9/29 Indy 11 home Wed vs PR, US Must win to Qualify for World Cup Thur-Tues, Champs League Day 2 Wrap-Up, High School Sectionals Start, CHS Boys Pack the House Night Free Adm– Tonight 7 pm Murray Stadium

World Cup Qualifying continues next Thurs-Tues Oct 5-10 as many teams including the US are desperately trying to solidify their spot to Russia WC 2018.  More in next week’s edition of the OBC – as we break down what the US has to do to qualify!

So 2 straight Champions League games Dortmund has started US Starlet Christian Pulisic on the bench and two straight 3-1 losses this time to defending Champions (Holders the Euro’s like to call them) Real Madrid.  Hum – not quite sure what the new Dortmund coach is doing when Pulisic is the best player on the pitch last Wednesday vs Hamburg – and this Tuesday he doesn’t even come on the field until the 75th minute?  Surprised to see Dortmund getting smacked in Champions League – NO – not when the new coach is making boneheaded decisions like that.  Maybe they are afraid this 19 year old can’t handle the pressure – then why does he start and star in league games?  At this rate it won’t matter as the only American in Champions League is certain to be out when Tottenham knocks them out during the group stages.  Damn shame as Pulisic came on in both games and made a difference in his limited time on the field.  In other Champ League action – the EPL teams are looking good as Man United, Man City, and Tottenham all had blowout wins and even Chelsea (2-1 at my Atletico Madrid) pulled off the upset with a shocking 93rd minute goal for the win (dang I miss the Calderon).  Liverpool, of course, tied again 1-1 .  The German teams meanwhile struggled as Bayern Munich is missing the injured GK Manual Neuer bigtime in the 3-0 pasting at PSG, and Dortmund is 0-2.  (Stories below) – Match-day 3 in mid-October.  (Ok more on the Vincent Calderon Athleti’s crumbling old home)– I was fortunate enough to go to a game there this spring with the family and I am here to tell you it’s a Religious experience.  Much like a US National game in Columbus vs Mexico the place was electrifying, ominous and down right spectacular.  (Think Duke Basketball’s Cameron Indoor for soccer).  There is no doubt Atletico is missing their old home.  The Brand New Wando Metropolitano Arena is nice and shiny and it was loud with jumping Atletico fans – but it was NOT the Calderon- no other stadium in Europe or maybe the world is.

The Indy 11 tied Jacksonville Wednesday night 0-0 and will travel to NC this Sunday 4 pm on ESPN3 before returning to play Puerto Rico in the makeup game on Wednesday 7:30 pm at the Mike and on MyIndyTV.  Locally – the state soccer tourney starts next week for both girls and boys.   On the boys side 7th ranked Guerin Catholic (13-2-1) and 11th ranked Carmel  (8-4-3) along with 4th ranked Zionsville will all be in the boys side played at Carmel High School Murray Stadium Mon, Tues, Thurs and Sat.   On the girls side its perhaps the strongest section in the United States with 3rd Ranked Carmel facing #9 Zionsville and 5th ranked Guerin facing Westfield. Also in the field defending state champs #2 Brebeuf Jesuit and Pike.  Games Tues at 5 and 7 pm at Guerin Catholic.  The semi’s are Thurs at 5 and 7 pm with the sectional finals on Sat at 7 pm at Guerin.

CFC_U12GWSt.Francis

Congrats to the Carmel FC U12 Girls White team coached by Andy Martin and Jason Perfetti.  They went 4-0 and won their first every tournament at the St Francis Fall Classic last weekend.

The Carmel High School boys will host “Pack the House” Night on Fri, Sept 29th at Murray Stadium. 5 pm JV, 7 pm Varsity start.  All Carmel FC players in their uniforms (in fact all CDC kids in uniforms) get in FREE tonight!  Adult admission just $5.  Come out and support the Hounds.

See all the Stories online at  www.theoleballcoach.com

GAMES ON TV 

Sat, Sept 30

7:30 am NBCSN               Huddersfield Town vs Tottenham

10 am NBCSN                   Man United vs Crystal Palace?

9:30 am FS1                      Ausburg vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

9:30 am FS2                       B M’Gladbach (Johnson) vs Hannover 96

11 am beIN Sport          PSG vs Bordeaux

12:30 NBC                          Chelsea vs Man City

Sun, Oct 1

7 am NBCSN                      Arsenal vs Brighton Hove Albion

9:30 am Fox Sport 1    Hertha vs Bayern Munich

10 am beIN Sport          Barcelona vs Las Palmas

11 am NBCSN                   Newcastle United (Yedlin) vs Liverpool

12 noon beIn Sport     Milan vs Roma

1 pm  Fox Sport1           Philly Union (Bedoya) vs Seattle Sounders (Dempsey)

4 pm ESPN 3             Indy 11 @ Carolina FC  

Weds, Oct 4 

7 pm Myindy TV       Indy 11 vs Puerto Rico

Thurs, Oct 5                      World Cup Qualifying FINAL ROUNDS?

12 pm FS2                           England vs Slovenia

Fri, Oct 6                             World Cup Qualifying

12 pm ESPN 2 USA vs Panama 

 

US

US National Team Bans Kneeling during Anthem

Pulisic being tracked by Real Madrid, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham  ESPNFC

US Hot List

US Players Around the World – Pulisic scores Again

Arena Previews World Cup Qualifiers in October

US Tab Ramos Continues Role as US Technical Director and U20 Mens Coach

Meet US Ladies Future Star Mallary Pugh – SI

Sunil Gulati Most Powerful American in Soccer Today – Howler Mag

 

World Cup Qualifying next week

Pressure on USMNT ahead of Qualifiers – NBC

What Countries Need to Win next week to Qualify for WC? – ESPNFC

Which Nations Can be Seeded at the World Cup Finals Draw – eSPNFC

Belgium call up Fellaini and Kompany

How Colombia can be Seeded for the WC 2018

U-17 World Cup – How Did the Countries Fare Last Time ?  Sporting News

 

Champions League

Bayern Manager Anceloitti is Fired after defeat to PSG -GOAL

Chelsea’s Win at Atletico sign of EPLs Revival in Europe – Mark Ogden ESPNFC

Chelsea Stuns Atletico Madrid with Late Goal

Liverpool Waste Chances in 1-1 tie at Moscow

Mbappe is the Star as PSG Shows class in 3-0 thumping of Bayern

Real’s Bale and Renaldo expose Dortmund at home

Lukaku Stars at Man U thrash CSKA Moscow at home

Group Standings after 2 games

EPL

What to Watch for this Weekend – huge Chelsea/Man City Game –  ESPNFC

Aguero Hurt in Car Accident will miss Chelsea game

Chelsea vs Man City

Will the Real Arsenal Please Stand Up – Ian Darke – ESPNFC

Pogba Out More Long Term

Liverpool needs luck on Defense

Liverpool wins Wild 5 goal thriller over Leicester

Rooney takes Vicious elbow to Eye in game

Barcelona to the EPL?

MLS

MLS Power Rankings

The Video story of Atlanta United –

Indy 11

Indy 11 0-0 Tie in Jacksonville Wed night

Soc Takes Boys – take on PRFC Fundraising, NASL/USSF Saga and Butler Soccer

Decision to Sue USSF was not Unanimous – SocTakes.com

Big 10 Men’s and Women’s Soccer Tourney’s to be Held at Grand Park in Westfield

U.S. Soccer Bans Kneeling During the Anthem Like Donald Trump Wants for the NFL

President Donald Trump, who over the last few days has repeatedly inserted himself into the country’s most popular sport, tweeted Tuesday that he wants the NFL to create rules against football players kneeling in protest during the national anthem. He has a pretty good example for such a move in the U.S. Soccer Federation.”The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our National Anthem!” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. The president has slammed players who kneel during the anthem to protest the oppression of black Americans. (It should be noted that the protests, sparked by Colin Kaepernick, have never been aimed at the anthem or the flag, as some have claimed. Rather, they’re a peaceful demonstration during a quiet moment when folks are paying attention.) Trump even yelled at a rally that the league should fire any “son of a bitch” who kneeled. After much of the league, including owners, coaches and players, banded together last weekend over the issue, it seems unlikely the NFL will create new rules against demonstrations. But U.S. Soccer has already done so.After the women’s national team participated in protests last year, U.S. Soccer in March created a new bylaw that decreed: “All persons representing a Federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented.” That’s a slight but vastly important difference from the NFL regulation that “encourages” players to stand but does not require it. Star player Megan Rapinoe largely inspired the new rule. She had demonstrated in league games, and she sparked backlash after she kneeled before the U.S. team took on Thailand last September. “I’m very proud to pull on this shirt and play for this country, and also represent my country in a different way in speaking out for people that are oppressed,” she said during the ESPN broadcast, according to the Los Angeles Times.   Rapinoe indicated at the time that she had planned to continue her protest. “As of now I plan to keep kneeling,” she said, according to the Times. “I’m trying to kind of formulate a better plan and an action step moving forward. But until then, this is how I can help.” But the bylaw stopped the star in her tracks. After the new rule from U.S. Soccer banning kneeling was adopted, Rapinoe said she would accept the decision. “I will respect the new bylaw the leadership at USSF has put forward,” she said in a statement, via Fox Sports. “That said, I believe we should always value the use of our voice and platform to fight for equality of every kind.”It’s unclear what the punishment for a player might be, should she or he disobey the rule, but it would reportedly be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Pressure is on USMNT ahead of critical World Cup qualifiers

Joe Prince-Wright,NBC Sports 22 hours ago

The next two U.S. national team games will be pivotal in deciding the direction of the program in the coming years. It’s that simple.Next week the USMNT host Panama (Oct. 6) and then head to Trinidad & Tobago (Oct. 10) in two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers which they dare not lose as their four-year cycle comes down to two games.If they lose either games the prospect is very real that they will not be at a World Cup finals for the first time since 1986.[ MORE: Qualifying scenarios for USMNT ] 

Of course, if they finish fourth in the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF qualifying then they will still have a chance but will face a home and away game against the winner of the Australia/Syria playoff for a spot in Russia.The pressure is stacked on Bruce Arena’s men to hold their nerve and get at least four points from their final two CONCACAF qualifiers in the Hex which they will likely need to seal the third and final automatic berth to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The fact that they are in this position in the first place is down to a multitude of factors but Arena’s arrival had sparked a unbeaten run of 14 games, a Gold Cup success and a promising draw at Mexico.All of that good work came undone last month.With plenty of injury concerns, players out of form, widespread criticism for the team and a mental barrier to overcome following the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica and a battling, unimpressive 1-1 draw away at Honduras in early September during the last international window, Arena’s side are now in a lose-lose situation.Qualify for the World Cup and U.S. fans and pundits will shrug their shoulders and sarcastically applaud. Fail to qualify and all hell will break loose. A poor start to the final round of qualifying cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job and initial optimism around Arena’s second-coming will end in tears.Speaking to U.S. Soccer, the head coach is being realistic about the final hurdle standing in the USA’s way.“As we enter these last two games, our view is that we have to get at least four points and likely six points in order to qualify as the third team in CONCACAF,” Arena said. “Panama and ourselves are fighting for the third and fourth position in the group. They’re a point ahead of us, so when we play them we anticipate they’re going to have a really defensive look to themselves and look to catch us on the break.”

When Panama roll up to Orlando next Friday, the majority of the 26,000-plus crowd will be expecting a home win which will see the USMNT have one foot in Russia. The fact of the matter is, next Friday is Panama’s World Cup final.For Panama the equation is simple: win against the USA and they qualify for the World Cup for the first time in their history.Panama also know that a draw will also be a hugely favorable result as they host Costa Rica in their final group game and Los Ticos will have almost certainly have already qualified automatically by that point, meaning Panama will face a weakened outfit with nothing to play for. The U.S. will then go to T&T at a smaller venue with the home players relaxed and nothing to play for just to add more difficulty to their situation.For the U.S. the scenarios are plentiful but the simplest way they can finish in third is by winning their final two games of qualifying.Chatting to Pro Soccer Talk recently, the USMNT’s teenage sensation, Christian Pulisic, said these games against Panama and T&T have been in the back of his mind ever since the disappointing results to start off September.“Obviously now I am focusing on [Borussia] Dortmund. We have big games coming up. But it’s there,” Pulisic admitted. “We have to do everything we can and I am going to do everything I can do to help us qualify.”It is too early to talk up the “what next?” scenarios when it comes to Arena’s future and that of his team but quite simply if he fails to take the U.S. to the World Cup he will have to leave his role immediately as the sole reason for hiring him was to lead the USA to Russia in the short term. Arena is contracted through the end of the 2018 tournament but it’s not too drastic to start thinking about where the U.S. is heading post-Russia 2018, irrespective of whether or not they qualify.Peter Vermes, Jason Kreis and Jesse Marsch would surely be the frontrunners from the former U.S. national team players currently coaching in Major League Soccer to replace Arena and nurture the talented group of youngsters Tab Ramos is developing at youth national team level.Or would Sunil Gulati — if he’s even in charge after the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) hold their presidential election in February 2018 — plump for another big-name foreign coach a la Klinsmann to totally rebuild the USMNT’s reputation?At this points its all ifs and buts but if the U.S. don’t qualify for the World Cup then Gulati’s position would come under serious threat as contenders line up to challenge his 11-year, previously unchallenged stint making all of the big calls for U.S. Soccer.All of these issues will be multiplied and magnified if the U.S. doesn’t get through the next two qualifiers. Can you seriously imagine a World Cup without the USMNT in it? It is not a pretty picture for anyone concerned. The USSF. The players. Major League Soccer. Commercial partners. And, heck, even the future of the game in the country might take a hit given the huge rise in interest in the game every four years which almost certainly yields new fans of the game across the country.Seemingly unfazed by the enormity of what lies ahead in the next two weeks, Arena is bullish about the USA’s chances of advancing. After all, he has to be.Gulati and Arena must shudder to think about the impact the opposite outcome will have for everyone connected with U.S. Soccer.“I like our chances. I know it looks like were in a difficult situation, but we’re a point out of third place and we’re playing the team that’s ahead of us at home, so that’s a real positive,” Arena said. “If we’re able to beat Panama, we head into the last game with a very good chance of finishing third in the group. I like our chances, and at the end of the day it’s up to us. We have to play well in games nine and 10 in the Hex in order to qualify.”

Chelsea pose City’s toughest test yet; Palace need Man United miracle

John Brewin previews the weekend’s Premier League action and highlights five key storylines in W2W4.

 Chelsea offer injury-hit City sternest test

Saturday evening brings a blockbuster when leaders Manchester City visit defending champions Chelsea. Their last three league matches may have seen City score 16 unanswered goals, but Chelsea present a far tougher proposition than Crystal Palace (thrashed 5-0 last week) and Watford (6-0 the week before that).Prior to those, Sadio Mane’s red card stopped Liverpool’s visit to the Etihad being a contest as City won 5-0. And this week has seen City suffer a double helping of bad luck as Benjamin Mendy was ruled out for the season with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament before news that Sergio Aguero had damaged his ribs in an Amsterdam road accident on Thursday night.Pep Guardiola comes up against the manager who had his number last season; only Chelsea beat City twice in the Premier League last term. Last December, a 3-1 home defeat set the decline of City’s title bid in motion while Chelsea’s 2-1 win in April put Antonio Conte’s team into the final straight. On the touchline at Stamford Bridge the pair clashed and had to be separated.After losing their opening match 3-2 to Burnley, Chelsea’s recovery places them just three points behind City and Manchester United. The core of that champion team endures while newcomers Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko are performing at levels to make fans forget about Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic. Meanwhile, Cesc Fabregas is reinvigorated now he has Morata’s intelligent running to feed off his playmaking gifts.Last week’s 4-0 win at Stoke did not quite show off the pyrotechnics that City have displayed in recent matches, but Chelsea are a team to be feared and respected. No longer distracted by transfers, Conte’s eyes are back on the prize and Chelsea will not allow Guardiola’s team too much in the way of indulgence.Can they convert Kevin De Bruyne into a weakness in central midfield rather than the orchestra conductor he has so far been? Might the loss of left-back Mendy imbalance City? Guardiola does not have a natural replacement to call on.With Aguero out for an estimated two months, Guardiola is lacking a player who has scored 10 goals in 15 matches against Chelsea. Gabriel Jesus is a more than able stand-in, but how might he deal with Chelsea’s aggressive defending?Should Conte’s team repeat last season’s derailing of City then talk of a two-horse race between Manchester clubs can be set aside. Recent weeks have announced that Chelsea will not be conceding their crown in the facile fashion of their disastrous 2015-16 campaign.

 

Palace need a Manchester miracle

By the time City and Chelsea kick off on Saturday, they are more than likely to find themselves looking up at Manchester United and Jose Mourinho.As his rivals prepare to take chunks out of each other in West London, Mourinho’s team take on Crystal Palace. That’s goalless, points-bereft Palace, for whom Roy Hodgson has been unable to turn the tide since succeeding the short-lived, ill-fated Frank de Boer. That’s Palace, who have not won a league match at United since 1989.With Chelsea as Palace’s next fixture following the international break, it’s highly possible their record run of hopelessness might continue fully two months into the season. That United have yet to concede a goal at Old Trafford only adds to the difficulties facing Hodgson, who has lost striker Christian Benteke to a knee injury as Wilfried Zaha also remains on the sidelines.United’s 4-1 win at CSKA Moscow on Wednesday brought back memories of both the Sir Alex Ferguson era and Mourinho’s dominant, powerful Chelsea team of a decade ago. Neither of those regimes slipped up against opponents so weak as Palace, and bookmakers odds of 13/1 for an away win look positively miserly in the circumstances. Even a draw would register as a huge surprise.

 

Rafa lies in wait for Klopp

English teams’ results in this week’s Champions League reminded of that Ferguson/Mourinho heyday when Premier League clubs would skate easily through the group stages. While United, City, Chelsea and Spurs all celebrated victory and six points from two matches, only Liverpool let the side down, being held 1-1 at Spartak Moscow — a second draw in succession. As has become habitual for Liverpool this season, missed chances to win the game followed a defensive mistake giving the opponent a foothold. In Russia, goalkeeper Loris Karius was the guilty party. “We are not the most lucky team in world football,” said Jurgen Klopp, a manager exasperated by having to explain his team’s multitudes of mistakes.Last week at Leicester, he hugged a journalist who had asked a positive question after a nerve-shredding 3-2 win, and though Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez holds Liverpool dear to his heart, he will have prepared his team to pick at those recurring weaknesses in Sunday’s late kickoff at St James’ Park.

 

Alli struggling for form

At Huddersfield on Saturday, Harry Kane hopes to follow on from the nine goals in his last five matches that have him on target for the kind of scoring rate that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi can boast of. However, there are worries about Dele Alli, Kane’s closest partner-in-crime at Tottenham.Alli supplied his first assist of the season for Kane’s first of two in last week’s 3-2 win at West Ham, and his own return of two goals appears paltry considering he is often playing further forward than Kane. In an attacking trio with Kane and Christian Eriksen, Alli is no longer as involved in play as would be expected of someone who began his career as an all-action central midfielder.The formation has been working well enough for Mauricio Pochettino’s team, unbeaten since August, but one of England’s richest talents can look a little boy lost within it, unhappy with his lack of engagement.

 

Battles in the basement

After six rounds of matches, it is premature to talk of relegation six-pointers, but two Saturday fixtures have the look of pressurised matches for clubs whose seasons have begun disappointingly.Bournemouth on three points play Leicester on four while West Ham (four) welcome Swansea (five). After that Tottenham defeat, Hammers boss Slaven Bilic could be under serious pressure if Swansea escape the London Stadium with a win, while at Leicester, manager Craig Shakespeare is suffering the curse of the caretaker, where landing the permanent job coincides with a drop in form.John Brewin is a s

 

European World Cup qualifying – how each nation can still make Russia 2018

 

Already qualified: Belgium (plus Russia as hosts)
Places yet to be decided: 8 automatic, 8 playoff places for 4 finals berths

Here, we take a look at which nations can still make it to Russia, and how they can get there.

The nine group winners qualify automatically, with the other four places decided by playoffs between the eight best runners-up. To determine the worst runners-up, points gained against the nation which finishes bottom of the group are discounted from the calculation.

GROUP A

France currently lead the way and are favourites to top the group, but Sweden are poised should there be any further slip up from the group leaders.

 

France, 17 points (a-Bulgaria, h-Belarus)
Les Bleus‘ goalless draw at home to Luxembourg could yet be damaging to their hopes, as it left them just a point ahead of Sweden for top spot. They will need to win both games to be sure of a direct passage, with the trip to Bulgaria — who must win themselves — on Oct. 7 looking crucial.

Sweden, 16 (h-Luxembourg, a-Netherlands)
The Swedes are hot favourites to at least take second place, being three points ahead of Netherlands with a home game against Luxembourg up first. But the minnows have not been the whipping boys as seen in the other groups, having conceded 17 goals in their eight qualifiers, so Sweden may not be in a position to put their goal difference advantage over the Dutch out of sight. That said, they should need only to avoid a heavy defeat in the final match to be in the playoffs. The game against Netherlands takes on a completely different complexion if France fail to win in Bulgaria, as Sweden could go to Amsterdam top of the group.

Netherlands, 13 (a-Belarus, h-Sweden)
As Netherlands are three points behind Sweden and six goals worse off, they really only have an outside chance even of the playoffs. The likelihood is they will have to win the final match against Sweden by at least three goals, depending on the results of the first round of games, and that looks unlikely based on their recent record.

 

Bulgaria, 12 (h-France, a-Luxembourg)
Very much an outside chance due to the other fixtures in the group. Bulgaria will have to win both of their remaining games and hope Sweden pick up no more than one point from their matches.

 

GROUP B

This group is set to be decided on the final matchday when the top two nations meet in Lisbon.

 

Switzerland, 24 (h-Hungary, a-Portugal)
Portugal, 21 (a-Andorra, h-Switzerland)
A two horse-race, with Switzerland holding a three-point advantage over the Swiss — and the two teams meet in Lisbon on Oct. 10. Portugal have a vastly superior goal difference so Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. know two victories will win the group. For the Swiss, a win at home to Hungary and avoiding defeat in Portugal does the trick. The runners-up in the group are guaranteed to be one of the best second placed nations.

 

GROUP C

Germany would need a huge collapse not to top the group and go straight to Russia.

 

Germany, 24 (a-Northern Ireland, h-Azerbaijan)
Northern Ireland, 19 (h-Germany, a-Norway)
Another group with just two nations still in the running, and Germany will secure the group if they avoid defeat in Belfast on Oct. 5. Even with a defeat, Germany would stay two points clear and would only need a point at home to Azerbaijan due to their goal difference. If Northern Ireland lose to Germany they might need a point in Norway to secure one of the best runners-up spots, but probably have a good enough record already.

 

GROUP D

Serbia should see out the group, but Wales and Ireland could yet eliminate each other from the World Cup on the final matchday.

 

Serbia, 18 (a-Austria, h-Georgia)
With a four-point lead over Wales, Serbia need one win from their remaining two games to secure a direct berth at the World Cup. Even if they were to draw both games, they might just have the goal difference to keep Wales at bay.

 

Wales, 14 (a-Georgia, h-Republic of Ireland)
Chris Coleman’s side realistically have to win both matches to stand any chance of making the finals. It’s unlikely that will be enough to win the group, but they also need two wins to guarantee they would be one of the eight best runners-up. If they drop any points, then it is highly likely they would miss out on the playoffs even if they finish second.

 

Republic of Ireland, 13 (h-Moldova, a-Wales)
The Irish have to win in Wales, regardless of the results of the first round of games, if they are to stand any realistic chance of being one of the best runners-up. Their chances of even a place in the playoffs look outside at best due to their record against other possible second-placed teams.

 

Austria, 9 (h-Serbia, a-Moldova)
Their hopes are essentially mathematic, needing to win both games (by a large margin vs. Wales goal difference), and hope Wales pick up no more than one point and Ireland a maximum of two.

 

GROUP E

It’s Poland’s to throw away in this group, and it could come down to a titantic last-day meeting.

Poland, 19 (a-Armenia, h-Montenegro)
Defeat in Denmark in the last set of games unexpectedly opened the group up a little, but Poland remain favourites to take the automatic berth. They will be through with a win in Armenia on Oct. 5 if Montenegro vs. Denmark finishes as a draw — but if there is a winner in that other match it will go down to the wire and could essentially be a direct battle between Poland and Montenegro on Oct. 8.

 

Montenegro, 16 (h-Denmark, a-Poland)
Victory at home to Denmark in the final game will leave qualification in Montenegro’s hands when they head to Poland, knowing that goal difference means that six points out of six will almost certainly be enough to top the group. But if Montenegro don’t beat the Danes, they are very much in danger of finishing third with Denmark having a home fixture in the final round.

 

Denmark, 16 (a-Montenegro, h-Romania)
Definitely the outsiders to go through automatically, but a victory in Montenegro could open the group up for them with the top two yet to meet. Even defeat in Montenegro would not rule them out completely, as they could still climb above Montenegro on the final day with a win.

 

GROUP F

England are all but through, though the fight for a place in the playoffs could one of three ways.

 

England, 20 (h-Slovenia, a-Lithuania)
Gareth Southgate’s men are hot favourites to top the group, holding a five-point advantage over Slovakia. Two points from their remaining two games would do the job, but they will target three at home to Slovenia in the first match to settle it.

 

Slovakia, 15 (a-Scotland, h-Malta)
A draw away to Scotland on Oct. 5 might turn out to be a fantastic result to all but seal second place, considering Slovenia go to Wembley on the same day. That would leave the Slovaks clear with a home game against Malta to come, and a point in Glasgow should also be enough to secure one of the best runners-up positions.

 

Slovenia, 14 (a-England, h-Scotland)
It’s looking almost impossible for Slovenia to make it, as realistically they are going to have to win at Wembley to even have the chance of being above Slovakia going into the final games. If that were to happen, then a home win over Scotland could send them to the playoffs.

 

Scotland, 14 (h-Slovakia, a-Slovenia)
It looks like win or bust for Gordon Strachan’s men in the first game, but even then they would be left with a lot of work to do. They would be two points ahead of Slovakia and three ahead of Slovenia (if they lose to England). But then a draw away to Slovenia probably would not be enough, due to Slovakia being at home to Malta and likely to take the three points that would move them back up to second on goal difference. So Scotland are going to have to win both their matches, and that would guarantee a playoff spot.

 

GROUP G

Spain are effectively through, with Italy dropping into the playoffs.

 

Spain, 22 (h-Albania, a-Israel)
Italy, 19 (h-Macedonia, a-Albania)
Goal difference means Spain would essentially qualify with a win at home to Albania, but they need four points to be mathematically certain. Italy are going to have to settle for the playoffs, and they need one point to be sure of being in them.

 

Albania, 13 (a-Spain, h-Italy)
Mathematically still in the World Cup, but with two of the hardest games left. Sitting six points behind Italy and 11 goals worse off, they need to win both their games well and Italy pick up zero points.

 

GROUP H

Belgium have qualified as group winners

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina, 14 (h-Belgium, a-Estonia)
In pole position for second, a point ahead of Greece, but with group winners Belgium still to play. If Bosnia can win that game and go to Estonia on the last day still in second place they will feel confident. However, they may well have to win both games to avoid being the worst runners-up.

 

Greece, 13 (a-Cyprus, h-Gibraltar)
A draw in Cyprus won’t be enough for Greece, as even if they were to go on to finish second they would likely be the worst runners-up. With Gibraltar to play in the final game, Greece know that if they can get above Bosnia with victory in Cyprus second place is theirs to lose — but they will still face a nervous wait to find out who will miss the cut for the playoffs.

 

Cyprus, 10 (h-Greece, a-Belgium)
While it is still mathematically possible for them to finish as runners-up, it is almost impossible not be the worst runners-up.

 

GROUP I

An incredibly tight group with Croatia and Iceland on 16 points, and Turkey and Ukraine on 14. It’s a group where every team has their fate in their own hands.

Croatia, 16 (h-Finland, Ukraine-a)
Victory at home to Finland is going to be crucial to ensure Croatia go to Ukraine on the final day still top, and a point then would only be enough if there has been no winner between Turkey and Iceland — otherwise they will need to win in Ukraine for first place.

 

Iceland, 16 (a-Turkey, h-Kosovo)
Iceland would probably take a point in Turkey, but would still likely find themselves third at the end of the first round of games with Ukraine playing Kosovo that day. They can all but secure at least a playoff place with a win away in Eskisehir, but at the same time defeat would leave their hopes hanging by a thread. A huge match which is going to define how this group can pan out on the final matchday.

 

Turkey, 14 (h-Iceland, a-Finland)
Victory at home to Iceland would leave Turkey above their rivals, but they might not even be in second by then as Ukraine would overtake them with a bigger win over Kosovo. But the Turks do know that two wins would at the very least guarantee a place in the playoffs.

 

Ukraine, 14 (a-Kosovo, h-Croatia)
Even though they start fourth in the group it would be unwise to call them outsiders. With Kosovo to play, and the final match a home to Croatia, Ukraine know that two wins might well win them the group let alone go into the playoffs. Anything other than an Iceland win in Turkey would also be preferable.

 

WORST RUNNERS-UP

The situation is a little cloudy at the moment, but we do know that Portugal/Switzerland and (most probably) Italy will feature. The smart money right now has it coming down to Group D (Wales, Ireland) or H (Bosnia, Greece) with the Groups A and E just behind. Results from the first set of games will paint a much clearer picture.Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 18 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.

Which nations can be seeded at the World Cup finals draw?

The World Cup draw will take place on Friday, Dec. 1, and FIFA has announced that it will seed all four pots based upon its October World Ranking.It’s very tricky at this stage to predict what all four pots will look like, but we can assess which seven nations will join hosts Russia as one of the eight top seeds.

The seven highest-ranked nations in the October FIFA Ranking, who also qualify for the finals, will be seeded with Russia.

 

Who is guaranteed to be seeded?

At present only Brazil have 100 percent guaranteed they will be seeded, as they have qualified for the finals and will be in the top seven of the ranking.

 

Who is almost certain to join them?

Germany, currently ranked No. 1, are all but sure to qualify and will be the third team in the top pot.

European champions Portugal will be seeded if they win their two remaining qualifiers — which includes a home game against Switzerland that they must win to top the group. Even if they lose to Switzerland, and qualify via the playoffs, they will be seeded.

 

Who has a place in their own control?

Argentina are currently only in a playoff spot in South America, but wins against Peru and Ecuador would take them to the finals and mean they are at least third in the new ranking. They will be seeded even if they drop points and need to beat New Zealand in a playoff to qualify.

 

Peru will remarkably be at least fifth in the new ranking if they can beat Argentina and Colombia to book their place at the World Cup, and may still be seeded if they draw a game.

 

Belgium will also be seeded if they beat Bosnia and Herzegovina and Cyprus, as will Poland if they can get six points from Armenia and Montenegro.

 

Who has a chance if another nation slips up?

Switzerland are first in line, but they are going to have to win away to Portugal. ColombiaChile and Wales are next in contention in terms of the maximum number of ranking points they can score, but don’t rule out France and Spain who still having a decent chance if they win both their remaining matches.

 

Anyone else?

England and, surprisingly, Northern Ireland have a slim mathematical chance but it really is no more than that.

 

Who are we missing? 

Italy have no chance of being seeded, nor do Mexico or Uruguay. No nations from the Africa, Asia and Concacaf regions can be top seeded. Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 18 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.

 

 

U.S. Hot List: Matt Miazga in form, Clint Dempsey hits scoring drought

With the U.S. looking thin in central defense, the time’s right for Matt Miazga to step in.

Chances are running out to make an impression on United States head coach Bruce Arena before the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, beginning with the Oct. 6 must-win vs. Panama in Orlando, Florida. Here is a list of the those who starred and those who did not over the weekend.

Heating up:

 

Matt Miazga, DF, Vitesse (Eredivisie)

Why he’s here: Miazga was excellent for Vitesse in a 2-1 win over Dutch giants Ajax, earning Eredivisie Team of the Week honors.

