3/23/18  INDY 11 Kicks Off USL Season Sat, Special $15 Tix for Indy Home Opener, Top Teams-Brazil, Spain, Germany, England + More this weekend, USA vs Paraguay Tues 7:30 FS1, Zlatan aka IBRA coming to LA Galaxy

So it’s the final warm-up for World Cup Teams in this last international window before this summer’s World Cup.  Some great games today and over the next 5 days as World Cup favorites Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina and France will all be playing.  Check out this spec goal from who else – Messi in warm-up training before today’s game with Italy on beIN Sport at 3:45 pm.  That will follow Russia hosting Brazil at 12 noon on BeIN Sport.  France hosts Colombia and James at 4 pm on ESPN3 and this evening Mexico hosts Iceland at 10:30 pm on Fox Sport 1.  Monday gives us Russia vs France at 12:50 on ESPN Des/ESPN3, England vs Italy on FS1 at 3 pm, Germany vs Brazil on ESPN3, Spain vs Argentina at 4 pm on ESPN Desp, and Mexico vs Croatia at 11 pm on FS1.  Of course the USA rolls out the youngsters again vs Paraguay at 8 pm on Fox Sport 1 Tuesday.  I am interested to see how the kids play as most of the European Contingent  – (except Pulisic – who continues to battle for a starting spot at Dortmund) will be on hand.

Just a little over 1 more week until the Indy 11 open their 1st USL season home season vs FC Cincinnati on Saturday night, March 31st at 7 pm at their new home – Lucas Oil Stadium and we have a Special Ticket Offer from the 11 as we look to fill the stadium and welcome the over 2000 Cincy fans expected to make the trek.  Of course the USL Regular season starts for the Indy 11 this weekend as our Boys in Blue head to Virginia to take on Richmond.  I do expect returning players Brad Ring and Ben Speas to both start this weekend – other than that honestly I don’t know.  But I have assembled some stories from folks who do and you can find them below.  Help fill the Luke – Sat, March 31st with discounted tickets to the Opening Game!  {Promo code 2018indy}.

So huge news in MLS this week – first the All-Star Opponent was named it will be EUFA Champions League 2nd place finishers Italy’s Juventus and and 2nd Zlatan Ibrahimovic – of Sweden and recently Man United fame is joining MLS and the LA Galaxy this summer.  He announced his move in the LA Times with this ad.   The gregarious, boisterous, yet a times spectacular Zlatan – referred by me and most of the world simply as IBRA – will be fun to watch in MLS.  Does he have any gas left in those 36 Year-old legs – read  the stories under MLS below to see – but I for one will be tuning in to see.  I love me some IBRA – who once said he would stay at PSG if they renamed the Eiffel Tower IBRA and put his face on the top of it.  He’s obnoxious, but man in his prime he was one of the top Forwards in the World !

INDY11

Help fill the Luke – Sat, March 31st with discounted tickets to the Opening Game!  {Promo code 2018indy}.

USL Soccer Update Week 3/24–25

 

Bloody Shambles Predictions  First Game vs Richmond

1st Game Preview – Bloody Shambles

Soc Takes – Podcast and Interview with BYB President Josh Mason

Ladyvictoryandherquestfor glory.com Preview of Richmond

Preview of the USL 2018 Season –Soc Takes.com

Indy 11 Tie Jacksonville 0-0 at home

Indy 11 Beat Chicago Fire 2-0

Indy 11 Away Games Streamed Live online on You Tube

Season: IndySoccerTix.com (save on ticket fees!)
Flex Packs: http://ie6.glitnirticketing.com/ieticket/store/index.php?s_category_id=34
Single Game: http://ie6.glitnirticketing.com/ieticket/mobile/evlistm.php?refresh=1520098544

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

Soccer vs Baseball in USL Stadiums – Soctakes.com

Watch the Away Games for the Indy 11 and All USL Games on YouTube

USA

US Questions for this Game – Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

US Names 22 man Youthful squad for Tues Friendly vs Paraguay

US Continues Youth movement in Call-Up MLS.com

Matt Miazga – We are all Ready to Make an Impact for the US – NBC Sports

Tim Weah Earns first Senior Club Callup

Andrija Novokovich Honored with US Callup from Reading

How Again Did The USA Not Qualify for the World Cup?  – HOWLER MAG

The Reason Chicago and Other Cities Refused Bid for 2026 World Cup

Morroco vs North American World Cup Bid notes

Alex Morgan Faces big challenge in Orlando

WORLD GAMES

Pre World Cup Best Play Rankings

Best Games in this Last Pre – World Cup Friendlies

FIFA To Use VAR in World Cup – thank God!

Buffon Says Italy Fans Silly sometimes

Juve Legend Gigi Buffon Sees Return to Italian National Team as Tribute to the recently fallen Davide Astori

France Rides the Youth

Fringe Midfielder’s Have Lots to Prove for Mexico this Week – sI

Messi’s Spectacular Goal in Training

Power Rankings – Barca Back on Top, Madrid and Liverpool Climb

MLS

Ibra Coming to MLS and LA Galaxy

Is Ibra Still Good Enough to Make a Difference in MLS?  – SI – Grant Wahl

Dempsey loses cool Red Card by VAR in 3-0 loss to Dallas

MLS to Play Juventus in MLS All Star Game

EPL

FA Cup Semi’s are Set Man U vs Spurs and Chelsea vs Saints

Salah looking like Suarez in his Reds for Liverpool

Salah on a Tear – has more goals than Messi

World Player Rankings has Liverpool’s Salah on Top

Man U players shocked at Mourino’s treatment of Shaw

GAMES ON TV 

3/23-3/27 International Break

 Fri Mar 23

12 noon BeIN Sport                          Russia vs Brazil

1 pm FS2                           Norway vs Australia

3:45 pm beIN Sport                          Argentina vs Italy

4 pm ESPN3                    France vs Columbia

10:30 pm Fox Sport 1                      Mexico vs Iceland

Sat, Mar 24 

1 pm be IN Sport        Sweden vs Chile

3:30 pm Univision     Dallas vs Portland (MLS)

5 pm Youtube      Indy 11 @ Richmond Kickers  (BYB Watch Party @ Union Jack Broad Ripple-924 Broad Ripple Ave)

7 pm Youtube               Tampa Bay Rowdies vs Bethlehem Steel

Mon, Mar 26

2:30 pm ESPN3            Portugal vs Netherlands

Tues, Mar 27 

12:50 pm ESPN Desp                        Russia vs France

3 pm Fox Sports 1      England vs Italy

3:45 pm  ESPN3           Germany vs Brazil

4 pm ESPN Desp          Spain vs Argentina

8 pm Fox Sport 1  USA vs Paraguay

11 pm Fox Sports 1   Mexico vs Croatia

Sat, Mar 31

7 am beIn Sport          Eibar vs Real Madrid

7:30 am NBCSN            Crystal Palace vs Liverpool

9:30 am FS1                    Schalke vs Freiburg

10 am NBCSN                Man United vs Swansea

12:30 pm NBCSN        Everton vs Man City

12:30 pm FS1 ?    Bayern Munich vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

3 pm Fox               LA Galaxy vs LAFC 

Sun, Apr 1                      

8:30 am NBCSN            Arsenal vs Stoke City

10:30 am FS1                 Werder Bremen ( ) vs Frankfurt

11 am  NBCSN      Chelsea vs Tottenham 

3 pm ESPN                       Atlanta United vs DC United

World Cup on Fox

EPL 2018 Schedule  

MLS 2018 Schedule

Indy 11 Shedule

USL Games online

MLS TV Games

Read All the stories online – at https://www.theoleballcoach.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

A Preview of the Season to Come by the BYB

The pre-season games are over. You know what that means, right? It means the post pre-season, aka season, is underway. USL teams played their first games last weekend. But, none of those matches mattered because Indy XI didn’t play. So, let the record show – this upcoming weekend is officially the opening weekend for USL’s 2018 season. We play the Richmond Kickers – a team with a rich history within the rapidly evolving annals of American soccer. But, none of that matters because Indy XI is 110% certain to thrash them 11-0.  Indy XI comes into the game on the back of a strong pre-season. Convincing wins against Notre Dame, Swope Park Rangers and Chicago Fire (no caveats necessary about the strength of their playing XI), were the highlights of a seven-game preseason for your Boys in Blue. Here are some stats because we know you soccer nerds love them:

•    Players who have excelled:  literally every player has been rated 10/10 by trancefurmarkt dot com
•    Players who have struggled:  Alexis Sanchez
•    Living legend:  Brad Ring
•    Hat tricks:  ‘There’s only’ Juan Guerra
•    Haircuts:  Steve Braun
(Based on Guerra hat trick, the predicted score line has been updated to 12-0).

Be sure to visit the BYB website often for updates on the home opener.  And while you’re there, check out our new merchandise. You’re going to look like a Million bucks (or, as we like to call it – half a Joshua Mason), wearing the new swag. #TreatYoself

Bloody Shambles HOT TAKES! – Richmond Kickers V Indy Eleven Thoughts And Predictions

The Bloody Shambles team gives their final thoughts going into the first USL Easter Conference match against Richmond Kickers…Brandon Cockrum:

I’m looking forward to seeing the formation and strategy that Coach Rennie uses in a game where the Eleven should feel like strong favorites. Richmond was unimpressive, maybe even the exact opposite of impressive, in their week one match. I’m not too concerned with who starts this match – at this point in the season, the head coach might prefer players that he’s worked with in previous seasons and who best understand how he wants his team to play or maybe those who are most fit – because it is such a long season and the roster is very deep.

I’m more interested to see the strategy that Rennie applies on the road in a match that Indy should take three points from. Does the coach run out the team with an attacking mindset and try to keep Richmond on their heels? Or does Indy take a more conservative approach and sit back, focus on defense first and try to hit Richmond on the counter? The strategy applied here might tell us more about what’s to come this season than the players that hit the pitch.

Player to watch: Nico Matern.Based on preseason performances, Indy Eleven might have found a diamond in the rough in the Indiana Wesleyan product. As we’ve seen in previous seasons, it is extremely difficult for a rookie to make much of an impact in their first season in the second division; however, Matern seems like he might be poised to do it this year.

I know I said I wasn’t looking too deep into the significance of the lineup this weekend but this is the exception. If Matern gets the starting nod he will have proven his worth among some very good central midfielders on the roster and it will show that Rennie believes the newbie has the potential to be an impact player in 2018.

