6/23/17 Indy 11 Win Home Game, Confed Cup Judgement Day Sat 11 am FOX, MLS Rivalry Weekend, TV Game Schedule

So I am not sure if it was because we were there – but the Indy 11 finally got off the snide with a huge 2-0 win over North Carolina on Saturday night at the MIKE – I was impressed – the fans are still here – 4/5 stadium full and a raucous crowd as always in the Brickyard Batallion behind the goal on a beautiful Saturday night downtown.  Two goals for Indy were actually called back on a bad night for the refs.  Overall however a great atmosphere and a good game to watch – bringing the 11 off the bottom of the standings.  We’ll see if they can get a road win at North Carolina Sat night on ESPN3 at 7:30 pm.  They return home vs NY Cosmos on July 8.

The Confederations Cup in Russia is underway and started with some really good games on Sunday as Mexico and Portugal played to an exciting 2-2 tie and South American Champs Chile needed 85 minutes before they finally pulled away from Cameroon 2-0.  Chile vs Germany was a delight as the two teams tied in a battle of the heavyweights.  Saturday’s Mexico vs Russia matchup 11 am on Fox (Mexico must win or tie to advance), and  Sunday’s Germany vs Cameron 11 am on Fox and Chile/Australia 11 am on FS1 will determine seeding for the Wed/Thurs Semi-Finals at 2 pm on FS1.  I love club soccer too – but there is something about the national teams pitting country vs country that is more exciting to me.  It will be fun to watch the Confed Cup this weekend and next (see schedule below), then a watered down version of the Gold Cup in July before the ICC kicks off in late July.

MLS celebrates Rivalry Week this weekend – with marquet matchups including NYCFC vs NY Red Bulls on Sat 1:30 pm on Fox, and Portland hosting Seattle on Sun 4 pm on ESPN and fans are excited.   Speaking of MLS – the Allstar game vs Real Madrid is in Chicago – Soldier Field on Aug 2 a Wed night at 9 pm tickets are still available just $90 for good level 2’s behind the goals?  Anyone interested in Road Tripping – let me know if so.  Cincinatti FC’s US Open Cup battle with Chicago is going Primetime as ESPN 2 will air the game with an expected crowd of 30K on hand – man I wish I could go.  Finally —  Grand Park is hosting the US Soccer DA Playoffs on Saturday + Monday – U14-U18 teams boys and girls – click here for more info.

Interesting Story from NY Post about Overuse and 1 sport concentration in Youth Sports

BEST FAMILY GOALIE TRAINING – if anyone is interested in Goalie Training this summer – let me know.  My 18 year old  goalie Tyler and I may offer some evening training if we get enough interest.  RE: with interest.

GAMES ON TV  

Sat, June 24

11 am Fox                        Mexico vs Russia – Confederations Cup

11 am Fox Sport 1      Portugal vs New Zealand – Confederations Cup

1:30 pm Fox                   NY Red Bulls vs NYCFC

3:30 pm Lifetime       Orlando Pride vs Houston Dash (Womens)

7:30 pm MyIndy TV+ESPN3 North Carolina vs Indy 11

Sun, June 25

11am Fox                     Germany vs Cameroon – Confederations Cup

11 am Fox Sport1       Chile vs Australia  – Confederations Cup

4 pm  ESPN                   Portland vs Seattle Sounders

Wed , June 28

2 pm Fox Sport1          Confederations Cup SEMI-FINALS

8 pm ESPN2                    Cincy vs Chicago – US Open Semi’s

Thurs, June 29

2 pm Fox Sport1          Confederations Cup SEMI-FINALS

Fri, june 30

9:30 pm ESPN                Real Salt Lake vs Orlando City FC

Sun, July 2

8am FS1                             Confederations Cup 3rd

2 pm Fox Sport1          Confederations Cup FINALS

Tues, July 4

7:30 pm beIN Sport NY Cosmos vs Indy 11

Sat, July 8

4:30 pm Fox          USA vs Panama – GOLD CUP

7 pm FS2                           Martinique vs Nicaragua – Gold Cup

7:30 pm MyIndy TV   Indy 11 vs NY Cosmos

 

Sun, July 9

7 pm Fox Sport 1        Curacao vs Jamaica – Gold Cup

9:30 pm FS1                   Mexico vs El Salvador – Gold Cup

Tues, July 11

7:30 pm Fox Sport 1                         Costa Rica vs Canada– Gold Cup

10 pm FS1                                                Honduras vs French Guiana – Gold Cup

Weds, July 12

6:30 pm Fox Sport 1                         Panama vs Nicaragua -Gold Cup

9 pm Fox Sport 1  USA vs Martinique  – Gold Cup

Confederations Cup Schedule June

Full MLS Schedule

Indy 11 TV Schedule

Gold Cup Schedule In July

International Champions Cup July  Games in Nashville and Detroit

 

Confed Cup + World

Mexico/Portugal/Russia battle for two spots Saturday

Mexico under HUGE pressure to iliminate Russia Sat

Mexico earns late Draw vs Portugal SI

Mixed Fortunes for Renaldo vs Mexico

Marcotti – Chile get past Cameron – VAR questioned?

Russia can build on Win over lowly New Zealand

 

In or Out for World Cup 2018?

Around the World of Soccer – US Players

Summer Season in full swing – Do we have too Much Soccer ?

 

US

Former US Ladies Coach Tony DiCicco Dies at 68 NY Times

US Former Coach DiCicco – a Legacy – ESPN

How Christian Pulisic’s Success Could Change how US Athletes are Developed – Dan Wetzel Yahoo

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2713937-the-christian-pulisic-blueprint?_branch_match_id=403271276012690981

Pulisic does not plan a jump to Bayern

Pulisic is the Great American Hope – (for Real this Time!) – 5/38 sports

US lineup for Gold Cup?  Brian Straus

US Player Ratings vs Mexico MLS.com

US Games are Fun to Watch Again – MLS.com

US Stands in 3rd in Hex – Barely

Behind the Scenes at US vs Mexico

 

Possible US line up for Gold Cup in July

Juan Agudelo

Morris/Rowe/Nagbe

Dax McCarty/Acosta

Morrow, Matt Hedges, Miazga, Lichaj

GK Gonzalez//Ethan Horvath

 

MLS

All Set for Rivalry Week

How Supporters Groups View Rivalry Week

Best Games in Seattle / Portland Rivalry

NY Derby rises Fan Intensity

Power Rankings – Chicago Fire Move Up

Atlanta United – It’s a Family Affair

MLS Update on Weekend Games

The immediate future of NYCFC

MLS Allstar game vs Real Madrid is in Chicago

Cincinatti FC hosting Chicago US Open Match on ESPN2 on Wed June 28th

 

Indy 11

Indy 11 Preview Road Game vs NCFC

3 Things Indy vs North Carolina 2-0 Win

Recap Win over NC 2-0

Indy 11 Discount Ticket Link

Pride Night vs NY Cosmos July 8

 

Its Summer – Time to plan your Soccer Camps 

 

BEST FAMILY GOALIE TRAINING – if anyone is interested in Goalie Training this summer – let me know.  My 18 year old  goalie Tyler and I may offer some evening training if we get enough interest.  RE: with interest.

 

Carmel High School Soccer CampsJuly 17-20

(called Hounds Soccer Technical/Skills Camp and Hounds Soccer Tactical/Scrimmage Camp) and they are being held at Murray Stadium the week of July 17-20. The format will be where the morning session will run 10:00-12:00. This is the technical skills training – session runs 10 am till 12 pm and it will cost $85.   The afternoon session is the tactical/scrimmage session and will run 1:00-3:00 at Murray Stadium both run by Men’s Soccer Head Coach Shane Schmidt. Boys and Girls – 8-14 Cost: $85/per camper per session.

 

Post2Post Soccer Camps

Former College Coach and Canadian National Team Goalkeeper & current Carmel FC & Carmel High Asst coach Carla Baker Provides elite-level training for youth players who want to become better technical and tactical soccer players.  Our camps focus on individual technical skills and game tactics in pressure situations using advanced training techniques. Come and join our staff of former Division I college coaches, National Team players, experienced youth, high school and college players for a fun learning experience.

Cost: $195 per camper  Location: Badger Fields   Field Player Camp: July 24 – 27, 2017

 

Mexico set to eliminate host Russia, but can they handle the pressure?

KAZAN, Russia — The scenarios are simple. If Mexico wins or ties host Russia in Kazan on Saturday, El Tri will advance from Group A in the Confederations Cup. Lose and the criticism — which is already fierce — will rain down on Mexico, who will have failed to reach the expected goals in major tournaments for two consecutive summers.This match is being framed as “judgement day” for Juan Carlos Osorio and his Mexico team, however unfair that might seem.”We can’t play with the fear of losing,” said Andres Guardado, one of Mexico’s captains, at Friday’s news conference. The PSV Eindhoven midfielder spoke of understanding the pressure that accompanies his team and without losing his cool, launched a tirade against the media coverage that Mexico attracts.”Those of us who have been in the national team for some time know it’s always been like that and we are focused on playing a good game and qualifying,” continued Guardado. “Whether we play poorly or well, they always seek to criticize. We don’t have a problem with what is said.”A late Hector Moreno goal sealed an encouraging draw for Mexico in its Group A opener but there was a backlash against Osorio making eight changes to face a physical New Zealand side, which El Tri defeated 2-1 after coming from a half-time deficit.Now comes the big one. This is the type of test Osorio wants for Mexico, who plays almost all its games in the CONCACAF region and only rarely steps out of its comfort zone. Everything is against El Tri here: the domestic media is on the team’s back despite Mexico going into the game top of Group A on goal difference, the crowd will be supporting the home side and El Tri is a long way from the safe environs of North America, fighting for its survival in a major tournament.Even the temperature has dropped in Kazan, while Russian fans have been encouraged by their team’s performance against Portugal. It’s the kind of situation Osorio has stressed will be helpful to his Mexico squad and the national team in general.”I honestly think that this is a perfect scenario for Mexican football,” said Osorio, when questioned about the occasion. “We play away from home against the host team with a lot of support from their fans and fighting for qualification.”Osorio added that Mexico needs to control the game, describing it as “a unique opportunity for Mexican football” and highlighting “resilience” as a key trait in his squad.The Mexico manager vigorously defended his rotation policy on Friday, indicating that it was necessary against a direct and physical New Zealand side. The casualties of that encounter were defenders Carlos Salcedo — who requires shoulder surgery and will be out for three months — and possibly Hector Moreno, who Osorio said is in a “recovery process” and may not be fit to face Russia.After the wholesale changes against Russia, Osorio will likely revert to a starting XI similar to that which started against Portugal in the team’s opening game. Guillermo Ochoa is set to return in goal, with important figures like Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Guardado, Jonathan dos Santos and Diego Reyes all fully rested for the crunch game. That’s the flip-side to the criticism of the rotation policy.The potential absence of Moreno is a problem for Osorio, with Oswaldo Alanis the natural replacement but not with the same quality as the Roma center-back. And with Salcedo out, the right-back position may be problematic.If you were to predict the Mexico side, it’ll probably be a 4-3-3 formation with Layun at left-back, Reyes at right-back and Nestor Araujo and Alanis as the center-back partnership (if Moreno isn’t fit). In midfield, Hector Herrera has been increasingly authoritative in the holding role with the intense duo of Guardado and Jonathan dos Santos either side of him with more attacking briefs.Up front, the fact that Raul Jimenez has played both matches suggests the time could be ripe for Hirving Lozano to make his first appearance of the tournament, although Javier Aquino was outstanding against New Zealand and may have earned his spot on the left wing. Vela has become a key player for El Tri in 2017 and will surely be on the right, with Hernandez set to lead the line.Osorio was full of praise for Russia and it should be fascinating to see if the home nation, with fans behind it, tries to attack Mexico from the start. El Tri has averaged a very high 67 percent possession over its last five games, according to InStat, compared to Russia’s 42 percent, suggesting that Mexico will be the ones taking the initiative.”We’ll need to control the game and to prove to ourselves that we can compete under such difficult circumstances,” concluded Osorio. “If we can do it, we’ll be taking a step forward. We want to show that we can do it against any opponent, regardless of its style.”If Mexico can take that step forward, El Tri will be in Russia for another eight days and will most likely face Chile or Germany in the Confederations Cup semifinal. If Mexico does lose for the third time over Osorio’s 26 games in charge, however, the questions about where this national team stands will once again be heard.Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN

 

Amid ongoing VAR debate, Chile put aside frustration to beat Cameroon

 

MOSCOW — On a night that could have ended up being defined by three letters — VAR — it’s probably a good thing that ultimately it was a “V” and an “A” that made all the difference. “V” — as in Vidal (Arturo)  — who kangarooed at the far post to tuck in a cross from the “A” — as in Alexis (Sanchez) — past Cameroon goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa.There were nine minutes left at the time, and the goal saw a heavily pro-Chile crowd — the total attendance was 33,492 in a stadium that holds 45,360 — erupt with relief as much as ecstasy. That’s what happens when your emotions get put through the spin cycle of a demented washing machine possessed by Nosferatu. Those present had seen Chile dominate early — Eduardo Vargas hit the post inside of a minute, and then Jose Fuenzalida, after a delicate “sombrero,” forced a fine save from Ondoa — only for Cameroon to keep them out.Supporters then groaned at two further squandered chances — Fuenzalida wasted a delightful buildup by failing to carpe his diem, and then Vargas, again, couldn’t convert from close range — in a first half that, as Cameroon boss Hugo Broos would later say, could have easily seen the Chileans 3-0 up.Then, just before half-time, Vidal’s pinpoint through ball found Vargas in mid-stride, and the striker stroked it into the back of the net. The fans roared into life; their luck had changed. Gary Medel sprinted a lung-bursting 40 yards to join his teammates in celebration.But then referee Damir Skomina signaled for the video assistant referee.”It was our first time with the VAR, and while they had explained to us how it worked before the game, the fact is that in the heat of the moment you’re so concentrated, you don’t think about it,” said Vidal. “You just wonder what’s going on.”What for Vidal was confusion was, for Broos, a glimmer of hope.”I saw the referee signaling, and I just started hoping,” he said. “They disallowed it, so happy for me.”The decision itself was close. So close that, in the pre-VAR era, we wouldn’t blame an assistant for getting it wrong. But this is a different time and the replays — with the help of horizontal lines drawn over video — showed that, yes, Vargas was offside.Just.After what felt like an eternity — it probably wasn’t — Skomina signaled the goal had been struck off, which led to incredulity among Chile’s number. Players often complain when decisions don’t go their way, but this was different: This was justice delayed, which feels like justice denied.At least, that’s the impression the Chile fans gave. And while La Roja‘s second half began with a huddle and chest-thumping from Medel in the middle of the pitch, Juan Antonio Pizzi’s crew were rather more muted after the break.”We are conditioned to having an immediate emotional reaction in football,” Pizzi said after the match. “We went from a high of having finally broken the deadlock to, 20 seconds later, going into the dressing room at 0-0. Players play on emotion, they channel it, it’s what drives them. When you have that sort of emotional comedown, it can have a major effect in the dressing room. It did for us, anyway.”That’s why, to spark things up, Pizzi threw on Sanchez for Edson Puch and, shortly thereafter, Leonardo Valencia for Fuenzalida. It took a short while, but then Cameroon began to wobble. And Vidal’s goal finally broke the ice.There was no looking back. And at the very end, Sanchez blew the chance to make it 2-0 (and become Chile’s all-time leading goal scorer as well), only for Vargas to smack home the rebound. But, as he wheeled away to celebrate, he spotted the assistant’s flag raised in the air.Vargas sprinted over wide-eyed but, in the VAR world, there’s no sense in appealing these situations. Already underway was a review of the call which apparently had to do with Sanchez’s position in the buildup. Skomina drew his imaginary TV in the air but, this time, there was less trepidation. The match was over. Chile had won and deservedly so.Still, goal difference matters and VAR had again overturned an assistant’s decision, except the second time it was to allow the goal. Vargas made history as the first player ever to have a goal taken away and a goal given in such circumstances, not that you imagine he particularly cares.Chile were impressive for most of the game — both with and without Sanchez — while Cameroon, as Broos pointed out, likely paid a price for nerves.”That, and the fact that they’re some 40 places above us in the FIFA rankings,” he said afterwards.It was left to Pizzi to get philosophical at the end.”VAR is new, this is a trial; it’s being evaluated,” he said. “Sure, we weren’t happy when the goal was disallowed, but in the end it was the right decision, however close it was. Let’s wait and see what happens; let’s let them iron out what needs to be ironed out.”Many times in the past we’ve complained because we thought there were injustices in football,” he said. “We can’t complain now if it brings us more justice, can we? Let’s find out if it can do that and then we’ll draw our conclusions.”Gabriele Marcotti is a Senior Writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.

U.S. coach Tony DiCicco dies at 68; won 1999 Women’s World Cup

By ESPN.com news services | Jun 21, 2017

Former United States women’s national team coach Tony DiCicco died on Monday night, his family said. He was 68.DiCicco led the U.S. from 1994 to 1999 and led the Americans to their second World Cup triumph at the 1999 World Cup. The U.S. beat China in the final after a penalty shootout at the Rose Bowl.The U.S. also won the Olympic gold medal under DiCicco’s leadership in Atlanta in 1996, the first year women’s soccer was played at the Games.”Last night, at his home, surrounded by his family, Tony DiCicco bestowed love broadly as he peaceful[ly] transformed from a mortal body to an eternal idea,” the DiCicco family said in a statement.”While the health challenges Tony faced were confronted head on and with eyes open, we never could have foreseen the beautiful journey that truly defined the magnificence of this man’s life.”As U.S. coach, DiCicco won nearly 90 percent of his matches, with 103 victories to eight draws and eight defeats. He also coached the U.S. team to the 2008 Under-20 Women’s World Cup title.ESPN’s Julie Foudy said of her former coach: “Tony was one of the finest to grace this planet. His spirit will indeed lie in us all Anthony. I smile thru the tears. His impact, immense.”U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati called DiCicco “one of the most influential coaches in U.S. Soccer history.””Tony’s passion for the game as a coach, administrator and broadcaster was always evident, and his relationships with everyone in the soccer community distinguished him as a compassionate and much-loved man,” Gulati said. “U.S. Soccer will forever be thankful to Tony for his vast contributions to the game.”Amanda Duffy, the National Women’s Soccer League managing director of operations, lauded DiCicco as a soccer pioneer.”Tony will be remembered for his immense passion, his dedication to the game and his life pursuit to inspire players and people,” she said. “A truly influential figure, no one will forget the impact he has had on so many people’s lives and his role in the tremendous growth of women’s soccer in the U.S.”He started with U.S. Soccer as a goalkeeper coach as the team won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 before taking the head job and leading the Americans to a third-place finish at the 1995 World Cup in Sweden.DiCicco went on to be the first commissioner of the Women’s United Soccer Association from 2000 to 2003, then coached the Boston Breakers of Women’s Professional Soccer from 2009 to 2011.In his playing days, DiCicco was an All-American at Springfield College before playing in the American Soccer League’s Connecticut Wildcats and the Rhode Island Oceaneers. In 1973, he toured and played for the national team.He is survived by wife Diane and four sons: Anthony, Andrew, Alex and Nicholas.

USA’s Gold Cup roster: Projecting Arena’s 23, plus knockout round swaps

QUICKLYWho will Bruce Arena turn to for the CONCACAF Gold Cup? We project his 23-man roster–and the player swaps (up to six) he can make for the knockout stage.BRIAN STRAUSTuesday June 20th, 2017

Bruce Arena is paid to coach only one team, but he’s had to build around five since taking the U.S. national team reins last November. There was the January camp group that played two friendlies (that’s usually an ad hoc roster), the short-handed team he fielded for two critical qualifiers in March and then the split squads that just faced Trinidad & Tobago and then Mexico three days apart.Now Arena has a CONCACAF Gold Cup roster to name, and that’s going to be a new team as well. The Gold Cup played the year before a World Cup—and right in the middle of the Hexagonal—often has an improvisational feel. One team, Mexico in this case, is involved in the Confederations Cup. Others are focused on qualifying or rebuilding following early elimination. The USA typically has done well under those circumstances. Two years ago, Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski each scored five goals as the Americans claimed their fifth continental crown. In 2009, a ‘B’ team featuring only five players with more than 15 caps (and seven with none) made the final. And four years earlier, Arena won his second Gold Cup.Expectations are high in July as well, despite the fact that busy summers this year and next (presumably) have pushed Arena to leave his European stars behind. They’re taking a break before resuming preseason training. Instead, the manager will rely on a domestic talent pool that’s probably deeper than ever, along with a player or two based abroad he hasn’t had a chance to see.But the conflicting club schedule isn’t the only wrinkle. Once again, CONCACAF will allow Gold Cup teams to swap out up to six players following the group stage with replacements named on a preliminary, 40-man roster. It’s tough on smaller nations that lack genuine depth, but it gives Arena some enticing options as the tournament’s roster deadline approaches. He’ll reveal his team on Sunday.A less challenging group-stage schedule that features Panama (July 8), Martinique (July 12) and Nicaragua (July 15) gives Arena the chance to hand the keys over to some younger/less internationally experienced players who can begin making their case for World Cup inclusion. Then once the Gold Cup’s knockout rounds begin, he can call in some big-name reinforcements for a run at redemption following a fourth-place finish in 2015.“I think we will have a good group of players coming in with a nice blend of some experienced players and some less experienced,” Arena said in a recent U.S. Soccer Q&A. “They’re going to have an opportunity to show what they’re about, and I think that part is exciting. Anytime you’re in the midst of World Cup qualifying and very close to not only qualifying, but being at a World Cup a year later, you have to have a competitive environment, and these players will push to positions themselves to be a big part of things moving forward.”Here’s a look at the 40-man preliminary roster, along with who’s likely to make the 23-man team announced Sunday and who might be called up following the group stage.

