3/30 – Indy 11 Home Opener Sat 3 pm, USA Ties at Panama, World Leagues Return to Play, Full TV-game schedule

Well the US got the 4 points they needed in World Cup Qualifying this weekend with a 1-1 tie at Panama last night, following their 6-0 win on Thurs.  They now stand in 4th overall – and are in good shape heading into the June qualifiers in Denver and at Azteca.  Panama was too good a team to give up multiple goals at home – and the 1-1 tie was honestly a good result as Timmy Howard was called upon at least 3 times to make fantastic saves to preserve the tie.  The game showed the US depth along the back line as 2nd stringers Gonzales, and Tim Ream held down the middle for the slightly injured Brooks and Cameron.  While Zuzi survived the night at right back.  I thought Villafana was fine again at left back and might have a least for now nailed down his position moving forward at left back.  Zusi was fried a # of times especially in the 1st half with Pulisic not tracking back to help him.  Overall the defense was ok – but looked really week on set pieces as no one took charge and won the header a # of times in the box.  I think we can look forward to a Yedlin, Cameron, Brooks, Villafana back line as the June Qualifiers roll around assuming they are all healthy.  I thought the forward line looked ok – obviously Pulisic was special again – and his connection with Dempsey is obvious.  I am going to say I like Pulisic underneath as a #10 beneath the forwards however not as a winger.  The force feed of Jones into the line-up last night – to me shows that Jones and Bradley simply can’t be the tandum in the midfield.  Bradley was fantastic Thurs night at home with Pulisic in the 10, Nagbe controlling play on the left and Leggett/Bedoya on the right.  Jones simply doesn’t play the right side – and I think at his age – he should now be considered for a 70th minute sub role rather than a starter if Bradley is going to be the #6 – which is where he belongs.   Assuming FW Woods, MF Johnson and Right Back Yedlin return to the fold in June – the Bruce will have some decisions to make regarding personel as he moves forward.  A good problem to have however the US depth will continue to help us in qualifying and the Gold Cup this summer should hopefully allow Bruce to give the younger guys a good look.

We are down to the Final 8 – Quarterfinals in Champions League –  with 2 games each on Apr 11/12  & 18/19 with Barcelona vs Juve and Bayern vs Real Madrid looking like the best match-ups on Fox Sports 1 & 2.  Also at the Quarters is Europa League on 4/13 as Man United face Anderlect.   Big weekend on TV – as Liverpool faces Everton Sat 7:30 NBCSB, Sun has Man City hosting Arsenal 11 am NBCSN and I hope to be at the Real Madrid vs Alves game in Spain 10:15 am on beIN Sports.

Good luck to our Indy 11 as they kick-off their regular season on the road vs the expansion side San Francisco Deltas on Saturday at 3 pm live at the MIKE vs Puerto Rico FC.

Champions League

Tues Apr 11 –Champions League 

2:45 pm FoxSport1    Juventus vs Barcelona  

2:45 pm FoxSport2    Dortmund vs Monaco

Weds  –Apr 12 Champions League 

2:45 pm FoxSport2    Atletico vs Leicester City

2:45 pm FoxSport1    Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid

Quarter Final – Elite 8 Match-ups – Who’s going Thru?  ESPNFC

Elite 8 #s 

Indy 11

Indy 11 Signs Major Corporate Sponsor Turkish Airlines

Indy 11 put 3 on Team of the Week in NASL

3 Things Indy 11 vs San Fran

Recap – Indy 11 1-1 Draw at San Fran

Indy 11 – Curious Lineup for Season Opener – Aaron Gunyonwww.soctakes.com

The Boys from Soc Takes – Break Down the Opener –

Indy 11 Season Tickets

Indy 11 Flex Pack – 8 game Flex Package

Indy 11 on TV locally

Local Broadcast of Indy 11 Games

Indy 11 Soccer Camp at Carmel Dad’s Club – June 19-22  9-12 pm

 USA

Pulisic Wows again, Dempsey scores as US Claim the tie at Panama – Grant Wahl SI

US Jones and Bradley Can’t play Together – SB Nation

Time for Jones to Step Down – Armchair Analyst – Mathew Doyle MLS.com

Player Ratings – MLS.com

US Player Ratings ESPNFC Jason Davis

Who is GOAT – for US National Team – Donovan or Dempsey  Boehm MLS.com

Matt Miazga off US Team Radar while on Loan from Chelsea in Europe

WORLD

Legendary Goalie Gigi Buffon passes 1000 games between the posts

A Better Way to Do International Breaks and WC Qualifiers – Gab Marcotti – ESPNFC

ICC Cup League Tickets Are On Sale  for the big Games in the US this summer

MLS

MLS Needs to Stop Play during International Breaks like the Rest of the World

MLS winners and Losers from International Weekend

GAMES ON TV  

Fri,  Mar 31

730 pm Fox Sport 1                          Toronto vs Sporting KC

10 pm  fox sport 1     Seattle vs Atlanta United

Sat  Apr 1

7:30 am NBCSN            Liverpool vs Everton – Derby

10 am NBCSN??           Leiscester City vs Stoke City

3 pm MyIndy TV23 Indy 11 vs Puerto Rico (ESPN3)

7:30 pm beIN Sport  NY Cosmos vs Miami

Sun  Apr 2

10:15 am beIN sport                        Real Madrid vs Alves – (hopefully I will be there!)

11 am NBCSN                Arsenal vs Man City

9 pm ESPN2                    Portland vs NE

Sat,  Apr 8

10 am NBCSN                Stoke City vs Liverpool

10:15 am beIN sport Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid – Madrid Derby

12:30 pm Fox Sport1                       Bayern Munich vs Dortmund

7:30 pm beIN Sport                Puerto Rico vs Indy 11

Sun  Apr 9

11 am NBCSN                 Everton vs Leicester City

4 pm ESPN                       Orlando City vs NY Redbulls

7 pm Fox Sport 1        Sporting KC vs Colorado Rapids (Tim Howard)

Tues Apr 11 –Champions League 

2:45 pm FoxSport1    Juventus vs Barcelona  

2:45 pm FoxSport2    Dortmund vs Monaco

Weds  –Apr 12 Champions League 

2:45 pm FoxSport2    Atletico vs Leicester City

2:45 pm FoxSport1    Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid

Thur, Apr 13 – Europa League

3 pm Fox Sport1         Anderlect vs Man United

3 pm FS2                      Ajax vs Schalke 04

Tues  –Apr 18 Champions League 

2:45 pm FoxSport2    Leicester City vs Atletico

2:45 pm FoxSport1    Real Madrid  vs Bayern Munich

Weds Apr 19 –Champions League 

2:45 pm FoxSport1    Barcelona  vs Barcelona

2:45 pm FoxSport2    Monaco vs Dortmund

Thur, Apr 20 – Europa League

3 pm Fox Sport1         Man United vs Anderlect

3 pm FS2                      Schalke 04 vs Ajax

Full MLS Schedule

Indy 11 TV Schedule

THREE THINGS: Ind 11 vs #SFDVIND

The first edition of Three Things for the 2017 season  Mar 27, 2017

A POINT ON THE ROAD…

Mixed results away from home were a thorn in Indy Eleven’s collective side last year, so earning an all-important point in the first match of the 2017 season may prove an important initial step towards repeating as Spring Season champions. Perhaps more important, though, is the fight that Indiana’s Team showed to claw their way back into the match and nearly secure all three points after going down first.

