2/23/18 US Ladies Play in Columbus, OH Thurs, Indy 11 lose close one, FA Cup Replays, Champ League Sweet 16, Man U vs Chelsea, Man City vs Arsenal Sun

The Indy 11 got the pre-season off to a good start with a close loss to FC Cincinnati 1-2 Thursday afternoon at Grand Park.  The 11 have added another MLS player Soony Saad on the forward line to join MLS Veteran Jack McInerney.  In fact it was Saad who scored the lone goal Thursday.  Remember to get your tickets now for the home season opener that kicks off Sat. night 7:30 pm March 31st at Lucas Oil.

OK – so I owe Huge apologies to the FA CUP.  Yes I was being high and mighty and lamenting the fact we didn’t have EPL soccer this past weekend while the FA Cup with blowouts galore would be on instead.  Man was I wrong – as Tottenham was tied by lowly Rochdale (League 1 foe 2 divisions below) 2-2 on Sunday, and Championship team Wigan (1 division below) beat mighty Manchester City 1-0 on Monday.  So yes I was wrong I will treat the Magnificent FA Cup with the proper reference it deserves moving forward as they go into the game 2 match-ups 2/27 & 2/28 and the Quarterfinals in March.  Oh and the “4 Cups” BS is done for Man City.  Speaking of Cups the League Cup is this Sunday 11:30 AM ESPN- Man City vs Arsenal at Wembley – first hardware of the season.  Also Sunday Man United hosts Chelsea at 9 am on CNBC or NBCSN and PSG host Marseille at 3 pm on beIN Sport.  Monday we get Dortmund and Christian Pulisic, who has the 3rd most minutes played this season vs Ausburg on Fox Sports on Monday at 2:30 pm.  And of course the defending World Champion US Ladies team comes to Columbus, OH to play Germany in the She Believe’s Cup this Thurs, Mar 1 at 7 pm.  Honestly assuming The Columbus Crew are probably moving to Texas next year – this might be your LAST CHANCE to See a US Team play in the GREATEST HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE IN US SOCCER HISTORY – in Columbus.  A Thursday night won’t be easy – but it might be worth the drive over.  Tickets are in the $35 to $50 range behind the goals. And you get both games – the England vs France game kicks off at 4 pm and the US Game follows at 7 pm.  Anyone interested in Traveling over – I have a hook up with American Outlaw tickets behind the US Goal.

Champions League Sweet 16 – Knockout Round – gave us another classic as Barcelona had to come from behind to tie Chelsea 1-1 at Stanford Bridge in London.  Chelsea’s Willian twice hit the post before finally sneaking one in during the 2nd half.  Despite dominating time of possession almost 75 to 25 – Barca really only had 2 shots with the Legendary Messi finally scoring his first ever goal against the Blues.  The return leg at Barcelona March 14th with the away goal to Barca’s favor.  Man United bore us to death but don’t lose on the road at Sevilla in 0-0 tie, Bayern slaughters Besiktas 5-0 and Shakhtar shocks Roma at Roma 2-1.  (See stories below) We get a week off before 2 weeks of Game Return Legs Mar 6/7, Mar 13/14.

So MLS is right around the corner – and the biggest change is TAM – or Target Allocation Money – which is honestly allowing teams across the league to bring in mainly Central and South American players in their early 20’s (before they are stars) to help bolster the rosters.  Think Atlanta United.  While this does increase the quality of play in MLS – it also seems to be squeezing out the young American players even more than the past few years.  Honestly other than Dallas FC – can you think of a team that actually plays its own young American homegrown academy players say more than 2 on the field, ah ever?  So while TAM might well be increasing the overall quality of the league – I wonder at what price to the American players trying to make their way thru MLS?  Will be interesting to see how MLS looks this year with the new TAM money and the increase in the overall Salary Cap for each team.  Oh and season kicks off in just 2 weeks with games on March 3rd and 4th.

Jeremy

Finally Congrats to our own GM of Carmel FC Jeremy Slivinski for joining the Indiana Soccer Foundation Board of Directors.  “I believe in the power of soccer playing a positive role in the lives of our youth, and building healthy rivalries within and between communities. As a coach, I get to see each week how I can play a positive role in the lives of my players,” Jeremy said.  “I love the sport of soccer. I realize that, like everything else, access to soccer isn’t available to all. I believe that giving back and providing opportunities for others like I had as a kid and like my children currently have is important.”   Jeremy currently serves at the General Manager for Carmel FC Travel Program as well 05 Boys Team Coach.  His day job is the CEO and Executive Director of Alpha Kappa Lambda Fraternity in Carmel. He received a BS in Mass Communication – Public relations from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.  Good luck on your extended roll on the Indiana Board my friend – they are getting a good one!

