready to agree with that. The mentality has to be right; the environment has to be right. There’s enough talent to get this team to Russia, but we are behind the eight ball. Zero points doesn’t look good.”And so while the only goal right now is to qualify for the World Cup, deep down Arena is aware of something else: How you reach the tournament has nothing to do with how you play once you’re there. Consider 2002, when Brazil barely qualified but went on to win the tournament. Arena’s U.S. team had the same experience that year—it struggled in qualifying but then enjoyed the best World Cup run by an American men’s team in modern history. (Arena knows how slim the margins can be; he saw the other side of that in ’06, when he says “we were probably a couple of players from being in position to advance to the next round [that year].”)Visions of the U.S. again advancing to the quarterfinals can wait for another day.“This could be a real ugly situation in a short period of time—or it could be a much better situation,” Arena says. “The best advice you could ever give a team is to expect the unexpected. Never feel real good or real bad, because s— is going to happen.”The next nine months will feature plenty of potholes and mishaps on the road through Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Arena has been here before. That’s why he’s here again.

Jordan Morris, Walker Zimmerman impress as Arena’s U.S. fringe side win

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The extended year-opening training camp for the U.S. men’s national team is over after Friday’s 1-0 friendly win against Jamaica. Now the attention shifts to two pivotal World Cup qualifying games in March that will go a long way toward determining whether the Americans can snare an invite to the global party in Russia next year.The planning for those matches will begin immediately. And while only half of the players who took to the artificial turf field against the Reggae Boyz at Finley Stadium are likely to be on coach Bruce Arena’s roster for those qualifiers against Honduras and at Panama, Friday’s contest — and the three-and-a-half-week camp overall — will in many ways serve as the foundation for what happens in March.”The game tonight was fast, not an easy game to play in,” Arena said after picking up the first win in his second stint as coach of the national team, after a scoreless draw with Serbia last week.”The Jamaican team really got after us, they attacked us well. It made it a good game for me to look at our players and evaluate them.”The biggest thing we’re trying to do is form a team out of this group of players and take a little pride in what they’re doing.”We’ve had two games where we haven’t conceded a goal, which I think is a real positive.”It was far from the only one.Before the camp-ending two-game slate, Arena said he was hoping to use the matches to answer some outstanding questions he had, mainly about individual players. Since many players in the projected American lineup for March were unavailable versus Jamaica because they’re with their club teams in Europe and Mexico — and since March lineup locks Jozy Altidore and captain Michael Bradley were on the bench to start this game — it was a golden opportunity for this squad of mostly MLS players to show what they could do.Mission accomplished on that front. Jordan Morris got the only goal the U.S. would need after a slick second-half buildup with Benny Feilhaber, who made his first international start in more than four years. Young defender Walker Zimmerman, in his U.S. debut, was flawless. Others took full advantage of their chance too, putting themselves in position to earn a recall for the games that really matter”Morris has made a statement,” Arena said of the Seattle Sounders forward, who was named man of the match. “He’s clearly a likely candidate for our camp in March.”  Zimmerman appeared to be a long shot for the qualifying squad at the beginning of January, but the 23-year-old was so poised that he might be considered a depth option behind veterans John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez. Sebastian Lletget put in what Arena called a “workmanlike” performance in the midfield, where Dax McCarty excelled in Bradley’s usual holding role. Juan Agudelo, Morris’ partner up top, was lauded by the manger for his “real good effort” despite missing a first-half chance to score.And Jorge Villafana and Graham Zusi manned the full-back positions competently if not spectacularly, which pleased Arena, too.”That’s a position that I have some concerns about, the outside back positions,” Arena said.”So to have those two both play in two games and hold up pretty well, that’s encouraging.” Clearly, the players knew what was at stake. They were also happy to get Arena, who previously led the U.S. from 1998 to 2006, his first U.S. victory in more than a decade.”That’s something that we really wanted to get out of this match, getting a win and getting that winning mentality, because that’s what’s going to help us in March,” Lletget said.It wasn’t all perfect, of course. Then again, in what was effectively a glorified scrimmage for a group of players who have been idle for a long stretch, in some cases since late October, it wasn’t expected to be.”I would’ve liked to have us to score a few more goals in these past two games, but that usually comes a little later in the preseason,” Arena said. “Usually, the attacking players need a little bit more time.”Still, Morris’ strike was a thing of beauty.”Dax played a great ball in to Benny,” Morris said, “and Benny, a very skilled player, flicked it, and I think we just played a one-two around the guy and space opened up, and luckily I was able to finish it.””Dax found a great ball to me,” Feilhaber added. “And Jordan’s ball was fantastic.”But perhaps the most impressive thing about Friday’s game was the defensive showing; keepers Luis Robles and David Bingham, who played a half each, didn’t face a single on-target shot.For a team that struggled mightily at the back in the two November qualifying losses that cost ex-coach Jurgen Klinsmann his job, that’s no small thing — even if the personnel were different this time around.”Our biggest thing, what we can influence the most with the team, is our mentality when our opponents have the ball and how we move and react,” Arena said. “I’ve been encouraged by how we’ve been able to become a pretty solid defensive group over the last couple of weeks.”It also gives Arena and his team something to build on for next month.Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.

Walker Zimmerman, Benny Feilhaber push U.S. to win against Jamaica

In the second match of the second tenure for Bruce Arena as U.S. national team head coach, the Americans managed to do two things they couldn’t in Arena’s first match in charge against Serbia: score a goal and collect a win. Despite the relative weakness of the Jamaican team, the U.S. ends January camp on a positive note with the 1-0 victory.

