12/12/17  Champs League Sweet 16 set, Toronto Wins MLS Cup, IU falls in Champ Game, Former CHS GK Eric Dick earns All American Honors

Wow what a weekend of Soccer – first the MLS Cup was everything a Championship is supposed to be.  Sold out crazy Toronto Crowd, best TV Ratings for an MLS Finals in years, tons of shots, exciting end to end soccer, great goalkeeping – and in the end – the better team won a deserved Championship as Toronto sealed the greatest season in MLS history (they won 3 cups).  Yes I am Seattle fan – have always loved me some Dempsey but honestly this was a game that Toronto had to win.  They simply outplayed Seattle in every phase except goalkeeping. (Seattle’s Stefan Frei was simply spectacular especially in the 1st half).  Toronto had 22 shots, 11 on goal and almost 65% possession – Bradley played his best game with 65 passes completed (92%) and he dominated the defensive midfield.  Good to see Altidore (the 1st goal scorer) and Bradley (MVP of game) and Giovinco finally win it all.

Then it was Derby day in England as #1 Man City faced #2 Man United at Old Trattford and wow City showed their class with a huge 2-1 win.  Again City outplayed Man U overall but the City keeper made a series of spectacular saves late or it ends in a tie.  End to end however and great soccer overall- I certainly hope they didn’t battle in the tunnel after like reports are saying – but no question this rivalry is as intense as ever.

Indiana University advanced to their record 19th College Cup winning on Friday night vs UNC and Carmel product Cameron Findley before bowing to 2-time defending Champions Stanford in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in overtime on Sunday.  Still a great season for IU.  Also huge CONGRATS to Carmel High’s own Eric Dick – Butler Junior GK for being named both 2nd Team All American, Big East GK of the year and 1st Team Scholar Athlete this week!

Eric Dick Former CHS GK - All American
Former Carmel High Goalkeeper Eric Dick was named 2nd team All American, Big East GK of Year and 1st Team All American Scholar.

The Champions League draw has been made for the Knockout Stages (Sweet 16) and boy do we get some dooseys!  Just look at this line-up with Barcelona vs Chelsea and Real Madrid vs PSG.  That’s 4 potential Final 4 teams that are squaring off way too early.  Games to be played Feb. 13, 14, 20 and 21 and March 5, 6, 12, 13

Champs League Sweet 16

Juventus vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Basel vs. Manchester City
Porto vs. Liverpool
Sevilla vs. Manchester United
Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma
Chelsea vs. Barcelona
Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas

 

Big games this weekend include US Nat defender Deandre Yedlin and New Castle traveling to Arsenal at 10 am Sat on NBCSN, also Sat Man City puts its 15 game winning streak on the line while hosting Tottenham at 12:20 on NBCSN.  Also Real Madrid looks for its 5th trophy this year as they face Brazilian team Gremio in the FIFA World Club Final on Sat at 12 noon on Telemundo.  Next week midweek gives us English, German and Italian Cup games including US Star Pulisic’s Dortmund facing Bayern Munich on Wed at 2:45 on ESPN2 and Juventus vs Genoa at 2:45 on GolTV.

Finally – Carmel FC is introducing a cool new “STREET SOCCER” concept this winter at Off the Wall in Carmel for 10 weeks starting in Jan.  Rather than a league – we will have a very little supervision “street soccer” Environment where kids can feel free to take risks, try new things, develop creativity and learn to organize and communicate themselves with just one of the Director’s Jeurgen or Matt Coyer or another senior CFC coach on hand.  CFC players — To Sign up Click – CFC Winter STREET SOCCER at OFF THE WALL   – Winter Player’s League Schedule

  • Friday U8- U10 / Field 1 – 5:50pm, 6:40pm, 7:30pm
  • Friday:  U8- U10 / Field 2 – 6:15pm, 7:05pm, 7:55pm
  • Saturday: U11 – U12 / Field 1 – 12:00pm, 12:50pm
  • Saturday: U11- U12 / Field 2 – 12:25pm, 1:15pm
  • Sunday:U13 – U14 / Field 1 – 12:00pm, 12:50pm
  • Sunday: U13- U14 / Field 2 – 12:25pm, 1:15pm

 

 

IU Final Game – College Cup

IU loses in OT to Stanford in National Championship Game – Indy Star Teddy Bailey

Stanford wins 3rd title in double OT  – USA Today

IU beats UNC and Carmel’s Cam Lindley to Advance to Finals

IUs Stud Goalkeeper Trey Muse was born for this – Indy Star

 MLS

Altidore + Bradley ease Heartbreak of US with MLS Historic Win

Michael Bradley Happy to Secure MLS Cup Obsession in Toronto

Is TFC the Best MLS Team Ever after MLS Treble and Cup Win?  Brian Straus SI

Toronto FC – Best MLS Team Ever – Yes – Boehm – MLS.com

Toronto Caps of Season with Dominant Win in MLS Cup – Brian Straus SI

Toronto coach Vanney Tactical Changes Won the Game

Toronto’s Bradley Repays the Faith in Him – Castillo – MLS.com

See Seattle’s GK Frei’s Saves in the 1st half

Seattle’s Frei’s Spectacular Saves had Toronto Coach on Edge

Seattle’s Chance to Seal Dynasty slips away in Cup Defeat

Toronto’s Path from Worse to First – Stejskal – MLS.com

Questions and Answers with MLS Commish – Don Garber – eSPNFC

MLS the Good the Bad and the Ugly – 2017 –Graham Parker – ESPNFC

Playoff Ratings Soar MLS Cup Rating up 75% !

 WORLD

Champions League – Sweet 16 – What to Expect – Jonathan Wilson – SI

All the Stories Champions League – ESPNFC

Chelsea vs Barcelona – This is What its All About – ESPNFC

PSG vs 2 Time Defending Champs – Real Madrid – ESPNFC

Dortmund Fires Peter Bosz hires Peter Stoger

US/Mexico/Canada World Cup could be most Profitable Ever

GOALKEEPING

Stefan Frei’s Seattle GK put on a show with 7 spectacular saves in the 1st half and 9 overall

IUs Stud Goalkeeper Trey Muse was born for this – Indy Star

GAMES ON TV 

Tues, Dec 12

2:30 pm FS1                   Mainz vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

3 pm NBCSN                   Huddersfield Town (Johnson) vs Chelsea

Wed, Dec 13

12 noon Telemundo                         Al Jazira vs Real Madrid  FIFA WORLD CLUB CUP          2:30 pm FS1                   Bayern Munich  vs Koln

2:45 pm NBCSN           Swansea vs Man City

3 pm Universal?          West Ham vs Arsenal

3 pm NBC Sports Gold Liverpool vs West Brom + 5 other games?

Sat, Dec 16

7:30 am NBCSN            Leicester City vs Crystal Palace

9:30 am FS1                   Bayern Munich  vs Stuttgart

10 am NBCSN                Arsenal vs New Castle United (Yedlin)

12 noon Telemundo    ???   vs Real Madrid  FIFA WORLD CLUB Final

12:20 pm NBCSN        Man City vs Tottenham  

Sun, Dec 17

9 am beIN Sport          Bologna vs Juventus

9:15am NBCSN             West Brom vs Man United

9:30 am FS1                    Hannover vs Bayer Leverkusen

11:30 am NBCSN         AFV Bournemouth vs Liverpool

2:45 pm beIN Sports     Barcelona vs Deportivo La Coruna

Tues, Dec 19

2:45 pm FS1                   Arsenal vs West Ham – League Cup

2:45 pm?                         Leicester vs Man City  – League Cup

Wed, Dec 20

12:30 pm ESPN Des   Borussia MGladbach (Johnson) vs Bayer Leverkusen – German Cup

2:45 pm ESPN2             Bayern Munich  vs Dortmund (Pulisic) – German Cup

2:45 pm Gol TV            Juventus vs Genoa Italian Cup

Fri, Dec 22

2:45 pm NBCSN           Arsenal vs Liverpool

Sat, Dec 23

7 am beIN Sport          Real Madrid vs Barcelona – El Classico

7:30 am NBCSN            Everton vs Chelsea

10 am NBCSN ?             Man City vs Bournemouth

12:30 pm NBCSN        Burnley vs Tottenham

2:45 pm ???                   Leicester City vs Man United

Tues, Dec 26

7:30 am NBCSN            Tottenham vs Southhampton

12:30 pm NBCSN?      Liverpool vs Swansea

Weds, Dec 27

2:45 pm NBCSN           New Castle (Yedlin) vs Man City

Thurs, Dec 28

3 pm NBCSN                   Crystal Palace vs Arsenal

Sat, Dec 30

10 am NBCSN                Chelsea vs Stoke City

10 am NBCSN ?             Liverpool vs Leicester City

12:30 pm NBCSN        Man united vs Southampton

Sun, Dec 31

7 am NBCSN                   Crystal Palace vs Man City

11;30 am NBCSN         West Brom vs Arsenal

Mon, Jan 1

10 am NBCSN                Burnley vs Liverpool

12:30 pm NBCSN        Everton vs Man United

Tues, Jan 2

2:45 pm NBCSN           Swansea vs Tottenham

Wed, Jan 3

2:45 pm NBCSN           Arsenal vs Chelsea

EPL 2017 Schedule  

IU men’s soccer’s defensive error gives Stanford national championship in overtime

Teddy Bailey, Special for IndyStarPublished 3:32 p.m. ET Dec. 10, 2017 | Updated 5:17 p.m. ET Dec. 10, 2017

CHESTER, Pa. — Indiana’s quest for a ninth national championship will continue.After 103 minutes of a scoreless draw, Stanford’s Sam Werner chipped the ball over the head of IU goalkeeper Trey Muse, as the Hoosiers fell 1-0 in double overtime of the 2017 College Cup Final. It was Stanford’s third consecutive national championship.Werner’s goal was created by a turnover from IU freshman forward Griffin Dorsey. After intercepting a Stanford pass, Dorsey lost possession by making a cut upfield. Werner took the ball and quickly placed a chip above the reach of Muse to hand Stanford its third consecutive NCAA title.“It’s a tough one,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said. “Griff thought he had a little window to make the play. The kid finished it really well. It won’t be our focus certainly, but it’s one that we’ll learn from. The overtime is tough, it’s so sudden. We felt really good heading into that period.”Sunday’s crushing loss left the Hoosiers speechless. Indiana completed an undefeated regular season and compiled 18 shutouts in 25 games — breaking records and sitting atop national rankings for the majority of the year. Despite those achievements, the Hoosiers missed out on a pair of Big Ten championships (regular season and tournament) — as well as the elusive ninth national title.“Our guys had a special year,” Yeagley said. “We often say the best mark you can leave is putting the star on the jersey (in the team’s logo, one for each national title). We were really close today. But I do know that this team will be talked about for many years to come on what they did.”The Hoosiers played on their heels for the majority of regulation, although Indiana appeared to have newfound momentum after surviving 90 minutes against Stanford. Muse was only needed on five occasions for saves, including a crucial 65th minute save to prolong the match.Stanford forward Austin Langsdorf found a striding Corey Baird right in front of Muse’s line — instinctively, Muse was there to stop the shot with his body and give the Hoosiers life.Indiana also avoided an early deficit in the 11th minute, as Muse made a stellar save by diving to his right and stopping Bryce Marion’s shot with one hand.Stanford’s defensive press troubled IU’s attack. The Hoosiers were held without a shot on goal until the 70th minute — which resulted in a weak header from Dorsey.“They did a great job with their press,” IU’s Cory Thomas said. “It took us out of what we like to do. We had to adapt a little bit to play like they were. I think we were good at adapting, but today just wasn’t good enough. Congrats to Stanford, they played very well today.”The Hoosiers will graduate a trio of seniors from this College Cup team, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Grant Lillard and forward Rashad Hyacenth. Following the Stanford goal, Hyacenth was seen on one knee until the Hoosiers left the field.“This team did so many things but was a bit short,” Yeagley said. “It’s a goal to put a trophy in the case or a star on the jersey, but it doesn’t define it. I know they’re going to know that they carried on a special tradition at Indiana. It’s going to take a while to feel that, but I know they will.”

Altidore, Bradley ease their heartbreak by leading Toronto to historic MLS Cup

Dec 10, 2017Jeff CarlisleSoccer

TORONTO — Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley have been teammates on a number of nights. As both players navigated their way through various national teams, there have been emotional peaks and valleys. It was fitting then that in a year filled with both extremes, the two finished on a high in leading Toronto FC to its first MLS Cup triumph, a 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders.Bradley was everywhere in leading Toronto to a dominating performance. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bradley connected on 65 of 71 passes, while making 5 tackles, 6 clearances and 4 interceptions. He was part of a harassing midfield that never let Seattle breathe. “He stifled them,” said Altidore of Bradley. “Before they even looked he was there. I was telling guys on the bench his bald head was everywhere.”Altidore had to be a bit more patient. It seemed like everyone was getting chances but him, with Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez getting some good looks only to be denied by the brilliance of Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei. But when Altidore was presented with one chance, he made the most of it, taking a pass from Giovinco and lifting the ball over Frei for the eventual game winner. In the process, it washed away the bitter taste of losing last year’s final to Seattle in the same venue.”To every single guy who has been a part of this road, this journey for the last year, it’s incredible,” Bradley said. “To cap it off [Saturday] in the way that we did, to play the way that did with everything on the line, with all the supposed pressure on our shoulders, I’m so f—ing proud.”The fact that Altidore and Bradley were able to share the moment made it even more special. The two first met in 2004 when Bradley was exiting the U.S. residency for the U17 national team in Bradenton, Florida. Altidore was just arriving on the scene as a 14-year-old. Altidore recalled that the two clicked right away over their shared passion for the game.”He’s exactly what he is now,” Altidore said of Bradley. “He had more hair, but he was just so serious, so professional, and he was [16] years old.””We saw in each other that we loved the game, we were into it, we were serious, we wanted to win,” Bradley said. “And since then we’ve had so many experiences together. He’s a brother to me.”It was just two months ago that the duo shared a different kind of experience, the U.S. men’s national team’s soul-crushing failure to qualify for next summer’s World Cup. Both players have been front and center for the invective that has been directed at the team. The role the two played in Saturday’s triumph will no doubt lead to plenty of “Where was that two months ago?” reactions.But sports, this one in particular, don’t work that way. A performance in a game can’t be called up on command. While the residual anger of U.S. fans is understandable, it’s still impressive that both players found a way to move on from the emotional blow and lead Toronto to the title.Moving between club and national team commitments requires intense compartmentalization. Bradley insisted that doing so isn’t a process but a switch that must be flipped.”There are moments when things are going well for your national team and not your club, things are going well for your club but not for your national team,” Bradley said. “Especially for me as captain, I have a huge responsibility that nothing carries over. I give everything I have in a given moment for the team that I’m playing on, and then when it’s time to switch gears, I switch gears like that.”When we got back from Trinidad, I said that it wouldn’t be fair to any person here — our teammates, our coaches, our fans, any people part of this club — if we brought the anger, frustration or heartbreak over, because this team this year has been like nothing that I’ve ever been a part of just in terms of a group of guys together with the coaches, the staff with everybody upstairs at the club who were just so single-minded.”Creating mental distance from what happened in Trinidad was helped by the physical distance from their home country. In fact, Canada might as well have been a world away. And the support the two have received from Toronto’s fans has helped both players move forward. Saturday was the chance to pay them back.”It’s not easy,” said Altidore of shedding the national team disappointment. “But these fans made it easy by the way they supported us. They did sympathize with what happened, and they’ve just been terrific. To give them a night like this, it means everything.”That is not to say that such memories will be erased. But now both players can celebrate a historic victory and share the first treble in MLS history.”You’re not guaranteed anything. I’ve lived that on many different occasions,” Bradley said. “But when push comes to shove, I want this guy next to me every single time.”

Boehm: Toronto FC “checked all the boxes” for best MLS team ever

December 10, 20177:49PM ESTCharles BoehmContributor

TORONTO – Winning a major trophy is an achievement. Winning three in one year is exceptional. Marching through your parity-ruled league with a mere five league losses out of 34 is special. And doing it all just five years after one of your own star players dubbed you, with good reason, “the worst team in the world?”That’s greatness.After a calendar’s worth of dominance in all competitions, Toronto FC dropped the mic at a feverish BMO Field on Saturday – doing not merely what was required to hoist the 2017 MLS Cup and complete their unprecedented treble, but producing a definitive encomium of what they’ve done and who they are.“On the biggest night, with everything on the line, to play the way that we did, to go after it the way we did, to dominate the way we did, I’m so proud of our team,” said captain Michael Bradley in a champagne-soaked TFC locker room post-game.“We set out this year to win. To win everything. To win every game, to win every trophy, and we came damn close to winning every game and we did win every trophy. And so I’m so proud of that and we’re going to enjoy this, we’re going to celebrate this, and when the dust settles in the next few days we’re going to get ready to do it again – with the addition of [CONCACAF] Champions League next year.”Playmaker Victor Vazquez, his exquisite technique and vision made even more influential than usual by TFC’s shift to a diamond midfield, was blunt about the extent of his team’s mastery against the defending champions from Seattle.“We put four players in the middle and they [Seattle] were lost. They didn’t know what to do,” said the Spaniard, revealing that his Sounders countryman Victor Rodriguez admitted as much as they walked into the locker rooms at intermission.“He was saying, ‘We don’t know what to do, because it was a surprise for us,’” said Vazquez. “This is what we wanted to do. We did it. We played 100 times better than them. They didn’t create almost any chance, and we were I think too good for them, and we showed it.”The months upon months and pages upon pages of speculation about where this incredible team ranks in MLS’ two-plus decades of history? The Reds brought down the curtain – brought down the house, in fact – on that conversation.“There are no questions about it,” said midfielder Marky Delgado. “We made history, we won three trophies this year. I mean, what else do you want? We’ve answered all these questions with our work on the field, and with the results on the field. There’s no more to be said.”Marky is right – and if anyone has a depth of perspective on the highs and lows of this league, it’s the man who suffered through some truly lean years as a teenage Homegrown Player with Chivas USA (RIP). But words are my job, just like completing passes, creating turnovers and generally blanketing the midfield is his and Bradley’s, so I’ll try to leave no stone unturned. 1990s D.C. United? That was a great team with exceptional personality, and they set the standard for an infant league. Yet they were not as deep nor as well-rounded as TFC, nor were they tested to the same degree.The Houston Dynamo team that went back to back in 2006 and 2007? A rugged and extremely close-knit group, but one with only a fraction of the attacking class and tactical fluidity of these Reds.The Galaxy sides of David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Robbie Keane? LA set a new bar for MLS, with three MLS Cups in four years. They were overly dependent on their stars, however, and perennially mailed it in when it came to the US Open Cup.No, TFC deserve to be labeled as MLS’ GOAT, and with gusto. And as Bradley hinted, it’s quite possible that in the near future they will put some distance between themselves and the rest of the field.“I’m the first one to say that I think it’s the greatest team ever,” said head coach Greg Vanney, himself a member of some extremely good LA Galaxy sides in the league’s early years. “That will be probably a debate and there will be other people who will say other teams were. But nobody has accomplished what this team has accomplished historically: every championship along the way, set a points record, the quality and the way this group went about their business over the course of the season. And we’re not done yet.“We still have things in front of us that we want to continue to achieve. So we’re still writing that story. But for now, in terms of seasons, I think we had the greatest season in the history of the league. I don’t think that’s debatable.”This league’s lifetime has featured such enormous variety in style, quality, and circumstances that comparisons between eras can be a slippery, deeply subjective process. But on Saturday night, in front of their devoted, expectant home support, the Reds added one more set of hard numbers to their hefty library of data, while also passing anyone and everyone’s eye test for aesthetics.“Now there’s no question,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono, scarlet-colored champagne-protection goggles akimbo on his head. “Now there’s no question. We’re the first team to do the treble, most points in a regular season, and all those questions should be silenced at this point. There’s no doubt about it. We went out and proved it tonight, played them off the field from minute one to minute 90. We showed that we’re the best team this year and to me, we answered all the questions.“We checked all the boxes.”

