4/2/18 Champs League Tues/Wed 2:45 on FS1- Juve-Real Tues, Liverpool-Man City Wed, Zlatan a God in LA – scores Winner in debut

 

MLS WELCOME TO ZLATAN IBRAAAA

Ok Zlatan – IBRAAAAAAAH – If you have been under a rock this weekend – perhaps you missed Zlatan’s debut at LA Galaxy as they played the first ever El Traffico against new in town rival and undefeated LAFC.  LAFC under the tutelage of Bob Bradley (the best US Coach ever I think) – got off to a 3-0 lead shocking the Galaxy faithful.  But then the Galaxy stole one back early in the 2nd half – then in the 70th minute on came Zlatan – 3 minutes on and LA scores a header  – then 7 minutes in and IBRA scores the tying goal with a 40 yard wonder strike off the volley.  Then the unthinkable the winning goal in the 90th minute –. a pinpoint header between 3 defenders and the oncoming goalie. (you must watch this).  I was driving and listening on the radio – and I almost drove off the road when Zlatan scored the winner.  Unbelievable!   I can’t wait to see this live – when I go to the next El Traffico in late July while in LA!!) IBRAAAAH !!  After the game – Ibra says simply – the Fans Wanted Zlatan – I give them Zlatan -Your Welcome LA !!    Must See Soccer!

Champions League Elite 8 – Tues/Wed

So we get to the meat of the schedule with Champions League Elite 8 play on Tues/Wed at 2:45 pm the next 2 Weeks.  I like Juventus and legendary Goalkeeper Gigi Buffon’s chances of taking revenge on Current Cup Holder’s Real Madrid and Renaldo at home this Tuesday at 2:45 on Fox Sport 1 and I like Liverpool 2-1 at home at Anfield in the 1st leg vs league leader Man City Wednesday on Fox Sport 2.  The other 2 games should be walks in the park for Bayern and Barca.   If you have have Univision it should be fun to watch the MLS teams as they battle the Mexican teams in the CONCACAF Champ League games Tues/Wed night at 8pm and of course Europa League featuring my Atletico Madrid at 3 pm Thurs on FS2, and Arsenal vs Moscow at the same time on FS1.  Oh and the US ladies face Mexico at 7 pm on Thurs eve on FS1.

Tues, Apr 3 – Champions League

2:45 pm FS1           Juventus vs Real Madrid 

2:45 ESPN Des/FBlive Sevilla vs Bayern Munich (facebook live)

8 pm Univision        Toronto FC  vs America (Concacaf Champ League)

Weds, Apr 4 – Champions League

12:30 pm beIN Sport Milan vs Inter (Italy Serie A)

2:45 pm FS 1                 Barcelona  vs Roma

2:45 pm FS2                Liverpool vs Man City

8 pm Univision        Guadalajara vs NY Redbulls (Concacaf Champ League)

Thurs, Apr 5  – Europa League

3:05 pm FS2                   Atletico Madrid vs Sporting CP

3:05 pm FS1                   Arsenal vs CSKA Moscow

3 pm Fox soccer           RB Leipeg vs Marseille

7 pm Fox Sport 1        USA Women vs Mexico

INDY 11 Debut Solid New Stadium with Record Crowd over 17K

And finally our Indy 11 made their home USL debut in a hard fought 1-0 loss at home to FC Cincy on Sat.  Sounds like a great crowd was on hand and the Indy 11 were a bit unlucky not to at least get the draw.  (see all the stories below and online at https://www.theoleballcoach.com.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Who Will Advance to Semi-Finals?  SI  VIDEO with Grant Wahl

Real Faces Defensive issues vs Juve

Juve – Buffon on Real – No Team is Invincible

Real’s Dominance Deserves Respect

Real Fans weary of Juve

Man City must prioritize win over Liverpool vs Sat game with Man U

Salah, Fermino, Man almost unstoppable says Pep

Barcelona’s Busquets fit for UCL game with Roma

Liverpool will win Trophies with Klopp

Champions League Quiz – how much do you know ?

MLS

Was LA – LAFC the Best MLS Game Ever?

Greatest MLS Debut Ever? Zlatan?  – Grant Wahl SI

Zlatan Exceeds Any Expectations – I Gave them ZLATAN – SI Brian Straus

Zlataaaaaan + other Moments from MLS weekend Armchair Analyst – Matt Doyle –

The Magic of Zlatan – Bobby Warsaw

Week 5 Wrap Up MLS  

Indy 11

Indy 11 new Home Not Perfect for Soccer but a Huge Upgrade for the 11 – Indy Star Kevin Johnston,

Indy 11 puts up Huge – MLS Type Attendance Records – Indy Star

Indy’s Home Opener a Huge Success without any points – James Cormack – Bloody Shambles

FC Cincy Tops Indy 1-0 in Lucas Oil USL Debut – Robbie Mehling  – Photos Soctakes.com