James Cormack:

I have probably been more impressed with the roster building this year than any other. Our 2016 squad was solid with great players for a starting lineup but we did not have the same depth, especially in defense, if one player was injured it was a major problem. We are very deep in defense this year and that is highly important. No matter how many times you try to pick out a starting XI from this roster you look at the players you left out and think “that’s a very good team”.

I watched multiple USL games over the opening weekend and saw several teams including Richmond that looked like they were not of the same standard and experience in terms of this roster. From what I saw of Bethlehem Steel, I think Indy Eleven will be more technical and clinical than they were despite winning that game 4-1. I don’t expect Indy Eleven to lose this game, it’s hard to call a win in an away day opener but if one team will win this game I can’t see it being Richmond especially with two of the back line missing as well.

Player To Watch: Eugene Starikov 

Hard to pick out just one but so far from all I have heard about pre-season he has been a real ball of fire, as has Soony Saad and I am curious to see if both will start together as both have been real trouble for opponents thus far. If Justin Braun is still in recovery mode and doesn’t start the game it’s an ideal situation for someone else to show themselves. With limited playing time last year I think Starikov will be very keen to show why he should be picked every week and will score.

Caleb Ramp:

The last six months had been an era of unprecedented shortage for Indy Eleven and her supporters. The latter parts of the 2017 NASL season saw a shortage of wins. This was soon followed by an offseason short on hope, short on answers, and eventually short on a league to play in, a stadium to play at, and players to play with.

Suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, the Eleven find themselves with the biggest surplus in club history. Not a financial surplus, to be sure (sorry, Ersal) — but a surplus of hope. A surplus of anticipation. Excitement. Perhaps most importantly, a surplus of on-field talent.

This leads me to my “player to watch” for the 2018 opener: Martin Rennie.

Cheating a bit? Sure. But I’ll stand by it. The 2018 Indy Eleven roster is — at least on paper — the deepest this city has ever seen. Nearly every player on our 23-man roster can make a case for a spot in the starting eleven. On game days, the Indy bench will be filled with players who have been critical pieces in a playoff or championship-caliber D2 squads in recent history, or have otherwise been spending time with quality D1 clubs.

Rennie will have an incredibly wide range (a surplus, even) of options in available tactics and personnel combinations. His ability to utilize this squad to its fullest potential (while still maintaining a healthy and involved locker room) will go a long way in determining the Eleven’s ultimate success in a very competitive Eastern conference.

Richmond Kickers V Indy Eleven Score Predictions

It may seem a little cliche to call wins on the road for your team in their opening match, if we end up with egg on our face so be it, but this is not a case of giddy fanboy reactions. Indy Eleven is stacked with top level experience, let’s see if that proves fruitful over 90 minutes or not.

Brandon Cockrum: 0-4 Indy Eleven
James Cormack: 0-2 Indy Eleven
Caleb Ramp: 0-3 Indy Eleven

Preview: Richmond Kickers V Indy Eleven – Can Indy Start With A Bang? (3/24/2018)y: James Cormack

Forget the unseasonably cold weather, forget the myriad of life-endangering potholes spread across the city like a plague of meteor craters, and forget the uncertainty of whether our team would play this year. Indy Eleven’s season starts this weekend. It’s finally happening and nothing else matters.After an off-season of uncertainty, the Boys in Blue head off to Richmond for their first taste of USL. Other teams including our opponents for this week have already begun their season in round one while Indy took advantage of an extra week of preparation.In the USL Eastern Conference, Richmond Kickers fell 4-1 at Bethlehem Steel in their opening match. Former NASL foes North Carolina and Tampa faced off in a highly entertaining match in Cary where the visiting Rowdies won by three goals to one. Another familiar foe Ottawa Fury suffered a 4-1 thrashing from Charlotte Independence.Last years Champions Louisville secured a 2-0 victory over franchise boys Nashville SC. FC Cincinnati started with a 1-0 away win at Charleston. In the first of six opening games in the Eastern Conference last weekend two MLS reserve sides called II came head to head and one of the II won 2-1.

Are We Ready To Rumble?

Yes, I feel we are. As ready as you can be given the shortness of the pre-season. As mentioned in our earlier preliminary fluff piece, Martin Rennie has gone a long way to counter our lack of prep time by assembling a roster of highly experienced players. This doesn’t mean anything of course unless they can bond quickly (and I think they have), but it does help a lot.
The USL and its schedule are a lot different to what you may have been used to with NASL. There are multiple games at times packed into a short period. Remaining injury free, fit, and having an ability to rotate strong players can give you a good advantage in this league.From the evidence of the games we have played and the roster we have, Rennie has worked himself into a position where he could field two completely different teams in back to back competitive matches and each would be strong and competitive at this level.

Nico Matern the latest roster addition is a good example of our roster depth.

On two occasions this year we have seen Indy Eleven play back to back matches in one day, allowing the coach to field different teams and get all players an adequate amount of playing time. In the final day of pre-season play on Saturday, Indy Eleven played out a 0-0 draw with Jacksonville Armada and a 7-0 win over Indiana Wesleyan with a good mix of what could be considered starting players in each team.In all Indy have played seven pre-season matches against varying levels of opposition and lost only once in the opening match against FC Cincinnati at Grand Park and have conceded only three goals and scored fifteen.Our depth is very good compared to other years, especially in defense where even in 2016 we were lacking adequate cover. This past weekend the Eleven were able to play a back line of Moses, Ferreira, Mitchell, and Ouimette in one match, Venegas, Rusin, Pasher, and Ayoze in another. Neither back line conceded a goal, and each I think could hold their own in a USL league match.The roster currently stands at 23 players and the latest to be added Nico Matern who came from Wesleyan with a German academy background has been turning heads in pre-season and could be one of the shrewdest signings in the league this year. Competition for starting spots is strong, and that is a very good thing.When you can literally split your roster down the middle and field two very strong teams then you are in a good position going into the season.

Is Richmond Ready For Indy Eleven?

It would be wrong of me to make too many assumptions based on Richmond’s 4-1 thrashing at Bethlehem in their opening match, but it was not pretty at all and they could easily have conceded twice that many goals. However, it was the opening match so I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe first day jitters? Maybe not?

Richmond had Trevor Spangenberg sitting on the bench and I wondered at times what he was thinking watching that match. He is one of the few players in their squad along with Brian Shriver and Neil Hlavaty that I have experience watching and he must have been peeking through his gloves as the second half wore on. Richmond’s performance was littered with defensive and goalkeeping mistakes from bad timing to bad positioning, poor decision making, and poorly executed passing.If Richmond doesn’t find a way to correct these issues over the coming week Indy Eleven have many experienced players who will pounce on mistakes like these faster than flat screen TV sales on Black Friday. However it’s important not to read too much into these things this early, Indy can suffer first day jitters as well, but hopefully not.

Richmond has played five pre-season matches all against colleges. Three wins, one draw and a loss to William & Mary Tribe Soccer. 2017 was not a great year for Richmond, they finished the year 14th of 15 teams in USL East with the lowest standing of any independent team across both conferences.So on the evidence of the first game perhaps they were underprepared for their league opener, but that doesn’t mean they will be an easy team to beat at home, no team ever is. Nor does it mean they can’t bounce back after suffering a heavy defeat.I am sure the home support will be expecting the players to lift themselves after that and prove they have better to offer. With a few players missing it also gives some an opportunity to stake a claim on a starting spot, an important factor in any game. Expect the unexpected.

Team/Match News.

Richmond Kickers will continue to miss Brazilian forward Luiz Fernando through suspension. Mekeil Williams and Alex Lee who started in the back line against Bethlehem will be missing on international duty for Trinidad and Guam respectively. Bruno Mirando who appeared in the second half for Kickers will also answer the call for the Bolivian National Team.

Update: Jamaican Dane Kelly who did not feature in Kickers opening game is unavailable and on international duty also.
Indy Eleven will miss Nathan Lewis who will join Williams in The Trinidad and Tobago camp for matches against Guadeloupe and Curaçao. Justin Braun is working his way back to full fitness and scored in Indy’s second game on Saturday. The status of Jordan Farr return from injury is unknown (is in full training) and we may see Fon-Williams and Lundegaard as the traveling goalkeepers.In the event of further updates, we will bring those to you as the week progresses.

The City Stadium in Richmond boasts a usually well-tended natural grass surface. The future forecast shows low forties at kick off time with a high chance of rain before kickoff. If you fancy the ten-hour drive you can pick up general admission tickets HERE and meet up with other Indy Eleven fans before kickoff.

Preview of Indy Eleven v. Richmond Kickers with Matt Myers of Rvaisred “All Things Richmond Kickers.”

 Since Indy Eleven is new to the USL what should fans expect being in a new league?

I think Indy fans aren’t going to be in that different a position from a lot of fans that supported teams in USL to be honest.  Obviously it’s a brand new league for you guys by name, but you’re coming with NCFC, and Tampa and Ottawa are already here too, so it’s not like it’s a total fresh start.  As a Richmond fan, I can easily say that the league today is unrecognizable compared to even a few years ago.  In terms of on the field, one of the bigger adjustment points I think a lot of new to USL fans face is the presence of the MLS2 teams.  Personally, they don’t bother me too much because you see some high end talent that just needs some refinement, and they help to fill out the numbers so you aren’t playing the same teams all the time.  A lot of times though they do have different motivations and goals than the independent teams, so I get where some of the consternation comes from.  The other main thing to expect is (probably, I wasn’t catching much NASL by the end) a wider array of style.  You’ll see some teams like NYRB that are very attack heavy and play open, while the Kickers and Pittsburgh will generally play more conservative.  If you’re into some of those tactical battles, there certainly isn’t a shortage in USL.

Also, be prepared to see attendance shoehorned into every league article whenever possible.  You guys will likely be a beneficiary of that focus!

In terms of talent, how does the USL stack up against other leagues?

USL has gotten so much better over the years.  It’s not MLS though, and I strongly reject the idea that some fans put out there that our teams are just as good.  Are there guys in USL that could contribute there? Absolutely.  But the standout guys in this league are likely the role players there, and there certainly isn’t the elite level player here that most MLS teams have 2-3 of.  We can definitely beat them in one offs though, which makes the Open Cup so fun.

What was your reaction when you heard that Indy Eleven was joining the USL?

Honestly, it was “what took you guys so long?” and “Glad you didn’t go down with the crazy train”.  It’s a club with a strong base, and I would have hated to see it fail because of the clown parade running NASL (if you can’t tell I didn’t have much regard for that league, especially after Downs left). Not sure how Lucas Oil will go for you guys, but hope it works well.