What this means: It’s no secret that centre-back is one of the biggest problem areas for the U.S. right now and of late, Miazga has emerged as an option for Arena. Granted, he had just one appearance in the Gold Cup against Nicaragua, but if you’re looking for a central defender who is healthy and playing with confidence, Miazga has to be in the discussion.

 

Paul Arriola, MF, DC United (MLS)

Why he’s here: Arriola collected two assists in DC United’s 4-0 drubbing of San Jose on Saturday.

What this means: Patrick Mullins’ four-goal day against the Quakes may have gotten the headlines, but Arriola’s performance was also quite impressive. His vision and passing abilities would go a long way in helping the U.S. in their final two qualifiers. For a player in such good form, it would be unwise to leave him out of the starting lineup against Panama.

 

Julian Green, FW, Greuther Fuerth (2. Bundesliga)

Why he’s here: Green started and went the distance in his side’s 3-1 loss to Nurnberg.

What this means: This is a pleasant surprise. While Green likely won’t be called for the upcoming qualifiers, the fact that he’s started the past four matches is a great sign, especially for a player who has seen few minutes in the past two to three years. He didn’t score but did register six shots, three of them on target. Minutes lead to confidence and so you’d have to think a goal is coming soon.

 

Lee Nguyen, MF, New England Revolution (MLS)

Why he’s here: Nguyen had a goal and an assist in the Revolution’s 2-1 win over Toronto FC.

What this means: Nguyen got the cold shoulder for the Gold Cup squad but his play this season suggests he should be on Arena’s radar. Few teams have been able to bewilder Toronto FC this season, yet the Revs have done it twice thanks in part to Nguyen. Ten goals and 15 assists this season means he deserves a harder look.

 

Cooling off:

Danny Williams, MF, Huddersfield Town (Premier League)

Why he’s here: Williams missed Huddersfield Town’s scoreless draw against Burnley due to injury.

What this means: Just when he was making his case for inclusion in the national team, the injury bug strikes. Huddersfield Town announced on Saturday that the midfielder will miss the next three to six weeks with a broken bone in his foot. It’s rotten luck for Williams, especially after his stellar performance the week before.

 

Clint Dempsey, FW, Seattle Sounders (MLS)

Why he’s here: Dempsey is now goal-less in his past five games after Seattle fell 2-0 at Real Salt Lake.

What this means: Dempsey is likely to be included in the starting XI for the Panama game, but his drought is worrisome. However, “Deuce” always seem to pull through in the clutch for the Yanks, but Arena would surely like to see the Texan score this week against Vancouver or Philadelphia just in case.

 

Walker Zimmerman, DF, FC Dallas (MLS)

Why he’s here: Zimmerman was part of FC Dallas’ horrific defensive effort in a 4-1 loss to Minnesota United on Saturday.

What this means: As stated above, the U.S. has major issues at centre-back, and Zimmerman didn’t exactly play his way back into Arena’s plans on Saturday. The 24-year-old was beaten badly by Christian Ramirez on Minnesota’s first goal, and FC Dallas never recovered. These are mistakes that can’t happen at the national team level.

 

Caleb Stanko, MF, Freiburg (Bundesliga)

Why he’s here: Stanko was once again omitted from Freiburg’s matchday squad for the 0-0 draw vs. Werder Bremen.

What this means: Hopes were high this season that the versatile Stanko would see playing time with the first team after a successful loan spell at Swiss side FC Vaduz, where he made 26 appearances. But he has yet to play this season and a return to the national team — he made his U.S. debut last September under Jurgen Klinsmann — could not be further away. A loan this winter looms.

 

Economics professor Sunil Gulati is the most powerful American in soccer

Sunil Gulati was about to realize what is, short of flying, perhaps humankind’s most universally shared fantasy: He was about to play soccer with Diego Maradona.This was in January, and the 57-year-old president of the United States Soccer Federation and member of FIFA’s executive committee was preparing to travel to Zurich to take part in a boondoggle exhibition match with the FIFA Legends program. He and the other suits who run world soccer would team with the former Argentine superstar, Gabriel Batistuta, Carles Puyol, and others for a kick-about.There was just one problem: Gulati didn’t have any boots.These days, Gulati spends most of his time in lecture halls, boardrooms and the business-class sections of airplanes, not on the pitch. It had been a while since he kicked a ball outside of his sons’ practices and more than two decades since he last bought a pair of studs. He tried to get out of the match, asking if his 19-year-old son, Emilio, could play instead, but the game was limited to legends and council members. So: cleats.The grounds crew said the turf field would be covered in snow. Gulati, concerned about traction and not wanting to make a fool of himself, needed some advice. He picked up his phone and dialed up U.S. men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena. Then he got a second opinion from U.S. U-20 manager and American youth technical director Tab Ramos. He wanted to know if he should get molded boots or ones with studs. They both suggested the former.”I thought that was kind of cool, to call the national team coach to find out what shoes I should wear,” Gulati told me over the phone in one of the many conversations we had across the eight months I spent reporting this story. When I began, Jurgen Klinsmann was still coaching the U.S. national team and the American women were reeling from their early Olympics exit. We communicated often enough that Gulati jokingly asked if I was writing a profile or a book.But back to the shoes. Taking Arena and Ramos’s advice, Gulati traveled the 20 blocks from his office to the Upper90 shop in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and bought a new pair. “It was always going to be Nike,” he says of the brand he purchased, which, conveniently, has a multi-million-dollar contract to supply the United States national teams.Gulati flew to Switzerland and played, mixing into a squad that featured Vítor Baía in goal, Eric Abidal at the back, and the tandem of David Trezeguet and Carli Lloyd up top. They finished second in the four-team tournament. Maradona’s squad, stacked with Batistuta, Marcel Desailly and FIFA president Gianni Infantino, won. “There was some creative scorekeeping going on, I would imagine,” Gulati admits.Creative scorekeeping. By FIFA. You don’t say.Sunil Gulati’s career hasn’t all been pickup soccer with celebrities. The first thing to understand about Gulati is that he has worked almost every job in American soccer as the game has grown in this country, and few of them qualify as glamorous. He drove buses during national team camps. He bought balls at Kmart. He put airline tickets on his personal credit card. He helped build Major League Soccer to the point that an early fantasy game was marketed with the tagline, “So you think you can do better than Sunil?”He attended the weddings of players who starred for the U.S. in the 1990s, and he keynoted their Hall of Fame inductions. He’s been everything from ball boy and jersey procurer to deputy commissioner of MLS and president of the federation, and he helped turn U.S. Soccer into an organization with a $100 million budget and 140 full-time employees. Others, like Werner Fricker and Alan Rothenberg, played a larger role in early developments but at this moment, no one else can claim to have been the driving force behind more important decisions than Gulati. And it’s not particularly close.The other thing to understand about Gulati is that he didn’t arrive at the top by accident. “He has never been shy about affirming the fact that he has always wanted to have a powerful position in the field of soccer,” says Doug Logan, the first commissioner of MLS, for whom Gulati served as deputy. “And he’s very driven. I’m not at all surprised that he’s gotten to where he’s gotten.” Mix ambition and opportunity with ability and vision and you find yourself on a field with possibly the greatest player of all time and then meeting with the FIFA president you helped elect.Soccer has been good to Gulati and judging by the balance sheets of U.S. Soccer, he has been good for the game here, too. Ever the consummate politician and cautious economist, he has worked within CONCACAF and FIFA, trying to excise the rotten cores of those organizations from the inside. To hear him tell it, this was the only way, and the slate of current and continuing reforms in FIFA and beyond justify the decision. Critics of FIFA would point out that its crisis of conscience came about not by internal processes but thanks to intervention by the U.S. government. In any case, it is now clear that working at a high level in the arena of international soccer requires one to associate with a host of crooked characters.To have survived the downfall of so many is a remarkable feat; to have emerged even more powerful within FIFA is testament to Gulati’s considerable political skill. In the realpolitik of international soccer, it may not be fair or useful to measure Gulati by whether FIFA ever gets its act together but rather by whether he is able to realize his ultimate goal, the administrator’s version of results on the field: another World Cup on American soil.Ask the parents of the players on seven-year-old Sunil Gulati’s soccer team which of the players had the brightest future in the sport and most would have pointed to Joe and Billy Morrone. Then again, this was in 1967; nobody in Storrs, Connecticut, had a bright future in soccer.Gulati had been living in the U.S. for two years at the time, arriving with his mother and sister from Allahabad, India, to join his father, who was earning a PhD in mathematics. Soccer was popular in the town, which is the home of the University of Connecticut. When the family moved about an hour down I-84 to Cheshire, he kept playing. Gulati took to the administrative side of the game as well, starting to coach five- and six-year-olds when he was 12 and organizing the travel team he played on when he was 16.The highlight of his playing career came in the U-18 state final, where his team fell to a Mansfield side led by two local legends in the making by the name of Morrone. Gulati played junior varsity at Bucknell University, moving from forward to sweeper. “I wasn’t big, strong or fast, so it was easier when you play with a sweeper,” he told me during an interview in his Columbia office, a comfortable space crammed with economics books, photos of his two children and wife, Marcela (who is from Mexico and of whom he says, “She has to root for the U.S. — she understands how important it is to me”), and so many framed jerseys that there’s no longer room on the walls. “Your vision, tactical awareness and positioning becomes more important than some physical characteristics.”Gulati graduated in 1981 and began working for the Connecticut Olympic Development Program, then called the State Select Team Program. He met Chuck Blazer, who was running a similar program for eastern New York. Gulati thinks their squads probably played some games against each other. That is, decades before they were Chuck Blazer, CONCACAF giant and eventual pariah, and Sunil Gulati, USSF president and FIFA Executive Committee member, they were two dudes trying to get matches for their 16-year-olds. It’s easy to see how a friendship formed.After demonstrating his abilities — and because no one else wanted to do so — Gulati ran a national team camp in Colorado Springs in 1985. Such was the state of organizational chaos, he had to buy balls at a nearby Kmart on a Sunday morning. He expressed his disgust to new USSF president Fricker, who told the young man to send him suggestions — but not a “17-page letter.” Gulati, being young, cheeky and full of confidence, typed out a 17-page memo on his Macintosh. He says he no longer has a hard copy but thinks it’s on a five-and-a-half-inch floppy disk somewhere in his archives.Fricker liked the memo enough to hand Gulati various unpaid assignments, such as chairman of the International Games Committee. It was his first notable step on a 30-year climb to the top of American and then world soccer. It was also among the first of many titles Gulati would assume for the federation that were important but thankless, the type of gig that’s perfect for an ambitious young executive on his way to somewhere else. Gulati helped the U.S. win the 1994 World Cup bid, working closely with Blazer, among others. He did whatever was needed, like on a youth national team trip to Honduras in 1987, when what was needed was a math tutor for the players. After stints teaching at Columbia and then working for the World Bank, where he was Moldova’s country economist, he took a role as executive vice president and chief international officer for the 1994 World Cup.Gulati thought he’d spend two years working on the organizing committee and then return to the World Bank, but instead the 36-year-old joined Major League Soccer as deputy commissioner in 1995. He put his economist’s training to work as an architect of the league’s single-entity structure. He also recruited players, serving as a soccer expert for commissioner Doug Logan, whose experience was in the sports entertainment industry. Gulati drew praise for his ability to navigate the complex, stressed financial system of MLS, which some people joked stood for “More or Less Sunil.”Then things seemed to go wrong. He lost an election for USSF vice president in 1998. The next year, Gulati was fired from his job with the league after a falling-out with Logan, reportedly sparked by his decision to unilaterally re-up Tab Ramos’s contract without consulting the commissioner or New York/New Jersey MetroStars operator-investor Stuart Subotnick. At a press conference announcing the news, Logan offered a simple “no comment” about the decision to let his deputy go. (Don Garber replaced Logan three months later. According to Filip Bondy’s book Chasing the Game, Gulati was interested in returning to his job but he “had antagonized too many people.”) Instead he consulted with AIG and the FIFA World Cup Ticketing Bureau while working part-time with Kraft Sports Group, which owns the New England Revolution. He served on the board of directors for the Women’s World Cup in 1999 and 2003, joined the USSF as executive vice president in 2000 and returned to Columbia as a lecturer in 2003.In 2006, Gulati ran unopposed for USSF president, replacing nephrologist Robert Contiguglia. He joined the CONCACAF Executive Committee a year later while also becoming a member of the FIFA Strategic Committee and the FIFA Confederations Cup Committee. In 2013, Gulati took a spot on FIFA’s executive committee, replacing Blazer, who did not run for reelection amid a scandal that would see him plead guilty to corruption charges in 2015.These are just the top-line bullet points. They leave out the formal and informal relationships he made along the way, the loyalty he showed and earned, the little things he did, like the time in 1995 when he flew with Alexi Lalas from his club in Italy to a U.S. national team game, simply to accompany the defender on the long journey.Gulati’s resume is strong, but it’s the decades of small gestures that really begin to add up. Like any politician, he knows the importance of handshaking and baby kissing. Steve Jolley, a former MLS defender, remembers winning the MLS Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2002. At the ceremony, Gulati spoke to him for half an hour about how it would be the high point of the player’s career. “It meant a lot for a guy like Sunil to understand the significance,” Jolley said. “He reiterated the importance that there are bigger things than playing soccer. It meant the world to me.”Mark Semioli, the 44th pick in the inaugural MLS draft, has a similar story. “He’s given me his number,” he said. “I called him or texted a couple times, and he’s gotten back to me within like three seconds. If he’s getting back to Mark Semioli in three seconds, he’s getting back to everybody quickly. I’m not close to him, but if I ever wanted to reach out about something soccer-related, he would connect me or do something for me. And I would do the same for him. I don’t know what I would do for him, but I would.”We were walking across the quad to Gulati’s intro economics lecture, where he was about to teach roughly 200 students. He seemed to know a lot of people on campus, exchanging a dozen hellos on the five-minute trek from his office to class. It was the day after the first presidential debate, and he had been up late the previous night watching Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump exchange barbs, while also keeping an eye on the elections for the Asian Football Confederation because Moya Dodd, a friend of his, was running for a seat on FIFA’s executive council. But the elections were postponed, waylaid by controversy and politicking. As a result, the AFC would have only two representatives at the upcoming FIFA meeting instead of the five it is allotted. “Nice way to shoot themselves in the foot,” he said as we walked across campus, a brief flash of the unscripted Gulati that emerges from time to time.At 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Gulati had already taught one class, a makeup of one he missed the previous week because of his unceasing travel schedule. The school year requires creative balancing. After class, he was heading to a CONCACAF meeting in Miami for the rest of the day before returning to teach on Thursday, then flying to Amman, Jordan, that night for the U-17 Women’s World Cup.”If I didn’t have to teach, I would be leaving Thursday morning from Miami to go to Amman,” he said. “The following week, we go to Cuba with the national team. I come back because I have to teach a class, and then I’ll go to Zurich the next day.”A bad trip is one where Gulati is in the air longer than he’s on the ground. He mentioned an overnight flight to Zurich and a 5:00 p.m. same-day return with the air of someone who has taken it many times. He flew between 250,000 and 300,000 miles in 2016 and has top-tier status on both American and United.See him teach, however, and it’s clear why he flies back from the ends of the earth so as not to miss class: he clearly loves being center stage. Students like him, too. The Columbia Spectator has a series of early 2010s live blogs detailing how students would camp out the night before to sign up for his senior seminar. (They’ve since changed the rules so spots are awarded by online lottery.)  Gulati delivered his lecture without notes, wearing a Frida Kahlo tie — “How many people think it’s Salma Hayek?” — working through a series of charts across six chalkboards. His energy would have surprised the many soccer reporters who are used to the laconic, heavy-lidded Gulati they are used to encountering at soccer events. Here he pushed students to find the answers he already knew, and he wasn’t afraid to call someone out when necessary. He gently chided a student for speaking too quietly and did it again when the young man failed to raise his voice. Gulati controlled the room with a combination of everyday interactions and a few carefully timed flourishes. Early in the semester, he showed the class a receipt from Zurich’s Baur au Lac, the five-star hotel where the FIFA arrests took place last year. “That was a power move,” a student said, recounting the tale with awe in his voice.   Before the first assignment was due, another student told me, Gulati stipulated that all papers must be stapled. When the assignments came back, the professor held up one that wasn’t stapled. He asked the class to decide whether he should accept the paper anyway. The class voted that he should. He looked down to the assignment in his hands, back up at the class, and then dramatically ripped the paper in half. “This is not a democracy,” Gulati said. Only then did he reveal that instead of holding an actual student assignment, he had shredded a stack of blank pages.”Leadership is about having a vision and trying to convince people of that vision,” he said in his office. “That doesn’t mean that you don’t make changes or talk to a lot of people as you’re developing that, but eventually you have to get people to buy into what you want to do and where you want to lead.””He’s never said, ‘Try to outwork me,'” said USSF secretary-general and CEO Dan Flynn. “He always says, ‘Try to out-think me.’ He says he wants to be challenged by our strategy, how we’re doing, and how we’re getting better. He wants to be challenged. He likes to be challenged. That keeps him engaged.”Logan, the former MLS commissioner, had a slightly different take. “I don’t necessarily see him as a consensus builder. He has a very clear idea of where he wants to go and then gets people to follow that. That’s one effective way of leading. But I don’t know that he’s of the school of ‘everybody hold hands and all you people tell me what you want and we’ll make a stew out of that.’ He has a pretty good idea of what he wants before those conversations take place, and he is able to, in one form or another, get people to agree with him. Those that don’t agree with him don’t carry the day.”Logan rarely talks about his relationship with Gulati in public even though he hasn’t seen his former deputy for years and no longer works in the soccer world. He only responded to my inquiries, he said, because of persistent e-mailing, and even then he declined to talk about the specifics of their relationship. I asked if he had any stories that he felt typified Gulati’s approach and attitude. “Many,” he said before pausing, laughing and adding, “but I’m not going to tell you any of them.”To report on Gulati is to have many similar conversations, to hear vague critiques but few on-the-record anecdotes to back them up. If the man who fired him nearly 20 years ago won’t be critical, who will?Gulati was busy working the room, the rest of us watching on TV. It was February 26, 2016; the first ballot to elect Sepp Blatter’s replacement as FIFA president had just been cast, and Gulati’s candidate lost. Fox Sports’ broadcast from the floor of a Zurich hockey arena entered a holding pattern as everyone tried to make sense of the results: 88 votes for Gianni Infantino, the Swiss Italian UEFA executive, to 85 for Bahrain’s Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa. Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, the USSF’s preferred candidate, picked up only 27. Since there was no majority, a second round loomed.The last time Gulati had put this much muscle into a FIFA vote, to select the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts, he lost. That was six years earlier, in December 2010. Russia and Qatar beat out the United States, which had been considered the overwhelming favorite to host the latter event. “I don’t think he was Pollyanna about FIFA or soccer in general, but when you get stung like that, it hits home even more,” said Alexi Lalas when I spoke with him for this story and who, on this day in 2016, was commenting on-air as the members prepared for the second ballot of the presidential vote.While there is no direct through-line from the World Cup vote in 2010, which was tainted by allegations of bribery, and the corruption charges that brought down a number of FIFA’s senior leaders, the decision to award the tournaments to Russia and Qatar played a role in altering the organization. The suspect circumstances drew international attention, and the USSF and the English FA, which lost out on hosting despite being the pre-voting favorite, felt aggrieved. Over the next year, allegations of bribery continued to surface, with FIFA suspending Qatar’s Mohamed bin Hammam and Trinidad and Tobago’s Jack Warner.

“In a way, that decision [on December 2, 2010] and the subsequent next few months, which involved the presidential election, led to consequences that changed FIFA forever,” Gulati said.In 2011, Gulati and the USSF supported the reelection of Sepp Blatter in spite of the ongoing controversy. England tried to postpone the uncontested vote, citing Blatter’s lack of a “proper, credible mandate,” as English FA chairman David Bernstein put it. The measure failed, 172-17. Gulati says he isn’t sure how the U.S. voted because a member ofthe federation board cast the American vote, but he believes that the U.S. did not support the motion. Regardless, Blatter was reelected with 186 of the 203 ballots cast, including that of the United States. For Gulati, the choice was simple: Blatter didn’t have an opponent, so the U.S. could either vote for him or abstain, which Gulati viewed as an ineffective protest.On April 19, 2013, Gulati joined the FIFA Executive Committee after defeating Mexico’s Justino Compean, 18-17, for Blazer’s vacated seat. As corruption charges embroiled the organization — culminating with the Department of Justice raid of Baur au Lac in May 2015 — Gulati remained untouched, consolidating a position that would make him a leader in the post-Blatter FIFA. “There’s an informal way of understanding how things need to get done that’s really important in world football,” Flynn said.As Lalas and his cohosts talked through the implications of the first round of voting, Gulati displayed his increasing power, working the room and urging his bloc to abandon Prince Ali al-Hussein in favor of Infantino for the second round. The camera showed Gulati holding court as Infantino and two other gentlemen leaned in, listening. His sudden visibility launched the Twitter hashtag #GulatiCam, which bounced around the American soccer community.”I didn’t realize it was going to be quite as visible,” he said. “When I first knew, Alexi sent me a text. I was on the dais. He said, ‘You realize that we’re following you?’ I didn’t. But from my perspective, that’s the only way to get theresult.”Gulati believes he had influence because the Americans had vocally supported Prince Ali twice, including the previous May, when the U.S. picked the Jordanian during his failed campaign against Blatter. “We had been outspoken in support where many others hadn’t been,” he said. “In this case, the fact that we were willing to support Gianni was useful for a number of people and helpful in terms of their own thinking, especially in terms of the people from CONCACAF.”When the second round of voting came in, Infantino won by 27 votes over Sheikh Salman, the pre-vote favorite. For the first time, the U.S. had played a vital role in electing a FIFA president. Gulati was instrumental.His influence extends beyond the voting arena. In his Columbia office, he spoke proudly about trying to bring more accountability to the organization. That includes instituting measures that are standard in American corporations or nonprofits, things like full transparency on compensation, transparency for bids on contracts, an independent ethics panel, term limits, and an independent governance committee. “What you need is good rules to give people the right incentives, and if they are outside of those rules, to make sure that you’ve got the tools to take action,” he said. “A lot of that has happened, but it’s going to take a long time.”

An admirable goal, but how much have he and his allies been able to accomplish by working within FIFA’s own system? The public still doesn’t know how much money FIFA executives make, including Gulati’s own compensation. Upon joining the executive committee, he said, “I would have no problem of disclosing if it’s not a violation of any provision with FIFA for directors.” In August 2016, FIFA released payment information for the president and general secretary for the first time, but Gulati’s pay remains a mystery. Gulati and six other executive committee members say they wanted to release the full 350-page report compiled by prosecutor Michael Garcia about the 2018 and 2022 World Cup vote, but it was locked from public view until the German tabloid Bild forced FIFA’s hand in June. (Gulati stayed in touch with Garcia. During our interview in Gulati’s office, the two were e-mailing about the session of a Columbia law professor’s sports ethics class that they had been asked to co-teach.) FIFA is a little more transparent than it used to be, but it has a long way to go.Furthermore, it’s fair to ask how many of the changes came as a result of internal actors versus outside pressure, such as the investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which resulted in charges being brought against 25 individuals. Gulati argues that internal reform was occurring, and the suspension of former power brokers like Blazer, Warner, Bin Hammam and others from 2011 to 2013 indicates there’s some validity to that argument.”A lot of things happened before the DOJ issues,” Gulati said. “What the outside pressure does is gives people on the inside the ability to find their voice, frankly. Because if you’re on the inside and you don’t have allies, trying to promote change is difficult and sometimes impossible.”Would the FIFA reform process be as far along without those outside pressures?”No, I don’t think there’s any doubt that some of the outside pressures have been instrumental in helping to push change through,” he said.To his critics, it is incomprehensible that Gulati failed to notice the crimes being committed by Warner and Blazer during their years in charge of CONCACAF. There he was on the CONCACAF board, a Columbia economics professor, no less. Gulati has so far remained pretty much silent on crimes that were being committed at CONCACAF while he was involved with the organization. When the United States Senate held a hearing into international soccer governance, the fact that USSF CEO Dan Flynn appeared instead of Gulati caught the attention of investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, who opened his testimony by focusing on the “massive, massive deficiencies of the U.S. Soccer Federation, frightened to upset President Blatter’s corrupt FIFA while enjoying the elite lifestyle that he provides.””I note the absence of your FIFA delegate, Mr. Sunil Gulati,” Jennings continued. “That’s one crucial question today. Where’s Sunil? Where is he? He’s the man who takes American values, supposedly, to FIFA and to CONCACAF, and he’s not here to talk about it. It rather undermines the whole process, I think.”Where was Gulati? Behind the scenes, as usual. Very possibly working to improve FIFA from within, as he claims. But the secrecy with which FIFA, and Gulati, go about their business makes this difficult to see from the outside.”Gulati has not in any way positively affected that process,” said Chris Eaton, the integrity expert and adviser to the president of the International Centre for Sport Security, via Skype from his home in Lyon, France. “In fact, he has endorsed that process with the support of Infantino at the election. He tried to play the role of kingmaker.”I wondered if Gulati would like to someday be king. When we were talking about the path he took to the top of U.S. Soccer, he mentioned that he didn’t think anyone who ran for vice president didn’t also think about being president. But when I asked a few minutes later if he wanted the top spot at FIFA, he demurred. “Might there be a FIFA president who is American in the next years? Sure,” he said. “But it’s not going to be me.””He’s been, in many respects, one of the strongest and at the forefront of trying to influence how important women’s football is, and not just from a World Cup and increasing prize money [perspective],” said Flynn. “That’s the obvious stuff. But literally getting countries to focus more on it.”That’s true. Former Australian executive committee member Dodd called Gulati’s leadership in the women’s game “fantastic” in 2016, and he was a speaker at the 2016 FIFA Women’s Football and Leadership Conference. The U.S. invests more resources than any country into its women’s program, and he’s played a vocal role in encouraging other nations to increase their support of the women’s game.

And yet U.S. Soccer spent two years stuck in a contentious CBA negotiation with the U.S. women’s team. A deal was signed in April but only after both sides suffered significant PR hits. Megan Rapinoe thinks Gulati could be more of a force. “It’s quite frustrating to know that he’s making comments that he wants to get a deal done, but he hasn’t come to one meeting,” she told the New York Times last July. “I’ve been to three meetings, flown six hours across the country and interrupted my rehab to come to New York, where he lives. And he can’t come to one meeting.”Gulati, who did attend meetings later in the process, would say that he was a leader delegating responsibility. He can, after all, only be in one place, and there are many demands on his time. (As news of the CBA signing broke, he sent me four e-mails in 16 minutes answering a question about a wholly separate issue.) Others, however, have seen the hands-off approach before.”He’s trying to help now, but it’s like he gets pushed to a brink where he has to help. It’s a reaction rather than being proactive, and I wish he was more proactive,” former U.S. defender Cat Whitehill said. “He took a stand against the pay discrepancy, but I never really heard anything from him when Sepp Blatter insults the women’s game and tells people we should be wearing tight pants. I wish that I could hear more from that side of things.””More proactive” is the criticism that pops up most when people talk about Gulati. For an executive praised for his vision-former MLS commissioner Logan called him someone who “thinks so quickly that he normally can anticipate that next step” — Gulati does get into positions where his hand is forced or he seems to be dragging his feet. It happened with the U.S. men’s national team, where he stayed with Jurgen Klinsmann for too long, well beyond the point at which the team’s dysfunction was obvious from its performances on the field. (On this charge, he responded, “Whenever you’re dealing with personnel issues, patience is generally a good idea.”)Gulati’s leadership in the women’s game could have been more forceful. He helped bring about new leadership at FIFA only to empower the same sort of characters who’ve been there all along. Before Infantino won the presidential election, he spent nearly two decades in UEFA as director of the Legal Affairs and Club Licensing Division, deputy general secretary and general secretary.To some, this doesn’t go far enough. To Gulati, it’s about finding a balance.”When you’re talking about making comments about leadership at FIFA or anywhere else, U.S. Soccer is essentially conducting a foreign policy,” he said. “Often, I think, people don’t realize that. There are times when you have to be more diplomatic and times when you have to be less diplomatic if you want to achieve the right goals. If one is the outlier on every issue, you’re not going to get very far in those circles, or any circles, whether it’s a corporate boardroom or a political environment.”

This, in essence, is the idea that guides Gulati: that it’s better to pick your moments of dissent carefully — like supporting Prince Ali during the 2011 FIFA election — and to work to slowly remake the room than to try to blow it up and get booted doing so.It’s impossible to deny the progress made under Gulati’s tenure, especially on a domestic level. Soccer in America has come along further and faster than pretty much any sport anywhere else in the world — but still not far enough, especially for the cohort that really started paying attention after the 1994 or 2002 World Cups.

“Fans have every right to say, ‘Don’t tell me you used to walk uphill to school both ways. What is it like now?’ and that’s fair,” Gulati said. But, he would argue, don’t forget the past. The USSF has gone from an organization that proposed taking away five-dollar per diems for players to afford an extra day of training during a camp in the 1980s and, according to Arena, was “on the verge of bankruptcy” in 1998 to one that has a $100m budget that supports 17 national teams, a host of development academies, and a financial base that rivals the richest federations in the world. While the roots of this rise started before Gulati took over as president, his fingerprints are all over the blueprints from the past and the plans going forward. To use a metric an economics professor might appreciate, soccer in America has progressed 30 units in the last 30 years. But rather than going from zero to 30, it’s gone from -10 to 20.Gulati’s tenure isn’t over, but it’s coming toward a conclusion. He has, at most, one more term as USSF president and two in FIFA because of term limits he helped install. His major final endeavor is bringing the World Cup back to the U.S. In April, he sat in the center of a podium on the 102nd floor at One World Trade Center, flanked by CONCACAF and Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani and Mexican federation head Decio de María. The trio announced a joint bid to host the 2026 tournament, with the U.S. getting 60 of the 80 games, the first among equals. Some pundits were not happy with the arrangement. “I think 10 games is an embarrassment,” wrote TV Azteca talking head Gerardo Velazquez on social media following the announcement. “It is something that only demonstrates the power Sunil Gulati has in the region and that the real giant in CONCACAF is the United States and not Mexico.”Gulati shaking hands of the U.S. players before the final — if we’re going to dream, let’s dream big — would be the perfect cap on a long career that began in earnest when USSF officials convinced him to leave the World Bank in 1992 to help with preparations for the 1994 event. “Alan [Rothenberg] and Scott [LeTellier, the principal author of the 1994 bid] said, ‘Come do this for a couple of years. It’s the only World Cup we’re going to host in your lifetime,'” the economics professor said. “I hope they were wrong.”By 2026, there will be a better sense of whether the reforms at FIFA succeeded or not. We’ll know if the qualities of patience and restraint, practiced by Gulati and scorned by FIFA’s many critics, have paid off. Right now, it’s possible to argue both cases.The one sure thing in both scenarios: Sunil Gulati comes out on top.

 

Chelsea’s win at Atletico is a sign of the Premier League’s revival in Europe

MADRID — Some results mean more than others, have a greater impact, but one statistic underlines the magnitude of Chelsea’s 2-1 Champions League victory at Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

Atletico have faced English clubs in Europe on countless occasions over the years, starting out with a European Cup Winners’ Cup clash against Leicester City in 1961, and until Michy Batshuayi struck with a 94th-minute winner for the Premier League champions in the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, they had never lost to a visitor from England on home turf.

Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool have all previously tried and failed to win at Atletico, as have Leicester, Derby County, Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers. But on their very first European night at their new stadium, Atletico surrendered their proud record against English opponents and, more importantly, could have no complaints about doing so.

In a week that has seen the Premier League giants cruise to impressive Champions League victories — only Liverpool failed to win on matchday two — Chelsea’s win in Spain is by far the most significant.

Tottenham’s 3-0 win against Apoel was impressive, as was Man United’s 4-1 victory against CSKA Moscow in Russia, but neither Apoel nor CSKA are in Atletico’s class. City eventually dispatched Shakhtar Donetsk, an often underestimated Champions League outfit, at the Etihad on Tuesday, while there were also big wins on matchday one against the likes of Feyenoord, Basel, Qarabag and Borussia Dortmund.