Stranger Things Millie Brown – loves the TIFO by BYB – Indy Star Dakota Crawford

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

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

EPL

Why Tottenham win at Chelsea was more than Average Derby Win

GAMES ON TV 

Tues, Apr 3 – Champions League

2:45 pm FS1           Juventus vs Real Madrid 

2:45 ESPN Des/FBlive               Sevilla vs Bayern Munich (facebook live)

8 pm Univision        Toronto FC  vs America (Concacaf Champ League)

Weds, Apr 4 – Champions League

12:30 pm beIN Sport                       Milan vs Inter (Italy Serie A)

2:45 pm FS 1                 Barcelona  vs Roma

2:45 pm FS2                Liverpool vs Man City

8 pm Univision        Guadalajara vs NY Redbulls (Concacaf Champ League)

Thurs, Apr 5  – Europa League

3:05 pm FS2                   Atletico Madrid vs Sporting CP

3:05 pm FS1                   Arsenal vs CSKA Moscow

3 pm Fox soccer          RB Leipeg vs Marseille

7 pm Fox Sport 1    USA Women vs Mexico

Fri, Apr 6

2:30 pm Fox Sport 2                         Hannover vs Werder Bremen (US-Aronsson)

2:45 pm beIN Sport                          Saint Etienne vs PSG (US-Tim Weah)

Sat, Apr 7

7:30 am NBCSN   Everton vs Liverpool

10 am NBCSN?              Stoke City (Cameron) vs Tottenham

12:30 pm NBC     Man City vs Man United

12:30 pm Fox               Hamburger (Woods) vs Schalke (Mckinnie)

5 pm ESPN            Atlanta United vs LAFC 

7 pm Youtube      North Carolina vs Indy 11 (BYB Watch Party @ Union Jack Broad Ripple-924 Broad Ripple Ave)

7 pm Youtube               FC Cincy vs Louisville FC

Sun, Apr 8                      

8:30 am NBCSN            Arsenal vs Stoke City

10:15 AM beIN Sport                      Real Madrid vs Athletico Madrid (Madrid Derby)

10:30 am FS1                 Werder Bremen ( ) vs Frankfurt

11 am  NBCSN      Chelsea vs Tottenham 

12:30 pm Fox       US Ladies vs Mexico

4 pm ESPN                       Orlando City vs Portland Timbers

9 pm FS 1                                                 LA Galaxy vs Sporting KC  

Tues, Apr 10 – Champions League

2:45 pm FS 1                 Roma vs Barcelona

2:45 pm FS2                Man City vs Liverpool 

8 pm Univision        America vs Toronto FC  (Concacaf Champ League)

10 pm Univision      NY Redbulls vs Guadalajara (Concacaf Champ League)

Weds, Apr 4 – Champions League

2:45 pm FS1           Real Madrid vs Juventus

2:45 ESPN Des/FBlive   Sevilla vs Bayern Munich (facebook live)

Lucas Oil Stadium not perfect home for Indy Eleven, but a big upgrade

Kevin Johnston, Special to IndyStarPublished 3:12 p.m. ET March 30, 2018

There’s a certain three-word alliteration that evokes a strong response in the soccer community: soccer-specific stadium. Purists love natural-grass stadiums designed especially for soccer. Artificial playing surfaces aren’t just frowned upon at the highest levels, they’re avoided like the bubonic plague — more on that later.For this reason, Lucas Oil Stadium isn’t the perfect home for the Indy Eleven. But it’s a darn good one.“The amenities at Lucas Oil Stadium are fabulous,” Eleven president Jeff Belskus said. “It’s a big upgrade from where we’ve been at Carroll Stadium.”The Eleven (1-0) will play its home opener 7 p.m. Saturday against FC Cincinnati (1-0).

More: Indy Eleven 3.0? Call it whatever you want — this team is intriguing

hile Lucas Oil Stadium won’t satisfy every caveat on a soccer fan’s checklist, the move to what’s now the grandest home in all lower-division soccer represents an upgrade beyond measure. It’s also a trial run to show Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber what first-division soccer might look like in Indianapolis.“We are viewing this as a big positive in our push to bring MLS to Indianapolis,” Belskus said. “It’s going to show MLS what great support we have here. “The strength of the market is important to MLS, and we’re going to demonstrate just how strong this market is. Our previous high watermark for attendance was 11,048 set in 2014. We’re going to beat that by — I expect — 30 or 40 percent this Saturday.”Indy originally planned to close off the lower-bowl seating on the west side of the stadium, but increased demand for the home opener led the club to announce earlier this week that the entire lower bowl will be available.The gameday experience will drastically improve at the Eleven’s new home. Gone are the days of using portable toilets and having no answer for poor weather. IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium doesn’t have suitable built-in restroom facilities for several thousand people, nor a concourse. It also requires makeshift vending setups due to a lack of permanent concessions. The nearest showers and modern locker rooms are across the street at the Indiana University Natatorium.As for the artificial playing surface, it remains a point of contention in the soccer community.For the Eleven, it’s nothing new. Carroll Stadium featured turf. But it is a legitimate reason why Lucas Oil Stadium isn’t the perfect venue for soccer — the same reason natural grass was brought into the stadium for a 2013 exhibition match between European giants Chelsea and Inter Milan. More than 41,000 fans showed up for the match. Without importing real grass, Indianapolis wouldn’t have landed a game of that magnitude.When decorated striker Didier Drogba joined MLS’ Montreal Impact in 2016, he refused to play in the first several matches scheduled for turf, claiming the surface was painful on his then-balky knee. The U.S. women’s national team has also found itself at the forefront of the turf debate in recent years. The team is forced to play on turf quite often, something its male counterparts rarely have to deal with.For all turf’s drawbacks, Lucas Oil Stadium is a gorgeous, taxpayer-funded stadium being under-utilized in the heart of Downtown Indy, and the Capital Improvement Board and Indy Eleven collaborated to make better use of it.While world-class players — both men and women — roll their eyes at artificial surfaces, second-division United Soccer League sides shouldn’t be held to world-class standards. The pros of the Eleven’s stadium switch far outweigh the cons.