Focusing on your team, what is the outlook for the Kickers in 2018?

There’s no other way to put it, last year sucked and sucked hard. We couldn’t score, finished next to last, and got bounced by an amateur team in the Cup.  With how the league has changed, and primarily in terms of the bankrolls that teams have now, I don’t have any false illusions that we’re going to be elite.  A great result this year would be making the playoffs.  I’d be happy with making positive progress, being competitive for a playoff spot until the end of the season, and being more interesting to watch.  We signed a few forwards during the off-season, which should help with the attack, and the defense is almost entirely back, who actually performed at an above league average last year.  You guys will probably recognize names like Brian Shriver, Giuseppe Gentile, Mallan Roberts, and Trevor Spangenberg on the roster from their NASL pasts.  We also got Dane Kelly on loan from DC, who was the USL MVP last season in Reno. He won’t be there this weekend though since he was called to the Jamaican national team.

After a disappointing start to the season against the Bethlehem Steel, how do you see the Kickers bouncing back against Indy Eleven?

This week has to be better, right? Even last year, we were tough at home, so I doubt we’ll get thoroughly dominated again.  I’d bet that there will be a focus on being more aggressive in the midfield and not letting so many simple chances get created.  It might make for a less open game, but with some of your talent and the guys we’ll be missing, it’s probably in our best interest to turn it into a grinder.  I’m going to be optimistic and say we’re looking at a 1-1 draw.

For those Indy Eleven fans traveling to Richmond for the game what kind of atmosphere do Kickers fans bring to City Stadium?

City Stadium has it’s own special kind of charm.  Yes, that’s code for it’s old.  It was built in 1929, so don’t expect glamour.  The sight lines though are great, and the concourse gives you an open view of the game from pretty much anywhere.  Try not to have to use the bathrooms though if you can help it!

In the stands, the Red Army has brought a lot of atmosphere that wasn’t there in the past.  They set up in the corner, which is right on top of the corner flag and where visiting players warm up.  Tailgating is right outside the stadium, and they are always great about welcoming visiting fans. The rest of the stands…pretty standard sit and watch environment. Overall, it’s a good time, but it’s also 20+ years of built up good memories there. 

USL Team Previews by Soc Takes

Indy Eleven – Indianapolis, IN

Welcome to the USL, Indianapolis! I’m so excited that the Eleven joined USL. They’ve been so much fun to watch over the past few years, and I’m eagerly anticipating their first games against Louisville and Cincinnati. They’ve also made some serious changes to go along with their new league, the biggest being a move to Lucas Oil Stadium. While that venue does technically seat 62,421 in the normal configuration, the team website indicates that they’ll be using something closer to around 15,000. Still, though, that’s so much nicer than Carroll Stadium, and might even see them break their season 1 attendance record. I’ve been on the field in Lucas Oil Stadium before, and it’s easily one of my favorite stadiums ever. Another significant change is the hiring of Martin Rennie as head coach. While he’s probably best known for two inconsistent seasons in Vancouver, he once led the Carolina Railhawks during their three most successful seasons from 2009 through 2011, and he recently built a brand new team in Seoul E-Park into a promotion contender in year one. It’s a pretty smart pick, and he’s already brought in some impressive names with NASL and MLS experience. Things are definitely looking up for Indy.

Louisville City FC – Louisville, KY

Last year could not have gone much better for Louisville. They were the undisputed best team in the Eastern Conference, finishing an absurd eight points clear of Charleston, made short work of Bethlehem and Rochester in the playoffs, finally got revenge on the Baby Bulls, and won the championship game in the dying moments. For 2018, the vast majority of the team has returned, including ten of the eleven starters from the championship game. The team also got approval from the Louisville Metro Council for their new 10,000 seat stadium, expandable to 25,000, which is scheduled to open for the 2020 season. There’s not much left to say about this team. If you’re looking for a preseason favorite to win it all, look no further.

FC Cincinnati – Cincinnati, OH

  • Founded: 2015
  • First USL Season: 2016
  • Home Stadium: Nippert Stadium
  • Head Coach: Alan Koch
  • 2017 Record: 12-10-10, -2 GD, 46 pts, 6th in East, Lost First Round to Tampa Bay
  • 2017 Attendance: a lot

The online soccer media have discussed the two obvious FC Cincinnati topics to death, so I’m not going to bother with either of them. Instead, I’ll pose the following question: Why can’t Cincinnati beat the Tampa Bay Rowdies or the Charleston Battery? For the life of me, I can’t figure it out. Cincy first played the Rowdies in the 3rd Round of the 2016 Open Cup, and lost 1-0 on the road. In 2017, with the Rowdies joining USL, they were guaranteed at least two more games against them. They drew 1-1 at home and lost 2-0 on the road during the regular season, and then Tampa sent them packing in the first round of the playoffs. As for Charleston, they’re the team that welcomed Cincy to the USL with a road loss back in 2016, drew 1-1 in Cincinnati several months later, and then handed Cincinnati a playoff loss at home in the First Round in 2016. 2017 started in exactly the same fashion, with FC Cincinnati losing on the road in Charleston, and then settling for a draw when the Battery came to Ohio. I did a bit more research, and against every other Eastern Conference team from the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Cincinnati has at least one win. Except for these two. I don’t know what this means, but it’s highly intriguing. And to top it all off, for the third consecutive season, Cincinnati’s first game is on the road in Charleston. If history is any guide, my money’s on the Battery.

RECAP | INDY ELEVEN SETTLE FOR DRAW AGAINST JACKSONVILLE ARMADA FC

By IndyEleven.com, 03/18/18, 10:20AM EDT  “Indiana’s Team” finish preseason with the Armada afloat

While several other USL teams opened their 2018 regular season accounts, “Indiana’s Team” finished its final preseason matchups, the first of which ended in a nil-nil draw against NPSL side Jacksonville Armada FC on Saturday.According to Indy Eleven head coach Martin Rennie, this result was just what the team needed. “It was an excellent game,” Rennie said. “It was exactly what we needed at this stage of the preseason. It was a game where we were playing people for 90 minutes and not making changes or trying to win the game; we’re just making sure everyone is ready for the first [regular season] game.”Indy started the match strong with the help from hard attacking moments by frontmen Soony Saad, Jack McInerney, and midfielder Ben Speas. In the third minute, Saad began his run into the top of Armada’s box, only to be cut short from a striking opportunity when three visiting defenders surrounded the Lebanese forward and removed the ball from his possession. Saad would get his chance again in the sixth minutes after sending a strike along the far edge of Jacksonville’s right goal post, but the ball curved just enough to hit the side netting out of bounds.Jacksonville got their first look at goal in the 15th minute. Armada midfielder J.C. Banks came dashing into Indy defending half, but quickly gained the attention of defenders Karl Ouimette and Reiner Ferreia. Feeling the pressure from the “New in Blue” defenders, Banks laid off a grounded pass forward towards a waiting teammate. Fortunately for Indy, the pass was a touch too hard, sending it pass Banks’ intended target and collected with ease by Eleven goaltender Owain Fôn Williams.It became Indy’s game in terms of possession as the “Boys in Blue” contained the Armada to playing in the midfield for a large portion of the first half. Short passes lead Indy into several, breakaway plays—several of which came close to scoring opportunities. In the 32nd minute, Indy defender Matthew Watson made his way forward through the midfielder after a chain of passing created a gap in Armada’s defensive formation. Jacksonville’s goalkeeper charged off of his line towards Watson to try and end the play, but the Redditch, England native responded with a cheeky chip over the trialing keeper. Sadly, the chipped ball got just far enough out of reach for Watson to attempt a shot and ultimately ended out of play on the right side of the goal.Continuing to ask questions, XI forward McInerney made his run at goal five minutes later. In the 37th minute, McInerney found himself in the center of Armada’s 18-yard box when a crossed ball came falling in his direction. As the ball came down, McInerney worked to deflect it into the net, but his efforts failed to materialize into a lead as the ball ended to the right of the goal once more.Jacksonville would get one more attempt before the end of the half. In the 44th minute, an Armada’s player came rushing in along the side into Indy’s half. Making his way pass Ferreia and midfielder Seth Moses, Jacksonville sent a hard, grounded cross from the center-left of Indy’s 18-yard box toward Indy’s right goal post. It was there another Armada player met the ball and sent a shot towards the net. But, the strike lacked the power to make it beyond Fôn Williams, who calmly collected.The second half started quickly in Jacksonville’s favor. The Armada were awarded a penalty kick in 48th minute after a challenge in the edge of Indy’s box—it was here that Jacksonville’s closest attempt at a goal died and one of the greatest moments for Indy shined. Armada stepped up to the spot and made a go to sink in the goal in the lower right corner, but Fôn Williams made a quick dive to deflect the ball back into play. Armada made two more attempts to score while Fôn Williams was still recovering, but both strikes were forced away by the Welsh international.The match wore on as both sides continued to trade possession and made runs deep into each other’s half, but each side failed to make any substantial chances. The final whistle blew without any serious incidents or errors from either club. Coach Rennie recognized a key lesson to be learned as the “Boys in Blue” prepare to enter the upcoming USL season next weekend. “I thought we played very well, especially in the first half,” said Rennie. “We created some really good chances. The biggest thing I would take away from the game is we need to be more clinical when taking our chances, but that’s part of getting into the rhythm of the season.”Today’s back-to-back matches mark the end of preseason for the “Boys in Blue”. Next Saturday, Indy Eleven will make its USL debut as the squad hits the road to take on USL mainstays Richmond Kickers.

You can see the “Boys in Blue” in-action in person on March 31st. Click here to get your tickets to Indy Eleven’s 2018 Home Opener at Lucas Oil Stadium against regional rivals FC Cincinnati.   

NOTE: Although there was no coverage of Saturday’s second match, Indy Eleven towered over Indiana Wesleyan University in a 7-0 trashing with goals from Brad Ring, Justin Braun, Nathan Lewis, a trialist and a hat trick from Juan Guerra. These updated stats now put Guerra level with Starikov in the leading poll for most preseason goals. The “Boys in Blue” end their preseason with a 4W-2D-1L record, scoring a total of 15 goals and conceding only three.
USL Preseason  Indy Eleven 0:0 Jacksonville Armada FC
Saturday, March 17, 2018   University of Indianapolis—Indianapolis, IN
Disciplinary Report:

JAX – 63’

IND – Watson 67’

JAX – Yuma 71’

Indy Eleven lineup (4-3-3, L–>R):  Owain Fôn Williams (GK); Reiner Ferreira, Matthew Watson, Carlyle Mitchell, Karl Ouimette; Seth Moses, Nico Matern, Zach Steinberger, Ben Speas (Trialist 68’); Soony Saad, Jack McInerney

Jacksonville Armada FC lineup (4-5-1, L–>R): Holt (GK); Melvin, McInerney, JEROME, Borrajo; Gebhard, Doyle, Yuma, Silva, Banks; Kilduff

Pre-World Cup Player Power Rankings: Messi vs. Ronaldo: Who’s No. 1?