Positives

With two forwards ahead of creative influence Benny Feilhaber, the U.S. looked to be a more dynamic side than they were against the Serbians on Sunday. Feilhaber roamed freely under the front line, picking up the ball and dribbling into space on a fairly regular basis. The backline played a near-perfect game, especially the center-back pairing of Walker Zimmerman and Steve Birnbaum.

Negatives

Until the breakthrough in the 59th minute, the U.S. looked relatively toothless. Possession, something that was a given considering the inexperience of the Jamaican side, did not lead to enough real chances. Too much was left for Feilhaber to do and rarely did an American cross lead to anything of substance. A one-goal win hardly feels like the complete performance the Americans wanted.

Manager rating out of 10

6.5 – Arena changed up his lineup for the second match of the January camp, going so far as to leave Michael Bradley on the bench to start the game. Switching to a two-striker system paid some dividends, and the defensive set up was solid. Arena’s substitutions gave him a good look at most of his roster when combined with the Serbia match.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Luis Robles, 5 — Had very little to do in his 45 minutes on the field, though he was called upon to punch out a driven cross. Played the ball into the path of a Jamaican player, which luckily did not result in a goal.

DF Graham Zusi, 6 — Played well when pushed up and on the ball, giving the U.S. a smart option to release pressure. Struggled with one-on-one defending and beaten with speed more than once.

DF Steve Birnbaum, 6.5 — Guilty of doing very little wrong in a 90-minute performance. Made a handful of strong defensive interventions.

DF Walker Zimmerman, 8 — Excellent all night. Composed and aggressive when necessary. Passed well out of the back and showed bravery by pushing the space in front of him when available.

DF Jorge Villafana, 6.5 — Solid performance that will put him in good stead moving forward. Rarely out of position. Worked well up the left in attack.

MF Dax McCarty, 6.5 — Broke up play from his holding-midfield position well. Strong passing for most of the night but did turn the ball over uncharacteristically to start the second half. Played a great pass to set up the goal.

MF Chris Pontius, 5 — Popped up only sporadically on the right side of the midfield. Presented with a good chance to get a head on a cross in the first half and whiffed. Created a few good moments by pushing to the end line.

MF Benny Feilhaber, 7.5 — A creative force in the middle of the field during the entirety of his 60 minutes but really showed his quality by setting up the Jordan Morris goal.

MF Sebastian Lletget, 6 — Provided some good combination play with Villafana on the left side in the first half. Hit a few dangerous crosses and showed his versatility.

FW Jordan Morris, 7 — Did what forwards are supposed to do by scoring in the 59th minute. Missed a good chance when played in against Jamaica keeper Andre Blake in the first half. Covered lots of ground.

FW Juan Agudelo, 6.5 — Set the tone for the U.S. with effective pressing early. Excellent workrate but couldn’t find the ball in dangerous areas. Faded in the second half.

Substitutes

GK David Bingham, 6 — Touched the ball only twice in a very quiet second half.

MF Michael Bradley, NR — Came in just after the U.S. goal and brought composure in central midfield. Sat deep and played smart passes.

MF Darlington Nagbe, NR — Good with his touch and passing, misplaced a few passes. Did the smart thing to help close out the game.

DF Brad Evans, NR — Good on the ball. Tested by Sounders teammate O’Neil Fisher more than once and coped well.

MF Alejandro Bedoya — Added energy and ground coverage in central midfield in a cameo appearance. Missed just one pass.

DF DaMarcus Beasley, NR — Overlapped very early in his appearance at left back with his trademark speed but touch let him down.Jason Davis covers ESPNFC

Sunil Gulati: U.S. Soccer, USWNT will come to ‘equitable agreement’ on CBA

The U.S. women’s national team and U.S. Soccer remain engaged in talks over a new collective bargaining agreement, and after one meeting with the new player reps and legal representation, the tone of those talks has changed, federation president Sunil Gulati said in a wide-ranging interview with SI’s Grant Wahl on the Planet Futbol Podcast.The U.S. women’s player’s association moved on from Rich Nichols, who had been representing the players and their interests of securing equal pay to that of the U.S. men, hiring the firm of Bredhoff & Kaiser and naming Becca Roux the interim executive director. The three players at the forefront of the discussions are now Becky Sauerbrunn, Christen Press and Meghan Klingenberg.“We’ve had a couple meetings,” Gulati said. “They have new leadership in terms of their legal representation. We’ve had one introductory meeting with that leadership. There are more scheduled for the next few days and subsequent period. The whole discussion has a different dynamic, a different tone. That’s certainly a positive. That greatly reflects the leadership of the team and their views in making a decision they were going to change leadership and who that representative is. In the end, the players are the ones who set that tone.”With the equal pay discussion being a complex one given a number of factors that differ on the men’s and women’s side, Gulati says that what he is hoping to achieve is an “equitable agreement,” one that is fair for both sides based on those variables.“I always use the term ‘equitable pay.’ What is fair. And I have no doubt we’ll come to an equitable agreement with the players. There are so many differences in the agreements now in some of the benefits that the women’s players get and some of the benefits the men’s players get. There are differences in revenues. All of that will be part of the discussion. The men don’t have guaranteed contracts year-round. The women do. And it’s for a very important set of reasons.” Elsewhere on the women’s soccer front, the NWSL just signed a three-year broadcast TV deal with A+E Networks and Lifetime (with A+E Networks purchasing a stake in the league), which will increase the exposure on the growing league. Gulati sees this as a difference maker in terms of getting the league more commercial viability and greater exposure than the handful of games that have been televised in the past few seasons.“It’s a huge positive, because it gives the league exposure that it’s never had,” Gulati said. “This is 20-plus games every year … In the last three hours, I’ve had a couple emails of commercial entities which are interested now in talking to the league. You’re treated much more seriously when that happens.”Listen to the full interview with Gulati in the podcast above and subscribe to Wahl’s weekly interviews via iTunes here.