But what about the tailgate?

The benefits of the team’s move to Lucas Oil Stadium extend to the pregame festivities as well.”We now have a tailgate partner, (Gate Ten Events),” said Josh Mason, president of the Eleven’s supporters group Brickyard Battalion. “Now we have an indoor-outdoor space. Where our indoor space when we tailgated at (Carroll Stadium) was the parking garage if it rained, now we have an indoor facility where everybody can actually come into and still continue to tailgate.”The other nice thing about this, too, is that we have the ability to march to the stadium as a group. So, we’ll be able to close the tailgate and do a direct march into the stadium. A lot of supporters’ groups do it. This will be our first opportunity to give this a shot and see how it works for Indianapolis.”The Brickyard Battalion tailgate is located on the south side of McCarthy Street between Missouri Street and Meikel Street. It’s open to everyone and parking is fittingly $11.

Indy’s Home Opener A Great Success But Without Points – Indy Eleven V FC Cincinnati REVIEW (3/31/2018)
New stadium, new players, new league. Tifo game on point!

By: James Cormack – Bloody Shambles –

Indy Eleven kicked off their first home game of the 2018 USL season against FC Cincinnati at their new home Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It was a new beginning for everyone, from tailgating to the final whistle. Despite the scoreline, everything was a huge success for the team, the supporters, and the city.s we mentioned in the run-up to this game it was always going to be a difficult game to call, I felt that Indy Eleven could have and probably should have come out of this game without losing, a draw would have been a fair result, we had our chances but didn’t take them. FC Cincinnati did and finished the match with a 1-0 victory over the Eleven.
Indy had opportunities to be first on the board early in the game, with some silky skills from Tyler Pasher on the left Indy’s number three made a great solo run all the way to the goal line and looped a cross beyond the goal and found Jack McInerney at the back post whose header came off the upright. A couple inches to the left and there was no saving that one.
Cincinnati scored the goal that would win the match in the 26th minute. A crossfield pass from left to right found Emmanuel Ledesma with time to control before sending in a cross towards the penalty spot that probably could not have been any more perfect and found Emery Welshman between Ferreira and Mitchell who nodded the ball past Fôn Williams to open the scoring. As the wonderful Greg Rakestraw was pointing out Fôn Williams to be the first Welshman to play for Indy Eleven, Emery became the first Welshman to score against us. (ah ha)

Tyler Pasher had another outstanding 90 minutes for Indy Eleven
People love to argue penalties and pour over replays, I didn’t need to, the replay on the big screen once was enough for me and I have watched it again since it was a clear penalty. With the ball already out of his reach, Newton brought both hands to McInerney’s feet and brought him down. Last man tackle, could have been a red card on any other day but referee Badawi decided it didn’t even warrant a yellow. Fair enough?With around five minutes to go before the half Indy had a great opportunity to tie the game up. Jack McInerney went for placement rather than power to the right side of goal but Newton guessed right and pulled off a fine save followed by a second block on a Speas shot to deny Indy an equalizer.During the full ninety minutes, Indy Eleven had plenty of opportunities to find the net which is encouraging, but it was not going to be our day. Shots from McInerney, Watson, Starikov, Saad, and Speas were all kept out. It’s early, it’s our second game of the season against one of the championship favorites, if we keep creating those chances we will score them and nothing about this game really indicated that Indy Eleven was in any way the weaker of the two sides.
Not even the BYB could get that ball into the net, McInerney denied by Newton.

One concern is that Indy appears to be having injury issues early in the season. Saad was unavailable to start because of a knock, Ayoze and Kevin Venegas have still not made a bench in the first two games meaning we are thin on left and right back cover. An unfortunate ankle injury for Reiner Ferreira saw him leave the field in the first half with Brad Ring coming in to cover at right back and Ouimette moving into center.It’s not a huge concern at this moment and luckily it’s coming at the beginning of the season. Defensive depth is critical to any team so hopefully, we don’t have any more early casualties and Ferreira’s injury is not too serious.
It does no harm to take a beating early and move on, Rennie and the coaching staff have plenty to look at and a week to repair and prepare before heading to North Carolina FC to renew a rivalry started in the NASL. Richmond Kickers who fell to Indy in our opening game achieved their first win this weekend defeating NCFC 2-1. North Carolina will be looking for their first win, maybe Indy Eleven can find their second as Rennie returns to face one of his former clubs.