Goalkeepers

Joe Bendik (Orlando City), Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Sean Johnson (New York City FC).

Gold Cup: Gonzalez, Guzan, Hamid.

Potential swaps: None, barring a fiasco.

There still is no successor to Howard and Guzan and although that’s not likely going to be a problem Arena has to solve—the coach’s contract expires after the World Cup—it’s an increasingly relevant issue in American soccer. This summer represents a nice opportunity to try out a couple new faces in net.Arena has nothing to gain by overworking Howard. He’s the current No. 1 and a known quantity. Guzan, meanwhile, is in an interesting situation. July will mark the start of his eligibility to play for Atlanta, and although it might make sense to give him a seamless start with his new club, Arena also may not want to leave his No. 2 out of international action for too long. He told SI.com recently that he anticipates bringing in Guzan. He’ll almost certainly start, and he’ll be available to mentor a pair of less experienced teammates.One should be Hamid, who’s the most spectacular goalkeeper in MLS and deserves a good chunk of the credit for D.C. United’s run of three straight playoff appearances. The 26-year-old also prone to the rare howler and has had brutal luck with a few injuries that have prevented him from accepting past call-ups. It’s time to see if he can perform in the tournament crucible.More eyes, however, may be on Gonzalez. The 22-year-old FC Dallas goalie has played for Mexico—his parents’ homeland—at the junior level. But his decision to request a switch to the USA, which would bind him for the rest of his career, gave Arena the option to add him to the 40-man team. The paperwork has been filed with FIFA and if it’s approved in time, Gonzalez should get his shot.

Defenders

Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Greg Garza (Atlanta United), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire), Jonathan Spector (Orlando City), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).

Gold Cup: Besler, Birnbaum, Garza, Hedges, Lichaj, Miazga, Morrow, Spector.

Potential swaps: Gonzalez, Zusi (for Miazga, Lichaj).

Miazga and Lichaj play in Europe, but this represents the first real chance Arena will have to look at either. Miazga is a young center back with potential and Lichaj is a veteran right back who deserves another international invitation after a strong season at Forest.The USA has considerable depth at center back. Hedges may make a run at a World Cup spot and might do well paired with the veteran Besler. Birnbaum is a potent weapon on set pieces and is due for another look, although maybe D.C. coach Ben Olsen can convince his former manager not to take both Hamid and a starting central defender. Either way, Gonzalez could use a break with Pachuca’s preseason fast approaching. He then could enter service if a stronger, more seasoned spine is required in the quarterfinals and beyond. Liga MX teams will be dealing with plenty of Gold Cup absences after El Tri took most of its European players to the Confederations Cup.Morrow has done well in TFC’s 3-5-2 and is a player worth looking at if Arena continues to work on variations of the formation he used in Mexico City. Spector and Garza are veteran outside backs more than capable of getting the job done against CONCACAF opposition, and Zusi would be an experienced and versatile addition for the knockouts.

Midfielders

Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Tommy McNamara (New York City FC), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Kenny Saief (KAA Gent), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy).

Gold Cup: Acosta, Arriola, Bedoya, Corona, McCarty, Nagbe, Roldan, Zardes.

Potential swaps: Bradley (for McCarty).

As much fun as it might be to watch Pulisic tear up Martinique, his time is best spent on a break before returning to Dortmund. Instead, Arena has the chance to take a long look at the future of the American midfield during the group stage. It’ll be fascinating to see Acosta, Nagbe and Arriola run the show, with the likes of Zardes or Corona providing an attacking spark if needed.Roldan has proven himself with the MLS champion Sounders and is ready for a national team chance, while McCarty continues to impress in Chicago and warrants more time in a U.S. jersey. Either can shore up central midfield if Acosta or Nagbe plays higher. Bedoya will serve as a veteran leader and linchpin.Saief was born in Florida but grew up in Israel, which he’s represented multiple times at the junior level. His effort to switch to the USA is underway, however, although he’s probably not as far along in the process as Gonzalez. If it does come through in time, however, he may get called in over Corona.It makes sense for Bradley to stay with Toronto through the Canadian Championship final and then join the national team in time for the quarters.

Forwards

Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), C.J. Sapong (Philadelphia Union), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).

Gold Cup: Agudelo, Dwyer, Morris, Wondolowski.

Potential swaps: Altidore, Dempsey (for Agudelo, Wondolowski).

Morris has hit a bit of a sophomore slump—he has only two MLS goals this year—and might get himself back on track with a vote of confidence from Arena and a brief change of scenery. Dwyer is eligible now that he’s secured American citizenship. He’s 26, so the Gold Cup probably is his best chance to establish himself as a national team option before the World Cup.Agudelo has quietly scored seven goals this season for the Revs—that ties his career high—and continues to tantalize with his skill. Wondolowski is a worthwhile presence to have around a younger team and should have little trouble sniffing out chances against the Americans’ group-stage opponents.When the big games come around, Arena can bring in the big guns. The national team scoring record and another Gold Cup title are up for grabs.

Bobby Warshaw: US national team matches are fun to watch again

June 12, 201712:30PM EDTBobby WarshawContributor

I don’t know about you, but I’m walking around with a little swag in my step today. I feel good.Sports can be many things. Inspirational. Unifying. Character building. And, sometimes, in rare glimpses, sports can be fun. Too often they aren’t, because our teams lose and/or athletes can get salty. But it’s a real treat when they are. Right now, the US Men’s National Team is fun.It’s easy to overanalyze the USMNT. Of course they could always attack more. They could have prevented Mexico’s goal on Sunday with some minor adjustments. But sometimes it’s important to step back and think about just the way we feel. Sometimes you need to ask Maximus’ age-old question: are you not entertained? And right now, yes, yes we are. And it feels good.

Giving us all the feels

Head coach Bruce Arena told the media after the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca, “I haven’t spent a whole lot of time examining what happened in the past. In a lot of ways, it’s not my business.”Well, I have, Bruce. It’s kept me up at night. I didn’t like my emotional relationship with my country’s team, the way the whole thing made me feel. So I’m very aware of the differences.On Sunday, the American soccer public spent 12 hours discussing the potential formation. And we didn’t do it in the self-hating way we did it 12 months ago. We did it with general interest. We were intrigued. We felt nervous and excited and a bunch of nice bubbly sensations in our stomachs. Then Bruce went on camera and gave everyone a tease. He didn’t need to. It didn’t help him to tell the world – and Mexico – he planned to change most of his starting lineup. But screw it, he did it anyway. He went for it. We all talked about it. And it was fun.Then the team took the field. They could have – and hell, probably should have – been scared and hesitant. They could have sat back at their own 18-yard box and knocked long balls forward. But they looked anything but scared.They looked energetic and excited and downright happy and privileged to be out on the field. They didn’t carry a burden with them between the lines, but a genuine opportunity. I asked 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta after the game if he felt nervous at the opening whistle. He looked at me like I was crazy.

Plenty to look forward to

It feels like the sky is the limit for some of the guys. I’m always a curmudgeon about young players. Way too often, we hype players beyond logic and set them up for failure. But, heck, it doesn’t keep my mind from wandering, too. It’s fun to think about what could be.In his first start in a World Cup Qualifier, Acosta looked perfectly at home in a difficult midfield. New high school graduate Christian Pulisic continued to be a potential game changer. It feels, for the first time in a couple years, like tomorrow can be even better than today.More than anything, the team’s style feels like a breath of fresh air. No doubt it would been awesome to see them possess the ball more. There’s always more I’d like to see them do. But the core is back. They are currently a team I can identify with and believe in.They value hard work and camaraderie. Veteran central defender Geoff Cameron said the team can feel it on the field: “The group has been great, definitely a change in atmosphere for sure. It’s just positive; guys are clicking right now, and it’s a good thing.”They seem to like each other and enjoy fighting for one another. They seem to be proud to be on the field in our nation’s colors. They appear to grasp the responsibility of representing the country and holding the heart of its people in their hands.Captain Michael Bradley explained it nicely after the game: “A big part of that is the idea of the team, of mentality, of balls. And understanding that we have good players, we have a good team, but we’re not good enough to just step on the field and think things are going to take care of themselves.”I don’t think we should stop asking for more. We should hope and expect Arena to continue to push an attacking, proactive philosophy. But in the moment, we shouldn’t lose sight of what we have. I’m not going to argue it’s brilliant soccer or breathtaking play, but it’s fun. The whole thing is just fun.I went to Mexico, more than to cover the team, to have a good time; to get a unique, unforgettable experience. The 250 American supporters who traveled to Mexico wanted to enjoy themselves. It seems safe to say we got what we went for. A friend of mine in the American Outlaws texted me at 3 a.m.: “It was *^#+=\ crazy! Never again will I experience something like that.”We all enjoyed watching the game. When I talked soccer with the American fans around me, we didn’t use the old self-loathing tone that had become too familiar over the last few years. We were just excited.Sports have put me through the wringer over the years. It hasn’t always been that exciting or enjoyable to be a USMNT fan. Even when they’ve been playing well, it wasn’t necessarily entertaining. So in these fleeting moments when they are just fun, you’ll have to excuse me for soaking it up a little bit.

US Player Ratings: Bradley, Cameron, Arena lead the way for brave Yanks

June 12, 201712:09AM EDTGreg SeltzerContributor

The US national team put on a collectively solid, practical display in earning a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw against archrivals Mexico at the vaunted Azteca on Sunday night.USA took a shock early lead on Michael Bradley‘s wonder goal, and then spent most of the next 84 minutes effectively soaking up pressure. On a night when their organization was largely on point, the visitors were fatally stretched on one El Tri counter that forced them to “settle” for a point they’ll happily take home.

Brad Guzan (6) – The US netminder didn’t have much of a chance to get to Carlos Vela’s strike. Though he was saved by the bar on Hector Herrera’s free kick, he also was at the mercy of that near-perfect laser. Guzan did well to come up with a couple of nervy cross claims.

DeAndre Yedlin (6.5) – The Newcastle defender struggled to deal with crossers in his corner during the opening frame, but rallied big-time to shut them down after the break. Yedlin also relieved pressure with a couple of gallops into attack during the second half. He was, however, guilty of keeping Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez onside for a dangerous chance.

Omar Gonzalez (6.5) – The right center back logged seven area clearances, including a few important ones. At the other end, Gonzalez had a golden chance to play hero on two first-half restarts, only to misfire his headers.

Geoff Cameron (7) – It was a flawed first half from the Stoke City man, who unnecessarily ceded a few dangerous free kicks. Cameron also failed to recognize that his spot was covered on the Mexico goal, passing up the chance to help Beasley close down Vela. However, he was outstanding after intermission, making several key interventions among 12 defensive stops in the US end.

Tim Ream (7) – The Fulham defender was the definition of solid in defense. Ream also set up a good chance from a broken corner kick. Surprisingly, he offered little with his typically strong passing game out of the back.

DaMarcus Beasley (6.5) – The veteran was knocked around pretty good in the opening stages of the game, but hung tough to put in a decent shift. Beasley was much busier at the back in the second half, when he pitched in with a few strong tackles.

Michael Bradley (7.5) – The US captain opened the scoring early, picking off a loose El Tri touch to exquisitely chip their ‘keeper from 40 yards. It was a goal that will be remembered for a long time, and he nearly added another with a long range bomb that rang the post. Bradley did commit one bad turnover, but he made up for it by repeatedly slowing Mexico moves up the middle.

Kellyn Acosta (6.5) – The FC Dallas youngster certainly did not look awed in his first big World Cup qualifying derby. Acosta positioned himself well throughout and made some important defensive plays. He also provided some pressure-valve work, but did squander a chance to slow Mexico’s break near midfield on their goal play.

Paul Arriola (5) – Far too often, Arriola neglected to give Yedlin help tracking flank runners. Aside from one fine cross into the box, he didn’t do much going forward.

Christian Pulisic (6.5) – For much of the night, the teen Borussia Dortmund ace was the only US player capable of beating Mexico defenders on the dribble. Pulisic could have done a little more defensively, but his runs into the attacking half unsettled the hosts. Unfortunately for him, he fired wide on his late chance.

Bobby Wood (4.5) – Playing as a lone striker, Wood had a tough night with his hold-up touches, was unable to win battles on long balls and did not complete a single positive pass. When his lone chance came at close range with Mexico scrambling, he whiffed on it.

Coach Bruce Arena (8) – From a game plan standpoint, Da Bruce basically nailed it. He took smart risks with the lineup and formation, and the team could have stolen away with all three points if one of a number of things had gone right on the Mexico goal sequence or on the US restart chance that preceded it.

That said, Arena could have used his bench earlier and one must question the wisdom of sending all three center backs forward on corners when the team habitually passed up serves into the box for short takes. That definitely came back to bite.

Subs:

Darlington Nagbe (6.5) – The Portland midfielder immediately provided the team with some sorely-needed possession. It might have been nice to see him enter the fray sooner.

Jozy Altidore (6) – The Toronto FC star’s first involvement saw him put a bad touch on an outlet pass meant for a teammate, and it momentarily put the defense in hot water. Altidore also set up Pulisic’s chance at the other end, so we’ll call it even.

Graham Zusi (-) – Barely enough time to say hi.

The Great American Soccer Hope Is Here (For Real, This Time)

By Michael Caley   June 8th

There have been roughly 100 million males born in America in the past 50 years. Among that total, there appears to finally be one who can safely be called a legitimate international soccer star.Eighteen-year-old Christian Pulisic of the U.S. men’s national team scored twice on Thursday night in Colorado, lifting the USMNT to a critical World Cup qualifying win over Trinidad and Tobago. With the game tied 0-0 in the 52nd minute, Pulisic’s smart run and cool finish put the U.S. up a goal, and 10 minutes later the teenager slipped in behind the defense to double the lead. This has become typical for the Americans. Against Panama, Pulisic held off two defenders in the box to get free and feed Clint Dempsey for the USMNT’s lone goal. He scored one and assisted two in the 6-0 romp over Honduras. All told, over its crucial last three competitive matches, the U.S. has scored nine goals and Pulisic has scored or assisted six of them.1

 

 

Evidence of Pulisic’s quality is not limited to matches against Caribbean nations and middling Central American challengers. He has proved himself for German power Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. This past season, Pulisic scored four goals and assisted eight in the Bundesliga and Champions League. And there’s good reason to believe these numbers were no fluke or merely a function of a hot finishing run. By expected goals, a statistical estimate of the quality of scoring chances, Pulisic’s shots and passes created chances with an estimated value of roughly five expected goals (xG) and seven expected assists (xA). Among nonstrikers with at least 1,500 minutes played, Pulisic was eighth in the Bundesliga in xG + xA per 90 minutes, slightly behind Bayern Munich’s Douglas Costa.

EXPECTED PER 90 MINS
PLAYER CLUB GOALS ASSISTS GOALS + ASSISTS
1 Arjen Robben Bayern Munich 0.39 0.36 0.75
2 Ousmane Dembele Borussia Dortmund 0.26 0.47 0.72
3 Shinji Kagawa Borussia Dortmund 0.29 0.41 0.70
4 Franck Ribery Bayern Munich 0.26 0.37 0.63
5 Emil Forsberg RB Leipzig 0.18 0.43 0.61
6 Paul-Georges Ntep Wolfsburg 0.25 0.28 0.54
7 Douglas Costa Bayern Munich 0.19 0.34 0.53
8 Christian Pulisic Borussia Dortmund 0.22 0.30 0.52
9 Marco Fabian Eintracht Frankfurt 0.31 0.13 0.43
10 Kerem Demirbay Hoffenheim 0.16 0.25 0.41
11 Salomon Kalou Hertha BSC 0.21 0.19 0.40
12 Joshua Kimmich Bayern Munich 0.31 0.09 0.40
13 Nicolai Muller Hamburg 0.26 0.13 0.39
14 Raphael Guerreiro Borussia Dortmund 0.24 0.15 0.39
15 Thiago Alcantara Bayern Munich 0.21 0.16 0.37
Pulisic was one of the most dangerous players in Germany

Statistics for the 2016-17 season.

SOURCE: OPTA

The more advanced numbers show that the young American is not limited to shooting, either. For the Panama goal, Pulisic had to beat two defenders in close quarters. His ability to break a defense by winning one-on-ones helps his team create chances even when Pulisic doesn’t get the goal himself. With 72 successful take-ons (beating a defender in an open-field contest), Pulisic was fifth among Bundesliga players in take-ons per 90 minutes, just ahead of Bayern Munich’s world-class veteran wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

And last night against Trinidad and Tobago, Pulisic scored twice after runs off the ball into dangerous areas. His ability to read space and slip unmarked into the penalty box is already elite. Thirty-six times in the last season Pulisic made a run to receive an entry pass into the penalty area, and 16 times he dribbled by a defender to get into the penalty area. In this statistic, Pulisic led all Bundesliga players. He outpaced even Bayern’s Thomas Muller, the 2014 World Cup hero for Germany who had made his name ghosting into scoring positions without alerting the defense.

Just this level of production would be enough to make Sam’s Army salivate. But at 18, Pulisic is hardly a finished product and has room to get even better. If you compare his production to players under 20 years of age in the top leagues in Europe, he stands out all the more.

YEAR PLAYER CLUB EXP. GOALS AND ASSISTS PER 90 MINS
1 2016-17 Ousmane Dembele Borussia Dortmund 0.72
2 2013-14 Raheem Sterling Liverpool 0.67
3 2015-16 Dele Alli Tottenham Hotspur 0.58
4 2012-13 Julian Draxler Schalke 0.54
5 2015-16 Marco Asensio Espanyol 0.52
6 2015-16 Leroy Sane Schalke 0.52
7 2016-17 Christian Pulisic Borussia Dortmund 0.52
8 2015-16 Kingsley Coman Bayern Munich 0.51
9 2013-14 Bruno Fernandes Udinese 0.49
10 2015-16 Julian Brandt Bayer Leverkusen 0.47
11 2015-16 Ousmane Dembele Rennes 0.44
12 2013-14 Leon Goretzka Schalke 0.41
13 2012-13 Raheem Sterling Liverpool 0.41
14 2011-12 Julian Draxler Schalke 0.39
15 2010-11 Jack Wilshere Arsenal 0.37
Pulisic has been one of the best teenagers in Europe since 2010-11

Includes players age 18-19 with highest goals and assists per 90 minutes  SOURCE: OPTA

Pulisic’s 0.52 expected goals+assists per 90 minutes is the best mark by any 18-year-old nonstriker in the top five leagues since 2010-11. Among under-20s, Pulisic is seventh and surrounded by high-priced stars such as Leroy Sane of Manchester City and Real Madrid’s Marco Asencio. In terms of receiving or dribbling the ball into the penalty area, he ranks only behind Manchester United’s young star Marcus Rashford and Kylian Mbappe, whose market value is reportedly north of $130 million. Right now Pulisic is not considered to be on the market, but high eight-figure fees are common for players at his level and age.

 

Chicago Fire extend their unbeaten streak, eye top Power Rankings spot

 

The Chicago Fire continue their climb up Jason Davis’s MLS Power Rankings. Who else were big movers after the weekend’s action?

  1. Toronto FC(no change)
    TFC’s 2-0 win over D.C. United wasn’t much of a surprise considering recent form, but getting all three DPs back on the field together was good.
  2. Chicago Fire(+2)
    A 2-1 win in New England extended the Fire’s unbeaten run to eight and further established their credentials as a contender in the East.