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Mar 22, 2018ESPN staff  ESPN FC’s global editorial desks nominate their top 10 players who will play at this summer’s World Cup based on their club form.

1. Lionel Messi | Argentina

Why he’s here: Messi has reached the 25-goal mark in La Liga for the ninth straight season, in what is supposedly a down year for the 30-year-old. The Argentina international is on pace for a decidedly average (by his standards) 34 goals in the league but is on track to assist on 16 more — tied for the third-most of his career, behind only the marks he set with Barcelona’s treble-winning team of 2014-15 and Pep Guardiola’s great double winners of 2010-11. Despite his goal-scoring numbers dipping this season, Messi has arguably never been more influential at Barcelona. If he can pull Argentina’s strings in Russia this summer, as he has done for the Blaugrana in 2017-18, he could finally be the player to decide a World Cup.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo | Portugal

Why he’s here: Ronaldo didn’t score his first goal in La Liga until Oct. 14. By the turn of the year, he had only four. Since, he has potted 18 — in just 11 appearances. He got similarly hot last season after Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane insisted on regular rest for the 33-year-old, and he led Los Blancos to a second straight Champions League.Of course, Ronaldo’s form wasn’t enough to ensure Portugal a successful Confederations Cup in Russia last summer. He scored two goals and an assist in three matches, but the Euro 2016 champions lost to Chile in the semifinals. Leading an aging Portugal that is light on game-changers, Ronaldo will need to be more of a difference-maker than ever for his country.

3. Neymar | Brazil

Why he’s here: Neymar has been recuperating from a broken foot for nearly a month and might not return to action until Brazil’s training camp begins, but that shouldn’t take away from what the 26-year-old has achieved in his first season at Paris Saint-Germain: 26 goals and 16 assists in 29 appearances across all competitions.With a Brazil team as deep and well-coached as any since their latest World Cup win in 2002, the Selecao might not even need Neymar at his best in Russia. But if the world’s most expensive footballer can put on a show worthy of his €222 million price tag, Brazil might just win their sixth title.

4. Kevin De Bruyne | Belgium

Why he’s here: Pushed into a deeper role in Guardiola’s tactically cutting-edge Manchester City, De Bruyne has become one of the best midfielders in the world. His place in the heart of midfield has necessitated him to add the graft that was missing from his game in the more advanced positions he took under Manuel Pellegrini and at Wolfsburg and Chelsea, but he has still been able to score seven goals and assist on 14 more in 30 Premier League appearances this season.In a Belgium side littered with attacking talent, De Bruyne will be charged with circulating possession and putting the likes of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku in dangerous positions. If he can do that, then Belgium might finally realise their massive potential.

5. Mohamed Salah | Egypt

Why he’s here: Salah might be enjoying the best season of anyone on this list: Since joining Liverpool last summer, the Egypt international has racked up 38 goals and 10 assists in 44 appearances across all competitions. He’s already four goals clear of his nearest challenger (the now-injured Harry Kane) in the Premier League Golden Boot race. Did we mention it’s his first season with the club?Believe it or not, Salah was also the joint-leading goal scorer in African World Cup qualifying. His Egypt were the second country from Africa to qualify for this summer’s tournament, and drawn into a group with hosts Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay, the Pharaohs have every chance of reaching the knockout rounds — and doing something special if Salah continues his mind-bending goal-scoring form.

6. Harry Kane | England

Why he’s here: England’s great hope. Kane has 38 goals and four assists in 44 appearances across all competitions for Tottenham this season, leading him to be regularly linked with a world-record transfer to Real Madrid. The 24-year-old suffered an ankle injury on March 11 at Bournemouth, but he could return to action by April 1.If he can regain his fitness ahead of the season’s conclusion, this three-week break could do Kane a world of good in terms of rest prior to the World Cup. The Three Lions will be reliant on the Spurs striker in Russia, and they’ll go as far as he can carry them.

7. Luis Suarez | Uruguay

Why he’s here: Suarez had just five goals across all competitions in the season’s first four months, as a knee injury made it look as though the 31-year-old is entering the backside of his career. He has scored 19 and added nine assists in 23 appearances since, and he trails only teammate Messi by four goals in La Liga’s Pichichi race.Like in Barcelona, Suarez will have help shouldering the goal-scoring load for Uruguay. Edinson Cavani is in peak form for PSG, and the pair will form a strike partnership as potent as any in Russia this summer. Whether they can prop up an aging back line will be the biggest question Uruguay face.

8. Antoine Griezmann | France

Why he’s here: Griezmann was another striker in Spain who got off to a sluggish start, in the wake of ultimately fruitless flirtations with a move to Manchester United over the summer, scoring just eight times across all competitions before the calendar turned to 2018. He has amassed 16 goals and six assists in the 18 appearances he has made since.France will have had two years to get over stumbling at Euro 2016, which they hosted and were favorites for, before they kick a ball at the World Cup. Les Bleus boast a midfield and attackers who can stand up to any in the tournament, both in terms of depth and outright quality, of which the in-his-prime Griezmann is perhaps the crown jewel.

9. Robert Lewandowski | Poland

Why he’s here: Bayern Munich are sitting comfortably atop the Bundesliga, 17 points clear of second-placed Schalke. Lewandowski has played a huge role in their form this term, with the striker tallying 33 goals and three assists in 41 appearances across all competitions.In a group containing Colombia, Japan and Senegal, a Poland at the height of their powers should be aiming to reach the knockout rounds as group winners, but the round of 16 beckons so long as Lewandowski can continue to score at the impressive rate he has with Bayern this season.

10. Willian | Brazil

Why he’s here: Willian’s form in the past month pushes him into the top 10, more so than anyone else on this list. In his past seven appearances, in the midst of slumps from fellow Chelsea attackers Hazard, Pedro and Alvaro Motata, the Brazilian has registered five goals and an assist. Combined with his tireless work rate and defensive nous, Willian is the sort of indispensable wide man Chelsea and Brazil can’t do without.It’s the form and the potential of Willian, as well as Philippe Coutinho, that ease the pressure on Neymar to be Brazil’s saviour. The Selecao have such depth all over the pitch, and especially across the attack, that the PSG superstar could have an average (by his standards) tournament and still make an impact on the World Cup through the contributions of players such as Willian.

Also receiving votes: David De Gea (Spain), Marcelo (Brazil), Eden Hazard (Belgium), Sergio Ramos (Spain), Thomas Muller (Germany), Sergio Aguero (Argentina), Edinson Cavani (Uruguay), Andres Iniesta (Spain), Manuel Neuer (Germany), James Rodriguez (Colombia), Toni Kroos (Germany).

The Most Intriguing Matches of the March Pre-World Cup FIFA Window

By AVI CREDITOR March 21, 2018

The 2018 World Cup is less tan three months away, and the number of opportunities nations will have to congregate together before the main event in Russia are dwindling. All of that makes what is normally a pretty docile and inconsequential March FIFA international fixture window one of greater importance.The slate of matches on Friday (March 23) and next Tuesday (March 27) offers plenty of entertaining options around the globe, with some sure to be more indicative and useful than others. With nothing to lose and only experience to gain, some nations have gone all-in on their scheduling, lining up the toughest tests possible, while others have scheduled what they believe to be like-for-like tune-ups for the teams they’ll face in group play come June. Here’s the best of the bunch:

GERMANY VS. SPAIN, 3/23 | GERMANY VS. BRAZIL, 3/27

What about the pair of challenges Jogi Low has in store for his side?

Germany’s first match of the window pits the last two World Cup champions against one another. If both win their groups and continue to have success in the knockout stage, they’d meet again in the World Cup semifinals.

Germany and Brazil, the top two teams in the latest FIFA rankings, then meet for the first time since Germany’s famous 7-1 thrashing in the 2014 World Cup semifinals on Brazilian soil. It’s a psychological gamble for Brazil to take on the Germans at this point, though if they’re going to cross paths in Russia, they might as well get the hard part out of the way ahead of time. On the field, Brazil will be missing Neymar, much like it was during the horrifying loss four years ago, but the Seleção are in a much better, more balanced place under Tite than they were that fateful day in Belo Horizonte.

SPAIN VS. ARGENTINA, 3/27

Four days after Argentina faces Italy at the Etihad in Manchester, Lionel Messi’s home country takes on his adopted one in a meeting of World Cup favorites. Messi surely knows the Barcelona- and Real Madrid-heavy opposition, while his opponents have had plenty of experience being both on the same and opposite side of La Pulga in league play. For Argentina, which was wholly unconvincing in World Cup qualifying, there aren’t many more opportunities to prove a point and come together under manager Jorge Sampaoli, so this is one it’ll have to take seriously. If both nations win their respective groups and last-16 games, this will be a quarterfinal matchup in Russia.

PORTUGAL VS. EGYPT, 3/23

Two of the top individual players on the planet go head-to-head when Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo lines up vs. Egypt’s Mohamed Salah. That alone is worth the watch, though both of these sides figure to be wild cards in Russia, too. Portugal is the reigning European champion, though it doesn’t seem like many think Ronaldo & Co. can replicate that feat on the World Cup stage, while Egypt has a manageable group and one of the world’s most in-form talents at the wheel. It should be a fascinating matchup.

FRANCE VS. COLOMBIA, 3/23

There’s arguably no nation in the world that boasts the depth of talent like France, but that hasn’t quite equaled domination under manager Didier Deschamps, who must narrow his bevy of stars into a cohesive group that works well together and avoids the self destruction that has been known to plague France before. A momentum- and confidence-building result against a side of Colombia’s stature could do wonders heading into the final preparations, while anything less could perpetuate concern about Les Bleus and the worry that the whole will be considerably less than the sum of the parts.

RUSSIA VS. BRAZIL, 3/23 | RUSSIA VS. FRANCE, 3/27

Russia will be performing under quite the spotlight this summer, so the World Cup hosts might as well find out where they stand now. Home tests against the two competition favorites could provide a barometer, while Brazil and France each get the benefit of preparing for a match at World Cup venues. It’s a feeling-out win-win across the board.