So what about that game day experience?

Considering the short space of time the club and the supporters have had to prepare for a new league in a new stadium I am pretty sure I was not the only person walking away from the match suitably impressed.
The Brickyard Battalion, Slaughterhouse 19 and all supporter groups deserve a round of applause for the gameday setup. The choice of Gate Ten facilities and parking for tailgate setup was top notch with outdoor and indoor space available. The main parking was also easily accessible and myself like others got in before the allotted opening time and there was no real difficulty in leaving the stadium, nothing more than you would expect from a large event. The supporter display of tifo was incredible, the best we have seen and the Brickyard Battalion were as loud and as passionate as ever AND considerably bigger.
The front office staff must be worn out, I hope they were treated to several adult beverages after the match because they thoroughly deserve it, there were a lot of unknowns and all you can do is the best you can and see how it goes. From what I saw they exceeded all expectations not only on game day but in the weeks leading up to the game. I cannot imagine how much hair was lost and how many fingernails were bitten off. Everyone did an outstanding job. Everything gets easier from here. Take a bow Indy Eleven Staff.

The attendance is very encouraging, I had thought if we made 16,000 and filled the original advertised space it would have been amazing, to exceed our previous largest attendance by 6000 was incredible. This bodes well for the team and puts weight behind the need for a soccer-specific stadium in the city. I think this support will continue to grow as the team itself evolves more on the field more people will come to games. The officially announced attendance was 17,535.  Kudos and respect to the traveling Cincinnati fans who brought around 1500 supporters to the game and put in a solid ninety minutes of support for their team who rewarded them with three points. Hopefully, we can bring the same to Cinci and take those three points back.

Thoughts from Brandon Cockrum

Indy Eleven were unfortunate to come away without a point from Saturday evening’s electric match against FC Cincinnati. Indy was superior in most statistical categories, except for the one that matters most – the final score. Martin Rennie’s squad clearly needs some more matches to become a truly cohesive unit and it is fun to watch the team’s style of play and connections between players develop.
On Saturday the team played very compactly at times, probably by design to take command of the midfield. However, there was time and space available for players on the wings and Tyler Pasher was the only Eleven player that took advantage of it. After getting the ball taken off his foot trying to dribble out of the 18 and a wayward cross in the match’s early minutes, Pasher put in a man of the match performance for Indy with numerous attacks up the left side and dangerous balls served into the box. In the first half, Jack McInerney nearly finished one of those crosses but was denied by the frame and others narrowly missed the heads of attacking teammates.

It’s interesting that after two matches fullbacks Ayoze or Kevin Venegas haven’t been on a match day roster and we’ve had only a 20-minute runout from Juan Guerra in the first match. All three players were among the best at their positions while in the NASL. Coach Rennie appears to be favoring a defense-first approach, which makes sense early in the season as the team learns to play together and against a tough Cincinnati side.
It’s not that the players in front of them have played poorly, however, I have to wonder if Venegas would have been able to get forward, like Pasher, and cause more problems for Cincy than Karl Ouimette or Brad Ring did. Guerra has proven that he can unlock defenses at this level; might he have delivered a moment of creative inspiration that Nico Matern was unable to provide? Coach Rennie has a lot of capable tools on his belt this season and I suspect he will soon start trying more of them out.

Attention, MLS: Indy Eleven already putting up huge attendance numbers

Dakota Crawford, dakota.crawford@indystar.comPublished 9:36 a.m. ET April 2, 2018 | Updated 11:01 a.m. ET April 2, 2018

The Indy Eleven kicked off a new era in the United Soccer League this weekend, and they’re already flying high.Eleven fans captured the attention of “Stranger Things” star Millie Bobby Brown. The Eleven drew an announced club record 17,535 fans to Lucas Oil Stadium — beating out four other Major League Soccer teams. Eleven coach Martin Rennie said the whole experience was “top class.”

Moneyball: Indy Eleven 3.0? Call it whatever you want — this team is intriguing

Big league, big cost: Indy Eleven’s MLS bid won’t come easily — or cheaply

The attendance is especially notable because the Eleven have pushed hard to join the MLS as an expansion club. Without real plans for a new stadium in Indianapolis, they’ve so far been unsuccessful. Expansions have been granted in recent years to Atlanta, Minnesota, Los Angeles and, most recently, Nashville.This kind of fan support could be a key leveraging piece for the Eleven in the future. One match in, and they topped MLS crowds over the weekend from Houston (17,156 tickets sold), Chicago (13,678), Colorado (10,790) and Columbus (8,992).They’re still well below some of the top-tier draws such as Seattle (39,469), Toronto (28,006) and L.A. (27,068).