Goalkeeping

Top Saves in the Round of 16 UCL

Look at the Saves By De Gea vs Sevilla in Champions League

Indy 11

Indy 11 poised for strong 2018 – Brian Cook – indianasportscoverage.com

What a Starting 11 Could Look Like – Brian Cook – Indianasportscoverage.com

MLS Forward – Soony Saad signs with Indy 11

Schedule Starts to Come Together

Get Your Tickets now

Flex Pack of 8 games just $111

Soccer Saturday – Radio Show 9-10 am on 1070 the Fan

Champions League

Day 2 Update – SI – Jon Wilson

Bayern Rotation is Deadline in Rout of Besikas

Neymar needs Maturity to Raise his Game for PSG – Tom Vickery

Mueller is Special in Champions League

Chelsea – Conte – Sacking Talk no Issue

Conte’s Tactics vs Barca Worked

Conte’s Tactical Masterclass vs Barca Worked Almost – NBCSpoorts

3 things we learned Chelsea vs Barca

Vital Error Costs Chelsea a victory over Barca – sI

DeGea’s Saves – Save Man United in 0-0 Draw at Sevilla

Dortmund Thru to Europa Sweet 16

Arsenal loses to Ostersund at home but advances

Europa League Sweet 16 Draw Is Made

 USA

Jurgen Klinsmann was highest paid US Soccer employee in 2017 ESPNFC

Donovan on his Return, US Soccer and More – SI Grant Wahl

Sepp Blatter Backs Morocco World Cup over US in 2026

Another American Headed to Schlake in Germany – Zyen Jones

US Ladies Training in Orlando for She Believe Cup next Thursday

Jill Ellis Blazes Trail for Female Coaches with US Head Job

5 Things to Know about She Believes Cup US Ladies

WORLD

Power Rankings of Top Teams in World – Video

How will Man U and Chelsea Line-up on Sunday

Picks for EPL Games this Weekend

Conte Out by End of Season if Not Sooner at Chelsea to Madrid? – SI – Grant Wahl

MLS – Season Starts March 3

Toronto Wins in CCL

Things to Think About this season – MLs>com

Pitfalls for East Contenders?

Pitfalls for West Contenders?

Future of MLS Stadiums – Modular- midfieldpress.com

 

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

Great 2,000 SF place in La Porte, IN just 20 min from both Notre Dame and the lakeshore. 3 Br/2 Ba Place 4 beds on Stone Lake – check it out: https://abnb.me/EVmg/KjWULabehK

GAMES ON TV 

Sat, Feb 24

7:30 am NBCSN            Leicster City vs Stoke City (Cameron)

9:30 am FS2                    Bayern Munich vs Hertha

10 am  CNBC?               Liverpool vs West Ham

10:15 am beIN Sport                        Real Madrid vs Deportivo Alaves

12:30 pm Fox Soccer                       Werder Bremen vs Hamburger (Bobby Woods)

12:30 pm CNBC?         Watford vs Everton

Sun, Feb  25

9 am  CNBC?                  Man United vs Chelsea

9:30 am FS2                   Bayer Leverkusen vs Schalke

11:30 am ESPN             Man City vs Arsenal – LEAGUE CUP 

3 pm beIN Sport         PSG vs Marseille

Mon, Feb 26

2:30 pm FS1                   Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Ausburg

Tues Feb 28 ??

11 am FS1                        Tottenham vs Rochdale  – FA Cup Replay

Thurs, Mar 1

7 pm  ESPN2              US Ladies vs Germany (She Believes Cup @ MAPFREE Stadium Columbus, OH)

Sat, March 3

Sun, March 4                 MLS Starts

8:30 am NBCSN            Brighton vs Arsenal

11 am NBCSN                Man City vs Chelsea

12 noon ESPN               USA Ladies vs France (She Believes Cup)

10:15 beIN Sports      Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid 

5 pm ESPN                       Seattle Sounders vs LA FC

7:30 pm Fox Sport1  Sporting KC vs NYC FC

10 pm FS1                                                LA Galaxy vs Portland Timbers

Tues, Mar 6 – Champions League

2:45 pm FS1              PSG vs Real Madrid

2:45 pm Fox Sport2  Liverpool vs Porto

Weds, Mar 7  – Champions League

2:45 pm FS2                   Man City vs Basel

2:45 pm Fox Sport1  Tottenham  vs Juventus

Tues, Mar 13 – Champions League

2:45 pm FS1           Man United vs Sevilla

2:45 pm Fox Sport2                 Shakhtar  vs Roma

Weds, Mar 14 – Champions League

2:45 pm FS1                 Besiktas  vs  Bayern Munich

2:45 pm FS 2                Barcelona  vs Chelsea

EPL 2018 Schedule  

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

RECAP | INDY ELEVEN FALL IN FIRST PRESEASON MATCH TO FC CINCINNATI 1-2

By IndyEleven.com, 02/22/18, 7:15PM EST

Soony Saad nets first goal of 2018 for “Boys in Blue”

INDIANAPOLIS (February 22, 2018) – Indy Eleven fall short to FC Cincinnati in first preseason match-up by a score of 1-2.

The match started briskly with chances created by both sides during the opening minutes. In the fourth minute, FC Cincinnati fired a shot towards goal, but “New in Blue” goaltender Jordan Farr forced the ball from play with a diving save. Unfortunately, Farr’s save resulted in the young keeper picking up a shoulder injury and ended his match early. Just four minutes later, defender Tyler Pasher broke away up the left side of the pitch and crossed towards the center of Cincinnati’s box. The cross was met by an Indy trialist who nearly put the XI in an early lead, but was deflected by Cincinnati’s keeper.After battling for possession for much of the first period, Indy began to find its legs in its attack. In the 20th minute, Indy Eleven forward Eugene Starikov fought and retained possession as he stormed through the midfield. Once in the box, Starikov attempted to send one to the back of the next, but ultimately ended wide. Shortly after in the 26th minute, Indy Eleven defender Kevin Venegas made an end-to-end break up the right side of the pitch. With a quick through pass, Venegas’ ball found the feet of a trialist who nearly sent the ball to the back of the net once again, but Cincinnati’s keeper was quick to catch the attempt.Both sides continued to fight for possession late into the second period before FC Cincinnati found the first goal of the match. In the 49th minute, Cincinnati was awarded a penalty after an Indy Eleven trialist clipped the heel of FCC’s Forrest Lasso within the home side’s box. FCC newcomer Emmanuel Ledesma slotted the penalty home, giving the visitors the lead.The visitor’s lead was short lived when the “Boys in Blue” earned a penalty of their own in the 64th minute. Former Indy Eleven midfielder and one of FCC’s newest signings Blake Smith brought a player down in their penalty area, leading the match official to point to the spot. Indy Eleven’s newest signing Soony Saad stepped up to answer the call and sent the ball behind FCC’s Spencer Richey to level the score, 1-1.FC Cincinnati found the lead once more moments later. In the 65th minute, FCC’s Daniel Haber headed in the leading goal after meeting a cross from teammate Matthew Bahner.Despite the continued effort to create chances, Indy Eleven ultimately fell short and ended the day with an “L”. Although the home side didn’t come out on top, Indy Eleven head coach Martine Rennie found plenty of positive takeaways. “I think this is a game that everyone can be happy with,” Rennie said. “I was very pleased that we got the fitness and got the work. The players responded well to the messages we’ve been giving them. I’m very happy with the effort and the work we put in.”Indy entered the match just 10 days after they began preseason training. While most might take a loss hard, this was largely a learning opportunity for Coach Rennie and his squad. “I was happy with the chances we created and the saves we made,” Rennie said. “At this point, we’re just getting started.”The “Boys in Blue” will take to the pitch again next Wednesday, February 28th, as they welcome USL side Swope Park Rangers to the next preseason home match.Want to see more of the “Boys in Blue” this season? 2018 Season Ticket packages are available now! Click here for more on how you can save up to 48% this season.