Toronto FC’s MLS Cup Win Was a Year in the Making, Earned It a Championship Unlike Any Other

Toronto FC march to the 2017 MLS Cup was paved by its past failures—and that made Saturday all the better. By BRIAN STRAUS December 09, 2017 SI

TORONTO—Championships are binary—either you win or you don’t—but they come in assorted sizes, textures and orders of magnitude. The nature of the ending depends on the story. In its 22 seasons, MLS has crowned different kinds of champions, and none should have to apologize for their story or feel less like a titlist because they sneaked into the playoffs on the final day, got a lucky bounce or, in the case of last season’s conquerors, won the final without taking a shot on goal. Rules are rules, and champions are champions. But there has never been an MLS champion like 2017’s Toronto FC, which turned the tables on last year’s victor, the Seattle Sounders, with a resounding and cathartic 2-0 win in Saturday’s MLS Cup final. This title was about more than what transpired at TFC’s BMO Field. It was a culmination of an historic pursuit for glory and redemption that began with the agonizing memory of your choosing, whether it was the eight seasons of ineptitude that preceded the club’s first playoff berth in 2015, or the penalty-kick shootout loss to Seattle last year. And it capped off the most glittering campaign in league history, as the trophy that captain Michael Bradley lifted Saturday was TFC’s third of 2017. They are the first to win the Supporters’ Shield, their domestic cup and MLS Cup in a single season. Twelve predecessors managed two-thirds of that triple crown. None completed it. There’s a large red placard standing around six feet tall hanging just inside the entrance to TFC’s locker room. It lists the club’s goals for 2017 and includes more granular aims like the number of shutouts or road points that coach Greg Vanney wanted his team to achieve. Then at the bottom, there’s the foundation—the mission propping up the whole season: the treble. “I’m the first to say, I think this is the greatest team ever,” Vanney proclaimed in his postgame press conference. “Nobody has accomplished what this team has accomplished. … We still have things in front of us that we want to continue to achieve. We’re still writing this story. But in terms of seasons, I think we had the greatest season in the history of the league and I don’t think that’s debatable.” If TFC continues to conquer, it’s hard to imagine it doing so in more of a storybook fashion. Because, as stated, titles take on different meanings depending on the journey and context. The Reds will move forward as a juggernaut—a North American soccer Goliath with even more money to spend and designs on winning the CONCACAF Champions League. That contrasts with Saturday’s game, which they entered on a more personal, compelling kind of mission. The toll, intensity and meaning of that odyssey were evident in Bradley’s words as he spoke following Saturday’s win. He came to TFC in 2014, feeling like he’d been treated as surplus by AS Roma and hoping, after eight years in Europe and in the prime of his career, to put a club on his shoulders and change a culture. He found that opportunity in Toronto, was determined to make the most of it and was the best player on the field in last season’s MLS Cup final. Then he missed his penalty in the tiebreaker In an emotional Instagram post a couple days later, Bradley wrote, “Dreams shattered. Tears shed. But its not finished. It doesn’t end like this. … The pain and heartbreak of the last two days have made one thing very clear. I’ve never been more proud to call TFC my club and Toronto my home. Together our time will come.” He’s said several times this season that TFC’s mission began the following morning as they gathered at the club’s training facility just north of the city. They would commit to everyday excellence. They would dominate the competition, redeem themselves and pay back the fans who initially stood with a bad team, then stood behind a beaten one. “We had to lift this trophy. It has been an obsession for the last 364 days,” Bradley said Saturday night. “There’s no other word for it than ‘obsession’. It’s hard to describe to people on the outside what it’s been like to live that every day—to live that in the beginning of preseason when it feels like years away from a game, let alone a playoff game, let alone a final. … To cap it off tonight, in the way that we did, to play the way that we did with everything on the line—with all the supposed pressure on our shoulders—I’m so f***ing proud.” In last year’s final, Toronto was frustrated and unfortunate. On Saturday, they played the sort of soccer you draw on a pregame whiteboard. TFC was at its best in the biggest moment, overwhelming the Sounders with precision (controlling 57% of possession) and power (winning more than 70% of its duels). Seattle made the Reds work for the goal—particularly goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the 2016 MLS Cup MVP who was just as spectacular in the rematch. And maybe a more fragile team lets Frei worm his way into its collective head. But TFC had spent an entire season fixated, and wasn’t going to lose the plot at the very end. “After a year … like that, you just have to say, ‘Keep your foot on the gas and keep trying to create chances, and don’t be afraid you’re going to give something up in your endeavor to try and go win the game,” Vanney said, adding that one of the club’s preseason mantras was “Be Bold.” Vanney said, “Nobody wins anything by being afraid.” His 4-4-2, which evolved seamlessly into a 3-5-2 with Bradley as the withdrawn conductor when TFC had possession, moved the ball with ease and left Seattle chasing shadows across the BMO pitch. Bradley was the game’s architect—“His bald head was everywhere,” TFC’s Jozy Altidore said —and Altidore was named its MVP thanks to his well-taken winning goal in the 67th minute. The striker said that when he watches games, even for study purposes, he always takes notice of the celebrations. He looks into the crowd. And he admitted that he still recalls the faces of the TFC faithful after Seattle’s Román Torres buried the clinching penalty last year. On Saturday, Altidore said, what he saw was “just euphoria.” Players keep track of this kind of thing. Or at least they do in Toronto.

“These people, they suffered a long time. They came to watch games where their team was being dominated,” Altidore said. “Even in those years, they’re still averaging 20,000-22,000 fans per game. … This night was for them. They’ve been the driving force for all this, even before we came here.” Said Bradley, “The response of our fans and the response of this city last year after we lost was like nothing I’ve ever seen. They could’ve pointed fingers. They could’ve said, ‘You guys blew it. You had [the final] at home and you couldn’t take care of business.’ But the response in the days, and weeks and months after was so unique and so different than what you would typically expect. People were so proud. “To see the way they treated us and the way they wrapped their arms around us after last year— we wanted to win regardless, but we wanted it so much more after that,” he concluded. “To give them their night. Their moment.” There were tense times on Saturday, to be sure. You could hear it in certain subdued moments. But BMO Field erupted when Altidore scored. Bradley said he knew TFC had it at that point. And the packed stadium on the shores of Lake Ontario shook again when Spanish midfielder Víctor Vázquez—a massive, season-altering winter addition—doubled the lead during stoppage time. That was the sound of catharsis, and it made the story even sweeter. “Last year we said you made us believe. This year fulfill all of our dreams,” the pregame tifo hanging in the stadium’s south end read. Those dreams deferred made this particular championship feel a bit different than others. This TFC project began in earnest in 2014. GM Tim Bezbatchenko had joined the club the previous fall and together with former Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke, he helped bring Bradley to Toronto. Vanney took over in August 2014 and the following year, Altidore and future MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco signed on (he assisted on the game-winner). A championship core was in place, and then Bezbatchenko and Vanney rebuilt the back line in ’16 with the additions of Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour. It’s been a steady rise, from missing the playoffs (2014), to making them (’15), to losing a gutwrenching final (’16) and then winning it all on Saturday—and then some. This was a road to redemption paved with silver, the likes of which MLS hasn’t seen. “You could tell that was a motivated franchise, a motivated coach, a motivated team,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Their success throughout the year, I believe was fueled by the loss last year.” Said Vanney, who also lost the MLS Cup final three times as a player, “Congratulations to [Seattle], and thanks. They served as motivation for our group.” Bradley has a preternatural ability to recall details. He remembers the route his driver took from the airport toward the stadium the day he arrived in Toronto after agreeing to join the club, in part because he never again used it on his own. On Friday, he said he called an Uber and didn’t offer any suggestions on how best to get from his house to the stadium. So the driver, naturally, took Highway 427 to the Gardiner Expressway—the same route Bradley took that first day in Toronto and not a single time since. “I’m not necessarily a huge believer in fate and things like that,” Bradley said, “[But] to have it come full circle, to kind of finish things off this year in this way. … It’s surreal. [Winning MLS Cup] is why I came. It’s why we came. It’s been the dream for the last four years. After the way things went last year, you can say for the last year it was an obsession.” And it’s done now, without doubt or any possible detraction. This championship narrative was a perfect union of the technical and intangible. And it may be just the beginning of a longer story.

Toronto FC, Altidore Conquer Their Past, Win MLS Cup to Cap Historic Season

QUICKLY Toronto FC nally solved the Stefan Frei puzzle to exact revenge on the Seattle Sounders and win MLS Cup–and in doing so can lay claim to the best season in MLS history. By BRIAN STRAUS December 09, 2017 TORONTO — If this season’s vintage of Toronto FC was going to stake its claim as the best team in Major League Soccer’s 22-year history, then it was going to have to fight to the very end to earn the designation. Saturday’s MLS Cup final was no coronation. It was a grind, a test, a climb to the summit of Mt. Frei that had been a year in the making. Winners of the 2017 MLS Supporters’ Shield and the Canadian Championship (Canada’s domestic Cup competition), TFC stood on the threshold of a historic treble and the club’s first league title. In the way, for the second straight season, were the Seattle Sounders and Frei, the masterful Swiss American goalkeeper who once wore TFC’s colors. He got the best of the Reds last time around. This year, if Toronto wanted to make history, it had to conquer its past. And the hosts did, at long last. Toronto FC won the MLS Cup title on Saturday, 2-0, before 30,0584 fans at sold-out BMO Field. The stadium on the shore of Lake Ontario shook when Jozy Altidore finally ended TFC’s agony and beat Frei on a 67th-minute breakaway. Frei had made save after save across the two championship games, but TFC finally broke through, taking that one last, elusive step to American/Canadian soccer’s pinnacle. It was a deserved, hard-earned triumph. Here are three thoughts on Saturday’s final:

ALTIDORE WRITES A NEW ENDING

Frei’s impossible, leaping save during overtime of last season’s final is regarded by many as the best in league history. It’s become a part of Seattle sports lore. Now, Altidore’s winning goal will have similar status in Toronto. His participation in Saturday’s final wasn’t even guaranteed. But the ankle injury that forced his removal from the Eastern Conference decider against Columbus proved to be the furthest thing from a bad omen. Altidore scored the series-winner shortly after getting hurt, and he promised during the MLS Cup build-up that nothing would keep him from playing this weekend. Altidore started against Seattle and was effective as part of a dynamic, dizzying TFC build-up that kept the visitors on their heels and created numerous gilt-edged scoring chances. But Frei stood firm. Finally, in the 67th, Altidore presented a different sort of target. Rather than playing as a hold-up man or connector, he was at the tip of the spear, racing onto a through ball from Sebastian Giovinco like a player with the freshest ankles on the field. He took a touch to his left to create distance from Seattle’s Joevin Jones, then lifted the ball over Frei as the goalie rushed forward. There was no way TFC’s nemesis was reaching that one. Altidore’s playoff could’ve been remembered far differently. He was suspended for the first leg of the conference finals after getting involved in a post-game fracas against the New York Red Bulls. And he sat on the sidelines for several minutes against the Crew after turning his ankle, contemplating an early exit. Since then, the story—and TFC’s history—has been different.

TORONTO IS DOMINANT

Credit to Toronto coach Greg Vanney for putting a tactical twist on the final that bedeviled the Sounders (17-10-12), who’d been enjoying a dominant postseason run of their own. Rather than their customary 3-5-2, the Reds took the field in a 4-4-2 that tore Seattle apart. The key: it allowed TFC’s outside backs, Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour, to get forward in the attacking half as if they were playing in a 3-5-2 because of Michael Bradley’s ability to withdraw and perform as something akin to a third center back. He was a center back, however, with the ability to pass, pick out teammates and organize the cycling of the ball better than any standard defender. Toronto (23-6-10) dominated the midfield with Victor Vazquez—who scored TFC’s stoppage-time insurance goal—and the hard-working Jonathan Osorio and Marco Delgado. They had outlets on the flank, Bradley behind them and Altidore and Giovinco as the first-half connector and danger man up front, respectively. Although Giovinco wasn’t sharp in front of goal, he was active, forcing Seattle to pay attention and limiting their options and organization when the ball turned over. Toronto outshot Seattle 22-7 (the Sounders managed two shots on target—two more than they took last year) and held 57% of the possession. TFC was far superior in every aspect, from the bench to the field, and is a deserving champion.

THE BEST SEASON EVER

TFC finished the job. The Reds set a record for points this season and ranked second all-time in regular season goal differential and goals scored. The team they finished behind in those categories, the 1998 LA Galaxy, fell in the conference finals and played in a far more modest league. Those numbers, along with the roster quality and the aforementioned treble, leave TFC standing alone in the argument for best single-season MLS team. More will be asked of them, of course. Repeat. Make a run in the CONCACAF Champions League, which starts in February. But a standard has been set. It’s been set by a club that failed to make the playoffs during its first eight years in the league and that, rather than crumbling after last year’s heartbreaking defeat, raised its game.

Michael Bradley happy to secure MLS Cup ‘obsession’ with Toronto

Dec 9, 2017

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley was thrilled to secure his “obsession” of winning the MLS title after the 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders in Saturday’s final.After nearly a decade in Europe, Bradley returned to MLS four years ago as one of the league’s highest-paid players and on Saturday obtained his goal of helping Toronto become the first Canadian club to lift the MLS Cup trophy.The triumph comes one year after Toronto came up short on penalties in the final against the same opponents, and Bradley praised his teammates’ resiliency. “This has been the dream for four years, since the day I got here, and for the last year the dream has become an obsession,” he told ESPN after the game.”For this group of guys to work every single day, and remember last year, to get back here, to play that game, in this atmosphere, with that on the line — it’s unbelievable.”Bradley, also the captain of the United States national team, was the target of jeers during the playoffs after the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup, but he didn’t have anything to say to his critics.”I don’t have to say anything,” he said. “I love to play, I love to compete. That’s it for me.”

BRADLEY Completed 92% of his passes in what was his Best Game of the Season — View image on Twitter

Toronto FC became the first MLS team to complete the domestic Treble — making it through the playoffs to win the MLS Cup, earning the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record, and also winning the Canadian Championship cup competition.ictor Vazquez was with Barcelona when they won the Champions League in 2009 and 2011, but he said for the amount of trophies Toronto FC won this season, the Reds are the best team he’s played for.”For sure, I never win that many trophies. That explains everything,” he said. “That’s also why I came here. They put a lot confidence in me and I give it back so we are celebrating and we’re going to enjoy this night.”Vazquez capped the victory with a goal in stoppage time, but he credited Jozy Altidore’s opener for opening up the game in Toronto’s favor.”I can not explain this, that’s amazing,” he said. “Everything we did today is for these people around the pitch. Everything we have done all season, and today, we have done everything. I don’t have words, because that’s too much, I think.”The game was more open [after Altidore’s goal] and then we could create more chances, we could score more goals. They went to try to put some balls in the box but they didn’t do anything.”We won the balls on the pitch, we did everything and we have to be proud and happy, because to do this, that’s amazing.”

Castillo: Bradley finds home, hope, redemption with Toronto FC Cup win

December 10, 201711:11AM ESTArielle CastilloSenior Editor

TORONTO – On Saturday night in Toronto FC’s locker room – the floor covered in an inch-thick slurry of sprayed champagne, beer, confetti, and other detritus — the captain tried to find the closest thing to a quiet moment. About a half hour before, Michael Bradley, fresh off the team’s first-ever MLS Cup win – a 2-0 victory in a rematch over the Seattle Sounders — had gleefully joined his teammates in singing and champagne showers. But now, done with a press conference, he sipped soda rather than booze and leaned into his locker-room cubby, his back to lurking media, maybe tending to his phone, or maybe just taking it all in for a moment.Finally, when he had collected himself, Bradley turned to face the scrum – and immediately shot down the narrative that had been fomenting since Toronto FC first pulled ahead of the Sounders. Forget anything to do with his duty with the US men’s national team – if there was a “redemption” arc of sorts for Bradley regarding TFC’s Cup win, it had only to do with redemption for last year’s MLS Cup loss to the same team at home. “It’s not fair for anybody connected with this team to talk about anything else, because for this team, for the last year, it has been like nothing I’ve ever been a part of,” he said of TFC. “Unless you have lived the last year on the inside of this team,” he continued, “and know what it’s like to have to wake up the next morning after losing a final the way we did last year, to have to go through a preseason when you feel your chance at redemption feels 50 years away…. No disrespect – nobody on the outside can understand that.”Indeed, arguably no one more than Bradley has, as a transplant, quite devoted himself so devotedly to making both the club and his city his home, with the goal of lifting them both up. Earlier this week, at the team’s Kia Training Ground outside of the city, I sat down with Bradley for a chat about his relationship with Toronto. Growing up in New Jersey, looking up to idols like Mark Messier and Kobe Bryant, clearly left an imprint about the way a devoted local sports icon can bring a city together. “It doesn’t happen in one day” he said of a city embracing an athlete, his trademark, thoughtful cadence slow and measured, every word considered and no athlete-speak wasting air. “It happens in a lot of different ways. You have to win, you have to show your loyalty in both good and bad moments, you should show the commitment to embrace the club and the city.”His arrival in Toronto in 2014, he said, offered a perfect opportunity for him to plant roots as both a soccer player, and as a resident. “At this stage in my career. I wanted to I wanted to go somewhere where I had the opportunity to play a huge role in what was going on every single day, and I wanted to go somewhere where the potential to build something different and special and unique was was there,” he said. “And I think, on the flip side,” he continued, “that after some of the disappointing and frustrating years that they had here — I think I don’t want to speak for them but I think in some ways the fans were looking for for somebody to come here and kind of say, ‘This is where I want to be. This is my club I’m not going anywhere.’ And so and that was what I wanted to do.”In fact, once he starts talking about the city of Toronto, it seems, he could go on forever. “We all love it here,” he says of himself and his family. “It has the character of different places we’ve lived, and I think that’s part of the reason why from the beginning it’s felt so much like home. The people are incredible; they’re so warm and welcoming and go out of the way to make you feel part of things.”In fact, he said, the bond between team, fans, and city only grew after the pain of losing the MLS Cup final in 2016. “I’ve never seen anything like the response, and I’ve never seen anything like the way the city and fans embraced us,” he recalled. “My respect and appreciation and my admiration for our supporters grew more as a result of us losing than it could have in any other way. “Fans, in so many moments, are so – as we all are – wrapped up in the result. Did we win? Did we lose? But the ability of our supporters last year, even in the most heartbreaking, painful moment possible, to make sure we all knew how proud they were of us, and how much it had meant to all of them to be a part of something like that – it was incredible.”The feeling around town this week was that fans here loved him right back, with little concern (probably naturally) for any drama in international soccer. “Hero” was a word I heard several times in informal conversations. And when fans lined up, pre-match, near the corner where TFC players enter the tunnel from the locker room, Bradley drew the biggest cheers. “Hey Cap’!” Fans around me yelled. “Hey Cap’! Go on, Cap!’”All of that’s translated his teammates say, to his stewardship in both the locker room and on the field. “I think you could tell he took [last year’s MLS Cup loss] personally, and he felt a personal responsibility to the city, and he delivered that tonight. That says all you need to know about him,” said defender Jason Hernandez. “I played with Michael when he was 17 years old at the MetroStars, and to see the maturation and development of him to being the best captain I’ve ever played for is incredible.”But there’s probably nobody closer to Bradley on the team than forward Jozy Altidore. Besides playing together for both club and country, of course, they’ve also been friends since their teen years at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. And in the locker room, Altidore gave his longtime friend plenty of props for his leadership through sometimes-troubled waters. “It hasn’t always been easy – even with each other,” Altidore said. “But that’s how you know you’re in something real with people; youe able to have real conversations and get on with it. We’re like that, and we’ve been like that since we’ve known each other. To help him, lead this group of guys to do something this special says a lot about the club and what we’re doing going forward.”There’s a sense, among teammates and fans, that they’ve all been through plenty together, from the club’s recent nadirs, to last year’s MLS Cup heartbreak at home. And Bradley’s been proud to try to shoulder that burden for his club team, any other chatter be damned. A reporter in the locker room even pointed out his captain’s armband for the night – it bore Toronto’s city flag. “There were some dark years along the way, but the people who stuck with it, who continued to believe, who continued to identify with the club – nights like this are for them,” he said in the locker room. “We want to play and represent the in a way that makes them proud, that makes them leave here and feel like they were part of something different and special.” 