MLS announced attendance:

Seattle 39,469
Toronto 28,006
LA Galaxy 27,068
Orlando 23,257
KC 18,624
Minnesota 18,057
San Jose 18,000
Houston 17,156
Chicago 13,678 (doubleheader with NWSL game)
Colorado 10,790
Columbus 8,992

NWSL
Washington 4,989
N Carolina 4,078
Houston 3,433

These numbers are quite strong by the USL’s standards, too. The league’s highest average attendance in 2017 was touted by FC Cincinnati (21,199) — that club certainly helped boost the Eleven’s numbers this weekend, since fans only had a two-hour drive to watch the I-74 rivalry match. After FC Cincinnati, no USL club averaged more than 12,000. The 30-team league’s average was 4,301.Indy-based author John Green was quick to offer his support in helping the Eleven make (another) pitch to the MLS after seeing the fan support (and that “Stranger Things” Eleven banner).”Who do I have to pay to get Indy 11 into MLS?” Green tweeted. “17,000 fans at the home opener, and a tifo for the ages…View image on Twitter

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Before the opener, Eleven president Jeff Belskus told IndyStar the move to Lucas Oil would be important to the club’s future.We are viewing this as a big positive in our push to bring MLS to Indianapolis,” he said. “It’s going to show MLS what great support we have here.“The strength of the market is important to MLS, and we’re going to demonstrate just how strong this market is. Our previous high watermark for attendance was 11,048 set in 2014.”IndyStar reporter Justin Mack breaks down the announcement that Indy Eleven will play its 2018 schedule at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Mykal McEldowney/IndyStarIndeed, they blew that record out of the water in their first match. Obstacles remain, of course, in bringing the MLS to Indianapolis.A proposed $82 million stadium deal passed the Indiana House but not the Senate in 2015. As with other stadiums in town, the Eleven sought assistance from the city’s Capital Improvement Board, but had no luck, as chronicled in a 2017 IndyStar article:

GET READY TO TAILGATE WITH THE BYB – Brick Yard Battalion Indy 11 Soccer Fan Club

Park and Tailgate for indy 11 Games with the BYB – Parking in the Gate 10 BYB Section is $4 cheaper per game than the stadium’s South Lot- and OBVIOUSLY more fun! Located at 343 W McCarty Street, Gate 10 is just across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium. Gate 10—the 2018 official home of the BYB–is convenient and affordable. Parking is $11 per car for single games, $150 for the season!  Click HERE to purchase your pass today and join the BYB in the Endzone – it’s a memorable experience! You won’t want to watch the game in any other section after standing and screaming and singing with the best supporters section in the US!

Real Madrid facing defensive issues ahead of Champions League quarterfinal vs. Juventus

Dermot CorriganESPN FC

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has big issues in defence for Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Juventus, with Gareth Bale unlikely to make the starting XI despite his excellent recent goalscoring form in La Liga.Bale was named man of the match at the Estadio Gran Canaria on Saturday against Las Palmas after scoring a brace. The Wales international has now scored 11 goals in 15 La Liga games this season — nine of them since the turn of the calendar year. However, Zidane was cautious in his praise and suggested his thinking had not changed since Bale was left on the bench for both the recent Champions League round-of-16 legs against Paris Saint-Germain.fter the game against Las Palmas on Saturday, defender Jesus Vallejo told reporters that he and his teammates were ready for a tough test against Juve.Scoring three and keeping a clean sheet is no mean feat here, so we’re heading back to Madrid very happy,” Vallejo said. “I’m very pleased to get another game under my belt and to be feeling better after the injury. I’ve come back [from hamstring injury] feeling great. The whole team is absolutely raring to go for Turin, we’re a solid group. It’s a crucial game and we’re well prepared.”Defender Nacho Fernandez picked up a thigh muscle injury in the win over Las Palmas, and although the 28-year-old, who has never missed a game through injury in his senior career, was named in the travelling squad on Monday morning, the club announced his recovery “will continue to be assessed.”Club captain Sergio Ramos sat out Saturday’s game due to a niggle picked up on international duty with Spain last week. Vallejo is the only other senior centre-half in Zidane’s squad, which also has very unproven cover in both full-back positions in Achraf Hakimi and Theo Hernandez.

Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon on Real Madrid: ‘No team is invincible’