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  1. Sporting Kansas City(no change)
    Sporting were held without a goal despite dominating proceedings in Saturday’s draw at San Jose, a bad habit they need to break.
  2. FC Dallas(-2)
    FCD were on their way to a road win in Vancouver when Cristian Techera struck with a well-taken free kick. They’ll take the point while feeling like they could have had more.
  3. New York City FC(+2)
    David Villa’s milestone 50th MLS goal helped his team to a 2-1 win over Seattle in driving rain in New York.
  4. Atlanta United(no change)
    All three DPs scored in the 3-1 win over Columbus, including striker Josef Martinez, who is back from a long injury break. It was his first goal since March 18.
  5. Houston Dynamo(+2)
    In a moment bound to spark conversations about looming VAR, Houston lost out on its first road win of the year thanks to a late LA goal that forced a 2-2 draw.
  6. Orlando City SC(no change)
    An emotional week was capped with an emotional 3-3 draw. Orlando held two leads but needed a goal at the very end to get a point.
  7. Columbus Crew SC(-4)
    Crew SC’s defense was more than a step slow in their 3-1 road loss to Atlanta, a problem that has prevailed all year.
  8. New York Red Bulls(+2)
    Yes, the Red Bulls needed a man advantage to get full points in a 2-0 win on the road, but they won’t care.
  9. Portland Timbers(+3)
    The Timbers controlled the game and created the chances in the first half against Colorado but couldn’t get a crucial second in a 2-1 loss.
  10. LA Galaxy(-2)
    LA pulled out a 2-2 draw at home against Houston on a controversial late goal. What happened to the Galaxy’s home dominance?
  11. San Jose Earthquakes(-2)
    Give the Quakes credit for a gutsy draw against SKC, minus several key figures. Winning at home is better, but getting anything out of that match will do.
  12. Seattle Sounders(+1)
    It might be harsh to hold a cross-country performance on a waterlogged field against them, but the Sounders’ 2-1 loss to NYCFC won’t do a lot to improve confidence.
  13. Vancouver Whitecaps(+1)
    Vancouver’s 1-1 draw at home against FC Dallas showed some promising signs. Alphonso Davies made a difference off the bench, as did Bernie Ibini-Isei in his debut.

 

Courtesy of the Blank family

Family affair: The father-son bond that brought Atlanta United into being

June 18, 20172:30PM EDTCharles BoehmContributor

 

His new team is the toast of MLS, but Arthur Blank’s first experience with soccer was not particularly fruitful.Atlanta United’s owner was first introduced to the sport while living in California in the 1970s, as an activity for his oldest son Kenny, a grade-schooler at the time. Kenny wasn’t taken with the beautiful game, though, electing to lie down on the field and take a rest during the action.“I still remember his mom and I trying to encourage him to play,” Blank recalls with a chuckle in a recent conversation with MLSsoccer.com. “We just couldn’t get him going.”Kenny found his passions elsewhere, as an Emmy-winning journalist and patron of the arts. His younger siblings gave soccer a shot, however, and his half-brother Josh fell deeply in love from an early age, rising through the sprawling Atlanta youth scene with leading club Concorde Fire and eventually competing in the country’s top league, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Last year Josh moved on to the squad at NCAA Division I program Elon University, and will begin his second season with the Phoenix in the fall.Along the way, he led his father on a journey of discovery that greatly influenced the birth of Atlanta United – and continues today. In fact, it’s quite possible that without Josh’s influence, this year’s biggest expansion story might never have even happened.

* * *

The co-founder of The Home Depot and owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons along with a suite of other sports properties, Blank says he and MLS Commissioner Don Garber first discussed the idea of a team for Atlanta more than a decade ago.The economics didn’t quite line up at that juncture. But the seed of an idea was planted, and it would germinate as Blank roamed the sidelines of Josh’s youth games over the years.“Joshua, he was always very athletic,” remembers his father. “He loved football, was a huge baseball fan, played a little bit of basketball, but he seemed to have an affinity for soccer.“He used to go out and practice til whatever time, and then he’d come back in the house, take the cars out of the garage and just hit soccer balls against the wall for an hour, an hour and a half, until he was dripping wet, sopping wet. But that was the way he practiced. I knew then that he was committed to the sport.”Josh noticed that as his own soccer sophistication grew, his father followed.“From coming to a lot of my games, he started picking up on how the game was played and would ask me questions,” Josh told MLSsoccer.com this week. “And he always loves watching the US national team play too, so we always watch those games together and I would kind of be his teacher in terms of how everything works.”The elder Blank picked up a soccer photography habit, snapping action shots of Josh and his teammates in action. It gave him a glimpse of the dramatic demographic changes taking place across greater Atlanta and the nation as a whole, with soccer playing a unifying role among the dizzyingly diverse communities. And when the chance to invest in the sport returned, he was ready.“Basically we were told by existing [MLS] owners that this is a long-haul building franchise, and you have to get into the sport because you love it, and you have to have patience to build a franchise,” says Blank.“We certainly love the sport and not only the playing of it – the part I was very attracted to was, how the game in Atlanta, with over 35,000 young folks playing club soccer … was key to the diversity of Atlanta – the diversity of America, for that matter. How it was all changing. And to see these young folks who had come, in many cases, from all over the world, bringing their sport here, was really wonderful for me.”And from that came a serious interest in creating a top-flight professional team in the city.”[My dad] just said that I know soccer is something you’re really interested in, and the South and Atlanta specifically is a city that deserves soccer, but I don’t know if right now is the time,” Josh explained. “He always thought that at some point, getting a team to Atlanta would be the right decision, because Atlanta and Georgia in general is one of the biggest youth soccer markets in the United States. So there was definitely that culture here, but it was a matter of when was the right time to have it.”

* * *

Soccer took on an even more personal place in Blank’s world five years ago, when it brought love into his life.Angela Macuga, the mother of Josh’s Concorde teammate Drew, caught Arthur’s eye as one of the team’s most dedicated and spirited supporters. Her daughter Emily (pictured below) was also a high-level youth player who will begin her second season at Wofford College later this year.“She’s a very competitive woman, doesn’t like to lose at anything and she was a great soccer mom,” says Blank of Macuga. “She wouldn’t miss a practice or a game for either her son or her daughter. So I got to know her through that and we went to some American football games as a family, and we enjoyed that and after that we started to date.”The two got married last year, and today they are an inseparable pair at every ATL UTD home game, and most of the away games, too.“She wouldn’t miss one. She’s just like I am. She loves it. She knows a lot about the sport, though she didn’t play it,” says Blank. “If you look in the dictionary under ‘soccer mom,’ you’ll see a picture of my wife Angie. We go to all the home games, some of the away games depending on where they are and what’s going on with the other children. But it’s an incredible family sport.“When I go to our home games now, to see 45-50,000 people – including kids – standing up, rooting as hard as they can, away from their electronics and focused on the field and the celebration. It’s just wonderful. It’s a great sense of community – it’s a great sense of family, it really is.”That sense extends to the Atlanta United front office. Drew works in the club’s marketing department, while Josh is gaining experience under technical director Carlos Bocanegra, head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino and the rest of the technical and academy staff as an operations assistant, with an eye towards gaining his college degree in sports management and business.“The guys on the team are great to be around, and everyone that works for Atlanta United has a ton of passion,” says Josh. “When you work for a team, you have such a strong connection to the team. You feel even more pride when you see 45,000 people at the games or see the team doing well.”Arthur clearly feels the same way. He readily reels off ATL UTD’s dazzling attendance and merchandising statistics, both of which are at or near the top of the MLS charts, and sounds a note of cautious optimism about the team’s mid-table position in the Eastern Conference standings.“I think that we touched all the right nerves here,” he says. “It’s meeting fans of soccer where they are. It’s been incredible.“And for me personally as a father, to see Joshua and Drew so heavily involved in the sport and involved in the team, to see them putting in the time and the hours and the effort they are, to see the smiles on their faces, it’s wonderful. It’s great.”

* * *

His father emphasizes that he’s always sought to give his six children and three stepchildren space to decide on their own life and career paths. Yet he sees a focus and commitment to Josh’s work in soccer that hints at a bright future in the game.“There’s nothing more important than hands-on experience, particularly if it’s close to the right people,” says Blank. “Given the quality of the organization that we’ve built, the opportunity to be trained and mentored and spend time with folks that he is – not his father, necessarily, but these folks that really know the game! – is something that you can’t replace. So I hope that he has an interest long-term; I And in the meantime, father continues to lean on son for understanding of the sport’s finer points.“He’s very knowledgeable,” says Arthur of Josh. “I enjoy watching a match with him and getting his analysis about our matches. I don’t bug him a lot, because I know he’s making notes and doing his evaluations, etc. But post-match, he gives me a good explanation of what happened and what didn’t happen. So it’s neat for me as a father to be learning from my son.”That feeling is mutual.“It’s something that, from when the club was announced, that we’ve kind of shared together and it was a bond that we had when I was a kid,” he says. “That was the sport I loved to play and he grew up watching me play, and that was the team that we both had a passion for … and I love answering his questions, because I’m furthering his knowledge and sharing my own.“I remember I was actually sitting next to him when Yamil [Asad] scored the [club’s inaugural MLS goal] goal against the Red Bulls, and that was one of the coolest moments of my life that’s happened so far, for sure. I love sharing those moments with him.”

PREVIEW | #NCFCVIND

Indiana’s Team flies to face North Carolina FC for second straight meeting  Jun 23, 2017

 

PREVIEW:

Indy Eleven Gameday & Match Preview
Indy Eleven at North Carolina FC – #NCFCvIND
Saturday, June 24, 2017 – 7:30 P.M. EST
Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park – Cary, North Carolina

Watch/Listen Live:

  • Local/National TV: MyINDY TV-23
  • Streaming Video: ESPN3

ROUND TWO…FIGHT!

This Saturday is the second leg of back-to-back matches for Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC. The first leg in the two round bout resulted in the “Boys in Blue” collecting their first three points of 2017 and NCFC stagnate in fifth place on the NASL table. Indy’s record against North Carolina improved to 5W-2D-3L in all competitions, giving them the best record against any team in the current NASL lineup with 17 points. Indy’s most notable win, dubbed the “Miracle at ‘The Mike’” occurred against NCFC at the end of the 2016 Spring season. A hat trick from Indy’s star forward Eamon Zayed and a goal from striking partner Justin Braun sealed Indy’s first NASL Spring Championship title after overtaking New York Cosmos on goal differential.Indy Eleven’s “Fight for Three” finally paid off with the clubs first win in 2017 last Saturday. With a 1W-7D-4L record, Indy has ascended from the bottom of the table into 6th place. “Indiana’s Team’s” win also means that they are no longer the only team in the NASL without a win to their name in the Spring season. Last Saturday, the “Boys in Blue” walked away victorious after a 2-0 shutout against the visiting former Railhawks. After several close calls in the first half, neither team capitalize on any opportunity. Fortunately, Indy’s time to shine came in the 60th minute when forward Justin Braun opened the scoring after a poor clearance from an NCFC defender defected off Braun’s knee directly in front of the goal line. After more chances from both sides, and many magical saves from Eleven goaltender Jon Busch, it was Speas who rose to the occasion. In the 84th minute, Speas rocketed the ball into the right corner after a masterful cross from Goldsmith met the midfielder in the far left corner of the opposition’s box.After six days with no matches, a rested NCFC will be ready to greet Indy at WakeMed Park. Only collecting one point in their last two NASL matches and being knocked out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup last week, the hosts will be looking to find winning ways once more. Although, North Carolina will remain in 5th place on the Spring table no matter the outcome of Saturday’s contest, a win for will put them within a point of overtaking Jacksonville Armada FC for 4th place. In contrast, a loss to Indy will see the “Boys in Blue” within wo points of replacing the rebranded club’s fifth place position.

WHO TO WATCH INDY ELEVEN EDITION: MF BEN SPEAS

In a display of tact and determination, Eleven midfielder Ben Speas returned to scoring glory last Saturday against North Carolina FC. Looking to further Indy’s 1-0 lead, Speas sent a ball flying pass NCFC goal tender Brian Sylvestre that would be the nail in the coffin for the visiting side. His goal that signaled the first win in Indy’s “Fight for Three” was also the first goal the former Columbus Crew midfielder has scored since his return from injury. Furthermore, Speas’ goal also marked his first against NCFC during his time in the NASL. During his stint with Minnesota United FC, Speas saw a 160 minutes in two matches against the former Railhawks, both of which ended in losses for his former club.Prior to his injury, the NASL veteran opened his scoring account in his second appearance. On April 1st, in the ninth minute, Speas bested Puerto Rico FC keeper Trevor Spangenberg with chip high over the visitor’s head. Unfortunately, the NASL Play of the Week goal from the newcomer wasn’t enough to seal Indy’s first three points early in the season.

WHO TO WATCH NORTH CAROLINA FC EDITION: MF LANCE LAING

No stranger to the league, NCFC’s Lance Laing joins his new club for his 7th consecutive NASL season. Laing’s previous stints include time at former-NASL Minnesota United FC, FC Edmonton and now defunct Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Furthermore, the Jamaican international represented his country on multiple occasions. Laing’s made his youth international debut between 2004 and 2005. Three years later, Laing made his Jamaican first team debut in a friendly 0-0 draw against El Salvador. In 2012, Laing earned a recall to the first team once again to help Jamaica prepare for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.Working to repeat his prior NASL successes, Laing has hit the ground running in 2017. The veteran midfielder has racked up five goals so far. However, the once top 2017 goal scorer has slipped into second place behind Indy Eleven alumni Zach Steinberger’s single goal lead. In addition to his goal scoring, Laing is headlining the assist chart with three assists alongside six other playmakers across the NASL, including our own Justin Braun. Laing’s ability to find the back of the net, as well teammates, makes him a priority target to shut down before getting nto threatening territory.

MATCH-UP TO MARK: GK JON BUSCH VS. FW MATTHEW FONDY

An unmovable object meeting an unstoppable force; these are words that most accurately describe the upcoming contest between Indy Eleven goalkeeper Jon Busch and NCFC’s Matthew Fondy.Busch joins Indy for his second season after making the move to “Indiana’s Team” in 2016. Last time out, “Buschy” flaunted his skills once more after six saves in Indy’s 2-0 shutout against North Carolina FC. Moreover, Busch’s six saves moved him into a tie for the #3 spot of NASL goalkeepers with the most saves so far in 2017 with 29 saves.The 2008 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year made it look easy last season after making 70 saves and keeping 11 clean sheets throughout the 2016 regular season competition. Before joining Indy, Busch was with MLS side Chicago Fire SC for a second stint in his career where he made 12 appearances for the “Men in Red”.Much like Indy’s Busch, NCFC’s Matthew Fondy made his NASL debut in 2016 after successful stints in various divisions. Picking up from last season, Fondy has continued his scoring regiment by netting three so far and collecting points for NCFC in each contest he has scored in. Moreover, Fondy’s scoring can be tied to his tenacity to getting in front of the goal. Whether it’s weaving through defenders or finding the ball from teammates, Fondy’s ability to get shots off adds a hard pressing element to NCFC’s strategy. With the second most shots in the NASL to his name (25), it’s only a matter of time before Fondy adds another goal to his stats sheet.

ESPN2 to broadcast Chicago Fire-FC Cincinnati US Open Cup match

June 23, 201711:52AM EDTSam StejskalContributor

There will be a few extra eyeballs on the Chicago Fire’s US Open Cup round-of-16 contest at MLS hopefuls FC Cincinnati next Wednesday.It was announced on Friday that ESPN2 will broadcast the match live, with Adrian Healey, Taylor Twellman and Julie Stewart-Binks providing the coverage from Nippert Stadium. The match will mark the first broadcast on ESPN networks of a Round-of-16 Open Cup match. Cincinnati set an Open Cup record for a non-final match by drawing 30,160 fans to Nippert Stadium for their fourth-round win against Columbus Crew SC on June 14. The club announced on Friday that they’ve already sold over 18,000 tickets for next Wednesday’s game, which is scheduled to kick off at 8 pm ET.FC Cincinnati were one of 12 groups to submit an expansion application to MLS in January. The club recently unveiled renderings of a proposed soccer-specific stadium, and are currently looking for a site on which to build the venue. MLS will eventually award four expansion teams from the group of 12 applicants, with the league set to announce the first two new clubs by the end of the year. Prior to taking on Cincinnati next week, Chicago will host Orlando in MLS action on Saturday (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE).

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6/15   US Ties Mexico 1-1, Confed Cup Starts Sat, Indy 11 Discount Tix,

Ok so it wasn’t pretty but it worked.  US Coach Bruce Arena drew up a masterful plan to stop the Mexico attack at Azteca where the US has only once before not lost in World Cup Qualification games.  It was such a far cry from the miss-matched mess that the German – Klinsy tried to use against Mexico at home in Feb.  This US team had a plan and darn near executed it to perfection.  When Bradley pulled the wonder strike in the 1st 10 minutes and then the US won almost as many corners as Mexico in the game – you knew the counter attacking plan from Arena was the right call.  Woods kept the pressure high, and both wingers and midfielders assisted in the quick strike attack.  The US looked dangerous on corners finally offensively as Gonzales just missed on connecting for 2 header goals, while defensively with Cameron commanding the back – they rarely lost a corner ball and cleared most with ease.  I did think he missed a chance by not getting Nagbe into the game at right wing earlier – as he was masterful at both tracking back and dribbling/passing us out of danger when he did finally come in (coming off his man of match show against T&T – I hoped he would have started).  Either way – the US scored early then held on – and really only gave up a goal on a corner where they honestly should have scored (Woods flat wiffed what should have been (Dos a Cero) right before the breakaway which tied it for Mexico.   While I wasn’t happy with 74 to 26% possession time – honestly the shots 10-7 for US were pretty close as was the corners 9-7, the US only gave up 1 legit shot on goal in 90 minutes while we had 3.  Give Bruce credit however – the Best ever American Coach has righted the ship and has a plan – that has moved us back into 3rd in the hex with a chance to overtake Costa Rica for 2nd in a home stand in Sept.  Just as importantly it has reminded Mexico that they are NOT the Best team in the Region hands down – the battle for Concacaff Supremacy will still come down to the US vs Mexico mano a mano.

Confederation Cup action gets underway with 2 full weeks of play between the top teams in each confederation as they get a chance to try out the stadiums in Russia 1 full year before the 2018 World Cup.  Games start Saturday on Fox Sports 1 with Russia hosting New Zealand at 11 am, Sunday gives us European Cup champs Portugal and Renaldo vs Mexico at 11 am and Cameron vs Chile at 2 pm.  (See Confederations Cup Schedule below)

Congrats to Christos FC Soccer Club – the Bar League Team in Maryland with all amateur players for scoring a goal vs DC United in the US Open Cup – of course DC United won 4-1  But it was fun while it lasted.  MLS has some solid matches coming up with NYCFC hosting Seattle on Sat 1 pm on ESPN, then next weekend is Derby weekend with the NY Derby NYCFC vs NY Red Bulls on Sat 1:30 pm on Fox and the Cascadia Cup with Portland hosting Seattle next Sunday 1:30 pm on Fox.

Finally the Indy 11 will look to get their first home win of the season on Sat night 7:30 pm vs North Carolina at the MIKE – I actually plan to be in attendance finally use this link Indy 11 Discount Ticket Link.

BEST FAMILY GOALIE TRAINING – if anyone is interested in Goalie Training this summer – let me know.  My 18 year old  goalie Tyler and I may offer some evening training if we get enough interest.

Indy 11 Youth Soccer Camp at Carmel Dad’s Club

June 19-22 9 to 12 noon (ages 5-14)  $135

GAMES ON TV  

Tues June 13

3 pm ESPN                       France vs England (friendly)

Sat, June 17

11 am Fox Sport1       Russia vs New Zealand  Confederations Cup

1 pm  ESPN                     NYCFC vs Seattle Sounders

7;30 pm beIn Sport Indy 11 vs North Carolina

Sun, June 18

11 am Fox Sport1       Portugal vs Mexico  – Confederations Cup

2 pm Fox Sport1          Cameron vs Chile – Confederations Cup

5 pm ESPN                       Philly vs NY Red Bulls

Mon, June 19

11 am Fox Sport1       Australia vs Gemany – Confederations Cup

Wed , June 20

2 pm Fox Sport1          Mexico vs New Zealand – Confederations Cup

Thurs, June 22

11 am Fox Sport1       Cameroon vs Australia

2 pm Fox Sport1          Chile vs Gemany – Confederations Cup

Sat, June 24

1:30 pm Fox                   NY Red Bulls vs NYCFC

7:30 pm ESPN3     NC vs Indy 11

Sun, June 25

11am FS1                                                 Germany vs Cameroon

1:30 pm Fox                   Portland vs Seattle Sounders

Wed , June 28

2 pm Fox Sport1          Confederations Cup SEMI-FINALS

Thurs, June 29

2 pm Fox Sport1          Confederations Cup SEMI-FINALS

Sun, July 2

8am FS1                             Confederations Cup 3rd

2 pm Fox Sport1          Confederations Cup FINALS

Confederations Cup Schedule June

Full MLS Schedule

Indy 11 TV Schedule

Gold Cup Schedule In July

International Champions Cup July  Games in Nashville and Detroit

USA

Draw at Azteca Another Step in US reclaiming its Essense under Arena – Grant Wahl SI

Arena Has Exceeded Expectations in replacing Klinsmann

Bruce Gets US Tactics Spot on in WC Draw at Azteca

US Player Ratings – Jason Davis – ESPNFC

US Player Ratings – Stars and Stripes

Arena was happy with Tactical Game Plan vs Mexico

Bradley – Arena has got the US – Back to Who We Are

Tactical Review of What Happened – Doyle – MLS.com

Arena’s Tactics were Spot on to Win – Stars and Stripes

Stats

Bradley’s Goal Among Greatest in US History

Twellman Agrees Arena pushed the right buttons – ESPNFC TV

Mexico coach calls out US for playing all Defense

New US Core Emerges with younger players – Leander Schaerlaeckens

3 Things we Learned against Mexico – Stars and Stripes

CONCACAF Lessons Learned – ESPNFC – Arch Bell

Pulisic is special – SI

FC Dallas GK Jesse Gonzales applies to Switch from Mexico to US

Arena doubtful European players including Pulisic will play Gold Cup

 

Christen Press Gives US Women 1-0 win over Norway

4 things we learned from USWNT Scandanavian Tour

World –

Confederations Cup – What is Means to Each Team

World Cup Qualifying – Where Everyone Stands across the World

Other World Cup Qualifiers  Portugal win, Sweden Stun France

France Miles in Front of England – ESPNFC

Scotland ties England is Hart to Blame?