With Jack McInerney signing, Indy Eleven make their intentions known

February 19, 2018  Brian Cook

There are no doubts that 2018 is going to be a difficult year for Indy Eleven. A virtually new team, a new head coach, new tactics, new league and a new stadium to fill. The timeline made shorter by not completely beginning this process until after the year began. Nevertheless, the moves made with players singing and re-signing has made the intentions of Indy Eleven known: They want to win.  Here are five takeaways from the preseason so far:

Brad Ring’s Return is Crucial

Lower division soccer is not new to high roster turnover. Younger players, more skillful options, and most of the time those options come at a cheaper rate. This was clearly a fear of fans with whispers that the league change would cause another visible shift in player salary budget. While the whispers were that, there were shouts about the fans desire to see Brad Ring return to Indy Eleven.Ring returns with a load of experience both with Indy Eleven and in his career in general. He is a leader on and off the field and represented the club with a large amount of poise.  His return gives Indy Eleven fans a familiar face to see but also gives the team a depth in the leadership position.

The Impact of Jack McInerney’s Signing Will be Felt in the Goal Count

One of the more visible things as the announcement of signings kept coming in was the huge question mark at the forward position. With Eamon Zayed gone the anchor for goals scored was left vacant. Justin Braun, who is returning from injury to Indy Eleven in 2018, was a goal scorer but his role was heavy with linking play and feeding the ball.

Enter Jack McInerney 

While statistically, he has fallen short since his 25 goals in 95 appearances with MLS’ Philadelphia Union, McInerney has had an itch. He bounced from the Union, Impact, Columbus Crew, Portland Timbers and the LA Galaxy. Now with Indy Eleven he brings a load of power, strength, MLS experience and one of the biggest perks of a guy in his situation

A chip on his shoulder

In certain areas that might hurt you but for McInerney I would imagine his goal is to show everyone that despite his struggles on the field he can still be a strong goal threat and if he starts will be a nice piece to pair with Justin Braun or any other forward.

The Backline may actually be in better shape than before:

In addition to the loss of Eamon Zayed, the loss of Colin Falvey was going to be a visible issue. While the backline for Indy Eleven let more things go past it than a dam in a flood Colin Falvey’s passion and leadership (in addition to Jon Busch) kept that group together and focused. There was a real togetherness of the backline which was something you truly hadn’t seen from Indy Eleven before.With the moves that Martin Rennie and the technical staff has brought in for defenders and the goalkeeper position it can almost be said that the backline has grown with the theory “addition by subtraction.” What I mean by that is while you lost key players you gained stronger, more versatile, and more fluid minded players.One of those key additions is the move to bring Ayoze Garcia Perez (As NASL fans would know him ‘Ayoze). Ayoze arrived after earning over 100 appearances with New York Cosmos. At age 32, he’s inching towards the end of his career but his vision and his skill fill in the hole left by a departing Colin Falvey. With the additions of Bradford Rusin, Reiner Ferreira, Kevin Venegas, Karl Ouimette, Tyler Pasher, as well as a player Rennie is familiar with in Carlye Mitchell the defense for Indy Eleven may arguably be one of their deepest players on the field.

So far so good:

While there hasn’t been a competitive ball kicked for Indy Eleven yet a lot of questions are being answered. The fear was clear that with the late start in roster moves there might be some bargain basement deals and clearly, Indy Eleven wants to make sure they hit their first league game running.Side note: If you aren’t following Martin Rennie on Twitter, DO IT. He is posting video after video of the players Indy Eleven has signed so far:

What a starting eleven for Indy Eleven could look like

February 21, 2018 Brian Cook

Soccer in the United States is sitting in that odd period of time in most sports offseasons. Training camps are beginning, schrimages are being held, players are being signed. Moves are being made and fans are hopeful for their teams chance in the coming season. For Indy Eleven, this is a dramatic change of pace after worrying for months whether they’d have a team to cheer for in 2018 not just a league to watch them in.In the spirit of it being way to early for things to be discussed let’s take a look at what a starting eleven might look like on opening day:

4-3-3

Lineup:

The lineup itself doesn’t fit what has been reported as a traditional favorite of head coach Martin Rennie. According to Soc Takes – Martin Rennie prefers a 4-3-3, which traditionally supports three center forwards, three central midfield, and a players backline. He also has preferences of a 4-4-2 which is heavily common in the American game and a 4-2-3-1 which Tim Hankinson struggled to develop during the 2016 season. What this lineup allows is that 4-3-3 mentality which we will touch on shortly as well as provide the width a traditional 4-3-3 might not.Primarly the lineup proposed depends on the health and fitness of Justin Braun. I truly believe in his ability but a lot of the questions will rest on how quickly he returns to form. That being said, if Braun isn’t starting material the lineup shifts pretty easily and I honestly could see this being more realistic towards what might happen:

With Steinberger in place of Speas and Speas on the left you get virtually the same mindset and skillset you need. Steinberger has that ability to push forward and create plays as well as making himself available for a pass. Guerra and Ring could hold down the midfield. The key would be to maintain the width because the fear would be with a traditional 4-3-3 narrow you run into a lack of width and pressure put on your left and right backs.This can easily change. Players like Nathan Lewis, the trinidad international, has a spot to fight for on the left side of the field. Regardless players like McInerney, Steinberger, Speas, and Ring should comfortably find themselves in the starting lineup unless there are issues regarding fitness.

A need for a natural rightback:

One thing is clear from looking at the roster as it starts now is the need for another right back. Currently, according to a few different sources, it looks like Kevin Venegas is the only natural rightback for Indy Eleven. In 2016 and 2017 this was an issue Indy Eleven faced at leftback by only have Nemanja Vukovic as the natural in that position. Obviously you have players who can play multiple positions but you really don’t need to leave yourself in a position where you are relying on a player who isn’t natural at that position. Even if it’s a young ex college player it would provide you a little piece at mind. It looks like Karl Ouimette, who I see being the starting centerback for Indy Eleven on the first day of the season, is the only one able to slide over to the right.

Lineup with the roles:

So, I’m a nerd. I love the computer game Football Manager. It’s allowed me to understand the game a lot more from a tactically side and comprehend some of the finer details of the game. When I look at the 4-3-3 lineup proposed (which can also really be shown as a 4-1-2-3 formation) I can see a number of things playing out.First of all, in order to give Jack McInterney the support he would need the two winged players would pinch in and attack as inside forwards. This gives Jack the support he needs while minimizing the risk that support gets cut off. In addition to that, with the forwards pinched the fullbacks can overlap and open up space for crosses into the box.According to the same report, Martin Rennie wants possession. He wants to hold onto the ball and play into the strengths of the club and attacking the weaknesses. The 4-1-2-3 proposed seems to best fit what we know he is looking for so far. It will be interesting to see how Indy Eleven does lineup before their first game but regardless the rebuild that the club is going through from the outside seems to, early on, be incredibly successful.

De Gea Briefly Takes Man United Focus From Pogba; Shakhtar Edges Roma in UCL

By JONATHAN WILSON February 21, 2018

Manchester United holds a narrow edge after the first leg of its Champions League last 16 tie after a goalless draw at Sevilla, although it took two stunning reaction saves by David De Gea to keep the score level.The big news before kickoff had been the absence from the starting lineup of Paul Pogba, although he ended up coming on after 17 minutes for Ander Herrera and played out the string, as United defended plenty in Spain, buoyed by its goalkeeper.In Wednesday’s other game, Shakhtar Donetsk came from behind to beat Roma 2-1. Facundo Ferreyra canceled out Cengiz Under’s opener early in the second half, and Fred whipped in a free kick off the underside of the bar with 19 minutes remaining to deliver the go-ahead strike.Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League, which wrapped up the first legs for the round:

DIGGING DEEPER INTO POGBA’S BENCHING

There have been rumors for some time that the relationship between Jose Mourinho and Pogba is not good, but that story took on new legs on Wednesday as the midfielder, signed for a then-record £89.3 million in the summer of 2016, was left out of United’s starting XI in Seville. Pogba had been taken off in United’s recent defeats to both Tottenham and Newcastle.In the former, he had repeatedly engaged in animated conversations with his manager who was seemingly unhappy with how he had played; in the latter, Mourinho made little secret of his disappointment with Pogba. He condemned his lack of a jump when attempting to defend the free kick from which Newcastle scored the game’s only goal and then said he had taken him off because he wanted “a better way to come out in the first phase” with more “simplicity,” the clear implication being that Pogba was over-complicating matters.There were reports then of a dressing-room row as Mourinho criticized Pogba and Phil Jones, and stories subsequently surfaced that Pogba had asked for a change of shape to 4-3-3. That shape came in Seville, but without him (or Jones) being part of it. Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup win over Huddersfield through illness and it was hard not to see his relegation to the bench as significant. Mourinho, after all, had described his replacement, Scott McTominay, three days ago as having “a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches…” which is as true about him as it is notably untrue about the man he replaced.But within 16 minutes Pogba was in action as Herrera, who hadn’t played for three weeks and that as a sub, pulled up with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. In what is in theory his strongest position, on the left of a midfield three, though, the former Juventus player was barely involved.

STALEMATE IN SPAIN

Sevilla-Man United on the field was stodgy, far more cautious than the majority of the round of 16 ties so far, more like a traditional European first leg. But after 44 minutes in which there had been almost no meaningful goalmouth action, De Gea pulled off two startling reflex saves in the space of a minute, first from a Stephen Nzonzi header and then, even more spectacularly, one from Luis Muriel, who found himself unmarked four yards out. The stats showed that Sevilla created far more chances than United (25 to 6), but there was a lack of urgency to the hosts’ attack, and it was easy to see why they are among the bottom half of scorers in the Spanish top flight.United’s only real chance had come after 25 minutes, as Alexis Sanchez picked out Romelu Lukaku with a clever lofted diagonal pass. It fell on his favored left foot, just inside the box, but such is his lack of confidence these days that the Belgian never looked like scoring. Still, given Mourinho had seemingly set up to close the game down, he was probably happy enough with the outcome leading into a weekend league clash vs. Chelsea.