But in recent seasons, only Barcelona and Real Madrid have surpassed Atletico when it comes to consistency in the Champions League. Diego Simeone’s team are a high-achieving outfit, only denied two European Cups by arguably one of the best Real teams in recent memory.They have been a formidable unit, overcoming the likes of Barca, Bayern Munich and Chelsea in the knockout stages to reach those finals, but Chelsea dominated them on Wednesday and beat them at their own game.

Do this week’s results signify a reawakening of the sleeping Premier League giants in Europe or is it too early to make the judgement?

Apart from Tottenham’s Wembley win against Dortmund, who have their own impressive European track record in recent years, the English wins on matchday one and two have only been a surprise in terms of the winning margins.

But Chelsea travelled to Madrid with Antonio Conte insisting that they were underdogs against Atletico and Cesar Azpilicueta talking of the need to play a “perfect” game to beat them. Chelsea did that, with Eden Hazard outstanding and the in-form Alvaro Morata once again scoring a crucial goal.

“To play in this way, with this spirit, with this personality, is not simple,” Conte said after the game. “You know very well when you go 1-0 down against Atletico Madrid, it’s very difficult to come back.

“But despite this, in the second half we continued to play very well, with great concentration and great personality. We scored twice and we deserved to win.”

Hazard, who produced his best Champions League performance for Chelsea, echoed Conte by paying tribute to Atletico’s strengths and track record.

“We are very happy,” Hazard said. “It was a tough game against one of the biggest teams in Europe.

“We did well, we scored two goals and should have scored more, so we deserved to win the game. But we play for Chelsea, one of the biggest clubs in the world, so we just want to win every game.”

It is now 10 years since the Premier League’s dominance of the Champions League reached its peak with Chelsea facing United in the final in Moscow in 2007-08. Since then, Barca and Real have helped place La Liga at the top of the pile, but with all the money in the Premier League, and the calibre of coaches such as Conte, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola in charge of the biggest clubs, the gap is closing.

Real and Barca remain the favourites to win the Champions League again this season, but this victory is a marker being laid down. City defeated Barcelona at the Etihad last season, and won a group-stage match at Bayern when fates were already determined, but this win is the biggest by an English club in the Champions League for some time.

There is still some way to go before the Premier League can scale the summit again, and next month’s clash between Real and Spurs at the Bernabeu may offer a truer gauge of the current gap between the best and the rest. But the Premier League is beginning to land blows again in the Champions League, and Chelsea’s win against Atletico is a clear signal of that.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_

 

Morata, Batshuayi help Chelsea topple Atletico to take command of Group C

MADRID — Three quick thoughts from Chelsea’s last-gasp 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League group stage at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday.

 

  1. Batshuayi puts Chelsea in command of Group C

Michy Batshuayi scored with the last kick of the game to put Chelsea in control of Group C and end Atletico Madrid’s unbeaten home record against English clubs in the Champions League.

Batshuayi, a late substitute for Alvaro Morata, Chelsea’s other goalscorer, scored from close range three minutes into stoppage time to claim a crucial victory for Antonio Conte’s team ahead of the double-header against AS Roma on matchday 3 and 4.

Having taken the lead against the run of play with a first-half penalty by Antoine Griezmann, Atletico could not continue to ride their luck after the interval, but Batshuayi’s goal was a cruel blow, with Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir blowing for full-time immediately after the Belgian’s shot had hit the back of the net.

The goal ended Atletico’s proud unbeaten record against English opponents on home turf and it came in the first Champions League contest staged at the club’s new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium following their departure from the Vicente Calderon.

Chelsea dominated, though, and they will go into next month’s Stamford Bridge clash with Roma knowing that a victory will leave them on the brink of qualification for the knockout stages at the halfway stages of the group campaign.

With Atletico, currently winless on one point, facing Qarabag in their next two games, Diego Simeone’s team still have the opportunity to bounce back and emerge from the group.

But Chelsea are now in firm control at the top after this victory, which will also offer a huge morale boost ahead of Saturday’s Premier League clash with Manchester City.

 

  1. Hazard and Morata Chelsea’s deadly double act

Morata extended his fine start to his Chelsea career with another goal for the club against Atletico, but while that was the headline-making contribution in the Wanda Metropolitano, his link-up play with Eden Hazard was perhaps the most satisfying element of the game for Antonio Conte.Hazard’s ankle injury lay-off forced the Belgian playmaker to miss the opening weeks of the season and this was only his second start of the campaign. But even before he teed up Morata’s headed goal on the hour mark with a floated cross, Hazard showed that he and the Spain forward can build a formidable partnership at Stamford Bridge.Morata is the perfect No. 9, leading the front line with pace, power and finesse. He is a much more elegant striker than his predecessor, Diego Costa, and also more willing to bring in his teammates.

After being released for a fifth-minute chance by Hazard, Morata repaid the favour on 13 minutes when the No. 10 struck the post after being teed up by the centre-forward.The two seem to have struck up an instant rapport, with Hazard knowing when to pass, when to hold, and Morata smart enough to make the runs to enable Hazard to find space.If Morata is going to operate as a lone striker this season, Hazard will be even more important to the team in his role as a creator just behind the former Real Madrid man.Against Atletico, Hazard roamed around the pitch, just behind Morata, but he clearly relishes playing with the club’s new centre-forward and the pair have the capabilities to make it a prolific partnership.

 

  1. Atletico missing the Calderon

Atletico Madrid have done well so far in terms of adjusting to life at the Wanda Metropolitano, with two home wins in La Liga ahead of this clash with Chelsea. But on a Champions League night, when every little edge counts, there was a real sense that Diego Simeone’s missed the unique surroundings of the Vicente Calderon as they slipped to a cruel late defeat.

In recent seasons, Atleti’s crumbling old home became one of the most atmospheric stadiums in Europe, with the backing from the home fans driving the team onto two Champions League finals and a La Liga title. It also witnessed countless performances of Simeone’s team chasing down opponents, denying them time and space in the tight confines of the old stadium.But the new stadium is different — it has to be — and on this evidence, it will take Atletico time to get used to the ground on big Champions League nights.The pitch is no longer hemmed in by stands on all four sides, with acres of space between the touchline and seats, and even though it may be an optical illusion, the playing surface appears much bigger, making it more difficult for Atleti to play their high-intensity pressing game.

There were also an unusually high number of stray, over-hit passes by Atletico on a pitch they’re still sizing up.

Chelsea dominated the game for long periods and were unlucky to fall behind to Griezmann’s penalty. They were never pushed back and given the “Atletico treatment” as they may have had at the Calderon, though.

For now, the Metropolitano is nice and shiny and new, but it isn’t yet the fortress that the Calderon became.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_

 

Atlanta and Sporting KC on the up in MLS Power Rankings; Galaxy misery

Atlanta United and Sporting Kansas City make pushes into the top three as the MLS Power Rankings return for Week 29.

 

  1. Toronto FC(no change): Teams that lose twice in a week usually fall at least one spot, but Toronto FC distanced themselves so much that the 5-3 and 3-1 losses to Montreal and New England do not affect their standing.
  2. Atlanta United(+2): Atlanta United continue to dominate at home. First a 4-0 midweek win over the LA Galaxy, then they topped Montreal 2-0 on Sunday. They’re arguably the team best equipped to take down TFC.
  3. Sporting Kansas City(+2): OK, OK: Sporting Kansas City are in that discussion as well. With the best defense in the league, Sporting KC have the goods to stop TFC. They picked up a solid 2-1 win over LA.
  4. New York City FC(-1): NYCFC are stumbling of late, and David Villa looked a bit off in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Houston. It might be best for coach Patrick Vieira to rest his key men for the playoffs.
  5. Seattle Sounders(-2): The Sounders’ 13-match unbeaten streak is over after Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Real Salt Lake. Another poor outing from the attack, which is a growing concern for coach Brian Schmetzer.
  6. Vancouver Whitecaps(no change): A good 2-1 home win over Colorado on Saturday, but the real test begins with a three-game road trip to Seattle, Sporting KC and the New York Red Bulls.
  7. Portland Timbers(+2): If Darren Mattocks torments opponents in the playoffs the way he did in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Orlando, there’s no reason the Timbers can’t reach the MLS Cup.
  8. Columbus Crew SC(+2): The Crew impressed again over the weekend, downing the Red Bulls 3-2. Playmaker Federico Higuain — three assists — is rounding into
  9. Real Salt Lake(+2): If it feels like Jefferson Savarino is involved in every RSL goal, it’s because he almost is. In the 2-0 win over Seattle, he finished off a one-two combo beautifully for RSL’s first and then helped set up the second.
  10. New York Red Bulls(-3): Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Columbus had to have stung, especially they lost the U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday. They are winless since Aug. 12.
  11. Chicago Fire(-3): Saturday’s tilt in Philadelphia felt like a trap game for the Fire, and it played out as such, as they lost listlessly 3-1. They need a strong response on Wednesday in San Jose.
  12. Houston Dynamo(+1): Saturday’s 1-1 draw at NYCFC was one of Houston’s stronger road displays this season. A home-friendly schedule awaits the Texans in the homestretch.

RECAP | Indy Eleven Shuts Out Armada FC in Draw at Jacksonville

“Indiana’s Team” earns sixth clean sheet of the 2017 season in scoreless encounter at Hodges Stadium

Published Sep 27, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (September 27, 2017) – Indy Eleven produced its sixth clean sheet of the year in halting hosts Jacksonville Armada FC at Hodges Stadium.

Head coach Tim Hankinson opted for Gerardo Torrado and Ben Speas in place of David Goldsmith and Paulo Junior in a starting XI otherwise unchanged from the team’s 2-0 loss to FC Edmonton last time out. In defense, captain Colin Falvey stood alongside Cory Miller and the pair were called into action early on. In the 9th minute, Jacksonville sniffed their first chance at goal when forward Tony Taylor drove forward on a breakaway. Taylor worked his way into the box and forced Falvey the wrong way on an attempted challenge only to see his effort on goal blocked by Cory Miller.

On the attacking side, Indy’s best opportunities were produced on the counter attack, and that began in the 13th minute with midfielder Don Smart leading the charge. Surging down the flank, the Jamaican, nearing his 100th appearance for the club, whipped in a low cross that the Armada FC back line repelled with Zayed waiting in a central position to tap the ball home. Indy continued their attacking spell with another chance for the forward Zayed in the 25th minute. After wrestling with Armada FC defender Mechack Jerome, the Irishman found himself unmarked near the penalty spot but was inches away from toeing an effort on goal.A humid night in Jacksonville, Armada FC midfielder J.C. Banks began to take advantage of his home territory. However, though he created a pair of chances for his side towards the end of the first half, he could not convert and the two sides went scoreless into the halftime break.Jacksonville swapped forward Derek Gebhard for fellow frontman Tony Taylor to start the second half and the substitute immediately began to test the staunch Eleven defense. Near the hour mark, Gebhard found space dropping in to receive a pass and played a ball to J.C. Banks in an excellent attacking position. In behind the defense, Banks struck a low drive towards the far post but his effort cannoned off the post before eventually ending up in the arms of Indy Eleven goalkeeper Jon Busch.The best second-half chance for Indy came via Don Smart in the 76th minute despite his side moving ahead frequently on the counter. Substitute forward David Goldsmith slid a clever ball to Smart just wide to right, but instead of squaring the ball the midfielder opted to go for goal at the near post but managed a solid save from Armada FC’s Caleb Patterson-Sewell.   In the end, “Buschy” was tested just once as Indy won over 80% of their tackles in shutting out Jacksonville Armada FC.Indy Eleven returns home to IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Stadium to host Puerto Rico FC on Wednesday, October 4 at 7:00 P.M. ET. Tickets for the game – and all remaining 4+ NASL matches at “The Mike” in 2017 – can be purchased for as little as $11 online at www.IndyEleven.com or by phone at 317-685-1100.
NASL Fall Season
Jacksonville Armada FC 0 : 0 Indy Eleven
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Hodges Stadium – Jacksonville, FL 

Scoring Summary:
None

Discipline Summary:
JAX – Kevan George 21’
JAX – Ciaran Kilduff 32’
IND – Don Smart 37’
JAX – Aaron Pitchkolan 62’
IND – Brad Ring 69’
Indy Eleven lineup (4-2-3-1, L–>R):  Jon Busch (GK); Nemanja Vukovic, Cory Miller, Colin Falvey ©, Marco Franco; Brad Ring (Craig Henderson 85’), Gerardo Torrado; Ben Speas (Paulo Junior 63’), Sinisa Ubiparipovic (David Goldsmith 63’), Don Smart; Eamon Zayed
IND bench: Keith Cardona (GK); Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Tanner Thompson

 

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9/25 Champions League Tues/Wed, Indy 11 Wed night ESPN3, CHS Pack the House Fri Night

Champions League Match- Day 2 Today  Dortmund and US starlet Christian Pulisic hosts defending Champs Real Madrid on Fox Sports 1 2:45 pm.  Liverpool travels to Spartak Moskav same time on Fox Sports 2 while Tottenham faces APAEL on Fox Sports Ind. (See full TV game schedule below)

cfc__06Gold_CrewCongrats to the Carmel FC 06 Boys Gold Team and coaches Curt Nielsen (left) and Nacho Sosa (right) for Reaching the Finals of the Crew SC Fall Classic in Columbus this past weekend.

The Carmel High School boys will host “Pack the House” Night on Fri, Sept 29th at Murray Stadium. 5 pm JV, 7 pm Varsity start.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

What to Watch For this Week

Real Madrid Look to Reverse Fortunes at Dortmund – ESPNFC

Real Madrid Puts Road Form on Line in UCL at Dortmund – ESPNFC

Madrid can Win in Dortmund – ESPNFC

Dortmund much fix Defense vs Real Madrid – ESPNFC

PSG Coach under Pressure

Neymar + Cavani Unwanted Sideshow for PSG ahead of Bayern Clash

Bayern need Result at PSG to boost Morale – EPSNFC

Man U’s Fellaini set to Miss CSKA Moscow Trip

Tottenham in Good Shape for APOEL Trip

100 Million Dollar Signings Not in Bayern’s Plans – ESPNFC

GAMES ON TV 

Tues, Sept 26 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1  Dortmund (US Pulisic) v Madrid

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2    Spartak Moskav vs Liverpool

2:45 pm Fox Sport Ind?                  Man City vs Shakhtar

2:45 pm ESPN3                APOEL vs Tottenham

Weds, Sept 27

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2   Paris SG  v Bayern Munich

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1    CSKA Moscow vs Man U

2:45 pm Fox Ind?          Sporting CP vs Barcelona

2:45 pm ESPN3/D, FS+   Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea

2:45 pm ESPN3                Juve vs Olympiakos

8 pm ESPN3              Indy 11 @ Jacksonville Armada

Thurs, Sept 28                 Europa League

1 pm Fox Sport 2           Bate vs Arsenal

3 pm fox Sport 1            Everton vs Apollon

Fri, Sept 29

3 pm beIN Sport             Monaco vs Montpellier

Sat, Sept 30

7:30 am NBCSN               Huddersfield Town vs Tottenham

10 am NBCSN                   Man United vs Crystal Palace?

9:30 am FS1                      Ausburg vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

9:30 am FS2                       B M’Gladbach (Johnson) vs Hannover 96

11 am beIN Sport          PSG vs Bordeaux

12:30 NBC                          Chelsea vs Man City

Sun, Oct 1

7 am NBCSN                      Arsenal vs Brighton Hove Albion

9:30 am Fox Sport 1    Hertha vs Bayern Munich

10 am beIN Sport          Barcelona vs Las Palmas

11 am NBCSN                   Newcastle United (Yedlin) vs Liverpool

12 noon beIn Sport     Milan vs Roma

1 pm  Fox Sport1           Philly Union (Bedoya) vs Seattle Sounders (Dempsey)

4 pm ESPN 3                   Indy 11 @ Carolina FC  

Weds, Oct 4 

7 pm Myindy TV               Indy 11 vs Puerto Rico

Thurs, Oct 5                      World Cup Qualifying FINAL ROUNDS?

12 pm FS2                           England vs Slovenia

Fri, Oct 6                             World Cup Qualifying

12 pm ESPN 2                     USA vs Panama 

W2W4: In-form Dortmund take on Real, Diego Costa’s clubs meet, PSG’s drama

Is it Champions League Matchday 2 already? It is indeed and with some big games on the horizon, Nick Ames sums up what to watch for this week.

 Dortmund look to stun misfiring Real

When the groups were drawn, Borussia Dortmund’s meeting with Real Madrid risked being a slightly tired rerun of a tie that has been played eight times — often with enthralling results — in the last five years. The German club were supposed to be recalibrating after the departures of Thomas Tuchel and Ousmane Dembele while Real, the barely changed Champions League holders, were once again expected to steamroller the vast majority of opponents that crossed their path.Perhaps they still will but the tone around this tie looks different now after surprising starts to the season from both teams. The German side have looked superb under Peter Bosz, sitting top of the Bundesliga and thrashing Borussia Monchengladbach 6-1 at the weekend. Real have not found things so simple in La Liga so far and fell to a shock home defeat to Real Betis last Wednesday, although they did at least win at Alaves on Saturday. They are already seven points behind Barcelona and will not want to complicate their situation in Europe, although the pressure sits more firmly on Dortmund’s shoulders after their 3-1 defeat at Tottenham a fortnight ago.Will Real’s misfiring attack find form, or will Bosz’s vibrant young team lay down a marker of their own?

 Costa watches old and new clubs do battle

Atletico Madrid’s shiny Wanda Metropolitano hosts its first European match and they will hope an encouraging settling-in process (two games, two wins, two clean sheets) continues against Chelsea. Diego Simeone & Co. could do with the points to build on their Matchday one draw at Roma, particularly with the Italian side facing Azeri minnows Qarabag this week; a draw would not go down badly for Antonio Conte’s side although much of the intrigue on Wednesday night will be found off the pitch.A matter of days have passed since Diego Costa finally swapped Stamford Bridge for a return to his old employers, which will conclude when he is eligible to play in January. Students of handshakes and body language will be keeping their eyes peeled on any encounters between Costa and Conte in particular. There is an argument that both teams will miss Costa as he sits on the sidelines although his replacement at Chelsea, Alvaro Morata, is in excellent form after scoring a hat-trick at Stoke on Saturday and will have added motivation as a former Real Madrid player.

A decisive contribution from him here might help his club consign Costa’s name firmly to the past.

 English influx to Moscow may provide World Cup pointer

Liverpool and Manchester United could certainly have travelled to Moscow at a less forgiving time of year. Temperatures in the Russian capital are mellow enough in late September; the English clubs have avoided tricky assignments nearer to winter and will hope that helps them perform the job with a minimum of fuss.Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow are no slouches on the pitch but both should eventually be overcome; another layer of intrigue comes off it, in the form of what some might see as a dress rehearsal for next summer. More than 2,000 English fans will be in Russia’s capital to watch the two games and they have already been warned against any thoughts of hooliganism; as long as the same applies to local supporters, the midweek double-header should go off quietly and how things are policed may give some indication of how peacefully the World Cup goes off in June.In practice, the chances of any major flashpoints look mercifully remote although Spartak’s faithful have already landed their club in hot water this season: they threw a flare onto the pitch during the Matchday one draw in Maribor and have been banned from their next Champions League away game, against Sevilla. They will create a hot atmosphere again on Tuesday night but the hope is that football makes the headlines.

 Will Neymar and Cavani play nicely?

Will it be happy families again at Paris Saint-Germain? Neymar should return to their lineup for the visit of Bayern Munich after missing the weekend draw at Montpellier through injury and there will be more than a few neutrals hoping they win a penalty at some point in proceedings. The smart money is on Neymar being on his best behaviour after the spat with Edinson Cavani, a brouhaha for which the Brazilian was forced to apologise; that still does not answer the question of who will take a spot kick if PSG are awarded one, and of exactly how well the warring forward pair combine if selected together.There is also the question of how PSG stand up against more vaunted opposition after routing Celtic on Matchday one. Bayern tripped up against Wolfsburg on Friday but remain a genuine Champions League contender under Carlo Ancelotti; PSG have had more than one false dawn at this level before and the scars of last season’s defeat to Barcelona still run deep, but if Neymar et al can dispose of a big gun early in the competition, the signs for what lies ahead will be promising.

 2004 winners in early Group G shoot-out

Porto could not have expected a 3-1 home defeat to Besiktas on Matchday one and failure to pick up a positive result at Monaco will leave them floundering in an open-looking Group G. Tuesday’s fixture is worth savouring for the fact that their only previous meeting, in 2004, came in the final, with Porto famously winning 3-0. A similar outcome would go down exceptionally well in Portugal but Monaco have (barring an aberration in Nice) made light of their slew of big-name summer departures so far this season and sit only a point behind PSG in Ligue 1. Radamel Falcao has scored four times in their last two games, and a remarkable 11 across just seven league outings in total.Porto are doing even better domestically, with seven wins from seven games; it feels like a potentially decisive clash for the group, even at this early stage, with Besiktas and RB Leipzig (who face each other in Istanbul) both sure to keep pushing strongly. A defeat at this stage could prove very costly for two of the competition’s traditional dark horses.Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.

 

9/22  Indy 11 Game vs PR Postponed, Pulisic Hot prepares for Champ League vs Real Madrid Tues, US Ladies Win in Cincy, CHS Boys host Pack the House Fri Night Sept 29.  

The Indy 11 game with Puerto Rico scheduled for this Saturday at the Mike has been moved to Oct 3 – Wed night at 7:30 pm at the Mike.  Our best wishes to all those with family in PR!  The US ladies blew out New Zealand at home on Tuesday night in front of a packed house in Cincinnati. Those friends who went says it was a great atmostphere for soccer and US dominated !

Champions League enters match-day two on Tuesday/Wed this week as US budding star Christian Pulisic (fresh off a 1 goal, 1 assist and overall best player of the match performance last weekend) will return home to host defending Champs Real Madrid and Christiano Renaldo on Fox Sports 1 Tuesday at 2:45 pm.   Other big games include Paris SG hosting Bayern Munich on Wed, along with CSKA Moscow hosting Man U and Chelsea traveling to Atletico Madrid all at 2:45 pm on Wed.

Got a chance to watch the Top 3 ranked CHS girls host #5 Noblesville last week and boy did the Lady Hounds look good in a dominating 2-1 win that wasn’t as close at the score indicates.  Looking for big things come State Tourney time (lots of Carmel FC and former Carmel FC girls on both the JV and varsity rosters).

The Carmel High School boys will host “Pack the House” Night on Fri, Sept 29th at Murray Stadium. 5 pm JV, 7 pm Varsity start.

See all the Stories online at  www.theoleballcoach.com

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Bayern need Result at PSG to boost Morale – EPSNFC

Man U’s Fellaini set to Miss CSKA Moscow Trip

Tottenham in Good Shape for APOEL Trip

100 Million Dollar Signings Not in Bayern’s Plans – ESPNFC

 

US

US Ladies beat New Zealand 5-0 in Cincy with Packed House

Christian Pulisic is best player on Field – 1 goal, 1 assist for Dortmund over Hamburg

Dortmund Coach thinks Pulisic should be Golden Boy for Year

US U17 Star Forward Josh Sargent signs with Werder Bremen – SI Avi Creditor

US Danny Williams out Injured for Huddersfield

US U17 WC Team Announced – Sargent + Carlton headline Squad

Eric Wynalda for US Soccer President?  – NBCSN

EPL

EPL Expect Facebook and Amazon to Bid for TV Rights

Liverpool vs Leicester – big game Sat

 

WORLD

Real Madrid Fails to Score for 1st time in almost 2 yrs

Poor Start for Madradistas in La Liga

Athletico agree on deal to Sign Diego Costa from Chelsea

Neymar demands PSG sell Cavani after Free Kick Spat

Chicharito launches Relief Fund for Mexican Earth Quake Victims SI

Power Rankings – Barca, PSG, Man City, Man U, Bayern

 

MLS

Heartbreaking loss for NYRB in US Open Cup Final

Sporting KC uses Homefield advantange to win 3rd Open Cup in 6 years – ESPNFC

Predicting the Weekend Games

Are Atlanta United becoming America’s Team?  – MLS.com

Atlanta United are Most Fun Team in America Deadspin

Atlanta Expansion Success proving the Naysayers Wrong – jonah Freedman

Barron Trump Playing for DC United u12 Team – Really – he’s a Midfielder

Champions League

Check out The Ole Ballcoach online www.theoleballcoach.com Monday/Tues for updates

Juggling Champions League and EPL a Big Test for EPL top Teams

Atletico Madrid to host 2019 Champions League Final

EUFA and UCL agreement to keep UCL games unopposed is Reached Finally

GOALIES

2 of highest paid Italian Players are Goalies

MLS Save of the Week

Top Saves Week 5 EPL

Indy 11  + NASL

NASL Hits US Soccer with Anti-Trust Suit over D2 status Revoking

FC Edmonton over Indy 11  2-0 video

GAMES ON TV 

Sat, Sept 23

10 am NBCSN                   Stoke City (Cameron) vs Chelsea?

12:30 NBC                          Leicester City vs Liverpool

12:30 Fox Sports 2        Dortmund (Pulisic) vs M’Gladbach (Johnson)

7:30 pm My Indy TV Indy 11 vs Puerto Rico POSTPONED to OCT 4th Wed

Sun, Sept 24

11 am NBCSN                   Brighton Hove Albion vs Newcastle (Yedlin)

12 pm Fox Sport 2        Bayer Leverkusen vs Hamburger (Bobby Wood)

8 pm  Fox Sport1           Portland Timbers (Nagbe) vs Orlando City

Mon, Sept 25

3 pm NBCSN                      Arsenal vs West Brom

Tues, Sept 26 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1  Dortmund (US Pulisic) v Madrid

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2    Spartak Moskav vs Liverpool

2:45 pm Fox Sport Ind?                  Man City vs Shakhtar

2:45 pm ESPN3                APOEL vs Tottenham

Weds, Sept 27

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2   Paris SG  v Bayern Munich

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1    CSKA Moscow vs Man U

2:45 pm Fox Ind?          Sporting CP vs Barcelona

2:45 pm ESPN3/D, FS+                    Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea

2:45 pm ESPN3                Juve vs Olympiakos

Thurs, Sept 28

1 pm Fox Sport 2           Bate vs Arsenal

3 pm fox Sport 1            Everton vs Apollon

Fri, Sept 29

3 pm beIN Sport             Monaco vs Montpellier

Sat, Sept 30

7:30 am NBCSN               Huddersfield Town vs Tottenham

10 am NBCSN                   Man United vs Crystal Palace?

9:30 am FS1                      Ausburg vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

9:30 am FS2                       B M’Gladbach (Johnson) vs Hannover 96

11 am beIN Sport          PSG vs Bordeaux

12:30 NBC                          Chelseas vs Man City

Sun, Oct 1

7 am NBCSN                      Arsenal vs Brighton Hove Albion

9:30 am Fox Sport 1    Hertha vs Bayern Munich

10 am beIN Sport          Barcelona vs Las Palmas

11 am NBCSN                   Newcastle United (Yedlin) vs Liverpool

12 noon beIn Sport     Milan vs Roma

1 pm  Fox Sport1           Philly Union (Bedoya) vs Seattle Sounders (Dempsey)

Thurs, Oct 3                      World Cup Qualifying FINAL ROUNDS?

12 pm FS2                           England vs Slovenia

Fri, Oct 6                             World Cup Qualifying

12 pm ESPN 2 USA vs Panama  

 

US U17 World Cup Games on TV Fox Sports 2

Oct 6 Fri 10:30 am  FS2         US U17 vs India

Oct 9 Mon 7:30 am  FS2        US U17 vs Ghana

Oct 12 Thurs 10:30 am  FS2                 US U17 vs Columbia

 7 pm  Wed Oct 18 – Butler Men Host Indiana University

Full MLS Schedule

Indy 11 TV Schedule

EPL 2017 Schedule

 

ee all the Stories online at  www.theoleballcoach.com

 Alex Morgan scores twice as U.S. women’s national team beats New Zealand

APPublished 10:02 p.m. ET Sept. 19, 2017 | Updated 11:56 p.m. ET Sept. 19, 2017 (Photo: Aaron Doster, USA TODAY Sports)

CINCINNATI (AP) — Alex Morgan scored twice and the U.S. women’s national team concluded a two-game series against New Zealand with a 5-0 victory at Nippert Stadium on Tuesday night.The Americans improved to 9-3-0 this year. There are four more games left on the team’s 2017 schedule.The U.S. defeated the Ferns 3-1 in the first game last Friday night in Commerce City, Colorado. Julie Ertz led the way with two goals.Lindsey Horan got the Americans off to a nice start in the rematch, scoring on a header in the 36th minute after coming in for Rose Lavelle. Mallory Pugh made it 2-0 in the 44th minute. Pugh also finished with two assists.Lavelle, who is from Cincinnati, played the shortened shift for the hometown crowd as she continues to come back from injury. Morgan scored her first goal within the first minute of the second half. Lynne Williams added her third career national team goal before Morgan struck again in the 69th minute. It was her 77th international goal.The U.S. also got midfielder Tobin Heath back from a back injury. She came in as a late sub for her first action with the national team since March.

USA Youth Prospect Josh Sargent, 17, Signs with Werder Bremen

AVI CREDITORWednesday September 20th, 2017

Another U.S. men’s national team prospect is headed to Germany.U.S. youth national team forward Josh Sargent will sign with Werder Bremen, the Bundesliga club announced on Wednesday. The 17-year-old Sargent opened eyes at the U-20 World Cup this year with four goals and an assist, and he will lead the USA U-17s at the U-17 World Cup next month. The Missouri native can officially sign with Werder Bremen once he turns 18 in February.“We have been keeping tabs on Joshua for a long time and so it isn’t a great surprise to us that his brilliant performances have attracted attention on an international scale. Therefore we are extremely happy that despite the numerous offers from other top clubs in Europe, he was convinced by our philosophy at SV Werder and that we can now oversee his development as a player and support him along the way. He has a great understanding of the game and he is one of the most promising talents of his age in the world,” Tim Steidten, Werder Bremen’s head of scouting, said in a club statement. Sargent’s path to the first team appears to be set, with Steidten saying that he’ll join the first team next summer.”Josh will have time to adapt to the club and the city and at the start, he will train with the U-23s. Then from next summer, he will become a proper part of the squad,” Steidten said.Sargent, who previously trained with PSV Eindhoven and Schalke, reportedly chose Werder Bremen over the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, according to ESPN’s Taylor Twellman, who came through the same St. Louis Scott Gallagher Development Academy club program as Sargent.In Germany, Sargent will join the likes of Christian Pulisic (Dortmund), Weston McKennie, Haji Wright and Nick Taitague (Schalke) as U.S. teens with Bundesliga clubs. At Werder Bremen, Sargent will team with U.S. international forward Aron Johannsson. Werder Bremen nearly had another U.S. forward, with Jordan Morris going on trial with the club in January 2016 before ultimately signing with the Seattle Sounders.

FROM WONDER BOY TO GOLDEN BOY – BOSZ TIPS PULISIC FOR AWARD

13:43 SHARE 0 COMMENTS

The American international is up for the award for the best young player in Europe and his Dortmund manager thinks he should be the winner

A few weeks ago Alexi Lalas mockingly dubbed Christian Pulisic “Wonder Boy.” But if Borussia Dortmund manager Peter Bosz had his way, the teenager would instead be the next “Golden Boy.”The U.S. international has enjoyed a meteoric rise since breaking into the Dortmund first team in the second half of the 2015-16 campaign.

The teenager was a frequent starter under previous manager Thomas Tuchel, but has only seen his role grow under Bosz, having started four of Dortmund’s five Bundesliga matches, along with their lone DFB Pokal and Champions League contests this season.