Gigi Buffon Expects next season to be his last

Real Madrid Tops club Standings

GOALKEEPERS

30 Best Saves in Champions League 2017

Saves of the Week MLS Week 12

MLS

INDY 11

Indy 11 Discount Ticket Link

Indy 11 Drop 2nd home Loss to Jax

Brad Ring and Colin Falvey make Team of the Week 11

Draw at Azteca another step in USMNT reclaiming its team essence under Arena

QUICKLYBruce Arena had a plan that involved unusual players in an atypical USMNT formation, but it was executed well in Mexico as the Americans continue to rebuild as a cohesive unit.GRANT WAHLMonday June 12th, 2017

MEXICO CITY — It may be the most common word in sports. Team.We say it so often that it’s easy not to think about the rich meanings the word team can have, if you care about all the factors and daily actions that go into what makes a good one. Chemistry. Trust. Belief. Commitment. Sacrifice. Empathy. Discipline. Identity. Pride.If you listen closely to U.S. men’s national team coach Bruce Arena, it’s clear that he venerates the word team and everything it represents. He does not toss off the word casually like so many of the rest of us. And so, after the U.S.’s hard-fought 1-1 World Cup qualifying tie against archrival Mexico on Sunday—just the third time ever that the U.S. had picked up a qualifying point at Estadio Azteca—the most meaningful thing Arena said about the U.S. was a simple declarative statement that contained so much more than that. “They’re really becoming a team,” Arena said.And you know what? He’s right. Arena made seven changes to the starting lineup he had used on Thursday in a 2-0 win against Trinidad and Tobago. He said he told his players on the first day of training camp two weeks ago that there would be anywhere from seven to 11 changes, owing to the short turnaround and high altitude, and as recently as Saturday he was going to make nine changes.

On Sunday, in the toughest environment the U.S. will play in all year, Arena put international neophytes Kellyn Acosta, 21, and Paul Arriola, 22, in his starting lineup. Against Mexico. At the Azteca. (He also included 18-year-old Christian Pulisic, but that wasn’t a surprise.) All of those young guys were ready for the challenge.“We have a deep roster,” said Acosta, who was poised in his two-way midfield role next to Michael Bradley. “This shows Bruce has belief in all of us. It’s great to see that Bruce can rely on other guys to come into the team and be a part of it and get the results that we need.”Added Arriola, who was relentless in his running as a winger: “Everyone here is capable of playing. The most important thing is the chemistry. We have a great mix of guys who can provide now and in the future. We shouldn’t be talking about us being the future anymore. This was a good game to demonstrate that. Obviously, we didn’t have the ball a lot, but tactically being able to stay mentally concentrated the whole time was huge for the young guys.”Arena communicates with his team. As the coach and several players said on Sunday, Arena told them from the start of camp that there would be different formations in the two games—4-4-2 against Trinidad, 5-4-1 against Mexico—and different players as well. There was a plan, a strategy, and the work that followed came out of that plan. There were no surprises. Everyone knew exactly what was expected of them.The Americans knew they were going to be out-possessed in a major way against Mexico, and they were, having only 26.4% of possession, the lowest in a U.S. game since June 2013, according to Opta. But that was fine. That was the plan: To absorb possession, concede few scoring chances and counter when the opportunity was there. In the end, Mexico had just one shot on goal.To hear Bradley, who scored on a mindbending 40-yard chip over Guillermo Ochoa, becoming a team again—becoming the U.S. again—has everything to do with the details, every single day.“At the end of last year, a lot of little things started to drop,” Bradley said on Sunday. “And when we get our blend right in terms of football, physicality, athleticism, mobility, speed, mentality, spirit—when we get that right, there aren’t too many teams in the world that are going to have easy days playing against us, and we feel like we can step on the field and beat anybody.“But if a few too many areas start to come down, then we’re also honest enough with ourselves to understand that our margin is not real big, and then we’re going to start putting ourselves in some difficult spots. For me, it was just a case at the end of last year where a few too many areas started to drop. And I think Bruce has done a very good job of coming in and little by little, working at raising the level across the board. A big part of that is this idea of team, of spirit, of mentality, of balls.”Bradley’s insight to his sixth-minute wondergoal was fascinating. He said they had studied a lot of video of Mexico’s movements and seen patterns in which Javier “Chicharito” Hernández comes back to the ball and one of Mexico’s inside midfielders is looking to run through. Bradley read that situation coming and stepped between Chicharito and Héctor Herrera to steal the ball in the center circle.As Bradley raced forward, he looked up and saw Ochoa was off his line. Was he surprised? Not at all, said Bradley, who noted the U.S. knows Ochoa well.“I took the first touch and saw that he was a good ways out. And here you know that if you catch a ball right that with the thin air the ball is really going to fly. I just wanted to make sure I caught it right, and I did.”There are some healthy contradictions in Arena’s U.S. team right now. Arena’s sole task is to pick up the pieces for the team’s miserable Hexagonal start and make the World Cup by any means necessary—and yet he has given new opportunities to younger players, both in qualifying and at the upcoming Gold Cup that will help the U.S. long after Arena is done being the coach.What’s more, Arena has been known far more for being a man manager than a tactical maven—and yet his embrace of the 5-4-1 and using three center backs (the fantastic Geoff Cameron, Omar González and Tim Ream) revealed a coach who isn’t afraid to take a risk and mix things up.Arena said he decided back in January or February that he would probably go with three center backs at Mexico. And while it took him some time to convince his assistants, they eventually came around.“We have very good center backs,” Arena said on Sunday. “That’s the key to that system. Mexico does an unbelievable job in their spacing. They play players on both [touchlines], so they stretch you out. They like to open you up and attack the gaps between your back line if you’re playing a back four. We protected all those spaces.”Afterward, Arena made sure to thank his veterans who didn’t start on Sunday—guys like Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson, Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard—for supporting his decisions and backing up the team.“Most of these players tonight are going to disappear until September, and to leave with the bond they’ve acquired over the last four games is very important,” Arena said. “So the next time around, I’m optimistic that we can be better in the next two games of qualifying.”This is how a team becomes, in Arena’s way of looking at it, a team, one that’s worthy of the name. Welcome back, USMNT.

 

Arena has exceeded expectations since replacing Klinsmann as U.S. manager

When Bruce Arena took over the U.S. men’s national team in late November, he inherited a squad in disarray. The Americans found themselves in last place of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, mired in mediocrity and trending downward as previous manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s motivational ploys and tactics lost effectiveness.Arena, who coached the United States from 1998 to 2006, got the job because of his familiarity with the program and its players as well as his presumed ability to get the red, white and blue to Russia in 2018. He was the choice by necessity and by default, the best man to get the job done, but also the only one who could.As a result, while his hiring was applauded as the right decision, it wasn’t exactly met with overjoyed enthusiasm. The return of Arena signified a return to the past, an admission that before the Americans could move forward, they needed to go back. Arena wasn’t a forward-thinking coach; he was a pragmatic one. He probably could lead the team to the World Cup but would do so by going back to the basics, leaning on athleticism and effort rather than technical ability and tactical nuance.Now that Arena’s side has returned eight points from four World Cup qualifiers, including an impressive draw at Mexico’s soccer fortress, Estadio Azteca, on Sunday, it’s time to consider that he has exceeded expectations. Not only has the coach gotten the tactics right and brought the fight back to the U.S., but he’s building a blueprint for a team that could find success in 2018 and beyond.It starts with the appealing blend of talent Arena is deploying on the field. In the past, the coach was criticized for being unable or unwilling to give younger players a chance, but he has shown no such reluctance since getting the top job again.Christian Pulisic is now the engine that makes the attack go, and Kellyn Acosta excelled in a central midfield role against El Tri and will soon take over for Jermaine Jones as a starter if that hasn’t happened already. Arena handed Paul Arriola his first World Cup-qualifying start Sunday night, and the 22-year-old midfielder didn’t look out of place. Arena isn’t working miracles, but he is setting up his team — arguably the most talented in U.S. history — to succeed, and his players are responding positively.”I thought the mentality of the group to understand what the game was going to be about, to commit to how we wanted to play, it was amazing,” Michael Bradley said after the 1-1 draw with Mexico. “Obviously, Bruce laid out things early on in terms of his idea of how we wanted to go about the two games. You always know that things can change, but ultimately we stuck to exactly what he wanted to do.”In Mexico, two moments stood out to me. The first was Bradley’s goal. While we’ll remember it for the shock value and the pureness of his strike, the moment before was more telling. The American captain stepped into space and created a turnover, after which he went sprinting toward the Mexican net. Asked after the game how he made the play, Bradley said that he knew the pass from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was coming. The U.S. team watched film of their opposition and noticed that specific pattern of play. They were prepared, and the result was a goal. The Klinsmann era, it’s fair to say, frequently lacked that type of attention to detail.The second was a conversation with Arriola after the game. All week long the U.S. players talked about how they felt more prepared under Arena, but the midfielder explained specifically how this happened. “We talked about [my role] a couple days ago in breakfast,” he said. “We just had a short meeting, each person, and I think that really helps a lot; everyone really understands what their role is and what the team role is.”A bit later, he continued: “At halftime, we talked about a tactical switch. Their left back was coming up a lot, so how can we avoid him receiving the ball, or do we want to hold in and allow him to receive the ball? We kinda talked over that. And everything was pretty clear. Myself, I was never confused.”Coaching a national team, a squad that doesn’t spend much time together, doesn’t need to be complicated. The players need to know what function they play on the field, where their skill sets fit into the specific game they are playing and the larger player pool. They need one or two discrete instructions or guidelines, and the freedom and flexibility that comes from knowing that their coach trusts them in the situation where he’s put them.Arena’s impact on the state of the U.S. program was immediate — he improved morale off the field and performance on it. Increasingly, it looks to be long-lasting, too. While he was always the right man for the job, he has been better than advertised and deserves credit. (And credit to U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati for giving Arena so much latitude. It took too long to get rid of Klinsmann, but when the split came, it was clean and thorough.)”At the end of the day, what Bruce sets for us to do, we’ll be ready to do,” Acosta said before the Mexico match. He and his teammates were ready, and they nearly emerged from Mexico with three points. After the match, Arena was already looking toward the future, his vision clear.Noah Davis is a Brooklyn-based correspondent for ESPN FC and deputy editor at American Soccer Now. Twitter: @Noahedavis.

Michael Bradley the glue as U.S. earns huge point in draw with Mexico

The United States national went into a building where they’ve never won a game in World Cup qualifying and … still didn’t win. But a 1-1 draw against Mexico and the point that comes with it is more than good enough for an American squad with low expectations coming into the match.

Positives

For the better part of an hour, the American plan to flood the midfield and slow down the Mexican attack worked fairly well. After Michael Bradley’s stunning early goal, the U.S. looked to be about as comfortable as it could have hoped. Mexico’s equalizer through Carlos Vela changed the game, but the Americans showed good resolve to keep them out for the second over the balance of the match.

Negatives

There’s certainly an argument that the U.S. was overly negative, but there was never going to be another approach in the cauldron of the Azteca. Brad Guzan looked shaky at times, and there were moments when the back line’s communication was lacking. With so many players behind the ball and little press, the attacking trio of Bobby Wood, Christian Pulisic and Paul Arriola didn’t threaten Mexico with dangerous chances.

Manager rating out of 10

6.5 — A lot was made about the mass changes Bruce Arena made for this match, just three days removed from the win against Trinidad & Tobago, but the U.S. boss looks somewhat vindicated by the events at the Azteca. Mistakes combined with moments of brilliance ultimately ruled the day for the goal, but Arena’s setup did provide the defensive backbone the Americans needed to put themselves in position to get a result.  (Shane – should have gone to Nagbe much earlier – 60th minute – also Dempsey should have come in for Wood in the last 15 minutes to try to pull out that miracle goal). Overall great result though – was right on Guzan and 3/5 man back line held their own.  Cameron was a STAR!  Nice to have a coach NOW who at least has a plan and communicates it properly. 

 

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

GK Brad Guzan, 6 — Slow to react on Vela’s goal when he might have done better. May have gotten away with a foul on Hernandez. Saved by the woodwork on a Hector Herrera free kick late in the game.

DF DeAndre Yedlin, 6.5 — Rose the occasion in the second half with a yellow card already on his ledger. Mixed bag in one-vs.-one moments but mostly held his own.

DF Geoff Cameron, 7 — Slow to step out on Vela on Mexico’s goal. Improved in the second half and made several crucial interventions that kept the game level. (WHAT – Cameron made numerous saves – was damn near man of the match with Bradley!!)

DF Omar Gonzalez 6.5 — Competent defensively, including his usual good work in the air. Missed a free header that could have given the U.S. a second goal.

DF Tim Ream, 7 — Hardly stood out, which speaks to his work across the evening. Held the line well, made smart plays with the ball at his feet.

DF DaMarcus Beasley, 6.5 — Heroic performance considering his age and Mexico’s penchant for wide play. Clearly gassed in the second half, but maintained discipline.

MF Kellyn Acosta, 7.5 — Handled his big moment expertly, minus a few lapses. Set piece service was mostly poor, a lone black mark on his shift.

MF Michael Bradley, 7.5 — Scored the U.S. goal that set up the opportunity to grab a point. Did what he could against mobile midfield target, including a tactical fouling program that broke up Mexican rhythm. Also almost scored a second.  Would have been wonder strike for Captain America.

MF Paul Arriola, 6.5 — Feisty evening that included a few slashing runs that opened up the Mexico defense. Worked hard on defense and left everything on the field in 64 minutes.

MF Christian Pulisic, 6.5 — Occasionally looked nervy on the big stage. Made clever runs that went unrewarded. Worked back on defense. Missed a late chance he’ll want back.  (Missed Altidore or Dempsey kind of service at times)

FW Bobby Wood, 6 — Fought like hell for almost 80 minutes. Whiffed on his best chance, which led directly to Mexico’s goal at the other end. Showed off his strength with his holdup play.

Substitutes

MF Darlington Nagbe, NR — Added energy when it was vital to do so. Pushed out through midfield to relieve pressure. (Should have come in at 60 minute mark if not earlier – might have changed the game!!)

FW Jozy Altidore, NR — Came on and pushed a few Mexican defenders around.

MF Graham Zusi, NR — No impact after coming on in added time.

Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.

 

Stats            

Possession – Mexico  74%       US 26%

Shots           Mexico   10           US  7

Corners      Mex        9             US 7

Fouls         Mex      13             US 21

 

 

Armchair Analyst: US take a page from Costa Rica’s book in draw at Mexico

June 11, 201711:24AM EDTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer

Cheers to ESPN’s Marc Connelly for giving me my lead  – I mostly agree with him, though please rest assured this doesn’t mean I’m going to avoid discussing tactics after USA’s 1-1 draw at the Azteca against Mexico, a result that leaves the Yanks in strong position to qualify for next summer’s World Cup and damn near memory holed – finally – the disastrous start to the Hexagonal.The whole point of this column of mine is to get lost in the weeds about the granular stuff in the game, but in so doing I (and you, my lovely readers, occasionally join me in this I’m sure) occasionally lose sight of the obvious: Sometimes great players make great plays. Michael Bradley gets a read half-a-step before anybody else on the field and takes a gamble that results in the goal of a lifetime. Carlos Vela realizes that Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s gravity has drawn both Kellyn Acosta and Geoff Cameron out of the lane, so he scorches one to the near post.Those were great goals. Blame will be assigned and distributed of course, and every tape of every meaningful incident is worth both watching and dissecting. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that great players making great plays is why we watch this game in the first place.Anyway, the USMNT now have eight points from four qualifiers under Bruce Arena, and six games overall. That’s good for third behind El Tri and Costa Rica, the latter of which will play on Tuesday night.

Here’s what I saw:

  • There’s literally nothing I can say about Bradley’sgoal that will improve the experience of watching the actual highlight, so here you go:

As you can see, he both jumped the angle of Chicharito’s attempted lay-off, and wrong-footed Hector Herrera in the process so that the seas parted. It was as great a goal as the US have ever scored in qualifying.The thing that struck me about it, though, was that the US were much more front-foot than I’d expected for the first 15 minutes of the game. I expected them primarily to absorb pressure, even in midfield, but for the first quarter-hour both Bradley and Acosta, as well as Paul Arriola and Christian Pulisic, were quick and specific at pressuring their counterparts in certain zones.This group was dialed in.• The 5-4-1 has been around two decades longer than I’ve been alive, though it’s never been a formation particularly in vogue because of the obvious: It tends to play very defensive. And such was the case on Sunday as the US were out-possessed 73.7% to 26.3%, which is a lot of pressure to absorb even for a well schooled team.

But Arena’s no dummy, and my guess is he’s been watching Costa Rica play in this very shape for the better part of a decade. The Ticos flummoxed all comers with this exact 5-4-1 back in the 2014 World Cup, and they danced a jig on the USMNT’s head while playing out of a 5-4-1 last November in Jurgen Klinsmann’s managerial swansong.Great managers steal what works and make it theirs. In CONCACAF, and at altitude, and on short rest, the 5-4-1 works.There are two keys to this formation, which naturally slumps off into almost a concave shape, conceding central midfield diagonals to the flanks but refusing penetrative, between-the-lines passes into the gaps.

First is that the left center back and the right center back have to act as pistons, popping off the backline and into central midfield to add ad hoc numbers in that part of the pitch when the attack threatens to flatten the lines too much. Think back to this game, and recall how many times Omar Gonzalez or Tim Ream (who had, by far, his finest performance in Red, White & Blue) would come out into the channels and be defending along the same latitude as Acosta or Bradley.I’m stunned at the coordination they had, together, in their first outing and on such a big stage. Mexico were not able to create chances from possession.Second is that the wingbacks – the wide defenders in the back five – have to get out wide early and never allow opposing wingers to get around the edge. If that happens, a back five falls apart.This is why DaMarcus Beasley deserves almost zero blame for Vela’s goal. He did the right thing in forcing Vela inside, but the help wasn’t quite sorted, and Vela made a great play. So it goes.

Notice how both Cameron and Acosta are so concerned about Chicharito that they run themselves out of position to help Beasley? That’s about as good an example of “gravity” as you’ll get. Chicharito is such a scoring threat that guys overcompensate in an effort to track him, and smart teammates can and do use that to their advantage.About the only risk Arena took today that didn’t pay off was sending so many players forward on that particular corner kick, and the killer thing about this dumb game of ours is that it should’ve paid off. Bobby Wood – who put in a dogged but ultimately ineffective shift, and has very much earned a summer off to rest – somehow whiffed from five yards out. That would’ve made it dos a cero, but 15 seconds later it was 1-1.

So it goes.

  • Juan Carlos Osorio made the right subin bringing Jesus Gallardo (a very attacking fullback) on for Oswaldo Alanís (very not that) after half an hour, but Gallardo and Hirving Lozano never could quite get into sync while the guy they were mostly going against, DeAndre Yedlin, seemed to get stronger as the game went along.

Yedlin, save for one blown offside trap in the first half, was outstanding.

Mexico crossed the ball 25 times against a five-man backline with three central defenders standing 6-foot or taller. They managed just one shot on goal, and just 10 in total. So while Osorio made the right sub, he never really did find the right tactical answer to what the US were doing.

This game was screaming out for Oribe Peralta from a Mexico point of view, for his ability to pull off the line, occupy one of those defenders with his back to goal, and create plays. It’s bizarre he didn’t get on the field, because doing that exact thing would’ve opened up plenty of space for wingers like Lozano and Vela to duck inside into the gaps that are created by that type of forward play.

  • Today was obviously a good exampleof why I’m still a firm believer that Bradley is and should remain the man for the US at defensive midfield. It’s also a good example of why Cameron has to remain on the backline.