A TALE OF A NEW PROSPECT AND A FORMER ONE

Cengiz Under has only started nine league games in his Roma career. The Turkish winger is only 20 and he hadn’t scored for Roma until Feb. 4, when he got the opener in a win over Verona. Since then, he hasn’t been able to stop scoring. He got two more against Benevento in Roma’s next game and then the opener in a 2-0 win over Udinese at the weekend. He broke the deadlock Wednesday as well, running onto Edin Dzeko’s neat angled pass and beating Andriy Pyatov with a slightly mishit finish.Facundo Ferreyra, nicknamed “Chucky” after the doll in the Child’s Play films, perhaps knows how he feels as expectation grows. The 26-year-old was once hailed as the future of Argentinian football, but after a proposed move to Europe fell through following Banfield’s relegation in 2012 and he ended up joining Velez Sarsfield, his focus seemed to waver. Ferreyra was criticized as ponderous, his attitude questioned.He did eventually get his move to Europe in 2013, joining Shakhtar after finally hitting form with Velez, but almost immediately he suffered an ankle injury and ended up being loaned to Newcastle, where he didn’t start a game before returning to Ukraine. Finally, in the last couple of season, the goals have begun to flow: 16 in 28 games last season then 20 in 26 this before Wednesday’s match when he found the equalizer with a strong run and neat finish on the counter. A Fred free kick sealed a 2-1 win for the home side, but Ferreyra missed a golden chance to make it 3-1, his close-range shot deflecting over off the outstretched boot of the grounded Bruno Peres.

Conte gets tactics spot on but Messi has last laugh

By Joe Prince-WrightFeb 20, 2018, 5:56 PM EST

LONDON — Before the game Antonio Conte‘s tactics were the talk of the press room at Stamford Bridge, plus pubs and television studios around the world.After the game his decision to play Eden Hazard in a false nine position, flanked by Willianand Pedro, and leave out his two star center forwards, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, was lauded. This was a reminder of the man who led Chelsea to Premier League glory last season and also a reminder of Chelsea’s successful past against the Catalan giants as they’re now unbeaten in their last eight UCL encounters as the clash of styles continues.[ MORE: 3 things we learned | Recap ] 

Conte is under pressure with just five wins in his last 13 games in all competitions, but this was a tactical masterclass from the Italian coach as his side totally bought into his plan and without a mistake from Andreas Christensen late on, it would have been an archetypal Italian defensive display leading to a 1-0 win to take to the Nou Camp.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Conte believed his players were incredibly unlucky to not win the game as Willian struck the post twice in the first half and they threatened multiple times on the counter.“We were very close to playing the perfect game. One mistake and we know very well when you make a mistake against Barcelona and players like Messi, Suarez and Iniesta you pay. It is a pity because tonight, at the end of the game, we are disappointed for the final result,” Conte said. “We hit the post twice with Willian. There is a bit of disappointment but I think that this game must give us confidence to trust that in the second leg that qualification is open. It won’t be easy. We must be realistic. We are talking about Barcelona. Tonight we showed that if we are ready to work very hard together defensively, but at the same time you continue to have the right feeling when you win the ball to create chances to score, we can try to do something incredible at the Nou Camp.”The one wrench in Conte’s plan was always going to be one incredible player: Lionel Messi.Without a goal in eight games (730 minutes in total) against Chelsea, the five-time World Player of the Year stroked home a killer away goal 15 minutes from time to swing the tie back into Barcelona’s favor after Conte’s masterclass. Messi, 30, once again arrived at the pivotal moment for the La Liga leaders and the Argentine star sprung into life as Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta made the most of Christensen’s mistake.Messi’s presence on the ball sparked nervousness within the Chelsea defense but it looked like he would leave empty hand once again until he was gifted a chance to silence the doubters.Barcelona had 73 percent of possession on Tuesday and attempted 887 passes to Chelsea’s 325. They looked comfortable in a cauldron of noise at Stamford Bridge and even though they were vulnerable on the counter, they never looked too flustered but only had two real chances via Paulinho in the first half and Suarez in the second.Despite following the blueprint to get a result against Barcelona almost to a tee, Cesc Fabregas believes the Blues will have to be more expansive at the Nou Camp in the second leg to get through to the quarterfinals.“We have showed that we can compete and we will need another excellent performance at the Nou Camp to go through,” Fabregas told BT Sport. “You have to have a lot of personality to play against this team who has 70 percent of the ball. We have to go there to attack and score because 90 minutes defending at the Nou Camp is an eternity, it is a suicide mission. We have to play our game.”As for Barcelona’s manager Ernesto Valverde, he admitted that he was a happy man to escape West London with a draw but urged his side to respect Chelsea’s style of play in the second leg.“It has been a clash of styles this game, two different teams,” Ernesto said. “We tried to control the game, had a lot of possession and got close to the area. We were just lacking a little bit of extra quality in the final third. They defended very well. The good thing is we managed to get an error and get a goal out of them. We will go back to the Camp Nou happy.”Conte was happy his players followed his gameplan and believes they must believe they can deliver killers blows on the break in Barcelona in two weeks time with Willian, Pedro and Hazard key to the plan.“I must be pleased because the players did a great effort and they followed the plan we prepared,” Conte said. “In 15 days we must be ready to prepare for another game against Barcelona. We must be prepared to suffer together but in the moment you are suffering, you must know that the moment you are in possession you can create a chance to score.”Chelsea need at least one goal to go through or to take the game to extra time, but given their spirited display at Stamford Bridge there’s renewed hope that Conte can mastermind another defensive masterplan to get them into the last eight for the first time since 2014.