It was an occasion catered to San Francisco. In the club’s first-ever match in front of an eager crowd at Kezar Stadium, the hosts went in front just after 30 minutes of play thanks to midfielder Kyle Bekker’s one-time knock following a through ball from forward Danny Cruz. But, instead of letting the compounded pressure negatively affect their drive, Indy pushed past the pressure and nearly ended up equalizing before the break.Starting the second half with a high press that forced the Deltas into making multiple mistakes, Indy found their goal in the form of a Tanner Thompson header just before the hour mark. Continuing to pester San Fran, Indy nearly found a winner on a couple of separate occasions, but Deltas ‘keeper Romuald Peiser was able to keep the ball out of the back of the net to earn a draw.There are plenty of positives to take from the match, including an impressive set of debuts by the likes of Tanner Thompson and Ben Speas amongst others. While the “Boys in Blue” would have liked to depart the Golden State with all three points, they come “Back Home Again” to Indiana with all momentum driving them ahead against Puerto Rico FC in the home opener.

YOU GET A DEBUT, AND YOU GET A DEBUT, AND YOU GET A DEBUT!

Despite returning 13 players from the 2016 team that reached The Championship Final, Indy Eleven deployed four new players – three starters – during the season opener at Kezar Stadium.Starting and playing the full 90 minutes, defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe helped command the backline alongside returnee Daniel Keller and looked competent and comfortable against the Deltas attacking trio of Jackson, Heinemann, and Cruz. In the midfield, Ben Speas also played an impressive full 90 minutes and tallied his first assist as a “Boy in Blue” on Tanner Thompson’s 58th-minute finish (see below). And, speaking of Thompson, after putting pen to paper just a few days before embarking to face the expansion side, the goalscorer featured for 77 minutes before being replaced by fellow midfielder and debutant Craig Henderson with just under 15 minutes to play. In addition, new signing and defender Anthony Manning made the bench as an unused substitute, and new forward David Goldsmith would have been available pending earlier receipt of his P1-A visa. All six of the aforementioned will likely be available for selection on Saturday, meaning Indy will have almost a full squad to choose from for the home opener.

USING YOUR HEAD

Indy Eleven midfielder Tanner Thompson made his professional debut in Saturday night’s 1-1 draw, leveling the match in the 58th with a deft header that only a few in his position could produce. There’s no better feeling than scoring on your debut, said Thompson, before revealing the little-known fact that it was the Indiana University product’s first-ever headed goal in his entire playing career.Working the ball out wide, fellow debutant Ben Speas – who made the switch from Minnesota United FC in the offseason – swung in a drifting ball towards the center of the area. Sprinting into the box, the 5’7″ midfielder Thompson found just enough space in behind the Deltas defense to leap and connect on a looping header over Peiser and in.Showing that size isn’t everything, Thompson impressed through 77 minutes before being replaced by midfielder Craig Henderson. If the Loomis, CA native continues to show his ability to produce, it’s difficult to see his name falling off the teamsheet.

RECAP: INDY ELEVEN EARNS HARD-FOUGHT POINT IN 2017 SEASON OPENER AT SAN FRANCISCO

Duo of Debutants Ben Speas and Tanner Thompson Combine for Equalizer in 1-1 Draw at Kezar StadiumMar 26, 201782

SAN FRANCISCO (Saturday, March 25, 2017) – Indy Eleven earned an important point in the 2017 season opener as they come away from San Francisco following a 1-1 draw.
Lining up without 2016 leading goalscorer Eamon Zayed in the starting XI, the “Boys in Blue” deployed the pair of Ben Speas and Justin Braun up top, with a midfield four of Brad Ring, Gerardo Torrado, Don Smart, and Tanner Thompson packing in the center. At the back, it fell on defenders Nemanja Vukovic, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Daniel Keller, and Marco Franco to protect ‘keeper Jon Busch against a fresh Deltas side.San Francisco was the more eager of the two sides to begin the match, and their first chance of the evening fell just six minutes into the contest. The delivery from midfielder Cristian Portilla, a curling corner fell into a jumble of defenders and attackers alike but ultimately fell out of play at the back post for a goal kick to end the initial threat. As the Deltas settled into the match, chances piled up in the opening 15 minutes. San Francisco would come close once again in the 16th minute when forward Tom Heinemann sought the run of midfielder Jackson into the 18-yard box, but Indy ‘keeper Jon Busch was off his line in time to punch out for a throw.he best chance of the half for Indy would come ten minutes later, this time for forward Justin Braun. Using his incredible pace to sneak behind San Francisco’s back four, Braun found himself on a 1v1 with Deltas ‘keeper Romuald Peiser. Finessing a right-footed roller, Braun would beat the ‘netminder but fail to find the back of the net.As momentum swung from side-to-side, the hosts would open the scoring just after 30 minutes of play thanks to midfielder Kyle Bekker. Taking a pass from forward Danny Cruz, Bekker swept in a one-time effort past Jon Busch with his right foot as San Francisco scored their first ever goal in league play.The seconds ticked down in the opening 45 minutes, but Indy would come close once more as Justin Braun linked up momentarily with midfielder Ben Speas only for the Deltas defense to collapse the move and absorb the pressure.With no changes for either side to start the second half, Indy jumped out ahead and nearly connected within two minutes of the restart. Again the combo of Speas and Braun was fruitful, but as Braun stretched to meet the low, driven ball from Speas he would come just inches away from making a solid connection.However, Indy’s high press to start the second half would eventually pay off in the 58th minute. Ben Speas knocked in a beautiful, left-footed cross for debutant Tanner Thompson, and Indy’s newest signing produced a skillful, looping header that arced over the head of Peiser and into the back of the net to tie things at one-all. For Thompson, it was the first shot and goal of his NASL career. For Speas, it was also his first assist as a member of Indiana’s Team.”It feels really good on the debut. You can only wish to be able to contribute on the stat sheet, and Ben put in a great ball at the right time and I was able to head it home,” said Thompson.