Seattle lets chance to cement dynasty status slip away in MLS Cup defeat

TORONTO — So much of Saturday evening’s MLS Cup rematch between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC inspired déjà vu.The prematch buildup at BMO Field was just as raucous, if not even more so, than it was last December. The a cappella version of O Canada from the home crowd brought familiar goosebumps to the fore. Just as in the 2016 final, TFC controlled the game but struggled to turn that dominance into an actual breakthrough. For an hour, the reigning title-game MVP, Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei, was on track for a repeat award following a series of increasingly outlandish saves, and the energy inside the building was infused with a “here we go again” sense of dread.Then Jozy Altidore split the Sounders’ defense up the seam with a well-timed run to finish past a helpless Frei, and everything changed.The feeling within the away locker room of BMO could not have been more disparate than it was at this time last year. No protective covering in front of the lockers was necessary. Clumps of athletic tape and sod littered the floor, rather than discarded celebratory beer cans. Instead of a heaving, champagne-spraying, dancing mass, the players kept mostly to themselves in their respective stalls, shoulders slumped and eyes watery.”You feel like you let down a whole city,” third-year midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “You feel like you let down yourself, your teammates, your family. It’s very tough, emotional. But at the end of the day, you can’t do anything about it now. You have to look forward.”The vibe was very much reminiscent of a different defeated Seattle finalist from a few years back: the 2014 Seahawks. That group was even more shaken, given the traumatic way they lost, with quarterback Russell Wilson throwing an interception on the New England Patriots’ goal line with less than a minute remaining.Yet there was the same sense of a precious, fleeting opportunity missed. These Sounders, like those Seahawks, would have been back-to-back champions. No matter how strongly you feel about your current team or how unbroken its upward trajectory, those chances don’t come around all that often.No one is more painfully aware of just how much hard work and good luck go into reaching a championship game, let alone winning one, than the athletes themselves.Seattle forward Will Bruin qualified for MLS Cup in each of his first two seasons as a pro while with Houston. The Dynamo lost both of those finals to the LA Galaxy, the last MLS team to win consecutive titles, but to a youngster such as Bruin, the team’s eventual triumph felt like only a matter of time.It would be five years and would require a change of scenery for Bruin to earn another shot. He spoke earlier this week about no longer taking these moments for granted, and that realization made Saturday’s defeat that much tougher to swallow.”It sucks,” Bruin said. “It probably hurts more now because this is such a good team we have. … It’s not every year you get to go to MLS Cup. Hopefully we can keep this group together. If we keep the core of this team, we can learn from this experience. It sucks now, but if we bring back the nucleus and the core, it will make us stronger.”The Sounders have plenty of reasons to believe that they have the pieces in place to make another deep push sooner rather than later. Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro has a contract that runs into the 2019 season, and veteran forward Clint Dempsey recently reupped for another year. Roldan, though he struggled in this final, has become one of the best young players in the league. Jordan Morris, if he can stay healthy, will be a part of the foreseeable future as well.The defense that hadn’t allowed a goal since Oct. 1 prior to Saturday night is a solid foundation to build upon. Seattle mostly waltzed through the West, and the rest of the conference contenders have more glaring question marks.Still, don’t expect the club to sit pat. Within hours of last year’s championship, the Sounders declined the contracts of a host of influential veterans, and general manager Garth Lagerwey impressively remade the roster in order to make another run. Expect Lagerwey to keep tinkering in obsessive pursuit of getting back to exactly where his team stood earlier Saturday evening, 90 minutes from another title.That’s the thing about losing a championship game: You never really get the chance to make amends. Even if Seattle wins the next two MLS Cups, the next three, the next five, 2017 will forever be the one that got away, the missing piece of a would-be dynasty.There are no guarantees. The Seahawks, for each of those winning seasons since, haven’t made it back to another Super Bowl. Late Saturday night, in the bowels of a stadium in which they once triumphantly celebrated, the Sounders weren’t quite ready to ponder a similar fate.”Right now, it still feels like a failure,” Bruin said. “In a few days, sure, we’ll sit back and appreciate what we did. But with the Sounders, sometimes we take things for granted because we hold ourselves to such a high standard that we expect to get where we want to go. That’s winning MLS Cup, and we fell short, so right now, it feels like a failure.”

Frei’s fine form had Toronto coach Vanney ‘on edge’ throughout MLS Cup

Dec 9, 2017Matt PentzESPN FC

TORONTO — Even at 1-0 up, having controlled the 2017 MLS Cup final from start to finish and with the clock frozen at 90 minutes, Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney did not exhale until Victor Vazquez pounced on a rebound to double TFC’s lead.Only then, in the 94th minute and with BMO Field breaking into hysterics, did Vanney allow himself to believe that his team was really going to avenge last year’s title-game defeat to the Seattle Sounders, win the club’s first MLS Cup and become the first team in league history to win three major trophies in a single season. “That was the first time I took a deep breath and felt like we had done it,” Vanney said. “Before that, it was obviously a long game, where I felt like chances were coming but we weren’t putting them away. [Sounders goalkeeper] Stefan Frei was having another blinder of a game and making saves. Even with that first goal I was still, like everybody, feeling a little bit on edge.”That second goal was for me the first time that my emotions came out a little bit. I looked up at the sky because as most of you are aware I lost my mother, and she would have really proud. I’ve lost this game four times prior to tonight and she witnessed all of those, so I was really happy to do that with this group of guys who have been amazing all year.”Toronto dominated Saturday evening’s match, out-shooting the Sounders 22-7, including an 11-1 edge in shots on goal. And even though his team could have started wondering if it was going to be another one of those nights when they entered halftime at 0-0 — having similarly taken over last year’s game but not being able to break through — at intermission they were calm and composed.”[I] mostly just wanted them to stay positive, not get frustrated after a year like last year and a half like that,” Vanney said. “Keep your foot on the gas, keep trying to create chances and not be afraid that you’re going to give up something in the endeavor of trying to go win the game. That was one of our big statements this week. Be bold. Nobody wins anything by being afraid. Go out and be bold and the ball kept going.”The breakthrough finally came in the 67th minute. Jozy Altidore sprinted onto a threaded pass by Sebastian Giovinco and finishing in front of a noisy South End. Vanney stayed internally clenched for another half hour or so, before Vazquez struck again and the coach could finally begin to celebrate.”We’re so proud do to this in front of our city and our fans,” Vanney said. “It’s been a long time and a long journey to get here, heartache along the way as we saw last year, but to get here tonight and be able to lift a trophy with them and in front of them is an incredible journey and we’re so proud to be here in this moment.”

The good, the bad and the ugly of the 2017 Major League Soccer season

Dec 10, 2017Graham Parker

Toronto FC capped off a 2017 season in which it set an MLS record for most points in a single season, won the Canadian Championship and secured the Supporters’ Shield by lifting the MLS Cup on home soil Saturday night. With the campaign now in the rearview mirror, Graham Parker picks out the good, the bad and the ugly of the 2017 Major League Soccer season.

The Good

Saturday night’s 2-0 win over Seattle in the final was the kind of dominant display we’d been waiting for from Toronto during these playoffs, restoring that feel of inevitability about its rise. Tactically astute, technically superior and showing an overwhelming force of will, Toronto put a final emphatic spin on its claim as the best MLS team ever. Toronto’s 2017 was extraordinary. Even as the likes of the Chicago Fire pulled together a campaign that briefly flattered themselves as Shield contenders, Toronto was assembling a campaign that would gather remorseless momentum over the summer. And if it faded a little toward the end of the year, that was explicable in part by the fact that a record-breaking team was already so far out of reach in the standings that a dip in focus was understandable. Balanced, powerful, skillful and pushed over the top as an attacking force in 2017 by Victor Vazquez, Toronto set a new technical benchmark for the league.For nearly every other new benchmark, there was Atlanta United. Given every context to thrive by an organization that placed them in an excellent stadium, and a fan base that turned out in droves, Atlanta more than stood up on the field. Tata Martino’s lightning-fast team electrified the league in its debut season, and if it fell short in the playoffs thanks to a goalkeeper performance for the ages from Columbus’ Zack Steffen, the future looks bright in Georgia.

Speaking of the Crew, fans around the league rallied in support of their peers for the #SaveTheCrew campaign, and it showed the best aspects of supporter culture in the U.S. and Canada. The future remains uncertain, but on the field at least, they’ll always have the memory of Steffen and, of course, Harrison Afful’s mesmerizing dribble to put the New York City FC series beyond reach.NYCFC will have a tough offseason reflecting on the Alexander Callens red card that upended its playoff hopes, but the team continues to settle into the most challenging of markets and deserves to have its most ambitious community initiative marked. The first 10 of a planned 50 futsal courts for underserved New York communities were unveiled just before the playoffs started — a critical mass that demonstrates an admirable commitment to the team’s home.

The Bad

Going into the summer, FC Dallas appeared to be in familiar fashion in the West, as it sought to build on 2016’s U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield by adding an elusive MLS Cup in 2017. But by the run-in, Dallas fans were left counting down the weeks hoping that somehow the regular season would run out before their team fell out of the playoff picture. FCD were still technically in contention going into the final day, but a last-minute San Jose goal would push them out of playoff contention for good; and after a season of injuries, strange selections and the awkward integration of Cristian Colman into the team, Dallas could hardly claim it had been robbed. This was a bad year.The LA Galaxy, too, must enter 2018 with a sense of foreboding. The post-Bruce Arena era looked worryingly similar to the pre-Bruce Arena era. Big names were effective only in fits and starts, the StubHub Center’s reputation as a fortress was left in tatters by serial home losses, and ultimately Sigi Schmid was drafted in midway through the season to try to stabilize the season at “underwhelming” rather than “abject.” Romain Alessandrini was perhaps the lone bright spot. But with the spotlight shifting to LAFC, the Galaxy face a battle for local relevance in 2018, something that was unthinkable a couple of years ago.Other teams were left with similar challenges in looking for any consolation to take from 2017. For D.C. United, another season of uninspiring drift on the field ended with a loss to a second-string New York Red Bulls team in the final ever game at RFK Stadium. In fairness to Ben Olsen, the financial focus on the new stadium has left him with a really difficult task in trying to build competitive teams, and he deserves his chance to showcase the side in its new home, but D.C.’s ongoing irrelevance as a sustained competitive force has been tough to witness.

The Ugly

If the #SaveTheCrew campaign was heartening, the very need for it in the first place was not. Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt had long hinted that the organization needed a downtown stadium to be competitive and viable, but on the eve of the playoffs it emerged that that belief was now an ultimatum to the city, with a move to Austin, Texas, looking more like a fait accompli than just an option on the table. Precourt, et al, never got in front of the story, and it was hard to feel sympathy as the unfolding PR disaster engulfed them.And finally, there was the infamous tunnel spat at BMO Field that saw Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan sent off, and introduced the wider MLS viewership to Toronto’s red tunnel — which gave us the unfortunate impression of a fight taking place in a submarine. Kljestan had previously spoken of his team “going down swinging,” but this was not exactly what he had in mind. It could have ended up as the defining image of Toronto’s postseason; there was little exuberance about the way they battled through the 2017 playoffs compared to the momentum of 2016, but there was plenty of grit. In the end though, if Toronto was made to win ugly at times, it would not be denied.

Stejskal: Toronto FC journey from “worst team in the world” to best in MLS

December 10, 201712:24AM ESTSam StejskalContributor

TORONTO – A couple of hours after the final whistle blew on the finest night in Toronto FC’s 11-year history, after the mind-scrambling tension of another tight final against the Seattle Soundersspilled into a champagne-soaked celebration of the club’s first MLS Cup title, after his team became the first in league history to win three major trophies in one year, Tim Bezbatchenko stood in the TFC locker room and tried to explain what it all meant.The Toronto GM pointed to a sign hanging in the entryway, placed so every player and every coach see it every time they come and go. At the bottom of the sign, underneath a list of some of the club’s smaller, shorter-term objectives, are two words: The Treble.The Canadian Championship. The Supporters’ Shield. MLS Cup.After tonight, TFC have all three. After tonight, TFC have history.“It means we’re the best ever, that’s what it means,” said Bezbatchenko. “From Greg [Vanney] to Michael [Bradley] and all the way down, throughout the entire year they had their eyes set on this. We didn’t talk about it vocally until we started to pick up momentum, pick up the Canadian Championship, but look at this board right here, we made this at the beginning of the year. This was always the goal. The Treble. We made this, this has been here since Day One, and we did it. The Canadian Championship, the Supporters’ Shield – tonight was the last part of it.”For Bezbatchenko, Bradley and Vanney, MLS Cup was the culmination of a four-year journey to turn TFC from “the worst team in the world to the best team in the history of MLS.”The laughingstock of the entire league for their first seven seasons, Toronto began their current trajectory in 2014, when they shocked the North American soccer scene by convincing Bradley to ditch Italian giants Roma to sign for their last-place MLS club. Designated Players Jermain Defoeand Gilberto joined the US international in his first season in Toronto, but TFC’s Bloody Big Deal quickly became a Bloody Big Dud. Bradley, Defoe and Gilberto didn’t fit together, head coach Ryan Nelsen was fired midway through the year and the club limped to a weak finish under Vanney to miss the playoffs.Defoe and Gilberto left following the 2014 season, replaced by rock stars Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. Together with Bradley, they took Toronto to new heights. Giovinco ran away with the MLS MVP, leading TFC to their first-ever playoff berth. There was a raucous celebration at BMO Field on the day they clinched, but the club’s moment of catharsis didn’t last. Toronto were bounced in the Knockout Round, dominated 3-0 by Didier Drogba and archrivals Montreal to immediately exit the playoffs.  They improved again in 2016, but with more success came more disappointment. Much more. Toronto finished the regular season third in the East, then beat PhiladelphiaNYCFC and Montreal to advance to MLS Cup against Seattle. Everything looked lined up for the Reds to take the title. The Sounders were banged up heading into the final, and Toronto dominated, not allowing a single shot on goal. But they were turned away time and time again by goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who bested them in the shootout to steal the championship from TFC.The defeat gnawed at Toronto all winter and changed the tenor of the locker room. Winning MLS Cup was no longer just a mission for Bradley, Giovinco, Altidore and the rest of the roster; it became an obsession. All the disappointment of the previous three years, the expectations that they failed to reach, the trophies they didn’t claim, they became fuel. 2017, they felt, would be their year.From the start, they dominated. Toronto were the best team in the league wire-to-wire, edging out Montreal for the Canadian Championship in June, running away with the Supporters’ Shield and setting the all-time regular-season record for most points in a single campaign. They were loaded at just about every position, had numerous dangerous options off the bench and, with Victor Vazquez joining the team in the winter and Justin Morrow emerging as a Best XI selection, had a better collection of stars than just about any team in MLS history.They had to battle their way through a pair of ugly series against the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew SC to advance to MLS Cup, but they got back to the title game. Waiting for them was their 2016 boogeyman. Seattle cruised through the West, beating Vancouver and Houston by a combined margin of 7-0. This week, they became something of a trendy pick. We said they were looser than tense Toronto, that they were more confident than slightly out-of-form TFC.On Saturday, Toronto flipped that narrative on its head. They controlled the entire match, rolling out a surprise 4-4-2 diamond formation and absolutely waxing the Sounders. They outshot Seattle 22-7, out-possessed the Sounders 57-43, won 58 of 82 total duels and didn’t let Clint DempseyNico Lodeiro and Co. get a single good look at goal. Bradley was masterful in the midfield, Vazquez put on a show in the attacking third and Altidore, hobbled ankle and all, made BMO Field erupt when he scored the game-winner in the 67th minute.

When Vazquez made it 2-0 in second-half stoppage-time, it was no longer a contest. It was a coronation. The sky above the south stands turned red as TFC’s supporters fired up flares. The smell of cordite wafted. The stadium shook. Bradley raised MLS Cup on the podium. Giovinco had his turn next, lifting a trophy that almost looked bigger than him. Toronto native and academy product Jonathan Osorio, who had an excellent game in the midfield, appeared emotional as he leaned into Altidore on the podium.After everyone had had their turn with the trophy, Morrow carried it over to the supporters’ section. There, in the beating heart of BMO, the team congregated for their celebratory Viking clap, a postgame playoff tradition begun last fall. Altidore boomed on the bass drum, the wall of humanity in front of him responding with their slow clap. Bradley, who’s known Altidore since the two were teenage teammates at US Soccer’s residency program in Bradenton, Florida, kneeled next to the drum, arms wrapped around his two young children.Bezbatchenko was in the throng, too, not far from assistant GM Corey Wray. A Toronto native, Wray has been with TFC since the beginning. The first intern in club history, he spent his first shift checking in players at the team’s inaugural open tryout in December 2006. He survived their infamous 0-9-0 start in 2012, and endured all of the coaching changes, front-office shakeups and miserable seasons that polluted the early years of the club. TFC is family to him, literally. He met his wife Jaime McMillan through the team, where she still works as director of administration and operations.For Wray, tonight was about more than a title or a treble. The championship was about validation, making all those years of professional pain, all the long seasons, all the turmoil worth it.  “When we scored the first goal, it was a huge, huge relief. It was unlike anything I ever felt in my life,” he said, fighting back tears. “Then the final whistle, it was kind of surreal until I saw my mom and dad, to be honest. I hate to be corny, but they’ve helped me throughout all these years and helped me in tough times when it was the worst team in the world. They’ve been there to pick me back up and push me and I have to give thanks to them and people like my wife, who works here and is a huge, huge supporter of me. It has been tough and there have been times that you want to give up, but this makes it all worthwhile. I hate to be cliché, but I really do feel that way.”It was a similar feeling for Bradley. Through all of his ups and downs with the national team, Bradley has always been a rock for TFC. He’s more responsible than any other individual for transforming the club from a perennial bottom feeder to a model for all of MLS. His bold decision to trade Rome for Toronto paved the way for Altidore and Giovinco’s arrival, and he and Vanney have molded the locker room in his image.Tonight, his move paid off in the biggest possible way. Tonight, he and Toronto made history.“It was surreal. It’s why I came. It’s why we came. It’s been the dream for the last four years. And after things went last year you can say that in the last year it’s been an obsession,” he said. “Things for me kind of came full circle yesterday. I was driving. I remember the first night I got to Toronto. I landed at the airport and the route the driver took from the airport to downtown, came down 427 and then came in on the Gardiner. And countless times I’ve been at this stadium these last four years I’ve never once taken that same route. And I got into an Uber yesterday morning and I let him take me any way he wanted and he took me down 427 and in on the Gardiner to the stadium.“I’m not necessarily a huge believer in fate and things like that. I think Greg said it a week ago and I like the way he said it – I believe in hard work and preparation and you make your own luck and you give everything you have to put things in your own hands. But there was a moment yesterday morning when I was in the car and it dawned on me that I’ve been here four years and I haven’t take that drive to the stadium once. To have it come full circle and to finish things off this year in this way, when Jozy scored I knew that was it.”

Champions League: What to Expect from a Mouthwatering Knockout Stage

A renewal of an intriguing rivalry and a couple of starstudded affairs are some of the storylines that make for an exciting Round of 16 in the Champions League. By JONATHAN WILSON SI December 11, 2017

Real Madrid, the 12-time European champion, will play Paris St-Germain, who broke the world transfer record in the summer, in the pick of the Champions League last-16 ties that were drawn on Monday in Nyon, Switzerland. There will also be a renewal of rivalries for Barcelona and Chelsea when the knockout stage begins in February. Here’s a breakdown of all eight ties.

JUVENTUS v TOTTENHAM

Last season was dismal for Tottenham in Europe, but it has learned quickly. Whereas previously it seemed they could only win games by dominating the ball, this season they have developed and recorded three wins and a draw from four games against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund having less than 50% possession in each game. The squad, though, is slim, so much will depend on who is available come February. It never looks as solid at the back without Toby Alderweireld who is expected back early in the New Year following his hamstring injury. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino had said that after playing Madrid and Dortmund, the draw could not be tougher. Perhaps not, but it is probably equally tough. The first half of this season has felt like something of a struggle for Juve as it adapts to life after Leonardo Bonucci, but such matters are relative. Although last season’s losing finalists were held to a goalless draw at home by Inter on Saturday, its win away to Napoli suggested a side returning to form. At home, particularly, it remains formidable, having lost only two games in Turin since the beginning of the 2013-14 season.

REAL MADRID v PARIS ST-GERMAIN

The stand out as tie of the round: the old money against the nouveaux riches. PSG sets a new record for goals scored during the group stage, banging in 25 in six games, and it’s streets clear in Ligue Un. It responded to last season’s collapse against Barcelona in the last 16 by agreeing record-breaking deals to being in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and the result has been a side capable of spectacular attacking football. The question, though, is over their defense which is so rarely tested that it’s very hard to assess. The way it leaked goals in losing its final group game 3-1 to Bayern – when a four-goal defeat would have seen it lose top spot – only added to the concerns. The defending champion, the first side to win the tournament in successive seasons since the change to the Champions League format, has begun the season slowly. Madrid was well-beaten by Tottenham at Wembley and has dozed through a number of games this season. But then it was the same last season and still won both league and Champions League. Whatever questions remain about Zinedine Zidane’s tactical acumen, it has such attacking quality – plus Luka Modric to knit everything together – that it can never be written off. The sides have only been drawn together once before, in the group stage in 2015-16 when they drew 0-0 in Paris before Nacho scored the only goal at the Bernabeu.

CHELSEA v BARCELONA

When Barcelona was beaten 5-1 on aggregate by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup this looked like being a season of toil. It lost Neymar over the summer while the player it brought in to replace him, Ousmane Dembele, was soon ruled out with a serious hamstring problem. He should be back by the time the knockouts begin. Yet the crisis never materialized as Lionel Messi, seemingly fired by anger at the mess of a summer, inspired the Spanish giants to the top of la Liga. With Antonio Conte having effectively written off the Premier League following Saturday’s defeat away to West Ham, the Champions League probably becomes the focus as it’s a trophy Conte has never won but for all the doubts about how Juve performed in the competition under him, Chelsea produced its best performance of the season, perhaps even its best performance under the Italian. There is a reliance on Eden Hazard and, to a lesser extent, Alvaro Morata but, with everybody fit, Chelsea will be a threat. The sides have developed a strange long-distance rivalry over seven ties (and 15 games), most notably in Champions League semi-finals. In 2009, Andres Iniesta scored an injury-time equalizer in a controversial second leg at Stamford Bridge to take Barca through; three years later, Chelsea ground out a 1-0 at home before drawing 2-2 at the Camp Nou on its way to the trophy.

