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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