His performances have earned Pulisic a spot on the 25-man shortlist for Tuttosport’s Golden Boy award, which is given to European club football’s most impressive youngster under 21.And though Pulisic is not considered a favorite for the award, Bosz thinks he should win it over the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Pulisic’s former teammate Ousmane Dembele.  “He has to win the title,” Bosz said at a media conference ahead of Dortmund’s match against Borussia Monchengladbach.  Bosz added he believes the talented American has all the tools, mental and physical, to have a great career in the game.”He’s a very good player. Christian has been a great talent for years,” Bosz said.”He shows me every week — he’s very fast, technically strong and he has great mentality, which is important.”He wants to get better and better, and he has a very great future.”

Pulisic, who turned 19 on Monday, has rewarded Bosz’s faith this season with three goals and an assist in all competitions, while bagging the club’s 3,000th Bundesliga goal in Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Hamburg.

USMNT’s Danny Williams out injured for Huddersfield

By Joe Prince-WrightSep 22, 2017, 9:56 AM EDT

Potentially bad news has arrived  for Danny Williams as the U.S. national team midfielder has suffered an injury at the worst possible time.[ MORE: JPW sits down with Williams ]Williams, 28, has suffered a “small fracture” to a bone in his foot and will not play for Huddersfield at Burnley on SaturdayUPDATE: Pro Soccer Talk understands Williams’ injury will keep him out of action for about 2-3 weeks.Speaking to reporters ahead of the trip to Turf Moor, Wagner gave some more information on Williams’ injury.

“Danny Williams has a small fracture in a bone in his foot. We have specialists appointment tomorrow[Friday] where we will get some information on how long he will be out,” Wagner said. “At the moment it is totally open because it is a very, very small fracture. So we will see. For sure he is out for Saturday.”

So, it doesn’t seem like a long-term injury but after Williams battled to start his first-ever start in the Premier League against Leicester City last week in a 1-1 draw, this knock has come at a very frustrating time for the German-American midfielder as he established himself at his new club.illiams has battled hard to get into Huddersfield’s starting lineup after his free transfer from Reading over the summer.Some USMNT fans were also calling for Williams to get a recall from Bruce Arena ahead of the U.S. national teams crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago next month.The combative midfielder now faces an anxious wait about the severity of his injury.

Sargent, Carleton headline U.S. Under-17 World Cup squad

By Daniel KarellSep 21, 2017, 4:06 PM EDT

Josh Sargent has decided his professional future lies in Germany. But first, he’ll be going next month to India with 20 other teammates.Sargent headlines head coach John Hackworth’s 21-man U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team squad for the 2017 U-17 World Cup in India. The World Cup takes place from October 6-28.Joining Sargent are Atlanta United prospects Andrew Carleton, Chris Goslin and Justin Garces as well as New York City FC Homegrown signing James Sands, who recently made his first team debut.The squad also features a handful of players based abroad, including Philadelphia, Penn. native Carlos Joaquim Dos Santos of Benfica, Ajax’s Sergino Dest and New York native Timothy Weah, who currently plays with Paris Saint-Germain.

The U.S. was drawn in Group A with host India, Colombia and Ghana. The U.S. U-17s begin the tournament in the opening game on October 6 against India, before facing Ghana on October 9 and Colombia on October 12.In the press release, U.S. Soccer said that all U.S. U-17 games will be broadcast live on FS2 and UNIVERSO.Here’s a look at the U.S. U-17 World Cup squad.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Alex Budnik (Sockers FC; Arlington Heights, Ill.), Carlos Joaquim Dos Santos (S.L. Benfica; Philadelphia, Penn.), Justin Garces (Atlanta United FC; Miami, Fla.)

DEFENDERS (6): Sergiño Dest (Ajax; Almere-stad, Netherlands), Christopher Gloster (New York Red Bulls; Montclair, N.J.), Jaylin Lindsey (Sporting Kansas City; Charlotte, N.C.), James Sands (New York City FC; Rye, N.Y.), Tyler Shaver (New York City FC; Greenwich, Conn.), Akil Watts (Portland Timbers, Fort Wayne, Ind.)

MIDFIELDERS (6): George Acosta (North Carolina FC; Hollywood, Fla.), Taylor Booth (Real Salt Lake; Eden, Utah), Christopher Durkin (D.C. United; Glen Allen, Va.), Blaine Ferri (Solar Soccer Club; Southlake, Texas), Chris Goslin (Atlanta United FC; Locust Grove, Ga.), Indiana Vassilev (Unattached; Savannah, Ga.)

FORWARDS (6): Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC; Brampton Ont.), Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United FC; Powder Springs, Ga.), Jacobo Reyes (C.F. Monterrey; Houston, Texas), Bryan Reynolds (FC Dallas; Little Elm, Texas), Joshua Sargent (St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri; O’Fallon, Mo.), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain F.C., Rosedale, N.Y.)

US U17 World Cup Games on TV Fox Sports 2

Oct 6 Fri 10:30 am  FS2         US U17 vs India

Oct 9 Mon 7:30 am  FS2        US U17 vs Ghana

Oct 12 Thurs 10:30 am  FS2                 US U17 vs Columbia

 

Eric Wynalda for US Soccer president?

By Joe Prince-WrightSep 22, 2017, 12:00 PM EDT

“President Eric Wynalda” has a ring to it, right?It isn’t clear if the current Fox Soccer analyst, coach and Hall of Fame former U.S. national team striker will challenge 11-year incumbent Sunil Gulati for the title as U.S. Soccer President in an upcoming vote in February 2018 but it certainly seems like the 48-year-old is thinking about it.Boston-based attorney Steve Gans has said he will challenge Gulati for the position as the leading man in U.S. soccer’s governing body, while a New Englanders John Motta and Paul Lapointe are both said to be considering a bid to challenge the previously unchallenged Gulati.In an interview with the Guardian former USMNT forward Wynalda had this to say about his intentions to change things at the top of the USSF.

“I’ve stood back for two decades waiting for things to get better,” Wynalda says. “What I’ve realized is that there is not a whole lot of people who are willing or even wanting to invoke change. Out of moral obligation, I think I’m finally at the point where I’m asking, ‘What can I do to help?’ I don’t want to tweet something or write an article or start a fight. I want to roll up my sleeves.”

Wynalda also had some pretty scathing words about Gulati who he says has an “agenda is to stay in power and that is it.”

I don’t think it is healthy [to have someone in charge for 11 years] unless there is a clear vision or a plan,” Wynalda says. “Right now, it is just one guy who not only professes to be the smartest guy in the room and has an answer for every single question you throw at him but he has an agenda and that is why there is a lot of people saying enough is enough. His agenda is to stay in power and that is it.”Would Wynalda get your vote?Following the Jurgen Klinsmann debacle and a bad spell for Bruce Arena which has the USMNT struggling to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, plenty of supporters of the game in the U.S. believe changes to the way the game is governed at the top may bring about positive change.February is a long way away but it’s not too far-fetched to say that if the U.S. do not qualify for the World Cup in Russia then Gulati will have opponents lining up to try and replace him as the main decision maker.

Atlanta United Are The Most Fun Team In America

Photo: Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Even the most serious soccer fans, if you press them, will admit it: When you go to games, you want to see goals. You want buckets of them—absurd, joyful numbers of them—because, honestly, there’s not much to celebrate otherwise.Well, Atlanta United have been giving its new fanbase exactly what it wants. Three- and four-goal games weren’t especially rare for the team earlier this year, but now that it’s taken up official residency in Megatron’s Butthole and putting up attendance figures as high as 70,000, balls are flying in at a rate almost beyond comprehension. The scorelines in the new digs? 3-0, 7-0, 3-3, and tonight, 4-0 against the LA Galaxy.Atlanta’s an expansion team. They shouldn’t even be winning, let alone scoring. But with an offensive assault squad led by Josef Martinez—and his eight goals in the last four games—the goals won’t stop coming (though they’ve been aided by a few opposing-team red cards as well). For the thousands coming to check out the new stadium, these matches have just been dreamy. all its many, many faults, MLS is the best men’s soccer we’ve got here in States. If the teams here can play entertaining games in front of strong crowds, that’s still pretty cool. With this run they’re on, Atlanta is becoming America’s team.

 

Freedman: Atlanta’s expansion success is proving naysayers were all wrong

September 21, 20177:27PM EDTJonah Freedman

The largest crowd ever for an MLS match. A per-game attendance mark that will soon smash the league record. An entire town swathed in red and black – not for the local NFL team, but for the new soccer club – and a near-ubiquitous crest on shirts, flags, bumper stickers and signs all over town.Soccerheads around Atlanta will tell you they thought all along that an MLS team would be successful in the ninth-largest market in America. But not even they expected the magnitude with which Atlanta United have knocked the conventional thinking on its but.“This has surpassed my expectations by far,” says Atlanta native Walker Zimmerman, whose FC Dallas became the first-ever visiting team at Mercedes-Benz Stadium earlier this month. “I think it’s already one of the best fan bases in MLS.So less than a week removed from a crowd of 70,425 and a continuing average draw of nearly 48,000 per home game (more than any NBA, NHL or MLB team), let’s ask the question that’s on everyone’s minds: How on earth did we all miss the signs that Atlanta United could be this much of a smash hit in a place that some questioned as being deserving of an expansion team in the first place?The simple answer is that there is no one answer. There are only theories. But piece them together and you’ve got a fun look at how the league hit a home run in the ATL.

Theory 1: It’s an exciting team any city can get behind

This is the easiest one to explain.Every new club in MLS has done well at the gates in its first year (even Chivas USA!), so an initial pop in interest was to be expected. The 55,297 in attendance at Atlanta United’s first home match at Bobby Dodd Stadium back in March wasn’t a huge surprise, especially given that Atlanta had seen crowds of that size and bigger at several international friendlies at the Georgia Dome over the past eight years.But this is where the club deserves huge credit for its unique roster-building strategy. Yes, it’s deep-pocketed thanks to billionaire owner Arthur Blank. But the technical staff didn’t follow the common expansion blueprint of stocking the squad with recycled MLS veterans and aging, big-name Designated Players to fill the seats. Instead, they aggressively pursued young, in-demand talent from South America to build out a lethal attack alongside domestically cultivated players.The result: the universal language of goals. Josef MartínezMiguel AlmirónYamil Asad and Héctor Villalba (above) have, between them, 43 goals and 41 assists – both figures that are the best of any quartet in MLS. Meanwhile, the Five Stripes are second in the league in goals per game and have scored four or more on six occasions – including last week’s 7-0 beatdown of New England and, on Wednesday night, a 4-0 embarrassment of the five-time MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy.Whether you’re new to the game or a longtime fan, Atlanta’s aggressive style of play is a thing to behold, and it’s not hard to get excited when you’re fully confident your team has the ability to deposit a half-dozen goals in any given game. They’re also competitive in the standings, and look like a lock to become just the third team in MLS’s expansion era to qualify for the playoffs in their first season. There’s excitement and buzz about this team.“Frankly,” says Atlanta Journal-Constitution soccer writer Doug Roberson, “it’s hard to figure out one misstep the team has made.”

Theory 2: The Blank effect is in full effect

The day Atlanta was officially announced as an MLS expansion city in 2014, mayor Kasim Reed joked, “When Atlanta needs help, the red phone in the mayor’s office goes to Arthur Blank.” It wasn’t a joke.MLS clubs have all manners of ownership structures, from single owners to consortiums to fully corporate entities, and everything in between. Atlanta United has one owner: Blank. His name carries weight in Atlanta in a way that demands respect. Blank, of course, made his fortune as co-founder of the Home Depot and endeared himself to Atlanta by putting his money where his mouth is, whether it’s investing in the community or through philanthropic efforts.When he purchased the Falcons in 2001, he transformed a regular doormat of an NFL team that had never even experienced back-to-back winning seasons into a perennial contender – and even when they weren’t making the playoffs, they still generated a sense of local pride that had eluded the team throughout most of its history.“Blank made [the Falcons] competitive,” explains local soccer personality Jason Longshore, who wrote this passionate essay about United’s first game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “He stressed he would put a good product on the field. No one would question that would be the exact approach he’d bring to a soccer team. If it wasn’t Arthur Blank, it wouldn’t have worked.”No, Blank isn’t a soccer guy. Like many MLS owners, he talks about how his kids play and that’s what got him excited. But as the sole owner of Atlanta United, the buck stops with him. And instead of making the mistake of trying to run a soccer club like his NFL property, he surrounded himself with smart soccer people to build the club the right way, like former Tottenham Hotspur exec Darren Eales as president, former US national team captain Carlos Bocanegra as technical director and former Orlando City exec Paul McDonough as director of soccer operations. And they in turn landed perhaps the biggest coup in former Argentina manager Tata Martino as Atlanta’s first head coach.That braintrust has created the latest reason for Blank to be universally beloved in his city. And even if his teams don’t hit at a 100 percent success rate, they don’t call him “Uncle Arthur” for nothing.

Theory 3: This is a new team for a new Atlanta

Most major cities in the United States and Canada are undergoing urban renaissances, with widespread gentrification and massive increases in real estate value bringing millennials (and their young families) into the the core of cities. MLS teams are trying to take advantage of this trend, which is why they concentrate new stadium projects on downtown sites. Atlanta is no different, which is a huge reason why the league chose it as an expansion city.But Atlanta is somewhat distinct in that it continues to be a city of transplants. According to census data, 37 percent of Metro Atlanta residents are from outside Georgia, and there is evidence that suggests Metro Atlanta is a top destination for relocation thanks to the relatively cheaper cost of living and the presence of 16 Fortune 500 companies.Local entrepreneur and United season ticket holder Michael Tavani theorizes that with so many transplants, it’s harder to find huge pockets of support for Atlanta’s teams. United is the first major-league team to set up shop in the area in 20 years (the last one, the NHL’s Thrashers, left town in 2011). And for the latest wave of transplants, United represents a chance to be part of something that isn’t just new, it’s uniquely theirs.“When people move here, they bring their old teams,” Tavani says. “When you go to Hawks games, it’s crazy how many jerseys you see for the other team. But MLS is young and most fans don’t carry the legacy of another team. With soccer, it’s a bit of a blank slate. This is the first team in Atlanta where people can rally behind it and we all feel like we joined at the same time.”

Theory 4: This is the perfect storm of things going right

ven if all three of the above theories hold water, it’s entirely possible that they couldn’t stand on their own.Sometimes, success is all about timing. If the Braves hadn’t moved out of downtown Atlanta to their new stadium in suburban Cobb County starting this year, would fans have chosen baseball over soccer?If United don’t score 10 goals in two games early in the season – including a nationally televised spectacle of a 6-1 smashing at fellow MLS debutants Minnesota United in a whiteout blizzard – would the excitement have been just a little less?If the ball takes a few different bounces and United finish 2017 as an entertaining, but non playoff-bound team, does that soften the buzz a tiny bit?It’s hard to say. There is absolutely a feeling that the planets have aligned for Atlanta United in their first season. The bigger challenge is yet to come. As Roberson says, “It’s only Year 1. Let’s see what happens if things change.”But for the time being, they are the “IT” thing in the ATL. And they’re making a lot of us eat crow.Jonah Freedman is a long-time soccer journalist and the first managing editor at MLSsoccer.com. A former senior editor at SI.com, he has also managed content for other brands, including StubHub and Under Armour.

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

 

Proud Member of the Brick Yard Battalion – http://www.brickyardbattalion.com , Sam’s Army- http://www.sams-army.com , American Outlaws  http://www.facebook.com/IndyAOUnite

9/15 US Ladies vs NZ Tues in Cincy, Champ League Day 1 results, CHS Girls top 5 matchup Mon

So interesting Match Day 1 games in Champions League this week as Dortmund get blown out at Tottenham 3-1 and Liverpool and Sevilla tie 2-2 at Anfield and Barcelona pounded an injury plagued Juventus at home 3-0.  Everyone else who was supposed to win did including Man U, Chelsea and Man City.  Games return Sept 26/27 Match-Day 2.  Those of you new to my blog – Champions League is a yearly tournament where the top Club teams in Europe playoff to determine the European (read really the World Club Champion – since the best teams in the world are in Europes big 5 leagues).  But it includes teams from Italy, Spain, Germany, England, France, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Ireland – heck every league in Europe gets at least 1 team (some 3 or 4) that can play their way into the Group Stages.  Which is where we stand now.  Group Stages games will play on thru mid Feb – when we break into the Sweet 16 and things get really interesting.  Most of the games are on Fox Sports 1, 2, Fox Indiana (local) and some ESPN3.  Results shows run on FS1, FS2 and Fox Soccer on the nights after the games and those are good to tape to keep up with all the action.  These are the best players and best club teams in the world – Champions League Soccer is Really the Best.

Interesting follow up stories below on the US and qualifying for the World Cup in our huge last 2 matches for World Cup qualification in the first weekend of October.  Sad the US is coming down to the wire on this – but that’s where we are right now.  Remember our best World Cup Result in recent times was 2002 when Bruce was coach and it took a last minute goal to secure qualification on the last day of qualifying at Trinidad and Tabago.  So just because we struggle to qualify doesn’t mean we are going to get pounded in Russia – still you would like to think we are past that stage  with Tickets to the World Cup having just gone on sale worldwide.  Speaking of US soccer – the Ladies Team will be in Cincinatti this Tuesday night for a 7:30 pm matchup vs New Zealand.  Probably the closest a US National Team has ever played here.  I think the game is close to sold out – but tix are still available as low as $25.  The game is on Fox Sports 1 -7:30 pm kickoff!

This weekend – some big games in the EPL with Chelsea hosting Arsenal at 8:30 am Sun on NBCSN, followed by Man U vs Everton on NBCSN at 10 am.  Dortmund and US stud Christian Pulisic looks to recover from the 3-1 beatdown vs Tottenham by  hosting Koln Sunday at noon on FS2, while the Indy 11 travel to Edmonton in a game on ESPN3 at 4 pm.  Interesting story on NASL’s attempt to scramble and stay in D2. I am still not sure – that Indy fans wouldn’t be better served to move to USL and set up rivalry games with Louisville, Cincy, Nashville and St. Louis but I certainly don’t profess to know what that would mean in regards to salary caps and front office adjustments regarding which players we could keep.  Just a thought.

cfc kids@CHSGirls
Carmel FC teams at Youth Soccer Night for CHS Girls Game this past week.

Carmel High School Girls host a top 5 matchup On Mon Night, September 18th as the #5 CHS Girl’s teams play #3 Noblesville. Cost just $5 for entry to both the 5 pm JV and 7 pm Varsity game at Murray Stadium at CHS.

 Also Carmel FC Goalies – Training Times at Shelboure are officially moved up Tues/Thurs 5:30 till 6:30 pm (U11-U12), 6:30 till 7:30 U13+.

 GAMES ON TV 

Fri, Sept 15

2:30 pm Fox Sport 2                        Hannover vs Hamburger (Bobby Woods)

3 pm NBCSN                   AFC Bournemouth vs Brighton

Sat, Sept 16

9:30 am Fox Sport1   Bayern Munich vs Mainz

10 am NBCSN                Watford vs Man City

12:30 pm NBC              Tottenham vs Swansea

Sun, Sept 17

8:30 am NBCSN   Chelsea vs Arsenal 

9:30 am FS1                    Beyern Leverkusen vs Freiburg

11 am NBCSN                Man U vs Everton  

12noon  FS2                   Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Koln

1 pm ESPN                                               NY Red Bulls vs Philly Union (Bedoya)

4 pm my Indy TV    Edmonton vs Indy 11

Tues, Sept 19

2:45 pm ESPN3             Leicester City vs Liverpool (League Cup)

7:30 pm Fox Sport 1  USA Ladies team vs New Zealand (at Cincy tix Avail)

Sat, Sept 23

10 am NBCSN                   Stoke City (Cameron) vs Chelsea?

12:30 NBC                          Leicester City vs Liverpool

12:30 Fox Sports 2        Dortmund (Pulisic) vs M’Gladbach (Johnson)

7:30 pm My Indy TV Indy 11 vs Puerto Rico

Sun, Sept 24

11 am NBCSN                   Brighton Hove Albion vs Newcastle (Yedlin)

8 pm  Fox Sport1           Portland Timbers (Nagbe) vs Orlando City

12 pm Fox Sport 2        Bayer Leverkusen vs Hamburger (Bobby Wood)

Tues, Sept 26 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1  Dortmund (Pulisic) v Madrid
Weds, Sept 76

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1   Paris SG  v Bayern

 

USA – WC 

Lalas Calls out US Team   ESPNFC

Alexi Lalas Calls out US Team – hear his Tirade

Michael Bradley unfazed by Lalas Callout

Yes the US Missing the World Cup would Be Awful for US Soccer – Matt Doyle MLS.com

US World Cup Qualifying Scenarios – the Point in Honduras was Huge – Avi Creditor  SI.com

The Truth About US’s Struggling in the Hex – Brian Straus SI

Coaching Does Make a Difference Arena – Warshaw – MLS.com

The only Thing that can Stop a 2026 WC in USA is a Trump Dump Tweet

World Cup Cities for 2026 US Bid

The American Outlaws Are Here to Stay

World Cup 2018 Russia – Ticket Applications Have Begun

 Champions League

MAtchday 1 Wrap – SI

 

Indy 11

Indy 11 Wins Late in Thriller vs NC FC

Indy 11 Finds a Way to Win – Indy Star Kevin Johnson

Indy 11 match at Jacksonville Rescheduled for Wed Sept 27th

NASL Last Gasp Effort to Save D2 Status

 

College Soccer

Carmel’s Cam Lindley a former Guerin High Star scores Wondergoal for North Carolina vs Pitt.  

7 pm  Wed Oct 18 – Butler Men Host #1 Ranked Indiana University 

See updated Game Summary’s at the Ole Ballcoach online www.theoleballcoach.com

 Armchair Analyst: Yes, missing the World Cup would be awful for US soccer

September 7, 20172:46PM EDTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer

“Would it be good, in the long term, for the US to miss the 2018 World Cup?” is a question that – to my astonishment – has gained a certain amount of traction on social media in the days following a pair of disappointingly-played qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras.It is a dumb question because it has such an easy answer: No. No, of course it would not be good for the US to miss the World Cup. It would be borderline catastrophic to the growth of and interest in the sport in this country, it would be an embarrassment for the men’s national team, and it wouldn’t fix any of the problems that persist with the sport we love in this country(*). (*)Ask our Canadian friends how much it “helps” to miss out on the World Cup, you ninnies.

The genesis of this spasm of nihilistic ideation is that by missing next summer’s big dance in Russia, US Soccer would be better able to confront the problems at all levels that are holding the USMNT back, and as a result we’d see the Yanks turn into a superteam that would regularly contend for, presumably, the World Cup title. Or at least make regular runs to the semifinals. Failure ipso facto begets greater future success.All of that is built upon a faulty assumption and a counterfactual.The faulty assumption: Somehow it’s easy to go from a team that consistently makes the knockout rounds of the the World Cup to a team that competes semi-regularly as one of the 10 best in the world. In the modern history of the game, only the Netherlands has really made that jump and stuck the landing across more than a single generation.The counterfactual: That the USMNT has not grown in quality over the past 30 years. As someone who can remember the 1980s and the 1990s, this astounds me. Here is the journey of the USMNT since then:

In the 1980s, the US were a true minnow. They were eliminated in the semifinals of the 1982 and 1986 World Cup qualifying cycles and won no regional tournaments. The whole futile exercise was redeemed, finally, by Paul Caligiuri’s still-the-most-important-goal-in-US-soccer-history in 1989.That goal, by the way, helped the US make the World Cup, not miss it.

In the 1990s, the US rose to the level of “can consistently make the World Cup.” We all remember 1994 fondly, and the 1995 run to the Copa America semifinals. But the US still finished last or next-to-last in two of their three World Cup appearances, and mostly got housed by Mexico (who won three of the first four Gold Cups) in regional play.Then, in 1999, there was a ray of hope as a bunch of mostly US B-teamers went down to Mexico for the 1999 Confederations Cup and finished in third place, beating Germany 2-0 along the way. Things started looking up.

In the 2000s, the US became a team that could be a threat to anyone on the day. They made it to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup and lost in the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup. They dominated the 2006 and 2010 Hexagonals, winning both. They won three out of six Gold Cups (Mexico won two, and Canada (!!!) won one).There were still disappointments in the middle of the decade. The 2006 World Cup was a gut-punch (despite being the only team to take points off of Italy, which shows how much the US underachieved that summer), and the 2007 Copa America was, with a B-team, an opportunity wasted.But just as the 1990s were better than the 1980s, so too were the 2000s better than the 1990s.

In the 2010s thus far, the US have become a team that always gets out of its group. They did so in dramatic fashion in 2010, and in less dramatic fashion in 2014. Then they exited in excruciating fashion both times, which leads to understandable disappointment. Still, the US are now staring at a quarter-century of consistent improvement that leaves them in pretty good company:

 

People who say USMNT isn’t top 20 amuse me. Two straight World Cup Rd of 16, 3 of 4 & 4 of 6. How many countries in the world match that?

 

@MLSAnalyst 9 countries have made 4 of last 6 WC KO rounds (incl. U.S.). 8 have made 3 of last 4 (incl. U.S.).

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The US also won a third straight Hexagonal in 2013, made it to the semifinals of the 2016 Copa America, and have won two of four Gold Cups (Mexico took the other two).While this has been happening at the senior level, US U-20 team has pulled itself out of an eight-year funk. They’ve now made it to the World Cup quarterfinals twice in a row, and already there are players from both cohorts – Christian Pulisic, Kellyn AcostaPaul Arriola, hopefully Matt Miazga and Weston McKennie soon enough – playing crucial roles for the US.

But suddenly, because the US have struggled and been uninspiring during this Hexagonal, there is a loud contingent of folks on social media who think it would be best for this team to fail to make it to Russia. Because somehow it would be better for the US as a whole if there was no surge of interest around the program, creating a new generation of fans and a new generation of youth players; because somehow it would be better for the US as a whole if the past decade’s investment in youth development (four of the five guys mentioned in the previous paragraph come from MLS academies, and Pulisic’s is a MLS-affiliated academy) didn’t start to show tangible results on the world stage; because somehow it would be better for the US as a whole if Pulisic and Acosta and Bobby Wood etc. etc. were denied a chance to test themselves under the brightest spotlight the sport can offer.We know there are structural inefficiencies in US soccer that making the World Cup and doing well won’t automatically fix. There need to be more free-to-play academies, and better talent ID in underserved communities, and better Latino outreach and inner-city outreach and rural outreach, and (especially) better coaching at the youth level. Again: Making the World Cup doesn’t fix all of that, but over the last 20 years it sure as hell has seemed to help at least a bit.

We also know that improvement tends to be incremental and non-linear. That’s not just soccer, that’s life.What would missing the World Cup do? How would it help in any of the above areas? I’ve yet to see someone make a coherent argument, one that doesn’t involve some warlock waving a magic wand and the US – *poof* – having the equivalent of Brazil or Spain or Germany’s youth development structure.And even if that was the case… we get to watch Pulisic for maaaaybe four World Cups, if we’re lucky. Are you willing to punt on one of them for a theory? Do you so desperately need to be right on Twitter?”In need of improvement” is not the same as “irreparably broken,” and if the US system was irreparably broken, we wouldn’t have had the last 30 years. There wouldn’t be wins over Argentina and Germany and Portugal and Spain. There wouldn’t be teenagers like Pulisic and McKennie, like Tyler Adams and Jonathan Gonzalez. There wouldn’t be knockout round appearances at three of the last four and four of the last six World Cups, or semifinal appearances in the Copa America, or titles in the Gold Cup. There wouldn’t be the first ever CONCACAF U-20 title this past spring. “Would it be good, in the long term, for the US to miss the 2018 World Cup?”No. It wouldn’t. There’s no need to even ask the question.

 

Ticket applications for 2018 FIFA World Cup  have Begun thru Oct 12.

September 13, 201711:50AM EDTMLSsoccer staff

Have faith that the US national team is going to be a part of the World Cup next summer? Want to be a part of history as the world’s most popular sporting event visits Russia for the first time? Then it’s about time to take action.Phase 1 of FIFA’s ticket application process will open tomorrow, Sept. 14 at 5 am ET (that’s 12 noon in Moscow). Fans who apply any time between tomorrow and Oct. 12 will have an equal chance of obtaining match tickets for the tournament. If there are any remaining tickets available that were allotted for the first phase of sales, they will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis from Nov. 16-28. Phase 2 of the sales process begins four days after the FIFA 2018 World Cup Draw on Dec. 1.  As of now, all fans who are awarded World Cup tickets will receive them in the mail free of charge beginning in April or May of 2018. Fans who have match tickets will also be exempt from applying for a Russian travel visa and will be provided with free rail transit between host cities.

Honduras Draw Changes Equation for USA’s World Cup Qualifying Scenarios

AVI CREDITORWednesday September 6th, 2017

It was only a point, but it was one point that could make all the difference in the world for the U.S. men’s national team.Bobby Wood’s 85th-minute equalizer salvaged a 1-1 draw in Honduras and kept the USA level on points with Los Catrachos after eight of the 10 matches in the CONCACAF Hexagonal have been played. Why does that matter? Well, by virtue of the USA’s 6-0 win over Honduras in March, the Americans maintain a massive goal-differential edge over the Central American nation, so staying on even ground is important considering it’s a three-team race for an automatic World Cup bid and a place in an intercontinental playoff for another. A loss could have ramped up the pressure considerably on Bruce Arena’s side, and while the pressure is still higher than anyone in a U.S. shirt would like, there is still a good likelihood of World Cup qualification. ​With games against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago remaining, the USA is still in good shape, in theory. It’ll be favored–and expected–to win against Panama on home soil and while road games are never easy in CONCACAF, Trinidad & Tobago is by far the least daunting of the five opponents in the round. Whereas the Hex started with a brutal combo of games against Mexico and at Costa Rica, it ends with a palatable duo. Simply put: If the USA, at this point, in 2017, can’t get four or six points off Panama and Trinidad & Tobago, it doesn’t deserve a trip to Russia.

CONCACAF HEX TABLE (THROUGH 8 GAMES)

NATION RECORD GOALS FOR GOALS AGAINST GOAL DIFFERENTIAL
*Mexico 5-0-3 (18 points) 11 3 +8
Costa Rica 4-1-3 (15) 12 5 +7
Panama 2-2-4 (10) 7 5 +2
USA 2-3-3 (9) 12 11 +1
Honduras 2-3-3 (9) 9 16 -7
Trinidad & Tobago 1-7-0 (3) 4 15 -11

*Top three teams qualify automatically. Fourth plays Asia’s fifth-place team in a two-legged playoff. Mexico is already through.

Here’s how the USA can punch its ticket–both with and without help:

OCTOBER 6

USA vs. Panama | Costa Rica vs. Honduras | Mexico vs. Trinidad & Tobago

The Americans cannot clinch a top-three place on this date, but it can all but cement a top-four one. A win over Panama and a Honduras loss at Costa Rica would put the USA three points clear of Honduras with an unassailable goal differential. The USA’s match is slated to start 25 minutes before Honduras’s, according to FIFA, so the Americans won’t have the luxury of knowing Honduras’s result ahead of time. It helps the USA that Costa Rica did not qualify Tuesday vs. Mexico and still needs a result to cement its place (though the scenarios for Costa Rica NOT qualifying are highly improbable).

A loss to Panama would not eliminate the Americans, but it would take all the control out of their hands AND clinch third place for Panama, meaning only the playoff route (vs. either Syria or Australia) would remain open. A draw (and a Honduras draw or loss) would require the USA to then need a win and a Panama loss or draw in the finales to take third. Meanwhile, Mexico’s match vs. Trinidad & Tobago is inconsequential to the race, though El Tri could factor in later…

OCTOBER 10

Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA | Honduras vs. Mexico | Panama vs. Costa Rica

The USA has qualified for the World Cup in Trinidad & Tobago before, and it was a game-changer. Paul Caligiuri’s 1989 goal set the stage for everything that’s come since–massive growth, seven straight World Cup berths–and there’s the possibility that either history can repeat itself, or the USA will be deserved a harsh dose of symmetry and miss out completely. A win–if it follows one over Panama–seals the deal and send the USA through with an automatic bid. One after a draw vs. Panama would require the USA to need help from Costa Rica to get third place.