BASEL v MANCHESTER CITY SOCCER PLANET FUTBOL

Manchester City began the season in extraordinary form, breaking goalscoring records over the first dozen league games of the season, partly because of the signings the club had made in the summer and partly because players who struggled at times with Pep Guardiola’s methods last season have adapted to his philosophy. Victory away to Manchester United on Sunday took it 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League; it can afford to rest players to prioritize the Champions League. Raheem Sterling has been in the form of his life, while Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva offer great variety and creativity. Defensive concerns, however, remain. The Swiss champion Basel is at this stage for the first time in three years. It has a habit of unsettling English sides, eliminating Manchester United from the Champions League in 2011-12 and beating Tottenham on penalties in the Europa League quarter-final a year later. Its coach Raphael Wicky has benefited from relative stability, with few outgoings and the only major arrival that of the Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel. He hasn’t played since the end of September, though, and the sense is that Basel has become a better-balanced side as a result, with the rightwinger Michael Lang emerging as a key presence.

PORTO v LIVERPOOL

No Premier League side has ever scored more in the group stage than the 23 Liverpool managed. Its front four of Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah gives the impression of being able to blow any side away with its pace and invention but Liverpool’s problem is that if sides can get through the press and can attack it is extremely vulnerable – as Everton demonstrated in pinching a draw on Sunday. When it concedes goals it tends to concede in batches: four times this season Liverpool has conceded three or more in a game. Porto leads the Portuguese league on goal difference from Sporting and in the end made it through the group relatively comfortably. Only Sevilla of the sides who made it to this stage conceded ADVERTISING 12/11/2017 Champions League: What to Expect From an Appetizing Round of 16 | SI.com https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/12/11/champions-league-real-madrid-psg-chelsea-barcelona-rivalry-tactics-draw 3/6 more goals, but Vincent Aboubakar, who scored the winner for Cameroon in the Cup of Nations final in February, has begun the season in such form that he can turn a game with a half-chance. The sides have been drawn together twice before, in the Uefa Cup in 2000-01 and in the Champions League in 2007-08. On both occasions , Liverpool won at Anfield and drew in Portugal.

SEVILLA v MANCHESTER UNITED

Manchester United qualified comfortably enough for the last 16, the one game in which it dropped points, the away game in Basel, the result of sloppiness rather than anything else. As ever, Jose Mourinho has improved his side significantly in its second season. United has proved capable of playing with both a back three and a back four this season, it has the tallest side left in the competition meaning it can physically dominate sides and when Paul Pogba is on form, his link up with Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard offers a fluency that has been missing from United for some time. Sevilla is another example of what feels like a very modern trait in football. Going forward it can be devastating, but get beyond that and it’s extremely vulnerable defensively – no side who made the last 16 conceded more than the 12 it did. The club let in four against Valencia and five against both Spartak Moscow and Real Madrid. It also gave up a three-goal start to Liverpool at home before coming back to draw 3-3. Mourinho had said he is “never lucky in draws” but this could have been a lot worse.

SHAKHTAR v ROMA

When Roma was outplayed at home by Atletico Madrid in its opening group game, clinging on for a 0-0 draw, the suspicion was that it would take new coach Eusebio Di Francesco time to adapt to the Champions League. As it turned out, that process of adaptation didn’t take long at all. Although it lost in Madrid, Roma didn’t concede at all at home and took four points off Chelsea, coming from 2-0 down to draw 3-3 at Stamford Bridge and hammering the Premier League side 3-0 at home. Considering what Shakhtar has been through, having to relocate to Kharkiv because of the war in Donetsk, to reach this stage is a remarkable achievement. This side remains based around Brazilian imports, but that process has stalled with no new signings from Brazil in four years. The fear was that the departure of Mircea Lucescu last year would undermine it, but its enjoyed a new lease of life under Paulo Fonseca, who dressed up as Zorro to celebrate the team’s progress from the group stage.

BESIKTAS v BAYERN MUNICH After a difficult start to the season that saw Carlo Ancelotti sacked, Bayern has improved dramatically since Jupp Heynckes took over. The German team is well-clear at the top of the Bundesliga and, while nobody would suggest its playing in the way they did when they won the trophy in 2013, Heynckes has always reached at least the 12/11/2017 Champions League: What to Expect From an Appetizing Round of 16 | SI.com https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/12/11/champions-league-real-madrid-psg-chelsea-barcelona-rivalry-tactics-draw 5/6 final in three seasons with Bayern, and there is a sense that its slowly improving. Bayern misses its inspirational goalkeeper Manuel Neuer who is expected to be out till April with a broken bone in his foot but both Arjen Robben and Thiago Alcantara should be back in time for the first leg, The Turkish champion was arguably the revelations of the group stage, passing unbeaten through six games and winning all three away matches. Senol Gunes’s side are ideally set up to play on the break, with a well-balanced front three. Ricardo Quaresma stays wide on the right, Cenk Tosun is a mobile centre-forward who offers an aerial threat.

Derby dominance over Man United shows Pep Guardiola effect in full flow

5:31 AM ETDavid Mooney – ESPNFC

“Park the bus, park the bus, Man United,” the away end sang during Manchester City’s 2-1 victory at Old Trafford on Sunday. At the time, the score was 0-0 and it was the visitors who had been in control, without really testing David De Gea in the Manchester United goal.But still, this was a show of supreme confidence from the supporters. City had seen the majority of the ball, but it was still anyone’s game. To the fans, though, the victory was only a matter of time because of the early patterns of play — and they’d turn out to be right.Why shouldn’t supporters be confident? At kick off, their team had an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League. By full time, they’d have opened up a gap of 11 points. If that’s not a time when they can feel confident their side will roll over anyone in front of them, when is?A record-breaking 14th consecutive top flight win was soon to follow. The irony was that City exploited two set pieces to get their goals. It was them who many thought susceptible to high balls rather than United, leaving Jose Mourinho ruing the “disgraceful” goals. Not that City fans cared how they went in.The show of confidence, bordering on arrogance, from the Old Trafford away section on Sunday was built on what Pep Guardiola has achieved at City since August 2016. At times last season it may have looked like the team were at breaking point, as defensive errors and missed chances led to humiliating defeats. It certainly tested the manager’s resolve but the more he was questioned, the more he dug his heels in to defend his beliefs.City are now reaping the rewards. They weren’t even close to their best in Sunday’s Manchester derby, yet they were still comfortably miles ahead of their rivals. The team looks able to deal with whatever is thrown at them, and that’s why supporters weren’t too nervy about tempting fate with their chants while the game was still in the balance.The evidence of the season so far is that City find a way to win however teams try to stop them. It’s not just the results that have given the fans belief, but the manner of them — regular last-minute winners, a complete commitment to the pass-and-move style that has run opponents ragged, and decision-making that sees most counter-attacks end with two players who could tap the ball home.

The Manchester derby showcased just how far City have developed under Guardiola. The manager didn’t change his approach to the game in the slightest, while his opposite number tied himself in knots trying to work out how to prevent the league leaders running riot. City’s identity was as clear as ever; United’s was a complete mystery beyond trying to turn the game into a gritty affair.It makes Mourinho’s postmatch comments about how City had been lucky all season about as laughable as Ander Herrera’s desperate attempts to cheat his way to an equaliser with a belly-flop in the penalty area in the second half. For all of the prematch hype around his comments about Guardiola’s men practising the dark arts, the travelling fans will be keen to note it was United who were forced to resort to that in a bid to get a point.Of course, an 11-point lead at the top of the table allows supporters to trust in the team. Big defeats and inept displays at Leicester and Everton last season may have tempted the fans to briefly consider that maybe the Premier League was a step too far for their new boss.But they can now see the Guardiola method in action. It’s producing football to a standard they’ve never witnessed before and it’s breaking records on a weekly basis.Even when Roberto Mancini’s team were blitzing their opponents at the beginning of 2011-12 or when Manuel Pellegrini’s side were scoring for fun in the winter months of 2013-14, the football was never as mouth-watering as it is now.City’s scoring has slowed down in recent weeks, but that’s not stopped them extending their dominance of the Premier League over that time. They haven’t changed how they attempt to score whether it’s the opening minute or closing seconds and the number of times it has worked is giving the fans real encouragement that this season could be like none other they’ve ever seen.It already has been extraordinary, but the prospect of it getting better still is supremely exciting.Fans could have watched their team lose at Old Trafford on Sunday and they’d have still poked fun at United’s style — or lack of it. But the win and the lead at the top of the Premier League means life couldn’t be better for City fans right now.Who can blame them for enjoying it?

 

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12/7/17 IU Hoosiers in College Cup Fri 8:30pm on ESPNU, MLS Cup Finals Toronto vs Seattle Sat 4 pm, ESPN Champions League Sweet 16 is Set, World Cup Brackets are Set, Manchester Derby Sun

IU Hoosiers in College Cup Fri 8:30pm on ESPNU, MLS Cup Finals Toronto vs Seattle Sat 4 pm, ESPN Champions League Sweet 16 is Set, World Cup Brackets are Set, Manchester Derby Sun

Ok Soccer Fans who don’t watch Major League Soccer  – because its not European teams, the US players aren’t featured or you just refuse to watch a US Soccer league (you know who you are) – well you have no excuse for not pulling up to the TV on Sat afternoon at 4 pm on ESPN and watch the MLS Cup.  It’s the 2 best teams – last year’s finalist Seattle – the defending champions with US stars Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris vs the team that finished 2nd year last season with the Best Record this season (Supporters Shield Winners) with US stars Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and the leagues’ best player Sebastian Giovincho.  This is superstars game with the 2 Best Teams in the MLS squaring off for a 2nd straight year for all the Marbles.  So if you are not an MLS Fan – give it a shot – tune in this Saturday and take in the best the MLS has to offer 4 PM on ESPN!

Who Says Champions League Group Stages aren’t Exciting?  I watched with baited breath as Juventus scored late to win and ensure their way into the Round of 16 behind Barcelona – sending Portugal’s young Sporting team back to the Europa league as a 3rd place finsher.  My Spanish favorites Athletico Madrid – the people’s team – tied Chelsea 1-1 sending them out as Roma won the group with Chelsea advancing second.  For Altheti – just 2 years removed from the UCL Final – it’s their earliest elimination in Champions League in years.  Atleti will fall to Europa league where Diego Simeon will try put things back together.  Congrats to Renaldo who both scored his leading 9th goal in the group stages and of course won the Player of the Year Trophy for the 5th year over Messi and Buffon.

Derby’s on hand this weekend as Juventus host Inter in Serie A on Sat at 2:45 pm on beIN Sport and then Sunday in the EPL Liverpool host Everton at 9:15 am on NBCSN followed by the legendary Manchester Derby –league Leading Man City vs 3rd place Man United at Old Trafford at 11:30 on NBCSN.

Finally good luck to the Indiana Hoosiers as they are at the College Soccer Cup this weekend in Philly for their record 19th time!!  They will play #3 Seed North Carolina (17-3-1) at 8:45 pm on ESPNU.   Win and they will face the winner of Stanford (17-2-2) vs Akron (18-3-2) on Sunday in the Championship Game.

IU vs UNC

IU Enjoying the Fun of the College Cup

IU Hosted the Play In Game

GAMES ON TV 

Fri Dec 8

8:45 pm ESPNU     #2 Indiana University vs #3 North Carolina (Men – Final 4 College Cup)

Sat, Dec 9

7:30 am NBCSN               West Ham vs Chelsea

10:15 am beIN sport   Real Madrid vs Sevilla

10 am NbCSN                    Tottenham vs Stoke City (Cameron)

12:30 pm Fox Sport 2                      B. M’gladbach (Johnson) vs Schalke (Mckinney)

12:30 pm NBCSN           New Castle United (yedlin) vs Leciester

2:45 pm beIN Sport     Juventus vs Inter

4 pm ESPN              MLS Cup – Toronto vs Seattle @ Toronto

Sun, Dec 10

7 am NBCSN                       Southhampton vs Arsenal

9:15 am NBCSN               Liverpool vs Everton – Derby

11:30 am NBCSN            Man United vs Man City – Manchester Darby

12:45 pm beIN Sport                       Villarreal vs Barcelona

1 pm ESPN2            Mens College Cup – Ind U/UNC winner vs Stanford/Akron winner

Tues, Dec 12

2:30 pm FS1                      Mainz vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

3 pm NBCSN                      Huddersfield Town (Johnson) vs Chelsea

Wed, Dec 13

12 noon Telemundo    Winner vs Real Madrid  FIFA WORLD CLUB CUP       ??

2:30 pm FS1                      Bayern Munich  vs Koln

3 pm NBCSN                      West Ham vs Arsenal

3 pm                                       Liverpool vs West Brom + 5 other games?

EPL 2017 Schedule  

Read All the stories online – at www.theoleballcoach.com

 MLS CUP – Sun 4 pm ESPN

Bradley, Altidore Chance to make History as US Stars in MLS – Graham Parker ESPNFC

History Not on Toronto’s Side in Rematch with Champs Seattle

Is Toronto’s dominance a sign of Shift to the East for MLS?

US Stars have a Chance to Set Names in History at MLS Cup

Toronto Redemption Tour – finishes at Home – Armchair Analysist – Mat Doyle – MLS.com

Seattles Return MLS Cup legitimizes 2016 Title

Rematch Seattle vs Toronto a Legacy Builder

Toronto’s Culture Change

 USA

Gulati Had to Go – Will not Run for US Soccer Prez – Jeff Carlisle

Kathy Carter Runs for US Soccer President

Pulisic on list of US Soccer P o Y Nominees

US to Face France in World Cup Tune-up?

 WORLD

Renaldo Wins 5th Balloon Dor – Worlds Best Player – Avi Creditor SI

ESPNFC Ranks Top 100 Players

Top 10 Takeaways from the World Cup Draw – Grant Wahl SI

World Cup Rankings by Country

Arsenal, Man U D Issues, PSG Stunned – Marcotti ESPNFC

 Champions League

Man United Finish Top of Group

Cuadrado Strikes as Juventus Wins to Advance

 No. 2 Hoosiers Face No. 3 North Carolina in College Cup National Semifinals

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The No. 2-seeded Indiana University men’s soccer team will face the No. 3 North Carolina Tar Heels in the College Cup national semifinals on Friday, Dec. 8 at Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pa.

Kickoff for the match is set for approximately 8:45 p.m. ET which will air live nationally on ESPNU. A live-stream of the match is available through WatchESPN, with live stats for the match at IUHoosiers.com.

A radio broadcast of the College Cup match between the Hoosiers and Tar Heels will be available for free at IUHoosiers.com.

SETTING THE SCENE
• The No. 2-seeded Hoosiers will face the No. 3-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in the College Cup national semifinals on Friday night at Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia.
• IU enters the College Cup as the only undefeated team in the nation with an overall record of 17-0-6 on the season.
• Indiana earned the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament after finishing the season undefeated with an overall record of 15-0-5.
• After not trailing at any point in the season, IU fell behind to the No. 7-seeded Michigan State Spartans last week in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals in the second minute of the match.
• IU stormed back to tie and then advance in PK’s in front of 5,450 fans at Armstrong Stadium.
• On the year, the Hoosiers have been tied or led for 2166:37 minutes of the team’s 2224:15 minutes played through 23 matches.
• The Hoosiers finished the regular season undefeated for the third time in program history, ending with a 13-0-4 mark. IU also finished regular season unblemished in 1976 (15-0-1) and 1997 (18-0).
• Freshman goalkeeper Trey Muse has been one of the best goalkeepers in the nation this season, posting a NCAA-best 17 shutouts and a goals-against average of 0.24.
• Fellow freshman Mason Toye leads the Hoosiers with 10 goals and 22 points on the season, while Cory Thomas has seven goals on the year for IU.
• Junior Trevor Swartz leads the team with seven assists on the season.

NEWS AND NOTES
• IU was seeded No. 2 overall in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, marking the 13th time in the last 15 years since the current seeding format began in 2003 that IU has earned a top-16 seed.
• The berth for the Hoosiers was the team’s 31st-straight bid to the NCAA Tournament and the 42nd overall in the program’s history.
• Indiana has now participated in a NCAA-record 19 College Cups. This will be the second College Cup appearance for the Hoosiers under head coach Todd Yeagley. IU won the NCAA title in 2012 in Yeagley’s second season at the helm of the program.
• Senior D Grant Lillard was named one of 10 semifinalists for the MAC Hermann Trophy Award.
• Lillard was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List for the second-straight season. Last year, Lillard earned Second-Team All-America honors from both College Soccer News and Top Drawer Soccer, as well as First-Team All-Big Ten and First-Team All-Region accolades.

SCOUTING THE TAR HEELS
• The No. 3-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels bring an overall record of 17-3-1 in to the team’s College Cup match-up against the Hoosiers on Friday.
• UNC earned the team’s sixth College Cup appearance in the last 10 years with a 2-1 win over Fordham last Saturday.
• North Carolina earned the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament this year, but fell to No. 7-seeded Notre Dame, 2-1, in the quarterfinals.
• In the NCAA Tournament this year, the Tar Heels have beaten UNCW (2-1), SMU (2-0) and Fordham (2-1) to earn their spot in the College Cup.
• The three losses on the season for UNC have come against UNCW, Wake Forest and Notre Dame, while the team’s draw came at Louisville.
• North Carolina also made the College Cup last season, only to see eventual champ Stanford advance, 10-9, in penalty kicks after 110 minutes of scoreless play.
• Six Tar Heels earned All-ACC honors, led by Cam Lindley, who was named ACC Midfielder of the Year and First-Team All-ACC. Forward Alan Winn was also named First-Team All-ACC.

SERIES HISTORY
• In the seven-match history between the two teams, North Carolina has a 4-3 lead in the overall series.
• The last five meetings between the two squads have come in the NCAA Tournament, with UNC holding a 3-2 record in those contests.
• The Hoosier beat the Tar Heels, 1-0, on Nov. 30, 2012 in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament en route to the team’s eighth NCAA title.
• The only other College Cup match-up between the two programs came in the 2001 NCAA Championship, with UNC winning 2-0.

IU ADVANCES TO NCAA RECORD 19TH COLLEGE CUP
• After advancing past No. 7 Michigan State last Saturday in penalty kicks, the Hoosiers earned a berth to the program’s NCAA-record 19th College Cup.
• The College Cup is the second for the Hoosiers under head coach Todd Yeagley, who guided the team to the program’s eighth NCAA title in 2012.
• The last three times IU played in a College Cup – 2012, 2004, 2003 – the Hoosiers won the NCAA Championship.
• IU is 14-4 all-time in College Cup national semifinal matches.

NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY
• The berth for the Hoosiers is the team’s 31st-straight bid to the NCAA
Tournament and the 42nd overall in the program’s history.
• Indiana has an NCAA-best .728 (87-31-5) winning percentage in the
tournament, while the 87 victories are also tops in the NCAA.
• IU has appeared in 19 College Cups, which leads all Division I teams, and won its eighth national title in 2012.

UNDEFEATED TEAMS IN THE COLLEGE CUP
• Indiana is the sixth team since 1990 to enter the College Cup undefeated and the 50th team to bring an unblemished record to the College Cup since 1959.
• There have been 13 undefeated champions in NCAA history, with the last coming in 1989 with Santa Clara.

HISTORICALLY STINGY DEFENSE
• Through the first 23 matches of the season, Indiana has allowed just six goals – the second-fewest allowed in school history.
• The Hoosiers are the only team in the nation to not allow two goals in any match this season.
• IU allowed just two goals through the first 15 matches this season, which was a school record.
• The school record for fewest goals allowed in a season is 4 by the 1979 Hoosier team.

INDIANA IN THE NATIONAL/B1G STATISTICAL RANKINGS
• Entering the weekend, IU is ranked in the top-15 in 13 categories in the NCAA statistical rankings.
• Indiana leads the nation in save percentage (0.909), shots on goal per game (7.91), shutout percentage (0.739), team goals against average (0.242) and win-loss-tied percentage (.870).
• Individually, freshman GK Trey Muse leads the nation in goals against average (0.242), save percentage (0.906), shutouts (17) and goalie minutes played (2227:15).
• Freshman Mason Toye, who leads the team with 10 scores, is ranked sixth in the nation with five game-winning goals.
• The Hoosiers are ranked second in corner kicks per game (7.52), second in shots per game (17.74), fifth in total goals (48), fifth in total points (47), sixth in total assists (47), 11th in points per game (6.22), 12th in scoring offense (2.09) and 14th in assists per game (2.04).
• IU leads the Big Ten in 14 categories – assists per game, corner kicks per game, fouls per game, points per game, save percentage, scoring offense, shots per game, shots on goal per game, shutout percentage, team goals against average, total assists, total goals, total points and win-loss-tied percentage.