U.S. women’s national team trains in Orlando ahead of SheBelieves Cup

Alex Morgan, also a forward for the Orlando Pride, said the United State’s Women’s National Team said the team is preparing to face some of the top teams in the world in the SheBelieves Cup. Jordan Culver

There wasn’t much chance the U.S. women’s national team would look past the competition during the SheBelieves Cup in March — there’s just too much motivation to perform well in the four-team tournament.The Cup is hosted in the United States and it brings together four of the top six women’s soccer national teams in the world, including the U.S.If those factors weren’t enough, it’s also a World Cup qualifying year.After the U.S. men finished in fifth place in the final round of qualifying, missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1986, the women’s team is eager to secure its spot in next year’s Women’s World Cup in France.It starts with the SheBelieves Cup, which opens March 1 at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The women’s team is training at ChampionsGate in Orlando ahead of the tournament.“Unfortunately, we saw what happened with the men,” said goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, who also plays for the Orlando Pride.“We’re not taking this as a joke. We’re not taking it lightly. Every team we face, we have to gain something out of it. These are great games to have against some of the best teams in the world. I think this is going to prepare us for the big picture, and that’s qualification.“We’re not looking past any of that. For us, we have to qualify in order to get there in 2019. That starts here in Orlando. That started Jan. 1 with our training camp in L.A. Right now, we’re just trying to continue to build our bond and be cohesive.”U.S. coach Jill Ellis said “focus” is the word that’s permeating the team as it trains for what promises to be a challenge — even if the tournament will be played at venues in the United States, including Orlando City Stadium on March 7.Forward Mallory Pugh echoed what Harris said. The 19-year-old pro for the Washington Spirit had two unassisted goals in a January friendly against Denmark.“Obviously, what happened with the men is heartbreaking,” she said. “I think that as a women’s national team, we just need to bring it and just make sure we get the job done.”Pride forward Alex Morgan said the team is also motivated by it’s last-place finish in the 2017 SheBelieves Cup.“This tournament’s always a really fun one because it’s super competitive,” she said. “Top teams in the world are competing here and it’s on our home turf. I feel like there’s even more pride for us to want to win these games.”

Landon Donovan: On His Return With León, U.S. Soccer’s Present and USMNT’s Future

By GRANT WAHL February 22, 2018

On the new Planet Fútbol Podcast, Landon Donovan gave his most detailed interview yet since deciding to come out of retirement and play for Club León in Mexico. His interview touched on a wide range of topics, from what led to his decision to play in Mexico to what he’s capable of in pure soccer terms these days to his reaction to the U.S. Soccer election and who he would like to see as the next U.S. men’s national team coach.Here are some of the standout quotes for Donovan’s long and candid interview, which can be listened to in full in the podcast console below (to subscribe to and download the podcast, you can find us on iTunes here):

On why he wanted to come out of retirement and play for Club León:

“It’s a simple question, not a simple answer. It wasn’t a slam-dunk yes, and it wasn’t a slam-dunk no when it happened. I was home, very happy in retirement with my family in San Diego, enjoying life, doing what I wanted when I wanted more or less. And I got a phone call from my agent, Richard Motzkin, asking if I had any remote interest in playing again. And I said, ‘No thanks. I appreciate it, but no.’ And he said, ‘OK, just so you know, a team in Mexico called and asked if you would have any interest in it.’ Kind of left it at that. So I went to sleep, didn’t think much of it. The next day he called back and said, ‘Listen, they’re really interested in having you come. They’re looking for a player that’s got experience and someone who can help them on the field, help them off the field. They would really like a chance to speak to you.’ And it sort of developed a little bit from there.”“I maybe gave it a 1 percent chance at that point and told them I would keep an open mind about it. And as the day went on, I thought about it. I spoke to my wife quite a bit about it. And they kept calling and reaching out. The owner called and wanted to speak to me. In the end, it kind of goes to the power of going after something you want. And I give them a lot of credit for convincing me and making me feel wanted. I told my agent that I would make a trip down here to watch a cup game they had and kind of get to know the city a little bit and get to know the people involved. And I would come with an open mind. And sure enough, the minute I got here I really fell in love with it and thought it would be a great opportunity for my family, a great life experience and fun to play soccer again with good soccer players.”

On wanting to play the game again when he still has the opportunity in his life:

“It’s interesting. Because when you’re away from it, and you know as we’ve spent time on different road trips doing Fox telecasts, you see the game differently and it’s been enjoyable for me to be up in the booth commentating and watching the game and learning the game from a different perspective. But you also get excited, you know. The gamedays make me excited when we’re there in the MLS playoffs or we’re there at national team games. The gamedays are exciting, and that energy can’t be replaced or manufactured anywhere else in life. And so I have had some time to gather some perspective and realize that I’m 35, I’m going to be 36 soon. Just physically, there’s no way I could do this for many more years. So if it is something that in any way interests me I should think about it seriously. That was sort of the processing that I went through. Now it’s not like I was waking up every day wishing I could go play soccer again. I had played enough and long enough and done enough in my career that I was satisfied. But there is something special about being able to go out on a soccer field every day and run around and kick a ball. And I’ve really enjoyed it in the month that I’ve been here.”

On whether he had ever come close to signing with a Mexican team in the past:

“I had. My second stint that I went to Everton [in 2012], during that time Club América had reached out to my agent and told him that they were very interested in having me come on a short-term loan, like I did with Everton. And in the end I decided I was definitely interested in it. In the end I decided to go to Everton. It was something I knew. I knew the people. It was an enjoyable experience the previous time, so that was the decision. But it was certainly something I considered. For long stretches of my career, although it was very intriguing, candidly I just was concerned from a safety perspective, because I had said and done a lot of stupid things when I was young regarding the Mexican soccer team and the rivalry between the U.S. and Mexico. I just didn’t know how I’d be received. I think as you get older and you have perspective and experience I realized that if not for that rivalry and if not for growing up playing with Mexicans I wouldn’t be the player I was. I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve had. I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy playing as much in those rivalry games. I wouldn’t have learned to speak Spanish. I mean, there’s so much I can credit to the Mexican culture and society and people. And so when this opportunity came about, that was a big piece of it too.”