When he’s out there, the US shape is always good and the whole line is always connected. Pulisic’s is the first name on the teamsheet for me, Cameron’s is the second and Bradley’s the third.

  • Acosta has maybe become a starter?At the very least he’s giving Arena real options, and many of the best bits of US play came from both his passing and movement. The US have never been particularly good in a 4-2-3-1, but with him as a box-to-boxNo. 8 next to a more stationary Bradley, and with Pulisic as a free roaming No. 10 in the middle of that “3” line (nominally)… that’ll give teams fits.

It’s a young man’s game, and the youngsters in the US keep getting better.

  • Brad Guzanhas started two qualifiers at the Azteca and the US have two draws in those games.
  • The US are now 3-0-4 across all seven gamesunder Arena. Vela’s goal was just the third conceded in those seven games, and the first from open play.
  • It feels like the US are just about throughto the World Cup, but beware:

Costa Rica will come to town in September knowing exactly what they want to do, and exactly how to do it. It’ll be a dance with which the US are – as they showed tonight – perfectly familiar.

The pragmatism of Bruce Arena key for USMNT

Why the American manager’s five-man defense was a stroke of genius, not preservation

by Joe Patrick@japatrick200  Jun 13, 2017, 8:30am PDT

 

 

 

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Buoyed by Michael Bradley’s incredible 40-yard lobbed goal in the 6th minute of the game, the U.S. Men’s National Team fought hard to share the spoils against Mexico in a raucous Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.

If the decision to make seven (count ‘em SEVEN) changes from the side that beat Trinidad and Tobago three days earlier wasn’t surprising enough, Bruce Arena doubled down on the madness by deploying three center backs – a formation the United States has struggled to use effectively for years. Competitive matches against Mexico, especially at Azteca, are some of the most daunting and demanding games any of these players will play in for club and country. Understandably, many fans frantically tweeted their displeasure when they saw the likes of Tim Ream, Paul Arriola, Kellyn Acosta and DaMarcus Beasley in the Starting XI. But what none of us knew was that Bruce Arena had meticulously planned for this moment, and it turned out to be a tactical masterclass. The physical and mental preparations were spot on, and the team setup offered the U.S. the ideal balance between thwarting Mexico’s dynamic attack while affording the opportunity to nick a goal or two.

To Bruce Arena, winning is all that matters. In that respect, he’s the antithesis of Jurgen Klinsmann – a pragmatist to Klinsmann’s idealism. What Arena understands that perhaps Klinsmann did not is that the team who displays the most quality on the day isn’t necessarily the team that will win the game. No matter who you support, everyone has seen their favorite team “outplay” yet still lose a match. Sunday, Arena banked on this understanding and put his players in the best position to come away with points.

Playing direct

It was clear from the outset that the U.S. planned to play in a deep block, keeping all the play in front of them and then breaking as quickly as possible. When playing as deep as the USMNT were, the common problem team’s face is that they can’t sustain any attacks because the striker is left too isolated and can’t retain possession or get in behind (usually) two defenders marking him. The U.S. combatted this by play Christian Pulisic as far up the field as he possibly could while keeping close tabs on Mexico RB Carlos Salcedo, always making sure he could cover his mark when the U.S. lost possession. Fortunately for the the USMNT, Salcedo is a natural center back, and wasn’t as aggressive in pushing forward and therefore pulling Pulisic away from Wood. Together, Wood and Pulisic provided the main attacking threat and they combined well throughout the first half. When the ball was cleared down the opposite flank, Arriola was able to effectively chase and push Mexico back to relieve pressure. Arena was smart to favor the physical attributes that Arriola provided opposed to a more skilled, but slower player in Darlington Nagbe (who, remember, was coming off a start three days prior).

Where the term “playing direct” is misconstrued at times is when it’s mistaken for “crossing a lot.” Playing direct simply means going from back to front and going toward goal as quickly as possible, and these players were incredibly well drilled in this respect. The ball rarely moved backward when U.S. were in possession, and Pulisic and Wood carried the ball forward with purpose.

Center backs in support

The additional center back used by Arena gave the United States a much more solid foundation than they would’ve had playing with three central midfielders. That’s because, in Arena’s mind, this was never going to be a battle over midfield. The game was going to be played predominantly in Mexico’s attacking third, and this was by design (which I’ll get to later). But essentially, the third CB (which we’ll call Cameron since he played in the middle) allowed Ream and Gonzalez to offer support to the central midfielders and fullbacks. Mexico simply couldn’t find space between the lines through Marco Fabian and Jonathan Dos Santos – the two Mexicans trying to exploit these areas. Watch here as Fabian receives the ball initially but Omar Gonzalez is there to usher him away from the danger area. The ball is recycled to Dos Santos in the same position on the other side, where Ream does the same exact thing.

Mexico piles on pressure in second half

Arena made a key switch in the second half that helped preserve the point for the Americans, but it wasn’t with a player swap. Instead, he clearly directed Pulisic to play closer to Beasley so that he could offer support to the left back as his primary purpose. Pulisic’s ability to sprint upfield so quickly on turnovers is incredible. The stamina and effort levels from Pulisic, Arriola and Bobby Wood were off the charts.

With everything in the middle so congested, Mexico was forced to be overly aggressive with its positioning at times. The fullbacks were pushed extremely high, and obviously this forced U.S. players back. But since the away side was so well drilled at playing quickly upfield, they needn’t worry about trying to manipulate Mexico to force an opening. Mexico was forced to leave opening themselves as they chased a result they were so desperate to get. Tactically speaking, while the personnel and setup was no doubt defensive on the part of the USMNT, it still offered balance in that the Americans were able to conjure up decent scoring opportunities, even if they were few and far in between. Pulisic, Wood and Omar Gonzalez all had very good opportunities to score – as good as any of Mexico’s wayward chances.

So yeah, Bruce Arena nailed it, and the postgame quotes from the players really tell the story about how well the manager prepared them to achieve such a result. And this isn’t the last time they’ll need to be prepared to play in this style. If this team is to compete with the best teams in the world (like Mexico) at the World Cup, they’ll need this level of effort. But they took a big step Sunday in proving to themselves that they’re more than capable of pulling it off.

As a new USMNT core emerges, the timing of generations is everything

Leander Schaerlaeckens,FC Yahoo

The ebb and flow of generations does not concern itself with the soccer calendar. The waves do not hold back in order to accommodate a World Cup cycle. Nor do they linger a little longer because a major tournament is just a few months away.The prime of a soccer player is a fickle thing. Some primes come early, some late. Some are brief, some long. Some don’t come at all.United States men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena once said that his 2006 World Cup team had peaked in 2005 – when they won the Gold Cup – but was already past it by the time the big tournament in Germany rolled around. The Americans went winless and flamed out in the group stage.Bad timing. It happens to many national teams whose peaks and valleys don’t always align with the years that are important and those that are not. Winning a World Cup is a function not only of form and fortune, but also of the best years of the top players happening to coincide with the right summer.Let’s circle around to the point: A young core of enormous promise is assembling within the U.S. national team in the eighth month of Arena’s second stint in charge. Of course, 18-year-old wunderkind midfielder Christian Pulisic has probably been the team’s best player for some nine months, pushing through under Arena’s predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann. Likewise, Bobby Wood, 24, had broken out at last summer’s Copa America Centenario. As did central defender John Brooks, also 24.DeAndre Yedlin, 23, has been in the mix for a while – and has somehow raced out to 46 appearances – although it can feel at times like he’s still learning his position at right back, after being converted from a winger. Up front, the 25-year-old Gyasi Zardes has shown well in spasms. So has 26-year-old playmaker Darlington Nagbe.Jozy Altidore, it’s easy to forget, is still only 27, even though he is the program’s third all-time leading scorer with 37 goals. He more or less dangles between the younger generation and the veteran core. Most of that older group of Clint Dempsey (34), Michael Bradley (29), Tim Howard (38), Alejandro Bedoya (30), Jermaine Jones (35) and Fabian Johnson (29) is likely headed for its final World Cup, assuming the Americans qualify for Russia.Yet Sunday’s hard-fought 1-1 tie with Mexico at the feared Estadio Azteca seemed to announce the arrival of at least one other player – and maybe two.The 21-year-old FC Dallas star Kellyn Acosta was fielded beside Bradley in a tandem shielding the unexpected five-man defense. And while it’s hard to distinguish yourself as a holding midfielder in a game when your team has just a quarter of the possession, he did exactly that.In just his eighth national team game, Acosta was largely authoritative – except for the rare midfield turnover – that he seemed to immediately become a rival for Jones, who has partnered with Bradley for more than half a decade. Acosta, while not permitted to do so against Mexico, also has something to offer going forward and has shown flashes of the potential to become an outstanding passer. As such, he can shuttle between the boxes and free up Bradley to sit deep and distribute from there, where he’s at his best.Further up the field, Paul Arriola, the tiny 22-year-old Xolos winger, was lumbered with a fairly thankless assignment in his fifth USA game. As a forward in a front three for a team designed to absorb pressure on the day, Arriola essentially had the job of running after the opposing defenders as they pinged the ball around. Nevertheless, he gave a composed performance, just as he’s previously impressed in flashes with the team having scored in his first two caps, including in a World Cup qualifier.When the 40-man preliminary Gold Cup roster was released last month, there was a pleasant surprise in there for attentive U.S. national team fans. Mexican-American FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez was listed, suggesting that the 22-year-old might be picking the Stars and Stripes over the country of his ancestry, following earlier reports to the contrary.It’s premature to speculate over what sort of national team career he might have. That is, if he’s even one of the three goalkeepers from the six on the preliminary roster selected for the tournament, and if he makes an appearance to cap-tie him to the USA in perpetuity.The succession issue has hung heavily over the program for a few years now, with Howard slowly aging out and Brad Guzan – who is 32 and, as a goalie, has time on his side – once again looking like a most average goalkeeper in Mexico on Sunday. The heir apparent to Howard is a mantle never quite seized by Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson or David Bingham. But between Gonzalez and Ethan Horvath, the issue might finally be solved.But where does all this leave the national team right now? Or in a year, when the World Cup is here again? Is this a team with a nice blend of young and old? Or is it a band of veterans that are either over the hill or descending its summit, with a few not-quite-ready younger players mixed in?That will be determined entirely by results in Russia – again, assuming the U.S. is going to Russia, which seems fairly safe now. A stray goal here or there will cast a verdict on the 2018 incarnation of the national team – as it must on all teams at the World Cup end game – to decide whether it was a year past its best, or a little ahead of its time, or just the right combination after all.And if this isn’t the U.S. team to break through to another quarterfinal or further, perhaps the next one will be. The talent seems to be there. The trick is to get the timing right.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

More soccer coverage from FC Yahoo:
• USMNT makes a point about Bruce Arena in 1-1 draw with Mexico
• U.S. ties Mexico to earn just its third-ever World Cup qualifying point
• Arena, USMNT players vocal about mending political divide with Mexico
• How Mexico’s Trump tone has changed since last meeting with U.S.
• Why the U.S. men’s national team belongs to Christian Pulisic now

Glory, proving ground, experience: What Confederations Cup means for 8 contenders

QUICKLYThe FIFA Confederations Cup serves a different purpose for each of the eight, wide-ranging contenders heading to Russia.

BRIAN STRAUS SI Wednesday June 14th, 2017

FIFA took over administration of the Confederations Cup ahead of the third edition in 1997 and so decided to create a new trophy. The governing body had a blank slate. It could’ve gone in any direction. And what FIFA came up with was a golden globe sitting atop a sort of swirly column.  Seem derivative? Sound familiar?

The Confederations Cup features “two gold ribbons [that] are wrapped around the central body in a festive, dynamic movement.” The iconic World Cup trophy introduced in 1974 has “lines that spring out from the base, rising in spirals, stretching out to receive the world.” And they’re about the same height. The newer trophy is only 3.2 centimeters taller. From a distance, they’re almost interchangeable.FIFA could’ve made something that set the Confederations Cup apart, something that indicated the honor was distinctive and worth winning. Instead, the new bauble symbolized the tournament’s place as a very poor-man’s version of the World Cup—a skinnier, less appealing version of the real thing that means different things to different nations. It’s a proving ground for smaller countries, sure. But it’s positioned as nothing more than a World Cup warm-up for others. And to some, it means almost nothing at all.

France, Italy and Germany (twice) each declined to participate in past editions. FIFA cut the frequency from once every two years to once every four and in 2005, it took honest stock of the the competition’s place on the football landscape and turned it into a World Cup dress rehearsal. For many, the Confederations Cup now is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. In 2015, as his U.S. team prepared to play Mexico for a spot in this month’s tournament, which kicks off Saturday, Jurgen Klinsmann spoke about the importance of getting an early look at Russian logistics and the rare opportunity to play European or South American sides in official competition. There wasn’t much talk about any glory, accomplishment or sporting immortality associated with the trophy itself.For sure, there have been some memorable moments during the nine tournaments played since 1992. American fans will always savor the stunning semifinal upset of Spain in ‘09. Australia and Japan have also made unlikely runs to the final. The world got a good look at Ronaldinho’s potential in ’99 and mourned the death of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foé four years later. Cuauhtémoc Blanco scored six goals as Mexico triumphed in ’99, and the semipros of Tahiti yielded 24 in ’13. Spain’s historic reign finally ended that year. Kaká’s began in ’05.Some of the entries in this summer’s tournament, like New Zealand or Cameroon, will hope to make memories of their own. For others, such as Russia or Mexico, there’s a chance to ease doubts. For world champion Germany, it’s merely a test of depth. For Chile and Portugal, there’s an opportunity to begin prepping for the long World Cup run they crave. This Confederations Cup, too, means something different to each participant. Two will contest the final on July 2 in St. Petersburg.

GROUP A

MEXICO

Qualified as: 2015 CONCACAF Cup winner

Best previous finish: 1999 champion

Schedule: June 18 vs. Portugal, June 21 vs. New Zealand, June 24 at Russia

Meaning: Brazil isn’t the only nation haunted by a seven-goal ghost. El Tri’s humiliating 7—0 loss to Chile in last year’s Copa América Centenario quarterfinal will sting and linger until coach Juan Carlos Osorio and his talented team replace it with something better. Mexico falters too frequently outside CONCACAF, and it doesn’t want to head into the World Cup second-guessing itself. Osorio told SI.com recently that he felt “almost paralyzed” during the loss to Chile. “I had no Plan B,” he said. “Now we do, because from that experience we have learned so much. Now we have Plan B and even Plan C. We know how to react.” A run to the final will prove they do.

NEW ZEALAND

Qualified as: 2016 Oceania Nations Cup champion

Best previous finish: Group stage (three times)

Schedule: June 17 at Russia, June 21 vs. Mexico, June 24 vs. Portugal

Meaning: Australia’s departure to the Asian Football Confederation practically guarantees the Kiwis qualification for just about every FIFA competition, barring the occasional Tahitian miracle. New Zealand gets no competition in its vast, watery backyard, so it must rely on these infrequent opportunities to test itself against better sides. Only a handful of All-Whites, including San Jose Earthquakes defender Kip Colvey and PEC Zwolle winger Ryan Thomas, play for top-tier clubs outside Australia or New Zealand.

PORTUGAL

Qualified as: 2016 European Championship champion

Best previous finish: First appearance

Schedule: June 18 vs. Mexico, June 21 at Russia, June 24 vs. New Zealand

Meaning: Nobody grinds out results like Cristiano Ronaldo, and his knack for mastering the moment—or surviving and advancing—spread to his Portuguese teammates last summer. It was ugly. It was drudgery. But at the end, after scoring five goals in 450 minutes of knockout-round soccer, A Selecção was European champ. Most of that squad is back, even though it would be understandable if Ronaldo, Pepe, João Moutinho and other busy stars needed a break. The Portuguese core is aging. But momentum must be maintained, and winning is its own reward. “I hope Portugal is lucky enough to win yet another trophy for the first time in history,” Ronaldo said. “It would be beautiful.”

RUSSIA

Qualified as: Host

Best previous finish: First appearance

Schedule: June 17 vs. New Zealand, June 21 vs. Portugal, June 24 vs. Mexico

Meaning: Russia isn’t exactly heading toward its World Cup on a good run. Concern surrounding its bid, its geopolitics, worker safety and hooliganism dominate the headlines while its struggling national team kills time as an automatic qualifier. It has played only four friendlies this year, and the Confederations Cup represents its only chance since a winless Euro run to contest competitive matches. There are questions to be answered as Russia, which is comprised entirely of domestic talent and has only one player who’s scored more than five international goals, hopes to avoid a humiliating exit next summer.

GROUP B

AUSTRALIA

Qualified as: 2015 Asian Cup champion

Best previous finish: 1997 runner-up

Schedule: June 19 vs. Germany, June 22 vs. Cameroon, June 25 vs. Chile

Meaning: The Socceroos joined Asia in 2005 in search of better competition, and the move has been a smashing success. Australia has qualified for every World Cup since then and advanced to the past two Asian Cup finals, winning in ’15. All but two players on the Confederations Cup team now play outside Australia. The next step is to compete with South American and European powers, and it’ll get one of each this month. The draw is tough, and the task will be tougher without injured captain Mile Jedinak, who plays for Aston Villa. “It’s about the experience of what we’ve done in the last two-and-half-years and to build on it,” the ageless Tim Cahill said. “The Confed Cup is where we really put it into practice and make a mark on the world stage.”

CAMEROON

Qualified as: 2017 African Cup of Nations champion

Best previous finish: 2003 runner-up

Schedule: June 18 vs. Chile, June 22 vs. Australia, June 25 vs. Germany

Meaning: Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to Colombia and the loss of Montreal Impact defender Ambroise Oyongo to a knee injury aren’t good omens for a team expected to struggle and a federation whose politics are in controversy. Benjamin Moukandjo (Lorient) and Vincent Aboubakar (Besiktas) can score goals, but this is mostly a young or unproven team. Coach Hugo Broos will hope some answers emerge this month that might help the Lions get their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.

CHILE

Qualified as: 2015 Copa América champion

Best previous finish: First appearance

Schedule: June 18 vs. Cameroon, June 22 vs. Germany, June 25 vs. Australia

Meaning: For decades, Chile couldn’t get out of its own way. Then Marcelo Bielsa took over in 2007, overhauled tactics and culture and created the foundation for a team that shut down Lionel Messi in the past two Copa América finals. Chile now understands what it means, and what it takes, to be a champion. And coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has brought his first-choice squad to Russia. Do well there—and that means reaching the final—and Chile can return next summer (assuming it survives the CONMEBOL gauntlet) with the sort of swagger usually reserved for its South American rivals.

GERMANY

Qualified as: 2014 World Cup champion

Best previous finish: 2005 third place

Schedule: June 19 vs. Australia, June 22 vs. Chile, June 25 vs. Cameroon

Meaning: Remember when Germany’s World Cup-winning goal was scored by a substitute off an assist from a substitute who replaced a guy who wasn’t supposed to be starting? That’s symbolic of how deep Joachim Löw’s player pool is. Even though Germany hasn’t won the Confederations Cup, defending its world title next summer is far more important. So Löw is resting most of his first-choice team this summer while he takes a look at players in frame to make a run for a spot on next year’s return trip to Russia. There’s still plenty of talent. Germany can field Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Julian Draxler, Liverpool midfielder Emre Can, Barcelona goalie Marc-André ter Stegen and two of the more promising pieces to emerge from the German pipeline in recent years, Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich and Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt. Those players and more will hit the Russian turf running in 2018.

 

Its Summer – Time to plan your Soccer Camps 

 

BEST FAMILY GOALIE TRAINING – if anyone is interested in low cost Goalie Training this summer – let me know.  My 18 year old  goalie Tyler and I may offer some evening training if we get enough interest.  RE: or email shanebestsoccer@gmail.com

 

Indy 11 Youth Soccer Camp at Carmel Dad’s Club

June 19-22 9 to 12 noon (ages 5-14)  $135

 

Carmel High School Soccer CampsJuly 17-20

(called Hounds Soccer Technical/Skills Camp and Hounds Soccer Tactical/Scrimmage Camp) and they are being held at Murray Stadium the week of July 17-20. The format will be where the morning session will run 10:00-12:00. This is the technical skills training – session runs 10 am till 12 pm and it will cost $85.   The afternoon session is the tactical/scrimmage session and will run 1:00-3:00 at Murray Stadium both run by Men’s Soccer Head Coach Shane Schmidt. Boys and Girls – 8-14 Cost: $85/per camper per session.

 

Post2Post Soccer Camps

Former College Coach and Canadian National Team Goalkeeper & current Carmel FC & Carmel High Asst coach Carla Baker Provides elite-level training for youth players who want to become better technical and tactical soccer players.  Our camps focus on individual technical skills and game tactics in pressure situations using advanced training techniques. Come and join our staff of former Division I college coaches, National Team players, experienced youth, high school and college players for a fun learning experience.