3:36 AM ETDermot CorriganESPN FC

Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon says that “no team is invincible” but reigning European champions Real Madrid go into their Champions League quarterfinal as favourites.Madrid have won three of the last four Champions League trophies, including last season, when they easily beat Juventus 4-1 in the final to become the first team to retain the trophy in the modern era. However, Juve have historically the better record against Madrid in knockout ties, having won all four of the most recent two-legged meetings between the clubs — most recently 3-2 on aggregate in the 2014-15 Champions League semifinals.The veteran goalkeeper told Marca ahead of Tuesday’s first leg in Turin that while Madrid were favourites, his side were also a “great team” and had just as good a chance to progress to the semis.”No team is invincible,” Buffon said. “They are a very difficult side to beat. Real Madrid might be favourites, but the tie is at 50-50. We also have to be ambitious. There is history and there is the present, but Juve are also a great team who know how to win trophies.”Cristiano Ronaldo’s double in last year’s final means he has seven goals in five games for Madrid against Juventus — and Buffon said he admires how Ronaldo had honed his game in recent years to become a “true assassin” in front of goal.”I have unlimited admiration for Ronaldo, with time he has been able to improve,” Buffon said. “I admire him as he is someone who knows what he is doing and is pragmatic. In these last years he has shown his intelligence. He changed his position, uses less energy than before but is really lethal. In front of goal he is a true assassin. The only other forward with this clarity when finishing was [ex-France and Juve striker David] Trezeguet.”Buffon also spoke to AS and said the aim was to stay in the tie until the end of the second leg at the Bernabeu on April 11.”I think of many challenges, many games, some of which have gone well for us despite not being favourites,” he said. “Obviously, some have gone against us, like the final in Cardiff. We know that Madrid are the best team in the world, winning the Champions League the last two years, which nobody had done. Our hope is to still be alive until the last minute of the second leg.”After getting to half-time at 1-1 in last year’s final, Juve were steamrolled in the second half, and Buffon suggested that overconfidence ahead of the game had hurt them.”Three hundred days ago I was 39, and now I am 40, so psychologically it’s a big change,” he said. “We went to Cardiff very confident, maybe too confident, and that could be the first and most serious mistake we made in that final.”But I do not reproach myself. The stronger team on the pitch deservedly won the game. I hope Juventus find more weapons to balance the meeting more this time.”

Man City must prioritise Liverpool over Man United in Guardiola’s crucial spell

5:10 AM ETDavid Mooney

Ask any Manchester City fan whether they were optimistic heading to Goodison Park on Saturday evening and there would probably have been a degree of trepidation. The team very rarely win there, no matter how good they are or how poorly Everton have played.The evidence of the season so far, though, is that whatever challenge Pep Guardiola’s side face they tend to come through with flying colours. Even so, that wouldn’t have changed the minds of supporters who have been browbeaten by years of struggles on Merseyside.

The 3-1 win for the visitors put them within touching distance of their third Premier League title in seven years, setting up the mouth-watering prospect of sealing the championship with a victory in the Manchester derby. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for supporters, who grew up watching Sir Alex Ferguson’s team dominate while they followed a team on a tour of the Football League.For supporters, this chance is something they never thought they’d have. The idea that they could watch their side playing some of the best football the English league has ever seen, alongside breaking record after record, and then, on top of that, they could see them take the title against their nearest rivals is just too perfect. Having suffered at United’s hands for decades, the fans couldn’t think of anything sweeter than what Guardiola is offering this campaign.On the other side of the fence, Jose Mourinho will spend the 90 minutes at the Etihad on Saturday evening doing everything within his power to stop the embarrassment of losing the game and the title in one go. Expect a parked bus in the visiting penalty area and perhaps a few hefty challenges, too.However, Guardiola faces a dilemma. The City fans would love nothing more than rubbing their rivals’ noses in it, but the Champions League tie with Liverpool that sits either side of the Manchester derby is a more important fixture. The emotional choice would be to go all-out for the victory against United; the more rational choice is to make sure they progress past Liverpool into the semifinals.The Premier League title is going to the Etihad come what may, such is the distance between City and the chasing pack. That’s why the two-legged tie with Liverpool must be priority.Of course, this may all be immaterial. Should the unlikely happen and Guardiola returns from Anfield on Tuesday with a good lead, the manager could go all in for the derby. It would go against the historical norm, since City have won once at Liverpool since 1981 and that was an isolated victory for Kevin Keegan’s team in 2003.More likely, though, is that Guardiola is going to have work to do in the second leg and that means some of the key players should be rested against United.In the grand scheme of things, Guardiola will actually be kicking himself that his side went out of the FA Cup to third tier Wigan, following that 1-0 loss at the DW Stadium in February. The way the season has gone, with the Premier League as good as sewn up for so long, the manager could have prioritised the cup competitions to create a truly unforgettable campaign. That was an opportunity passed up — and that’s a lesson to carry over into the Champions League.The style in which City are going to win the title is up there with, if not better than, the best of what’s gone before. With the League Cup also already won, it means the focus has to be on Europe — a competition that City have never really made great waves in, despite being the most regular qualifiers from England in recent years.The tie with Liverpool is keeping fans on edge. No matter how well City have done since Sheikh Mansour’s investment in 2008, they’ve never really come close to taking a victory away from Anfield. Drawing the only other English team left in the competition was quite low down on their preferred options, behind even some of the European elite.If City can progress past Jurgen Klopp’s outfit, they’ll have put themselves in a really strong position to make this their most successful season in their history. That means, as much as the heart says a title-winning performance against Manchester United would be the icing on the cake, the head says that prioritising the two legs with Liverpool is the more important.Of course, City fans can’t lose even if United do win the derby. While the home support would rather be able to gloat right there and there, there’s even something satisfying about watching the rival supporters celebrate delaying the inevitable for another week or two.The Premier League is won whatever happens on Saturday. The Champions League is where Guardiola’s focus should be.