On what he wanted to communicate when he joined Club León and said, “I don’t believe in walls”:

“Unfortunately, as you know when you travel a lot, people perceive us as being the same as our politicians and in particular our president, right? So unfortunately everywhere I go these days it’s, ‘You guys are all racist. You all hate Mexicans. You hate Africans. You hate everybody else in the world.’ And everybody assumes we are like our president. And I just wanted to make sure that I was very clear with how I feel. I grew up in Southern California, so I have an affinity for not only Mexicans but all Latin-Americans. And my family is Canadian, and my dad came to America many years ago. So while I can understand some people’s political points of view in not wanting open borders, I’ve benefited greatly from it in many different ways. And I know many, many, many hundreds if not thousands of people who have become Americans or just contribute greatly to the American society. So I wanted the people here to know where I stood on that and make it very clear.”

On what has been the hardest thing to adjust to in pure soccer terms playing again:

“Just the physical piece of it. And it’s not just the running. I could run at home for five weeks, but you’re still not soccer fit. And then at altitude it’s at a whole different level. So the second day I trained, we did some drills where there are two big goals with goalies and you just play 1v1 against the player. And so you try to score and if you don’t score the other guy gets the ball and they try to score against you. And after like seven seconds I was exhausted, just because physically confronting someone like that is so different than even running or training. Then you throw in the altitude, too. So that piece of it—just getting my physical elements back—has been the hardest part, and I think we’re a month in and just now do I feel like I’m physically able to perform at the level that I want to.”

On what’s realistic to expect from what he can do on the field at this stage of his career:

“I look at it maybe differently than other people do. For me, the expectation is winning. And so I’m not worried about if I score, how I play, if I can still run the same way, if I’m getting assists. I want to help win. And I said that to the coach when I spoke to him the first time. I don’t want to come in and be the guy who’s taking someone’s spot or who’s being a distraction for the team. I just want to help. I don’t need accolades. I don’t need those things. I want to lift a trophy and be a part of something like that that’s special. So any way I can do that, I want. Now from the outside, I don’t know what people are expecting or what they think. But my expectation is to help in any way I can, even if it’s at halftime and I’m helping a young player position himself better so in the second half he doesn’t get beat and we don’t get scored on. That’s where my mindset is.”

On whether he can be a 90-minute player now:

“I haven’t thought about it much, but as you ask the question, I can be a 90-minute player, just probably not 35 times a year. So if there are games where that’s what’s asked for, of course I can do it. It’s what I’ve done my whole life. But if you ask me to do it three times in a week that’s probably not with a high quality of play. Again, the objective is to help, and if that means five minutes a game or a half-hour a game or 45 or 60 minutes a game, then that’s how I want to help.”

On how he feels about Carlos Cordeiro winning the U.S. Soccer presidency:

“In the end, there were probably three or four people I personally would have been O.K. with had they become the president, one of whom was Carlos Cordeiro. What I think I was worried about, and I think a lot of people in the soccer world were worried about, was one of the other four people becoming president and what that might have meant for U.S. Soccer. So it’s really easy when you’re sitting at home every day watching TV and sitting on the Internet to pick apart U.S. Soccer, to pick apart what’s good and what’s bad. But the reality is that there’s so much more involved, and 99 percent of the people have no idea what’s involved on a real level. And so I think in the end the right person won.

Carlos is someone I’ve always gotten along well with, someone who despite what fans think is not the establishment, is not the same as Sunil [Gulati] in any way. Carlos was the one person from everything I have heard who would stand up to Sunil in board meetings and stand up for things he believed in, even if they were unpopular. And so he is I think a good choice for the job, and I think he’ll do a very good job. I just think it was probably more than anything time for change. Sunil has done so much for soccer in this country and he has literally dedicated his life to making this thing better. And most people in our soccer world are relatively new fans, and so they don’t understand all that Sunil has done. I certainly do, and he’s going to be a big part of everything we do probably until he decides to not be, and it should be that way. And so he should be respected for that, but I think everyone realized, probably including Sunil as time has gone on, that it was time for change for everybody. And that change can be good if it’s handled in the right way.”

On the four candidates he would have been O.K. with as U.S. Soccer president:

“This is not necessarily an indictment on the four who I would not have been O.K. with. It’s just that I didn’t get to know enough from them. So I never spoke to Mike Winograd. I never spoke to Hope Solo in this circumstance. I briefly communicated with Paul Caligiuri, and I briefly communicated with [Eric] Wynalda. The other four reached out to me consistently and asked questions and kind of pitched their ideas. And I think although [Kyle] Martino wouldn’t have been the perfect choice in a lot of ways because of his lack of experience, I think his heart was in the right place and he would have done a good job. Kathy Carter is someone I’ve respected for a long time and has done a lot for soccer in this country. Obviously had some conflicts of interest that probably are what crippled her in the end. Carlos, I alluded to. And I spoke quite a few times with Steve Gans, who I grew to like and respect quite a bit. And I think his heart was absolutely in the right place. And this was something that he was really passionate about. So those four left a good impression on me.”