Cost: $195 per camper  Location: Badger Fields   Field Player Camp: July 24 – 27, 2017

 

 

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

 

Check out The Ole Ballcoach online www.theoleballcoach.com

 

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June 8 US @ Mexico Sun 8 pm FS1, Real Madrid Wins B2B UCL, Carmel FC Travel Tryouts 6/12 + 6/13, Indy 11 Camp & Discount Tix

USA vs MEXICO BONUS COVERAGE 

So the US got off to slow start but came around in the 2nd half for a solid 2-0 win over T&T at home in Denver. While Pulisic was outstanding and the offense was pretty good in the 2nd half – I am really worried about the defense.  Listen they hit the post twice last night and absolutely carved up our outside backs in Yedlin and Villafana.  Even Brooks and Cameron were slow to cover at times.  I thought while Pulisic clearly finished the goals it was Darlington Nagbe who really ran the pace for the US – box to box – I thought he was the best player on the field for the US (he provided solid defensive coverage, while basically taking the ball box to box to help set the offense up).  Still not sure this team can win at Azteca-  best case 1-1 tie.  More likely 2 or 3 to 1 loss.  Will be interesting to see who he puts up front and if Pulisic can continue to light it up for the US.  (He’s been involved in the last 8 US Goals – including last night’s brace.)

Arena – Pulisic will only get better – ESPNFC

Emergence of Nagbe Helps Pulisic and US – Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

Player Ratings – Nagbe the Conduit –Pulisic the Closer vs T&T Jason David ESPNFC

Player ratings – MLS.com

Rivals Set for Match-Up USA vs Mexico in Azteca

Donovan Recalls Memories of Azteca – EPSNFC

Mexico Set to Give US and Pulisic toughest Test Yet – Tom Marshall ESPNFC

US vs Mexico Preview

Bruce Thinks the US could Break the Azteca Curse

Why You Can Never Be Prepared to Play in Azteca –MLS.com

The Mystique, the Myth, Mexico’s – Hex – Video

Dempsey closes in on US Scoring Record – SI – Grant Wahl

US Arena needs to stop complaining about Klinsy

Mexico Cruises to 3-0 Win over Honduras – Player Ratings

Miexico  Has 3 Tourneys to Prepare for

US Ladies Win at Sweden

Neymar’s Roof Trick Shot on Jimmy Kimmel live

Carmel FC Travel Soccer Tryouts for 2017-2018 teams begin June 12 & 13-CLICK HERE to Register  

Mon/Tues June 12 &13  11U-13U Tryouts – 5:30 pm – 6:45 pm//14U-19U Tryouts – 7:15 pm- 8:30 pm Shelborne Field  – its much easier to Pre-Register but come out either way for Travel Soccer the Carmel FC way!

The US prepares for a must win game tonight in World Cup Qualifying at 8 pm on Fox Sports 1 in Denver as they host Trinidad and Tobago in need of 3 points before they head to Azteca in Mexico City on Sun Night at 8 pm on Fox Sport 1.  The US looked sloppy at times last week vs Venezuela in their 1-1 tie in Utah.   I look for Altidore to be in the line-up tonight as the US looks for some increased firepower up front with Dempsey.  Either way the US must win tonight as they sit in 4th place overall.  Woke up early to watch the US face Venezuela in the U20’s World Cup – and while Venezuela was the better team, behind great Goalkeeping from Klinnsman (yes the German’s son) and some good fortune – the US found themselves pressing for the winner in the last 10 minutes of regular time.  The US had a point blank chance on a head ball in the 94th minute but missed wide right at the buzzer.  Venezuela scored 2 in OT while the US got one back with 4 to play – they missed a chance at the buzzer to tie it.  Venezuela was the better team and will probably win the U-20 World Cup – but the US and head coach Tab Ramos had nothing to hang their heads over in their Elite 8 loss.

So it was heartbreak city for Gigi Buffon and my Juventus as Real Madrid showed their class with another tremendous 2nd half rally to become the 1st ever team in the Modern Era to lift Back-to-Back Champions League Trophies.  Renaldo was magnificent again with a Brace (2 goals) the dagger coming in the 2nd half on a near post run to give the Madrista’s an insurmountable 3-1 lead.  After a first half to rival any game this season, Madrid took control in the 2nd half and were just too much for the Italian defensive jaugernaught.

The Indy 11 settle in for a 2 game home stint and will host Jacksonville this Saturday at 7:30 pm on MyIndyTV and beIN Sport – join the 11 for $1 night at the Mike with $1 hot dogs, pretzels, sodas and more and use this link for discount tickets.  Indy 11 Discount Ticket Link. Also Carmel folks the Indy 11 Youth Soccer Camp at Carmel Dad’s Club  is taking final registrations for their June 19-22 camp – 9 to 12 noon (ages 5-14)  $135

Congrats to the Carmel FC 04 and 05 Boys for winning Championships in the Cincinnati Memorial Day Showcase.  Coaches Jeremy Slivinski, Doug Latham.

Carmel FC Travel Soccer Tryouts for 2017-2018 teams begin June 12 & 13-CLICK HERE to Register  

Mon/Tues June 12 &13  11U-13U Tryouts – 5:30 pm – 6:45 pm//14U-19U Tryouts – 7:15 pm- 8:30 pm Shelborne Field

GAMES ON TV  

Thur, June 8

1:30 pm FS1 ?               Sweden vs US Ladies

8 pm Fox Sports 1 USMNT vs Trinidad and Tobago WCQ

Fri, June 9

6:05 am Fox Sport2 Brazil vs Argentina (friendly)

2:45 pm FS1                   Sweden vs France WCQ

Sat, June 10

12noon Fox Sport2    Scotland vs England WCQ

2:45 pm FS2                   Germany vs San Marino WCQ

7:30 pm ESPN3 My Indy TV  Indy 11 vs Jacksonville Armada 

Sun, June 11

FIFA U-20 World Cup

3rd place 2:30 am FS1

Finals  6 am  FS1

12 noon FS2                   Finland vs Ukriane

1 pm FOX              USA Ladies vs Norway

2:45 pm FS2                   Serbia vs Wales  WCQ

2:45 pm ESPN3            Macedonia vs Spain WCQ

8:30 pm Fox Sport 1 Mexico vs USA WCQ

Tues June 13

3 pm ESPN                       France vs England (friendly)

Sat, June 17

11 am Fox Sport1       Russia vs New Zealand  Confederations Cup

1 pm  ESPN                     NYCFC vs Seattle Sounders

7;30 pm beIn Sport Indy 11 vs North Carolina

Sun, June 18

11 am Fox Sport1       Portugal vs Mexico  – Confederations Cup

2 pm Fox Sport1          Cameron vs Chile – Confederations Cup

5 pm ESPN                       Philly vs NY Red Bulls

Mon, June 19

11 am Fox Sport1       Australia vs Gemany – Confederations Cup

Wed , June 20

2 pm Fox Sport1          Mexico vs New Zealand – Confederations Cup

Thurs, June 22

2 pm Fox Sport1          Chile vs Gemany – Confederations Cup

Confederations Cup Schedule June

Full MLS Schedule

Indy 11 TV Schedule

Gold Cup Schedule In July

International Champions Cup July  Games in Nashville and Detroit

 

Its Summer – Time to plan your Soccer Camps 

Indy 11 Youth Soccer Camp at Carmel Dad’s Club

June 19-22 9 to 12 noon (ages 5-14)  $135

Carmel High School Soccer CampsJuly 17-20

(called Hounds Soccer Technical/Skills Camp and Hounds Soccer Tactical/Scrimmage Camp) and they are being held at Murray Stadium the week of July 17-20. The format will be where the morning session will run 10:00-12:00. This is the technical skills training – session runs 10 am till 12 pm and it will cost $85.   The afternoon session is the tactical/scrimmage session and will run 1:00-3:00 at Murray Stadium both run by Men’s Soccer Head Coach Shane Schmidt. Boys and Girls – 8-14 Cost: $85/per camper per session.

Post2Post Soccer Camps   Field Player Camp: July 24 – 27, 2017

Former College Coach and Canadian National Team Goalkeeper & current Carmel FC & Carmel High Asst coach Carla Baker Provides elite-level training for youth players who want to become better technical and tactical soccer players.  Our camps focus on individual technical skills and game tactics in pressure situations using advanced training techniques. Come and join our staff of former Division I college coaches, National Team players, experienced youth, high school and college players for a fun learning experience.Cost: $195 per camper  Location: Badger Fields   Field Player Camp: July 24 – 27, 2017

USA

US Preview of T & T Game – MLS.com

What’s at Stake vs T & T

What to Watch for vs T & T

Pulisic Accepts the Hype for US – Jeff Carlisle

US mailbag with Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle

US Ratings vs Venezuela – Yedlin was good – Jason Davis ESPNFC

What to Expect from T & T

7 Take-aways from the US U20s loss to Venezuela

US lose to the Best Team Venezuela in U-20s WC

Champions League – CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL: REAL MADRID 4-1 JUVENTUS

Zidane Transforms Real – Graham Hunter ESPNFC

Real Madrid pressed Juve in 2nd Half to Win

Zidane Proves Everyone Wrong- Marcotti ESPNFC

Juve Built to Come Back Strong Next Year \

Key Stats that Show Madrids True Class

No Fairy Tale Ending for Buffon this year

 Report | Ronaldo hits 600th career goal | Bale’s joy
– Marcotti: Real show their greatness | History made in Cardiff
– WATCH: Ronaldo’s brace (U.S.) | UCL sights & sounds (U.S.)
– Play of the Day: Mandzukic’s golazo | WATCH: Ronaldo heroic
– Ogden: Ronaldo comes full circle | Jones: Buffon’s woe
– WATCH: Ramos’ son fits in the cup | Real lift the trophy
– Buffon: It all went wrong | Ratings: Real Madrid

USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago | CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Preview

June 6, 20171:54PM EDTCharles BoehmContributorUSA vs. TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
Thursday, June 8, 8 pm ET  Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Colorado
TV: FS1, UniMás, UDN, Follow on the MLS App

USA resume their campaign to climb back up the CONCACAF Hexagonal standings and into a place at Russia 2018 on Thursday, hosting Trinidad & Tobago in a World Cup qualifying match that the Yanks both expect and need to win.  After a 1-3 start to the Hex, Trinidad are the only team in the six-team group with fewer points than the USMNT, who are 12-1-3 all-time in qualifying meetings with the Soca Warriors, including a 7-0-1 mark at home. In fact, T&T have not even scored against the Yanks in these games for more than 20 years, and have to hark all the way back to 1989 to recall their sole point on US soil.  But the Americans’ margin for error is still tight as they continue to recover from their 0-2 start to this round, and the weekend’s visit to Mexico at mighty Estadio Azteca looms large. Given those high stakes, coach Bruce Arena and his men will be eager to assert themselves early and often in this mile-high clash at DSG Park, home of the Colorado Rapids.

USA Outlook

6-0 victory over Honduras and a 1-1 draw at Panama in March stabilized the Yanks’ Hex fortunes after November’s losses to Mexico and Costa Rica frightened US Soccer’s leadership enough to prompt the dismissal of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.That said, with four points from four matches, the USMNT remain well back of runaway leaders Mexico and look to be in a keen race with Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras for the other two automatic qualification slots. A fourth-place finish would offer a back door to Russia via an intercontinental playoff with an Asian side, but that’s a jittery path they’d rather not contemplate just yet.The Denver area was chosen for Thursday’s match to help players make the physiological adaptation to the lung-burning thin air that awaits them in Mexico City, and Arena duly set up camp in Colorado last week. Saturday’s 1-1 friendly draw with Venezuela at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah also fit into the process, though poor set-piece defending, an injury to defender John Brooks and some wobbly stretches of play gave the technical staff plenty to think about.“You mark a guy and beat him to the ball, and when the ball is cleared and played back in, you have to stay with your man and beat him to the ball,” said Arena after Jose Manuel Velazquez scored the Vinotinto’s goal via some ragged corner-kick defending by the US. “It’s simply individual breakdowns. The players have to do better.“At times we played well; the final product [in attack] wasn’t very good,” added the USMNT boss. “It was good to get to know each other a little bit. When will we find out if we’re ready for Thursday night? On Thursday night.”

Trinidad & Tobago Outlook

While Yanks fans might be feeling nervous, the picture is quite grim for the Soca Warriors, who sit in last place in the Hex with a 1-3 record and two home losses already. Like the US, they opened the round with two losses and responded by firing their coach, Stephen Hart.However, Hart’s replacement Tom Saintfiet lasted barely a month on the job, overseeing a loss to Haiti in 2017 Gold Cup qualifying before stepping down, citing a lack of support from the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation.Dennis Lawrence, a steady defender from the country’s legendary 2006 World Cup team, took the reins and oversaw a home win over Panama in March. But Mexico won in Port-of-Spain four days later, leaving T&T facing a steep climb to get back into anything approaching World Cup contention. And the road ahead is tough: The Caribbean side visit Costa Rica on Tuesday and still have to visit Azteca in October.The Soca Warriors will look to their MLS-based contingent for inspiration, with Minnesota United playmaker Kevin MolinoAtlanta United striker Kenwyne Jones and the Seattle Sounders’ marauding fullback/winger Joevin Jones key components of the attack.But they’ll face the US without Cordell Cato after Lawrence dismissed the San Jose Earthquakes winger for a disciplinary reasons. Cato reportedly arrived at T&T’s Denver training camp with his family in tow, violating previously-agreed terms in Lawrence’s view.

History

As aforementioned, the Yanks have been fairly dominant in this matchup, with a 16-2-4 overall record against the islanders. The USA’s only loss to T&T in qualifying came on Oct. 15, 2008, a semifinal-round meeting in Port-of-Spain where the visitors did not field a full-strength lineup on account of the fact that they’d already clinched advancement to the Hex.The two nations met in the semifinal round of the current cycle, drawing 0-0 in Trinidad in November 2015 before the USMNT dominated in a 4-0 victory in Jacksonville, Florida nearly a year later that won top spot in CONCACAF Group C. From the Soca Warriors’ perspective, the most painful chapter in this rivalry was written on Nov. 19, 1989, when Paul Caliguiri scored “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World,” earning the Yanks a 1-0 upset victory in Port-of-Spain, booking the USA’s first World Cup berth since 1950 at the direct expense of T&T.

Players to Watch

USA – Clint Dempsey

After missing the latter half of 2016 due to an irregular heartbeat, the Sounders’ ageless attacker has returned to action with a bang, scoring four goals and an assist in MLS play and bagging a hat trick in March’s US rout of Honduras. He now stands just one goal shy of the all-time USMNT scoring record of 57 held by his former international teammate Landon Donovan. Will he pass the milestone in this week’s crucial qualifiers?

Trinidad & Tobago – Kenwyne Jones

The strapping targetman has been a role player for Atlanta in their strong inaugural season, thanks largely to the abundance of attacking talent at coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s disposal. Jones remains an integral component for his country, however, who are depending on him to anchor their front line with calm finishing and powerful hold-up play. He’ll need to work industriously on both sides of the ball if the Soca Warriors are to snatch a result in Colorado.

USA Roster

Goalkeepers (4): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders (10): Matt Besler (Sporting KC), John Brooks (Wolfsburg), DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Geoff Cameron (Stoke), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)

Midfielders (8): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)

 

Christian Pulisic is keeping calm with U.S. hype growing around him

DENVER, Colo. — Christian Pulisic sits calmly at the table, signing a few trading cards with his picture on it, the latest sign of his growing fame.”It’s really exciting, and pretty cool to see your own face on a playing card,” he said in an interview with ESPN FC. “When I was a kid, I collected a lot of cards from all different sports. I still have a big book at home.”Pulisic is calm, of course. When isn’t he calm? Even when he’s hacked down by an opposition defender, his protests aren’t enough to budge his demeanor to DEFCON 5.But looked at another way, Pulisic isn’t so much calm as he is grounded. The pressure of playing for Borussia Dortmund, one of the bigger clubs in the world, doesn’t faze him. Neither does the responsibility of becoming the creative linchpin of the U.S. natinal team at just 18 years of age.How is this possible?The expectations that come with being the fourth-youngest goal scorer ever in the Bundesliga at age 17, or having the World Cup hopes of a nation rest on your shoulders, or even the stumbles would find most teenagers drowning in self-doubt. But Pulisic just seems to… know. Not everything, of course, but his awareness of everything that surrounds his chosen profession is acute. He knows that if he puts in the work in training, his talent will take care of the rest, getting him where he needs to go.He knows he needs to unplug from the game every so often to clear his head. And he darn well knows to ignore the siren call of checking out what people are saying about him on social media. Simple wisdom perhaps, but it’s knowledge that plenty of people — nevermind players — fail to heed.”Obviously, making my debut at such a young age, people put a lot of pressure on you,” he said at a promotional event for Panini America. “For me, it’s just about blocking it out. I think I’ve just been able to stay balanced and my family has helped me through that. And with that, I just can continue to develop because I work hard every day.”It all happened fast, and it’s pretty amazing, but it shouldn’t surprise me, because I feel that I’ve deserved it. I’ve worked hard for it.”I don’t read any of the outside noise or anything like that because for me I put the most pressure on myself. If I have that, then why should I look or listen to what other people are saying? For me, it just doesn’t matter. As long as I’m happy with my own performances and I’m excited, then, yeah, everything is fine.”U.S. manager Bruce Arena sparked an Internet argument not too long ago by having the temerity to say that Dortmund “didn’t invent” Pulisic. Some wanted to give Dortmund all the credit. Others were more content to spread the praise around. But considerable credit ought to go to Pulisic’s parents, Mark and Kelley, both former players.Mark Pulisic, who played indoors in the old National Professional Soccer League, has been at young Christian’s side for many of his soccer exploits. It started out with Mark throwing mini soccer balls to Christian in the family basement. He coached Christian for a portion of his youth career and then followed him to Germany when the youngster first signed for Dortmund. After a tough day, Mark was always there.”I still learn so much from him every day, stuff not even about soccer,” said the younger Pulisic. “Just being a person, being my own man. Now we talk less and less about soccer. Of course he still gives me his feedback but nothing specific like before.”Mark has now returned stateside to take up an assistant coaching position with the USL’s Rochester Rhinos, and Christian said that his cousin Will Pulisic has returned to the U.S. as well after a brief spell with Dortmund’s U-19 team. So Christian finds himself on his own now.”It will be tough having no family there anymore,” he said. “But after three years, I’m really accustomed to the lifestyle. I’m used to it, so it’s not going to be something I can’t handle.”Of course, who and what he has become is a product of his own drive, performances and choices. While his father’s presence helped him adapt in Dortmund, Pulisic did plenty to forge his own path.”[I just had] the mindset of thinking about the bigger goal, and what you want in life,” he said. “If you really think about that after a tough day, you think, ‘Shortly down the road I’m going to make it to where I want to be because I’m going to make it through these tough moments.’ It’s all about thinking about that and just being strong.”Being strong is what the U.S. will need out of Pulisic in two upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday, and then in Mexico three days later. It seems mind-boggling that so much of the U.S. attack is now expected to run through an 18-year-old but there’s no denying the fact that Pulisic is the most creative player in the U.S. pool, be it with a pass, off the dribble or in scoring. There has been some question as to whether Pulisic is better off playing more centrally, but it’s one that doesn’t trouble him.”It’s a different position, but the team has a different style as well,” he said. “It’s all about finding different spaces and just getting used to the team and the position you’re in. In the end, it’s not that much different. You’re still playing the same game with the same objectives.”Yet as is his habit, he doesn’t find the prospect of playing in one of the game’s cathedrals, the Estadio Azteca, to be daunting — though he lets slip that it won’t be his first trip to the famed venue. He played there in the third-place game of a youth tournament he can’t even recall the name of.

“There was maybe 2,000 people there instead of a full stadium,” he said. “But I’m excited for it; I don’t really know what to expect, but obviously the guys tell me about it. I’ll be ready for it.”He’ll do so with feet planted firmly on the ground.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

USMNT W2W4: Can Arena fix the defense? Who joins Dempsey up front?

The United States national team begins a critical week of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Thursday at home against Trinidad and Tobago, followed by a trip south to the Estadio Azteca on Sunday to face rivals Mexico.Here are some of the things to watch for regarding Bruce Arena’s team over what promises to be a big week.

  1. Can the defense clean things up?

The performance of the defense in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Venezuela left many a U.S. fan feeling uneasy. The team’s habit of reacting slowly on set pieces reared its head and if not for some sparkling stops from goalkeeper Tim Howard, the Vinotinto could have easily been up by two or three goals at halftime instead of just 1-0.Of course, the stakes are higher now in qualifying. Trinidad and Tobago are not expected to play a possession game like the one the Yanks will face in Mexico City, but they certainly boast the talent and speed to do damage on the counter — much like Venezuela did on Saturday. The Soca Warriors will also be looking to strike from dead-ball situations knowing full well the struggles that has posed for the U.S. in recent months.It goes without saying that against Mexico, any minor lapse in concentration could prove fatal. The U.S. was reminded of that in last November’s 2-1 loss in Columbus, Ohio, when an unmarked Rafa Marquez spun the winning header past Brad Guzan in the 89th minute. The frenzied atmosphere of the Azteca will only make it harder to keep things tidy at the back.