LILLARD NAMED MAC HERMANN TROPHY SEMIFINALIST
• Indiana’s Grant Lillard was named one of 15 semifinalists for the MAC Hermann Trophy.
• The semifinalists were determined based on voting by NCAA DI soccer coaches.
• In the storied history of Indiana men’s soccer, an IU player has been named the national player of the year 11 times. Included on that list are both IU head coach Todd Yeagley and associate head coach Brian Maisonneuve.

 Cristiano Ronaldo Wins Record-Tying Fifth Ballon D’Or Award

Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or for fifth time, tying Lionel Messi for the most in history. By AVI CREDITOR December 07, 2017

Cristiano Ronaldo has won the 2017 Ballon d’Or, taking home the award for the fourth time in the last five years and matching Lionel Messi’s record of winning the prestigious honor for a fifth time. The Ballon d’Or award, presented by France Football, is given to the world’s best soccer player, and either Messi or Ronaldo has won it every year dating back to 2007, when Kaka earned the honors. The 32-year-old Ronaldo has finished in first or second place in Ballon d’Or voting in each of the last seven years, and excluding 2010 has finished in the top two every year dating back to 2007. Even as he gets older, Ronaldo has continued to rack up the awards. In October, he was named FIFA’s Best Men’s Player. In August, he was named UEFA’s 2016-17 Best Player in Europe for a third time (the award was instituted in 2010-11). There’s still new ground for him to find, evidenced by his latest accomplishment on Wednesday, when he became the first player to score in each of the six group games in the UEFA Champions League. In 2016, Ronaldo was helped by exploits on both the club and country levels, leading Real Madrid to a Champions League title and helping Portugal to the Euro 2016 championship. In 2017, Ronaldo’s campaign was largely boost by his efforts with Real Madrid, as the club won La Liga’s title in May and then followed that up with a second straight Champions League title–and 11th overall. Ronaldo was a menace in the knockout stage of the competition, scoring 10 goals in four multi-goal games. He netted twice in the final triumph over Juventus and added hat tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. He also scored 25 goals in La Liga, helping Real Madrid to a record 33rd title, but its first since 2012. Ronaldo was still impactful for Portugal, helping the side qualify for the 2018 World Cup by scoring 15 goals in the qualifying round, second only to Poland and Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski, who scored 16.  Messi was 2nd, Buffon was third.

 

 

WORLD CUP 2018 The GROUPS

 

GROUP A: Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia

GROUP B: Portugal, Spain, Iran, Morocco

GROUP C: France, Peru, Denmark, Australia

GROUP D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria

GROUP E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

GROUP F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

GROUP G: Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama

GROUP H: Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan

Warshaw: Why 2017 MLS Cup is a big deal for three USMNT greats

December 6, 20178:04PM ESTBobby Warshaw

Most professional athletes fight everyday to make it to tomorrow. They can never look past the next practice or the next game. Every second is a battle to stay relevant. The second they retire they become nothing more than a data point on a blogger’s spreadsheet.Some athletes, however, get to think bigger.It’s not a question of whether they will be remembered, but it’s how they will be remembered.Clint DempseyJozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley have reached such rarified air. They enter Saturday’s MLS Cup final (4 pm ET on ESPN, UniMas, TSN, TVAS) competing for more than a single trophy. They’re fighting for their place in history.

What have you done for me lately?

When you talk about cementing a spot in perpetuity, that discussion usually carries a hopeful tone. But it’s more complicated with these three American stars. They have complex data points that have them teetering on the edge of history’s jagged fence.All three made big profile moves back to MLS. All three make more money than entire rosters of other teams in the league. All three have worn the armband for their country. All three, however, have yet to lead their respective MLS clubs to a league title.Well, Clint Dempsey did claim a league winner’s medal 12 months ago when the Seattle Sounders won 2016 MLS Cup, but he was on the sidelines due to a heart condition when the Sounders went on their memorable run. And in the eyes of many at the time, that championship stood as much as an indictment of Dempsey as it did an accomplishment.It’s a bit harsh, but he’d surely be the first to admit this much: Elite athletes don’t want anything given; they want to claw their way through every obstacle and be on center stage. What does it mean if Seattle lose on Saturday with Dempsey on the field?Altidore and Bradley, meanwhile, have a few domestic tournament titles (Canadian Championships and a Dutch Cup for Altidore), but they still don’t have a championship ring. They came up short in last year’s final, playing for the team with the highest budget in their home stadium in front of a capacity crowd.And then there’s the context of the USMNT’s recent failing in World Cup Qualifying. All three players participated in the decisive Hex stage. I don’t need to remind you what happened.Recency bias is part of sports and it sure feels like their career achievements of Dempsey, Bradley and Altidore have been overshadowed of late. When we do think back on their careers, what are those moments and memories that we will carry with us? What did they do in the big spots? In the elimination games?It’s not to say their total body of work doesn’t warrant acclaim, but the most recent or the most memorable events attached to them will likely be the ones that wind up carrying the most weight. It’s in no way a fair part of life, but legacies are often measured by it.

In search of that defining moment

It’s a strange conversation to debate someone’s legacy. To even discuss a player’s legacy is a statement in itself. Nobody is talking about Bobby Warshaw’s legacy as a player.Dempsey (34), Bradley (30) and Altidore (28) also likely have a couple more years to play, which means they still have time to shape the narrative and they could yet have more opportunities to leave a lasting impression. Seattle and Toronto will certainly continue to be contenders over the next few years. And despite the current alarmism in US Soccer circles, Bradley and Altidore will also likely be a part of the next World Cup cycle.So the lasting legacies of all three are not necessarily on the line at 2017 MLS Cup. Those will still have time to take shape as our memories and recollection of emotions crystalize. We would be victims of the moment to suggest otherwise.But that’s not to minimize the moment awaiting them on Saturday. Rather than convincing us, 2017 MLS Cup is about convincing themselves.Few elite players think of themselves as having anything other than a winning mentality. Even if a player realistically doesn’t, thinking you do is half the battle. In fact it’s the most important battle for any professional athlete: How you perceive yourself and fight the demons and doubt in your own mind.Every player has two faces: the one they wear out in public, and the one they assume in the quiet moments of their own lives. For whatever you think of Dempsey, Bradley, and Altidore, they have their own accounts of their lives and careers. The stories they tell about themselves are much more powerful than any that the public weaves. When athletes lose, it surely stings to read negative comments. But it’s nothing compared to the doubts they cast on themselves.How could I let that happen? Why couldn’t I get it done? Who am I that I allowed that to happen?

You can’t hide from results forever. There’s a constant scorecard in a player’s brain. They take a mental note if they’ve won, whether it’s during practice or an official match. And naturally the biggest matches carry the most weight. If you think of yourself as a winner, how many times can you suffer a devastating defeat before you start to question yourself?A single game clearly doesn’t define a player’s career. There’s always tomorrow to make a new statement. But a single game can impact the next game and the each subsequent game after that.Dempsey, Altidore, and Bradley are three players with more heartbreaking losses of late than momentous wins. Nobody knows that more than them, which raises Saturday’s stakes that much higher.

Bradley, Altidore’s historic success at Toronto more than just a U.S. subplot

Graham Parker

If there’s a certain inevitability about the fact that Toronto’s 2017 will be popularly understood in the context of a tough 2017 for its U.S. national team stars Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, there’s no appetite for that storyline within Toronto itself.The organization’s single-minded pursuit of a title has taken on the quality of a forced march at moments during these playoffs; the novelty of the team’s first exuberant playoff campaign in front of its own fans a year ago has been very different this time around. At moments, expectation has weighed heavily, character has been tested and there has been an air of grim concentration and focus to see off the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew that’s stood in contrast to the cavalier emotions that swept the team to the final last year.Yet despite being squarely on board with that mood of collective accountability, Bradley and Altidore have been unable to escape focus during this run as the USA’s World Cup failure continues to color the subsequent actions of everyone associated with it. From hurled beer in Atlanta on the last day of the regular season, to boos and abuse at Red Bull Arena, to Columbus fans taking a break from “Save The Crew” chants to single out Bradley every time he touched the ball, Bradley and Altidore have been the focus of U.S. fan resentment that ironically has been given focus by their success on the field.

Had Toronto already been eliminated from MLS Cup, the pair would be joining the likes of Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Darlington Nagbe, Matt Besler and Alejandro Bedoya in long offseasons with plenty of opportunity for private introspection. Instead, they are front and center for their team as it stands a game away from a treble, and forced to try to juggle the duties of a tough postseason, with an added layer of symbolism and scrutiny that’s been loaded onto their every touch.On the surface of things, that sense of burden has been a more natural fit for Bradley, whose role in the engine room of the team has almost given him the perfect opportunity to throw himself into his work. Altidore, by contrast, has found himself drawn into a couple of distracting soap-opera storylines, with his reaction in Atlanta and then most infamously with his red card against New York. That kept him out for the first leg in Columbus. And at one point in the second leg of the Eastern Conference final, it looked as if that extended hiatus — with an international break in between — might have fatally compromised his fitness, only for the striker to switch the narrative by scoring the decisive goal in the series, even as his coach weighed up whether he could continue in the game at all.Bradley, for his part, held down the midfield against Columbus, despite being in thankless isolation during the first half due to Crew SC’s formation switch. Though then again, anyone wanting to boo him for the national team situation might want to remember that “thankless isolation” has been a fairly apt description of the position he’s ended up being asked to cover for much of this joyless World Cup cycle.Small wonder that club soccer has seemed like a respite for both men under the circumstances. Toronto’s roster building has been rightly celebrated for its studied attempt to balance the team well beyond its designated players, with its blend of youth and MLS experience. But there’s no doubting that this is a team built to exploit the strengths of its key men and to enable them to do their job.

The one-two that put Altidore in on goal against Columbus was played off Victor Vazquez — a decisive creative foil for Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco this season. And when Columbus threatened to wrest control of the series in the second game, Greg Vanney was able to throw on the underrated Marky Delgado alongside Bradley to stabilize the team and give the captain the support he needed to lock down the game rather than react in firefighting mode.Bradley and Altidore, and Giovinco for that matter, are paid handsomely to play a role for their team and it’s inevitable that some of that role has a symbolic significance in terms of how their performances represent end exemplify the success of the Toronto FC project as a whole, in good times and bad. But Toronto has worked hard to share the load — and the credit — during the long, slow haul from perennial MLS also-rans to stacked powerhouse sweeping all before it in 2017.This is not Danny Koevermans’ infamous “worst team in the world” of 2012, the “Giovinco-plus-10” team of 2015 or even the “BMO Field playoff phenomenon” of 2016. It’s perhaps the best ever MLS team, on the verge of history. And it certainly deserves to be far more than a U.S. subplot.

Armchair Analyst: For Toronto FC, redemption tour finishes at home

December 7, 20173:27PM ESTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer

It’s actually a stretch to call the 2017 season a “redemption tour” for Toronto FC, who came so damn close to winning MLS Cup last year and making good on the top-to-bottom promise of their roster. But the fact is that they failed to get the job done at home in the biggest game of the year, and while Saturday’s 2017 MLS Cup (4 pm ET | ESPN, UniMás; TSN, TVAS) isn’t strictly about redemption… I mean, at least a little bit of it is, right?That said: regardless of what happens in this MLS Cup rematch, this TFC team will and should be remembered for years to come. If they lose they’ll be in the mix with the 1998 Galaxy, the 2001 Miami Fusion, the 2005 and 2012 Quakes and 2014 Sounders as one of the greatest MLS teams of all-time, but one that failed at the final hurdle. It will still be a successful season, but – to paraphrase Reds GM Tim Bezbatchenko – it will no doubt feel incomplete.The good news for TFC fans? The window of contention is very much still open for the next couple of years. Nobody should be that surprised if I’m writing this column again 12 months from now.

How They Got Here

Over the last quarter of a season in 2016, Greg Vanney figured out his personnel would work best in the 3-5-2, and that formational switch was the catalyst for their late-season surge that propelled them all the way to the final game. And yes, they were utterly dominant in that final game before falling in PKs.So naturally they stayed with the 3-5-2 in 2017, but with one major adjustment: They put a pure playmaker, Spanish import Victor Vazquez, into the No. 10 role and had him pull the strings.TFC were very up front after last year’s MLS Cup, admitting they needed more pure creativity out of central midfield in order to break down bunkered-in defenses, and that’s what Vazquez has provided. He finished the year with 8 goals and 16 assists, and he makes it so that TFC don’t have to commit numbers forward in order to break teams down. They are completely content attacking with just three:When they need it to be, the 3-5-2 becomes a 5-3-2 because Vazquez, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore can unlock most defenses on their own. That allows the Reds to keep numbers back in defense and keep off-the-ball penetration to a minimum, which is what we saw quite often against Columbus in the Eastern Conference Championship.That, however, was the exception. Mostly the Reds got here by being superb at every line, from goalkeeper all the way to the forwards. They scored the second-most goals per game in MLS history, had the second-best goal differential, became just the second team in league history to score twice as many as they conceded, were the first team since the 2005 Quakes to collect 2 points per game or better, tied the league record for wins… understand that I could keep going with this list.TFC were simply remarkable in 2017. They took the group that mostly blitzed the league in last year’s playoffs and added a Best XI-caliber playmaker. That’s good stuff.

Pressure’s On

Literally everyone. When you play like this team played from March through October, you invite an incredible amount of pressure because each win piles on new fan expectations, and each game invites forward a new opponent who’s going to give you his best shot and more, and each story comes at a potential (or potentially imaginary) problem from a new angle, and there is a collective sense of “nothing means anything until the big game.”Well, the big game is here. I’m a Supporters’ Shield truther – I think it’s the hardest and best trophy to win, but I am in the rank minority. Nearly everyone I speak with (players especially) see MLS Cup as the biggest prize, and it’s the one that’s eluded TFC thus far despite their league’s-biggest budget.I’m not saying they have to get it done. Like I said, this core group’s window of contention should stay open probably two or three more years.But if they win, they will have spiked the rest of MLS into the core of the earth for an entire calendar year, and will have put to rest the “who’s the best team in MLS history?” debate.If they lose, they’re halfway to being the Buffalo Bills.

One Thing To Be Concerned About

I mean, there’s more than one thing. TFC haven’t really played a good, complete game since the end of September, and Seattle have been damn near invincible when they have their first-choice defense, and Clint Dempsey‘s on a jag, and Altidore’s carrying a knock, and let’s not forget that Giovinco basically didn’t show up to last year’s final.But really, I think the biggest thing is “have we been scouted?” Vanney’s had to repeatedly move away from the 3-5-2 down the stretch and into the playoffs as teams have gotten more ruthless about trying to destroy the Reds’ ability to play – the best example being, of course, the way RBNY used Tyler Adams as an advanced destroyer tasked specifically with disrupting Michael Bradley‘s distribution.Bradley has been inarguably the best defensive midfielder in MLS this year, and it’s a crime that he was left off the Best XI. He’s one of the few guys in the league who plays as a true solo d-mid, which means he has more responsibility on both sides of the ball than anybody else in the league at that position. You see it in his usage rate, in the types of passes he hits, and in the fact that Zone 14 is an absolute dead spot against TFC. He has shut that area down for an entire year.Lately, however, teams have gone out of their way to limit his touches and to make him into more of a 1v1 defensive player rather than a pure organizer, and the Reds have struggled to cope with that. Their movements and distribution…

It’s been mechanical and predictable, and there really hasn’t been an obvious Plan B put into place (partially, at least, because Marky Delgado has been struggling).Brian Schmetzer’s not much of a tinkerer so it’s highly doubtful we see anything as unusual as the diamond midfield Jesse Marsch threw at TFC in the East semis, and Bradley was back to being his dominant self in the second leg against Columbus.But if Seattle want to turn the game on its ear, they could do this. Put Cristian Roldan in the Adams role, have Gustav Svensson at the back point of the diamond, and then put Nicolas Lodeiro on one side and Victor Rodriguez on the other, and you have a worthy facsimile of what the Red Bulls did in that 1-0 win at BMO last month.

World Cup qualifying failure meant Gulati had to go but his legacy is far-reaching

Jeff CarlisleSoccer  ESPNFC

It took a while, but Sunil Gulati finally arrived at the decision that many in the broader U.S. soccer community had hoped he would: He will not run for another term as U.S. Soccer Federation president.Gulati made the announcement on Monday and it’s the right move. Yes, he has overseen a period of unprecedented growth for the USSF in particular and the sport of soccer in general. He has also represented U.S. interests well in political circles due to his spot on the FIFA Council.But the Columbia economics teacher has been in charge of the USSF for nearly 12 years. That is a long time for anyone to run a single organization and, following the failure of the U.S. men’s national team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the time has come for fresh ideas and a change in leadership.Gulati’s reasons for stepping aside and why it is a good idea aren’t exactly the same thing. For months, he has been sounding out the USSF’s voting membership to gauge his chances of winning re-election, while guarding his intentions.At the mid-year meeting of the U.S. Adult Soccer Association in October, Gulati refused to participate in a presidential candidates’ forum, opting instead to meet in small groups with various state associations. Some sources told ESPN FC that, if he declined to run, it was because he didn’t have the votes. Others believe he would have won if he had stood.Regardless, the reasons why Gulati is no longer the right man to lead the federation come down to several factors.

First, the challenges facing the USSF are different to when he took office in 2006. Back then, there was a need to increase the federation’s financial clout in terms of sponsorships, ticket sales and overall media profile. Gulati has done that and then some, with various reports putting the USSF’s financial surplus at around $130 million.

Now, with the pain of the World Cup qualifying debacle still fresh, the challenges are more specific to the sport itself; they include how to make the USSF’s coaching classes more accessible and affordable, as well as solving some of the thornier player development issues. Such issues don’t play to Gulati’s strengths, especially given that candidates more grounded in the playing side of the game are lining up to challenge for the presidency.There are also signs that Gulati’s leadership style — one in which many decisions were made by him with the Board of Directors acting as a rubber stamp — had begun to grate on the sport’s other stakeholders. Speaking to ESPN FC on condition of anonymity, one source connected to the USSF leadership structure bemoaned the fact that, in the case of national team coaching hires, Gulati would negotiate the deal himself and expect the board to go along with it.That approach has led to some hiring decisions — Jurgen Klinsmann on the men’s side and Tom Sermanni on the women’s — which later backfired; the time has come to get more soccer-savvy people involved in processes such as choosing who will lead national teams at the senior level.There have also been rumblings among rank and file members at the youth and adult soccer levels that the federation has forced issues down their throats, such as the implementation of the Development Academy. The question of what exactly the federation does for its members has become a talking point among various candidates, who would like to succeed Gulati.A backlash to his leadership style appears to be coming to a head and sources have told ESPN FC that one of the agenda items for a Dec. 10 meeting of the USSF Board of Directors will involve reining in the power of the presidency. The position would be more of a collaborative, chairman-of-the-board role, instead of one all-powerful individual driving the decision-making process.Above all else there is the issue of accountability. While it’s true that Gulati didn’t kick a ball during the disastrous qualifying effort for Russia 2018, his decisions in terms of coaching hires played a part in what happened and, as a result, made his position untenable.Without question, Gulati possesses valuable institutional knowledge; he has served in various soccer administration capacities for over three decades and that know-how should not be cast aside. He is well positioned to remain an asset and is chairman of the United Bid Committee that, along with Mexico and Canada, is looking to bring the 2026 World Cup to North America. Further, his spot on the FIFA Council remains secure.The issue of Gulati’s ultimate legacy remains complicated. The aforementioned growth he oversaw can’t be ignored. Neither can his close proximity to Chuck Blazer and the corruption that engulfed both CONCACAF and FIFA. And he will forever be associated with the recent World Cup qualifying failure. There is also the continuing lawsuit with the NASL and its uncertain future, and the ongoing tension with the women’s national team.Yet in terms of how Gulati will be remembered, there are additional chapters to be written. Losing out on hosting the 2022 World Cup to Qatar remains a significant blemish on his professional career and so the 2026 bid is an opportunity to ease the pain of past disappointment and once again help grow the sport in the United States.But that’s for the longer-term future. More immediately, the USSF has an opportunity to move forward and, come February, a new leader will be elected to oversee just that.

Christian Pulisic among U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year nominees

ESPN staff

  • FacebookJozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Christian Pulisic have been nominated for U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year, the federation announced on Tuesday.