Costa Rica will likely have qualified already, which could impact who Los Ticos elect to start against Panama. Given everything between the USA and Costa Rica over the years, would it surprise anyone if Costa Rica went out of its way to NOT do the USA a solid and go with an experimental group? Nobody is alleging that Costa Rica would lay down and take a heavy loss, but there would be little incentive to go out and give its all.

Then there’s Mexico. Oh, the irony. Four years after having its World Cup qualifying campaign saved by San Graham Zusi, Mexico may be called upon to return the favor. If the USA can’t take care of its own business, a Mexico win over Honduras could at least help ensure a top-four finish for the Americans.Nobody expected the USA’s World Cup qualifying route to go down this intense of a road, but difficulties in qualifying have happened before and ultimately it won’t matter as long as that ticket to Russia is punched.

The Truth About USA’s Uneven, Disappointing World Cup Qualifying Campaign

There are usually complications in qualifying for the World Cup, both in CONCACAF and beyond. The USA’s run to reach Russia is no different. BRIAN STRAUSThursday September 7th, 2017 SportsIllustrated  SI.com

Michael Bradley has been trying to tell us. He’s been answering almost the same question in almost the same way for years.

“You have to know how to even on tough days, under difficult conditions, be able to come away with points. Whether it’s on the turf at Saprissa, whether it’s the altitude and heat and smog at Azteca,” he said in the fall of 2012. “There’s so little room for error …. We have to be committed to getting points and to doing whatever it takes.”

It’s going to be ugly, in other words. He added, “We have no divine right to just step on the field and win. There’s another team on the field and things don’t always go your way.”

After a rough start to the Hexagonal the following year, he said, “There’s 10 games. There’s ups. There’s downs. There’s so many twists and turns along the way—so many unexpected things.”

In the summer of 2015: “There’s this prevailing narrative that competition [in CONCACAF] is rising. It’s never been easy. Never … These games are dog fights in every way. This idea that ‘Well, it used to be a breeze for us, and now it’s not.’ It’s not true.”

And after a stunning defeat in Guatemala last year: “Look, it’s never easy. Nobody on the inside expects it to be and obviously for different people, they turn on the TV every four years and watch the World Cup and see us there and think we have a divine right to be there, but obviously anybody who’s in it every day understands that’s not the case.”

Then again—Bradley is nothing if not consistent and patient—he said this when the USA lost last week’s World Cup qualifier to Costa Rica: “There’s always been parity in CONCACAF. You guys have asked me about that a lot. I don’t subscribe to this notion that this is a new thing.”

A cynic—and there seem to be many in the wake of a rough couple games that left the USA’s World Cup hopes in precarious position—would argue that Bradley intends to lower expectations through a sustained campaign of misinformation. Keep saying it, and he can always tell us we’d been warned.But it doesn’t take a historian to find some validity. For decades, qualifying was impossible for the USA. And then it became difficult—likely, expected and necessary—but still difficult. The larger, better-equipped army will almost always win the war. But that doesn’t mean it won’t lose some battles along the way.One permanent jump in class is rare for any national team. Two arguably is unprecedented. So this is the state of American soccer’s affairs. There have been rough patches in every World Cup campaign, from the one-win-in-six-games stretch in 1997 to the three straight losses and home setback to Honduras four years later. Fans wanted Bob Bradley’s job after a poor performance in Costa Rica in 2009 and Jurgen Klinsmann lost his after after a poorer one last November. The USA needed a win in Trinidad in 1989 to get to the World Cup and, incredibly, a good result against Guatemala in Kansas City just to ensure a spot in the 2013 Hex.And this isn’t just an American condition. Mexico is breezing through this time around, but four years ago, it needed a favor from its rivals and a bit of divine intervention (San Zusi!) to get through. El Tri won two of its 10 Hexagonal matches. Costa Rica, a 2014 quarterfinalist that now has a strong case to be the second best team in CONCACAF, missed out entirely in 2010 and 1998.While the USA was losing at home to Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena and struggling simply to play soccer in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Honduras, other favorites were facing similar hardship. France, a World Cup favorite, couldn’t score at home against Luxembourg. Argentina, the 2014 silver medalist, couldn’t beat Venezuela in Buenos Aires and remains outside South America’s four automatic tickets to Russia. Chile, the two-time reigning Copa América champion, would be out altogether if qualifying ended today. The Netherlands is in deep trouble. Cameroon claimed the Africa Cup of Nations seven months ago, but it’s already been eliminated from the World Cup. And Australia, the reigning Asian champion, finished third in its group and now must win a playoff series against Syria and then another against a CONCACAF team to get in.These are countries that expect to get to World Cups. Some expect to win them. And yet, every four years, somebody stumbles or struggles and everyone acts shocked. Now, after finishing first in three straight Hexagonals, it’s the USA’s turn. There are myriad reasons, explanations and excuses for the current predicament, which leaves the Americans (2-3-3) in fourth place—perhaps bound for that playoff—with two matches to go. Klinsmann botched the tactics in the opener against Mexico and a late set piece doomed the Americans. His team then appeared to quit on him in Costa Rica. Defensive consistency has been impossible to nail down. The referee didn’t get control of a rough-and-tumble qualifier in Panama. Everybody made mistakes at Red Bull Arena, and then San Pedro Sula posed challenges that—if we’d listened to Bradley—everyone should’ve expected.

None of this lets the Americans off the hook. They’re firmly on it, there’s no one else to blame and now they must beat Panama in Orlando next month. And they may still need a result in Trinidad a few days later. That’s the upshot of taking only one point from the past two games. But there are other things to take away, if we look and listen. One is that every team, eventually, faces a qualifying conundrum. The others are worth keeping in mind as the USA nears the finish line, hoping to advance to an eighth straight World Cup.

NEITHER ARENA—RED BULL OR BRUCE—IS TO BLAME

There was a lot of talk following the 2-0 setback to Costa Rica that a few thousand Ticos fans at Red Bull Arena may have influenced the result. This is absurd. The notion that a World Cup-level player will miss a pass, shot or trap because there are 10,000 supporters cheering at slightly different times than the other 15,000 won’t wash with anyone who’s performed at that level. The athletes aren’t counting or keeping track during play.Atmosphere can have some impact. It can motivate or instill pride in the hosts. It can intimidate, or perhaps even fire up, the visitors. But fans without laser pointers don’t make plays, and home-field advantage is about a lot more than who’s cheering.At the 2015 Confederations Cup playoff in the Rose Bowl, it felt like almost every one of the 90,000 fans was rooting for Mexico. But the USA still took the game to extra time. Advantage, especially in CONCACAF, is about more tangible things—travel, weather, facilities and field. The USA offers visitors state-of-the-art stadiums and training grounds. Travel is easy, hotels are luxurious and secure and visiting teams are safe and almost always unbothered. Gamesmanship in the USA is at a region-low minimum, and the Americans’ most obvious asset—cold weather that would bother Latin American or Caribbean sides—typically isn’t available in late August/early September. The USA deserved to lose to Costa Rica because it planned and played poorly. The stadium had nothing to do with it.Bruce Arena played a role in that planning and warrants some scrutiny for deploying a midfield that struggled to blunt Los Ticos’ counterattack or build out of its own half. It was apparent relatively early that Bradley and the back four didn’t have many outlets or options with the ball and that Christian Pulisic and Fabian Johnson were unable to find freedom going forward. A more robust, connecting presence in the middle was needed. But Arena stood pat and when the bounces and calls went against him, he failed to adjust in time.But errors, to the extent Arena made them, are forgivable if not frequent or repeated. That was Arena’s first defeat in 15 games. He took over a team in crisis and through positive and pragmatic management, brought it back from the qualifying brink while winning the Gold Cup. His handling of the short turnaround between the June qualifiers against Trinidad and Mexico was masterful, and his players’ effort and engagement certainly hasn’t been an issue. Against Honduras, which enjoyed a real home-field advantage thanks to the blistering mid-day heat and long grass in San Pedro Sula, Arena made a couple changes late that helped open up the game and set the stage for Bobby Wood’s late equalizer.  Ultimately, soccer is a players’ game. The choice of which modern U.S. stadium hosts a qualifier and a manager who’s gotten most of it right since taking over nine months ago aren’t going to keep the Americans from the World Cup.

DEFENSIVE QUESTIONS SEEM PART OF THE TEAM’S DNA

One thing Arena couldn’t anticipate is the individual mistakes made by players in form. Geoff Cameron, Tim Ream and Tim Howard all had moments against Costa Rica they’d like back, and Omar Gonzalez’s strange failure to clear the ball in the first half in San Pedro Sula led to Los Catrachos’ go-ahead goal.  Everyone wanted Howard to start. He helped the USA win the Gold Cup while Guzan, who had a rough spring in England, yielded a questionable goal during the group stage. But Guzan held up well in Honduras and had the better week. And so fluctuations in form are the calling card of the U.S. defense.

Cameron was a goat at the World Cup, then he was an option at multiple positions, then clearly the USA’s best center back, and then back on the bench after the Costa Rica loss. John Brooks was imperious—perhaps the best prospect at the position in national team history—until he was exposed last November. But then his stock climbed again. And then he got hurt again. Gonzalez was good at the World Cup, then inconsistent with the national team, then a champion at Pachuca, etc. Ream was out of the picture then became the flavor of the month. As Ream rose, Matt Besler—who was very good in San Pedro Sula—seemed to fall. Fans, coaches and media anoint and then unanoint American center backs with regularity, but the fact remains that none have remained good enough or healthy enough to seize obvious and permanent control of the position. If the USA had world-class center backs, it would be Germany or Italy.  There’s a similar situation on the flanks, where the injured DeAndre Yedlin’s pace was missed against Honduras. Graham Zusi was good at RBA, but both the Sporting Kansas City veteran and his Houston Dynamo counterpart, DaMarcus Beasley, had difficulty keeping up in the heat of Honduras after being chosen to start over Jorge Villafaña. Zusi may be the correct choice in certain situations while Yedlin remains atop the depth chart. But it’s clear that Arena seems no closer to finding a World Cup left back. The manager has insisted Johnson is a midfielder. But the USA has other midfielders. Arena may have to consider pulling him back.The Americans will have to improvise for two more games.

Pulisic typically plays on the right for Borussia Dortmund, and Arena hasn’t seemed too interested in following his predecessor’s habit of asking players to do the unfamiliar when they come into camp.National teams often have to simplify. The personnel changes too frequently and players are in uniform for too short a time to leave them guessing and grasping when they arrive. There have to be some patterns and predictability. In that vein, it makes sense to focus on what the team does best rather than try to teach it too many new tricks, and what it does best usually is going to to depend on the strengths of its best players. When Landon Donovan was the top American, Arena and Bob Bradley often built their game plans around getting the ball to Donovan in space. He was at his best running at the opposition.

Pulisic is now the USA’s most dangerous player. But he didn’t make much of an impact this month. Against Costa Rica, the Americans’ inability to establish any rhythm with the ball left Pulisic stranded on the right. He rarely had anyone to combine with and most of his passing wound up going square or backward. In Honduras, it wasn’t until Arena moved to a 3-5-2 and added the speed of Paul Arriola and Bobby Wood that the game opened up. Pulisic moved inside and drew the foul that resulted in the free kick that led to Wood’s goal.  Pulisic drew seven fouls across the two games, more than any other U.S. player. He’s still dangerous, even in discrete moments. Moving him centrally might limit the space he enjoys on the right, but it also would result in more dangerous set-piece chances. And in certain situations—if the grass is shorter, if Arena picks the right players or if those players have better days—Pulisic almost certainly will see the ball more frequently.A move inside raises other questions, of course. Would it also require a box-to-box player like Kellyn Acosta or Alejandro Bedoya to shore up the middle and connect Pulisic to Bradley? Does that mean sacrificing a second forward? The four current strikers—Wood, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris—all are assets.It worked in home qualifiers against Honduras and Trinidad, but those were far easier assignments than Costa Rica and San Pedro Sula. Arena has done well introducing the 3-5-2 and getting the USA comfortable playing in that formation when required. It easily could work with Pulisic in the middle. The question is how the manager’s preferred 4-4-2 might function against better teams.Both Panama at home and Trinidad away are winnable games. Those are easier assignments—on paper—as well. Perhaps it’s time to cement Pulisic’s move to the middle—if he’s healthy, and if other options are available on the right and if Arena can work out how to avoid leaving Bradley overwhelmed.There are always complications.

Warshaw: Make no mistake about it – soccer is a coach’s game

September 14, 201711:40AM EDTBobby Warshaw

er it’s fair or not, it comes with the territory for professional soccer head coaches: Lead your club to wins and titles and you’re considered a genius. Lose and the second-guessing will mercilessly poke holes at your competence.  But US national team head coach Bruce Arena wants you to know that he thinks we make too much of the coach’s role: “The players are playing the game,” he told a panel of journalists in Honduras during a wide-ranging interview that followed the home loss to Costa Rica in early September. “I think too often coaches get too much credit and too much blame,” he said. “The game is really the players are playing the game… Of all games, a soccer game is decided by the coach?”“I think too often coaches get too much credit and too much blame,” he said. “The game is really the players are playing the game. You’re preparing them to play, but I think it goes way too far. I giggle most of the time, to be honest with you. I know coaches, and we always laugh about it when the game is decided by the coach. Of all games, a soccer game is decided by the coach?””Once the game starts [in soccer], the coaching factor is a lot different in our sport than basketball or football. [Coaches] have less control [once the game starts] than you do in the preparation of the team and setting a tone. Coaching is a factor, believe me, but when the game starts the players are much more influential than the coaches.”I accept that Arena has seen more things in soccer than I’ve experienced in my entire life, but I take the opposite point on the issue.

Soccer is a coach’s game

I’ve heard it time and time again over the years – soccer is a players’ game – and it’s always irked me. It’s wrong. I’m not entirely positive I’m not just being a whiny ex-player, but I’ve seen so many teams succeed and fail based on the coach.Soccer is a coach’s game; players are cogs in the machine that the coach builds.I understand the premises of Arena’s point: Soccer is a fluid game, and with limited substitutions and no timeouts, there is very little a coach can do once the whistle blows; a coach can’t score a goal or made a sliding tackle. But anyone who’s ever been any good at anything understands the actual act of doing the thing is only a small part of the total process.For every minute under the lights, there were thousands of minutes before that, training and sweating and bleeding. A final performance by a team is nothing more than the sum of the preparation – physically and psychologically. The coach has a huge role in that preparation, which Arena admits. But what happens on the field is ultimately a direct reflection of that work’s success.

Hitting all the right buttons

I’m fine when I hear people talk about soccer in terms of individual performances. Arena and others view soccer as a series of individual matchups, moments of magic, and tragic mistakes, and it’s up to the players to capitalize on the crucial moments; tactics only bog the players down, and no style or tactic can change the nature of the sport and the need to execute.But players are complicated beasts. To get the most out of a player requires more than putting names on a whiteboard and shouting “I believe in you!” There are multiple variables that go into any single performance.Some players play better confident and need a confidence boast, others perform at their best when they’re scared and need a threat. Some players need a lot of training throughout the week, while other players prefer to feel fresh. Some players need specific instructions, others need freedom to improvise. Some players like to play short passes and need other short passers around them; other players like a more direct game and want more space to roam. Each player requires a series of intricate observations.If you say too many nice things to a player who needs to be threatened, he will get complacent; if you over-train a player who needs his rest, he will look sluggish; if you don’t give enough instructions to a player who needs structure, he will look lost; if you play a passer next to a guy who can’t pass, there will be big gaps somewhere on the field.It takes a sophisticated mind to work through the algorithms and hit all the right buttons (one Arena seems to have, and seems confident enough to know it, so I’m not entirely sure why he made the comments he did, and I can’t say I believe him). It’s an incredibly delicate balance not to say too much or too little.Before my first start in Dallas, one of the coaches told me, “I’m not sure you’re ready for this, but you’re the option we have right now.”I was like “whhhhhhhatttt! You don’t think I’m good?” I went through the whole game wondering in my head if I was actually good enough. Every mistake seemed to reaffirm the coach’s concerns, and I played scared the entire game. Maybe it would have worked for others, but it was the total wrong thing to say to me. You can say I wasn’t mentally tough enough, and I wouldn’t argue with you, but it’s a coach’s job to understand his players. Once he said those words, I was toast.

Players can’t coach themselves

On every team I ever played on, at some point the coach lamented a result and told us after the game, “Guys, we just need to finish our chances.” Yet most of those teams rarely did finishing drills in training, and if we did, usually only for 10 minutes at the end of practice. Players can only play as well as they have prepared.With all that noted, it still doesn’t really touch on the main point. I tend to hate proverbs, but I’m going to use a proverb on this one. It’s easy to break a single stick. It’s nearly impossible to break a bundle of sticks.Whether it’s through tactics or style or team chemistry, it’s better to have 11 people moving and thinking as one than it is to have 11 individuals thinking and moving on their own. The players can anticipate the actions of their teammates and move faster and more decisively. The only person who can really put everyone on the same page is a coach.It might seem like it shouldn’t be that hard for players to build cohesion and a game plan without the coach, but it’s extremely difficult. Each player has a different view of how the team should play; in a locker room of professional athletes, each one thinks he is or should be the alpha.Even if the players do get on the same page and decide something on their own, it takes repetitions to get good at anything. It’s one thing to shake on something in the locker room; it’s another to perform it at the level necessary in the professional game. If the players decide to be a possession team, they need to do possession games in training; if the group decide to press, they need to work on pressing throughout the week. I don’t have to tell you what it looks like when a team clearly hasn’t properly worked on their pressing scheme. And coaches are the ones that plan practice.Players might have a ton of freedom in soccer, but ultimately coaches plan the training sessions and lay down the cones. Sports are a game of muscle memory, and the coaches determine where the players’ muscle memory gets planted. Maybe it’s possible for the players to tell the coach what to do in training. (I failed twice, and both times got sent to a new team within the month.) But how would you feel about telling your boss how to allocate his budget for the department?I’m not saying coaches always need to be super hands on. Not every coach needs to be as neurotic as Pep Guardiola. Some groups of players will perform better if the coach stays out of the way. But, again, that’s at the discretion of the coach. If the coach decides to get in the way, the players are screwed.And even with all the above, I haven’t even touched on the benefits of having a detailed tactical scheme. With 11 players on the field, and different styles on every continent, there are so many permutations for ways to play.It’s a beautiful thing to watch the players’ style and the coach’s philosophy mesh together. Unless you’re playing against it, then it’s miserable. And when you’re on the field playing against a well-oiled machine, you know it. There isn’t a worse feeling than being on the field and knowing you are so much worse prepared than the guys across from you.Maybe this is all different for really good players. You hear plenty of ex-pro stars who tout the “players need to step up” model. Perhaps some guys can just figure it out all out on the field. I didn’t have it in me to just step it up when I needed to. I needed systematic support.But I’m pretty sure I was in the majority as a player. We were beholden to the whims of our coach. Soccer is a coach’s game.Bobby Warshaw is a former MLS player who played three seasons in MLS (2011-2013), drafted No. 17 by FC Dallas after an accomplished college career at Stanford. He also has experience playing professionally in Scandinavia. A columnist and podcast host for Howlermagazine, Warshaw has also appeared on ExtraTime Live and ExtraTime Radio.

Indy Eleven Wins Late in Thriller Against North Carolina FC

“Boys in Blue” steal all three points with Eamon Zayed’s stoppage time header gifting the games lone goal  Published Sep 13, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (September 13, 2017) – Better late than never, Indy Eleven planted their first brick down on a long road to the final few games of the Fall Season with a goal from Eamon Zayed knocking off North Carolina FC, 1-0.An emotional night at Carroll Stadium, the “Boys in Blue” grinded through the opening half working towards a lead. North Carolina FC did their best to get on the scoresheet early, but Indy goalkeeper Jon Busch prevented the visitors from doing just that with a huge save in the 14th minute. NCFC captain Nazmi Albadawi shifted his feet just inside the box and attempted to curl one past “Buschy,” only for the veteran to put a pair of significantly sized fingertips in the way to push the ball out for a corner.Indy’s momentum would continue to build throughout the half as half-chances fell for midfielder Ben Speas and forward Eamon Zayed to no avail. A consistent bright spot for the team’s attack came in the form of new signing Paulo Junior, who worked the wing and petrified the NCFC defense in creating opportunities for his fellow attackers. The tide continued to turn against the visitors when, in the 40th minute, NCFC midfielder James Marcelin was sent off for an apparent elbow on Indy’s Sinisa Ubiparipovic near the touchline.However, despite Indy testing North Carolina FC goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre, neither side would break the deadlock at halftime.With no chances in the second half, Indy came out swinging and owned their man advantage.

In the 66th minute, defender Nemanja Vukovic lined up a free kick opportunity just 21 yards from goal. Opting to hit to the side of the wall, “Vuko” was nearly in full celebration mode before Sylvestre pushed the effort wide for a corner. Indy would continue to press and created an opportunity for Speas just outside the box in the 79th minute. Driving at goal, the midfielder put Sylvestre into action again and substitute forward David Goldsmith just couldn’t reach the rebound in time.

However, just into stoppage time, forward Eamon Zayed sent the crowd into a frenzy by heading home a cross from defender Marco Franco to secure all three points at Carroll Stadium.“It was great to cap it all off. It’s vitally important that we build off this now. We know what we have to do. We spoke about it – we need a run. Time is running out and it’s frustrating but we’re good enough to be in the playoffs. This was step one,” said Zayed.Indy Eleven was also proud to honor the life and memory of Drew Schwier tonight, one of the club’s longest standing supporters.“I felt like it’s been an emotional night and an emotional few days. What happened with Drew [Schwier] tonight and the tribute – he’s been our number one fan. That was emotional,” said Zayed. “I was delighted to get the win and the brick, which I gave to Drew’s family because I felt that was right.”Indy Eleven travels to face FC Edmonton on Sunday, September 17 at 4:00 P.M. ET, but returns home to IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Stadium to host Puerto Rico FC on Saturday, September 23 at 7:30 P.M. ET. Tickets for the game – and all remaining 4+ NASL matches at “The Mike” in 2017 – can be purchased for as little as $11 online at www.IndyEleven.com or by phone at 317-685-1100.
NASL Fall Season
Indy Eleven 1 : 0 North Carolina FC
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Carroll Stadium – Indianapolis, IN

Scoring Summary:
IND – Eamon Zayed 90+3′
Discipline Summary:
IND – Gerardo Torrado 32’
NCFC – James Marcelin 40’ (RED)
NCFC – Connor Tobin 80’

Indy Eleven lineup (4-2-3-1, L–>R):  Jon Busch (GK); Nemanja Vukovic, Cory Miller, Colin Falvey ©, Marco Franco; Gerardo Torrado (David Goldsmith 65’), Brad Ring; Ben Speas (Don Smart 81’), Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Paulo Junior; Eamon Zayed

IND bench: Keith Cardona (GK); Christian Lomeli, Tanner Thompson, Kwame Watson-Siriboe

North Carolina FC lineup (4-1-4-1, L->R): Brian Sylvestre; Paul Black, Connor Tobin, Christian Ibeagha, Kareem Moses; James Marcelin, Austin Da Luz (Matt Fondy 90’), Dre Fortune (Bolu Akinyode 44’), Nazmi Albadawi, Steven Miller; Renan Gorne (Lance Laing 74’)

NCFC bench: Macklin Robinson (GK); Tiyi Shipalane, Alex Molano, Jonathan Glenn

Last-Gasp Meeting to Shape Future of NASL–and U.S. Soccer’s Club Landscape

U.S. Soccer denied NASL Division 2 sanctioning for 2018. Now the league is scrambling to stay afloat, keep high-profile members from leaving and present a path to a sustainable future.  SHAREBRIAN STRAUSThursday September 14th, 2017

The U.S. Soccer board wasn’t convinced two weeks ago that the NASL had a viable plan to meet the standards established for second-division professional leagues. So this Friday in New York City, where the federation denied the NASL’s request for 2018 sanctioning in a September 1 vote, owners will gather and attempt to come up with one.They’ll need to find a path they can go down together—and one that entices others to join them—before convincing the USSF to consider reversing its decision. The fate of the seven-year-old league hangs in the balance.Multiple sources confirmed Friday’s meeting to SI.com and through conversations with executives connected to the NASL, USL and U.S. Soccer, a picture of the complex, sometimes controversial sanctioning process took shape. Most declined to speak on the record. An NASL spokesperson referred to a statement released last week, which read in part, “The NASL is disappointed with the [USSF] decision and does not believe that the federation acted in the best interest of the sport …. the NASL remains committed to growing the game and is exploring multiple options as it continues planning for the future.”Launched in 2011 following a split in the league that became the USL, the NASL has been about ideology as well as soccer. It’s an eight-team circuit that advocates for self-determination and independent clubs and bristles at the stricter, more centralized structure of MLS and the USL (which are partners). There are those who feel the federation’s current standards, which were established in 2014 and dictate minimums league members must meet in order to achieve a specific sanctioning level, are part of the problem. Perhaps at this point in American soccer’s evolution, they’re arbitrary or even unnecessary, they argue.Those arguments, however—the ideological ones—will have to wait for another day. In order to have them, the NASL must survive. And without second-tier sanctioning, it’s in serious trouble. Sponsors, TV partners and segments of the media and fan base do care about division designation, and owners believe it impacts their asset’s value and appeal. Falling to D3—U.S. Soccer likely would be amenable to such an application—isn’t going to be a well-received option in the NASL board room. So, they have to find another way. The USSF handled the sanctioning issue last winter by offering provisional D2 status for 2017 to both the NASL, which didn’t have enough teams (12), and the USL, which moved up from D3 but still has members that didn’t meet every piece of criteria (stadium/field size, coaching licenses). By August 15, each league had to submit its D2 plan for 2018—the federation didn’t want to leave teams scrambling again by waiting until the last minute.The USL has 30 members currently and will comprise at least 33 next season. And there are instances (around 20 or 21 according to a source) where several clubs don’t meet every D2 standard. For example, the Charlotte Independence must expand their new facility in suburban Matthews, N.C., to hit the 5,000-seat minimum. But the issues appear to be manageable, and on September 1, U.S. Soccer gave the USL 30 days to provide a plan to resolve each waiver requested. At worst, a non-compliant club can drop to the third-division league USL plans to launch in 2019. The NASL’s issues are more significant. Second-tier leagues must field at least 12 teams (in three time zones). The NASL had eight this season, and even though it has commitments from expansion outfits in San Diego and Orange County, California, for 2018, there are questions about the viability of several current members and the long-term commitment of others. U.S. Soccer did not believe the NASL offered a clear plan for 12, and the timeline discussed—three years, according to a source—was unacceptable. Last winter, the federation’s pro task force didn’t see a way forward for the NASL, which lost teams to both MLS and the USL, and recommended that the board vote against D2 sanctioning. Instead, the USSF granted provisional second-division status with the understanding that a defined, actionable plan to resolve issues must be in place this summer. In the USSF’s eyes, there was no such plan at the end of August.Necessity is the mother of invention. Owners felt the need to retain greater control over their own teams back when the NASL was formed, and now they must be bold in order to save it. Although U.S. Soccer didn’t offer an official lifeline or a path back to D2 sanctioning in 2018, the NASL is going to try to hack one out anyway. Getting the USSF to reconsider will require fielding 12 teams, and on Friday in New York, owners and NASL officials will lay the groundwork.With D2 status previously in limbo and now, for the time being, revoked, it’s tough to entice new teams. Minor league soccer isn’t exactly a guaranteed money maker to begin with. So the NASL has to find a way to remain intact in the interim while reducing the risk for new investors who might be on the fence. The former isn’t a given, especially since exit fees exist only if the league maintains D2 sanctioning (it’s unclear when that officially expires).The New York Cosmos and Miami FC are true believers. They have no interest in joining the USL and were excluded from merger conversations last winter. Owners Rocco Commisso and Riccardo Silva are independent and ambitious and have done reasonably well within the limits imposed by American soccer’s pro structure. They’re not interested in dealing with any more.ommisso, a cable TV entrepreneur, saved the Cosmos from folding in January and engineered a move from far-flung Hofstra to MCU Park on Coney Island, which offers a more intimate and engaging atmosphere. Under the guidance of coach Giovanni Savarese and COO Erik Stover—both MLS veterans— the roster and front office were rebuilt quickly. The Cosmos have been competitive on the pitch while enjoying a 28% leap in year-over-year attendance.Miami FC is a second-tier juggernaut. Playing at Florida International in a stadium now named for Silva and coached by Italian legend Alessandro Nesta, the club has a payroll in the millions and holds an 18-point lead over second-place San Francisco in the overall NASL standings. It upset Orlando City and Atlanta United in the U.S. Open Cup before falling, ironically, to a fellow second-tier team in FC Cincinnati in the quarterfinals.Both owners want full control over their clubs and their futures. But they need others to join them, and that’s where it gets tricky. Counterparts in Indianapolis, Jacksonville or Raleigh may not have similar resources or the same die-hard belief in the cause. There’s concern that the first-year San Francisco Deltas may not remain afloat, while the long-term intentions of NASL members in Edmonton and Puerto Rico are unclear.A roadmap to 12 must be drawn quickly, so that the likes of Jacksonville or Indy don’t give up and bolt before new investors commit. It’s understood that the NASL, whose brand is grounded in an embrace of the free market, is considering a couple compromises if it helps teams enter and/or survive. Spending cuts, a salary cap/budget, tighter roster regulations, reduced entry fees and additional financial support for new or existing clubs are all on the table.Multiple sources have told SI.com that they expect North Carolina FC, which is among the dozen bidders for an MLS expansion team, to move to USL. And so the NASL’s path to 12 envisions a 2018 schedule without the Raleigh club but with the Deltas and the two Californian newcomers, along with at least three expansion teams. It’s been reported that investors in Chicago, Atlanta and Detroit, among others, have been in advanced conversations with the NASL. The Chicago bid is fronted by former Chicago Fire and Indy Eleven chief Peter Wilt. An Atlanta team would be based out of a stadium complex in suburban DeKalb County, while the Motown effort is focused on the wildly successful NPSL club, Detroit City.NCFC owner Steve Malik was instrumental in saving the NASL last winter and finds himself in an interesting position now as a member of the USSF board (he recused himself during the sanctioning vote) and an aspiring MLS entrant. NCFC already has a downtown site picked out for a potential MLS stadium.When reached by SI.com, Malik was willing to speak on the record. He said no decision has been made about next season.“We’ve been pursuing the highest level of soccer for our community,” he said. “We’re looking at all of our options. Some of those are with the current teams in the NASL and we’ve looked at others, because we do want to play [next year] and we’ve made a lot of progress in our MLS bid. And we want to continue to build on that.”

If he stays, that’s one fewer expansion team needed. If he goes, the degree of difficulty rises. Either way, there’s no guarantee the USSF will even consider the NASL’s appeal. The federation doesn’t want to see leagues, teams or jobs go away. But it also believes enforceable standards must exist to ensure clubs deliver a professional, consistent product while leagues avoid the insane attrition and fly-by-night investment that characterized the 1990s and early 2000s. The NASL intends to test U.S. Soccer’s resolve.If the path to D2 is blocked, the NASL—at least technically—has a couple other options short of breaking up. U.S. Soccer almost surely would allow the league to operate as a D3 circuit next year. It’s hard to imagine the likes of Silva and Commisso entertaining that possibility, but it is a possibility. There was no D3 pro soccer in the USA this season for the first time since 1994—two years before MLS kicked off. And unless the NASL drops, there will be none in 2018. Wilt’s nascent league, the National Independent Soccer Association, didn’t apply, and the USL remains a year away.