On what he thinks is most important that needs to change in U.S. Soccer:

“The part that I personally am most passionate about is youth development. And that goes for boys and girls, men and women. I don’t have the experience on the women’s side, so there would be people much better suited to handling that. But for me, the part that I’m most passionate about and that I think we still have a long way to go with is the youth development part. I just see too many really good players being developed around the world, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why we aren’t doing the same. My goal is I want to win a World Cup. Not me as a player, but as a U.S. Soccer fan I want to win a World Cup. And the way you do that is by developing players that can win a World Cup. And I just don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of it.”

On being tied with Clint Dempsey as the all-time leading goal-scorer for the U.S. men’s national team, and whether Donovan has any interest in playing again for the national team:

“Nobody knows this, but the only reason I decided to play again was to get another goal [laughs]. Of course, I have interest to play for the national team. But what I would say is my interest at this point, considering there’s no meaningful real games on the horizon—meaning qualifying or World Cups—and certainly by that point even if I want to keep playing my body won’t allow me to. What I would be interested in is helping. And if the idea is that for the next couple years there’s going to be a group of young players that are being brought in to get experience and learn, I would love to be there to help them through it. Not even necessarily playing, but just being in camp to help them and use my experience. So if that’s possible—and whoever the coach is is interested in that—I would absolutely love to do that and be a part of that. That would be fulfilling for me.”

On who he would like to see as the next coach of the USMNT:

“Personally, I would like to see an American. I think Americans as a general comment understand the American player better. They understand the league better. They understand the culture better. And it’s better for the development of our coaches in this country to have that experience. So there are a few coaches that I think would fit that bill as Americans … I think Peter Vermes has been excellent in Kansas City. I got to know him a little bit last year. [Gregg] Berhalter I think has done a really good job with very limited resources in comparison to some of the other teams. I think Greg Vanney has been terrific in Toronto. Caleb Porter has done a great job. Times are much different, and now there are a number of good young American coaches who have really done a good job, and they’re more in tune with the modern game and I think would be well-suited to coach the national team.”

Warshaw: What I think, fear and want for MLS in 2018

February 22, 20181:52PM ESTBobby WarshawContributor

MLS is back in two weeks – it’s time to make some predictions. I’m not brave enough to pick standings (Portland fans made sure of that), so let’s try to ID some trends we could see in 2018.Soccer reflects life, and life reflects soccer, so sometimes it’s best to break it down to the most basic human functions:

Thought. Fear. Desire.Here’s what I think will happen this year, what I worry will happen, and what I want to happen.

THINK Games will start to take on unique identities. For most of MLS history, almost any two MLS games looked similar. Both teams entered the game with similar styles and mindsets. They pressed each other in the middle of the field and tried to score in transition. The variance began to appear around 2010 or so, but in 2018, it’ll be next-level.

Two reasons:

First, parity may not be dead, but it’s decreasing. Toronto FCNYCFCAtlanta, as well as possibly PortlandSeattle and the LA Galaxy, could each dominate the ball for larger portions of the game than we’ve seen in previous eras. While the dominant Galaxy or Houston Dynamo teams of yesteryear could outplay their opponents, they rarely teased them around the field.Toronto this year might actually torture opponents at BMO. I don’t see how some teams can go to Toronto, line up in the status quo and get a positive result. We should start to see more teams truly sit deep and wait for a counterattacking opportunity. One game on the weekend might look like an attacking/defending training exercise, while another game might be end-to-end.Second, a few clubs have started to build true identities. Jesse Marsch has his New York Red Bulls playing an energetic, get-to-the-goal-as-quick-as-possible style; Veljko Paunovic has the Chicago Fire assuming a we-dare-you-to-come-and-get-it pose; NYCFC and Columbus are always going to play flowing, interchanging soccer. You might no longer turn on an MLS game simply to watch a “game” – you could be tuning in to watch a certain type of game or style of play.

FEAR We are going to lose a year of development on a few promising young domestic players. Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) has undoubtedly raised the overall quality of the league, but it’s also made it tougher for young players to win minutes. Andrew CarletonChris DurkinAyo Akinola and Paxton Pomykal have each witnessed a new high-caliber international signing join their club at their position.I don’t want to see young players gifted minutes, but I also don’t want to see them get buried behind multiple people. It’s not about handing a younger player anything, but rather having a realistic pathway to ease him to the appropriate level. The farther a young player is down the depth chart, the tougher it is for not only the coach to validate putting him on the field, but also for the player to catch a lucky break.WANT More players to show personality. Players are often tentative about stepping outside of the box, often wondering how they might get perceived, mostly by their coaches and teammates; they don’t want to be considered unfocused, or might worry about how they come across in interviews.  They feel their best course of action is to keep their heads down and their mouths shut. I don’t blame any player for wanting to handle his business on the field first, but I’d certainly like to see guys express themselves more.People don’t just turn on games to watch the sport – they tune in to watch the players. I don’t give a crap about basketball, but I’ll watch LeBron James every time he’s on national TV. LeBron is fun and engaging and feels like a real person. How many players in MLS can we say that about who aren’t in our home market? It’s not just that LeBron is “King James,” it feels like LeBron is more than an athlete robot.In postgame interviews, I hope to see players give answers beyond “We really battled as a group,” or “The ball just didn’t bounce our way.” I want players to give real answers. The more we know about a player and the more we can understand him and relate to him, the more likely we are to talk about him and cheer for him. Get on Twitter and Instagram and be a real person; don’t just pander and put up pictures of the training field and workouts.Erstwhile Sounder Brad Evans gave Seattle fans a glimpse into his life via Instagram and the city fell in love with his dog, only adding to his status as an Emerald City legend. And Ike Opara didn’t have any qualms with voicing his displeasure over being left off last season’s All-Star roster, and it added to his credibility with the “take-no-crap” SKC faithful.MLS needs personalities in the playing ranks. My biggest wish for 2018 is that a few guys step up and give fans a new reason to turn on the TV.

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