The winner will be announced on ESPN later this month.Pulisic, who was named the Young Male Player of the Year a year ago, led the finalists with six goals for the national team in 2017, while also starring for Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga and Champions League.Dempsey had five U.S. goals — three in a hat trick against Hondruas in March — and was recently named MLS’s Comeback Player of the Year after recovering from a heart ailment.Altidore, last year’s winner, and Morris both scored four times for the U.S., with Morris netting a late winner to win the Gold Cup final against Jamaica in July.But after picking up a hamstring injury in August, Morris was absent as the U.S. lost to Trinidad and Tobago and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.Morris could return to start for Seattle in Saturday’s MLS Cup final, when he and Dempsey will face off against Altidore and Bradley on Toronto FC.Josh Sargent is a nominee for the Young Male Player of the Year alongside Tim Weah, Tyler Adams, Luca de la Torre, Jonathan Gonzalez and Erik Palmer-Brown.Sargent scored three goals at the Under-17 World Cup and four at the Under-20 World Cup, before earning a first call-up to the senior team camp last month.Weah also starred at the U17 event, while Adams, De la Torre and Palmer-Brown impressed at the U20. Gonzalez was nominated despite his international future remaining unclear, with Mexico continuing to pursue the teenager.Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, Samantha Mewis, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe were nominated as the top women’s player.Carli Lloyd was left off despite being one of three finalists for FIFA’s top player in the world.The nominees for Young Female Player of the Year are Savannah McCaskill, Sophia Smith, Tierna Davidson, Jaelin Howell and Kate Wiesner.The Disabled Player of the Year nominees are Sean Boyle, Drew Bremer and Kevin Hensley of the Paralympic National Team and Michael Archer of the Power Soccer National Team.

SUM’s Kathy Carter announces candidacy for U.S. Soccer president

ESPN staff

Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter has confirmed she has entered the race to become U.S. Soccer Federation president.Carter, who helps to run the marketing arm of Major League Soccer, had told ESPN FC on Sunday that she was exploring the possibility of running for the election in February, saying she would use her experience to help achieve “excellence at every level.”On Tuesday, she confirmed on Twitter that she had decided to enter the race, writing: “I’m excited to announce my candidacy for President of @ussoccer.” She has taken leave of her post at SUM.The news comes a day after Sunil Gulati, the longtime president of U.S. Soccer, told ESPN he would not seek another term. A source told ESPN FC on Sunday that Carter would run at the urging of Gulati and MLS commissioner Don Garber as their preferred choice, but Gulati declined to endorse any candidate.In an open letter published on her website, Carter wrote: “The most crucial times are when the most capable leaders need to step up. Our federation is at one of those moments right now, and I am excited to announce my candidacy for president of the United States Soccer Federation. Soccer can, and should, become the leading sport in America, and I intend to make that vision a reality.”The game of soccer has been a consistent thread through every aspect of my life. I have spent more than 40 years as a player, executive, and fan of the beautiful game. The United States Soccer Federation needs new leadership that understands both business operations and the game. Our growth and advancement as a sport require excellence at every level — from our youth and adult programs to our professional leagues to our national teams.”rter is a defender of gender equity in the sport, believing the men’s and the women’s teams should be treated equally. She told The Associated Press: “There should be no delineation between our teams or our programs, for that matter.”Carter is the only woman in a crowded candidate field that includes former U.S. internationals Paul Caligiuri, Kyle Martino and Eric Wynalda; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; attorneys Steve Gans and Mike Winograd; and entrepreneur Paul Lapointe. They will all need to have three nominations from current board members by Dec. 12.Carter has a long career on the business side of the game, having served as a vice president for Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the LA Galaxy. She has also worked in an executive capacity for Envision, as well as ISL United States, a subsidiary of the company that at one point did business with FIFA, the International Olympic Committee, and the International Association of Athletics Federations.ISL went bankrupt in 2001 amid hundreds of millions of dollars of debt, and was later found to have paid bribes to leading soccer figures, including former FIFA president Joao Havelange and then-FIFA Executive Committee member Ricardo Teixeira. Carter wasn’t implicated in any of the corrupt activity.Carter also worked on the organizing committee for the 1994 World Cup, and served as MLS’s vice president of corporate marketing, from the league’s inception until late 1999.

Carter also has experience on the playing side of the game, having played in college as a goalkeeper at William & Mary.”My 25 years of professional experience give me relationships and perspective from the corporate, media, and soccer industry, and I look forward to expanding this knowledge as I engage the many stakeholders that drive this game at the grassroots,” she wrote.”I am committed to embracing fresh perspectives on how to advance the game, and I will work tirelessly to deliver results for the federation’s members, players, and fans. It is also important to clearly articulate why I am running and what I think we can achieve together.”While Carter’s resume is extensive, she will run into resistance from some segments of the USSF’s voting membership that view her tenure at SUM as problematic. The failure of the U.S. men’s national team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup has led many to call for a break from the leadership of Gulati, and Carter will be seen by some quarters as representing the status quo.The issue of the conflict of interest between MLS, SUM, and the USSF — which has a deep business relationship with SUM — will also draw fire from opponents. On Sunday, one source characterized her potential candidacy as a “Hail Mary” on the part of Gulati and Garber to have a preferred candidate in the field.

Top 10 Takeaways From the 2018 World Cup Draw

QUICKLY ■ The World Cup draw has given us plenty to stew on for the coming months, with storylines and marquee matchups galore in store this coming summer. Here are some of the biggest talking points following the fanfare in Moscow. By GRANT WAHL

December 01, 2017 The draw for World Cup 2018 took place on Friday, and there’s plenty to talk about. Here are my 10 thoughts on the event, starting with the shadow hanging over it all in these parts of the world, where it was yet another gut punch for USA fans given the painful reminder that their team won’t be participating. If the night of October 10 was the worst night for fans of the United States—that, after all, was the night the U.S. lost to Trinidad and Tobago and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986—then Friday was the second-worst feeling. Seeing all 32 World Cup teams learn their group opponents reminded everyone that the U.S. somehow couldn’t advance from one of the world’s easiest qualifying regions and somehow couldn’t advance from a group that provided an enormous margin for error. It’s still a surreal feeling that the U.S. won’t be in Russia next year, but as Friday showed, it’s very much real, indeed. As for the nations that will be participating:

THERE IS NO TRUE GROUP OF DEATH, AND THAT’S A GOOD THING

FIFA changed the rules for this World Cup draw and for the first time seeded all 32 teams (according to the FIFA rankings) instead of just the top eight. For the first time in recorded history, I find myself writing: Good idea, FIFA! Instead of using a format that produced wildly imbalanced groups over the years, this FIFA draw created much more balanced groups that are in the interest of sporting equality and good soccer. Yes, there are some difficult groups (like Group D with Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria), and there are some easier ones (like Group A with Russia, Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia), but nobody truly got screwed, and nobody got a truly gift draw. Except for …

WELL, YES, RUSSIA DID GET A GIFT DRAW

You can start up the conspiracy theory machine for FIFA and the Russian hosts, who boast the lowest-ranked team in the entire 32-nation field. Of the 24 teams that Russia could have drawn for its opening-game opponent, it just so happened to get Saudi Arabia—the next-to-lowest-ranked team in the 32-nation field. If Russia can bag three points in its first game with the whole world watching, its chances of advancing will increase dramatically. Nor is it inconceivable that the Russians could follow that up with another couple of points against Group A opponents Uruguay and Egypt. World Cups are always more fun when the host country does well, and the chances of the host country to survive group play increased dramatically on Friday.

MEXICO FACES A BIG CHALLENGE IN SEARCH OF THE ELUSIVE FIFTH GAME

El Tri has gone out in its fourth game of the last six World Cups, and so its quest for El Quinto Partido has taken on a mythical significance. Friday’s draw didn’t help, however. I think Mexico will advance from a group that includes Germany, Sweden and South Korea—although Sweden could improve dramatically if Zlatan Ibrahimovic comes out of international retirement—but the problem for Mexico is who stands in its way. It will be awfully hard to take first place in its group ahead of defending champion Germany, and if Mexico finishes second it will likely have to face Brazil in the round of 16. If Mexico fulfills its quest for the Fifth Game, it will have to earn it.

THE OPENING DAYS OF THE WORLD CUP HAVE SOME TERRIFIC GAMES

Forget the stinker on the very first day between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The three days after that each have some mouth-watering matchups. Day Two features Portugal against Spain, which will pit Cristiano Ronaldo’s European champions against my pick to win the tournament. Let’s just say there will be plenty of familiarity between the Spanish club-based players in this game. Day Three SOCCER PLANET FUTBOL 12/7/2017 2018 World Cup: 10 takeaways from the draw in Russia | SI.com https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/12/01/2018-world-cup-draw-takeaways-russia-mexico-belgium-africa 2/4 brings us Argentina-Iceland, which will have Lionel Messi (going after his elusive World Cup triumph) coming up against the tournament’s most popular underdog. Day Four gives us Germany-Mexico, an opportunity for El Tri to measure itself up against the defending champs.

AFRICAN TEAMS ARE SET UP FOR A RESURGENCE

Back in the 1990s, everyone said it wouldn’t be long before an African team won the World Cup. We’re still waiting for it, and in fact African teams have greatly underperformed in recent World Cups (and have yet to put a team in the semifinals). That could change this time around. I have Egypt, Nigeria and Senegal emerging from their groups, and I would be stunned if one or more of them doesn’t make the quarterfinals. (Morocco, which didn’t give up a goal in six final-round qualifying games, could also make a run.) In fact, this tournament could see Egypt’s Mohamed Salah break out into becoming a legit global superstar. The Egyptians should be one of the happiest teams from Friday’s draw after being put in a group with Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia. Introducing

CAN BELGIUM BREAK ITS QUARTERFINAL CURSE?

Based on talent alone, this glorious Belgium team is one of the top four nations in the tournament. But will it become one of the top four teams by making the semifinals? Belgium went out in the quarterfinals of both World Cup 2014 (to Argentina) and Euro 2016 (to Wales), and if it fails to make a deep run this time around, there will be plenty of questions about whether this amazing generation has run out of chances. Perhaps the biggest problem in the last two major tournaments was coach Marc Wilmots, who was hopelessly out of his depth. Roberto Martínez is an upgrade. Belgium drew a relatively easy group (England, Tunisia, Panama), and even the second round shouldn’t be a killer, but a potential quarterfinal game against Brazil would be a real measuring stick of whether Belgium can win the World Cup.

A FEW GROUPS ARE REMARKABLY BALANCED

Consider Group H, with Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan. Nobody in the group will be seen as a real threat to win the tournament, but you could envision scenarios in which any of the four advance to the knockout rounds. It’s not a Group of Death, but rather a Group of Extreme Parity. That should make things fun for neutrals, who simply want to see as much entertaining soccer as possible. The same type of parity can be seen in Group D (Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria). The only team that most would think has a chance to win the World Cup is Argentina—and even that point is debatable—but all four are good teams. Why it took so long for FIFA to seed all 32 teams at the draw is beyond me, but I’m glad it finally

happened.

ONE CHALLENGE AT THIS WORLD CUP WILL BE FOR INTERNATIONAL SOCCER TO GET ITS MOJO BACK

With more balanced groups, one hopes that the international game will begin to have a resurgence in comparison to the club game. One unfortunate development in recent times has been the suffering in quality of international soccer, which has fallen significantly below that of club soccer. The measuring stick for quality these days is the UEFA Champions League, not the World Cup, and that’s a shame. We could use a World Cup that excites the masses around the world with the style of its play, but there’s certainly no guarantee that will happen.

ASIA IS THE NEW AFRICA

I don’t have a single team from Asia advancing from its group. The current editions of Australia, Japan and South Korea just aren’t as good as the predecessors from their countries, and Saudi Arabia’s goal should be simply not to be as awful as the 2002 Saudi World Cup team was. One potential ray of hope for Asia is Iran, which was dominant in World Cup qualifying and could 12/7/2017 2018 World Cup: 10 takeaways from the draw in Russia

World Cup Power Rankings: How the 2018 Field of 32 Nations Stacks Up

QUICKLY ■ Now that qualifying for the 2018 World Cup is over, it’s time to size up the eld. Here’s a rst look at how the contenders in Russia stack up ahead of the Dec. 1 draw in Moscow, when we’ll learn each team’s path to the trophy. By JONATHAN WILSON November 16, 2017 SI

With the field of the 32 nations who will compete at the World Cup in Russia next summer completed by Peru’s success in Lima Wednesday night, there’s little time to waste in ranking the sides headed to the showcase event by making an initial assessment of their form. Sure, there is plenty left to be decided. Which nations have managerial issues to resolve? Who knows what their starting lineup is likely to be? Who is praying for their key center forward to stay fit? Everything, of course, could change with the answers to those questions and the fallout from the group draw on Dec. 1, but, with all else being equal, who are the likely winners and who’s just glad to going to Russia? Here’s how we see the World Cup field stacking up:

  1. BRAZIL Six games into qualifying, Brazil had won only twice and looked in serious danger of failing to qualify. Going out of the Copa America Centenario in the group stage confirmed the moribund state of the Brazilian game. But then Tite replaced Dunga as manager, and the whole set-up changed. This Brazil plays modern, aggressive football, is far less reliant on Neymar and won 10 and drew two of its final 12 games to qualify, a full 10 points clear at the top of the CONMEBOL table. Best Finish: Champions (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
  2. SPAIN

Eliminated in the group stage in the last World Cup and then beaten by Italy in the last 16 of Euro 2016, the curtain seemed to have come down on the golden age of Spanish football. But after replacing Vicente Del Bosque, Julen Lopetegui has rejuvenated the side. Its 3-0 win over Italy in qualifying offered a clear warning that Spain is back. Best Finish: Champions (2010)

  1. GERMANY

Germany disappointed at Euro 2016, never really hitting top form and being wellbeaten by France in the semifinal. Since then, though, it has qualified for the World Cup with a perfect 10-0-0 record and won the Confederations Cup with what was, in effect, a reserve side. Manager Jogi Low has used 36 players over the past two years, which for another manager might be a sign of chaos; for him it’s an indicator of strength. Best Finish: Champions (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)

  1. FRANCE

This is a ridiculously gifted generation of French players who really should have won the Euros on home soil last summer. The sense, though, is that Didier Deschamps is not necessarily the man to get the best out if them, and the 4-4-2 he has adopted of late seems a weirdly blockish solution that leads to predictability. Best Finish: Champions (1998) 12/7/2017 World Cup Power Rankings:

  1. BELGIUM

Now that it has been relieved of the handicap of Marc Wilmots, can Belgium’s golden generation make good on its promise? Under Roberto Martinez, Belgium qualified with ease, dropping only two points. Kevin De Bruyne has thrived in a slightly deeper role, but the question, as ever with Martinez, is whether the side will be able to cope defensively against better opposition. De Bruyne has already questioned Martinez’s tactics. Best Finish: Fourth Place (1986)

  1. ARGENTINA

Qualification was traumatic, but with the dust settled, Argentina remains in a strong position. For all the doubts about players coming through, this remains a strong squad, overloaded with gifted forwards and, by appointing Jorge Sampaoli, it did, at the third attempt, get the right manager. Lionel Messi’s (probable) final chance at a World Cup may be the one he takes. Best Finish: Champions (1978, 1986)

  1. PORTUGAL

Portugal is the European champion and breezed through qualification by winning nine games in a row after losing the opener in Switzerland. Cristiano Ronaldo gives the goalscoring edge, but its real strength is in the solidity of the midfield. Best Finish: Third Place (1966)

  1. URUGUAY

The stereotype of Uruguay is of defensive resolve, stifling tactics and a pragmatism that can tip into cynicism. This side, though, had the second-best scoring record in South American World Cup qualifying and looks to take full advantage of the abilities of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Best Finish: Champions (1930, 1950)

  1. ENGLAND

A mood of persistent frustration hangs over England, so much so that the general reaction to its unbeaten qualification was a collective yawn about the way the Three Lions had trudged through a less-than-testing group. Harry Kane and a highly gifted emerging generation, though, offer some hope. Best Finish: Champions (1966)

  1. CROATIA

If football were just about players, Croatia would never have needed a playoff to qualify. It may lack a defensive midfielder but has a great wealth of creators. But with hardcore fans at war with the federation, which belatedly replaced their manager Ante Cacic, Croatia was underachieving desperately until Zlatko Dalic took over. He secured the win Croatia needed against Ukraine in the final qualifier, and the side then cruised through its playoff against Greece, winning 4-1. Best Finish: Third Place (1998)

  1. COLOMBIA James Rodriguez was the breakout star of the last World Cup, and there is a sense that he has perhaps stagnated thanks to the glut of talent at Real Madrid. If he can rediscover his form at Bayern Munich, though, and with Radamel Falcao enjoying a late-career renaissance, Jose Pekerman’s side could be a threat. Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2014)
  2. SWITZERLAND

The Swiss qualified thanks to a very dodgy penalty in the playoff against Northern Ireland, and struggled to impose themselves in that series, but Vladimir Petkovic’s wellbalanced side won all of its first nine qualifiers and has, in Ricardo Rodriguez and Stephan Lichtsteiner, a pair of excellent attacking fullbacks. Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1934, 1938, 1954)

  1. POLAND

Poland is ranked sixth in the world, which is evidence of just how much impact the trick of not playing friendlies can be. This, after all, is a side that in September lost 4-0 to Denmark. But it is generally solid and has, in Robert Lewandowski, one of the best strikers in the world. Best Finish: Third Place (1974, 1982)

  1. RUSSIA Only one host nation has ever failed to make it through the group stage of a World Cup, but Russia could be the second. The gifted generation that reached the semifinal of Euro 2008 grew old together and Stanislav Cherchesov has struggled to rejuvenate a squad that is heavily reliant on Alan Dzagoev for creativity. Best Finish: Fourth Place (1966)
  2. MEXICO

Juan Carlos Osorio is a controversial figure, with many feeling he rotates too often and question his hard-pressing. His players, though, seem generally enthused, and Mexico finished top of CONCACAF qualifying as well as getting out of their group at the Confederations Cup. After eliminations at the round of 16 in the last six World Cups, Osorio’s first target must be set on reaching the quarterfinals. Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1970, 1986)

  1. ICELAND After eliminating England to reach the quarterfinal of the Euros last summer, Iceland kicked on to become, by some distance, the smallest nation ever to qualify for a World Cup, finishing top of an awkward group that also included Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. Gylfi Sigurdsson is the highest-profile player, but no side will have such a ferocious team spirit. Best Finish: N/A
  2. DENMARK

Denmark may have required a playoff to qualify, but that was because of results early in qualifying. More recently, the Danes put four past Poland and Montenegro and five past Ireland. Their Norwegian coach, Age Hareide, favors a direct approach and has made them defensively solid, but they also have the technical quality to unpick sides. Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1998)

  1. IRAN Carlos Queiroz has been in charge of Iran for six years now. His side qualified unbeaten, letting in just two goals in 10 games in the final group, and can be relied upon to play in the characteristic Quieroz way, full of neat, technical, risk-averse football.
  2. NIGERIA

Inconsistency and underachievement have characterized Nigerian football over the past decade. The Super Eagles have failed to qualify for three of the last four Africa Cup of Nations tournaments but won the one they did get to. Under Gernot Rohr, though, there is a sense of renewal, and they ended up topping a brutally tough qualifying group with relative comfort. A 4-2 friendly victory over a (Messi-less) Argentina this week was hugely impressive. Best Finish: Round of 16 (1994, 1998, 2014)

  1. SWEDEN

The Swedes dug deep and held firm to beat Italy over two legs and seem to have improved as a team since the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Memories of their dismal Euro 2016 lurk in the background, and there is a lack of obvious creativity, but this is a side that also beat France in qualifying. Best Finish: Runner-up (1958)

  1. MOROCCO

Herve Renard’s record as an international coach is remarkable. He’s the only man to win the Cup of Nations with two different sides (Zambia, Ivory Coast) and he’s now taken Morocco to its first World Cup since 1998, coming out on top of a group that included Ivory Coast–without conceding a goal. Best Finish: Round of 16 (1986)

  1. JAPAN

There is an awkward sense about Japanese football that it has plateaued. The Samurai Blue finished top of their qualifying group and have an experienced coach in Vahid Halilhodzic, but, having been knocked out of the 2015 Asian Cup in the quarterfinals, there’s no reason to believe they’ll improve on their habit of alternating between group stage and last 16 exits. Best Finish: Round of 16 (2002, 2010)

  1. SERBIA

No side that finished top of its group in European qualifying collected fewer points than Serbia. This is a talented group, particularly in midfield, but the specter of past disintegrations at tournaments haunts them, and the chances of another potential collapse were only increased when Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach after qualifying essentially because his football had been insufficiently exciting. Best Finish: Group Stage (2010)

  1. EGYPT

This is Egypt’s first World Cup since 1990, but it won a hat trick of Cups of Nations between 2006 and 2010. Having failed to make the following three Cups of Nations, the Pharaohs returned to the tournament this year and showed all the familiar defensive qualities, augmented by the pace of Mohamed Salah on the break, to reach the final. Best Finish: Group Stage (1934, 1990)

  1. SENEGAL

Senegal qualified unbeaten at the top of an awkward group that included Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa. The Lions of Teranga have pace and attacking flair on the flanks with Sadio Mane and Keita Balde and solidity in midfield with Idrissa Gueye. They disappointed at the Cup of Nations, though, eliminated in the quarterfinal by Cameroon. Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2002)

  1. SOUTH KOREA

South Korea struggled to second in its qualifying group, behind Iran, losing three of its 10 games. The squad should be better than that, though, as it features the likes of Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Lee Chung-yong (Crystal Palace) and Ji Dong-won (Augsburg). Best Finish: Fourth Place (2002)

  1. PERU

Peru is ranked 10th in the world, which is another lesson about the benefit of not playing friendlies. Ricardo Gareca’s side is well-organized and has impressed in recent tournaments, reaching the semifinal of the Copa America in 2015 and losing on penalties in the quarterfinal of the Copa America Centenario a year later. If Paolo Guerrero’s doping ban is confirmed and extended through the summer, though, it will be desperately short of firepower. Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1970)

  1. COSTA RICA

Reaching the last eight four years ago looks like being the summit for a generation. Costa Rica has regressed since then, as a number of key players have aged. The Ticos 12/7/2017 World Cup Power Rankings: How the field of 32 teams stacks up | SI.com https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/11/16/world-cup-power-rankings-russia-2018 10/13 finished second behind Mexico but managed just two wins away from home in the hexagonal. Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2014)

  1. TUNISIA A 2-1 win over DR Congo in September effectively sealed Tunisia’s place in Russia, but it will go there with limited ambition after a hugely disappointing Cup of Nations in which it was eliminated by Burkina Faso in the quarterfinal. That led–eventually–to the departure of manager Henryk Kasperczak and his replacement, Nabil Maaloul. Best Finish: Group Stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006)
  2. AUSTRALIA

Ange Postecoglu’s side eventually qualified via a playoff, beating Honduras 3-1 over two legs, but the big concern must be that the Socceroos haven’t won any of their last nine games outside of Australia. Best Finish: Round of 16 (2006)

  1. SAUDI ARABIA Saudi Arabia scraped to an automatic World Cup berth on goal difference ahead of Australia, but lost three of their five away games, beating only Thailand and Iraq on the road. The manager who guided the side through qualifying, Bert van Marwijk, failed to agree to a new contract and was replaced by former Argentina manager Edgardo Bauza. Best Finish: Round of 16 (1994)
  2. PANAMA Hernan Dario Gomez’s side qualified in third place in CONCACAF, but averaged less than a goal a game and won only one game away from home in the hexagonal. It’s a just reward for a veteran core.