Breaking down the 12 cities vying for the next round of MLS expansion

Jan. 31 marked deadline day overseas, as the transfer windows for various leagues slammed shut. In North America, it was a deadline day of a different sort, as Tuesday was the final day for cities to submit their bids to acquire MLS expansion franchises.All told, 12 cities submitted bids, and in the coming months, they will aim to convince MLS owners that their combination of market, stadium and ownership groups should be chosen. MLS has said it will select two cities in the second or third quarter of this year, with the other two to be chosen at a later date.Here’s how the various bids shape up.

 Charlotte

Ownership: Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
Stadium: The current proposal would demolish Memorial Stadium and replace it with a 20,000-seat, $175 million venue.
Overview: The stadium is often the trickiest hurdle to clear for expansion candidates, and such is the case in Charlotte. The city council declined to vote on a $43.75 million funding package after Mecklenburg County approved a similar measure, though Smith has said he intends to press on. Charlotte’s market size is in the middle compared to its competitors, and when combined with the stadium issues, breaking away from the pack during the evaluation could be difficult. Some positives are the area’s growth and that MLS is eager to fill a geographic gap in the South.

 Cincinnati

Ownership: Carl H. Lindner III, co-CEO of American Financial Group, owner, chairman and CEO of FC Cincinnati
Stadium: The team currently plays at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium but has plans to build its own venue and is currently narrowing its list of potential sites.
Overview: FC Cincinnati has been a huge success story at USL level, drawing crowds of more than 17,000 on average last season. But the club knows it can’t stay at Nippert Stadium forever, and details are still sparse in terms of potential sites. Cincinnati’s market is also the smallest of the candidates. That said, it’s a bid that has generated significant momentum in the past year, and the Lindner family’s net worth of more than $2 billion is more than enough to satisfy the financial requirements of MLS.

 Detroit

Ownership: Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, Inc.; Tom Gores, owner of the Detroit Pistons, founder, chairman and CEO of Platinum Equity.
Stadium: Gilbert and Gores are proposing a $1 billion development at the Wayne County Jail site that will include a 23,000-seat stadium at a cost of $250 million.
Overview: For all the talk about expanding the league into the southeastern corner of the U.S., there are still some pockets in the Midwest that the league would like to move into, and Detroit is one of them. Among the expansion candidates, only Phoenix has a larger metropolitan area. Gores and Gilbert, owners of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively, bring deep pockets and knowledge of running a sports team.

 Indianapolis

Ownership: Ersal Ozdemir, founder and CEO, Keystone Realty Group, owner of NASL side Indy Eleven; Mickey Maurer, chairman of the board, National Bank of Indianapolis and IBJ Corp; Jeff Laborsky, president and CEO of Heritage; Mark Elwood, CEO of Elwood Staffing; Andy Mohr, founder and owner of Mohr Auto Group.
Stadium: There is a proposal to build a $100 million stadium downtown. The site is still to be determined, but the preferred site is near Lucas Oil Stadium.
Overview: Indy Eleven have been a success both on and off the field in the NASL — no small feat, given the league’s difficulties in 2016. Concerns have been raised about the ownership group’s financial heft, but additional investors are being recruited. One big question is if the city and state will help pay for the stadium. The city sounds reluctant, but the fact that this is an MLS project and not an NASL project gives the bid hope that the state will be more helpful.

Ownership: John Ingram, chairman of Ingram Industries, Inc. board of directors; Bill Hagerty, former commissioner of Economic Development for Tennessee.
Stadium: The current plan is light on details, though Mayor Megan Barry has proposed a site near the Nashville Fairgrounds. Ingram hopes to build a 25,000-seat stadium downtown.
Overview: The ownership group might not be big, but the net worth of Ingram’s family is more than $4 billion, so that isn’t a concern. Nashville has historically supported national team games well. But Ingram will need to provide more details on his stadium plan and convince MLS that he can make the smallest market among the expansion candidates work. The location in the South certainly doesn’t hurt, nor does the level of support received by the NFL’s Titans and the NHL’s Predators.

 Phoenix

Ownership: Berke Bakay, governor, Phoenix Rising FC, CEO, Kona Grill; Brett Johnson, co-chairman Phoenix Rising FC, CEO, Benevolent Capital; Mark Detmer, board member, Phoenix Rising FC, managing director, JLL; Tim Riester, board member, Phoenix Rising FC, CEO, RIESTER; David Rappaport, board member, Phoenix Rising FC, partner, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.
Stadium: The owners have plans for a climate-controlled stadium on a 45-acre site that is already under contract.
Overview: Among the expansion candidates, Phoenix is the largest city in the U.S. without an MLS team, and the fact that its stadium site has been secured is a big plus. The site plans include housing the club’s academy and access to light rail. That the ownership group has USL experience is a plus, though the team didn’t draw well last season.

 Raleigh/Durham

Ownership: Steve Malik, chairman and owner of North Carolina FC.
Stadium: Malik has identified three potential sites in hopes of building a 20,000-seat stadium, though he hopes to narrow that down in the next few weeks.
Overview: The area has some roots in the game, including youth, college and an NASL side that has been around since 2006. Similar to Charlotte, the area’s location would also give MLS more geographic diversity. Malik purchased North Carolina FC (formerly known as the Carolina RailHawks) in 2016. But Malik, who made his money in the healthcare sector, will need to bulk up his ownership group. There’s also a question of whether the market is big enough to support another professional sports team, in addition to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.