“I would have never put any money on scoring like that. It was actually my first headed goal ever – even from youth soccer and into college. I was just able to get my body position right and throw off their jump. It fell nicely and I was thrilled to be on the end of it.Not done yet, Indy continued to up the pressure and Justin Braun again proved a catalyst. Working in behind Deltas defender Nana Attakora, Braun wiggled into a second 1v1 against Peiser, but the ‘netminder stood tall and denied the forward from point-blank range to keep things level.After a back-and-forth next twenty minutes, another quality chance fell to Indy near the death. Substitute Eamon Zayed replaced midfielder Ben Speas with 15 minutes to play and found himself on the end of an excellent delivery from Don Smart. However, after Smart did well to lift the ball to the Irishman, the forward could not direct his effort on frame and the chance went missing.Into six minutes of stoppage, two final opportunities would come Indy’s way – the first in the form of a Nemanja Vukovic free kick. Standing over the ball in the 93rd minute, “Vuko” cracked a cross-cum-shot towards the Deltas goal that saw the San Fran ‘keeper react in the nick of time to prevent a sure winner from crossing the line. Seconds later, Kwame Watson-Siriboe was able to get a head on a corner kick from the left-back Vukovic, but the ball skimmed off the top of his head and out for a goal kick.As the final whistle blew at Kezar Stadium, both teams earned a hard-fought point in a match that could have yielded much more in attacking output.
Indy Eleven will return home to IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Stadium for the first time next Saturday, April 1, when the “Boys in Blue” will host Puerto Rico FC for a 3:00 p.m. ET kickoff. Tickets for the April 1 home opener – and all 16 NASL matches at “The Mike” in 2017 – can be purchased for as little as $11 online at www.IndyEleven.com or by phone at 317-685-1100.
2017 NASL Season
San Francisco Deltas 1 : 1  Indy Eleven
Saturday, March 25, 2017
Kezar Stadium – San Francisco, CA

Scoring Summary:
SFD – Kyle Bekker 31′
IND – Tanner Thompson 58′

Discipline Summary:
IND – Nemanja Vukovic 55′
IND – Kwame Watson-Siriboe 60′
SFD – Nana Attakora 60′
SFD – Pablo Dyego 67′

Indy Eleven line-up (4-4-2, L–>R):  Jon Busch (GK); Nemanja Vukovic, Daniel Keller, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Marco Franco; Brad Ring (C), Gerardo Torrado, Tanner Thompson (Craig Henderson 77′), Don Smart; Ben Speas (Eamon Zayed 77′), Justin Braun

Indy Eleven bench: Keith Cardona (GK), Anthony Manning, Sinisa Ubiparipovic

San Francisco Deltas line-up (4-3-3, L–>R):  Romuald Peiser (GK); Karl Ouimette, Nana Attakora (C), Reiner Ferreira, Kenny Teijsse; Michael Stephens, Cristian Portilla, Kyle Bekker; Jackson (Pablo Dyego 67′), Tommy Heinemann (Devon Sandoval 90+5′), Danny Cruz (Tyler Gibson 81′)

Pulisic wows again as USA continues World Cup qualifying rebuild with point in Panama

Grant Wahl,Sports Illustrated 9 hours ago

PANAMA CITY, Panama – The U.S. tied Panama 1-1 in a World Cup qualifier here on Tuesday, fulfilling coach Bruce Arena’s objective of getting at least four points from the two March qualifiers, though the U.S. will be disappointed that it wasn’t more after a defensive breakdown allowed Panama to score the equalizing goal at the end of the first half.The tie left the U.S. in fourth place (1-1-2, five points) in the Hexagonal, two places higher than it was to start the week. The top three teams in the six-team, 10-game tournament will automatically qualify for the World Cup, with the fourth-place team going to an intercontinental playoff against Asia’s fifth-placed team.Two goals came in a flurry at the end of the first half. Clint Dempsey put the U.S. ahead in the 39th minute after Christian Pulisic hoodwinked two Panamanian defenders in the box and delivered a pinpoint assist. It was Dempsey’s 56th career international goal, putting him just one behind the all-time U.S. men’s record held by Landon Donovan.But while Arena wanted his team to run out the first-half clock, Panama struck back quickly. Off a throw-in in the U.S. end, defender Tim Ream misplayed the ball by turning his back to it, and Gabriel Gómez pounced on the loose ball in the box to equalize.Here my three thoughts on the game:

Pulisic has got the gift

Kicked relentlessly by the Panamanians, who picked him out from the start, Pulisic nevertheless showed once again that he has the rarest of talents in soccer: The ability to create a goal out of nothing even in hostile environments. Receiving a mostly innocuous pass on the right side, the 18-year-old figuratively pulled down the pants of veteran Felipe Baloy in the box, then stopped on a dime on the edge of the six with scary poise before beating Román Torres and feeding the ball to Dempsey for the first U.S. goal.Pulisic can do remarkable things on perfect fields in the Champions League, but it’s another step in his development to connive rivals on the road in CONCACAF without getting CONCACAF’d.

The U.S isn’t that deep everywhere

The preferred starting center backs, Geoff Cameron and John Brooks, weren’t able to play due to various physical maladies. In their place, Arena started Omar Gonzalez and Ream, who are O.K. but a bit of a drop-off. Panama’s goal wasn’t entirely Ream’s fault, but it was largely on the Fulham player, who had a bad miscue against Panama before in the 2011 Gold Cup that led to a U.S. defeat. Ream did come back in the second half to save a goal on a Panama break, but he’s still going to look back on this game with some regrets.You also can’t deny that it hurts to miss Cameron, who was also absent during the brutal two-loss stretch in November.

Four points a solid haul as qualifying campaign steadies

The 6-0 win against Honduras gave people reason to think the U.S. had a chance to win here and take six points from the week, but all things considered, four points has to be viewed as a promising restoration of the U.S.’s World Cup hopes after that miserable November.The U.S. will have every expectation to win its next qualifier in June, at home against Trinidad and Tobago, before visiting archrival Mexico and hoping to avenge November’s home loss.Four games of a 10-game tournament are done, and Arena has brought some stability back to a World Cup qualifying process that will continue to be a challenge.

It’s time for the USMNT to stop playing Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones together

It didn’t work against Panama, and it hasn’t worked in a long time.

by Conor Dowley@c_dowley  Mar 29, 2017, 8:15am EDT

The United States has a problem in midfield. That problem has two names: Michael Bradleyand Jermaine Jones. Simply put, after their struggles against Panama on Tuesday night, the USMNT can no longer afford to play them as a partnership in midfield, and it may be time to drop Jones from the national team entirely.This isn’t being said to be cruel or vindictive. It’s said out of a need for honest conversation about a long-problematic part of the United States national team squad. For several years now, Bradley and Jones have been a regular source of stress and worry for the U.S. that occasionally gets papered over by a fantastic goal from one or the other of the pair.But when they’re not scoring goals, they struggle to be a useful part of the team, and that’s left the USMNT struggling for any kind of midfield coherence every time Bradley and Jones are together in the starting lineup.Essentially what happens is this: Jones doesn’t have the legs he once did and never had spectacular positioning. He pushes too far up the pitch to support the attack, and he can no longer get back to help defend the resulting counterattack when the Americans turn the ball over. In the right midfield with the right partner, that can be covered up and dealt with. But unfortunately, Michael Bradley isn’t that partner.That’s because Bradley has his own positioning woes these days. He tends to do too much floating around watching play develop instead of reacting to it in a useful way. He gets too busy trying to fill the space Jones leaves behind him and forgets to worry about his own responsibilities, leading to an opposing player sauntering right through the hole he left. That puts the USMNT defense under pressure, and he does the same thing to the men behind him multiple times per match.It’s a problem.The problem gets lessened significantly when Bradley is in a midfield without Jones — he was much better after Kellyn Acosta entered the match in Jones’ place against Panama. It’s getting harder and harder to see what Jones brings to the national team besides experience. Experience does not outweigh the kind of performance he put in on Tuesday, and it might just be time to consider his role on the team moving forward.When it comes to Bradley, Bruce Arena needs to make it clear that there’s only so much mediocrity he can take before his spot in the lineup needs to be considered. There’s a lot of good that Bradley brings to the team — he’s a good captain, a solid leader with a lot of experience, and when he plays well, he’s one of the most talented players on the team. His best passes from deep are better than any other American can produce. But it’s been years since he’s matched his club for his country on a consistent basis.At their best, Jones and Bradley were two of the top players on the USMNT. Both have given the team a lot during their careers. But those days are long gone, and either player on his own is only marginally useful of late. Together they’re an outright liability, and the USMNT can no longer afford to carry them.

