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.
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
Indy 11 Finds a Way to Win – Indy Star Kevin Johnson
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.).
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 Acosta, Paul 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|
|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:
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…
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
IND – Eamon Zayed 90+3′
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.
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