MEXICO VS. ICELAND, 3/23 | MEXICO VS. CROATIA, 3/27

El Tri takes to U.S. soil to test itself against a pair of Russia-bound, Group D sides. Juan Carlos Osorio won’t have his full complement of players after a few backed out with minor injuries (Jonathan Dos Santos, Javier Aquino, Jurgen Damm), but then again, you’d expect him to rotate the squad in these two matches anyway. It’s an opportunity for veterans to reaffirm their places in the starting XI, Hirving Lozano to continue his ascent and California-born midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez to prove he belongs on the plane ride to Russia.

NETHERLANDS VS. ENGLAND, 3/23 | ENGLAND VS. ITALY, 3/27

The Three Lions will take on the Two Disappointments, with the Oranje and Azzurri missing out on the trip to Russia. They’ll still pose stiff challenges for an England team that still has its fair share of doubters–and one that will have to play without the injured Harry Kane. There are roster spots aplenty up for grabs under Gareth Southgate, who has plenty to prove himself.

Gianluigi Buffon calls Italy a ‘funny country’ after national team criticism

6:49 PM ET

MANCHESTER, England — Gianluigi Buffon said Italy was a “funny country” that “enjoy controversy” after criticism of his selection for two friendlies by new national team boss Luigi Di Biagio.The 40-year-old goalkeeper initially announced his retirement following Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia this summer.But the Juventus keeper, who has 175 caps, has returned to the squad and is expected to start Friday’s friendly with Argentina at the Etihad Stadium followed by Tuesday’s clash with England.The decision has not been welcomed by everyone with suggestions that he is blocking the path of Milan’s 19-year-old keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, but Buffon said he wants to unite the squad after their disastrous qualifying campaign.”My role in the squad has always been positive and I’ve always brought people together. I’ve always put us before me,” Buffon told a news conference.

“I’m not here to showcase, to show myself off because I can still be useful. I may be 40, but I’m the goalkeeper of Juventus.”Italy is a funny country where people enjoy controversy. Any controversy on my figure is just sensationalism. I have been playing for Italy since 1993, I have won seven medals. After a while all this controversy will just fall away.”Buffon refused to be drawn on when his career will finally come to an end, but insisted his final match will be a normal encounter.”I don’t know if my last match will be with Juventus or an international but it will be low key and sober, normal,” he added.”I arrived at my first game on a scooter and the only car I have is the one that Juventus make available for me.”But Buffon said he is focused on helping Italy rebuild their confidence after missing out on a World Cup for the first time since 1958.Di Biagio has a difficult first game and the veteran keeper knows all about the quality of Argentina and particular Lionel Messi, who he has faced on many occasions throughout his career.But he believes that Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored twice against him in last season’s Champions League final, is the more deadly finisher.”It would be naive to [choose between them] given that both of them are excellent,” he said. “Messi is more of an all-rounder. Ronaldo, maybe because of his age, has become more of a specialist. He has become a killer whenever he comes before the goal.”

U.S. questions vs. Paraguay: GK battle, Kenny Saief, chances for youth

11:08 AM ETJeff CarlisleSoccer

Work on a foundation is as critical as it is tedious. There’s little in the way of a visual or emotional payoff, but progress is impossible without it.This is the work that is currently going on with the U.S. men’s national team and it’s as good an explanation as any as to why it needs to play matches ahead of a World Cup in which it won’t feature. Sure, a new manager (and a new GM for that matter) still needs to be hired, but now seems an opportune time for the process to begin for some and continue for others. To that end, it has fallen to Dave Sarachan to do the necessary heavy lifting. He’s called in a new generation of players and will help them take the first steps with the national team program. He almost certainly won’t be around to witness the fruits of his labor but at least the process will be that much further along when a permanent coach is hired.Here’s a look at how things stand with the current squad ahead of next Tuesday’s friendly against Paraguay.

The goalkeeping competition heats up

Columbus Crew SC shot-stopper Zack Steffen seems to have put himself in front, though this is due more in part to others falling back. Ethan Horvath is buried deep on the bench at Club Brugge and wasn’t even called in. Bill Hamid’s situation at Danish side Midtjylland isn’t as dire but he has yet to make a first-team appearance since joining his new club in January. Alex Bono is coming off a treble-winning season with Toronto FC but still has some catching up to do in terms of national team opportunities, as he didn’t get on the field in the January friendly against Bosnia Herzegovina.That leaves Steffen. His performances during last year’s playoffs got him noticed and now Steffen has the chance to further cement his status as the goalkeeper of the future, though Hamid will no doubt do what he can to state his case as well.

Can Adams and McKennie take the next step? Who will join them?

It was back in November that Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie made their respective debuts for the U.S. senior side. Adams got stronger as the game went on, while McKennie marked his first cap with a goal. Given the general feeling that the U.S. midfield needs to be revamped, showing a sign or two of progress will confirm the belief that Tyler and McKennie are the future.On that night, McKennie had an experienced performer in Danny Williams by his side. The options next Tuesday won’t have as many international games under their belt, though Darlington Nagbe does have 24 international appearances. Wil Trapp and Cristian Roldan could state their case, though in very different ways. Trapp is more of the deep-lying playmaker, though Roldan provides more of a box-to-box presence.

It will be up to Sarachan to determine which style will better complement McKennie on Tuesday.

Time for some spine in defense

John Brooks’ continued injury problems have created an opening for a trio of center backs. Matt Miazga, currently on loan at Vitesse, looked sharp in last November’s 1-1 draw against Portugal and any revamped spine of the team looks certain to include him at this stage. Cameron Carter-Vickers showed well alongside Miazga in the same match.The wild card is Erik Palmer-Brown, a mainstay with the U20s — albeit as a central midfielder at the U20 World Cup — who recently got his first minutes on loan at Belgian side KV Kortrijk. Palmer-Brown’s progression at club level will decide his fate but he has a chance to make a good first impression in this camp.

Saief gets his chance

A solitary friendly appearance against Ghana, one that lasted all of 19 minutes, is the sum total of Kenny Saief’s international experience. Hernia surgery and some ensuing complications have prevented any subsequent call-ups until now.In that game against Ghana, Saief looked a crafty operator and he’s got some trickery about him as well. The wide midfield spots have been crying out for a bit more creativity and Saief may just be the man to provide that kind of spark.

How much will youth be served?

Sarachan is on record as saying that the camp is a get-to-know-you exercise for the five uncapped players on the roster. But the opportunity to secure playing time will be there even if it requires climbing over some veterans to do so. Outside-backs Shaq Moore and Antonee Robinson have the toughest task given that the position features some of the more experienced players on the roster like DeAndre Yedlin, Jorge Villafana and Eric Lichaj.Marky Delgado could find the going tough as well though his versatility in midfield helps his cause. Tim Weah, 18, could have the clearest path given his speed and ability to play out wide. Forward Andrija Novakovich, 6-foot-4, has size and skill, too, though he’ll need to supplant at least one of Bobby Wood and Rubio Rubin.

Wood’s return

Speaking of Wood, he returns to the national team fold having scored just two goals at club level all year for Hamburg, with none since the end of last August. As such, HSV is a candidate to be relegated, a seemingly annual occurrence. But Wood has shown a knack for scoring big goals in the past and at age 25, he still has plenty more to give to the U.S. team. He’s also revealed an ability to play as a lone striker and given the apparent glut of central midfield players on this roster, that could be the role he’s given this Tuesday.

U.S. emphasizes youth in naming 22-man squad for Paraguay friendly

Mar 18, 2018eff CarlisleSoccer

The U.S. men’s national team roster that was named Sunday by caretaker manager Dave Sarachan was expected to include a long-term absentee due to injury. Indeed it did, just not the one that was expected.Kenny Saief, who is on loan to Belgian side Anderlecht from fellow Jupiler League club Gent, was named to Sarachan’s 22-man roster. The past nine months have been quite the journey for Saief. He was part of Bruce Arena’s Gold Cup squad last summer, but after one substitute appearance in a friendly against Ghana, he was forced to drop out because of a hernia injury. Surgery followed, but a complication in the form of an infection meant an even lengthier spell on the sidelines.But now Saief is back playing again, having made nine league appearances for Anderlecht and scoring one goal, and he could very well see the field in the March 27 friendly against Paraguay in Cary, North Carolina.”When we had [Saief] last for the Gold Cup, he unfortunately had an injury, and we didn’t really get to know him,” said Sarachan. “He’s been on loan to Anderlecht in Belgium since January, where he is seeing consistent minutes and is an integral part of their first 11. We feel he’s healthy, in good form and has a unique skill set that makes me excited to see him with us again, with the hopes he stays healthy and sees some minutes against Paraguay.”