The NASL also could go off the grid entirely and play as an unsanctioned competition. There would be no labels, no politics and no oversight. There’d also be no Open Cup, no federation referees, no representation at U.S. Soccer meetings and a whole lot of questions about player eligibility, transfers and status that have no obvious answers. It would be uncharted territory.  Either way, there very well could be a lot of litigation. Silva, for one, already has filed a claim with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland arguing that the lack of automatic promotion from the second tier to MLS violates FIFA regulations. But first comes Friday’s meeting and the NASL’s Hail Mary. Whether it’s caught or not, the pro soccer landscape is going to change in 2018. It could include a 12 (or more)-team, revitalized NASL. Or simply a larger, empowered USL that stands alone below MLS.

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

 

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9/12/17 Champions League Tues/Wed,

My favorite time of year – College Football on weekends, European soccer season is in full swing and now The Champions League is Back on Fox!!  The UCL Group Stages kick off Tues with Barcelona vs Juventus at 2:45 pm on Fox Sport 2, with Man U vs Basel on FS1 and Chelsea hosting Qarabag on Fox Indiana.  Wed gives us a GROUP OF DEATH match with Tottenham vs Dortmund (Christian Pulisic) at 2:45 pm FS1, defending Champs Real Madrid vs Apoel on FS2, and Liverpool vs Sevilla on Fox Soccer Indiana & ESPN3. Set those recorders or plan the late lunch.  Let me know if anyone wants to gather to watch the 2:45 pm games at a pub close by.

 Champions League Starts Tues/Wed

Who has the Best Chance to Knock off Real Madrid – Nick Ames – ESPNFC

5 Ways Sevilla can stun Liverpool in game 1 ESPNFC

Barca and Juve Set to renew UCL Rivalry – eSPNFC

Barcelona ready to Shrug off Difficult Summer get revenge on Juve– Graham Hunter ESPNFC

Lukaku and Rashford’s big UCL Opportunity for Man U ESPNFC

Beating Dortmund can give Spurs Lift-Off

How do Group Stages Teams Match Up ESPNFC

Pep Under Pressure to Deliver for Man City

Power Rankings – Real, PSG, Man U, Bayern, Juve, Dortmund, Barca  – ESPNFC

 

Group A – Man United, Benficia, CSKA Moscow, Basel

Group B – Bayern, PSG, Anderleccht, Celtic

Group C – Chelsea, Atletico, Roma, Qarabag

Group D – Juve, Barca, Olympiakos, Sporting

Group E – Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor

Group F Man City, Shakhtar, Napoli, Feyenoord

Group G – Monaco, Porto, Besiktas, RB Leipzig

Group of Death H – Real Madrid, Dortmund, Tottenham, Apoel

Carmel High School is hosting a Youth Soccer Night On Wednesday, September 13th as the top 5 Ranked CHS Girl’s teams play Warren Central.  Admission is FREE for the Carmel FC and Carmel Dad’s Club players with a uniform on.  Parents pay just $5 for entry to both the 5 pm JV and 7 pm Varsity game at Murray Stadium at CHS.  CFC players please wear your Yellow Jersey’s with White pants (no cleats).

GAMES ON TV  

Tues  Sept 12 Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                        Manchester United v Basel

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Barcelona v Juventus 

2:45  Fox Sport Ind? Chelsea vs Qarabag

Wed  Sept 13 Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1       Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2         Real Madrid vs APOEL

2:45 Fox Sport Ind?       Liverpool v Sevilla  ESPN3

Sun, Sept 17

8:30 am NBCSN   Chelsea vs Arsenal 

9:30 am FS1                    Beyern Leverkusen vs Freiburg

11 am NBCSN                Man U vs Everton  

12noon  FS2                   Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Koln

1 pm ESPN                     NY Red Bulls vs Philly Union (Bedoya)

4 pm my Indy TV Edmonton vs Indy 11

Tues, Sept 19

2:45 pm ESPN3             Leicester City vs Liverpool (League Cup)

7:30 pm Fox Sport 1  USA Ladies team vs New Zealand (at Cincy tix Avail)

Real Madrid beware: Juve, Man City, PSG, Barca & Atleti after UCL crown

Real Madrid are the team to beat in the Champions League. Zinedine Zidane’s men have won the tournament two times in a row, making it 12 in total, as they once again swept all before them last season.Ahead of the competition restarting, here’s a look at five contenders who look best equipped to end Real’s dominance.

  1. Juventus:They may have lost Leonardo Bonucci to arch rivals AC Milan but it would be foolish to suppose Juventus are not a major contender this time around. While Bonucci’s absence is inconvenient, the bulk of a team that was uncompromising at both ends last season is back and they have enough world class talent elsewhere to make amends.

That was evident on the second match day of the Serie A season when Paulo Dybala’s hat trick helped them to a comeback 4-2 win at Genoa. With Blaise Matuidi and Douglas Costa on board, Juventus have greater depth in other key areas now, adding to a squad that is rich in Champions League pedigree.There is also the argument that greater competition domestically, even if it comes from Bonucci and Milan, may help them. Their experience in last season’s final was a humbling one but it is still hard to find an outfit better equipped to put up a fight against Real than the Bianconeri.

  1. Manchester City:At some point you sense it will click for City in Europe and they look far better equipped for an assault on the Champions League than during last season’s ultimately disappointing campaign.

The addition of two players who were so influential for the Monaco team that beat them, Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva, is a significant reason. With Kyle Walker also on board they now have the kind of energetic, attacking full-backs a convincing challenge demands.It is hard to imagine Pep Guardiola falling short for much longer. With Gabriel Jesus rapidly emerging as a top class alternative to Sergio Aguero, there is depth in key areas too. The only department of genuine concern is centre-back, where a creaking Vincent Kompany may be relied upon too heavily. Guardiola would at least have January to sort that out. City should progress comfortably enough through their group and a run at the last four looks possible.

  1. Paris-Saint Germain:Was Neymar the final piece in PSG’s Champions League jigsaw? That is the intention, but too many doubts remain to unreservedly suggest they are the team best placed to end Real’s run of success.Dani Alves, who was instrumental for Juventus in the latter stages of last season’s competition, should prove as useful to their European prospects as his compatriot and PSG can certainly be fancied to end a barren spell of 23 years without a semifinal place.Kylian Mbappe adds another option to a thrilling front line but you wonder whether they have Champions League-winning depth in other, equally important, areas of the team. Matuidi was let go for a remarkably low fee in today’s market and with squad option Grzegorz Krychowiak having also departed, they look light in the centre of the park.There are also doubts about their central defensive reserves and while PSG should beat the majority of sides they meet in Europe, against the canniest opposition they may fall just short.

 

  1. Barcelona:Every time the Last Rites are read on Barcelona, they come back punching. That was certainly the case in the stunning round of 16 comeback against PSG last season, the difference this time being that the man who tilted the balance has swapped sides. The loss of Neymar cast a shadow over Barca’s summer but it would be a fool who ruled them out of contention even if there is an air of transition under Ernesto Valverde.Lionel Messi shows few signs of slowing up and there remains star quality throughout the squad. A lot hangs, though, on the quick integration of Ousmane Dembele — a thrilling talent who, nonetheless, did not deliver weekly for Borussia Dortmund last term and is not yet at Neymar’s level.He should get there eventually; whether Barcelona can reach their former heights is doubtful but it would be rash to rule them out as a Champions League contender.
  2. Atletico Madrid:We are wise enough these days never to write Atletico off but the obvious questions will linger. How smoothly will they adapt to life at their new Wanda Metropolitano stadium, both domestically and on those big European nights? Can a tight-knit squad muster up the energy and will required by Diego Simeone yet again? Will they be able to ride out their summer transfer ban and, if necessary, use January to add a little extra sparkle?

In truth they could do with that now, as Chelsea and Roma will be fiendish group stage opponents, but it would be a surprise if they missed out and Simeone has worked enough wonders with Atletico to merit being bunched among the main challengers once again.Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.

Barcelona, Juventus ready to renew Champions League rivalry

Barcelona and Juventus will renew their recent rivalry when they meet at the Camp Nou in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.The two sides will be meeting in the competition for the third time in the last four years. Barcelona won their fifth and most recent Champions League title when they defeated Juventus in the final in 2015, while Juventus knocked Barcelona out of the competition in the quarterfinals last season.This will be Barcelona’s 22nd appearance in the competition, which matches Real Madrid and Porto for the most all-time, and their 14th consecutive appearance — second only to Real Madrid. Barcelona have, however, won their group on 18 occasions, a Champions League record.They enter with a 21-game unbeaten streak at home in the competition, dating to a loss to Bayern Munich in the second leg of the semifinals on May 1, 2013. That run includes 19 victories and two draws — one of which was against Juventus in the quarterfinals last season.According to FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index (SPI), Barcelona enter with a 96 percent chance of advancing beyond Group D, while Juventus have an 86 percent chance of doing so.The runners-up to Real Madrid last season, Juventus went unbeaten away from home in the Champions League, with the draw against Barcelona in the quarterfinals marking the only time they failed to win a game. They did not concede a goal for 690 minutes, the second-longest run behind only Arsenal in 2005-06, and kept six clean sheets during that span.Currently atop the Serie A table, Juventus have scored 10 goals through their first three games, marking the first time they have done so since 1981. Paulo Dybala, who has scored five of those goals, and Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi are the joint top scorers in Serie A this season. The two are second only to Monaco’s Radamel Falcao and Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani, who have each scored seven goals.Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has also scored five goals, including a hat trick in a 5-0 victory over Espanyol in the Catalan derby on Saturday. Messi, though, has not scored in any of his three games against Juventus.Follow ESPN Stats & Information on Twitter @ESPNStatsInfo

Five ways Sevilla can stun Liverpool in Champions League matchday one

Liverpool begin their Champions League campaign at home to Sevilla on Wednesday in a match between the two sides who will expect to compete for the top spot in Group E. Jurgen Klopp’s side have made a solid start to the season, but there are still reasons to believe that Sevilla will be capable of causing them problems at Anfield.

  1. Sevilla were victorious last time they met

The last time Liverpool and Sevilla met was in the final of the 2015-16 Europa League in Basel. Liverpool took a one-goal lead into the break, but Sevilla came on strong in the second half, equalising quickly through Kevin Gameiro before a double from captain Coke powered them to victory.There has been significant player and staff turnover in the 16 months since that encounter. Sevilla have twice changed coach, while just three of their starting XI in Basel are likely to be involved on Wednesday. But those who do remain at least know that they are capable of beating a Liverpool side coached by Klopp.In five attempts, Sevilla are yet to record a victory away to an English club in European competition, but equally, Liverpool have a particularly unconvincing history at home to Spanish sides. Their record reads five wins, six draws and five defeats.

  1. They will press as much as they are pressed

Liverpool are noted for their intense pressing, but that is also a strong characteristic of sides led by Sevilla coach Eduardo Berizzo. His aggressive, rotating, man-marking system is borrowed from his mentor Marcelo Bielsa and was key in the strong cup runs that his Celta Vigo side managed in domestic and European competition last season.Sevilla will not be passive opponents, and as a result, Wednesday’s match is likely to be a fast and frantic affair. Both sides will seek to win the ball back high up the pitch and then transition swiftly into shooting positions.

The midfield can compete

The energy of Liverpool’s midfield can often see them overrun opponents, but Sevilla have the necessary power in that zone to match them. Guido Pizarro and Steven N’Zonzi are two tall midfielders whose languid gaits mask their underlying physical prowess; they are capable of going toe-to-toe with their Anfield counterparts.N’Zonzi expected to leave Sevilla during the summer transfer window, with Pizarro (whom Berizzo previously wanted to sign at Celta Vigo) was presumably brought in as his replacement. But with no offers forthcoming, they now look set to form a potent partnership in the centre of midfield.Pizarro missed the weekend win over Eibar with a chipped tooth but will be back in action on Wednesday and raring to go ahead of the biggest challenge of his short European career to date.

  1. Ever Banega can organise

Ever Banega is another player who will arrive at Anfield well-rested after missing the weekend match through suspension. He returned to Sevilla this summer after a patchy year at Inter Milan and has immediately reestablished himself as the organiser of their play.A master of small spaces who consistently raises his level in high-intensity encounters, he was excellent against Liverpool in the 2016 Europa League final and will again be a key presence in ensuring the smooth transition of the ball into the attacking third.If Banega is on song, Sevilla should be, too.

  1. They have pace in attack

Liverpool’s press is effective in terms of limiting shooting opportunities, but when teams are able to break through it, the chances they create are usually high-quality ones. Pace in behind causes them particular problems, and Sevilla have a number of rapid forwards capable of exploiting that weakness.Luis Muriel was Sevilla’s big-ticket summer signing, and while his finishing has so far let him down, his pace and power regularly get him into good positions. He, too, will be fresh for Wednesday’s encounter after paperwork issues held up his return from Colombia at the end of the international break.But he is far from the only such threat in a Sevilla attack that also features the direct pace of Jesus Navas, the clever movement of Wissam Ben Yedder and the incisive dribbling of Joaquin Correa. Nolito isn’t as quick, but he has his own qualities. Chances will come, and if Sevilla can take advantage, they have every chance of causing an upset.

Lukaku and Rashford’s big UCL opportunity for Manchester United

When Jose Mourinho was drawing up a list of targets ahead of the summer transfer window, one thing he looked at was Champions League experience.Nemanja Matic had it. So did Victor Lindelof. But Romelu Lukaku didn’t and so Alvaro Morata, who did, was also considered.In the end, Mourinho picked Lukaku, deciding it was easier to make the transition from Premier League to Champions League than La Liga to Premier League.After all, the main objective this season, whether Mourinho will admit it publicly or not, is to win the title.Still, that will be briefly forgotten this week when the Champions League returns to Old Trafford for the first time since November 2015.The talk will be about Mourinho’s record — two wins with Porto and Inter Milan plus eight semifinal appearances — and whether or not United can win it.The bookmakers think they can. United are among the favourites behind only Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Barcelona. You can get longer odds on Juventus, who have reached two of the last three finals.It is perhaps to be expected that United are so well fancied despite failing to qualify in two of the past three seasons. Mourinho’s history in the competition is part of it. So, too, the fact he has spent nearly £150 million to improve a team that won a European trophy last season.But, then, in other ways it is curious. Not least because United’s two main goal-scorers, Lukaku and Marcus Rashford, are yet to prove themselves in Europe’s top club competition.Rashford has never played a Champions League fixture. Lukaku’s experience extends to a handful of qualifiers with Anderlecht when he was a teenager. Yet both will be expected to score the goals to get United out of a group that also includes Basel, Benfica and CSKA Moscow.It might seem like a straightforward draw, but it has not escaped Mourinho’s attention that United finished third in Group C behind Basel and Benfica in 2011 and failed to get out of a group that included CSKA Moscow in 2015.It raises the question about whether Champions League experience matters. Paul Ince says it does. “It is highly unusual these days for a £75 million striker not to have had previous experience,” the former United midfielder said of Lukaku.”If he wants to be considered world class, this is the stage where he has to prove himself.”Sir Alex Ferguson, though, would probably tell you otherwise.He spent £12.6 million on Dwight Yorke in 1998 despite the striker’s previous European experience amounting to two goals in seven games for Aston Villa in the UEFA Cup.But it didn’t stop Yorke scoring eight goals in 11 games in his first season in the Champions League, including three in the knockout rounds, on his way to winning it in 1999.Wayne Rooney had never played a European club fixture before scoring a hat trick for United against Fenerbahce in the Champions League on his debut. That said, he had just scored four goals for England at Euro 2004.Rashford has already scored on his United debut, European debut, Premier League debut, League Cup debut and England debut. It would be no surprise to see him do it again on his Champions League debut.The bookies don’t think experience matters and Lukaku is among the favourites to score the most goals in this Champions League this season alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and Neymar.The Belgian is a better bet, they reckon, than established Champions League strikers Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema.But here lies the debate about Lukaku, in particular.There is little doubt about his ability to score in volume. Detractors call it being a “flat-track bully”. But it is his impact in the big games that draws the most attention. He scored 15 goals in 57 games against the Premier League’s top six for West Brom and Everton — almost a goal every four games.You can argue that, with better players around him, that should change but we will not know for sure until United play Liverpool at Anfield on Oct. 14.In Lukaku’s defence, he has already scored against European champions Real Madrid in the Super Cup this season, albeit in a 2-1 defeat.United’s staff say Lukaku genuinely believes he will, one day, become the best striker in the world. But even he has admitted he will have to perform in the Champions League before everyone believes it.”It’s difficult to compare at the moment,” he said. “They have the Champions League platform to show themselves. Those are the top games where I need to show people I belong to them too.”He is set to get his first chance this week.Rob is ESPN FC’s Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.

Champions League group stages: How do the teams match up?

The Champions League group stages begin on Tuesday. Here is a look at all the groups.

GROUP A

Prediction: 1. Man United, 2. Benfica, 3. CSKA Moscow, 4. FC Basel

MAN UNITED (Rob Dawson)

Definition of success: United should be one of the teams looking to win the Champions League, but after missing out in two of the last three years, realistic expectations may be a little lower. Jose Mourinho has built up the strength of their group but United should qualify comfortably. After that, it can become a bit of a lottery and they have a manager who specialises in finding a way to win tight games in Europe, so the signs are good.

Key player: Romelu Lukaku. The one downside to signing the Belgian from Everton is that he has not been tested in the Champions League. If he scores goals then United will do well. His doubters say the 24-year-old struggles to perform in the big games but the Champions League — especially the knockout rounds — offers him a chance to put that right.

Manager’s approach: Mourinho knows what he’s doing in the Champions League. He has got enough attacking players to have a go at teams, but he may be a bit more cautious away from home if they get to the knockout rounds. After winning the competition with Porto and Inter Milan, he will not care if United are not immediately among the favourites this season.

Predicted finish in group: First. Anything less would raise some eyebrows.

BENFICA (Tom Kundert)

Definition of success: In his two seasons in charge, Rui Vitoria has led the Eagles to the quarterfinals and round of 16 stage of the Champions League, as well as winning the league on both occasions, so the bar is set high. That said, the loss of three key players in the summer — Ederson, Victor Lindelof and Nelson Semedo — means another run to the quarterfinals would be an excellent achievement.

Key player: Ljubomir Fejsa. The Serbian holding midfielder has accumulated an incredible nine championship winning medals in nine consecutive seasons in three different countries. Fejsa’s powerful and fantastically consistent performance levels are all the more remarkable given that brittle fitness rarely allows him to play more than four consecutive games.

Manager’s approach: Benfica have bludgeoned modest opponents into submission on a regular basis since Vitoria has been at the helm, but he adopts a more reactive approach in the big matches at home and in Europe. It has led to accusations of an overly conservative game plan, but the results speak for themselves.

Predicted finish: Second. Benfica should target the runners-up spot behind Manchester United.

– Any chance of an upset? (Michael Yokhin)

CSKA Moscow: After going 43 games without a clean sheet in the Champions League, dating back to 2006, goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev has finally ended the nightmare and hasn’t conceded a single goal in four qualifying fixtures. But he’ll need to continue that form in the group stage.

FC Basel: Hugely experienced in the tournament, they possess a deep squad and made an intriguing coaching change, promoting the promising former Swiss international Raphael Wicky from the Under-21 team, in April. But it’s a tough ask.

 

GROUP B

Prediction: 1. PSG, 2. Bayern Munich, 3. Celtic, 4. Anderlecht

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (Jonathan Johnson)

Definition of success: After the big-money signing of Neymar from Barcelona and the arrival of Kylian Mbappe on loan from Monaco, PSG have never looked better equipped to embark upon a deep Champions League run. Redemption after last year’s failure to reach even the quarterfinals will be the minimum target for coach Unai Emery and his players this season, while a semifinal berth or better will be what the French capital outfit’s Qatari paymasters are demanding. A spot in the last four — for the first time in the Qatari era — will be represent success. It would also illustrate progress on the pitch for the first time in a long while.

Key player: Neymar. Despite the presence of fellow summer signing Mbappe alongside him in attack and Marco Verratti in midfield, there is no doubt that PSG’s key man is now Neymar. Les Parisiens‘ hopes of going beyond the quarterfinals will lie largely with him and the Brazilian superstar appears primed to deliver after finally being handed the keys to his own team after years in Lionel Messi’s shadow with Barca.

Manager’s approach: Emery is likely to continue with the possession-based 4-3-3 formation that he has started this campaign with, which he also favoured for most of last term. However, with so much depth in attack now, the Spaniard can afford to experiment with other systems and perhaps switch to his preferred 4-2-3-1 after his failure to implement it last season because it was undermined by the dressing room. Considering how many seemingly peripheral attacking figures would likely favour this change, it is not unrealistic to think that PSG could start out with a totally different style to the one they will finish with in this year’s continental edition.

Predicted finish: First. PSG fans will remember how notoriously slow Carlo Ancelotti’s teams are to hit their stride, so the Ligue 1 giants will be confident of bettering Bayern Munich and their former Italian tactician over two group stage fixtures.

 

BAYERN MUNICH (Mark Lovell)

Definition of success: Last season’s quarterfinal exit to a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid side proved no disgrace, taking the eventual champions all the way to extra-time in the Bernabeu. However, following the agony of three consecutive semifinal defeats under Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti was hired to improve on the Catalan’s record. He needs to reach the semifinals or his time in Munich might be prematurely cut short.

Key player: Robert Lewandowski. Bayern’s top scorer was sorely missed in the last season’s quarterfinal first leg and was not 100 percent for the return either. Still bereft of a backup striker, Bayern need Lewandowski to stay fit and firing if they are to go deep in the competition. PSG and Bayern will fill the top two group places anyway, leaving Celtic and Anderlecht to battle it out for Europa League glory.

Manager’s approach: Chasing his third win, Ancelotti knows how to get the job done in Europe’s top club competition and he will be especially keen to get one over his former employers at PSG. The Italian’s sides are not as easy on the eye as his predecessor and it has been a tough watch of late with a series of stale performances. Whatever system he employs, 4-3-3 or his favoured 4-2-3-1, if everyone is fit there’s unlikely to be a spot available for the only remaining Bavarian — Thomas Muller.

Predicted finish: Second. Finishing top of the group ahead of PSG would be welcome, but it’s far from a must these days. Real Madrid finished second in their group last season behind Borussia Dortmund and still went on to seal the trophy with plenty in hand.

– Any chance of an upset? (Michael Yokhin)

Celtic: Brendan Rodgers knows his team much better in his second season, and the results a year ago were positive anyway as they went an entire league season unbeaten and drew twice against Manchester City in Europe. If Kieran Tierney and Leigh Griffiths continue to progress, more surprises could be ahead.

Anderlecht: The Belgian champions started the season in disastrous fashion and life without Youri Tielemans (now at Monaco) looks tough, but they still can turn things around.

 

GROUP C

Prediction: 1. Atletico Madrid, 2. Chelsea, 3. AS Roma, 4. FK Qarabag

ATLETICO MADRID (Joe Walker)

Definition of success: After heartache in two of the last four finals and elimination at the hands of Real Madrid in each of the last four seasons, success could be defined as merely knocking out their city rivals — even if Los Rojiblancos are then immediately dumped out in the next round themselves. However, Diego Simeone has high standards and his definition of success will be one thing: lifting the trophy. Realistically, another semifinal appearance would be significant.

Key player: Saul Niguez. It would be easy to say Antoine Griezmann here, however Saul is perhaps even more important for Atleti than the Frenchman. The top-scoring Spaniard in the competition over the last three years, it is more often than not Saul — rather than Griezmann — is the man that rises to the occasion when Atletico need a hero. He is the driving force of this side from the middle of the park and will be pivotal for years to come.

Manager’s approach: Simeone puts the collective above all. He demands 100 percent from every player and insists on defending from the front. His Atleti are most comfortable without the ball and love to play on the counter, yet have shown themselves to be more than capable when up against a low defensive block as they are likely to encounter with Maribor. He had an impeccable home record at the Vicente Calderon in the Champions League and will be hoping to carry that over to the new Wanda Metropolitano.

Predicted finish: First. While Chelsea and Roma pose significant threats, Simeone and Atleti are old hands at this. They finished top of a group containing Bayern Munich last season and should have enough cunning and nous to do likewise this time round — provided they can turn the Metropolitano into a fortress.

CHELSEA (Liam Twomey)

Definition of success: Chelsea won this competition with a less talented team in 2012, but no one at Stamford Bridge expects such glory this time around — particularly with Real Madrid looking so imperious. Regaining credibility on the elite European stage is the priority, and a solid run to the quarterfinals would do just fine.

Key player: Eden Hazard. With mercurial talisman Diego Costa out of the Champions League squad and seemingly on his way out of the door, Hazard is now Chelsea’s most reliable matchwinner, as well as the team’s most talented player. When it comes to finding a way through top defences, the Belgian is Antonio Conte’s best hope.

Manager’s approach: Conte has gained a reputation for underachievement in the Champions League, but there is no logical reason why that should continue. Chelsea are a well-drilled team with a good balance between defence and attack and in Conte, they have a coach with the knowledge to counteract most types of opponent.

Predicted finish: Second. Chelsea to just slip behind Atletico Madrid in top spot, and it might even come down to goal difference between two similar and evenly-matched teams.

ROMA (Terry Daley)

Definition of success: Just getting out of a very tough group would be a success for a Roma team that is in transition and with a new coach — Eusebio Di Francesco — who is making his managerial Champions League debut. Should his talented team click and finish above either Chelsea or Atletico, they have the players to cause some damage in the knockout stages

Key player: Patrik Schick. With the team settling into a new system its hard to pick out one key man, as neither Roma’s attack nor defence look fully settled. Record signing Schick has been brought in to add flair to a staid forward line and how he fits alongside the in-form Edin Dzeko will be crucial as the group stage unfolds.

Manager’s approach: Di Francesco loves to play attacking, high-pressing football that puts the opposition on the back foot, and if Roma are going to get any joy out the four matches with Chelsea and Atletico, he will have to hope his side adapt quickly to his 4-3-3 system — or adapt his ideas to the players he has.

Predicted finish: Third. Should the teething problems with Di Francesco’s system be overcome there’s no reason why Roma can’t qualify, but as it stands third is most likely.

– Any chance of an upset? (Michael Yokhin)

Qarabag: The Azerbaijani side’s national pride makes them especially motivated, since they can’t play in the city of Agdam, and brilliant coach Gurban Gurbanov (who has been with them since 2008) brings stability and continuity. But they are against much bigger fish.

 

GROUP D

Prediction: 1. Juventus, 2. Barcelona, 3. Olympiakos, 4. Sporting CP

JUVENTUS: (Mina Rzouki)

Definition of success: After reaching the final twice in three years, Juventus will be expected to win their group and reach the latter stages of the competition, perhaps even finally win it. A side that has long boasted balance and tactical brilliance, Juve have yet to produce a performance worthy of their name in the final, often capitulating at the last hurdle. Only winning the elusive trophy will appease the disheartened fans who dream of success.

Key player: Paulo Dybala. The Argentine’s technique, vision and football IQ has many referring to him as the next Lionel Messi. Few players in the world can make the impact he can and ever since Juventus handed him the No.10 jersey, the player has delighted with his intensity and brilliance, ensuring wins for a side that is yet to recover its fluidity.

Manager’s approach: Having strengthened the attack, Juventus may lose a little balance but will be more effective and efficient going forward. Massimiliano Allegri has always played with a little caution and he’ll be keen to address the defensive problems, but if Juventus are to reach the latter stages, the coach will need to ensure they are as tactically versatile as ever, playing the balanced game required to beat the very best.

Predicted finish: First. Juve will go head-to-head with Barcelona for top spot, but this season they have nothing to fear from the Catalans and should have the edge.

BARCELONA (Sam Marsden)

Definition of success: Despite a general lack of satisfaction with how the transfer window closed and the state of the midfield, only winning the Champions League will be considered a success. In difference to previous seasons, though, a semifinal or final defeat may not be considered the end of the world depending on the circumstances.

Key player: Ousmane Dembele. The warnings not to put too much pressure on Dembele — who at just 20 is the world’s second most expensive player — by comparing him to Neymar are completely fair. However, how quickly he settles into his new life at Camp Nou will play a big part in how Barca’s season unfolds. Hitting the ground running would ease the Messi-dependence.

Manager’s approach: New coach Ernesto Valverde has remained cool during what has been a turbulent summer. On the pitch, he doesn’t quite seem to have found what he’s looking for yet, though. Therefore, the Champions League group stages may be used for tinkering. Messi on the right or through the middle? Another pivot alongside Sergio Busquets? 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3?

Predicted finish: Second. With so many doubts, Barca will want to prove a point, which they’ll try to make by beating Juventus to top spot.

– Any chance of an upset? (Michael Yokhin)

Olympiakos: The Greek champions lack stability due to frequent coach and squad changes, but the atmosphere at their home stadium is always hostile towards visitors, and one can expect former Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin to shine on the big stage at long last.

Sporting Lisbon: Gelson Martins proved that he is capable of becoming a major star last season, while the Lions managed to keep William Carvalho and made some interesting acquisitions this summer, especially the Argentina international Marcos Acuna.

GROUP E

Prediction: 1. Liverpool, 2. Sevilla, 3. Spartak Moscow, 4. NK Maribor

LIVERPOOL (Glenn Price)

Definition of success: Liverpool are back in the Champions League for only the third time in the last nine seasons. They have failed to get out of the group stages in their last two attempts in the competition, so reaching the knockout rounds is their first achievable aim. The five-time winners should be aiming higher though and, as a club that has an illustrious history in Europe, Liverpool should be eyeing up the quarterfinals.

Key player: Sadio Mane. This will be his first taste of European football with Liverpool, and it provides the Senegal winger with the opportunity to star on the biggest stage of all. Mane is becoming Liverpool’s main man, and his pace and matchwinning ability will be crucial to the Reds’ Champions League campaign.

Manager’s approach: Liverpool have shown they can beat any team on any given day under Jurgen Klopp’s management. Klopp also has pedigree on the European stage, guiding Borussia Dortmund to the Champions League final in 2013 and reaching the Europa League final during his first season at Anfield. His energetic, attacking style of play will be a welcome return to the UCL this season.

Predicted finish: First. Despite tricky trips to Spartak Moscow and Sevilla, this is winnable group, and Liverpool should be looking to secure a first-placed finish.

SEVILLA (Nick Dorrington)

Definition of success: Sevilla were very disappointed with their elimination at the hands of Leicester in last season’s round of 16. They will be aiming to go at least one round further this time after solid investment in their squad over the summer.

Key player: Ever Banega. The midfielder has returned to the south of Spain after a patchy year at Inter Milan and has slotted back in seamlessly at the Sanchez Pizjuan. With his quick feet and incisive passing, he will dictate the rhythm of Sevilla’s play from the centre of midfield.

Manager’s approach: Eduardo Berizzo has been presented as a coach who will continue the style implemented by Jorge Sampaoli last season but there are some key differences. Berizzo prioritises forward momentum over control in possession and favours fixed over situational width in attack. The aggressive press will, however, remain.

Predicted finish: Second. With Spartak Moscow a relatively weak first seed, Sevilla are likely to compete with Liverpool to top the group, and they are certainly capable of doing so.

– Any chance of an upset? (Michael Yokhin)

Spartak Moscow: Having celebrated a sensational title for the first time since 2001, the Russian giants will do their utmost to make a good impression on the big stage, and need Dutch star Quincy Promes to be in sparkling form if they are to stand a chance.

NK Maribor: The Slovenian champions’ main star is director of football Zlatko Zahovic, but while the current squad lacks top quality, they compensate for it with outstanding team spirit and a great atmosphere at the Ljudski Vrt stadium.

GROUP F

Prediction: 1. Man City, 2. Napoli, 3. Feyenoord, 4. Shakhtar Donetsk

MAN CITY (Jonathan Smith)

Definition of success: It’s too early in the Pep Guardiola revolution to put Manchester City among the favourites but they will want to progress beyond last season’s round of 16 finish. A place in the semifinals would constitute success and give a base to build on for a realistic challenge of winning the competition in the years to come.

Key player: David Silva. One of the few players in the squad to have experienced success on the international stage, Silva’s intelligence, creativity and courage to have the ball in difficult situations will be crucial in key matches. He becomes a natural leader on big European nights, driving his teammates forward against top opposition, just as his manager requires.