 Sacramento

Ownership: Kevin Nagle, chairman and CEO, Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings, and minority owner of Sacramento Kings; Meg Whitman, investor, Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings, and CEO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise; Jed York, owner and CEO of San Francisco 49ers.
Stadium: The plan for a downtown stadium has already been approved by the city council.
Overview: Having existed as USL team Sacramento Republic since 2012 and with a stadium plan in place, Sacramento appears to have ticked all the boxes. But friction between SRFC and Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings (the entity that made the bid) is threatening to spill into the open. SS&EH is trying to acquire SRFC, but the two sides have yet to agree on a price. With San Diego making a strong push, Sacramento will need to get everyone pulling in the same direction to pull this off.

 St. Louis

Ownership: Paul Edgerley, senior advisor at Bain Capital, managing director at VantEdge Partners, part owner of Boston Celtics; Terry Matlack, managing director of Tortoise Capital, partner at VantEdge Partners; Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology, founder of Saint Louis FC; Dave Peacock, former president of Anheuser-Busch Inc., chairman of St. Louis Sports Commission.
Stadium: Ownership is currently trying to push through a plan to build a 20,000-seat stadium near Union Station.
Overview: Given the long history of support for the game, St. Louis has all the makings of an ideal MLS city. The departure of the NFL’s Rams to Los Angeles would appear to create a sporting vacuum that the prospective ownership group would love to exploit. The presence of Dave Peacock, who worked closely with Don Garber when the former was at Anhaeuser-Busch, doesn’t hurt, either. But there are still questions about how the stadium construction will be financed. The state of Missouri has already said no, and the ownership has had to make up a $20 million decrease in funding at city level. It now looks like the city’s funding proposal will get on the April ballot. The success or failure of the project will likely hinge on that vote.

 San Antonio

Ownership: Spurs Sports & Entertainment
Stadium: The team already plays at 8,000-capacity Toyota Field, and the infrastructure is such that it could be expanded to 18,000.
Overview: The San Antonio bid is blessed with an owner with vast experience in running a sports business and one that has built up considerable goodwill through the years, thanks to the success of the NBA’s Spurs. An existing, expandable stadium would appear to be a plus, but it sits 12 miles outside the “urban core” that MLS touts. That said, the stadium location on the north side of the city puts it that much closer to another coveted market: Austin. The demographics that include a large Hispanic population are such that there is a base of support for the game, but there are questions as to whether MLS wants a third team in Texas.

 San Diego

Ownership: Mike Stone, founder and managing partner of FS Investors; Peter Seidler, managing partner of the San Diego Padres; Massih and Masood Tayebi, co-founders of the Bridgewest Group; Steve Altman, former vice chairman and president of Qualcomm; Juan Carlos Rodriguez, media executive and entrepreneur.
Stadium: Ownership is proposing a 30,000-seat stadium to be shared with San Diego State University, where Qualcomm Stadium currently sits.
Overview: Garber has been quietly advocating for San Diego since he reached out to Mike Stone two years ago, and as is the case in St. Louis, the departure of the NFL’s Charges to L.A. has left a void in the city’s sporting landscape. The stadium plan seems to have strong political support, and the market seems primed for more soccer, despite the proximity to Liga MX side Club Tijuana just over the border. MLS loves its rivalries, but Southern California will have two MLS teams starting in 2018, when LAFC comes on board to join the LA Galaxy. Does it need another?

 Tampa/St. Petersburg

Ownership: Bill Edwards, owner of the Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL).
Stadium: The plan is to invest $80 million in expanding Al Lang Stadium from 7,200 seats to 18,000.
Overview: The Tampa/St. Pete area is the largest media market without an MLS team, and its stadium plan is solid, which is something not every bid can say. Edwards is very outspoken and didn’t hold back in his criticism of the NASL when he left that league for the USL at the conclusion of the MLS season. But he has experience running a professional soccer team, which is always a plus. One question is whether Tampa’s proximity to existing MLS side Orlando City is a help or a hindrance.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

Great UEFA Champions League comebacks

Monday 6 February 2017–Inspired by the New England Patriots’s stunning Super Bowl victory on Sunday, UEFA.com delved into the record books to unearth six of the greatest UEFA Champions League comebacks.

The New England Patriots’ against-all-odds recovery to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI got UEFA.com thinking: what are the greatest comebacks in UEFA Champions League history?

  • 2005: AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool (Liverpool win 3-2 on pens)
    The most famous of them all, the ‘miracle of Istanbul’. Trailing 3-0 at the break, Rafael Benítez’s side stormed back in the second half with three goals in seven minutes to set up a dramatic shoot-out triumph. Andriy Shevchenko, author of the winning spot kick in the 2003 final against Juventus, was this time denied by Jerzy Dudek to give Liverpool a remarkable victory. Snap shot: Liverpool’s Istanbul heroes

1993: Werder Bremen 5-3 Anderlecht
For the second straight group match Otto Rehhagel’s charges found themselves 3-0 down, but if their fightback had come up short a fortnight earlier in a 3-2 loss to Porto, there was no stopping them this time. Incredibly they did not score until the 66th minute, through Wynton Rufer, yet when the New Zealander netted again 23 minutes later it was to complete a brilliant fightback.

2001: Deportivo La Coruña 4-3 Paris Saint-Germain
“For the first five or six minutes of half-time I just let the players sit in silence,” recalled Javier Irureta after his team traipsed in trailing 2-0. The Deportivo coach’s medicine didn’t work immediately – Laurent Leroy soon made it three – but the players eventually got the message. A furious spell of attacking football brought four goals in 27 minutes, including a hat-trick of headers by substitute Walter Pandiani.