  1. Who starts at striker?

Clint Dempsey didn’t have much of an impact against Venezuela but his big game pedigree makes him a lock to start up top for the U.S. on Thursday and most likely again on Sunday. The big question is who will accompany himWith Jozy Altidore unavailable last Saturday, Bobby Wood had a chance to stake his claim but failed to convince. The feeling is that Altidore, who has enjoyed a superb season with Toronto FC (six goals, four assists), gets the start on Thursday. His history against T&T is excellent with five goals in qualifiers, including two in last fall’s 4-0 win.Three days later against Mexico, the task could well fall to Wood as Dempsey’s partner instead. The Hamburg man has a goal in each of the last two meetings against El Tri and will also be able to provide fresh legs considering the short rest.

  1. What will the U.S. midfield look like?

This is where Arena will be scrutinized the most. On Saturday, the trio of Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic and Fabian Johnson, teaming up with with defensive midfielder Michael Bradley in a 4-1-3-2, didn’t exactly generate the chances that Arena sought. It will be tempting for the U.S. boss to make a change on that front against Trinidad.Bradley and Pulisic are shoo-ins to start but the question is whether the latter will stay in the No. 10 position or move out wide right in a 4-4-2 to make room for another midfielder like Kellyn Acosta, who performed well on Saturday and has been very solid this season for FC Dallas.You could not fault the more romantic U.S. fan for hoping to see a 3-5-2 on Sunday in the Azteca: of course, it was the formation Arena deployed in the famous 2-0 Round of 16 win over Mexico in the 2002 World Cup. Could there be a return? It’s quite possible considering that the U.S. were in a 3-5-2 for the latter phase of Saturday’s draw. It certainly worked to a tee all those summers ago in South Korea.

  1. Can the U.S. break the Azteca spell?

Make no mistake, Thursday’s home date against T&T is the most important match for the U.S. here. They absolutely have to defend home soil and get three points. If not, then the American Outlaws and whoever else should start thinking about a potential road trip to either South Korea, Uzbekistan or Australia for the Intercontinental Playoff. But still there remains the holy grail of a qualifying win on Mexican soil.The best the U.S. has ever done in the Azteca in a qualifier is a pair of 0-0 draws for France 1998 and Brazil 2014. But in a Hexagonal in which Mexico has exorcised their Columbus demons, nothing would be better for the U.S. than to return the favor and register another landmark win over their biggest rival with Arena at the helm.Arch Bell covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him o Twitter @ArchBell .

Zinedine Zidane transforms Real Madrid to bring success with a smile

Zinedine Zidane revels in the togetherness of Real Madrid after their win in the Champions League final.

It’s well known that a big part of the reason Zinedine Zidane moved from gloomy, winter-grey Turin to Madrid in 2001 was to follow the sun. Northern Italy’s dull climate was too much for Zidane’s wife, Veronique, and so while part of the impetus to begin what has become a Zizou dynasty at Real Madrid was to try to lift the Champions League trophy, there was, too, the desire to bask in warmth, light and blue sky.

I mention it, because of how poetic and appropriate that seems now that he has won two Champions League titles in just 20 games in the competition as a manager.No matter who you support, Zidane has brought warmth, light and brightness to the football world. From his all-time great goal against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden in 2002, to making history by winning the trophy in his first half-season as coach, then becoming the first team in the modern Champions League era to successfully defend it on Saturday. We live in special times and should be grateful.

Zidane’s players were the first to feel this warmth when he took over in January last year. Madrid have often been accused of being “less than the sum of the parts.” There has always been, and will always be, a plethora of stars and special talents at that club. But jewels always look nicer when the crown that unites them is firm, well-designed and crafted.Often it’s the team ethic, the “all-for-one” philosophy that is allowed to drift at Real Madrid. But it’s Zidane’s daily work, as much as what he does on matchdays, which has seen his greatest impact on Spanish and European football.

Teaching Cristiano Ronaldo the value of rest was not an easy job. Ronaldo’s mindset of “more goals, more games, more chance of winning the Ballon d’Or, more marketing … more control” was a tough one to disentangle.Even after he had convinced Ronaldo to take his return from winning the summer’s European Championship slowly, the forward was still stroppy when substituted at Las Palmas in September. But Zidane sorted that. Immediately. By persuasion and consensus; not discipline.The Frenchman can certainly take partial credit for his totemic player finishing this competition with 10 goals in five games.

Furthermore, he’s infused every player in his Real Madrid squad with the same energy, the same discipline, the same professionalism, the same hunger, and unified them toward the same goal.The player who needed to emerge (Marco Asensio); the player who knew he wouldn’t get another contract (Pepe); the player who knew he was playing horribly (Danilo); the player who needed to prove himself yet again (Isco); the player whose life away from Madrid has been distractingly complicated for years now and who seemed to lack confidence in front of goal (Karim Benzema).

The list goes on, but Zidane took all these factors, all these variables, and evened them out. He made the players share a common ethic and level of commitment. This is a modern marvel. These days it is not easy, at all.

Madrid under Zidane are, for the first time in a long while, more than the sum of their parts. And when the parts are as high-class as those at the Bernabeu, that’s a powerful achievement. To an extent he reminds me of two other super coaches: Pep Guardiola and Vicente del Bosque.

Guardiola had a great advantage in having recently been a top footballer himself. He understood their thought patterns, the stresses of their lives and was able to do something about it.His idea to trust his players, so that they didn’t need to be cooped up in hotels before matches either at home or away, gifted back many hundreds of hours to his stars and their families and friends. In return they rewarded him with devotion, obedience and commitment.

Zidane has done something similar with his players. Like Guardiola, he and his squad feel a connection — somewhere between a friend and a leader.

Del Bosque, too, put huge faith in his footballers. He let them have nights out and believed in stick and carrot motivation; to some extent he let them govern themselves, and while not all of those in his Madrid era made the best use of that, most did. When Spain ruled the world, all of them did.

Zidane watched that and learned. He was a del Bosque player, and there is certainly something of the great man’s attitude and decisions about him now.

In December 2015, before Rafa Benitez was sacked, I wrote an “open letter” to Zidane asking him not to bale out President Florentino Perez. I wanted him to turn down the job.Zidane is 10 times the football man Perez is, and a leopard doesn’t change his spots. One day, Perez will tire of, or lose faith in, this elegant, admirable Frenchman. Club legends like Fernando Hierro, Del Bosque, Raul, Claude Makelele and others could warn Zizou that no credit at Real Madrid is limitless.But there’s one thing about Zidane that attracts me and doesn’t get the coverage it merits: the idea that his job is fun.

This is something that he shows in his demeanour, his smile, his candour and patience — everything he does points to job satisfaction on a daily basis. He wants watching his team to be fun: for neutral and devoted fan alike. And no matter who you support, watching this Real Madrid side is fun.In life and in football, the concept of “following the sun” isn’t always to do with hot temperatures and literal blue skies. It’s about dreaming. It’s about having and believing in a dream. It’s about making dreams come true — just like Zidane has done.

 

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL: REAL MADRID 4-1 JUVENTUS

 Report | Ronaldo hits 600th career goal | Bale’s joy
– Marcotti: Real show their greatness | History made in Cardiff
– WATCH: Ronaldo’s brace (U.S.) | UCL sights & sounds (U.S.)
– Play of the Day: Mandzukic’s golazo | WATCH: Ronaldo heroic
– Ogden: Ronaldo comes full circle | Jones: Buffon’s woe
– WATCH: Ramos’ son fits in the cup | Real lift the trophy
– Buffon: It all went wrong | Ratings: Real Madrid

 

Five Aside: The stats that define Real Madrid’s UCL win over Juventus

Real Madrid won their 12th Champions League title on Saturday, beating Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff. The Spanish giants become the first repeat Champions League winner and first repeat European Cup winner since AC Milan in 1990. They also clinched the League-European Cup double for the first time since 1957-58.

When it comes to European football, nobody can match Real Madrid.

– Real Madrid has won three Champions League titles in four years, joining 1974-76 Bayern Munich (1974-76), Ajax (1971-73) and 1956-60 Real Madrid (1956-60) as teams that won three European Cups in four years.- With his second goal, Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 600th career goal for club and country. Ronaldo finishes as the top scorer or joint-top for a fifth consecutive season, the first player to do so in European Cup history.

Ronaldo’s scoring feats are just sensational for clubs and country.

 

– With the first goal of the game, Real Madrid became the first club to reach 500 Champions League goals. Real also continued the trend that the team to score first wins, becoming the ninth champion of the past 11 to win when scoring first.

 

– Ronaldo and Mario Mandzukic joined exclusive company with their goals. Ronaldo joined Alfredo Di Stéfano as the only players to score in three European Cup finals. Meanwhile, Mandzukic joined Ronaldo and Velibor Vasovic as the only players to score for two different clubs in a European Cup final.

– Juventus finish as runner-up for a seventh time in European Cup finals, extending its record. Juventus has been the runner-up in their past five European Cup finals, last winning the Champions League in 1995-96.

 

– Marco Asensio scored Real’s fourth goal late in the game and, in so doing, became Real Madrid’s youngest-ever scorer in a European Cup final.

 

Real Madrid press Juventus in second half to seal Champions League title

http://www.espnfc.us/uefa-champions-league/2/blog/post/3138934/real-madrid-press-juventus-in-second-half-to-seal-ucl-title-triumph  Click on link for full effect —

Real Madrid ripped Juventus to shreds with a scintillating second-half display to win their 12th European Cup in Cardiff on Saturday night.The Italians had largely managed to repel the Spanish champions in the first period, thanks to Massimiliano Allegri’s 4-4-2 shape. Their only weak spot seemed to be right-back Andrea Barzagli, who got targeted by Karim Benzema and Isco.That did not prevent Cristiano Ronaldo from scoring the opener, but Juve responded by equalising with an attack down the left, aware that Madrid’s narrow midfield diamond would make it difficult to protect the flanks.After the interval, Zinedine Zidane upped the tempo and told his players to press more, which overwhelmed Juve. A deflected Casemiro strike was followed by another Ronaldo goal, before a late Marco Asensio finish wrapped up Madrid’s first double since 1958.

 

Juve defend in 4-4-2

The tactical battle centred on two different 4-4-2 systems. Allegri started the 36-year-old Barzagli at right-back and played Dani Alves just ahead, while Zidane switched to a diamond shape in order to use Isco behind Benzema and Ronaldo.The challenge for Juve was thus to stop Madrid’s four-vs-two advantage in the middle, and Allegri had a plan. When Marcelo and Dani Carvajal had the ball, the nearest Juve winger would close him down, while the rest of the midfield shuffled across. The opposite winger would also tuck inside to mark a third central midfielder. So if Marcelo had the ball, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic would pick up Toni Kroos and Isco, while Mario Mandzukic marked Luka Modric. That handled the three playmakers, leaving one of the strikers to watch Casemiro.This stopped Madrid playing their way through the centre, with Isco forced to drop deep or out wide to get involved. Alves did a good job on Marcelo, while also tucking inside: until he was switched to right-back on 66 minutes, his tackles took place in central positions.But Mandzukic found it tougher to track Carvajal. A natural striker, he was prone to quick switches of play, and a few diagonals set up Carvajal in one-on-one duels with left-back Alex Sandro. This happened on 20 minutes, when Madrid countered and found Ronaldo on the right. Carvajal had charged forward, with Mandzukic trailing, and as Sandro closed him down, he played a pass inside to Ronaldo who converted Madrid’s first attempt via a deflection off Leonardo Bonucci.

 

Alex Sandro exploits narrow shape

That move punished a Juve weak spot, but Madrid were not immune themselves. While they had the superiority centrally, Juve had a two-vs-one situation down the flanks.This was largely harmless down their right, as Barzagli hardly attacked. But opposite, Brazilian wing-back Sandro raced forward to trouble Carvajal alongside Mandzukic. When the game kicked off, the very first thing Juve did was to hit a long ball towards this zone.They kept going down this route. Whenever Mandzukic stayed wide, as was common at the start, Madrid reacted by moving either Modric or Isco across to pick up Sandro, though neither could match his power and pace. There seemed to be no clear system for who should be doing this job — at one point, Ronaldo could be seen tracking him — and Madrid were often too slow to close him and Mandzukic down. The first big Juve chance did indeed come when a Mandzukic cross was cleared to Pjanic, who tested goalkeeper Keylor Navas with a low drive.After Ronaldo’s opener, Juve grew into the game and moved Mandzukic into the box more often. On 27 minutes, Sandro volleyed a Bonucci diagonal into the area, where Gonzalo Higuain set up a spectacular Mandzukic volley that arched over Navas and into the net.After that goal, Juve continued to dominate, and Sandro soon went past Isco to win a corner. Things did not look any brighter for Madrid when Carvajal got booked for going in late on Mandzukic. The Italians created less after the break, but Sandro remained one of their best weapons, and most of their crosses took place down his flank.

 

Madrid target Barzagli

Down the other end, Madrid targeted the ageing Barzagli. Zidane started off by moving Benzema out wide in order to skip past him and, inside six minutes, the Frenchman had already had three attempts. Neither succeeded.Instead Madrid figured out that Barzagli struggled more when forced to run towards his own goal. Soon Isco ran onto a long ball behind him and set up a misdirected Ronaldo diving header. Just after the break, Marcelo lofted two passes above Barzagli in quick succession: one released Ronaldo, another found Isco, who was only denied by a surgical Barzagli intervention.This must have concerned Allegri and, when the coach responded to going 3-1 down, it was Barzagli who came off for Juan Cuadrado.

 

High pressure breaks Juve

As all this happened, Madrid were putting Juve under pressure. They pressed higher and more aggressively in the second half, forcing dangerous turnovers and denying Juve time to play their way out. Within 15 minutes, Modric, Isco and Marcelo had all recorded attempts.As it was, the second goal came when a blocked Kroos shot fell to Casemiro, whose deflected strike spun past Gianluigi Buffon. It was lucky, but also a reward for Madrid’s dominance.At that point Allegri wanted a strong response, but Madrid kept pressing. Their third goal, on 64 minutes, came when Modric intercepted a ball high up the pitch — denoting their approach in the second half — ran down the line and found Ronaldo at the near post.”They raised the tempo, as we were the ones pushing Real Madrid back in the first half,” Allegri said. “But in the second we couldn’t play our way out of defence and they kept pushing us back.”uve never really responded. Allegri introduced Cuadrado, Claudio Marchisio and Mario Lemina, but Cuadrado got sent off, and the Italians only recorded a single effort in the entire half. Instead substitute Asensio made it 4-1 to seal Madrid’s third Champions League title in four years.FourFourTwo Stats Zone provides live in-game data, scores, alerts and animated chalkboards. The award-winning app is free on iOS and Android.

 

Unlucky Juventus built to come back stronger from painful UCL final defeat

Perspective often gets lost in the heat of the moment. Juventus came up short in Cardiff but how short exactly is a matter of debate. At the interval, more or less everybody considered this year’s Champions League final to be a classic. Gianluigi Buffon believed Juventus had “Real on the ropes”. The Old Lady certainly started the better and didn’t seem overawed by the occasion. In fact it was Juventus who took the game to Real, playing largely in their opponents’ half”We didn’t allow them to get out,” Massimiliano Allegri said. He was just disappointed that his team didn’t get in front at any stage in the opening 50 minutes when this was an even contest. Real’s opener, which deflected in off Leonardo Bonucci’s right foot, was their first shot of the game. Juventus, to their credit, were level again within seven minutes. Mario Mandzukic scored the best goal in a Champions League final since Zinedine Zidane’s at Hampden Park in 2002 and, while the individual brilliance involved understandably drew a lot of the focus, the build-up was every bit as good as that for Gonzalo Higuain’s first goal in Monaco.Overall, the standard of play from both sides was exceedingly high as Felix Brych called time on the first half. Just what happened to Juventus in the 15-minute break is a mystery. They were a shadow of themselves when they re-emerged, completely unrecognisable from the team we saw in the first half, not to mention the Juventus we’ve seen in the Champions League this season. Allegri put it down to “pushing on the accelerator” for the entire first half. “We didn’t manage the game enough. We could have slowed things down a bit and played with more calm. You can’t play finals at 100 mph from start to finish.”He promised to work on it next year but, in truth, this has been one of Juventus’ strengths in the Champions League this season. It abandoned them here.”The 2-1 cut our legs offs,” Allegri said. Casemiro’s shot, kicked up off Sami Khedira’s heel and flew past Buffon. Another deflection. Juventus’ 39-year-old captain lamented how, in moments like these, “everything went against us”. Them’s the breaks of the game. Without taking anything away from Real, deserving winners in Buffon and Allegri’s opinion, they got a little luck where Juventus didn’t. To illustrate that point, Allegri recalled an effort by Miralem Pjanic early on in the first half that was a carbon copy of Casemiro’s in all but one major detail: “Pjanic’s shot gets deflected away and Casemiro’s shot gets deflected towards the goal … that’s football.”Before Juventus could even get over it, Real mercilessly struck again and the 180 seconds between their second and third goals defined the remaining 25 minutes. It was game over. Juventus lost belief and resigned themselves to their fate while Real just went up a gear. Juan Cuadrado’s wrongful dismissal only deepened the sense that it was not going to be their night and Real’s fourth and final goal came when a dejected Juve were down to 10 men. No one would have predicted a 4-1 defeat at half-time.Could Allegri have done more? In hindsight, an extra man in midfield wouldn’t have gone amiss. Pjanic and Khedira were outnumbered by Toni Kroos, Isco, Luka Modric and Casemiro. The Bosnian hurt his knee shortly after the interval and maybe should have been withdrawn sooner. As for the German, well, he didn’t go into this game 100 percent fit after only making his comeback last week from the muscle injury he picked up against Monaco at the beginning of May. Higuain had no supply and when he did get the ball he didn’t hold it up long enough to give the defence a breather.Allegri gambled on Real’s narrow midfield diamond leaving Juventus ample opportunity out wide where he hoped Paulo Dybala and Dani Alves, and Mandzukic and Alex Sandro would double up on the Spanish side’s full-backs and wreak havoc. But in the second half they gave up possession too cheaply. Alves and Sandro lost the ball 15 times apiece. Mandzukic didn’t fare much better, while Dybala, the shining star against Barcelona, got lost behind cloud cover. His substitution in the 78th minute capped an awful night for him. The fact his replacement was Mario Lemina also left the impression Allegri sensed the game was gone. Even before Cuadrado received his marching orders, it had become a damage-limitation exercise.The biggest surprise of all, though, was how poorly Juventus defended, particularly Giorgio Chiellini. This team’s great strength unexpectedly transformed into a weakness. What also stood out was the contrast with two years ago. Juventus didn’t expect to reach the final then. They were bigger underdogs against Barcelona in Berlin than they were against Real in Cardiff and made big strides in the meantime. The awareness of that as well as the memory of Juve staying in the game longer at the Olympiastadion than they did at the Principality Stadium makes this more painful.Fans and players alike sincerely believed this to be their year and the outcome has done little to discourage the idea Juventus are cursed in this competition. It was their seventh defeat in nine finals and their fifth in a row. Real have won 12 of 16 and their history in this competition, both old and recent, means they are the only team who can approach it, not without pressure, but as if it were a normal game. It’s no small advantage. Although Juve insisted in the build-up that they weren’t dwelling on the past, they did come into this final with the weight of 21 years of hurt in this competition on their shoulders. That’s a lot of emotional baggage and when Cristiano Ronaldo scored his second goal they seemed to buckle under it.After ridding Juventus of their inferiority complex in the Champions League, Allegri now has to lift the curse in the final. “We won’t stop,” he said. “We have to get back to the final.” It’s why he’s staying. Breaking the spell is what drives him. “This is not the end of a cycle,” Allegri says. Juventus rebuilt after Berlin, changing 16 players, and returned to the final, and renewal is underway again. The successors to Chiellini, Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli have already been found in Daniele Rugani, Mehdi Benatia and Mattia Caldara. Deals have also been done for the highly rated Rodrigo Bentancur and Riccardo Orsolini. Patrik Schick is next in line and the youth system has also produced Moise Kean, the first played born in the year 2000 to score in Europe’s top five leagues.

Juve have a depth that only Real and Bayern Munich can better, which is remarkable considering the wealth gap. The €109.2 million they’ll cash in TV and prize money for reaching the Champions League final will certainly help strengthen it further. A change in system in January to 4-2-3-1 left them a little shorthanded on the wings, particularly on the left when Marko Pjaca tore his ACL. Expect this to be the focus in the summer with Angel di Maria, Douglas Costa, Federico Bernardeschi and Keita Balde Diao among the targets.