Armchair Analyst: The case for a USMNT midfield without Jermaine Jones

March 29, 20176:00PM EDTMatthew DoyleSenior WriterI don’t think there’s much doubt that Jermaine Jones is still one of the most individually talented players in the USMNT player pool. His athleticism has always been his calling card, and it’s still mostly there. He is a blur, a snarling and nasty and committed two-way expression of pure id, a shin-seeking destroyer who plays the game with his engine running in the red. Jones, at a full gallop, can shrink the entire field – his ability to just chew up ground feels like it gives his opponents about 25 percent less room to play with. When he’s locked in he forces every opponent to meet his intensity level, and if they can’t, they’re going to be holding on for dear life.Go rewatch the first 25 minutes of Colorado’s second-leg playoff loss to Seattle last year, a period of time in which Jones ran through and past and around and over the Sounders pretty much all by himself. I’ve watched Ozzie Alonso play soccer for a decade and that’s the only time I’ve ever seen him look overwhelmed.Jones could occasionally bring this to bear on the international level as well. Watch minutes 45-through-75 of the 2-1 World Cup qualifying loss to Mexico. He was breathtaking. That athleticism has often overshadowed his individual skill, which is not insignificant. You remember the goal vs. Portugal, of course. You can also probably conjure up images of big, diagonal switches or the occasional, well-weighted ball up the line and into a winger’s run, a la Tuesday night at Panama. Jones has some stuff in his bag.And those two things – his athleticism and his skill – have continually overshadowed the fact that the US tend to play better when Jones, who is now 35, is a spectator. Or, at the very least, is forced into a support/tertiary role.I spoke about Jones the individualist above because he plays soccer with a Galt-ian sense of self. His bursts of energy against Seattle and Mexico were as unsustainable as they were breathtaking, and once he’d maxed out his reserves, his teammates were forced to compensate for his no-less-unpredictable forays away from positional responsibility and his no less risky attempts at spreading the field with the ball. Instead of focusing on their own shape or gameplan, or adjusting to the attacks of the opposition, the constant calculation of his own teammates has been “How do we adjust to Jermaine?” Instead of working together, they were working for him.The Jones of earlier days could run himself out of position then usually run himself back into the play, but even so it’s been a bad, game-tilting trade for the US for most of this decade. Exchanging tactical framework for hero-ball isn’t a good blueprint.And at Panama on Tuesday, it started to become apparent that Jones isn’t about to quit playing hero ball even as his athleticism ticks downward and his skill slowly deserts him.If it was just one bad game, one “off” performance from the veteran, fair enough. But it’s not, and nobody should ignore the knock-on effect that his presence has on the rest of the US team.That’s what I’ve been seeing for the last seven years. Because Jones is such an individualist in his movement the US is forced into the binary of playing to him or away from him whenever he’s out on the field, which bogs down the attack and limits useful possession. Doing otherwise, trying to build slowly and patiently through central midfield, is a non-starter because 1) Jones is rarely in the spots you’d expect a central midfielder to operate in, 2) he doesn’t hit many passes designed to keep possession, and 3) trying to play that way when one central midfielder is out of position defensively is suicide by counterattack.There’s a strong case to be made for a reduced role for Jones under Bruce Arena. I think, in the process, we’ll see the US move away from the flat 4-4-2 they tried against Panama and toward a 4-3-1-2 with Christian Pulisic as the “1” and Michael Bradley – for now – in the middle of the “3” line as the defensive midfielder.Who are the shuttlers, the wide midfielders on the “3” line? Darlington Nagbe for one, and Alejandro Bedoya for another. Kellyn Acosta can certainly play that role, and I thought it was symbolic when he replaced Jones with 15 minutes left against Los Canaleros. A healthy Sebastian Lletget has a spot there as well, as should Danny Williams even though he’s really more of a No. 6. Fabian Johnson is more of a true wide player who’d bring a different look to the spot. Alfredo Morales plays a similar role in the Bundesliga, and Cristian Roldan is a guy that Arena’s mentioned as a possible Gold Cup call-up. Lynden Gooch might end up playing as more of a No. 8.It’s too early for the Tyler Adams hype train, even though he was born for this role. But if he plays well at the U-20 World Cup in May you’ll definitely hear his name mentioned, and it won’t be inappropriate.Regardless, in years past the argument could’ve been made that the US were at a point, talent-wise, where Jones was essential. I’ll make the argument that he’s become detrimental, and the time has come for a change.

US Player Ratings: Howard, Ream, Pulisic lead on nervy night in Panama

March 29, 20172:08AM EDTGreg SeltzerContributorIn a game where the result slightly outshined the performance, the US national team battled CONCACAF hexagonal hosts Panama to a 1-1 draw on Tuesday night.In a stark departure from Friday’s schooling of Honduras, the visitors spent most of the match in awkward shapes, especially when in possession. However, Christian Pulisic and Clint Dempsey combined for another highlight-reel goal to earn the US an important away point.

Tim Howard (7) – The Colorado Rapids netminder did well to snuff a good Luis Tejada chance near the hour in making the best of his three saves on the night. Some observers may bark that Howard was glued to his line too long on the Panama goal, but it says here that there’s really not much he can do when the defense flakes in that manner.

Graham Zusi (5) – The newly-converted right back definitely had some troubles with Alberto Quintero, but did handle matters more solidly as the game progressed. Surprisingly, Zusi only completed a single positive pass in the attack end over 90 minutes.

Omar Gonzalez (6) – It was a decent but unspectacular outing for the Pachuca man, who had less to do than his back line mates. Gonzalez was found hoofing the ball away a bit too often, but did manage to connect a handful of long passes into the Panama half.

Tim Ream (7) – Were it not for his costly flub dealing with Adolfo Machado’s long throw on the home side’s goal, Ream would be the clear man of the match for the US. With that one glaring exception, he was excellent. Pressed in to duty on short notice, the Fulham defender registered 15 clearances and a big shot block.

Jorge Villafaña (5) – As with Ream, Villafaña’s worst episode happened on the Panama tally. He fell asleep just long enough for Gabriel Gomez to squirt free and pounce on the loose ball. Other than that error, he was fine.

Michael Bradley (5.5) – The captain didn’t make many mistakes on the night, but he also didn’t exert much influence over the proceedings. His passing game and defensive work improved after a bland first half, but it was still too easy for Panama to travel through the middle.