2005: Porto 2-3 MFK Petržalka
The hosts, UEFA Champions League winners 16 months before, were approaching half-time on cruise control but Peter Petráš’s strike gave the Slovak visitors (then known as Artmedia Bratislava) hope. Coach Vladimír Weiss seized his chance, throwing on another striker. “I told the players it’s better to lose 5-2 than not try to change something,” he reasoned. Goals from Ján Kozák and Balázs Borbély were his reward.

2014: Arsenal 3-3 Anderlecht
Even the Belgian side were left struggling to come up with an explanation after they staged the most unlikely of comebacks in north London. The writing appeared to be on the wall when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain opened up a 3-0 lead just before the hour, yet two Anthony Vanden Borre strikes and a last-minute equaliser by Aleksandar Mitrović earned the Brussels club a point.

2016: Beşiktaş 3-3 Benfica
The Portuguese team were 3-0 up and coasting with almost an hour gone in this group fixture. Then came the Beşiktaş response, started by half-time substitute Cenk Tosun. Benfica still seemed to have done enough as the game entered its final ten minutes. However, Ricardo Quaresma pulled another one back from the spot and, with 60 seconds of normal time remaining, Porto loanee Vincent Aboubakar dramatically levelled.

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2/2/17 US Men face Jamaica Friday 7:30 pm Fox Sports, EPL Arsenal vs Chelsea on Sat 7:30 am NBCSN

So our Indy 11 have finally put their hat into the MLS Expansion pot for this round.  I think with the new stadium issues and just too many other cities with deeper pockets that Indy is certainly a long shot for MLS Expansion this go round – but its nice to see we are in the running.  Someday maybe – a nice new stadium over by Lucas Oil near the White River would be nice.

So Bruce is back in charge of the US team and we still can’t score.  0-0 with Serbia was certainly not the result we were looking for  – but I thought we of course dominated possession and had some good moments in the game. I thought Benny Feilhaber brought instant offense when he check in.  I also thought Sebastian Lletget gave some really good moments in the 2nd half beside Michael Bradley who once again didn’t really impress.  I thought the Zusi experiment at right back went well – though I still think oustarting  right back playing really well in England right now.  It will be interesting to see how the midfield plays on Friday night 7:30 pm vs Jamaica on Fox Sports 1.

Big games this weekend as Arsenal gets there shot at Chelsea without Arsene Wenger on the sideline 7:30 am on NBCSN and Dortmund and US starlet Christian Pulisic face surprising Red Bull Leipzig at 12:30 on Fox Sports 1 or 2?  Sunday Leicester tries to fight its way above the relegation zone in a huge home match vs unbeaten in a long time Man United at 11 am on NBCSN.

GAMES ON TV  

Thurs,  Feb 2

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations Semi-Final 2

Fri, Feb 3

2:30 pm Fox Sport2  Hamburger vs Bayer Leverkusen

7:30 pm Fox Sport 1 USA vs Jamaica

Sat. Feb 4

7:30 am NBCSN            Chelsea vs Arsenal

9:30 am FS1                   Bayern Munich vs Shalke

10 am NBCSN                Hull City vs Liverpool

12:30 pm  Fox Sp 2   Dortmund vs Red Bull Leipzig

12:30 NBCSN?               Tottenham vs Middlesborough  

Sun, Feb 5

8:30 am NBCSN            Man City vs Swansea

10 am beIN Sport       Atletico Madrid vs Leganes

9:30 am Fox Soccer   Frieberg vs Hertha BSC

11 am NBCSN                Leicester City vs Man United

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations FINALS

2:45 pm beIN Sport?                       Juventus vs Inter

Sat, Feb 11

7:30 am NBCSN            Arsenal vs Hull City

12:30 pm NBCSN        Liverpool vs Tottenham

Sun, Feb 12

8:30 am NBCSN            Burnley vs Chelsea

Mon, Feb 13

3 pm NBCSN                   Bournemouth vs Man City

Tues,  Feb 14 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Benfica vs Borussian Dortmund

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         PSG vs Barcelona

Weds,  Feb 15

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Bayern Munich vs Arsenal

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Real Madrid vs Napoli

Tues,  Feb 21 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Bayer Levekusen vs Atletico Madrid

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Manchester City vs Monaco

Weds,  Feb 22

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Sevilla vs Leicester City

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Porto vs Juventus

Weds, Mar 1  – She Believes Cup

4 pm ??                             France vs England Women

7 pm Fox Sports 1      US Women vs Germany

Sat, Mar 4  – She Believes Cup

4 pm ??                             France vs Germany Women

5 pm Fox                      US Women vs England

 

Indy 11 + MLS

Indy 11 Bids for MLS Spot – SI

US Defender Oguchi Onyewu Returns to MLS with Philly SI

USA

Who should start for US vs Jamaica

US goalie Dilemma- Stars and Stripes

Jones and Kljestan leave camp

Will the US qualify for the World Cup?