Liverpool trio of Salah, Firmino, Mane ‘almost unstoppable’ – Guardiola

5:30 PM ETJonathan SmithMan City Correspondent

LIVERPOOL, England — Pep Guardiola has described Liverpool’s attacking front-three as “almost unstoppable” ahead of their Champions League showdown.Manchester City face a quarterfinal first leg at Anfield on Wednesday — the only stadium in which they have lost in the Premier League this season. Liverpool forwards Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Premier League leading scorer Mohamed Salah all netted in the 4-3 victory in January and Guardiola says his side will have to be at their absolute best to stop them.”Not just [Salah], Mane and Firmino, all three, they are almost unstoppable. They are fantastic, fantastic players,” Guardiola told a news conference after City’s 3-1 victory over Everton on Saturday.”The way Liverpool plays is so complicated for us. We know that. They are so quick, they are so good and it is tough, but it is [the] quarterfinal of Champions League so we cannot expect, in that level, something is going to be easy.”We play against ourselves and say ‘that is the target, we have to overcome.’ We will be able or not able to overcome that. If we are able, okay, semifinals. If we are not able, congratulations Liverpool and next season we will be back stronger but we are going to try.”City at least have the advantage of playing the second leg at the Etihad Stadium where they thrashed Liverpool 5-0 in September.But Guardiola refused to be drawn in on what he considered to be a good result to take into the rematch six days later.He joked: “6-0 will be good. Normally that is [not] going to happen. I never like a manager [to] think ‘what is a bad result?’ I focus on the performance, on what we have to do. Always the result is the consequence. Most of the times it is a consequence of what you have done. So I don’t think a draw is a good result or a victory.”Scoring goals away is so important and we are going to try to score goals but we cannot deny three people running up front plus [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain in the middle plus set-pieces with [Virgil] Van Dijk — they are an extraordinary team.”But that is what happens in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. If you are playing against Barcelona or Madrid or against Bayern Munich or Juventus or Roma or Sevilla, in that level you stop.”Sergio Aguero missed the win over Everton as he recovers from a knee injury and Guardiola says it’s too early to say whether he will be fit enough to face Liverpool.”We will see,” he said. “Still he didn’t train — one training session. Hopefully, he is much, much better. We will see. In these situations it is day-by-day.”Hopefully he can help us. Maybe not in the beginning, maybe from the bench. Or because after that we have United and after that, you have Liverpool in the second leg and maybe you have to change the system and have six strikers to win that game and we need Aguero and Gabriel [Jesus] and Lukas Nmecha and [Raheem] Sterling and everybody.”So this is not one game, Liverpool. It is 180 minutes. You have to try and make a good performance there for the second leg.”

Zlatan More Than Lived Up to the Hype in One of the Most Iconic Moments in MLS History

By GRANT WAHL March 31, 2018

Recency bias is a real thing. Too often in sports, we want to call someone or something in the news the greatest ever, and 99.9999% of the time we’re wrong.But then there is that 0.0001% of the time when the amazing thing you just saw really is the greatest ever.So I’ll come right out and say it: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s debut Saturday for the L.A. Galaxy—in which he came on in the 71st minute, scored once from 40 yards and once again in stoppage time, helping the Galaxy overcome a 3-0 second-half deficit to win 4-3 in its first-ever game against crosstown rival LAFC—is the most indelible moment in MLS history.There have been more significant great games in the annals of MLS, of course, none more so than San Jose’s 2003 playoff comeback from a four-goal second-leg deficit against the Galaxy. And there have been huge-buzz-that-delivered games, too, led by the New York Red Bulls’ 5-4 win against L.A. in David Beckham’s first MLS start in 2007.But for pure tell-your-grandkids-I-was-there drama, the kind of unforgettable moment that instantly goes into the lore of a league, MLS has nothing to beat what Ibrahimovic did on Saturday.Think about it. First, the stakes. It was the first game for Los Angeles bragging rights between the Galaxy, the most successful team in MLS history (which has struggled the last couple years) and an expansion LAFC team that burst out of the gates with two away wins in its first two games.LAFC built a 3-0 lead on national TV in the Galaxy’s house, a sold-out StubHub Center. By the 60th minute, LAFC had kept that three-goal advantage and was toying with its foe so much that the Galaxy were getting “Oléd” by the opposing fans in its own stadium.Then Sebastian Lletget pulled one back for L.A. in the 61st minute, setting the stage for Ibra to come on 10 minutes later. Remember: Ibrahimovic just landed in Southern California two nights ago. There were big questions about the effects of a significant knee injury that had kept him from playing for much of the past year with Manchester United.What happened then is the stuff of legend.Chris Pontius scored for L.A. in the 73rd for 3-2. And four minutes later, Ibrahimovic beat LAFC keeper Tyler Miller from wayyyyy out with a sidewinder swipe of his right leg, the kind of shot that few players in this world would even have the audacity to take, much less finish.3-3.If Ibrahimovic had done nothing more the rest of the game and it had finished 3-3, it would have been one of the great moments in league history.But there was more to come.In the 91st minute, not long after LAFC’s Marco Ureña had hit the post in a late effort to steal a win, the Galaxy’s Ashley Cole sent a cross from the left side into the box. Ibrahimovic beat Miller to the ball and headed it across the goal and in.Twitter Ads info and privacy4-3 Galaxy. Game over.Replays raised questions over whether Ibra may have been slightly offside, but Ibrahimovic was behind the ball and thus onside. In any case, those who are larger than life are never offside.About the only thing missing was a second yellow card for a second removal of Ibra’s jersey. That would have been epic.And so we are left with a player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times last week to announce his arrival that simply said, “Dear Los Angeles, You’re Welcome.” Somehow, despite it all, he undersold it. Most indelible moment in MLS history.