Manager’s approach: Guardiola won’t change his style; even if City come up against the biggest clubs he is determined to attack. It has it’s drawbacks, as seen in the 4-0 to defeat to Barcelona last season, but when they get it right, they are capable of beating anyone.

Predicted finish: First. It’s not the easiest group but City should be seen as having the most complete squad of the teams in it.

NAPOLI (Ben Gladwell)

Definition of success: Napoli are no longer a team just happy to have qualified for the Champions League, they are intent on becoming one of Europe’s most feared teams. They were close last season against Real, and advancing to the last eight will be considered as a minimum aim. The Serie A side are earning widespread acclaim for their attractive, attacking style of play and are set to win over even more fans this season.

Key player: Dries Mertens. Transformed into a centre forward by Maurizio Sarri, Mertens has ensured Napoli fans don’t miss Gonzalo Higuain. The Belgian playmaker honed his eye for goal in spectacular fashion, scoring 28 times in Serie A last season. The 30-year-old’s trickery and agility make him hard to mark, while Napoli’s three-pronged attack — him, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon — means opposition defenders cannot focus on just one and all three invariably get chances to score.

Manager’s approach: Sarri has formed a fearsome 4-3-3 formation which could almost be regarded as a 4-2-1-3 with Marek Hamsik in support of the front three. Attacking is always the objective and Napoli do this with a fast-paced, one-touch passing game which shares similarities with the Barcelona of the Guardiola era. There is no keeping possession for the sake of it and plenty of purpose to Napoli’s build-up play.

Predicted finish: Second. Manchester City and Napoli can be expected to walk away with Group F, with the main question being which of the two will finish first. The Azzurri can be expected to pick up nine points from their home games — including a win over City — and it may therefore come down to their meeting in Manchester to determine who tops the group. Both are in a different category to Shakhtar Donetsk and Feyenoord.

– Any chance of an upset? (Michael Yokhin)

Feyenoord: The European Cup winners in 1970 consider themselves a top club, and the confidence under brilliant coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst is sky-high following their first title since 1999, even though Dirk Kuyt chose to retire.

Shakhtar Donetsk: They still can’t host home games in Donetsk due to security reasons, but Shakhtar won the double in their first season under the Portuguese coach Paulo Fonseca and Darijo Srna, who has been at the club since 2003, is still calling the shots as the captain. They will be tricky.

 

GROUP G

Prediction: 1. AS Monaco, 2. FC Porto, 3. RB Leipzig, 4. Besiktas

MONACO (Ian Holyman)

Definition of success: Expectations raised by last season’s semifinal run have been tempered by key departures, such as Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Mbappe and Tiemoue Bakayoko. Then again, those players were little known when they arrived in the principality, and Monaco still possess a bona fide matchwinner in Radamel Falcao. All that means anything less than a round of 16 place would be a disappointment.

Key player: Falcao. The striker showed last season his thoroughbred pedigree remains intact despite his ill-fated moves to England. There’s no Mbappe or Silva, but the Colombia international still has a willing and able supporting cast, notably Thomas Lemar. At 31, it will require canny man-management from Leonardo Jardim to ensure he stays fit enough to be on the pitch when it matters most.

Manager’s approach: Jardim’s title-winning team has been shredded, and yet he has still begun the season in characteristic swashbuckling, successful style. In stark contrast to his understated demeanour, Jardim’s team only know one way to play: attack. And there is no reason to change a strategy that keeps on winning.

Predicted finish: First. The group stage draw could have been kinder with RB Leipzig the team no-one wanted in pot four, but Jardim’s men should be classy and experienced enough to finish top.

PORTO (Tom Kundert)

Definition of success: After four trophyless years, a threadbare squad and with zero investment during the summer, this Porto side is a long way from the powerful team that competed with Europe’s finest in the not-too-distant past. Although drawn against clubs of similar standing, staying in the Champions League beyond Christmas would be praiseworthy.

Key player: Oliver Torres. When the creative midfielder is on his game, Porto are difficult to stop. The talented 22-year-old Spaniard allies wonderful vision, a sharp football mind and technical excellence, which allows him to distribute the ball quickly and effectively to keep Porto on the offensive.

Manager’s approach: A fiery, aggressive and fully committed winger for Portugal at the turn of the century, Sergio Conceicao has quickly instilled those very same traits into the club he served with such distinction as a player. In his successful coaching career to date, his teams have played only one way: on the front foot.

Predicted finish: Second. But they could run Monaco close as the French club deals with losing so many players.

– Any chance of an upset? (Michael Yokhin)

Besiktas: Attack-minded coach Senol Gunes is never afraid of anyone and, having led Turkey to the semifinals at the 2002 World Cup, he is capable of going one better than the group stage exit they managed last season in the Champions League, especially as the Eagles are more experienced now.

RB Leipzig: They finished second in the Bundesliga in their first ever season in the top flight, so the sky is the limit for a team who have managed to keep all their stars, including Naby Keita, Emil Forsberg and Timo Werner.

 

GROUP H – GROUP OF DEATH

Prediction: 1. Real Madrid, 2. Dortmund, 3. Tottenham, 4. Apoel Nicosia

REAL MADRID (Dermot Corrigan)

Definition of success: As winners in each of the last two seasons, only lifting the trophy again would count as success for Real Madrid. Fans, pundits and players are full of confidence and there has been talk of matching the exploits of the 1950s and 1960s team, which won six European Cups in a decade. A group exit would be a disaster.

Key player: Sergio Ramos. While Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric are also irreplaceable, the season’s opening weeks have suggested skipper Ramos could be the team’s most important player. The squad is light on experienced centre-backs and Ramos’ charismatic leadership is also useful to maintain a focus, which wavered dramatically through the group stages last season.

Manager’s approach: Zinedine Zidane is likely to continue to rotate his squad, giving back up players minutes even before qualification is secured. This has the double effect of keeping stars like Ronaldo fresh for the final stages and shows confidence that youngsters like Marco Asensio can deliver.

Predicted finish: First. Dortmund showed greater consistency to top their group ahead of Madrid last season but you have to think the defending champions would right that wrong.

DORTMUND (Stephan Uersfeld)

Definition of success: Dortmund have been a constant in the knockout stages of Champions League in recent years. Sure, they did not qualify for the competition in 2015-16, but otherwise they have always made it past the group stage regardless of their opponents. A group stage exit would be regarded as nothing but a failure at the Westfalenstadion. Advancing to the quarterfinals appears to be the ceiling.

Key player: Mario Gotze. Having lost Dembele to Barcelona, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang needs a new feeder. United States international Christian Pulisic has shown that he can rise to the occasion, but new coach Peter Bosz will also look for experience which he hopes to find in Gotze. The midfielder is slowly returning to form and will be crucial for Dortmund with his qualities in the final third of the pitch.

Manager’s approach. Bosz has impressed and confused both his side and opponents with a variation of formations and in-game coaching, but the former Ajax boss banks on a high-pressing 4-3-3 formation. Dortmund have looked vulnerable and, at times, wide-open in defence when losing the ball, but have been able to close the gaps in their opening league games so far. Bosz has asked for patience to implement the new style at Champions League level, however, the club’s new system needs to work from the off.

Predicted finish: Second. Dortmund can gain an edge over Tottenham with their home form and finish the group as runners-up.

TOTTENHAM (Dan Kilpatrick)

Definition of success: Qualification would count as a huge success for Spurs, and a win in either game against Real Madrid would be a big statement, helping Mauricio Pochettino’s team to announce themselves in Europe. Even if they go out, competing well with Real and Dortmund could be seen as progress.

Key player: Harry Kane. With Dele Alli suspended for the first three matches, there will be even more pressure on Kane to fire Spurs to qualification. The club were not clinical enough in the Champions League last season and his finishing could be the difference in tight matches.

Manager’s approach: Pochettino is a league manager first and foremost, and he rested players for a must-win group game last season ahead of the visit to Chelsea. Spurs’ post-European league games are all easier this year, but they host Liverpool after visiting Real, so don’t be surprised if Pochettino rests players at the Bernabeu. In general, he never alters his approach based on the opposition, however.

Predicted finish: Third. The games against Dortmund, particularly at home, will be key but Real and the Germans should have too much quality and experience for Spurs.

– Any chance of an upset? (Michael Yokhin)

APOEL: They reached the quarterfinals in the 2011-12 season, and know that another sensation is not out of question for a multinational squad which showed great form and spirit in the qualifiers.

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9/8/17 US Ties Honduras still alive for World Cup, NASL Denied 2nd Division Status, Champions League returns Tues/Wed, CHS Girls Free Admin for Youth Players Sept 13th, US Ladies @ Cincy 9/19

Ok way too much to discuss this week.  First off WOW – the US didn’t look good but found a goal somehow on a free kick scrum and beautiful goal by super sub Bobby Wood to pull out the 1-1 tie with Honduras on the road Tuesday evening in WC Qualifying.  After a huge misplay by Gonzales lead to an early goal for Honduras – things did not look good as honestly Honduras outplayed the US until Arena’s subs got loose in the last 20 minutes or so.  The goal in the last 5 minutes of play saved the day – a goal ESPN Analyst Taylor Twellman called the biggest goal for the US since 1990 – because without the tie to bring us even with Honduras for 4th in the group – we might not make the world cup in Russia.  Now a win vs 3rd place Panama in Orlando and win on the road at last place T&T in the last games of qualifying in October would guarantee us at least a 4th place slot with a playoff vs an Asian team maybe Australia.  Whew !!

Listen the US didn’t play well the last 2 games – but I honestly thought we dominated play vs Costa Rica (at home with a 50/50 crowd in NJ -don’t get me started) – but just had 1 huge defensive breakdown which reset the tone.  Navas was spectacular and Costa Rica, who made the Quarterfinals in 2014 of the World Cup, is a good team – they tied Mexico at Mexico last night.  Honduras while not anywhere close to as good as Costa Rica – is a solid team at home where they don’t lose often especially at 3:30 pm in the heat of the day on a spotty pitch and a packed stadium bolstered by it being declared a national holiday for the game.  I’ll admit while I loved the return of Beesler who hands down is our best left center back in my opinion (yes better than Brooks even) – I was surprised at Gonzales replacing Cameron and Beasley starting on the left.  Honduras wingers have speed and ate us alive on both flanks at times.  Even the goal was really Zusi’s man making a run who Gonzo was covering for.  The other issue was the US return to just lobbing the ball forward and hoping for a header or bring down and direct attack rather than a better build-up like vs Costa Rica.  I guess you have to give Arena credit for throwing caution to the wind – putting 4 forwards in along with 3 MF and just 3 defenders as we pushed for the all important equalizer.  Did we look good no, did we deserve the tie, maybe not – but the US grinded out the 1-1 result – good ole USA style and now we look OK for qualifying for the World Cup in Russia – as long as we beat Panama at home in October. (Oh US Ladies vs New Zealand in Cincy is close to soldout!)

Champions League Group Stages kick off Tues with Barcelona vs Juventus at 2:45 pm on Fox Sport 2, with Man U vs Basel on FS1 and Chelsea hosting Qarabag on Fox Indiana.  Wed gives us a GROUP OF DEATH match with Tottenham vs Dortmund (Christian Pulisic) at 2:45 pm FS1, defending Champs Real Madrid vs Apoel on FS2, and Liverpool vs Sevilla on Fox Soccer Indiana & ESPN3.

This weekend – some big games in the EPL with Man City hosting Liverpool at 7:30 am Sat on NBCSN, followed by Everton vs Tottenham on CNBC at 10 am, and Stoke City with US Defender Geoff Cameron hosting Man United at 12:30 on NBC.  Sunday gives us US defender Deandre Yedlin and Newcastle United traveling to Swansea at 11 am on NBCSN, followed by a host of MLS games Columbus vs Sporting KC 1 pm on ESPN, Atlanta vs Dallas and former Carmel High star Matt Hedges at 3:30 pm on Fox Sport 1, and finally Seattle hosting LA at 9 pm on FS1.

Carmel High School is hosting a Youth Soccer Night On Wednesday, September 13th as the CHS Girl’s teams play Warren Central.  Admission is FREE for the Carmel FC and Carmel Dad’s Club players with a uniform on.  Parents pay just $5 for entry to both the 5 pm JV and 7 pm Varsity game at Murray Stadium at CHS.  CFC players please wear your Yellow Jersey’s with White pants (no cleats).

USA

US guts out huge point at Honduras – arch Bell ESPNFC

US Super Sub Bobby Wood Bails US Out – Jeff Carlisle  ESPNFC

The Point Doesn’t Eliminate Real Worries for US  – Armchair Analyst – Matt Doyle – MLS.com

USMNT Stuck in Concacaf Treadmill – Boehm – MLS.com

US Late point is Huge for Arena – Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

Taylor Twellman – Woods Goal biggest in recent US History – ESPNFC Video

Beasler Impresses in US Tie – Jason Davis – Player Ratings

Player Ratings – Greg Saltzer MLS.com

US – other last second Goals US Soccer

US Finds a Way – US Soccer

Costa Rica Game

Tim Howard to Blame on the 1st Goal

US Mistakes are Fixable – Noah Davis ESPNFC

US Frustrated by Resiliant Costa Rico – 2-0

Boehm A NY Native says don’t Blame Venue for the Loss  I say BS – Columbus would have been 100% US Fans!  Last US game in Tristate.

Panama into 3rd – ESPNF FC US 4th with Honduras

Goalkeepers  

Navas and Ochoa Put on a Show in Mexico vs Costa Rica 1-1 tie

Navas Spectacular Save vs US Pulisic

WORLD

Who has Qualified for WC in Russia So far – ESPNFC

South American Qualifying – Argentina still outside looking in

England comes back to win vs Slovakia – ESPNFC

Rashford Saves England

Australia Faces Tougher Road – could face US if we finish 4th

South Korea and Suadi’s Qualify – Syria to Playoff

Instead of MSN at Barca – Neymar to be ringleader of MCN – at PSG

NASL / Indy 11  

US Soccer Turns Down NASL 2nd Division Request?  ESPNFC

NASL left out of Division 2 ?  Brian Straus SI

NASL Statement

Indy 11 this Sat match at Jacksonville Rescheduled for Sept 27th

Indy 11 Networking Night – Wed 7:30 pm Sept 13 vs NC  FC

3 TakeAways from 2-0 loss to San Fran

Champions League Starts Tues/Wed

Top Teams Mostly happy with UCL Draw

Real Madrid Set to Win Again – ESPNFC

Stage set for EPL Teams to Advance in Champions League

Position Awards for 2016 Awarded – Buffon, Ramos, Modric, Ronaldo win

Group A – Man United, Benficia, CSKA Moscow, Basel

Group B – Bayern, PSG, Anderleccht, Celtic

Group C – Chelsea, Atletico, Roma, Qarabag

Group D – Juve, Barca, Olympiakos, Sporting

Group E – Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor

Group F Man City, Shakhtar, Napoli, Feyenoord

Group G – Monaco, Porto, Besiktas, RB Leipzig

Group of Death H – Real Madrid, Dortmund, Tottenham, Apoel

Champions League Schedule Games start Sept 12/13 2:45 pm Fox Sports

 Tuesday 12 September
Group A: Benfica v CSKA Moskva, Manchester United v Basel
Group B: Bayern München v Anderlecht, Celtic v Paris Saint-Germain
Group C: Chelsea v Qarabağ, Roma v Atlético Madrid
Group D: Barcelona v Juventus, Olympiacos v Sporting CP

Wednesday 13 September
Group E: Maribor v Spartak Moskva, Liverpool v Sevilla
Group F: Feyenoord v Manchester City, Shakhtar v Napoli
Group G: RB Leipzig v Monaco, Porto v Beşiktaş
Group H: Real Madrid v APOEL, Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund

  • Other highlights
    Tuesday 26 September: Dortmund v Madrid
    Wednesday 27 September: Paris v Bayern

EPL

Coutino set to return to Liverpool?

Grading the EPL Teams So Far – ESPNFC

GAMES ON TV  

Fri, Sept 8

2:30 pm FS2                   Hamburger (Bobby Wood) vs RB Leipzig

Sat, Sept 9                     

7:30 am NBCSN   Man City vs Liverpool

9:30 am Fox Sport 1 Freiberg vs Dortmund (Pulisic) 

9:30 am FS2                    Mainz vs Bayer Leverkusin

9:30 am Fox Soccer Borussia Mgladbach (Johnson) vs Frankfurt

10 am NBCSN                Arsenal vs AFC Bournemouth

10 am CNBC                   Everton vs Tottenhamm

10 am Serius XM         Leister City vs Chelsea

12:30 pm NBC      Stoke City (Cameron) vs Man United 

12:30 pm FS1                Hoffenheim vs Bayern Munich

2:45 pm beIN Sport  Barcelona vs Espanyol

7:30 pm Lifetime       Orlando vs Seattle Riegn (Women’s League)

7:30 pm My Indy TV  Indy 11 vs Jax Armada (CANCELLED)

Sun, Sept 10

8:30 am NBCSN            Burnley vs Crystal Palace

9 am beIN Sports        Lazio vs Milan

9:30 am FS1                    Hertha vs Werder Bremen

11 am NBCSN                Swansea vs Newcastle (Yedlin)

12noon  FS2                   Schalke vs Stuggart

1 pm ESPN                                               Columbus Crew vs Sporting KC (Zuzi, Beesler)

3:30 pm FS1                   Atlanta vs Dallas (Hedges, Acosta)

9 pm FS1                           Seattle (Dempsey, Morris) vs LA Galaxy (Zardes)

Tues  Sept 12 Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                        Manchester United v Basel

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Barcelona v Juventus 

2:45  Fox Sport Ind? Chelsea vs Qarabag

Wed  Sept 13 Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                        Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Real Madrid vs APOEL

2:45 Fox Sport Ind?                          Liverpool v Sevilla  ESPN3

Sat, Sept 16                  

7:30 am NBCSN            Crystal Palace vs Southampton

9:30 am Fox Sport 1 Bayern Munich vs Mainz

9:30 am FS2                    Werder Breman vs Schalke

9:30 am Fox Soccer Borussia Mgladbach (Johnson) vs Frankfurt

10 am NBCSN                 Liverpool vs Burnley

12:30 pm NBC              Tottenham vs Swansea  

12:30 pm FS2                RB Leipzig vs Borussia M’Gladbach

Sun, Sept 17

8:30 am NBCSN   Chelsea vs Arsenal  

9:30 am FS1                    Beyern Leverkusen vs Freiburg

11 am NBCSN                Man U vs Everton  

12noon  FS2                   Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Koln

1 pm ESPN                                               NY Red Bulls vs Philly Union (Bedoya)

4 pm my Indy TV Edmonton vs Indy 11

Tues, Sept 19

2:45 pm ESPN3             Leicester City vs Liverpool (League Cup)

7:30 pm Fox Sport 1  USA Ladies team vs New Zealand (at Cincy tix Avail)

Wed, Sept 20

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Hamburger (Woods) vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

7 pm ESPN2                    Atlanta United vs LA Galaxy

9 pm ESPN 2         Sporting KC vs NY Red Bulls – US OPEN CUP FINAL

Full MLS Schedule

Indy 11 TV Schedule

EPL 2017 Schedule

================================================

7 pm  Wed Oct 18 – Butler Men Host Indiana University  

See all the Stories online at  www.theoleballcoach.com

Bobby Wood’s late equalizer sees the U.S. gut out massive point in Honduras

Three quick thoughts from the United States’ 1-1 draw with Honduras in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying at San Pedro Sula on Tuesday.

  1. U.S. guts out massive point

Should the U.S. reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia, it will likely look back on Bobby Wood’s late second-half goal in the afternoon heat in San Pedro Sula as the moment that saved its qualifying campaign.With the vuvuzuelas blaring and the Hondurans flying against an exhausted U.S. team, up popped substitute Wood to bang in a ball in the area to resurrect the U.S. after what was looking like an absolute hammer blow to its World Cup hopes. With the precious point, the U.S. is still in a good spot to reach Russia next summer, even if Panama, as expected, takes care of business and defeats Trinidad and Tobago at home later on Tuesday.This was far from a pretty game for the U.S. The defensive errors are a topic all to themselves (see below), but the same things keep happening in other parts of the field. Christian Pulisic was left frustrated for the third qualifier in a row, after having little impact against Mexico in the Azteca and then being nullified in the Friday loss to Costa Rica. The Borussia Dortmund youngster is learning the beast that is CONCACAF, with its physical play and unsympathetic referees.Darlington Nagbe goes missing far too often. When Nagbe is on the ball, the U.S. is a threat. The problem is that sometimes the Portland Timbers midfielder will seemingly go 10 minutes without a touch. That just can’t happen. With both Pulisic and Nagbe out of sync, forwards Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey had little to work with, and it made for a meek showing from the U.S. attack.But somehow, like other U.S. teams before, with its back against the wall, the U.S. found a way to emerge with a result, which for many was the expectation all along. Now with two matches remaining and just six points up for grabs, the desperation that was being felt for most of Tuesday’s encounter has ended with hope.

  1. Defensive errors plague U.S.

It’s a refrain that has been repeated throughout this World Cup qualifying cycle for the United States: defensive errors. Going back to the 2-0 defeat to Guatemala in March 2016, through the 4-0 loss in Costa Rica in November and all the way up to Tuesday’s showing, the U.S. defense has been susceptible to egregious errors.The Honduran game plan took full advantage of that lack of confidence in the U.S. back line. Jorge Luis Pinto’s men played long balls down the flanks for Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis to run on to and it left full-backs Graham Zusi and DaMarcus Beasley struggling to keep up with the speedy Houston Dynamo attackers.The revolving door at center-back has been another issue and was again on Tuesday. The inconsistent Omar Gonzalez has been one of the biggest culprits. Inexplicably, the player who has starred for Pachuca in both Liga MX and the CONCACAF Champions League will have a lapse at the worst moment, and one such mistake set the table for the Honduran goal. His slip and failure to clear with Quioto bearing down made it easy pickings for the Dynamo man to finish past goalkeeper Brad Guzan.It would be unfair to single out Gonzalez, though. John Brooks, Tim Ream, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler have all struggled in the Hexagonal. Outside of the Brooks-led 2016 Copa America Centenario, it has been a shaky 18 months for the U.S. defense.

  1. Arena’s next steps

With a win on Oct. 6 against Panama in Orlando, the U.S. will feel good about its chances of getting the necessary result on the final match day in Trinidad and Tobago.But three points against the Canaleros are far from a certainty. Panama has proven to be a venerable foe, earning four straight 1-1 draws against the U.S. in official competitions, and another splitting of the points will suit Hernan Dario Gomez’s men just fine next month.There is still a lot of work for the former LA Galaxy boss to do. Those same defensive errors are likely to continue, assuming the same players are called. But a complete revamp to the squad is unlikely, especially with qualifying at its decisive juncture.It’s going to be a nail-biting finale to the Hexagonal, but if the U.S. can show the same character it did on Tuesday, the nightmare of this qualifying cycle can finally end.Arch Bell covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .

Super-sub Bobby Wood keeps U.S. alive with late goal against Honduras

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Some forwards have a knack for coming off the bench and delivering the kind of killer goal that secures points for their team and makes their manager look like a genius. Fortunately for the U.S. men’s national team, Bobby Wood remains that guy.It was back in 2015 that Wood first earned his super-sub stripes, coming off the bench to score winners against the Netherlands and Germany, and later equalizing against Mexico in what would ultimately be a losing effort in the CONCACAF Cup.On this day, with the U.S. trailing Honduras 1-0, Wood popped up in the 85th minute to score one of the biggest goals for the U.S. in this World Cup cycle. It was as ugly as it was valuable, as he fired home from close range after Matt Besler and Jordan Morris had done some heavy lifting to keep alive the rebound from Kellyn Acosta’s wicked free kick.”You just want to help the team, you know?” Wood said. “We knew what type of spot we were in, we knew we needed one point, and that’s what we did.”And the U.S. did it as the pressure mounted and it looked increasingly likely that the Americans would make it two defeats in two straight World Cup qualifying matches.Wood added, “We knew we justneeded one goal and that would change everything. We kept our heads in the game and we got the point.”It was a goal that did more than just earn the U.S. a point in the standings. It prevented a bad week from turning into an unmitigated disaster. Think about where the U.S. would be in terms of its World Cup qualifying campaign without that goal; in fifth place in all likelihood, needing help heading into the final round of fixtures in October.”I was thinking we might have an early vacation at the end of this year,” U.S. manager Bruce Arena quipped. “Really, I thought we had enough momentum and understood how we had to try to get a goal. We were at least putting pressure on them.”As it stands now, Panama’s 3-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago has seen it take third place from the Americans. The prospect of finishing fourth and facing either Syria or Australia in a World Cup qualifying playoff remains a possibility for Team USA. But now Wood’s goal has allowed the U.S. — for the most part — to remain in control of its qualifying destiny after surviving a day of steamy conditions and a boisterous crowd at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano.Arena said afterward it had been his plan all along to bring Wood in with 20-30 minutes to go given where he is in his season as well as the stifling conditions. It ended up being 17 minutes left on the clock when the Hamburg striker came on, but it worked thanks to Wood, who was the last of three very impactful substitutions, the others being Geoff Cameron and Paul Arriola.Up to that point, the U.S. team looked short of attacking ideas and was having problems finding a way to keep the ball. And it wasn’t as if either Cameron or Arriola helped much in this regard, but they brought an energy and a tenacity that helped tilt the field a bit more in the U.S.’s favor.A bit of honor is due Christian Pulisic, as well. It was by no means his best game, but a day after Arena said Pulisic needed to “find the next play in the right spots on the field to draw fouls, and maybe he’ll get a penalty or free kick that’s dangerous,” he did exactly that before Wood’s goal.But this is a U.S. team that continues to have its flaws exposed. In this match it was flank defending, as both Graham Zusi and DaMarcus Beasley struggled mightily to contain the Honduran duo of Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis.Arena indicated that he spoke at length with his side in the run-up to this match about providing cover for both Zusi and Beasley so they wouldn’t be isolated in one-on-one situations. Yet both players found themselves in those situations during a first half in which Honduras threatened to bury the U.S., but managed only Quioto’s 27th-minute opener.The second half was better, as help was quicker to arrive. It also helped that Honduras appeared to outfox itself with the decision to play in the afternoon heat, as both wingers tired and Quioto was ultimately subbed. But it still left one with the feeling that DeAndre Yedlin can’t heal up quick enough.The attack looked plenty disjointed as well. All told, the U.S. completed just 63.2 percent of its passes on the day, and before you can say “long, spongy grass,” Honduras was about 10 percentage points better. At times there was just an overall lack of composure to the Americans’ game.The U.S. increasingly looks like a team that is relying on Pulisic to create a bit of magic, and the young U.S. star often looked as if he was forcing the issue when he shouldn’t, rather than take what Honduras was giving him. Those were on the rare occasions when the U.S. managed to get the ball in the attacking half.Yet the U.S. managed to survive all of this … for the moment.”This is what qualifying is all about,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “There are so many days where it’s not pretty. Honestly, in a lot of moments it has nothing to do with football. It’s about finding a way to survive, and dealing with everything that gets thrown at you, having a group that can hold up in the toughest moments, taking three points when you can take three, finding a way to get one and keep other teams from getting three on other days.”This is what it’s all about. It’s never been easy, it’s never going to be easy, but we just gotta keep going. Today was big time.”That is a valuable trait to have, though it raises the question of why this U.S. team keeps backing itself into difficult situations. But thanks to the super-sub, this American side is still breathing, even if it has become increasingly labored.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle. 

Armchair Analyst: A point can’t eliminate real worries for US in Honduras

September 5, 20178:10PM EDTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer

Before we jump in on this, let’s get context: The US national team still control their own destiny in the Hexagonal. If they win the next two games, they win third place and punch their ticket to Russia. If they win the first of those games, at home against Panama, and then go down to Trinidad & Tobago and draw on the final day of the Hexagonal, they’re almost certain to get at least fourth place and the subsequent playoff against either Australia or Syria.  So qualifying isn’t over yet. They haven’t made the World Cup, and they haven’t missed the World Cup. They are merely teetering on the edge.  Yet. “Yet” because just three points from these past two games would have put them in complete control, “yet” because the attack that had been humming along for the past eight months found no answers when it really mattered, “yet” because the defense full of EPL and Liga MX and World Cup veterans that had been airtight did not plug a single hole, “yet” because possession with purpose was not a thing that the US had in either of these two games, not really.”Yet” because they managed just one point thanks to Bobby Wood’s scrappy, opportunistic strike in the 85th minute down in San Pedro Sula, giving the US a 1-1 draw at Honduras. It was one of the bigger goals in recent US history, or maybe in any US history.  A road point can paper over a lot of cracks, can cover over a lot of flaws. It’s fair to say that the final 15ish minutes, after Bruce Arena had made some subs and change the team’s shape, the US showed more more intent, more speed and less fear. They fought back on the road in a tough spot in 117 degree heat, and got a point, and that shouldn’t be minimized.The first 75 minutes, however, were abysmal. All the flaws that cropped up in Friday’s 2-0 loss to Costa Rica – an individual inability to make plays; constant slow feet and reactions on 50/50 balls; lack of decisiveness in the final third, and just an overall lack of “energy” or “commitment” or a certain robust je ne sais quoi – all of that dominated the day from a US point of view.A few scattered thoughts because I am otherwise too shook to string together a whole, coherent column:

  • One of the fundamental things any teamhas to ask itself is “how do we build with the ball?” The end goal is to get possession in the final third with options and angles, to do so quickly against a scrambling defense and to make that defense pay. The best way to do that is to get the ball to the creative types and, uh, yeah:

That above tweet was sent at about the 73rd minute or so. Seconds later the US started figuring out ways to get the ball to Christian Pulisic and Clint Dempsey, and though neither had what could be termed a “good game”, just putting the ball at a playmaker’s foot can and often does create opportunities. It was Pulisic, after all, who earned the foul that led to Kellyn Acosta‘s free kick that led to Wood’s goal.First, Costa Rica and then Honduras painted the US into a corner in this “how do we build with the ball?” sense by doubling their pressure on Michael Bradley. They forced the US to confront that question, and the US had no answer. If you rewatch either of the games you’ll see a huge number of passes played back to the goalkeepers, and a huge number of slow, tentative builds. This is because Bradley was frequently unavailable, and until shifting to that 3-5-2 for the final 15 minutes, nobody else was in a position to pick balls through the lines.Arena should have been better prepared for this tactic from teams. Acosta did what he could, and was both smarter and more active in trying to find space to get on the ball than he was in this summer’s Gold Cup, but it’s still not his strength. So the first 75 minutes of the US day was “pass it around the back, play to Brad Guzan, long ball, lose 50/50, fall back and force turnover, slow build, play it around the back, play back to Guzan, rinse repeat.”  I think Alejandro Bedoya would have helped. I think playing Geoff Cameron from the start – despite his awful performance on Friday – would have helped as well.

  • I mentioned individual performances,sharpness in key moments, etc. I have no idea what this is from Omar Gonzalez:

Omar’s won a lot on some big stages. He was on the podium in July’s Gold Cup, and has won titles (that’s multiple, with an “s”) in Liga MX for Pachuca. He’s obviously won a ton in MLS as well, and on down the line. That’s why he keeps getting minutes.He is, nonetheless, usually guilty of one colossal mistake per outing. This one nearly doomed the US.