Alas, a national team return will have to wait for Werder Bremen forward Aron Johannsson. Injuries have plagued Johannsson practically from the moment he signed with Bremen. The worst of these was a hip injury that sidelined him for almost the entirety of the 2016-17 season. He was then so far down the Bremen depth chart that it seemed near impossible for him to crack the starting lineup. But Johannsson fought back and has seen the field on 12 occasions this season, scoring twice.Such performances had Johannsson in line for a recall, but unfortunately, a minor leg injury has prevented him from taking part.That of course leaves an opening for others, in this case Andrija Novakovich, who is on loan to Dutch second-tier side Telstar from English Championship side Reading. Novakovich has scored 18 goals so far this season, good enough for second in the Eerste Divisie.”The forward position is a very important one, and I’ve always felt in general — not just with our national team, but in our country as a whole — that you can’t have enough depth there,” said Sarachan. “You always pay attention to players domestically and overseas who are scoring goals, regardless if it’s in the first or second division. Being 6-foot-4, he’s a different type of forward than some of our other players that we have in this camp and in the program. He’s an intriguing one, and obviously he’s young, so for me it’s about getting him in and seeing what he’s like now when he’s put among the national team players in training.”At age 21, Novakovich is indicative of a youth movement that Sarachan has implemented since taking over on a temporary basis late last year. Given the U.S. team’s absence from the World Cup this summer, it’s the right move, as is the inclusion of some veterans to lend some experience. While Newcastle United’s DeAndre Yedlin and Hamburg’s Bobby Wood will provide a veteran presence, the future of the team looks set to be built around the likes of New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams, Schalke’s Weston McKennie and Vitesse’s Matt Miazga.The center of defense figures to be one area of focus for the Paraguay match. In addition to Miazga, Ipswich Town defender Cameron Carter-Vickers (on loan from Tottenham Hotspur) and Kortrijk defender Erik Palmer-Brown (on loan from Manchester City) were also called in.”It’s a huge position up the middle of the field, and watching both Matt and Cameron, each have been logging significant minutes and playing important roles for their clubs,” said Sarachan. “Each made a good impression on me when we had them in our roster against Portugal last November, and I think this is just a continuation of giving these guys more minutes in a game in an important position for us. It’s a great opportunity for them.”In Erik’s case, he’s had less time playing in a new situation playing on loan with Kortrijk in Belgium. He’s a player I don’t know as well, but someone who has a great pedigree, captaining our U-20 national team at the World Cup last summer. I’m looking forward to getting to know him throughout the week as well, knowing that he’s a good young prospect at that position.”Timothy Weah is one of five players getting his first look in a senior national team camp. And given his famous father George Weah — who is not only a former FIFA World Player of the Year, but the president of Liberia as well — he figures to get plenty of attention. But Weah has progressed well with Paris Saint-Germain, and Sarachan is eager to get a glimpse of his talent.”He’s a versatile player than can fit in at a couple different positions, and when you have speed and technical ability combined as a young kid, I think he’s an interesting prospect to offer an opportunity to,” said Sarachan of Weah.It’s worth noting that Sarachan opted to leave Werder Bremen forward Josh Sargent with the U-20s. He explained that considering Sargent is not yet playing professional games with the club, he’s taking a slower approach.”He’s still an important player for that age group,” said Sarachan of the decision. “I felt because of the timing it made better sense for him to get full games with the U-20s for this particular friendly date. For our next set of games, the idea then would be that he’d have more of an opportunity to be a part of our senior team.”There will plenty of eyes on the midfield as well to see if Adams and McKennie can build on their respective performances against Portugal last November. The future of the U.S. midfield seems set to include these two, provided they continue to progress.The Paraguay match will provide the next data point.

USMNT interim coach Dave Sarachan calls in young roster for March friendly

March 18, 20181:16PM EDTBenjamin BaerNew Media Editor

In the third camp since failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, US national teaminterim coach Dave Sarachan continued a trend by calling in a young roster for a March 27 friendly against Paraguay in Cary, N.C. (7:30 pm ET; FS1, UniMás).The average age of the 22 players called in is just above 23-years-old and five players who ply their trade overseas got their first call-ups to the USMNT. Those include former Sporting Kansas City center back Erik Palmer-Brown and 2017 Under-17 World Cup standout Tim Weah.“This match once again represents an opportunity for some new faces. The roster has an average age under 24, so for the most part this a group of younger players that we feel have a future with the national team along with some familiar names,” Sarachan said in a release. “The timing is right to give these guys international exposure, and they will certainly be tested against a strong and experienced Paraguayan team.”Players from MLS sides that were called up include New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adamsand Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen.One notable absence is Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulisic. The 19-year-old has not played for the US since October.“I’ve had conversations with the Sporting Director at Dortmund and several with Christian personally about the timing of this friendly and where he is professionally at the moment with his club,” Sarachan said. “He’s now feeling confident in playing an important role for Dortmund at a crucial time in their season where they’re trying to lock in qualification for the Champions League. They also have a huge match against Bayern Munich on the back end of our match against Paraguay, so when I factored all of those things together, as much as we wanted him here I felt it best suits the player to continue in the rhythm and form he’s currently in with his club.”EDIT: Pachuca winger Kekuta Manneh was added to the roster on Monday, March 19.

US Men’s National Team Roster

Pos. Player Club Caps/Goals
GK Alex Bono Toronto FC 0/0
GK Bill Hamid Midtjylland 5/0
GK Zack Steffen Columbus 1/0
D Cameron Carter-Vickers Ipswich Town 1/0
D Eric Lichaj Nottingham Forest 14/1
D Matt Miazga Vitesse 4/1
D Shaq Moore Levante 0/0
D Erik Palmer-Brown Kortrijk 0/0
D Antonee Robinson Bolton 0/0
D Jorge Villafaña Santos Laguna 15/0
D DeAndre Yedlin Newcastle United 49/0
M Tyler Adams NY Red Bulls 2/0
M Marky Delgado Toronto FC 0/0
M Kekuta Manneh Pachuca 0/0
M Weston McKennie Schalke 1/1
M Darlington Nagbe Atlanta United 24/1
M Cristian Roldan Seattle 2/0
M Kenny Saief Anderlecht 1/0
M Wil Trapp Columbus 3/0
M Tim Weah Paris Saint-Germain 0/0
F Andrija Novakovich Telstar 0/0
F Rubio Rubin Club Tijuana 4/0
F Bobby Wood Hamburg 36/10

Timothy Weah earns first senior call-up as U.S. names youthful squad

Mar 18, 2018  Jeff CarlisleSoccer

Paris Saint-Germain’s Timothy Weah has received his first call-up to the United States national team, as caretaker manager Dave Sarachan continues his youth movement by naming a 22-player squad for the March 27 friendly against Paraguay.Weah is the son of one-time World Player of the Year and current president of Liberia George Weah. After scoring a hat trick against Paraguay at the Under-17 World Cup last October, the 18-year-old made two first-team appearances with PSG this month, and Sarachan is keen to get a look up close.”Tim has obviously been very successful with our youth national teams,” Sarachan said. “More recently with PSG, he’s playing for a high-profile club who has seen fit to give him first-team minutes, which is a great sign of his progression.”He’s a versatile player than can fit in at a couple different positions, and when you have speed and technical ability combined as a young kid, I think he’s an interesting prospect to offer an opportunity to.”The emphasis is clearly on youth with an average age of just under 24. The roster includes several players who performed well in the 1-1 draw with Portugal last November, including Vitesse defender Matt Miazga, New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams and Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie.Weah is one of five players to receive their first call-up, along with defenders Shaq Moore of La Liga club Levante, Erik Palmer-Brown (Kortrijk on loan from Manchester City) and Antonee Robinson (Bolton on loan from Everton), as well as forward Andrija Novakovich (Telstar on loan from Reading).”For the most part they’re younger players that we feel have a future with the national team along with some familiar faces who were a part of January camp that we felt did well and wanted to continue looking at those players,” Sarachan said. “We’ve mixed that with a few players who offer some experience from the past relative to being part of the program … These are guys that come in with a voice of experience.”Among the more familiar players included are Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin, the most experienced in the squad with 49 caps. He is joined by Santos Laguna defender Jorge Villafana, Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe and Hamburg forward Bobby Wood.

One name that is conspicuously absent is Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulisic. Dortmund has a league match against Bayern Munich the following Saturday, and given that with travel Pulisic wouldn’t return until Thursday, the decision was made to leave him off the roster.  “I’ve had conversations with the sporting director at Dortmund and several with Christian personally about the timing of this friendly and where he is professionally at the moment with his club,” Sarachan said. “He’s now feeling confident in playing an important role for Dortmund at a crucial time in their season where they’re trying to lock in qualification for the Champions League.

“They also have a huge match against Bayern Munich on the back end of our match against Paraguay, so when I factored all of those things together, as much as we wanted him here I felt it best suits the player to continue in the rhythm and form he’s currently in with his club.”  Another notable absentee is Werder Bremen forward Aron Johannsson, who recently made a comeback after struggling with injuries and was slated to be on the roster. But Johannsson recently picked up a minor leg injury that rendered him unavailable. Wolfsburg defender John Brooks was also ruled out because of injury.  On the plus side, Anderlecht’s on-loan attacker Kenny Saief is included in the squad. Saief was part of the 2017 Goal Cup squad, but complications from hernia surgery have prevented him from getting a further look. He has made nine appearances with Anderlecht this season, scoring one goal.”In the case of Kenny, when we had him last for the Gold Cup, he unfortunately had an injury and we didn’t really get to know him,” Sarachan said. “He’s been on loan to Anderlecht in Belgium since January where he is seeing consistent minutes and is an integral part of their first 11.”We feel he’s healthy, in good form and has a unique skill set that makes me excited to see him with us again, with the hopes he stays healthy and sees some minutes against Paraguay.”Nagbe could line up against his Atlanta teammate Miguel Almiron, who was named to the Paraguay squad for the game next Tuesday in Cary, North Carolina.

U.S. squad by position (club; caps/goals)

Goalkeepers: Alex Bono (Toronto FC; 0/0), Bill Hamid (Midtjylland; 5/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 1/0)

Defenders: Cameron Carter-Vickers (Ipswich Town; 1/0), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest; 14/1), Matt Miazga (Vitesse; 4/1), Shaq Moore (Levante; 0/0), Erik Palmer-Brown (Kortrijk; 0/0), Antonee Robinson (Bolton Wanderers; 0/0), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna; 15/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle; 49/0)

Midfielders: Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; 2/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC; 0/0), Weston McKennie (Schalke; 1/1), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United; 24/1), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 2/0), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht; 1/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 3/0), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain; 0/0)

Forwards: Andrija Novakovich (Telstar; 0/0), Rubio Rubin (Club Tijuana; 4/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg; 36/10)

What happened? An inquest into America’s most embarrassing flop

Mar 20, 2018  Jeff Rueter & Howler Magazine

This story is from the winter/spring 2018 issue of Howler, a quarterly magazine about soccer. Get 20 percent off a subscription with promo code HOWLER14 at shop.howlermagazine.com.

It was an event so disastrous that Twitter had to double it character limit just to accommodate the calls for everyone at U.S. Soccer to be fired. In the aftermath, we’ve read roughly 5,742 think-pieces, each trying to zero in on the one thing that could have prevented the United States men’s national team from failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.Of course, the reasons behind the failure are complicated and many, so we have unburdened ourselves of word limits and the need to stick to a single train of thought. What follows is an entire mass transit system of what went wrong for the USMNT in 2017.I. Blame it on bad luck…

AWAY FIXTURES ARE ALWAYS DIFFICULT and every team in CONCACAF presents a tough environment. Both of Trinidad Tobago’s goals were massive flukes. Omar Gonzalez couldn’t place a shot like that on his next 99 attempts. Nor could Alvin Jones, who might as well have been standing on a neighboring island when he scored his worldy.That, of course, doesn’t explain the massive bounces of bad luck outside of Couva. Both the Ticos and Mexico had already booked their Aeroflot reservations. And both led their matches at half-time against inferior opponents, results that would have allowed the U.S. to join them in Russia no matter the outcome in Trinidad.There’s been no confirmation that Juan Carlos Osorio and Oscar Ramírez spoke at half-time and agreed to concede twice to knock the U.S. out. However, there’s also been no confirmation that they didn’t. In any case, that is what happened. Panama snuck past the Yanks in part because of a phantom goal that never cleared the line and in part because center-back Roman Torres reinvented himself as a center-forward and applied the People’s Elbow to U.S. qualifying hopes in the 88th minute. And Mexico? Turns out Estadio Azteca is highly selective about when it serves as a fortress and Honduras somehow beat El Tri. An own goal. A Hail Mary goal. A phantom goal.Three results gone the wrong way. That’s called fate. There’s nothing the U.S. could have done.