Christian Pulisic vored one of top youngsters in Germany

 

Indianapolis will become 12th city applying for MLS expansion

BRIAN STRAUSMonday January 30th, 2017

On the eve of Major League Soccer’s expansion application deadline, Indy Eleven has made it 12.The NASL club’s president, Jeff Belskus, confirmed to SI.com late Monday that the Eleven, owner Ersal Ozdemir and the city of Indianapolis are pursuing one of the four MLS expansion openings. Ozdemir will deliver the application by hand to the league office in Manhattan on Tuesday. Indianapolis is the 12th city to declare its MLS intentions. In mid-December, the league announced its plan to add four more teams, bringing the eventual membership to 28 (including Los Angeles FC next year and David Beckham’s quixotic Miami project). At that time, prospective investors in Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa Bay already had come forward. An 11th applicant, the USL’s Phoenix Rising, then joined the fray last week.Indy’s absence on the original list was notable, but not entirely unexpected. The Eleven have done well at the gate and Ozdemir had met with MLS officials as far back as 2013. Indianapolis seemed like a city that was on the right trajectory. But stadium legislation stalled in 2015 when the Indiana house and senate couldn’t come to an agreement on whether to funnel usage taxes toward a new facility or use state funds to upgrade the Eleven’s current home, Carroll Stadium. So Indy’s MLS plans stalled as well.Then last summer, they were back on track. Confident that usage taxes (or taxes generated by the existence of the new stadium) would get the political traction required at the state and city levels, the Eleven re-opened conversations with MLS. Those talks led to the decision to bid and Ozdemir’s trip to New York.Belskus, who was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and CEO before running the Eleven, said the club’s MLS stadium will be a public-private partnership and that Ozdemir and his unnamed partners would be kicking in a “significant amount of private money.” Ozdemir will remain the majority owner.If built, the new stadium would be located in downtown Indianapolis between the Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium and the White River.“We have a lot of energy for building a soccer stadium here,” Belskus said. “We’ve proven Indianapolis has the fan base to support soccer. It will support pro soccer and it will support Major League Soccer … It’s so logical for us.”Sponsors are lined up, he added, and Ozdemir’s investor group “is committed. They want to see this work. The want to see it work for this community.” The Eleven kicked off as an NASL expansion team in 2014. Although the team fared poorly on the field in its first two seasons, support was strong. Indy’s average attendance led the league in ’14 (it surpassed 10,000 per game) and 2015 before falling to second, behind MLS-bound Minnesota United, last season. But that slight slip was offset by wins. Behind former Tampa Bay Mutiny and Colorado Rapids coach Tim Hankinson and Irish-born Libyan international Éamon Zayed, an NASL Best XI striker, Indy finished finished second in the overall 2016 regular season standings and fell to the New York Cosmos in the league title game.It will remain part of the NASL this year while pursuing a place in MLS.

 

Who should start for the USMNT vs. Jamaica?

A few lineup suggestions for Bruce to ignore.by Rob Usry@RobUsry  Jan 31, 2017, 8:45am PST

The first match of Bruce Arena’s second tenure as United States men’s national team manager didn’t go as anyone hoped. It’s hard to takeaway any positives from a boring and stale scoreless draw. I’ve seen some respected media members claim that the team’s shape looked more structured as if they had a better understanding of their roles. To that I’d sort of agree, but it’s just hard to lean on that narrative after just 90 minutes. The match on Friday against a decent CONCACAF side in Jamaica should tell a better tale.We’ve already seen Jozy Altidore come out and wonder if playing with a lone striker is the right move or not, with Arena responding that he could change up the formation at any time. Assuming that he decides to stay the course and trot out the same 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 he did against Serbia, what changes could we see? Two starters from Sunday are guaranteed to be replaced with Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan leaving camp. Here’s a lineup I’d like to see on Friday if the formation and philosophy stays the same:

With Kljestan unavailable that leaves a hole in the No. 10 position. In my eyes, the only two options to replace him are Benny Feilhaber or Darlington Nagbe. Nagbe’s role for the Timbers the past couple of seasons has seen him shift into a central role, predominantly as a box-to-box player to support Diego Valeri, but he has the ability to be the primary playmaker to rely on. We saw what he can do on the wing against Serbia, now it’s time to get a feel for his contribution in the center pulling the strings.Replacing Jones is a little more complicated. The obvious pick is Sebastian Lletget, who came on a halftime for the veteran and did pretty well as a box-to-box midfielder. However, I’d like to see Dax McCarty inserted into the lineup for two reasons that both include Michael Bradley. The first is, McCarty offers a more defensive pure No. 6 option that would allow Bradley the freedom to move up and down the field as he pleases. He’s a defensive midfielder who needs a more defensive partner and that’s what McCarty offers. The second is looking toward the second half. Take Bradley out at halftime and replace him with Lletget no matter how the team is doing. It’s time to see a half of soccer that isn’t dedicated to finding the right scenario for Bradley to succeed.Jordan Morris on the wing is something the Sounders did several times throughout their MLS Cup run. Specifically in the Western conference finals against FC Dallas where the move paid off significantly despite objections from yours truly. His pace and attacking mentality offers that dynamic aspect that Jozy alluded to in his 4-3-3 concerns.The back line changes are all about seeing different options. Villafana looked good in his brief substitute appearance and Walker Zimmerman has apparently impressed in camp. Give those two a full run-out and give Luis Robles a chance in goal just as a reward for a long camp and being one of the most consistent performers in MLS for a long while.If Bruce decides that it’s time to change things up and adhere to Jozy’s concerns over a lone striker formation here’s a lineup I’d throw out there:

It’s the same personnel except for the switch of McCarty and Lletget. Having both McCarty and Bradley in a narrow formation like this would seem too defensive, akin back to the four CDM days under Klinsmann.Giving Altidore some striking support in Morris would make him happy and having Nagbe behind them doing his ‘sprint dribble past five players’ thing should open up some space for everyone.It’s not the most ideal lineup, but it could be effective.What do you think about these two options? What changes would you make if you were Bruce? Show us your tactical genius in the comments.