 

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11/30/17 MLS Playoffs Tonite – Seattle vs Houston 10:30 ESPN, IU Hoosiers 1 Game from College Cup Fri Night 7 pm, World Cup Draw Fri 10 am, Champs League Tues/Wed  

 So the MLS Western Conference finals will wrap up tonight at US star Clint Dempsey looks to go to the finals for his first time.  Seattle will host Houston tonight on ESPN at 10:30 pm with a 2 goal lead coming in.  The winner will face Toronto who edged Columbus last night in a 1 – 0 thriller where Jozy Altidore scored a screamer in the 60th minute.  Honestly Columbus played their hearts out on the road and had every chance to win – they just couldn’t find the net – despite their keeper making spectacular saves including a PK – Toronto pulled it off.  The winners tonight will square off at Toronto next Saturday, Dec 9th at 4 pm on ESPN for the MLS Cup. Here’s hoping for a rematch of last year’s thriller !

The World Cup draw will be tomorrow live from Russia at 10 am on Fox Sports 1 – the 32 team field will be announced and the pods drawn as we get set to see who’s in the group of death this year.  Go Iceland!  Champions League will set the final teams for the Sweet 16 on Tues/Wed of this weekend.  Dortmund is out but all 4 English teams look to advance for the first time in a long time.  Speaking of Dortmund US 19 YO Superstar Pulisic is expected to return this weekend as they face Leverkusen at 9:30 am on FS2 Saturday morning.  Arsenal of course hosts Man United on NBC Sat at 12:30 pm as both hot teams battle for 2nd in the EPL, while US youngster Weston Mckinnie and Schalke host Koln in the German Bundesliga at 12:30 on FS2.  I do want to big a fond farewell to one of my favorite websites – as ESPNFC – is no more.  They have added a soccer tab to ESPN – but it is not the same and it appears many of the featured writers they had might well be gone.  Sad to see – as Soccer was really catching fire in the US – what effects the US not being in the world cup will bring.  If ESPNFC going away is an indication – boo hoo.  (so I have been swamped this week – but I will update the Champions League stories before kickoff on Tuesday check out and Read All the stories online – at www.theoleballcoach.com

Champions League permutations: Who needs what to go through?

Monday 4 December 2017 by Paul Saffer

Barcelona, Bayern, Chelsea, Beşiktaş, Manchester City, Paris, Real Madrid and Tottenham are through. What do the 14 teams vying for the eight remaining places need to join them?

 Barcelona , Bayern München, Beşiktaş, Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur are through to the UEFA Champions League round of 16 and 14 teams will compete for the eight remaining berths on 5 and 6 December. UEFA.com explains the permutations.

  • Through to round of 16: Barcelona*, Bayern München, Beşiktaş*, Chelsea, Manchester City*, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur* (*group winners)
  • Can qualify on matchday six: Atlético Madrid, Basel, CSKA Moskva, Juventus, Leipzig, Liverpool, Manchester United, Napoli, Porto, Roma, Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk, Spartak Moskva, Sporting CP
  • Cannot finish in top two: Anderlecht, APOEL, Borussia Dortmund, Celtic
  • Will finish fourth: Benfica, Feyenoord, Maribor, Monaco, Olympiacos, Qarabağ 
  • Full standings

All information in this article is subject to final confirmation from UEFA. These examples may not cover all potential situations.

TUESDAY 5 DECEMBER

Group A: Manchester United (12 points) v CSKA Moskva (9), Benfica (0) v Basel (9)

  • Manchester Unitedwould qualify in first place with a point (and can afford to lose by six goals and still go through). If they lose to CSKA and Basel do not win, United and CSKA will go through with first place determined by head-to-head results between the two; United won 4-1 in Russia and would have the superior overall goal difference if they lose 4-1. If CSKA and Basel win, the top two will be decided in a three-way head to head; United would be through in this situation unless they lost by seven goals, and would be top unless they lost by five goals).
  • Baselwill go through if they better CSKA’s result, or if both teams draw or lose due to their superior head-to-head. If CSKA and Basel win, the top two will be decided in a three-way head to head, and Basel would be through unless CSKA win by a margin of between three and six goals inclusive).
  • CSKAmust pick up more points than Basel to ensure second place (if both win, CSKA must win by a margin of three goals to go through in the three-way head-to-head and by a margin of five goals to finish top).
  • Benficawill finish bottom.

Group B: Bayern München (12) v Paris Saint-Germain (15), Celtic (3) v Anderlecht (0)

  • Paris and Bayernare both through, with top spot still to play for ahead of their matchday six meeting. Paris won the first game between the sides 3-0 and also lead on overall goal difference so Bayern must win by a four-goal margin to finish top.
  • Celticand Anderlecht can both still finish third. Anderlecht were beaten 3-0 at home by Celtic so the Belgian side must win by a three-goal margin in Glasgow to go into the UEFA Europa League (if they win 3-0, Anderlecht finish third on overall goal difference).

Group C: Roma (8) v Qarabağ (2), Chelsea (10) v Atlético Madrid (6)

  • Chelseaare through. They will secure first place with victory or if Roma fail to win.
  • Roma will go through with a win, or if Atlético fail to win. If Roma win and Chelsea do not, Roma win the group.
  • Atléticoneed to win and hope Roma do not to finish second (if they both finish on nine points, Atlético have the superior head-to-head).
  • Qarabağwill finish bottom.

Group D: Olympiacos (1) v Juventus (8), Barcelona (11) v Sporting CP (7)

  • Barcelona are through as group winners.
  • Juventus will be through with a win, or if Sporting fail to gain victory (if they finish level on points, Juve have the superior head-to-head).
  • Sportinghave to win, and will reach the last 16 if they win and Juventus do not.
  • Olympiacos will finish bottom.

WEDNESDAY 6 DECEMBER

Group E: Maribor (2) v Sevilla (8), Liverpool (9) v Spartak Moskva (6)

  • Liverpool will qualify with a draw, and will clinch first place with a win, or a draw if Sevilla fail to win. If Liverpool lose they are out unless Sevilla are also defeated (as Liverpool would be below Spartak in a two-way head-to-head or would be third in a three-way head-to-head on nine points).
  • Sevillawill qualify with a draw, or if Spartak fail to win. Sevilla clinch first place if they win and Liverpool do not.
  • Spartakwould be through with a win or third with any other result. If Spartak win they will finish top unless Sevilla also win.
  • Mariborwill finish fourth

Group F: Feyenoord (0) v Napoli (6), Shakhtar Donetsk (9) v Manchester City (15)

  • City are through as group winners.
  • Shakhtarwill be through if they avoid defeat or if Napoli do not win.
  • Napolimust win and hope Shakhtar lose; in that case Napoli would finish second on head-to-head.
  • Feyenoordwill finish fourth.

Group G: Porto (7) v Monaco (2), RB Leipzig (7) v Beşiktaş (11)

  • Beşiktaş are through as group winners.
  • Portoare through if they win, or as long as they are at least level on points with Leipzig due to their superior head-to-head (on goal difference).
  • Leipzigmust pick up more points than Porto to finish second.
  • Monacowill finish fourth.

Group H: Real Madrid (10) v Borussia Dortmund (2), Tottenham Hotspur (13) v APOEL (2)

  • Tottenham have qualified as group winners due to their superior head-to-head over Madrid.
  • Madrid have qualified as group runners-up.
  • Dortmund and APOELwill contest third place. In case both teams draw Dortmund will be qualified due to superior goal difference in all matches. In case both teams win or lose the final ranking will depend on the number of goals scored and conceded in the last two matches.

Standings are provisional until all matches have been played.

No. 2 Hoosiers Host No. 7 Michigan State on Friday in NCAA Tournament Tix $10

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The No. 2-seeded Indiana University men’s soccer team will host the No. 7 Michigan State Spartans in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, Dec. 1 at Jerry Yeagley Field at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
Kickoff for the match is set for 7:00 p.m. ET. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for youth (18 & under) and can be purchased at IUHoosiers.com.  Indiana University students will get in free as IU Athletics will purchase their tickets for each round of the NCAA Tournament that the Hoosiers host. Students must show student ID at the ticket window to redeem free ticket.  A free live-stream of the match is available on BTN2Go.com, with live stats for the match at IUHoosiers.com.

SETTING THE SCENE
• The No. 2-seeded Hoosiers will host the Michigan State Spartans in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament on Friday at Jerry Yeagley Field at Bill Armstrong Stadium in Bloomington, Ind.
• Indiana earned the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament after finishing the season undefeated with an overall record of 15-0-5.
• Indiana finished the regular season undefeated for the third time in program history, ending with a 13-0-4 mark. IU also finished regular season unblemished in 1976 (15-0-1) and 1997 (18-0).
• Freshman goalkeeper Trey Muse has played well this season, posting a NCAA-best 17 shutouts while allowing just five goals with 53 saves.
• Freshman Mason Toye leads the Hoosiers with a Big Ten-leading 10 goals and 22 points on the season, while Cory Thomas has seven goals on the year.
• Trevor Swartz leads the team with seven assists on the season.

IU legacy builds as they try to make the College Cup  Indy Star

#1 IU to Host #7 Mich State at IU on Friday Night to see who goes to College Cup

Chance is there for Unbeaten IU

Men’s Bracket –  Louisville and Indiana U still alive

WORLD CUP 2018 The GROUPS – Draw on Friday Morning

 GROUP A: Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia

GROUP B: Portugal, Spain, Iran, Morocco

GROUP C: France, Peru, Denmark, Australia

GROUP D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria

GROUP E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

GROUP F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

GROUP G: Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama

GROUP H: Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan

 GAMES ON TV 

Thurs Nov 30

10:30 pm ESPN         Houston  vs Seattle Sounders  (2-0)  (West Conf Final Leg 2)

Fri, Dec 1

10 am   Fox Sport 1   World Cup Draw 2018 from Russia

2:45 pm beIn Sport Napoli vs Juventus

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Frieburg vs Hamburger (Woods)

5 pm ESPNU                   Stanford vs South Carolina (NCAA Final 4 Womens)

7 pm  Big 10 Stream                        Indiana U Men host Mich State at IU – live stream

7:30 pm ESPNU            UCLA vs Duke (NCAA Final 4 Womens)

Sat, Dec 2

7:30 am NBCSN            Chelsea vs Newcastle (Yedlin)

9:30 am FS 1                  Bayern Munich vs Hannover

9:30 am FS2                    Leverkusen vs Borussian Dortmund (Pulisic)

10 am NBCSN                Brighton vs Liverpool

10 am CNBC                    Tottenham vs Watford

12:30 pm NBC              Arsenal vs Man United  

12:30 pm FS2                Schalke (US 19 yr old Weston Mckennie) vs Koln

Sun, Dec 3

9:30 am FS 1                  Hertha vs Frankfurt

11 am NBCSN                Man City vs West Ham

Tues, Dec 5 – Champs League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2    Man United vs CSK Moscow

2:45 pm Fox Soccer     Chelsea vs Atletico Madrid

2:45 pm ESPN3 FS+      Barcelona vs Sporting CP

2:45 pm ESPN3               Olympiakos vs Juventus

Wed, Dec 6  Champs League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2    Liverpool vs Spartak Moskva

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1    Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund (Pulisic)

2:45 pm Facebook Live Shahktar vs Man City

2:45 pm ESPN3, Fox local   Tottenham vs APOEL

Sat, Dec 9

7:30 am NBCSN               West Ham vs Chelsea

10 am NbCSN                    Tottenham vs Stoke City (Cameron)

12:30 pm Fox Sport 2      B. M’gladbach (Johnson) vs Schalke (Mckinney)

4 pm ESPN                       Toronto vs Seattle  MLS Cup –

Sun, Dec 10

7 am NBCSN                       Southhampton vs Arsenal

9:15 am NBCSN               Liverpool vs Everton – Derby

11:30 am NBCSN            Man United vs Man City – Manchester Darby

EPL 2017 Schedule  

Read All the stories online – at www.theoleballcoach.com

 MLS Playoffs

Seattle looks to finish off Houston Tonite – MLS.com

Columbus did all it could vs MLS Stalwart Toronto

Altidore Overcomes Injury to score winner for Toronto – Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

4 Cities Named for next 2 MLS Teams – here’s hoping for Cincy – since Columbus is gone! Dec 6th

 World

No Groups of Death this World Cup?

What to Expect of the Draw – Gab Marcotti ESPN

Ranking the Top Club Teams –

Man Uniteds Best Successes at Arsenal

 USA

Projecting the Ladies US WC Roster

Things to watch for in 2018 for the US Men

Is Youth Training to Blame for US Failure to Qualify LA Times

Resigning Italy President Remarks – give path to US  

Indy 11 Happy ThanksGiving from Owner  

US Players Abroad- Washington Post

US U17s lose to England 

College Cup Opportunity Beckons Unbeaten Indiana

Pete DiPrimioIUHoosiers.com

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The College Cup is there for the taking.Indiana aims to take it.The No. 2-seedeed Hoosiers (17-0-5) are one soccer victory away from a Final Four berth in Philadelphia.
Standing in their way — No. 7 seed Michigan State (13-3-3) Friday night at Armstrong Stadium. The teams played to a 1-1 tie at the end of the regular season.
That was significant because it cost IU the Big Ten title. “We drew them 1-1 when we needed to win the Big Ten regular season title,” senior Grant Lillard said, “so having a little revenge game is kind of nice.”History suggests revenge will be sweet. Indiana is 14-0 in NCAA Elite Eight matches at home, although the last one came in 2004.
“It will be fun,” coach Todd Yeagley said. “We want the fans to pack this place.” Added Lillard: I’m sure the place will be pumping.” IU and Michigan State are the last remaining Big Ten teams still in contention. The Hoosiers are eager to knock that down to one. “It’s nice being the two last two Big Ten teams,” Lillard said. “It’s kind of like, who wants to dominate the Big Ten and be the best team in the Big Ten.” The Spartans are making their third Elite Eight appearance in the last five seasons. They’ve allowed 12 goals this season while scoring 27.
“The focus is to execute what we do well,” Lillard said. “They’re a good defensive team. They’re tough to break down. We have to make sure we’re connecting simple passes. Being dangerous in the final third will be important.”IU has played in 18 College Cups, the last one coming in 2012, when it won its eighth and last national championship. Yeagley played on two College Cups as a player, in 1991 and ’94. “There’s nothing quite like the Final Four,” Yeagley said. “We want them to have that.” These Hoosiers, a dominant blend of offense and defense, are built to break through, Yeagley added.
“We’ve been so close with this group the last couple of years. In this sport, there are so many small factors that come in, but I feel confident this team has the make-up to move on.
“Balance in this team is a strength. Balance in our staff is a strength.” As far as any danger of looking past Michigan State, Yeagley said, “This group hasn’t looked ahead all year. They’ve stayed in the moment, in the process.”They knew this could be a special year. They never got hung up in that. They did things consistently and in the right way.” IU dominates the national statistics. It leads the nation in goals allowed, with just four. It’s also first in save percentage (0.917), shutout percentage (0.773) and team goals against average (0.213). The Hoosiers rank second in the nation in shots per game (17.5) and shots on goal (7.86). They’re 10th in scoring at 2.14 goals. Honors have followed. The staff of Yeagley associate head coach Brian Maisonneuve, assistant coach Kevin Robson and volunteer assistant Zac Brown were named Midwest Region Staff of the year by the United Soccer Coaches. They are in the running for national staff of the year. Also, Lillard is one of 15 semifinalists for the MAC Herman Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s best soccer player. “It’s nice to be recognized like that,” Lillard said. “It speaks a lot of the guys on this team who don’t get recognized. “Our team defending has been wonderful this year, and not just because of me. It’s because a lot of guys have been contributing to that all season long.” Still, Lillard set the tone.”Grant has had a fantastic year,” Yeagley said. “There’s no doubt that he’s hit another gear. “We’ve pushed him. He’s challenged himself. You want that little bit more in there. Grant looks the way a senior and All-American and player of the year candidate should look. “He reminds the younger players what’s necessary. He understands all the situations. He’s been through everything. It’s the confidence you have when Grant is back there. That winning mentality.” Yeagley understands that winning mentality as well as anyone. He grew up with it under his father, Jerry, a Hall of Fame coach with six national titles on his resume.
The younger Yeagley has that 2012 championship, and wants more. “It’s overwhelming to think about what’s come before,” he said, “the unbelievable success my father had. You always feel like you’re chasing something that might be unattainable. “But if we stay to the plan with the right mentality and preparation, it often takes care of itself.”

 

No Groups of Death; rankings rule — What to expect at the World Cup draw

  • Gabriele Marcotti

For many, qualifying for the 2018 World Cup has been a procession — going through the motions toward the inevitable. For others, there has been suffering and insecurity right down to the final whistle of the final playoff game. And for others still, whether because they’ve been absent for decades or because it’s their first time, it’s been a magical journey, a flight into possibility.Then there are those who took for granted that they’d be a part of the World Cup and stumbled along the way: We don’t need to talk about them, but we know who they are. ADVERTISEMENT

But now Friday’s World Cup draw is nearly upon us. This is when things become a little more real, when teams can start to really dream and begin to map out pathways to immortality. This is when they project ahead seven months and try to learn as much as you can about their opponents, some of whom might be age-old rivals, some of whom they might never have seen (or even thought about). When they start to fret and anticipate in equal parts. When Russia stops being a concept and becomes a spiritual home. And when the world — at least for the 32 chosen ones — becomes a common ecosystem.Draw ceremonies are always rather awkward exercises: Former icons paraded around, quips from officials in suits, some music, some eye candy, montages about faraway cities (some of which you might never have heard of) and balls being drawn out of pots. But here are some things to consider as the event unfolds.

  1. Say goodbye to the Group of Death?

For the first time, pots will be based on FIFA rankings, rather than geographical factors. The only exception is Russia, who will be a top seed as host, as well as the stipulation that there can’t be more than one team from the same confederation in each group (two in the case of UEFA). Before, after the top seeds, teams were allocated to pots based on confederation, which facilitated unbalanced groups.What does this all mean? Theoretically, more balanced groups. Consider the “Group of Death.” It’s a trite, ugly and ultimately nonsensical term, but the good news is we likely won’t get one — at least not to the degree we did in the past.It also means that watching the draw unfold will feel a little different. It will be more like a Champions League draw, in which teams can get only certain opponents. Brazil, for example, know they will face either Spain, Switzerland, England, Mexico or Croatia from Pot 2.

  1. FIFA rankings rule

The seeds are based on FIFA rankings, which we know are imperfect and, to the casual observer, might seem a little screwy. You can live with Russia being given an edge by enjoying the top seed (they’re actually the lowest-ranked team in the World Cup), but to a casual observer, seeing Poland in Pot 1 and the likes of Spain and England in Pot 2 will feel weird, particularly when Poland failed to qualify for the past three World Cups and exited Euro 2016 at the quarterfinal stage.Blame the fact that the rankings, to some degree, can be gamed. But mostly, blame the fact that comparing nations who very rarely play one another is extremely difficult. And a ranking based over four years — perhaps necessary to account for freak results — becomes less relevant over time.