II. Or Bruce Arena

MAYBE THERE WAS A LOT the U.S. could have done. The previous Thursday, the Nats had beaten the very same Panama side in Orlando to the tune of 4-0. The offense was clicking, Christian Pulisic was doing special things and the back line seemed reinvigorated by the return of Newcastle right-back DeAndre Yedlin. Bruce Arena’s team came into the match obviously well prepared. He was so confident that he told the media he wasn’t even thinking about Trinidad Tobago until after the first game was over.Oops. After just 10 minutes in Couva, with the U.S. team’s rhythm disrupted by only four nights’ rest and a flight to Port of Spain that might as well have been the distance to the earth’s core, it seemed clear that Arena should have swapped out a few starters. The best you can say about the decision to go with the same lineup, coupled with Arena’s comments after the game that “nothing has to change,” is that it reflects a staggering level of arrogance. And to be fair, that Long Island ‘tude is often Arena at his most fetching. But looking back, our players and our tactics were tired and the decision to play Gonzalez over Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron, who didn’t feature in the first match, still doesn’t make sense.Equally puzzling was the benching of Clint Dempsey, who was fresh after seeing the field for only 20 minutes against Panama. Deuce would have been motivated by the fact that a single strike would have given him the all-time U.S. scoring record. Rather than trust him to go 90 minutes, Arena subbed him in at half-time, when the U.S. was already down by two.

III. Then again, Arena was an emergency hire (and that’s a problem)

CLOSE YOUR EYES AND THINK of a happy place. For many of us, that happy place is actually a happy time, specifically any time before 2016. Prince roamed the earth, and the United States had a perfect record of qualifying for every World Cup since 1990. It was a happy time in which advancing from the “Group of Death” could be viewed, rightly, as a solid achievement. And thank goodness, because regardless of our performance in the 2014 World Cup, the U.S. federation had already retained Jurgen Klinsmann as coach for another four years.You’d have to go back to Steve Sampson and the U.S. team’s last-place finish at the 1998 World Cup to find a manager who was not retained for a second cycle. For some reason, we have normalized a practice that is extremely rare in the rest of the world. Klinsmann’s second cycle perpetuated a program in disharmony. He insisted on deploying players out of position (Michael Bradley as a No. 10, anyone? Alejandro Bedoya as holding midfielder against Brazil? Jermaine Jones at the center of a back three?) and had a habit of shooing them onto the field with little in the way of tactical instruction.The U.S. finished fourth at the 2015 Gold Cup, a spectacular failure. This forced the first-ever CONCACAF playoff, where the U.S. looked over-matched against Mexico and failed to make the Confederations Cup. Ahead of the Hexagonal, the United States made it to the Copa America Centenario semifinal on home soil — another high point — but once there, the team was utterly humiliated by Leo Messi and Argentina.The dysfunction was apparent well before November of 2016, when Klinsmann sent his players out in an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation for the first Hexagonal match, against Mexico, at Columbus’s MAPFRE Stadium. Mexico won, dos a uno. Then the team flew down to Costa Rica and received the hammering of its life. In hindsight, just one point from those first two matches would’ve gotten the Americans to Russia.So how did Arena get the job? He was the emergency fix for a crisis we — and by we, I mean the people whose job it is to monitor these things — should have all seen coming. While it’s easy to blame the German for guiding the program into such a shambolic state, Sunil Gulati and the U.S. Soccer Federation allowed it to happen.

IV. Let’s talk about Major League Soccer

WHAT IF KLINSMANN WAS RIGHT and the return of his most trusted players to Major League Soccer from their European clubs had a tangibly negative effect on his own ability to lead the USA to victory? Let’s investigate.The relationship between MLS and the men’s national team is complicated. Early on, the league fostered the growth of fringe national team players while the very best played in other leagues. Landon Donovan came back after failing to catch on at Bayer Leverkusen and became the gold standard for attackers in MLS. For a while, he seemed like something of a one-off.That all changed in 2013 when Dempsey signed with the Seattle Sounders. Soon, Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Bedoya, Jones, DaMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Paul Arriola would chase their own American dreams back to MLS. Others, such as Jordan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Matt Besler and Gyasi Zardes, did not venture abroad even though that was the usual move for players of their standing within the national team. (Gonzalez was one player who did transfer to a more challenging environment, Liga MX.) And there’s simply no denying that choosing to move back or remain stateside meant these players faced lower-quality opponents than they would have by playing in top foreign leagues.

This is a case where MLS’s business priorities put it at odds with the overall improvement of the national team. Signing established players helps the league market American stars. And because the league owns player contracts and takes more than half the cut from transfer fees, clubs may choose to keep their best players rather than let them go.Among the starters in the loss to Trinidad Tobago, Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Yedlin, Gonzalez and Jorge Villafana played in leagues of higher quality than MLS. Others, such as Cameron and Fabian Johnson, were available but did not play. Who knows what might have happened in the Hex had more of Arena’s preferred starters been battle hardened by playing outside of the United States and Canada?

V. (whispers) What if this group of players just isn’t that good?

YOU BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN. I believe that, for a country of more than 300 million people, it’s kind of pathetic that the United States has but a single player getting minutes in the Champions League group stage. The truth is that Arena (and Klinsmann before him) was forced to make do with only a few international-caliber players in the prime age range of 24 to 27.In October, Brian Sciaretta analyzed three decades of U.S. player development for americansoccernow.com. He found that each birth year produced, on average, two to three solid national team contributors. But he termed the range from 1990 to ’94 “the Lost Generation” because only three players born in those years have emerged as regulars: Wood, Yedlin and Nagbe.

Since the U.S.’s run to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002, the team, along with Mexico, has been the class of CONCACAF. Qualifying was rarely difficult and the team was able to escape all but one group stage from 2002 onward. But comparing the ideal starting XI for the Trinidad game to that 2002 side is
a humbling exercise.Brad Friedel then was better than post-Everton Howard. Tony Sanneh at right-back was a better pure defender than either Yedlin or Graham Zusi. Eddie Pope would be a lock to start in the current squad. Pablo Mastroeni, Claudio Reyna and John O’Brien controlled a far tidier midfield than Bradley plus Jones or Bradley more or less by himself. Neither Altidore nor Wood changes games with the consistency of Brian McBride. There is no winger in the current pool as dangerous or direct as DaMarcus Beasley. It’s an odd coincidence that the player with the most attitude in both squads was a southerner named Clint. And while Dempsey is now considered one of the U.S. team’s all-time greats, I might pick 2002 Clint Mathis over 2017 Clint Dempsey for the rigors of an international tournament.

The one exception is a question of preference between Pulisic and Donovan, who previously filled the role of Germany-based teenage sensation. It’s easy to forget just how spellbinding young Donovan could be but Pulisic’s experience with Borussia Dortmund gives him the edge. (At press time, he ranked third in dribbles among players in Europe behind only Messi and Neymar. Decent.) Regardless, this was far from the most talented team to represent the United States and in most areas of the pitch, it wasn’t even particularly close.

VI. There’s some serious talent on the horizon but we still need to expand the pipeline

SCIARETTA’S PIECE ENDED ON A POSITIVE note: The talent was flowing again by 1997. Weston McKennie, 19, and Jonathan Gonzalez, 18, are starting for Schalke and Monterrey, respectively. Luca de la Torre is on the books at Fulham, Brooks Lennon at Liverpool, Gedion Zelalem at Arsenal, Cameron Carter-Vickers at Spurs and 17-year-old Josh Sargent, who finished second in the charge for the Golden Boot at the U-20 World Cup in June without ever playing in a professional game, will join Werder Bremen in January.

But several structural weaknesses hinder player development. The most glaring is pay to play, the system by which youth clubs cost bazillions of dollars to join. Between coaching fees, travel and equipment, the cost essentially prices the world’s game out of many a family budget. Financial aid programs exist, but just think about that for a minute: we’ve created a system so absurd that simply playing soccer sometimes requires financial aid. If you don’t join a top team, the chances of a scout noticing you diminish. And the system disproportionately overlooks or excludes Latino and African American kids.

Those who can cover the registration fee don’t always find themselves in an optimal environment to improve. The overall level of coaching knowledge is low compared with more established soccer nations, and our sporting culture places too much emphasis on winning over learning at a young age. Until we prize attributes like decision-making and comfort on the ball as much as size and speed, the best teams will keep kicking our ass when it matters.

VII. Okay, Bernie: how do youth clubs make money without charging?

IT’S A COMMON GLOBAL PRACTICE — not to mention mandated by FIFA — to include a solidarity payment clause in the contract when a player’s signed by a professional club from a youth team. This number is minimal, usually around five percent, and is paid out if the former youth product is sold to a second professional club. When the Seattle Sounders youth academy plucked Yedlin from Washington youth program Crossfire Premier and the player turned an eye-opening 2014 World Cup performance into a $3.71 million transfer fee to Tottenham, a five percent take would have netted Crossfire $185,000. But the USSF doesn’t enforce solidarity payments, citing child-labor, nonprofit and antitrust laws. There’s a case
pending in FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber over this very example.

Allowing solidarity payments can help a program like Crossfire in two major ways. First, it shifts the focus ever so slightly from winning youth matches to developing future professionals. Turning out more and better professionals will net more money. Second, those payments can subsidize the costs of training, allowing programs to open their doors to talented underprivileged youth without the need to charge exorbitant fees.

VIII. Even if youth soccer were free for everybody, we would still need more qualified coaches

THE USSF HAS TAKEN STEPS to improve youth coaching. In 2015, it launched the Digital Coaching Center to increase the reach of coaching instruction. This is a positive step that ensures all coaches in an organized youth league will have a standardized approach to managing their players. However, a massive problem still remains, and it’ll sound familiar. The combined cost of the national A and B licenses is a cool $7,000. In Germany, the A license costs $600 while Spain charges $2,800. If it’s tough for some families to justify a high club cost for their kids, it’s even more daunting for an adult to drop several months’ wages to earn a coaching badge.