Jermaine Jones (5.5) – Of course, part of the reason Panama had lanes to drive down central was that Jones also likes to travel. He was also typically strong defensively in one-v-one battles, sticking his foot in to halt some rushes. The LA Galaxy veteran was only sparingly useful on the ball, but it was his clever pass that released Pulisic on the US goal play.

Christian Pulisic (6.5) – The Borussia Dortmund wunderkind was repeatedly frustrated by Panama’s physical play. Still, attackers only need that one big play to make the grade, and Pulisic’s was a doozy. He got loose to hypnotize two defenders on his way to teeing up Dempsey for an easy equalizer.

Darlington Nagbe (6) – The Portland ace was an effective pressure valve, albeit one that tended to hold the ball too long after wiggling into the Panama end. Unlike in their previous games together, Nagbe didn’t connect so well with Villafaña up the flank.

Clint Dempsey (6.5) – The man they call Deuce had one terrific lead pass to spring Pulisic, but other than that failed to get much going until he bagged the US goal. In a tight CONCACAF away tussle,  though, one play is enough to make a difference.

Jozy Altidore (5.5) – Due to the team’s disorganized play on the ball, Altidore was effectively turned into an innocent bystander. He didn’t get a touch in the final third until shortly before he departed on 83 minutes, and had just five in the Panama end all game long.

Coach Bruce Arena (6) – Considering the boss kept losing starters right up to game time, it’s hard to be too judgmental. That said, the team’s shape was a mess for much of the game and the great alteration never came. Were it not for Pulisic’s moment of magic, this could easily have been an annoying defeat. On the other hand, the team could have grabbed a huge win if the set piece defense didn’t bungle Machado’s long throw.  We’ll call this one even.

Subs:

Alejandro Bedoya (6) – The Philly Union attacker worked both wings in his 21 minutes, and as often is the case, the team ran smoother when he was on the field.

Kellyn Acosta (6) – The FC Dallas midfielder looked lively off the bench.

Paul Arriola (6) – The late sub entered ready to ask questions of the Panama defense.

Tim Howard, Omar Gonzalez hold firm as U.S. battle to 1-1 draw in Panama

CONCACAF qualifiers in Central America might never be easier for the U.S. than this. Just four days after having their way with Honduras on home soil, the Americans walked into a street fight in Panama City and were lucky to get out with a point via a 1-1 draw.

Positives

A few of the newer faces in the USMNT setup shined again in the very different conditions of Estadio Rommel Fernandez. The left side of the field was good for the bulk of the game, with Darlington Nagbe and Jorge Villafana playing a relatively clean match. Christian Pulisic again stepped up when the team needed him, and perhaps just as important, he received a lesson in the difficulties of playing on the road in CONCACAF. The U.S. can take the education and the point back home with some satisfaction.

Negatives

For much of the match, the Americans looked sluggish and unable to match the hosts’ intensity. The bumpy field had something to do with the lack of passing quality, but there was also a frantic nature to the U.S. when on the ball. A failure to connect play in midfield left space for the Panamanians to come at the U.S. back line with numbers on more than one occasion. Dempsey scored, but Altidore was a nonfactor, and in general, the attack lacked sharpness. Panama’s goal came from a simple inability of three American players to clear a long throw.

Manager rating:

5.5 — Arena had his hands tied because of the rash of injuries that hit the team, but there were a few decisions that deserve scrutiny. The choice to start Tim Ream over Matt Besler had some scratching their heads, especially because of the lack of a relationship between Ream and his defensive partner, Omar Gonzalez. Jermaine Jones was not effective, either because of his positional indiscipline or because of his fitness. Tactically, the midfield was a mess.That said, the goal was to get a point on the road, and Arena accomplished that task.

Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Tim Howard, 8 — Howard made a pair of massive saves to give his team a chance to take something from the game.

DF Graham Zusi, 5.5 — Zusi was a positive for most of the night, though he was thoroughly turned around by Panama’s wingers on a few occasions. The word for his work is “passable.”

DF Omar Gonzalez, 8 — He did an excellent job reading the game and stepping up when required. Gonzalez provided good emergency defending when Panama broke through the U.S. defensive line.

DF Tim Ream, 6 — A little good, a lot of questionable. The game seemed too physical for him, though he did manage to arrive at the right moment to quell a few dangerous chances.

DF Jorge Villafana, 6 — Villafana played his position effectively. He was limited in the attack except for a few moments, however, and was implicit on the Panama goal in some measure.

MF Michael Bradley, 5.5 — He was left alone to link the back line and the forwards but was still too sloppy with his passing. His set piece service was also lacking. (Indeed)

MF Jermaine Jones, 4.5 — Jones was a mess positionally and provided almost no cover defensively. He failed to find any connection with Bradley, which created big gaps for Panama to exploit. (WAS HORRIBLE)

MF Christian Pulisic, 7 — He created the U.S.’s only goal with a little bit of skill and a lot of will. Pulisic received a battering all night from his markers but managed to keep his head in the match through 90 minutes.

MF Darlington Nagbe, 7 — Maybe the best player on the field across the entirety of the first half, Nagbe was good on the ball and pushed the pace when space appeared.

FW Clint Dempsey, 6 — He scored the lone U.S. goal, which makes the night a success on the whole. Dempsey starved a bit for service and wasn’t able to get on the ball consistently.

FW Jozy Altidore, 4 — He was effectively marked out of the game by Roman Torres. Frustrated by the physical tone of the game, Altidore simply did not impact the game in any meaningful way.

 

Substitutes

MF Alejandro Bedoya, 6.5 — Bedoya helped lock things down when the game seemed to be slipping from the Americans’ grasp. He was smart on the ball and popped up in the attacking third more than once.

MF Kellyn Acosta, NR — He committed a few rough touches but was otherwise calm and composed in his limited time.

FW Paul Arriola, NR — He pushed forward and threatened in the attacking end with the clock winding down but was unable to play an accurate ball into the box.Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.