  • The biggest critique of Arena during his first tenurewith the US, and with his days in LA, was that he was often too reliant upon veterans and too slow to integrate new talent into the team. He’s struck sort of a middle ground in 2017, leaning heavily on guys like Pulisic, Acosta, Darlington Nagbeand Paul Arriola, and giving quick looks to the likes of Cristian Roldan and Matt Miazga.But that conservatism is still a part of his DNA, and it showed in his fullback selections. Graham Zusi and DaMarcus Beasley were clearly put on the field for this game because they both have multiple “been there, done that” tattoos. They have been dogged and willing gamers and contributors, and after the loss to Costa Rica Arena, I’m sure, felt like it was imperative to get guys who wouldn’t be scared by the atmosphere in Central America onto the field.That’s only part of the game, though. Another part is simply having the physical capabilities of keeping up with legitimate international caliber players, and both Zusi and Beasley seem to be past that part of their respective careers. Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis constantly got around the edge against both of them, and this is something that Arena should have anticipated, and something he’ll have to rectify for October’s games.Obviously a healthy DeAndre Yedlin takes care of a good chunk of that. Perhaps returning Fabian Johnson to a left back role, as he was very solid defensively in last year’s Copa America despite not liking the position, is another part of the answer. Jorge Villafaña has been fine thus far as well.I am concerned, though, that this was so obvious – of course Honduras were going to attack down the flanks at pace! – and yet the US looked so unprepared for it.
  • Pulisic was more dangerous once again as a No. 10,and he has been wildly ineffective as a right midfielder these past two games:

Green arrows are completed passes, and red are incomplete. All those reds aren’t entirely his fault, but there was a lot of 1-v-2, “hit-and-hope” stuff from Pulisic when he was wide. It is time for Arena to make him a fulltime, central player. If teams are going to sell out to stop Bradley and are going to sell out to stop Pulisic, put them in the same part of the field, compress them and open up the flanks. It will require better, quicker distribution than what the US center backs offered today, but guys like Cameron, Matt Besler (who was a rock today) and Tim Ream can manage that.

  • Paul Arriolais part of the answer in some way. His relentless movement off the ball unsettles teams both offensively and defensively, and creates space for the US to actually build a little bit of possession.Just as important: Arriola is not soft, and too often this US group looks and plays soft. If you told me he’d be on the field for either or both games next month, I’d be more than satisfied with that.

EDIT: I didn’t hit this point hard enough in the first pass, so here goes: It wasn’t just the formation switch and some desperation that changed the balance of the game for the US, nor was it the tired legs of the Catrachos. Cameron and Arriola both played with the bit between their teeth – they played angry and with purpose, and the US lacked that before they came on.

Add in their individual ability, and those were, perhaps, qualification-saving subs from Arena. And, perhaps, justified starters next time out.

  • Here is the ultimate issue:

qualifiers (I’m including June’s underwhelming 2-0 home win over Trinidad & Tobago here). This US group has more talent than any other in US history, and more depth, and more options, and in theory have more ways to get wins. They have more ways to control games.They only infrequently show it. For the next 180 minutes, they have to rediscover that ability to be more than the sum of their parts or there will be no trip to Russia, and it won’t be Jurgen Klinsmann’s fault.It will be on Arena and the players. A come-from-behind point in Honduras is nice and all, but it’s not enough to change that immutable truth.

Boehm: USMNT stuck on the CONCACAF treadmill as qualifying drama persists

September 5, 201711:16PM EDTCharles BoehmContributor

As residents of The Great Land of Self-Improvement, millions of us here in the United States truly, deeply believe we can create our own reality – that it’s never too late to change. You can go to school, you can get a new job, you can get a new hairstyle, you can buy a gym membership and hit it hard every day.But no matter where you’re at, you can’t change where you’re from.This is an ancient truth of CONCACAF, the strange, sprawling North American soccer confederation that is both the home and the prison of the US national team, and in all likelihood probably always will be.Over the years, the USMNT and the U.S. Soccer Federation that sponsors it have spent many millions of dollars and countless hours in the pursuit of improvement. They lured the World Cup to these shores way back in 1994. They helped create MLS. They built an enormous coast-to-coast youth soccer competition (the Development Academy) for the express purpose of growing more and better players from the grassroots up.They went to great lengths, over several years, to woo Jurgen Klinsmann and provide him everything he said he needed in the quest for a definitive, transformative leap forward on the global stage. And when that marriage went south down the stretch in 2015 and 2016, the federation’s leadership made the difficult, and costly, decision of a clean break in order to preserve the dream of the 2018 World Cup.For all that, here we are again, drenched in sweat, nerves shattered, optimism battered after a close-run 1-1 draw with Honduras, a vitally necessary result if the US are to have any control over their fate when the CONCACAF Hexagonal concludes next month. And the warts and shortcomings of old are still around. Los Catrachos tortured their heat-dazed visitors with speed, aggression and a primordial upwelling of collective will that cascaded down from the terraces of Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano and inspired the players on the field. The giants from the north were at their mercy again … only to wriggle out of the trap at the very last moment.It was the result Bruce Arena’s side needed, but nowhere near the performance we expected, or should expect. They will probably have enough left in the tank to drag themselves over the finish line and book their tickets to Russia, assuming (perhaps prematurely) that this qualification campaign has sprung every disastrous surprise up its sleeve. But in so many ways, it all feels like a return to square one.Deja vu, Groundhog Day, the flat circuitousness of time: Whatever you want to call it, the USMNT are stuck on a treadmill, and they can’t seem to escape it.The last time the US visited San Pedro Sula for a qualifier, in 2013, they lost 2-1 and turned in a performance so dispiriting that it sparked a firestorm of criticism and doubt both outside and inside the locker room. A few days later they found a way to beat Costa Rica in a Colorado snowstorm and from there, powered on to the best calendar year in the program’s history.We told ourselves that would be the new normal, that it was finally time to join the planet’s elite teams – to launch ourselves into the top 10 world powerhouses, and stay there. As it turns out, the past few qualifiers have given us just as much reason to see 2013 as one more high point on the sine wave, a false dawn since forgotten as the USMNT scratch and claw just to survive the current Hex.By now, most readers know that in modern parlance, CONCACAF is no longer a mere geopolitical entity. It’s also become both an adjective (“that game sure was CONCACAFy”) and a verb (“Honduras got CONCACAFed on Tuesday”). This region’s road to the World Cup invariably winds through hills, valleys, tropical heat waves and frozen tundra, from downpours to snowstorms to remote islands and who knows where else?

Our friends in more “evolved” soccer nations see weak FIFA rankings and shallow player pools, and chuckle at our travails. But even the likes of Germany and England might find a trap or two waiting for them in San Pedro Sula and other such destinations.No matter where the USMNT go or how big they dream, they can’t seem to escape the jumanji vines of CONCACAF – nor can Mexico, for that matter. As confidently as El Tri have cruised through this Hex, booking their World Cup berth with three games to spare, many of their fans still can’t wash the memory of that 7-0 thrashing from Chile in last summer’s Copa America Centenario. That was the moment, the litmus test, and it ended in crushing defeat. We remain islands in the stream, with the rarified air of Europe and South America looking as far away as ever.

Late point for United States against Honduras ‘huge’ – Bruce Arena

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – U.S. manager Bruce Arena lauded his side’s battling qualities, as Bobby Wood’s late equalizer earned a 1-1 tie against Honduras in a World Cup qualifier and kept the Americans in control of its own destiny in terms of qualifying for Russia 2018.The U.S. managed to gut through hot and humid conditions that saw the temperature hit 93 degrees at kickoff. When combined with humidity of 63 percent, it felt like the temperature was well over 100.”Getting a point was huge for us today,” Arena said. “The conditions were quite challenging for both teams and I’m really proud of our team, the way we hung in there and battled and walked off the field with a point.”I’m sure the Honduran team is disappointed. Welcome to World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF.”But Arena is under no illusion about the quality of his team’s overall performance, which he described as “okay.”The U.S started well enough over the first 20 minutes or so, but Honduras began to make some headway by attacking the Americans on the flanks through Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis. That approach paid off as Honduras broke in the 27th minute when U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez couldn’t cut out a through ball for Quito, allowing the Houston Dynamo attacker to set himself and curl his shot in off the post.The U.S. was looking wobbly for the next few minutes as Honduras continued to press forward, but the Americans managed to survive until half-time”I think we put our heads down a little bit after that [goal],” he said. “We had to regroup at half-time. I thought the effort in the second half was very good, and we fought through the conditions.”Arena also sounded somewhat annoyed at the fact that his side didn’t do a better job containing Honduras’ flank play.”I don’t think we did a good job [on Elis and Quito],” said Arena. “We knew exactly what they were going to do, they would isolate Elis on [DaMarcus] Beasley and Quioto on [Graham] Zusi. We talked over the last couple of days how we’d bring a second player to stand them up. We didn’t do a good job on the goal.”I think Omar came over and if I’m not mistaken, he kind of just fell over the ball a little bit, and Quioto regained it and finished. But they gave us a hard time. They’re very dangerous players and we could have been better.”What you did see is those two players absolutely ran out of gas in the second half and then with them coming out of the game it made it a lot easier for us to put more pressure on them at the other end.”A trio of substitutions — Paul Arriola for Beasley, Geoff Cameron for Zusi, and Wood for Darlington Nagbe — helped turn the tide for the visitors. The fresh legs enabled the U.S. to push forward, and with time winding down, the Americans managed to equalize in the 85th minute through Wood following a goalmouth scramble that included plays from Matt Besler and Jordan Morris to keep the ball alive.”We knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, and our players were dead on the their feet as you could see,” said Arena. “We just had to battle, create a chance, and put it in the back of the net. And we did that.”As for what he told Wood prior to his entering the match in the 73rd minute, Arena said his instructions were simple.”Score a goal,” Arena said jokingly. “That’s what he was there for. You’re going to put a striker in, and I told him at half-time, ‘You’re probably going to go in for the last 20-30 minutes.’ It was planned, and we knew that.”These aren’t the best conditions for our players over in Germany right now. It’s difficult. You could even see with Christian [Pulisic] today it was difficult, and he’s an extremely fit guy. They’re not used to these conditions. With Bobby playing 90 minutes the other day, it was unlikely he could deal well in this climate. He did what he was supposed to do.”The result keeps the U.S. ahead of the Catrachos on goal differential and when asked if the door to Russia was not open for the U.S., Arena said: “The door for Russia, there’s not even a crack open right now. There’s a lot of work to be done to get to Russia.”We’re real pleased to get a point. We’re going to get out of here and not look back.”Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

Bobby Wood makes impact, Matt Besler impresses as U.S. ties Honduras

With its back against the wall following a home loss to Costa Rica on Friday night, the United States men’s national team fell behind only to find a late goal off a free-kick scramble that helped Bruce Arena’s side salvage a point in Honduras on Tuesday.

\Positives

Nothing improved for the Americans following Friday night’s defeat, when they largely controlled proceedings but made crucial mistakes that cost them the game. Against Honduras, the conditions dictated a very different performance. Christian Pulisic responded relatively well to the battering he took against Los Ticos in another game where he was seemingly singled out for physical play. Bobby Wood deserves credit for getting an opportunistic goal as a substitute.

 Negatives

The Americans were slow of both body and mind in Honduras. Maximizing their advantage with the weather and field, the Hondurans used the conditions to make the U.S. lethargic throughout the match. The U.S. could not keep possession and with Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey starting up front, the direct style of play led to few chances. Defensive issues were again a problem, with both starting full-backs abused repeatedly by Honduras’ speedy wingers.

 Manager rating out of 10:

4 — Arena found himself forced into a number of lineup changes given the short turnaround and trip to a difficult environment. Starting DaMarcus Beasley looked to be a poor decision with Honduras’s dynamism on the wings, and the forward combination did very little. Tactically, the Americans gave Los Catrachos way too much freedom to play into space, with little help from the midfield at the defensive end of the field. A deep defensive line and low energy led to little pressing, which played into Honduras’ hands.

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

GK Brad Guzan, 5 — Not at fault on the goal. Made a few simple saves without looking overly confident in net. Distribution was generally poor.

DF Graham Zusi, 3.5 — Part of a rough night on the flanks for the United States. Beaten for speed on numerous occasions, poor in one-on-one moments.

DF Omar Gonzalez, 2.5 — Made the inexcusable mistake that led to Honduras’ goal. Played the ball to the opponent consistently even though the Americans needed possession.

DF Matt Besler, 7 — Quietly the best player on the night for the U.S., all told. Smart with his positioning and popped up with clearances and tackles when needed.

DF DaMarcus Beasley, 3.5 — Repeatedly beaten by Alberth Elis into space up the American flank. Spent most of the match scrambling and was unable to add to the attack.

MF Christian Pulisic, 5.5 — Willing to take on defenders, something the Americans needed. Struggled with the conditions but responded better to physical play.

MF Michael Bradley, 6 — Did his usual work on both sides of the ball. At times, he was the only midfielder willing to track back and help cover defensively. Not great but far from the worst on the night.

MF Kellyn Acosta, 4.5 — Missing for large chunks of the game. Failed to keep up with the speed and intensity of play — added little to the possession needs of the Americans. Hit the free kick deflected off the bar that led to the U.S. goal.

MF Darlington Nagbe, 4.5 — Mostly anonymous on the wing and was slow to make decisions when opportunities to impact the game presented themselves.

FW Clint Dempsey, 6 — Provided most of the creativity the Americans displayed over 90 minutes, which wasn’t much. Struggled to get on the ball. Added a few moments of competent hold up play.

FW Jordan Morris, 3 — Anonymous beyond an off-target shot in the opening minutes of the game. Made few good runs but was broadly indecisive.

Substitutes:

DF Paul Arriola, NR — Added energy on both sides of the ball when the Americans’ legs were heavy.

DF Geoff Cameron, NR — Mostly competent after the Americans switched to the back three. No major errors.

FW Bobby Wood, NR — Scored the goal that saved a point for the United States on a night that looked headed for disaster.   Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.

USMNT Player Ratings: Few bright spots in smash-and-grab

September 5, 20179:37PM EDTGreg SeltzerContributor

Bobby Wood came to the rescue of the US national team in Honduras on Tuesday night, hopping off the bench late to bag the 1-1 equalizer that allowed USA to keep hold of the final CONCACAF automatic World Cup qualification slot for the moment.  It was another decidedly subpar showing from the US, who were extremely sloppy with the ball and again suffered a first half opener caused by a backline gaffe. However, just when it looked like they would fall behind the Catrachos in the Hex table, Wood calmly popped up to cancel out Romell Quioto‘s opener for the smash-and-grab point.

Brad Guzan (6.5) – The US netminder’s distribution occasionally left something to be desired, but he made his five saves look easy. Guzan’s best stop came when he stared down and ably shoved away a nasty Maynor Figueroa free-kick drive.

Graham Zusi (3.5) – It was a rather rough shift for the Sporting KC right back, who repeatedly struggled to catch up with the speedy Catrachos wingers. Zusi was both caught up and beaten to throughballs, and offered nothing of consequence while on the ball.

Omar Gonzalez (5) – In the first half, Gonzalez inexplicably allowed a through pass to run and then whiffed on a tackle attempt to facilitate the Honduras goal. After the break, the Pachuca man redeemed himself a bit by pulling off some important defense on the counter to help keep USA in the game.

Matt Besler (6) – The left center back could have moved the ball out of the back a bit better, but he did pile up 14 total defensive stops in the US end and kept the rebound alive to earn a secondary assist on Wood’s rescue strike.

DaMarcus Beasley (5) – It was a hot and cold defensive outing for the veteran. He was badly beaten by Alberth Elis a couple times, but stood up well to his Houston teammate on other sequences. Beasley was also generally safer with the ball than most of the US players.

Michael Bradley (4.5) – It’s been a while since the skipper struggled this much to grab any hold of the game. Bradley was so-so until Honduras scored, and then all but fell off the map. His restarts were also ineffective.

Kellyn Acosta (6) – This is a tricky grade to calculate. On one hand, Acosta offered so little help to Bradley in the way of possession and traffic direction. Then again, he also accounted for nine recoveries and three tackles in the US end, and struck a fantastic dead ball from long range to kick off the visitors’ goal sequence. With a healthy boost from that fantastic free kick, we’ll call it a wash.

Christian Pulisic (5) – Many of the away team’s early rushes were initiated by Pulisic dribbles, and he never stopped taking on defenders. The youngster also picked some pockets as the US strived to tie, and then win the game. However, with a few exceptions, his passing touch was well off on this night.

Clint Dempsey (5) – It certainly wasn’t the finest Dempsey outing you ever saw, but in an ugly game, he banged enough around the Honduras box to tee up four US shots in the first half. He was largely marked out of the game after intermission, though.

Darlington Nagbe (4.5) – The Portland midfielder started fairly brightly on the flank, then strangely faded from view until being removed on 73 minutes.

Jordan Morris (6.5) – Due to the team’s poor passing display, Morris saw precious little of the ball in the final third. Still, he managed to set up a half-chance for Pulisic and notched a flick-on assist on the equalizer.

Coach Bruce Arena (4) – As the US manager stated in the aftermath of Friday’s wildly frustrating Costa Rica loss, soccer is to a great extent a game authored by the players. Nevertheless, we once again have some quibbles with the coach (who, in all fairness, pulled the right sub strings). Most notably, Arena should know well that Zusi doesn’t have the speed to hang with the likes of Elis and Quioto. The team also looked tight as could be. Players didn’t see to want the ball (when was the last time we saw so many hurried hoofs?) and defensive lapses were again the order of the day. The boss needs to foster a lot more inner calm before the final two qualifiers.

Subs

Paul Arriola (6.5) – The D.C. United speedster brought plenty of two-way energy during his 28 minutes of action.

Geoff Cameron (6) – The Stoke City man played several positive passes into attack as the team chased the late goal.

Bobby Wood (7.5) – Are we absolutely sure the Hamburg forward shouldn’t actually be the US supersub? Wood was cooler than cucumber ice cream to chest down and poke home the vital 85th minute equalizer from a crowd. The rescue artist now has four goals in 11 career caps off the bench, including a pair of late competitive levelers.

The Costa Rica goal that doomed the U.S. was not a defender’s fault. It was Tim Howard’s.

Henry BushnellFC YahooSep 2, 2017, 12:21 AM

Tim Howard is arguably the greatest American soccer player ever. At the very least, he’s spent the past decade vacillating between strong starting goalkeeper and national hero. He’s the U.S. men’s national team’s undisputed No. 1, and likely will be at the World Cup nine months from now in Russia.If, that is, the U.S. qualifies.And that’s a significant “if,” even if qualification is still a likelihood, after the Americans were shut down and shocked by Costa Rica Friday night. They were stymied at every turn by a dogged defense that battered Christian Pulisic and swallowed up space within 30 yards of goal.But that defense was enabled by a series of calamitous 30th-minute events, and by a goal that falls not completely but primarily in the lap of Howard. The sequence of mistakes didn’t just end with the ball slithering past him and into the far corner his net, it began with the American goalkeeper as well.The U.S. was intent on playing out of the back for much of Friday’s match, and early on, it was comfortable and composed when doing so. When Howard had the ball at his feet, the center backs would split, Michael Bradley would check into the space between them, and Howard would often play to one of the three:

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Costa Rica’s line of confrontation varied throughout the 90 minutes, but when it was high – when the Ticos put the U.S. under pressure in its own defensive third – the Americans coped fairly well. There were some nervy moments and hiccups. But for every hiccup, there was an outlet and a dangerous attack.

It was both off-putting and extremely encouraging to see Darlington Nagbe evade David Guzman at the edge of his own penalty area and break the Costa Rica pressure just two minutes in:

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So how does this tie into Costa Rica’s first goal?

Because, 13 seconds before it was scored, the ball was at Howard’s feet, and the U.S. was prepared to do what it had done for much of the first half: play out of the back. Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream were spread wide, and Ream had just begun to accelerate back toward his own goal line to create space in which to receive a pass. Here’s what the U.S. looked like with Howard in possession – note Ream at the very top of the picture and Cameron to the very bottom:

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(Screenshot: WatchESPN tactical cam)More

As you probably know by now, Howard played a long ball, Fabian Johnson lost the aerial duel, Marcos Urena ran into the gaping hole between the center backs, and suddenly the U.S. found itself down 1-0:

There is nothing inherently wrong with Howard playing long, especially as the U.S. struggled to connect passes midway through the first 45. The problems, though – and Howard’s mistake – are in the specifics.

With no Costa Rica player within 30 yards of him, Howard was in no hurry. Or at least he shouldn’t have been. He could direct traffic as he liked. Under no pressure, he had time to inform his center backs of his decision to go long and wave them up the field – as he and other keepers almost always do when starting an attack from nothing.

But that’s exactly what he didn’t do. In this instance, he needlessly rushed, and left both Cameron and Ream in the dark and out of position:

U.S. rallies vs. Honduras; Panama into third; Mexico and Costa Rica draw

Bobby Wood scored after a goalmouth scramble in the 85th minute, and the United States escaped from Honduras with a 1-1 draw on Tuesday after nearly falling into a deep hole in World Cup qualifying.Romell Quioto scored in the 27th minute after defender Omar Gonzalez failed to clear the ball with a slide tackle. Quioto was left with an open 11-yard shot that beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan to the far post, causing exuberant fans to stomp and shake Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano.Christian Pulisic was fouled about 30 yards from the goal and Kellyn Acosta took the free kick. Goalkeeper Luis Lopez batted the ball with his left hand off the post and Matt Besler hooked it to Jordan Morris.The Seattle Sounders forward sent a backward header to Wood, a 73rd-minute substitute, who chested the ball and scored his ninth international goal, avoiding a huge U.S. embarrassment and deflating fans who had been celebrating since the start.And the Americans next opponent Panama took advantage of the draw by beating Trinidad & Tobago 3-0 at home to leapfrog the U.S. into third spot in the standings.Gabriel Torres scored a spectacular goal from a full-field run, beating two defenders and outracing everyone to the ball before beating Marvin Phillip in the T&T goal to send the crowd into a frenzy.The hosts were gifted a second goal from Carlyle Mitchell, who headed a curling cross from Panama’s right flank into the back of his own net to make it 2-0.And with the rains falling in Panama City, Abdiel Arroyo netted his team’s third after cutting in from the left side and powering a right-footed shot past Phillip.The U.S. hosts Panama in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 6 in a must-win match if the U.S. wants to keep hopes of an automatic qualifying spot alive.Already qualified Mexico managed a 1-1 draw against Costa Rica to keep the Ticos out of a guaranteed spot in Russia for now.El Tri got on the scoreboard just before half-time when Cristian Gamboa redirected the ball into his own net after Keylor Navas had come up with an amazing save to keep the ball out of the goal seconds earlier.Real Madrid goalkeeper Navas denied Mexico twice more in the second half, punching away a Jesus Corona shot before diving to keep out Hirving Lozano on what looked to be a sure goal.With Mexico looking to hang on, Marcos Urena scored an unbelievable goal to level matters after timing the bounce from a headed Rodney Wallace perfectly and lashing a sideways volley past Guillermo Ochoa.Costa Rica faces Honduras and Panama in its remaining qualifiers and Mexico will play Trinidad before wrapping up their Hex campaign against Honduras.

U.S. Soccer denies NASL Division 2 status for 2018

The U.S. Soccer Federation has denied the North American Soccer League Division 2 status for 2018, a move that threatens the league’s future.The current NASL started play in 2011 with second-tier status. But in January of this year, the USSF raised the United Soccer League from the third tier to the second and gave both the NASL and USL provisional Division 2 status for 2017.At the time, the USSF said neither league met all its standards. Those standards dictate the minimum requirements needed to operate at each level, and include the number of teams, the geographic distribution of the teams, and size of the markets for the teams involved, as well as the minimum financial requirements of team owners.The requirements for Division II call for 12 teams, but the NASL lost four clubs after its 2016 fall season and though it is playing this year with eight, two more have been announced for 2018 in San Diego and Orange County, California. U.S. Soccer has granted numerous waivers to the NASL to meet requirements in the past.In 2015, NASL protested the guidelines, claiming they violate antitrust laws, though it ultimately decided not to pursue a legal solution. The NASL said they were made to ensure Major League Soccer is the only Division I league in the U.S., hindering its ability to compete.The league said in a statement on Tuesday it “does not believe that the federation acted in the best interest of the sport,” contending the decision harms many stakeholders in soccer — fans, players, coaches, referees, business partners and the “NASL club owners who have invested tens of millions of dollars promoting the sport.””The decision also jeopardizes the thousands of jobs created by the NASL and its member clubs,” the league said.The league also took a shot at the U.S. national team, which lost a World Cup qualifier to Costa Rica, saying “the last several days have seen some unfortunate results for U.S. Soccer, both on and off the pitch.”The league faced the possibility of closing its doors last year before its flagship team, the New York Cosmos, found new ownership. Rocco B. Commisso’s purchase of the Cosmos was reportedly contingent on the NASL keeping its place in Division II, a status which has now been revoked less than a year later.NASL’s strategy to exist as an alternative to Major League Soccer has also been hampered by the Division 1 league’s plans to expand.Minnesota United left the NASL to move up to MLS after last season, following a similar move by the Montreal Impact in 2011.Facing new competition in new MLS club Atlanta United, the Atlanta Silverbacks dropped down to the NPSL in the unofficial fourth tier. Miami FC could be in similar situation if David Beckham’s group is given a rival MLS team in Miami as expected.The Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Ottawa Fury both jumped ship to the rival second-tier USL, which enjoys a closer relationship with MLS. Of the 30 USL clubs, 10 are owned by MLS teams and 12 more have affiliations.In addition, NASL club North Carolina FC has actively been pursuing an MLS expansion slot, two of which are expected to be announced this year. Tampa Bay is also seeking an MLS slot.In response to the sanctioning decision, NCFC released a statement saying it “remains fully committed to playing at the highest level possible in 2018 and beyond.”In recent months, Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva has pushed MLS to adopt a system of promotion and relegation, an idea that the league has described as a non-starter.In December, MLS commissioner Don Garber said his league was not responsible for the NASL’s financial issues.Aaron Davidson was the NASL board chairman and president of Traffic Sports USA, an NASL investor, before he was indicted in May 2015 as part of the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into soccer corruption. He pleaded guilty last year to federal racketeering conspiracy and wire-fraud conspiracy charges.

U.S. Soccer Not Extending NASL’s Division 2 Sanctioning Into 2018

Brian Straus,Sports Illustrated 19 hours ago

The U.S. Soccer Federation managed to postpone upheaval in its professional pyramid for a year, but chaos now appears inevitable.

Last January’s decision to provisionally sanction both the incumbent North American Soccer League and the promoted United Soccer League as second-division circuits bought both organizations some time to make changes and a few months of stability. On Friday, however—hours before the national team fell to Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier at Red Bull Arena—the USSF board voted to end the NASL’s pursuit of D2 sanctioning in 2018. The vote was first reported Tuesday by Minnesota website FiftyFive.One and later confirmed to SI.com by multiple sources.Later Tuesday afternoon, the NASL issued a statement that said, in part, “The NASL is disappointed with the decision and does not believe that the federation acted in the best interest of the sport. U.S. Soccer’s decision negatively affects many stakeholders in soccer: fans, players, coaches, referees, business partners, and the NASL club owners who have invested tens of millions of dollars promoting the sport. The decision also jeopardizes the thousands of jobs created by the NASL and its member clubs.”The NASL currently fields eight teams—four short of the required 12 for D2 status. Now in its seventh season, the NASL also already has confirmed expansion sides for San Diego and Orange County, Calif, for 2018.SI.com understands that the NASL asked U.S. Soccer for exemptions on its 2018 D2 application, and it’s likely one of those requests covered the number of members. The NASL has remained in discussion with other potential expansion markets and perhaps was prepared to show U.S. Soccer its path to 12 clubs if it couldn’t field that number next year.“While the last several days have seen some unfortunate results for U.S. Soccer, both on and off the pitch, the NASL remains committed to growing the game and is exploring multiple options as it continues planning for the future,” the NASL statement concluded. “The NASL knows that its fans will continue to show undying support for their clubs, and the league looks forward to the home stretch of the 2017 season and beyond. The beautiful game is bigger than any decision, result, person, league, division or federation. The NASL will continue its work to ensure that brighter days are ahead for soccer in the U.S.”Membership isn’t an issue with USL, which has expanded from 14 teams in 2014 to 30 this season—with at least three more coming next year—in large part due to the stability offered by its MLS partnership. Ten MLS clubs own their own reserve teams in USL and several more affiliate with organizations in the lower league. Amid that growth, however, the level of success has varied. While the likes of FC Cincinnati and Sacramento Republic set attendance and sponsorship records and establish top-tier standards, others—especially the MLS2 teams—have had difficulty gaining traction.SI.com understands that USL also has asked U.S. Soccer for exemptions next year. It was unknown Tuesday afternoon what those exemptions are, but toward the end of 2016 there were issues with stadium and field size for several USL teams. Others hadn’t met all the required coaching license requirements. If some of those problems have persisted, it’s possible the USSF felt they were more likely to be fixed in the short term than the NASL’s membership concern. The USL apparently has been given time to do so by U.S. Soccer. The third-division league the USL plans to launch in 2019 very well could be the long-term solution for current members unable or unwilling to meet every D2 standard.

U.S. Soccer has no rules against sanctioning two leagues at the same level, but that’s never been the ideal. The Federation was careful to call its January decision “provisional.” It’s now apparent it wasn’t going to wait the full year to see how things evolved. While the NASL might wish for more time, its member clubs now do have a few months to figure out where to play next year. This same USSF decision made in January 2018 would’ve caused even more chaos.Some turmoil is inevitable, however, even though that’s what the division standards were designed to prevent in the first place. Flux appears to be an inevitable condition in American soccer. It’s unclear whether the NASL can do anything between now and the end of the year to get U.S. Soccer to change its mind. If any potential expansion investors were on the fence, now’s the time to commit. If not, NASL teams may start to jump ship.The Ottawa Fury and Tampa Bay Rowdies left the NASL for the USL at the end of 2016. Ottawa wanted to lower its expenses and Rowdies owner Bill Edwards had clashed with NASL partners and was targeting an MLS expansion spot. The USL could have killed off the NASL over the winter had it incentivized additional teams to make the move. But with exit (from the NASL) and entry (into the USL) fees in place, the smaller league remained sufficiently intact as the expansion San Francisco Deltas came abaord. When local cable TV entrepreneur Rocco Commisso then made an 11th-hour purchase of the eight-time champion New York Cosmos, a 2017 season was ensured.What will happen next year is anyone’s guess. The USL likely will do enough to maintain its D2 status, even if it means promising that certain teams will fall to the new D3 league in 2019. The viable NASL teams have a difficult decision to make if the league can’t be saved. Some, like North Carolina FC (an MLS expansion candidate), Jacksonville Armada or Indy Eleven, could simply join the USL. Miami FC and the Cosmos, who’ve been more outspoken about their opposition to the centralized MLS/USL structure and who compete in current/future MLS markets, are facing larger, more existential questions.Former Indy and Chicago Fire chief Peter Wilt has been seeking sanctioning for a new D3 league to kick off next year. He announced last week that the National Independent Soccer Association already has eight applicants. The NISA theoretically could add the Cosmos, Miami FC or others who choose not to join the USL set-up, but a reduction in division status may not appeal to those owners.The debate surrounding the necessity of enumerated divisions in a system lacking promotion and relegation certainly will intensify following the USSF vote. The standards were put in place to ensure pro soccer investors had staying power, and that they’re putting a professional product on the field. Both are necessary. But complications arose nevertheless, and now the moving or folding of clubs—not to mention potential lawsuits—are around the corner.

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9/5 US must Not Lose Tonite 5:30 beIN Sports vs Honduras

Wow what a huge game for the USA tonight at Honduras at 5:30 pm on beIN Sport.  First things first – I can’t believe almost half of the fans at the game were Costa Rican’s at a game in New Jersey.  Seriously?  New York, New Jersey, hell the entire NE has proven they CAN NOT EVER HOST A US game that matters again.  Trust me Columbus would have been 99% US Fans just as it has for every US vs Mexico game.  Sad.

As for the game  – the US definately struggled defensively.  But we did have 75% possession and had plenty of great chances – honestly this should have been a 2-1 US win as Keylor Navas – GK for Costa Rica – proved his worth with 2 HUGE, WORLD CLASS Saves.  Give him and Costa Rica credit – they are a top 20 team in the world with Navas between the pipes.

What this means for the UIS

US

Can US Handle the Heat of Must Win/Tie at Honduras

US in Must Not Lose Scenario – @ Honduras – ESPNFC

US faces line-up Decisions – ESPNFC Jeff Carlisle

US Under Pressure after 2-0 Loss

Tim Howard to Blame on the 1st Goal

US Mistakes are Fixable – Noah Davis ESPNFC

US Frustrated by Resiliant Costa Rico – 2-0