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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