IX. You might need a diploma to fix American soccer but forget the degree if you want to play

In an exclusive interview with ESPN FC, Julian Green reflects on the highlight of his career and his desire to return to the U.S. national team fold.

ASIDE FROM THE CRIPPLING DEBT, there’s nothing wrong with going to college. But players who split time between the pitch and the lecture hall will generally lag behind their professional peers. As academies grow, the college game will continue to diminish as a source of national team talent but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

The abbreviated NCAA schedule is the biggest hurdle. In 2017, Stanford’s men’s team played an 18-game regular season between Aug. 25 and Nov. 9: an average of two matches per week. Five more wins through Dec. 10 earned them the NCAA championship but then the program went relatively dormant because the NCAA imposes strict limitations on weekly off-season training hours. So for three-and-a-half months, players experience a huge amount of wear and tear on their bodies, and then they go without the kind of training and instruction that is crucial for young players for the rest of the year. Besides, unlike development academies, Division I soccer programs are oriented not to produce future professionals but, again, to win, because that increases donations and helps recruitment.

Perhaps someday, the NCAA will allow teams to play year-round. Or it could simply require schools to offer “Becoming the American Messi” as a major.

X. The pro/relephant in the room

WHETHER THE U.S. EVER ADOPTS a system of promotion and relegation is a complex business and political decision. But the merits of such a system for producing a deeper player pool are quite clear, and we can demonstrate them not by offering hypotheticals about how it would work in the U.S. but by pointing to the tangible ways pro/rel benefits the many other countries in which it is the norm.

These include incentives for small clubs to scout and train local players (especially urgent in regions that remain unserved by MLS clubs), a more fluid market for players and coaches, and the opportunity for players to experience more high-pressure game situations.

XI. Are we basically blaming everybody?

THE FAILURE WAS PERSONAL AND SYSTEMIC. It was a fluke and a long time coming. Improvement will happen little by little and in lots of different places at once with kids spending more time kicking around with their friends, coaches learning to train their players with an eye to making them better rather than winning trophies, and youth systems earning rewards for turning out top talent.

The age of guaranteed World Cup entry is over-at least until FIFA expands the tournament and gives CONCACAF six spots. Other regulars like Italy, the Netherlands, Chile, Ghana, and Cameroon failed to qualify for Russia 2018. It’s a sign that weaker teams are closing the gap. And it means that national programs like ours need to do some serious self-reflection.

This story is from the winter/spring 2018 issue of Howler, a quarterly magazine about soccer. Get 20 percent off a subscription with promo code HOWLER14 at shop.howlermagazine.com.

JEFF RUETER is a writer in Saint Paul who contributes to the Guardian, ESPN FC and U.S. Soccer Players. Twitter: @jeffrueter

Is Zlatan Ibrahimovic Too Old for MLS or Would He Still Be a Worthwhile Investment?

By GRANT WAHL and BRIAN STRAUS January 30, 2018

The rumors and reports have fired up again, and it appears that the LA Galaxy are making yet another push to lure Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Major League Soccer.

Ibrahimovic was potentially going to be bound for Los Angeles over the summer, but a serious knee injury in April prevented that from taking place. Instead, he re-signed with Manchester United and returned to action late last year, but a minor injury setback and strong competition in the United attack have limited his minutes. Jose Mourinho claimed Monday that he wouldn’t stand in the way if Ibra were to want to move to MLS, seemingly clearing the way for the parties to make a deal.

(UPDATE: SI can confirm reports that Ibrahimovic has signed with the LA Galaxy on a two-year deal)

Ibrahimovic has been linked to MLS for years, and two years ago he told SI.com that Thierry Henry advised him that he would need patience when adapting the league, should he arrive. His past relationship with David Beckham has also led to a natural link to his Miami franchise, though by the time that gets off the ground at this point, Zlatan will be 38.

MLS has gotten away from spending big to lure aging stars from Europe and instead focused more on younger, rising talent from South America. But would Ibrahimovic, who is a year removed from a 28-goal season and provides non-stop entertainment value, be the ultimate exception to the rule? We discuss Zlatan’s potential future in America on the latest Planet Fútbol Podcast (beginning at the 9:04 mark), which you can listen to in full below.

To subscribe to the podcast and download past episodes, you can visit our iTunes page. This segment was edited only for clarity and length.

GW: I don’t want to see 30-year-old, pretty much over-the-hill European stars coming to join [David Beckham’s project in] Miami. I don’t want to see that happen very often in MLS, period, and here we are now with reports, first Taylor Twellman had it on Sunday night, that the LA Galaxy is getting close to signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He’s 36 years old, hasn’t played much this year, coming off a bad, bad knee injury and wouldn’t even be a Designated Player. He would be a TAM (targeted allocation money) signing. Zlatan to L.A., do you like the sound of that, or is it Steven Gerrard Part Two?

BS: Wouldn’t you have loved to have been in the room when [Galaxy president] Chris Klein was trying to explain to Zlatan that TAM actually was bigger than DP? And the linguistic gymnastics required to convince Zlatan that TAM actually was for lions like him?

Look, man, there’s exceptions to every rule right? And guys like Gerrard and Pirlo and some other guys and maybe came in with massive names and massive resumes and didn’t have the impact we hoped, they also weren’t transcendent cultural figures like Zlatan is, so I’m going to make an exception for the guy. I agree with you, I think most people agree that we don’t want to see this league become a beach vacation for aging European stars, but it’s Zlatan, man! Let the guy come over for a season, and if he’s not committed and it doesn’t work out on the field, the Galaxy will find a Band-Aid and figure it out, or they’ll pay a price for it. But he’s fun, he’s talented, he’s transcendent and why not give it a shot, especially when you’ve got a team down the road now (LAFC) that’s making a lot of noise and that’s looking to undo some of the 22 years of traction you’ve laid in that market.

I think it’s great, I’m looking forward to it. The whole point is are you going to watch, are you going to pay attention, are you going to follow it? And if Zlatan’s in the league, you’re going to follow it. You’re going to want to see how he did, you’re going to want to hear what he has to say. The postgame interviews in the locker room are going to be epic. So I’m looking forward to it, and either it works out or it doesn’t, and it’s going to be a story either way.

GW: First off, I love Zlatan Ibrahimovic as a media member, and I can’t wait for him if he does come.

I interviewed him once about his autobiography, which is one of the more entertaining autobiographies ever, he basically goes off on everybody, including Pep Guardiola, plenty of others. … If you open fire on all these people like Pep Guardiola in your book you basically have to answer questions about it when someone interviews you about your book. So I never met Zlatan before, and suddenly I’m asking him these totally charged questions based on the book I had just read. The one downer, it’s a pretty big one, it came out eventually that the author of the book–it was an as-told-to book–totally made stuff that isn’t even true and that Zlatan eventually approved for some reason and then it was presented as factual which is really lame. But, that said. I love Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

I would not like this move at all if it were as a Designated Player, but if it’s TAM, you can kind of roll the dice. If the Galaxy really isn’t spending that much money on it, then why not? It’s pretty low risk for the Galaxy, he’s not taking up a DP slot, and the upside, if he can get it going again–or even get it going to half of what he was before–would be pretty good.

BS: They’ve made some other moves in the midfield and up front. They’ve got Jonathan Dos Santos, they got Ola Kamara from Columbus, Sebastian Lletget will be sort of like an addition because he essentially missed all of last year with an injury, so I think they were on a decent trajectory before this. So if they’re not spending a fortune … it’s not a massive, massive outlay that could sort of cripple the season. I’m all for it. And again, this is very Zlatan. The man has transcended into historical fiction already, and he’s still playing. This is why he has to be here and like I said, whatever happens, whatever circus ensues by him being here will be worth it. And the nice thing is is that the league is at a point where if it’s the wrong move, that’s just going to hurt the Galaxy, it’s not going to hurt the whole league. Other teams aren’t going to suffer, and that’s how it should be. Teams should ante up and benefit if the move is right and pay the price if the move is wrong, and that’s what will happen.

Forget Messi Comparisons: Salah is Evoking Suarez Memories at Liverpool

March 18, 2018

The speed from out wide, the ankle-turning close control, an almost aloofness to their own brilliance, the parallels between Mohamed Salah and Lionel Messi are quite easy to draw aesthetically on some level.With his four-goal haul against Watford, the Kop’s Egyptian king took his tally to 28 in the Premier League, set new records for a Liverpool player in his debut season and staked a hell of a claim to be considered as the player of the year, as we head into awards season.After the game, Jurgen Klopp addressed the Messi comparisons that have taken over social media, diplomatically claiming Salah was ‘on his way’ to greatness, while also attempting to play down the bubbling hype.”I don’t think Mo wants to be compared with Lionel Messi,” Klopp said. “Messi has been doing what he’s been doing for what feels like 20 years or so.”And that’s just it. Messi is such a unique force simply because he’s kept it up for so long. Near-incomparable longevity is the key to Messi’s success.

However, while the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is seemingly off the table of reasonable football debate, when it comes to finding similarities, one man Salah surely did fully emulate on Saturday afternoon in the snow at Anfield was Luis Suarez – the finest Liverpool player of the last five years.Salah is now the first Reds player to hit four in a Premier League match since King Luis tortured Norwich in front of the Kop back in December of 2013.Suarez, prolific against most teams during his spell in England, had such a thing for Norwich – he scored 12 times in five games against the Canaries – that keeper Jon Ruddy joked on Twitter< that he should have received a cut of Barcelona’s £75m transfer fee to Liverpool.The now Barça’s star’s finest performance in a Liverpool shirt was quite possibly his four-goal outing against Norwich that December, with his confidence at a delirious high, all four strikes were works of art.With his all action display Watford that combined the beautiful and the dogged, the brilliant and the belligerent, Salah – who, at his best, does everything but sell match day programs – has now had his ‘Norwich moment’ for Liverpool.Again, there are aesthetic and positional similarities between the two players, particularly the twisting runs that level defenders to the ground like a magic spell. However, more than just movement, skill and goals it is the sheer force of will that links the two players; an unstoppable energy that drives the team, as well as his own performance.Two more goals before the season ends will see Salah become the first Liverpool player since Suarez to score 30 Premier League goals in a single campaign.The most any Liverpool player has ever managed (in all competitions) in a single season is 47 managed back in 1984 by Ian Rush.With seven Premier League fixtures left, plus at least two in the Champions League, if Salah currently on 36 can match or better the record of club’s greatest ever goalscorer, Liverpool fans surely won’t care about the Messi talk.

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