  1. Who gets Spain? And will England get Germany?

One obvious theme is that nobody in Pot 1 will want to get Spain, who most bookmakers have as fourth favorites, in Pot 2, but all are in danger of facing them. The prospect of an England vs. Germany group game — a tie drenched in history, and not just sporting — is also a real possibility. Further down, you might have your own choices of teams to avoid. In Pot 3, Senegal combine high-end defensive muscle (Kalidou Koulibaly, Cheikh Kouyate, Idrissa Gueye) with attacking flair (Sadio Mane, Keita Balde), while in Pot 4, Serbia have likely been flying under the radar and have plenty of big names and experience. (If you insist on having a Group of D—-, then Brazil, Spain, Senegal and Serbia might just be it.)But remember this, too. For all the familiar names you might spot, it really matters very little come June next year. Factors like chemistry, form and coaching carry far more weight than pedigree. Four years ago, Costa Rica were thrown in a group with three previous World Cup winners: Italy (4), Uruguay (2) and England (1). Guess who won the group and went on the quarterfinals? That’s right, Los Ticos, a team whose second-biggest name was — no disrespect — Bryan Ruiz.History matters less and less. We saw this very clearly last time around. Spain, the defending world champion, exited in the group stage. Germany and Brazil were nearly bounced out in the round of 16 by Chile and Algeria respectively. Switzerland made Lionel Messi and Argentina sweat into extra time.We can project who we fear and who we’d rather face. But, as with a horror movie, the threat can increasingly come from anywhere. The flip side of that is that anyone can dream and be made to look like a fool.At least until next June.

Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo
Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs – Western Conference Championship  CenturyLink Field – Seattle, Wash.
10:30 pm ET – Nov. 30, 2017  WATCH: ESPN, ESPN Deportes (USA) | TSN1, TVAS 2 (CAN)

The Houston Dynamo entered the first leg of their Western Conference final perhaps sensing they had nothing to lose. They could hardly be blamed for approaching the second wondering what may already be lost.After going down a goal and a man early and eventually succumbing to a 2-0 home defeat against the Seattle Sounders last Tuesday, only the Dynamo’s best away performance of 2017 would be enough from keeping holders Seattle from returning to MLS Cup.It could’ve been even worse if not for Joe Willis‘ save of a penalty conceded by Jalil Anibaba. With Anibaba dismissed for his foul and Houston playing a man down, Will Bruin‘s goal later in the first half to add to Gustav Svensson‘s opener ensured that Seattle left BBVA Compass Stadium with a two-goal advantage and the Dynamo with a steep hill to climb.Anibaba and striker Alberth Elis (yellow card accumulation) will also be suspended for the return leg. The latter’s absence means coach Wilmer Cabrera will almost certainly need offensive contributions from forwards Mauro Manotas or Erick Torres.Seattle centerback Roman Torres must also sit after receiving his second yellow card of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, which will disrupt his effective partnership with Chad Marshall. And it’s unclear if No. 1 goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s hamstring will have healed enough for the second leg after he missed the first.But the Sounders have suffered only one home defeat this season, a 1-0 loss to Toronto on May 6. Including the playoffs, they’ve won last four at CenturyLink Field (including the playoffs) by a combined 12-0 margin.Still, the residue of Houston’s stunning 2-1 win at Portland in the second leg of the conference semifinals shows there’s always a chance. How much of one? We’ll find out on Thursday.

Armchair Analyst: Tactical preview of Seattle vs. Houston in West 2nd leg

November 30, 20179:15AM ESTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer

Sorry Houstonians, but I’m with Landon on this:I think Seattle ended this series in the first leg by hanging a pair of goals on the Dynamo. I just don’t see how Houston figure out a 3-1 result or better in Thursday night’s Leg 2 (10:30 pm ET; ESPN & ESPN Deportes in the US | TN1 & TVAS2 in Canada).

But there’s a reason they play the game, right? Strange things can happen in this league.

Seattle’s tactical plan: Capitalize on turnovers

The Sounders are without Roman Torres (yellow card accumulation), and likely without Ozzie Alonso (injury), and… yeah they’re still going to be fine. They might have to shuffle some pieces around – Gustav Svensson at center back? Nicolas Lodeiro as the No. 8? – but they’ve shuffled before, and mostly come up aces.

And in this case, they can shuffle with the knowledge that Houston’s going to have to get on the ball and carry most of the play. The Dynamo have to go out and score at least two goals, which they’re not going to be able to do unless they push numbers forward. Pushing numbers forward, of course, comes with risks specifically around turning the ball over. Turning the ball over leads to counterattacks. Counterattacks lead to goals:

Don’t expect Seattle to dominate possession. Do expect them to generate chances like this one.

Houston’s tactical plan: Spread Seattle from touchline to touchline & go in isolation

The Dynamo can’t afford to get cute and can’t afford to be passive. They’ve got to go out from the first whistle and drive at the Sounders with numbers using the whole width of the field.

Here’s how that looks:

Key to this: Wilmer Cabrera has to drop his fascination with Alex as a winger and start three true attackers across the frontline. Maybe that means giving Vicente Sanchez the go-ahead from the first minute, or maybe it means Mauro Manotas as a sort of miscast winger with Cubo Torres as the center forward, or maybe it means Andrew Wenger?

Whatever the case, there’s no use playing conservative for Cabrera. Go out like Butch & Sundance, please.

X-Factor Part 1: I’m gonna say Eric Alexander again

He didn’t have a great game in Leg 1, but he’s good enough to control things and put those wingers into space like he did against Portland, especially if Seattle are playing without a true defensive midfielder.

It’s not just that, though. It’s the fact that if Alexander plays his best and Lodeiro is used as a No. 8, it will make Lodeiro a more defensive and less influential attacking player.

X-Factor Part 2: Chad Marshall‘s fitness

He’s 33, and he’s just crested 35,000 professional minutes, and he’s already had one minor knock this postseason. If he takes another, then suddenly the door’s open for Houston.

Match-up No. 1: Joevin Jones vs. whoever’s at right back for Houston

With A.J. DeLaGarza‘s injury and Jalil Anibaba‘s suspension, the Dynamo have to go all the way down to No. 3 on the right defensive depth chart. Good luck!

Match-up No. 2: Tomas Martinez vs. Cristian Roldan

If Alonso’s out and Svensson is used in central defense, that leaves Roldan as the No. 6. He can do the job, but is much more of a No. 8. It’s not that Martinez will be able to totally lose him, but rather Martinez should be able to trouble Roldan in terms of distribution and tempo-setting – two areas in which he struggles anyway, and two ares that could lead to exploitable turnovers.

What’s it all mean?

I just don’t think the Dynamo have a chance. Great season, lots to build on going forward, but put a fork in this series.

Columbus could not have done any more vs. MLS’ elite team in Toronto

Graham Parker

It’s hard to see what else Columbus Crew SC could have done.The moment after a playoff loss is often the moment when the picture of a team falls sharply into focus; playoff momentum and the stories that go with it have a way of hiding deficiencies that seem glaring when a team’s campaign comes definitively to a halt. But looking back at Columbus picking its way through a playoff field to go within inches of eliminating Toronto — and all with an existential angst of relocation hanging over its head — there are few moments or traits that jump out as fatal flaws. Gregg Berhalter kept his machine competitive to the end, but the bigger, better machine of Toronto was ultimately able to make the fine-tuning adjustments to end Crew SC’s campaign.It’s been a season of two halves for the Crew. In early August they looked set for a second successive season of anonymity after the heights of hosting MLS Cup in 2015. Federico Higuain was missing, Ethan Finlay had been traded and the team was struggling to hold off Orlando for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff place.But slowly and surely, the team began to come together. Pedro Santos was signed and proved to be a versatile, key component of the team’s revival as Berhalter tinkered with the side and eased Higuain back to full effectiveness. Ola Kamara continued to score goals and gradually, and with few neutral observers taking notice at first, Crew SC stopped dropping points and began an inexorable climb up the standings — building dangerous unbeaten momentum as they arrived in the playoffs.Once there, the Crew’s playoff campaign was managed by Berhalter in resolutely organized fashion. Despite the revelation that the team could be no more in Ohio after 2018, and the emotions and rhetoric of the subsequent #SaveTheCrew campaign, Columbus’ players always looked more likely to take advantage of an opponent’s emotions than to get swept up by their own.Atlanta was dispatched in a febrile atmosphere at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with the help of some woodwork and a performance for the ages by Zack Steffen, then New York City FC fell apart after Alexander Callens’ red card in the first leg. Even offered the chance to bully a weakened Toronto at home in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final, Berhalter elected to play the percentages and set himself up for an away goal at BMO Field.And it nearly paid off. Crew SC going three at the back from the start of the second leg had Toronto scrambling throughout the first half, as Berhalter got the tactical jump on Greg Vanney, the newly crowned MLS coach of the year. Right to the end of the game, Berhalter stayed cool in his adjustments. Hector Jimenez initially looked like an odd replacement for the influential Santos, but his introduction gave more space for Kekuta Manneh to look for space out wide to stretch a tiring and compacted Toronto defense.It was all very … efficient. The Crew have been an efficient machine at their best this year, even if it’s hard to point to any single element of the team, other than Steffen’s penalty-saving ability, and call it the best in the league. Such stutters as there were in the final series included Justin Meram twice wasting great scoring chances that could have really put the pressure on Toronto, and the loss of Artur to suspension in leg two. But on the other hand, it was possible to write those events off within the margin of error for any playoff team.And yet it wasn’t enough. In the end, Crew SC’s normal time record in these playoffs included one emphatic home win over NYCFC, a thrilling goalless draw in Atlanta and two nail-biting losses on the road to NYCFC and now Toronto — a modest return. And ultimately, when the time finally came for them to chase a game, Columbus did not have a player, or combination of players, on the field capable of the mix of grit, vision and speed of thought to do what Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez and Jozy Altidore did on the decisive goal.So in the end, if there were a fatal flaw for Columbus, it’s that it played to the best of its abilities, but that the sum total of those abilities generally falls just short of those possessed by the elite team of the league. On the basis of Wednesday night’s performance, nobody could have complained had Kamara got a shoelace width closer to the ball in the dying moments of the game to advance the Crew. But by the same token, anybody could look at Columbus being eliminated at this stage of its campaign and conclude that this is about as fair a conclusion as the team deserved.

Jozy Altidore shrugs off ankle injury, delivers winning goal for Toronto FC

Jeff CarlisleSoccer

TORONTO — Jozy Altidore knew he had to come off the field.The ankle that he had injured at the beginning of the year had been hurt again when Columbus Crew defender Harrison Afful got tangled up with him. Altidore went down, got treatment, played and went to the sidelines for more treatment. He went back out to the field again hoping to just grind out a few more minutes.”I just needed to try to get some support on it so it didn’t move around too much,” he said after the game. “We taped it up, tried that out, but I just really couldn’t put any weight on it. So it kind of defeated the purpose of trying to stay on there. We’d be like a man down, so I just wanted to give the chance for whoever was coming on [for me] to get some runs in and be ready to help contribute.”I knew if there was a play, if I can get a chance to make a play, then I wanted to be on the field for it. It all worked out in the end.”That it did. As the game reached the hour mark, Altidore received a backheel from Sebastian Giovinco, worked a combination with Victor Vasquez and fired past Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen to hand Toronto a 1-0 aggregate triumph and a return trip to the MLS Cup final.The tension had been building in dribs and drabs at the start of the match, as the five-man back line trotted out by Crew manager Greg Berhalter flummoxed the TFC attack. The anxiety then increased 10-fold after Vasquez had his penalty saved by Steffen.Toronto’s attack had made little headway since. But the eruption of joy in BMO Field as Altidore’s shot settled into the net shook the press box — equal parts relief and primal scream. The striker then jumped into the joyous arms of his teammates, but he insisted there was no shot of adrenalin that made the pain go away.”I felt it. I felt it the whole time, actually, unfortunately,” he said of his ankle. “But these moments, this is what you live for.”These have not been the happiest two months for Altidore. As if he needed any reminders of the U.S. national team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, he’s been booed and taunted on the road as a kind of penance. His goal will do little to change that, nor does it come close to erasing what happened, but Altidore insisted there has been no hangover for him, that he has compartmentalized the national team disappointment and not let that creep into his games for Toronto.”People keep thinking I’m some wounded animal,” he said. “[Not qualifying] didn’t only happen to me, it happened to a group of guys and a lot of fans. It is what it is. It’s disappointing, but you have to move on from it and learn from it and become stronger for it.”The national team program isn’t broken. It definitely needs to be patched up in places, and we need to do a better job as individuals, of identifying players, all that. But there’s still some good things there. What happens in Toronto has nothing to do with what happened to the national team.”As much as U.S. fans don’t want to hear it, what Altidore says is true. It’s a professional survival mechanism that demands that players engage in selective amnesia. It has no doubt helped that Altidore plays his club soccer across the U.S. border — Toronto’s fans have long embraced him, his form for the U.S. national team having no bearing on the level of support he receives from his club. That can help the recovery process, and Altidore was pleased to repay the fans who have cheered him on.”It’s a big goal. I’m happy for it because the city means a lot to me,” he added. “I came here, I didn’t know what to expect. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t know what to expect from me. We were feeling each other out. But it’s a beautiful love story because I fell in love with this city, and I think the fans have fallen in love with me. I hope it’s the last club I play for.”There has been love from teammates, too. Michael Bradley has been on the receiving end of jeers since that October night in Trinidad as well, but he has long been grateful to have Altidore by his side.”When you’re standing in the tunnel on nights likes this, and you look behind you, when you see Jozy, it’s a damn good feeling because you know what he’s going to be about,” Bradley said.”You know that he’s going to give you everything he has. And on a night when it didn’t necessarily come easily or simply, and in a moment when nobody would have thought twice if he had gone off, he found a way to keep going and make a big play for us. I’m so proud of him, so happy for him, and we’re going to need one or two more the next week.”Given the state of Altidore’s ankle, there are some doubts about his health for the MLS Cup final on Dec. 9 and what level he’ll be able to play at. He doesn’t have any, however.”I’m playing in the MLS Cup final,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how or what the ankle is. You’re not taking that game from me.”The chance to complete a Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double is now in sight.

Four finalist cities named for next two MLS expansion teams

November 29, 20179:18AM ESTSimon BorgEditor-in-Chief

Four cities will be competing for the next two MLS expansion slots that are scheduled to be announced before the end of the year.MLS announced on Wednesday that the following four expansion bids (listed in alphabetical order) will make formal presentations to MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league’s Expansion Committee on Dec. 6 in New York:

Cincinnati

  • Carl H. Lindner III – Co-CEO of American Financial Group and Owner, Chairman and CEO of FC Cincinnati
  • Scott Farmer – CEO of Cintas Corporation

Detroit

  • Dan Gilbert – Owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Founder and Chairman of Quicken Loans, Inc.
  • Tom Gores – Owner of the Detroit Pistons and Founder, Chairman and CEO of Platinum Equity

Nashville

  • John Ingram – Chairman of Ingram Industries Inc. and CEO Nashville Soccer Holdings
  • Wilf Family – owners of the Minnesota Vikings
  • Turner Family – Managing Partners of MarketStreet Enterprises

Sacramento

  • Kevin Nagle – Managing Partner of Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings and Minority Owner of the Sacramento Kings
  • Jed York – CEO of the San Francisco Forty-NinersMark Friedman – President of Fulcrum Property Group and Minority Owner of the Sacramento Kings, and other limited partners.
  • Following the presentations on Dec. 6, a meeting of MLS’s Board of Governors on Dec. 14 in New York City will have additional discussions on expansion with ownership representatives from every MLS club.”The leaders of the Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento MLS expansion ownership groups have bold visions and innovative plans for their clubs, stadiums and their involvement in their respective communities,” Commissioner Garber said in a league statement. “We are pleased these highly-respected business and sports leaders have been so determined to bring Major League Soccer to their cities. We have been greatly encouraged by the progress that all four of these groups have made and we are looking forward to their presentations.”The four ownership groups above were among 12 markets that submitted formal bids in Januaryfor a total of four expansion slots as part of the league’s expansion to 28 teams. Los Angeles Football Club, which kicks off in 2018, will be the league’s 23rd club, while expansion discussions continue in Miami.The league made it clear that while only Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento are being considered for the next two expansion teams, all remaining markets are under consideration for the following two expansion clubs that will be announced at a later date. Those include Charlotte, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Raleigh/Durham, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa/St. Petersburg.

Is youth soccer training to blame for American team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup?

The U.S. national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup raises questions about youth soccer training in the United States. (Eric Sondheimer)Eric SondheimerContact

 

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The vision statement for US Club Soccer is pretty ambitious for an organization with some 500,000 youth participants and 70,000 registered coaches: “US Club Soccer will be the finest soccer organization in America and an integral part of U.S. National Team success.”Since the U.S. men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in three decades after a stunning loss to Trinidad and Tobago last month, the knives are out, the second guessing is plentiful and the panic is evident in resignations and recriminations.evin Payne, the CEO of US Club Soccer, isn’t going anywhere. He’s planning to dig in and try to help solve the issues of why American soccer is facing some immense challenges and what can be done to soothe a collective psyche that is reeling.“What is needed is to stop thinking there’s a single thing we need to do like throwing a light switch,” he said. “There’s a number of reasons countries produce better players than us. I would argue what they are taught in training is more important than where they are training. We lost a soccer game. We need to get better. Those in the business know we need to get better.”US Club Soccer is a member of the U.S. Soccer Federation, and Payne believes there needs to be a “culture change” in how to develop youth players.“The best way to measure soccer experience isn’t by wins and losses,” he said. “Our country for 30 years has encouraged youth soccer coaches to win games. That’s their mission. If you go to Argentina, Brazil, France or Germany, that’s not what the coaches are working on. They want to win matches, but the idea is how do we develop individual players?“We have to reorientate our thinking away from winning youth soccer games and more to developing good players. We have to convince parents and then convince coaches to look at their jobs that way.”Payne was chairman of a technical committee that helped create the elite Academy leagues in 2007 that were supposed to bring together top teenage boys’ players to train under top coaches in high-quality competitions. The league has resulted in numerous players being prevented from playing high school soccer in Southern California, leading to ill feelings and debate. They’re forced to choose one or the other.Now more trouble is brewing. U.S. Soccer is trying to do for the girls what it did for the boys, creating the girls’ version of the Academy league. This will be its first season, and girls’ players are abandoning high school teams in droves. West Hills Chaminade has lost eight players this season to the Academy league. Granada Hills lost its top two players.“Are these kids guaranteed a better opportunity for a national team spot or a college scholarship?” Chaminade girls’ coach Mike Evans asked.Boys’ players thought that was the case, but many have started returning to their high school teams. Payne does not agree with the way the Academy league has evolved and the conflicts it’s creating.“I’ve said long before we lost a soccer match in Trinidad the Academy program needs to be much more connected to youth soccer than it is,” he said. “It needs to be much more of a positive influence on the rest of the soccer environment in the way kids are trained.”Marvin Mires, the boys’ soccer coach at Downey, offered this opinion: “Payne and club soccer need to address the development of a player at the initial stages he is introduced to soccer. We are doing it all wrong, even the basics. Our players don’t know what foot to receive a ball with and what body position to have when receiving it. This would be the equivalent to how to pass a football or shoot a basketball.”Payne does not agree that a pay-to-play mentality is part of youth soccer. That’s what many critics say exists. If you have money, doors open.“If a kid has any talent to play for a club, they end up playing for the club,” he said. “The club will scholarship him. I don’t think there are too many kids missing out on soccer because they can’t afford to pay the fees to the club.”He said there are initiatives trying to bring more first- and second-generation Americans into the soccer movement.

So where does American soccer go from here?

“At the same time our nation was failing to qualify for the World Cup, our under-17 team won a game in the knockout round over Paraguay,” he said of a U.S. squad that reached the quarterfinals of the Biennial International Championship. “We shouldn’t look at the national team failing to qualify and scream, ‘We have to blow everything up because it’s all wrong’ just like we shouldn’t look at the win over Paraguay as everything is going great.“We do have to be willing to be more clear-eyed and self critical about the relative qualities of the players we’re developing. If I watch the national team for the top teams in the world, their players look different than our players. They’re more comfortable on the ball. They’re more natural in the way they move. They’re more tactically aware. Everything looks easier.“We’ve improved in the quality of players, but we’ve traditionally been able to bridge the gap through effort, athleticism and determination. We need to get to the point we have have the same but the soccer part gets better.’’Mires said one lesson must be learned.“Until club soccer decides how to coach coaches and how to develop players at the initial stages, we will always be behind,” he said.

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