Clint Dempsey is Mr. Clutch and USMNT’s greatest-ever player

AN JOSE, Calif. — A strong argument for Clint Dempsey as the best American player ever could have been made long before Friday night, when his 54-minute hat trick in a 6-0 drubbing of Honduras put the U.S. back on course to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia.It was a signature performance and all the more remarkable considering that it came in the 34-year-old’s first international following an eight-month layoff because of a heart scare that threatened to end his career. It also cemented Dempsey’s legacy as “Mr. Clutch” once and for all.Dempsey’s scoring rate of 0.42 goals per game now towers over Landon Donovan’s 0.36. His three strikes against Honduras made him the all-time leader in World Cup qualifying games for the Americans, surpassing Jozy Altidore. They also left him just two goals shy of Donovan’s career mark of 57 despite having played 26 fewer games. It’s also worth noting that 15 of Donovan’s strikes came from the penalty spot, compared to just six for Dempsey.”Clint’s record speaks for itself,” captain Michael Bradley said.That is no slight on Donovan, a brilliant player in his own right who will always be underappreciated by some both at home and overseas because he had the audacity to spend the bulk of his career in MLS and not in one of Europe’s elite leagues.Anyway, there’s little 18-year-old Christian Pulisic — who scored a goal and set up two of Dempsey’s against Los Catrachos — on pace to eclipse both players in the future. As a key attacker for Champions League quarterfinalists Borussia Dortmund, Pulisic has already accomplished things at club level that Dempsey or Donovan never did.But for now, though, Dempsey deserves the “best-ever” distinction. It’s a testament to his longevity, competitiveness and his flat-out refusal to stop producing at the sport’s highest level.”You know me, I’m a fighter,” he said after Friday’s match. “I looked for the opportunity to try to get out there and show that I should be around still.”He did that and more.Dempsey wasn’t even supposed to be included on the roster for Friday’s game and the qualifier at Panama on Tuesday night. But his strong play in Seattle’s first three games of the MLS season convinced Bruce Arena to call him up. Even then, Dempsey only became a lock in the lineup after Bobby Wood was forced to withdraw from the squad with a back injury.”We didn’t have anyone else — it made it easy for me,” Arena said, only half-kidding. “We had a full team when we planned the roster weeks ago, and one would think that Altidore and Wood would start the game. But watching Clint from Game 1 to Game 2 to Game 3 with Seattle, it was impressive the way he kept improving,” Arena continued. “Checking with his fitness coaches there, we knew he could play.”He’s like: ‘How many minutes do you think you can give me?'” Dempsey said of his conversation with the Arena. “I said ‘I’ll give you all the minutes I can.'”That’s Dempsey in a nutshell.”In the back of his head he’s going for that scoring record, but he won’t admit it,” midfielder Alejandro Bedoya joked.”If it comes it comes, if it don’t it don’t,” said Dempsey, in his Texas drawl, of surpassing Donovan’s mark, one that not long ago seemed untouchable. “I’ll keep pushing.”It would be fitting if the record-breaker — and it does seem like a matter of when, not if — comes in June in Mexico City. Dempsey has never scored against El Tri, the one blemish on his otherwise-sterling résumé.A trip to a fourth World Cup — he has scored in each of three he’s already played in, the only American to do so — now seems likely too, provided the Americans qualify. And after Friday’s performance, it’s not a reach to think that he could even be in contention to start in Russia at the age of 35. Not that Dempsey is about to take anything for granted, especially after being confronted with the possibility of retirement late last year.”That would be great if I could be around for that,” he said.In the meantime, it will be fascinating to watch Pulisic and Dempsey work together as the torch passes inevitably from the latter to the former. Friday marked the pair’s first time in a U.S. lineup. It won’t be their last.Pulisic gushed afterward that Dempsey is “easy” to play with.”He’s strong, he’s technical, he makes good runs and he always gives good support. That’s exactly what you need from a forward, and he’s clinical,” Pulisic said.For now at least, Dempsey is the American player against whom all others ought to be judged.Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.

Gianluigi Buffon is far from finished after 1,000 games between the posts

As Juventus flew to Portugal last month for the first leg of their round-of-16 tie with Porto, a club official approached Gigi Buffon and congratulated him. The Juventus captain was about to make his 100th appearance in the Champions League. “I’ll be honest with you. I was a little upset about it,” he joked. “I thought I had played a lot more of them. Let’s just say it was a terrible blow to my ego.”It could have been more too. As his agent, (and former Genoa, Torino and Lazio keeper) Silvano Martina, revealed this week, Buffon had an agreement to join Barcelona in 2002. But that summer, he left Parma for Juventus instead, for what remains a world-record transfer fee for a goalkeeper. “Gigi” has been there ever since.Had Buffon abandoned ship, like his former teammates Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram, Gianluca Zambrotta, Emerson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, when Juventus were relegated in the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, he would have passed this landmark a long time ago. He might have even been part of the Milan side that won the competition in Athens the following season. But that just isn’t Buffon.One of the reasons he’s considered one of football’s truly great leaders is that everybody knows they can count on him to be there no matter what. The easy way out isn’t for him. He stayed true to Juventus in their hour of need, going down to the second division at a time when he was the game’s undisputed No. 1, just a few short weeks after lifting the World Cup and narrowly missing out on becoming the first goalkeeper since Lev Yashin to be awarded the Ballon d’Or. People should never forget that.Because of his decision to stick by Juventus, on Sunday in Genova, he broke yet another record. During a gritty 1-0 win over a resurgent Sampdoria, the minutes Buffon has played for Juventus in Serie A finally ticked past those of Giampiero Boniperti, the Old Lady’s legendary former striker and president who coined the club motto: “Winning isn’t important. It’s the only thing that counts.””It’s a great accomplishment,” Buffon said. “It’s down to a lot of things — not just talent. I don’t think talent is enough to have the kind of continuity I’ve had in my career. It’s not an end point. I think — or rather hope — to be able to extend this record further and that I still have many important minutes left in my legs, my head, my heart and my hands.”From Genova, Buffon travelled back to Carrara, his hometown, for a Father’s Day dinner with family. A toast was made to his achievement. Buffon’s brother-in-law then ordered another bottle of bubbly. “What else are we celebrating?” Buffon asked. It wasn’t anybody’s birthday.”We told him that his next appearance would be the 1,000th of his career,” Guendalina, his eldest sister and a former European champion volleyball player, told La Gazzetta dello Sport. Fright night’s World Cup qualifier against Gianni de Biasi’s Albania in Palermo will be Buffon’s millennial.Already the most capped Italy international, Buffon joins an exclusive club of just 17 players to play 1,000 games. The list includes Paolo Maldini (whom he will surely surpass as Serie A’s all-time appearance leader), Javier Zanetti, Ryan Giggs and Raúl. But it mostly features players in his position. The top three are goalkeepers: Peter Shilton, Rogerio Ceni and Ray Clemence.”To be on the brink of this achievement gives me the feeling that I have been both fortunate and a professional,” Buffon said.He has been lucky in that he has generally avoided serious illness and injury. However, Buffon will be the first to tell you that it hasn’t always been easy. He suffered a depressive episode from December 2003 to June 2004. Reflecting on that time in an interview with Kicker this week, he explained how important it was for him to resist the temptation to go on a course of medication to treat it.”I remained master of my own destiny,” he said, dependent on only himself to get through it.Then in 2010, there were the back problems that forced him to miss the defence of Italy’s World Cup and go under the knife.Some wondered if he’d ever be the same, and for a time, his form did wobble. But it wasn’t for long, and frankly, the past two seasons have been some of the best of Buffon’s career; witness the run to the Champions League final in 2015 and the Serie A record he set for minutes without conceding (973) in 2016.Of course, experience helps. Buffon acknowledges that he is a different goalkeeper than the one who burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old, with that jaw-dropping debut against the Milan of George Weah and Roberto Baggio. He has had to.The game has changed. Goalkeepers are expected to play with their feet and start building the play from the back. As other members of his generation have declined, struggling to adapt with the evolution of the goalkeeper as an extra outfield player, Buffon has taken it all in stride.Buffon intends to become the first player to represent his country at six World Cups. Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alex Meret are going to have to wait their turns, though the competition they provide keeps him young and spurs him on.But the World Cup in Russia isn’t the only dot on the horizon obscuring Buffon’s plans for retirement. The other is the Champions League and ending his pursuit for a winners’ medal.Twice a runner-up, Buffon has been candid enough to admit that he might have already hung up his gloves if he’d been on the winning side in 2003 or 2015.”I’ve been asking myself for years what drives me to keep playing,” he said. “This inner conflict brings out strong motivations in me. If I had already won the Champions League, I would be drained. The fact that I am still yet to win it pushes me on.”Could this finally be the year? Juventus are the only unbeaten team in the Champions League. They haven’t lost at home in the competition in almost four years and have won all of their games on the road this season. Barca, Real and Bayern remain the favourites, but they aren’t what they once were.But even if Juventus were to win for the first time since 1996 this year or next, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Buffon would call it a day and take up a role upstairs, either with Juventus or as team manager of the national team, like his beloved Gigi Riva did for many years.Buffon says he will carry on as long as his body will allow him to.”I still do not feel like an old guy at the age of 38,” Buffon said last year.”Who knows? I might retire at the age of 65.”James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.