Right now there is a wistful look on the Old Lady’s face, the anguish only heightened by the tragic events in Turin where 1,400 people were injured in a fanzone crush. The club’s thoughts are with them. Gradually they will turn to next season. Buffon is yet to give up the ghost. “I still have one more year on my contract,” he told Sky Italia, “That means I have one more chance of winning the Champions League.”James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.

 

Zidane proves he’s perfect for Real right now, Wenger’s big risk, Inter mess

 

When Zinedine Zidane was appointed to replace Rafa Benitez back in January 2016, plenty were skeptical — including yours truly. Boy, were we wrong. His first 17 months at the helm of the club have been close to unparalleled, and any concerns over his experience and personality have been blown away.What about his lack of experience? Fact is, Real Madrid — especially this Madrid — is so different from any other club that a long track record elsewhere isn’t quite as relevant. Far more important is knowing the club and its actors inside and out. And you’re bound to pick up more than a thing or two in 15-plus seasons at the Bernabeu in a variety of roles. Particularly when — like Zidane and unlike, say, Ryan Giggs — you’ve seen 13 different managers come and go, some of them true coaching icons.What about his personality? Yeah, he’s still taciturn and withdrawn, qualities that aren’t ideal for a show business job, but that inner rage that precipitated more than a dozen red cards in his playing career has either gone or been channelled into something far more productive. And that supposed lack of diplomacy or willingness to play political games seems a heck of lot less important when you’re a resident legend.”He doesn’t talk much, though I imagine he talks more than before,” Carlo Ancelotti, his old boss, told me in January. “But what matters is that when he does speak, people listen.”Whatever Zidane’s doing is working.Forget the results for a minute. Consider how the past 17 months have been a largely controversy-free period at Real Madrid. Sure, winning seems to drive all moaning underground but for a club where dirty linen often gets washed in public, Zidane has kept everything in-house. And that’s a skill too.Zidane did what many said could not be done at Madrid. Like demote James Rodriguez way down the pecking order to the point that he was in the stands for the Champions League final. Or introduce a late-season rotation system and get everyone to buy in at the expense of their personal stats. Or turn Casemiro, the ugliest of ducklings, into a midfield fixture.Zidane has now won as many Champions League titles as Arrigo Sacchi, Sir Alex Ferguson, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Brian Clough, Ernst Happel, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. Only Ancelotti and Bob Paisley have won more.Does this mean he belongs in the company of the aforementioned? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe to be included in the pantheon you have to, at some point, build a team and do it across different clubs. But he’s a great manager, perhaps the best possible manager, for Real Madrid right now. And that’s who he is managing.

Can the Champions League be made competitive again?

Nine different clubs (out of a possible 20) have made the Champions League final in the past 10 years. You won’t be surprised to learn that the list correlates neatly with the “Deloitte Money League” ranking of the world’s richest clubs. The top four are all in there, as are seven of the top 11 and eight of the top 13. Inter are the only club to have reached the final in the past decade to be out of the top 13: they’re 19th and, of course, they go there back in 2010, when they were spending freely with the best of them.Talking polarisation and balance of power is a lot like beating a dead horse: nobody seems to care as the rich get richer. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said his organisation are aware of it and are studying countermeasures to make things more competitive.That’s great; we wait with bated breath. Because making this a more “open” competition without killing the golden goose or upsetting the moneyed elite is a Herculean task.

Wenger is taking a big risk

rsene Wenger could have walked away from Arsenal on a relative high. Nine wins out of 10 to end the season and a third FA Cup in four years. Not exactly worthy of a mic drop finish, but not too shabby either. Instead, he chose to stay on or, better yet, his employers decided to let him choose to stay on.Whatever you think of Wenger and whether or not he should have stuck around, consider that by staying, he’s putting his rep on the line one more time. Not in terms of his legacy, but in terms of the fact that if the bottom falls out next year and he’s hounded out — or limps to a worse finish than this season — he’ll be branded with the “stuck-around-too-long” tag.This is a sport that’s very much about the present. He may not care — either because he’s deluded, as his critics say, or because he genuinely thinks he’s the best option for the club he loves — but not everybody has the guts to risk another season like this one (or worse).

 

Crucial summer for Barcelona

The stock description of Barcelona’s new manager, Ernesto Valverde, is that he’s a pragmatist (at least relative to those who came before him) and he’s a safe pair of hands capable of negotiating the politics that envelop the Camp Nou. After 15 seasons on the job and at 53 years of age, he gets a crack at a super club and has probably done enough to merit it. He’d been linked to the job before and it’s karma that he now gets a crack at it.He’ll need that pragmatic approach. Barcelona have a massive laundry list of issues to resolve, from Andres Iniesta’s future, to bolstering the midfield, to making a decision on whether Sergi Roberto can play right-back to finally getting Lionel Messi his new contract.As important as what Valverde does come training camp is what the front office does with the squad.

 

Can Spalletti restore Inter to greatness?

You wonder what the over/under is on when Inter get themselves a new manager. It’s been nearly a month since the firing of Stefano Pioli — and let’s face it, it’s been much longer than that since the hierarchy most likely decided they’d need a new boss — and the job is still vacant.

Blame some of the lost time on the fantastical pursuit of Antonio Conte. Blame some more of it on the hiring of recruitment guru Walter Sabatini because, of course, if you have two of those guys (and Piero Ausilio is still around) you’re bound to get better results since too many cooks never spoil the broth. Blame more of it on the fact that while owners come and go, this is still Inter.Now, however, it’s crunch time. The latest guy in the cross-hairs is Luciano Spalletti, fresh off Roma’s second-place finish. Spalletti is a brilliant managerial mind who arguably missed out on the super club gravy train when he opted to join Zenit while his stock was highest. But he can also be prickly at times and needs the right sort of environment in which to work. How he’ll deal with Inter’s “more-is-better” court of jesters remains to be seen.

 

De Gea’s fate lies with Mendes

Media reports in England suggest Manchester United have slapped a £66 million ($85m) valuation on David De Gea. And if, say, Real Madrid wanted to include Alvaro Morata in part-exchange, they’d be willing to value the Spanish striker at £43m ($55m), meaning Morata plus $30m would get you De Gea.

At first glance, it’s all very reasonable. It’s a huge fee in goalkeeper terms (the record is still the £32m Juventus paid for Gigi Buffon way back in 2001) but De Gea is still just 26 years old. If you get a decade of service out of him and his level doesn’t drop, it’s not a bad deal for Madrid. United, on the other hand, would be getting a big whack of cash or a somewhat lesser whack plus Morata, who is 24, can play as a first or second striker, has plenty of Champions League and big club experience and was hugely prolific in a limited role last year.  De Gea is from Madrid and has reportedly told Jose Mourinho he’d like to play for Real Madrid “at some point.” So it’s all very logical, yes?   What’s less logical in all this is the fact that the guy who represents De Gea is also the same guy who represents Mourinho. Yes: super-agent Jorge Mendes is on both sides of this negotiation. He gets the task of making sure everybody is happy come August 31: De Gea, Mourinho, Real Madrid and Manchester United.

People seem to be shocked by the power of agents and middlemen — and rightly so. But it’s worth remembering that every shred of power these people enjoy comes from others. They are surrounded by, for lack of a better word, enablers. If you don’t like how this ends up, don’t blame Mendes. Blame the clubs and the players for tolerating such conflicts of interest.Gabriele Marcotti is a Senior Writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.

 

Buffon’s Champions League fairy tale eludes him in heartbreaking fashion

CARDIFF, Wales — Gianluigi Buffon knew it was over.Cristiano Ronaldo had just scored his second goal of the Champions League final, a lethal short-range finish in the 64th minute. That made it 3-1 for Real Madrid over Juventus, on their way to an easy 4-1 win. Even Buffon, one of those rare men who can talk himself into greatness, had to accept that one trophy would remain out of his reach.For the third time, he would lose the last club game of the year.Buffon stood near the top of his box, alone, with his hands on his hips. He was almost alarmingly still. He watched Keylor Navas, his lesser, his better, celebrate in the opposite goal. He stared down the length of the field for a long time.Play restarted, Buffon rooted to his lonely spot. He leaned over and put his hands on his knees. Then they came back to his hips. Then he put his gloves to his face, and he began to bargain his way into the first stages of the peace that he will have to make with himself.”It’s a big disappointment, because we thought that we’d done everything necessary to play this final and finally win it,” Buffon said after he’d watched Real celebrate for a little while. “Naturally there are a few regrets.”Sentiment had been on his side. He’s 39 years old, and he isn’t just nearing his football end. Now he’s rocketing toward it. It was odd, in a way, how a man who had lived out so many of his dreams remained the object of wishes from strangers. His career is close to flawless. He has won nearly everything he could have won. But a victory in Cardiff would have completed it. He knew that as well as any observer.”This game is very important to me,” he’d said the day before. “I’ve been playing for Juventus for many, many years. I got more than I gave. But at the end of the day, winning would be the perfect finale.”He paused, just for a moment.”People like fairy tales,” he said, and then he took his leave from the room.If there is an easy lesson in Buffon’s defeat, it’s that fairy tales don’t always come true. If there’s a harder one, it’s that whether they come true isn’t always up to us.His first half was almost inconsequential. His first touch of the ball, a goal kick, didn’t come until the 11th minute. His next three touches were with his feet, too. He didn’t have a chance on the only shot he faced, Ronaldo’s perfect opening finish in the 20th minute. He still hadn’t touched the ball with his hands.Buffon didn’t until the 24th minute, when he picked up a slow roller and threw it down the field. In the next 17 minutes, Mario Mandzukic scored his wonder goal, a beautifully weighted overhead volley that eluded Navas, and there was a growing sense of frenzy elsewhere on the pitch. But Buffon didn’t get near the ction. Giorgio Chiellini finally passed the ball back to him almost out of pity.His second half was more eventful than the first, but he still didn’t touch the ball with his hands very much. He made one save. Otherwise, shot after shot blurred past him.he second goal he allowed was a bad one. Casemiro took a stab from more than 30 yards out. There was a deflection, and Buffon was flat-footed, slow to react. The ball dropped between his outstretched hand and the post.Ronaldo scored his second three minutes later. Marco Asensio buried a fourth Real goal near the final whistle, but it didn’t change the result except to make it more humiliating. Buffon was already deep in his tragic repose by then.Even legends can be made spectators to their own fates.The afternoon before, after Buffon had spoken of fairy tales, Juventus took the field for their final training session. Buffon and his backups, Neto and Emil Audero, worked out together. The reserves did twice the work of their master. When Buffon did take part in the drills, Claudio Filippi, his goalkeeping coach, took a little off the ball.Toward the end of the session, the keepers were joined by the outfield players, who lined up to take shots. Neto stood in one goal. Audero took his place in the other.Then Buffon did the most haunting thing. He stood behind Neto’s goal, on the wrong side of the net, planted directly behind the next man in line. Every time Neto moved to stop a shot, Buffon moved a little with him. Then he moved a little less. Then he moved not at all.Maybe his fate wouldn’t prove up to him, but it seemed in that moment that he knew what it would be. It was almost as though he were practicing for life as a memory.There was the great Gianluigi Buffon, already part shadow, already part ghost.Chris Jones is a writer for ESPN FC. 

 

Armchair Analyst: Seven takeaways from the US U-20s run to the QFs

June 5, 20172:10PM EDTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer

You may have missed it because it happened in the dead of night on Saturday/Sunday morning, but the US U-20 national team lost to a bigger, stronger, faster and more tactically adept Venezuela side in the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup. Sometimes you just get hit by a bus.I wrote about it in the immediate aftermath, and I’ll add a few brief other thoughts that my brain was too scrambled to piece together in the moment.

  1. The scheduling did the US no favors

Ok, I’m man enough to start with some very sour grapes, so here goes: I can simply not wrap my head around the rest discrepancy between these two teams. The Venezuelans had 107 hours between the end of their Round of 16 game and the quarterfinal, while the US had 65 hours.Did it make the difference? Not really (Venezuela would’ve been better even if the US had a full week off), but kiiiinda (Erik Palmer-BrownTyler Adams and Josh Sargent were the three best US players in this tournament, and all three were dead to the world against la Vinotinto). The US would’ve stood a much better chance of pulling out the victory and advancing to the semifinals for the first time in 28 years if those guys had a little more life in their legs.

  1. Luca de la Torre is going to need to leave Fulham

The kid has a ton of speed, skill and some real 1v1 inventiveness on the wing. His ability to play the final ball is very good, though not quite visionary or elite.The problem is he is well below “subpar” defensively, and is – in the words of a friend who’s worked for some of the more decorated clubs in Europe – “intimidated by a stiff breeze.” De la Torre wasn’t ready for the physical nature of the game against Venezuela, and if you’re looking for a reason why he’s stalled out with Fulham, there you go. You have to be ready to both give and draw blood in the Championship.De la Torre is entering the final year of his contract. I’d hope MLS teams would make overtures for him (D.C. United, for one, could use a winger under 30 years old), but if he doesn’t come home, I hope he ends up in the Eredivisie or Belgium or anything that’s more technical and less physical than England, or he could very well end up on the Junior Flores career path.

  1. Fullback identification still kills the US

Our youth development has improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade, but we’re still too slow to understand we’re looking at a fullback when we see one. On Saturday the starter at right back was Justen Glad, who put in a dogged and committed shift but looked very much like the miscast central defender he actually is. At left back was Danilo Acosta, who struggled on the day but has only been playing left back for about a year after switching from defensive midfield.Remember 2015, with Kellyn Acosta at left back? Or the Juan Pablo Ocegueda experience in 2013?Obviously this could have been mitigated in 2017 had Tab Ramos picked Marco Farfan and Reggie Cannon for this squad. But for some reason it wasn’t, and the US paid the price.

  1. What makes Adams stand out is how relentlessly he shows for the ball

He makes it easy for teammates – especially center backs – to find him. The rest of the guys in the midfield corps were a couple of levels below him in terms of providing outlets, and this was very apparent against Venezuela (which, to be fair: Holy hell is Yangel Herrera good at closing down passing lanes and making distribution generally miserable).Derrick Jones has a lot of potential as a hard man in midfield, but I hope he spends a lot of time picking the brains of Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin with the Union. Eryk Williamson also has loads of potential, and to be fair he worked very hard on Sunday morning, but he just never quite found the game.Even if Williamson goes back to Maryland for another year of college, he’ll be well placed to become a very good professional. But he’s got to do a better job of understanding it’s not just what you do with the ball, but how to get in spots without it that make it easy on your teammates and hard on your opponents.

  1. We don’t trust our own creative types

Not unless they’re a Landon Donovan or Christian Pulisic-level talent, anyway. Adams and Williamson are very good at shuttling the ball forward and spraying it to the wings, while Jones is a pure destroyer. Gedion Zelalem, who missed most of the tournament after tearing his ACL in Game 1, is not a playmaker but rather is a deep-lying distributor with one elite skill (tempo setting).Where was Jackson Yueill, who really is a central playmaker? Or Jonathan Lewis, who’s more of a wide playmaker but has the vision to cut defenders out with the final ball? Why did Djordje Mihailovic never get a look with this group?

The lack of players like that meant Venezuela reduced the US to long balls and “run fast, try hard.” It didn’t have to be that way.I am very curious to see if this will continue to be the case in the 2019 U-20 World Cup, the core of which should feature some very creative players in central midfield.

  1. This is a big summer coming up for Palmer-Brown

He spent last year on loan from Sporting KC with Porto B, and my guess is they’ll be one of many teams knocking on the door for the now 20-year-old center back. Whether it’s them or someone else, he’s got to begin getting starter’s minutes somewhere.I feel like Cameron Carter-Vickers is a year away from having the same sort of career-based pressure. Tottenham seem to love him, and while I still think his reads are too slow, he’s just 19 years old and has the confidence of his head coach, Mauricio Pochettino. If he spends another year as the fourth or fifth CB on the depth chart (and proceeds to get roasted the few times he does actually get to play, which is what happened this season), the summer of 2018 will be time for a rethink.

  1. This tournament was a success for the US

Obviously I picked some nits above, but despite some issues the US played pretty well and won the games they should’ve won. We’re not at the point where getting outplayed in the quarterfinals is a cause for panic – doubly so since we were without a bunch of our best players.And before this tournament, we’d never been at the point where we’d made consecutive quarterfinals. You may be inclined to dismiss that, but there’s a legitimate correlation between U-20 success and (eventual) national team success. The core of this great golden age of Chilean soccer that’s won two straight Copa Americas? We saw them together in the U-20s a decade ago for the first time. The Costa Rican team that shocked everybody by making the quarters of the 2014 World Cup? They made the semis of the 2009 U-20 World Cup, and followed it up with a strong Round of 16 showing in 2011.Getting this far in back-to-back tournaments means there’s talent being produced in volume, which means future national team coaches will have a deeper, better and more competitive pool of players to put around presumptive foundational stars like Pulisic. That’s how you produce consistently competitive teams at the highest level.

So if there’s one tl;dr takeaway here, it’s this: the system keeps getting better, and the players keep getting better, and because of that the future keeps getting brighter.

 

Armchair Analyst: Breaking down the US U20s’ quarterfinal loss to Venezuela

June 4, 20175:03AM EDTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer

The US lost to a better team in the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup on Saturday night. Venezuela won 2-1, which was a result that flattered a game and gritty but ultimately overrun and overmatched US team.So it goes.A few takeaways:

  • Venezuela have been the best team in this tournament, and the US are the first team to have scored against them. They were bigger, stronger, faster and more disciplined than the US, just as they were against Germany and Mexico and Japan. There’s no particular shame of any sort in losing to a team this good.They were good at every level. The obvious star was Aldaberto Peñaranda, who scored the first goal, and Sergio Cordova, who gave RSL left backDanilo Acostasome serious hell down that flank from literally the first minute. Both of those guys were eye-catching.Less eye-catching but as or more important was the play of the Venezuelan midfield, led by NYCFC’s Yangel Herrera, which dominated their US counterparts. They weren’t overly creative, but they were quick and – this is important – organized. When they pressed it was with good purpose and better effect, and it knocked the US out of any sort of rhythm from literally the first minute.
  • The US came into the game after Tab Ramosmade a pair of substitutions, bringing Portland’sJeremy Ebobisse in as a target forward for Tyler Adams, and then bringing in Atlanta United academy product Lagos Kunga in for Josh Sargent.Sargent’s great, and when the US midfield is controlling play, he is an asset. But when your midfield is getting run off the pitch, clever off-the-ball movement in the attacking third from your only true forward has limited positive effect. Sometimes you need to have a strong No. 9 to hoof the ball to and relieve some pressure.That’s what Ebobisse provided, and it’s not a coincidence that A) the US played better once he was on, and B) he ended up getting what turned out to be a consolation goal. Other than goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann (who was great), Ebobisse is the only guy who could come out of this game feeling like he showed his best.
  • Kunga’s 1v1 ability gave Venezuela fits,especially since he had plenty of room to work in with Ebobisse often occupying both Venezuelan center backs. Eliminating guys off the dribble is obviously a worthwhile asset, but his inability to complete plays with a telling pass or at least a look on goal was disappointing.
  • Why did Ramos not sub more liberallyagainst New Zealand once the US went up 2- or 3-0? Sargent,Tyler Adams, Luca De La Torre and Erik Palmer-Brown, to name four, pretty clearly ran out of gas for the US. Venezuela were smart to press from the first minute, and while Ramos deserves a ton of credit for getting the US to the quarterfinals for a second straight tournament, he’s shouldn’t go uncriticized here.
  • Set pieces. Suddenly the US are not so goodat defending them, at both the senior level and the U-20 level. The eventual game-winner for Venezuela came off a corner, which was one of about six the US could’ve conceded on restarts.More disappointing still was Palmer-Brown’s inability to bury a wide-open header from six yards out, four minutes into second-half stoppage with the game scoreless. It would have been the game-winner.
  • This is the third straight cycle in which the USwere eliminated by a team that just seemed to dwarf them physically. Last time it was eventual champions Serbia, and the time before it was eventual champions France. So at least they’re losing to quality competition.
  • Even with all the above, this tournamentwas a qualified success for the US. You don’t make it to back-to-back U-20 World Cup quarterfinals by accident; when that kind of success is sustained over multiple cycles, it means you’re building something legitimate and repeatable.I do think the roster could’ve been picked better and managed better – lack of speed at the fullback slots was killer, as was a lack of creativity in central midfield, as was lack of squad rotation earlier in the tournament. Playing against Venezuela would’ve been hard under any circumstances, but playing against them on just three days’ rest (Venezuela had five), and with most of your important players out of gas… I’m actually stunned the score stayed respectable. This one could’ve gotten out of hand.But it didn’t. The US had another good tournament. Two in a row makes it a streak, and given how talented the U-17s are, I don’t see that streak snapping any time soon.

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