Jones and Kljestan leave USMNT camp, opening door in midfield

Leave a commentBy Nicholas MendolaJan 30, 2017, 8:01 PM EST

Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljesten were sent home from United States men’s national team camp following the team’s 0-0 draw against Serbia on Sunday.Jones will not play in March’s World Cup qualifiers due to suspension, so Bruce Arena sent him home to get used to his new LA Galaxy teammates.And Kljestan’s wife is giving birth, meaning he won’t play against Jamaica.That opens up the midfield for several U.S. players to seize an opportunity on Friday.It shouldn’t be hard for any one player to make a statement given the lackluster attacking performance from the MLS-only squad.Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Lletget both impressed against Serbia, granted they stood out in a match that was offensively uninspiring.Benny Feilhaber didn’t get a ton of time to make an impact, and had a moment or two in his quarter-hour return to the fold. Chris Pontius came close to scoring during his 25-plus minutes, but neither ran wild against a team which entered the day with a combined eight caps.The only U.S. midfield player not to get a run was Dax McCarty, and it seems likely the new Chicago Fire man will see plenty of time against Jamaica.Perhaps Arena will line ’em up like so:

Robles

Zusi — Zimmerman — Evans — Villafana

McCarty — Bradley

Nagbe — Feilhaber — Bedoya

Altidore

The USMNT Goalkeeping Dilemma

The short term future of the goalkeeping position is in serious doubt.

by Adnan Ilyas@Adnan7631  Jan 31, 2017, 7:00am PST

News broke out late January that Brad Guzan would be leaving Middlesbrough in the Premier League in the summer and moving to the MLS expansion side, Atlanta United. While this is a big move for Atlanta, it does present a little bit of an issue for the USMNT. With Guzan’s move, there are no American goalkeepers left playing in the English top flight. Nor in any of the first divisions of Germany, Spain, Italy, or France. This hasn’t happened since Kasey Keller joined Leicester City in 1996, two decades ago. With Guzan leaving, there won’t be any USMNT caliber left in Europe except for Ethan Horvath, who recently moved to Club Bruges in the Belgium first division, the Jupiler League. With this change in situation, we need to evaluate the talent of the American goalkeeping pool.
By my count, these are the players who could be in the running for the starting place this year or in the near future.

Brad Guzan

Tim Howard

Ethan Horvath

Bill Hamid

David Bingham

There are other players who have played for the USMNT but who don’t appear to be in significant contention for the starting place. That includes Rimando, Robles, Cropper, and Yarbrough. But for the sake of time and relevance, I am limiting the discussion to that list of 5.

Guzan

Guzan’s been with the USMNT for a long time, dutifully serving as the backup behind Tim Howard. After Howard took a sabbatical following the 2014 World Cup, the starting position has been Guzan’s. The past few years have been a little bit rough for Guzan. An excellent stop-shot, Guzan was arguably the most important player in keeping Aston Villa from being relegated in 2013-14 and 2014-15. However, Guzan lost form with Villa in the last season and left to join Middlesbrough for free after the Birmingham side were relegated. Life with Middlesbrough has not gone as well as the Chicagoan would have hoped. The club brought in the Spaniard, Victor Valdes, to play as the starting keeper, with Guzan relegated to the backup role once again.

Guzan’s time as the starter with the USMNT has similarly been mixed. While the USMNT struggled in the months following the World Cup, Guzan played quite well. However, during the 2015 Gold Cup, he made several prominent errors, specifically in the semifinal against Jamaica. While throwing a ball to a teammate, Guzan accidentally carried the ball just past the boundary of the penalty box. The ref blew for a hand ball and Jamaica scored on the freekick. The US lost and were knocked out of the tournament (Guzan won the award for best goalkeeper, to my astonishment.) After the Gold Cup and the return of Tim Howard, Klinsmann announced that Guzan would split time as the starter with Howard. Guzan was named the starter for the Copa America Centenario in 2016, where he performed admirably. However, the policy of rotating between Guzan and Howard was re-implemented, with Howard playing in the loss against Mexico, at least until he was forced off with injury.

With a new coach leading the USMNT, Guzan’s role is, again, in doubt. Guzan no longer has the prestige of playing in the Premier League. Nor does he have consistent playing time to justify his inclusion, at least not until he arrives in Atlanta in the summer. At 32, Guzan’s age needs to be considered. While it is true that goalkeepers peak and decline later than outfield players, 32 is still towards the older side of the spectrum. He cannot be considered a project with hopes of improving. He’s at the age where his career has hit the peak and will advance no further. At worst, we could start to see the decline from age. If Guzan’s not starting, serious questions need to be asked if it would simply be better to bring in someone who will be relevant after the 2018 World Cup. Of course, this is all a moot point if Arena decides Guzan’s clearly the best talent the US has at this point. But that question has been debated, and may very well continue to be debated going forward.

Tim Howard

Tim Howard is a USMNT legend. He has the most caps for any goalkeeper in USMNT history. He’s played in 2 World Cups, setting a record for most saves in a single match in the loss against Belgium. However, at some point, the Secretary of Defense’s term must come to an end. Tim Howard is 37, approaching 38. He has seen a decline in form followed by a transfer to MLS and a long-term injury in the form of tear in his abductor muscle. At this point, if one were to ask if Howard were still the best goalkeeper for the US, the answer quite possibly could be “No”. Indeed, one could ask if Howard will even still be playing as a 39 year old by the time Russia 2018 rolls around. However, Howard is still the experienced veteran, the established name who can be depended on to marshal the defense into an impenetrable shield. If the USMNT needs results now, does that mean relying on Howard one more time to get through qualifying? Klinsmann seemed to at least consider it. We will have to see if Arena will be willing to try it, as well.