 

Boehm: Who is the US national team’s greatest of all time?

March 29, 20171:24AM EDTCharles BoehmContributorClint Dempsey is being showered with plaudits in the wake of his World Cup qualifying hat-trick heroics against Honduras – which he followed up with a clutch strike vs. Panama – and rightly so.After “Deuce” bagged his 53rd, 54th and 55th career US national team goals (and he’s now up to 56) in emphatic fashion on Friday, ESPNFC’s Doug McIntyre laid out the case for the Seattle Sounders star being the greatest player in USMNT history, pushing him ahead of Landon Donovan and anyone else remotely worthy of the honorific.“For now at least,” writes McIntyre, “Dempsey is the American player against whom all others ought to be judged.”

But is it really so?

Both Dempsey and Donovan have racked up exceedingly gaudy statistics for both club and country. Both have played in multiple World Cups, and scored multiple goals while there. Both lifted their teams – especially the ones they shared – to heights that would’ve been unimaginable without them, by virtue of both what they did and who they are.  We haven’t even mentioned other leading candidates for the GOAT label, of which there are several, like Claudio Reyna or Brad Friedel. Or the dark horses, like Brian McBride or Kasey Keller or Tab Ramos. Many of those suffer from the effects of recency bias, too, with the game’s explosive growth in this country taking us across so many new boundaries and drawing so many new fans.This is quite easily the deepest, longest and most contentious wormhole of a discussion any group of hardcore US soccer fans could ever hope to stumble down. I myself spent most of an afternoon comparing stats, weighing milestones and harking back to as many big USMNT moments of this century as I can remember, desperately hunting for a definitive nugget to prove or disprove Doug’s contention.As someone old enough to remember Reyna’s unflappable ability to set the rhythm for the Yanks’ midfield year after year – to “bring peace to the game,” as his longtime teammate Earnie Stewart said – I’m sorely tempted to handicap the North Jersey metronome up to the top of the heap.Bear in mind here what a strong club career he built in major European leagues, and how limited many of his US teams were compared to more talented contemporary editions. Reyna remains one of only two US players, and the only one in the modern era, to earn a spot on a FIFA World Cup All-Star Team (now known as the Dream Team) thanks to his exploits at Korea/Japan 2002.  Yet Dempsey and Donovan’s gifts and resumes are just the slightest bit gaudier, their career highlights unfolding on slightly bigger stages. Reyna had the desperately poor luck to miss out on one World Cup (1994) due to an ill-timed injury, while his legacy was inevitably dinged by a subpar swan song in the 2006 Mundial.

So which one is tops, then: LD or Deuce?

I’m sorry. This is impossible.It’s just not how this sport works – at least, not during this particular window in the history of American soccer. If you’ve ever taken part in a “Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo” debate, or the seemingly eternal “Pele vs. Maradona” argument, you should sooner or later recognize the similar metaphysical limitations at work here.Without Donovan, there is no Dempsey. A rising star in US Soccer’s firmament practically since puberty, LD burst onto the scene with performances at the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup (and not long after, the 2002 World Cup) that hammered widely-held global stereotypes about the haplessness of Yanks in the beautiful game.When he decided to call time on his European adventure at Bayer Leverkusen and play in MLS, Donovan willingly acceded to becoming the face of the league, its golden child, accepting all the burdens that came with it. In doing so he helped safeguard MLS’s future, carving out a space for those who followed after.There was a cost, of course. Given that he possessed the skillset to make his name in one of the world’s most renowned leagues, some – including many wowed by the latest such prodigy, Christian Pulisic – will never understand or accept why LD didn’t make that his mission in life.Conversely, Dempsey’s rise eased Donovan’s task. Deuce had to fight his way into the spotlight from the obscurity of East Texas, climbing a lengthy ladder from the Dallas youth scene to Furman University and on to the New England Revolution and Fulham FC.Hustling with the frantic intensity of someone who hears a clock constantly ticking over his head, Dempsey never took a sabbatical and never second-guessed his own desire or focus. While LD wore his self-awareness on his sleeve, Deuce drew across a curtain, mostly keeping his innermost self out of the spotlight.It’s more than a happenstance of position or tactics that Donovan finished his international career with more assists than goals, or that Dempsey is on pace to shatter the latter mark but remains miles short of the former. They’re just different animals, who tap into different segments of our collective American soccer psyche. So by all means – pour yourself and a few friends some refreshments and bat this one around for a while. Vote in our poll below. But don’t forget that your answer to this debate probably says more about who you are than where Donovan and Dempsey really stack up.

Clint Dempsey   Landon Donovan
132 USMNT CAPS 156
56 GOALS 57
17 ASSISTS 58
38 WCQ GAMES 40
18 WCQ GOALS 12
0 WCQ ASSISTS 21
10 WORLD CUP GAMES 12
4 WORLD CUP GOALS 5

OBC – Wow Landon has him killed on Assists 58 to 17.  Wow – Dempsey will break the record for goals and is our top big time scorer – but perhaps its still Landon overall.

Atletico, Monaco, Bayern Munich, Juventus expected to advance in UCL

With the draw for the Champions League quarterfinals made, here’s a look at how the matches could go. Apologies, Leicester fans, but the dream may end here.

Atletico Madrid vs. Leicester City

Of all the clubs Leicester could have met in the quarterfinals, they were drawn against the only one they had faced before. Admittedly, much has changed since Martin O’Neill’s Foxes lost 4-1 on aggregate to Atletico in a UEFA Cup first-round tie in 1997, with Ian Marshall earning a place in the history books by scoring at Vicente Calderon. Atletico also beat Leicester 3-1 over two legs in the 1961-62 Cup Winners’ Cup and, up until this season, had been their opponents in half of the European fixtures they had ever played.In the here and now, Leicester can have mixed feelings about this draw — that is, if they were minded to feel at all choosy. On the one hand, Atletico do not quite have the individual stardust many of the other contenders possess, and they have not been consistently at their uncompromising best this season. On the other, Diego Simeone’s team know better than anybody how to win a game at this level through sheer guts and, like Leicester, are happy to cede possession in order to do so.It may be that Craig Shakespeare’s side have met their match — an opponent that can do the dirty, unfussy work that brought them success against Sevilla but have that extra bit of quality where it matters. Atletico have done this all before; they can win a tie in many different ways and Leicester will have their work cut out. Only a fool would rule the Foxes out now, though.

