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).
US guts out huge point at Honduras – arch Bell ESPNFC
US – other last second Goals US Soccer
Costa Rica Game
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.
NASL / Indy 11
Champions League Starts Tues/Wed
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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
(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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