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

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

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

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

CFC_U12GWSt.Francis

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

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

See all the Stories online at  www.theoleballcoach.com

GAMES ON TV 

Sat, Sept 30

7:30 am NBCSN               Huddersfield Town vs Tottenham

10 am NBCSN                   Man United vs Crystal Palace?

9:30 am FS1                      Ausburg vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

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

11 am beIN Sport          PSG vs Bordeaux

12:30 NBC                          Chelsea vs Man City

Sun, Oct 1

7 am NBCSN                      Arsenal vs Brighton Hove Albion

9:30 am Fox Sport 1    Hertha vs Bayern Munich

10 am beIN Sport          Barcelona vs Las Palmas

11 am NBCSN                   Newcastle United (Yedlin) vs Liverpool

12 noon beIn Sport     Milan vs Roma

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

4 pm ESPN 3             Indy 11 @ Carolina FC  

Weds, Oct 4 

7 pm Myindy TV       Indy 11 vs Puerto Rico

Thurs, Oct 5                      World Cup Qualifying FINAL ROUNDS?

12 pm FS2                           England vs Slovenia

Fri, Oct 6                             World Cup Qualifying

12 pm ESPN 2 USA vs Panama 

 

US

US National Team Bans Kneeling during Anthem

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

US Hot List

US Players Around the World – Pulisic scores Again

Arena Previews World Cup Qualifiers in October

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

Meet US Ladies Future Star Mallary Pugh – SI

Sunil Gulati Most Powerful American in Soccer Today – Howler Mag

 

World Cup Qualifying next week

Pressure on USMNT ahead of Qualifiers – NBC

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

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

Belgium call up Fellaini and Kompany

How Colombia can be Seeded for the WC 2018

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

 

Champions League

Bayern Manager Anceloitti is Fired after defeat to PSG -GOAL

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

Chelsea Stuns Atletico Madrid with Late Goal

Liverpool Waste Chances in 1-1 tie at Moscow

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

Real’s Bale and Renaldo expose Dortmund at home

Lukaku Stars at Man U thrash CSKA Moscow at home

Group Standings after 2 games

EPL

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

Aguero Hurt in Car Accident will miss Chelsea game

Chelsea vs Man City

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

Pogba Out More Long Term

Liverpool needs luck on Defense

Liverpool wins Wild 5 goal thriller over Leicester

Rooney takes Vicious elbow to Eye in game

Barcelona to the EPL?

MLS

MLS Power Rankings

The Video story of Atlanta United –

Indy 11

Indy 11 0-0 Tie in Jacksonville Wed night

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

Decision to Sue USSF was not Unanimous – SocTakes.com

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

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

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

Pressure is on USMNT ahead of critical World Cup qualifiers

Joe Prince-Wright,NBC Sports 22 hours ago

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

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

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

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

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

 Chelsea offer injury-hit City sternest test

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

 

Palace need a Manchester miracle

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

 

Rafa lies in wait for Klopp

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

 

Alli struggling for form

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

 

Battles in the basement

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

GROUP A

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

GROUP B

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

 

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

 

GROUP C

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

 

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

 

GROUP D

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GROUP E

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

GROUP F

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GROUP G

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

 

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

 

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

 

GROUP H

Belgium have qualified as group winners

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GROUP I

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

WORST RUNNERS-UP

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

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

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

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

 

Who is guaranteed to be seeded?

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

 

Who is almost certain to join them?

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

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

 

Who has a place in their own control?

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

 

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

 

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

 

Who has a chance if another nation slips up?

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

 

Anyone else?

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

 

Who are we missing? 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Heating up:

 

Matt Miazga, DF, Vitesse (Eredivisie)

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

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

 

Paul Arriola, MF, DC United (MLS)

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Lee Nguyen, MF, New England Revolution (MLS)

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

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

 

Cooling off:

Danny Williams, MF, Huddersfield Town (Premier League)

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

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

 

Clint Dempsey, FW, Seattle Sounders (MLS)

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

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

 

Walker Zimmerman, DF, FC Dallas (MLS)

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

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

 

Caleb Stanko, MF, Freiburg (Bundesliga)

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

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

 

Economics professor Sunil Gulati is the most powerful American in soccer

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

  1. Batshuayi puts Chelsea in command of Group C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Hazard and Morata Chelsea’s deadly double act

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

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

 

  1. Atletico missing the Calderon

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Published Sep 27, 2017

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

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

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

Scoring Summary:
None

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

 

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