Prediction: Atletico will go toe-to-toe with Leicester in the physical battle and have too much in the opposition box. Simeone’s side reach the semis.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Monaco

In some ways, this clash of the great entertainers looks like the tie of the round. Both of them swashbuckled their way into the last eight, and there is little chance of their letting up now. Dortmund’s style is a little sleeker than Monaco’s high-octane, lightning-fast approach, but the emphasis on attack is similar; neither Thomas Tuchel nor Leonardo Jardim will be naïve enough to neglect their defences with so much at stake, but this should still be a shoot-out between Europe’s two brightest young teams.You would certainly pay to watch a race between Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe, both of whom have been elevated to “potential matchwinner” status on a higher level than they might have expected at this stage of their careers. Monaco will be hit by the absence of suspended midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko — who scored the winner against Manchester City shortly after picking up the booking that ruled him out — for the first leg, but their biggest threat comes down the flanks. And if attacking full-backs Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy are given space in the first leg, they may score a healthy number of away goals.  Dortmund will need to force them back and hope that Marco Reus, due back in early April after a hamstring injury, is fit to return by then. If not, there is always the thrilling promise of U.S. starlet Christian Pulisic, who deputised for him in the round-of-16 second leg against Benfica and duly scored. In a tie set up for the next generation to make their marks on the present, you wouldn’t bet against him repeating the feat.

Prediction: Monaco are on a roll and will sneak a predictably see-sawing battle.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid

It was a tie that seemed written in the stars. Three years ago, with a realistic chance of reaching the final after losing 1-0 at the Bernabeu in their semifinal first leg, Bayern Munich were destroyed 4-0 on their home turf by a Carlo Ancelotti-managed Real in a one-sided encounter that few saw coming. Ancelotti went on to lead his team to La Decima; now he finds himself on the other side, and the 23rd and 24th meetings between these teams will surely be closer. Confidence will certainly not be lacking after they scored 16 goals between them in the round of 16.Both teams lead their domestic leagues, Bayern by a familiar-looking 10-point margin after RB Leipzig’s early challenge faded. They have won 16 of their last 18 games in all competitions, drawing the other two, and have regained some of the fluency that was lacking in the early stages of Ancelotti’s time in Bavaria. Real’s form has not been much worse, and perhaps this tie will be decided by clever management of resources. Both teams will enter the first leg on the back of big domestic games against Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid, respectively. Whoever is fresher at the Allianz Arena a few days later may be able to wrest an advantage that they don’t give up.Prediction: Ancelotti’s knowledge of the Real squad to give him the edge; Bayern win.

Juventus vs. Barcelona

Juventus came through the round of 16 virtually unnoticed, profiting from early Porto red cards in both legs to progress with a minimum of drama. For Barcelona, it was the opposite and, in this rerun of the 2015 final, the first leg, in Turin, will be instructive in discovering just how much they have learned from the tie against Paris Saint-Germain.In Paris, and to a lesser extent in the group stage defeat at Manchester City, they were blown away and looked every inch a team in terminal decline. The comeback three weeks later was all the more shocking for that but, remarkable though it was, owed more to a concentrated burst of unusual events than sustained excellence from Luis Enrique’s side. Massimiliano Allegri will have taken note, and if they can produce a high-octane performance at Juventus Stadium, the Serie A leaders may fancy their chances.The flip side is that Juve are yet to face a top-quality test in Europe this season. Lyon, Dinamo Zagreb, Sevilla and Porto have not been the most inspiring opposition, while Manchester City and PSG have been genuine tests for Barcelona that have threatened to throw them off course. If Neymar, Lionel Messi and company felt that, after all that, nothing could stop them, then it would be difficult to argue. Prediction: Unlike PSG, Juventus have the experience and backbone to expose Barcelona’s frailties definitively. The Italians to go through.Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter:

Spain dominance, Leicester fairytale: UCL quarterfinalists in numbers

A number of familiar clubs, plus one notable English newcomer, will take part in the quarterfinal round of the UEFA Champions League beginning with first-leg matches on April 10.Bayern Munich have made the most quarterfinal appearances in Champions League history, followed closely by Barcelona and Real Madrid, and all three have advanced to that stage of the competition again this season. Those three clubs have combined for 46 quarterfinal appearances, while the other five have combined for 26:

UCL Quarterfinal Appearances
Bayern Munich 16
Barcelona 15
Real Madrid 15
Juventus 10
Borussia Dortmund 6
Atletico Madrid 5
Monaco 4
Leicester City 1
>> Includes this season

With Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid qualifying, Spain has three teams in the UCL quarterfinals for the fifth consecutive season — the longest such run in the competition’s history. Spanish clubs have won the last three Champions League titles:

UCL Quarterfinalists By Country
Spain 3
Germany 2
England 1
France 1
Italy 1

Barcelona advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals for the 10th consecutive year, which is the longest such run in the competition’s history:

Most Consecutive UCL Quarterfinals
Barcelona 10 2008-Present
Real Madrid 7 1998-2004
Manchester United 7 1997-2003
Real Madrid 7 2011-Present

Barcelona advanced following a four-goal comeback against PSG, winning 6-1 in the second leg. Barcelona became the first team to overcome a four-goal first-leg deficit to advance in Champions League history:

Largest First-Leg Deficits Overcome
4 goals 1 team
3 goals 1 team
2 goals 8 teams
1 goals 28 teams

Bayern Munich advanced to the quarterfinals for the 16th time with a 10-2 aggregate win over Arsenal.With an eight-goal difference, it is the second-largest aggregate goal difference in Champions League history:

Largest Margin of Victory in Knockout-Round Matchup
Stage Winner Loser Diff.
2008-09 Round of 16 Bayern Munich Sporting 11
2016-17 Round of 16 Bayern Munich Arsenal 8
2004-05 Round of 16 Lyon Werder Bremen 8
2011-12 Round of 16 Barcelona Bayer Leverkusen 8

With Monaco and Manchester City combining for 12 goals — including a record eight goals in the first leg — as well as Bayern Munich and Arsenal combining for 12 goals and Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain combining for 11, more goals were scored in the round of 16 than in any such previous stage in Champions League history:

Most Goals in UCL Round of 16
2016-17 62
2011-12 56
2013-14 51

Leicester City qualified for their first Champions League campaign and have advanced to the quarterfinals. However, Leicester is England’s only representative in the quarterfinals, which has been the trend lately:

UCL Quarterfinalists By Country, Last Five Seasons
Spain 15
Germany 9
France 6
England 4
Italy 3
Portugal 2
Turkey 1
>> Spain has won last 3 titles

The draw for the quarterfinals will take place on Friday. Unlike the round of 16, there are no restrictions on which teams can meet. In the round of 16, teams from the same group or same country would not be allowed to play against each other.

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