Ethan Horvath

Now we come to the prospects. Ethan Horvath is one of the brightest talents in the American Goalkeeping pool. Horvath was at Molde starting from 2013 where he eventually made 39 appearances, serving as a brilliantly effective keeper in the Norwegian League. Those consistent and distinguished performances led to a January transfer to Club Bruges, the leading club in the Belgian league. At just 21, Horvath has both a lot of talent and a lot of potential. However, he is serving as the back up for Club Bruges starting keeper, Ludovic Butelle, and has yet to make a start. Horvath certainly has a bright future ahead of him. The question is whether he will rise and become the next American starlet at keeper, and how quickly that rise will happen. There’s an opportunity for him to make a big splash this year, but it depends on how he presents himself in camp.

Bill Hamid

Bill Hamid has been the Next Big Thing for over a half-decade. While he’s been spectacular at times with DC United, including a Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2014, Hamid has had trouble turning that club success into a big offer from a European club or international success. Mostly, this has been because of a string of injuries. Hamid can’t seem to stay healthy long enough to get time with the national team, earning just 2 senior caps in 5 years. In this very January Camp, Hamid came in and was forced to leave early due to an injury. At the age of 26, Hamid has a huge opportunity to take the USMNT starting spot and make it is own, along with a big-money move abroad. But to do that, he’ll need to be consistent and, above all, healthy.

David Bingham

At 27, David Bingham is not exactly a prospect. However, the supporter turned player has performed admirably with the San Jose Earthquakes, emerging as one of the clear standouts in MLS. With Howard and Guzan aging, Bingham has a chance to eventually take the head spot, depending on how Hamid and Horvath turn out. It’s an outside shot, but he’s got a chance.

Will the U.S. Men’s National Team qualify for World Cup?

Originally posted on The Sports Daily  |  By Jack King  |  Last updated 2/1/17

Sandwiched in between a friendly match against Serbia and an upcoming friendly against Jamaica this Friday, new USMNT manager Bruce Arena has said that he sees no reason why his squad shouldn’t qualify for World Cup play.For context, we’ll take a look back to Nov. 20, when the USMNT was embarrassed 4-0 in Costa Rica. In the days following the loss, former manager Jurgen Klinsmann publicly stated that he was 1,000 percent sure that the team would advance to Russia in 2018. The U.S. found itself 0-2 in group play after losing to Mexico in a prior match, and Klinsmann was shown the door.For national team managers, their careers and team expectations are like milk carton expiration dates. Such is the case with Arena. He is well aware that the expectations placed upon him are twofold. First, he must pull the USMNT out of their slump and garner enough points in the next eight qualifying matches to compete in Russia.  With the top three teams making the trek (and a fourth involved in a home and away scenario), it would seem that the U.S. should advance. Once in Russia, it is expected that his squad will make a run deep into the competition.With two matches remaining against under-performing Panama and two against a weak Trinidad and Tobago team, ten points is likely to be earned and all twelve is not out of the question. The two games against Honduras should garner four points, and a home game against Costa Rica will produce no worse than a draw and a possible win. The other game on the schedule, against El Tri at The Azteca, will prove to be the most difficult qualifying match and even a point might prove elusive. But the USMNT will ultimately amass enough points to make the trip to Russia, which is the immediate task at hand for Arena.The CONCACAF region as a whole does not have any powerhouses, compared to what lies in Europe and South America. It relies primarily on Mexico and the U.S. to showcase its talent to the world, and both teams have underperformed in the past few years. That the USMNT has to fight its way to earn a qualifying spot within CONCACAF is not a benchmark for success, but it is a crucial first step. With all eyes on Arena as the new manager, he can only be as successful as his available talent.  The Serbia friendly that ended in a 0-0 draw saw a dearth of talent from his MLS players, given that they played against a tired Serbian squad comprised entirely of “B” and “C” team players. While most of the MLS-laden team will not make Arena’s final World Cup squad, the friendlies are critical to identifying role players, as well as providing depth to the team. While the manager was kind with his words, there were few standout performances following a three-week camp. The Jamaica friendly on Friday will be the last chance for these players to make an impact on the team before the next set of qualifiers begins on March 24th.That leaves the USMNT to rely upon their overseas players. But isn’t that where the USMNT was under former manager Klinsmann? While he favored the German system to train his players more than other leagues, the talent pool is no larger than it was last year. While the emergence of a player like Christian Pulisic is helpful to the team, at 18 years of age his biggest contribution will be in future Cups. Bobby Wood shows promise in the forward slot, while attacking midfielder Julian Green has demonstrated he belongs on the squad. While these players have value to the USMNT, if they aren’t stars on their club teams, it would be folly to expect such results as they compete on the world stage.The core of the USMNT team has quietly aged as well. Players like Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones have lost more than a couple of steps, and 33 year-old Clint Dempsey’s heart ailment leaves his playing career in question.One would think that new manager Arena has taken all of that into account and is fielding the best team available to him in a short amount of time. It appears that the shape of the U.S on the pitch has taken a more defensive posture, possibly to reduce their vulnerability from a counter-attack due to their lack of speed. All of that comes at a price, however, as forward Altidore has said that he isn’t keen on his lone-striker role. Look for the U.S. to provide more support to the flanks, which is where the team has taken a beating in recent matches. At age 65, Arena’s experience has taught him to keep the games close enough to be in a position to pick up points in each match.The Klinsmann era of the turbo-charged three-forward offense has passed. Arena’s style of play will be slower and more defensive-minded.  But if his squad is to have any chance to qualify for World Cup play in Russia in 2018, he might just need to make lemonade from lemons to advance.

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