‘I Gave Them Zlatan:’ Ibrahimovic Lives Up to Larger-Than-Life Reputation in Irrepressible Debut

By BRIAN STRAUS March 31, 2018

The full-page ad in Friday’s Los Angeles Times said simply, “Dear Los Angeles, You’re Welcome.”In retrospect, it seems modest.Zlatan Ibrahimovic refers to himself as a lion, has his own line of signature underwear and last week, he tweeted a picture of himself dressed in a white robe and arm wrestling the devil. He’s confident, to say the least. And despite his age (36) and a serious knee injury suffered in April, Ibrahimovic was certain good things were in store when he signed with the LA Galaxy last week. He’d won titles and beguiled both fans and opponents with spectacular goals at every stop in an iconic career. Soon, L.A. would be showing its gratitude.“I know what I am able to do, and I know what I will do. I come here to win. I feel excited. The lion is hungry,” the Swede said. “I’m not arrogant. I’m confident. The people who don’t understand say I’m arrogant.”
No spotlight is too bright. No occasion is too grand. No layoff is too long, and no deficit is too large for Ibrahimovic. He’s made a habit of scoring in his first game with a new club, and he enjoyed the sort of debut Saturday with the Galaxy that would be almost impossible to script for anyone but the larger-than-life striker.The timing was perfect. Coming off the worst season in club history, the five-time champion Galaxy now had a genuine, threatening local rival to deal with—a well-financed, well-marketed and well-coached team in Los Angeles FC that started its expansion season 2-0-0. Saturday was the first MLS meeting between the new rivals, and the Galaxy needed to make a statement at StubHub Center. Instead, the hosts face-planted out of the gate. LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Marco Ureña were unstoppable, and the upstarts were ahead, 3-0, at half.The Galaxy pulled one back through Sebastian Lletget—who also knows something about returning from injury—and then the chants from the sellout crowd grew louder.“I think I heard, ‘We want Zlatan! We want Zlatan!’ And I gave them Zlatan,” Ibrahimovic told Fox following the game.He replaced Lletget in the 71st minute and saw teammate Chris Pontius bring the Galaxy to within one two minutes later. Then, the player who’s made a habit of scoring jaw-dropping goals—who has the confidence (or arrogance) to try anything—tied the game with a strike that’ll go down in MLS history.It didn’t win a title. Eddie Pope’s golden goal, which decided the inaugural MLS Cup final in a 1996 New England nor’easter, will live for as long as the league does. Dwayne de Rosario, Robbie Keane and Jozy Altidore also tallied late, championship-winning goals that are the stuff of MLS Cup legend. And there have been a handful of goals sprinkled throughout the league’s 22 seasons that were slightly more audacious, from Clint Mathis’s Maradona-esque run through the Dallas defense in 2001 to Eric Hassli’s two-touch volley against Seattle a decade later.But this one was different—because it was LA-LAFC, because it was a late equalizer, because it was a long-range stunner and because it was vintage, as-promised Zlatan. One touch in the 77th, from some 45 yards away, was all it took.“[Ola] Kamara jumped in the duel. I go behind as a striker, and I saw the goalkeeper went out and yeah, just put it over him,” Ibrahimovic told Fox. “I was thinking to save strength because I don’t know how much I would make it, so let’s shoot in one [touch], I said. And it went in.”At that moment, he added, the knee was “Ok. I was not worried. … It’s difficult to describe the feeling after you score a goal like that.” While everyone was trying to process what they’d just seen, Ibrahimovic already was plotting the sequel. The momentum was firmly with the Galaxy, and LAFC was trying to hold on. It was a lot to manage for a visiting team playing just its third game together. Add the aura of Zlatan, and it’s almost unfair. In the 91st minute, Galaxy captain Ashley Cole hit a cross from the left and the 6-foot-5 Ibrahimovic jumped, beat LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller to the the winner. Ibrahimovic may have been offside—all it takes is a toe or fingertip beyond the ball when Cole hits the cross. But if custom, convention and the laws of physics don’t apply to Zlatan, then on this day, the laws of the game wouldn’t either.“My history when I come to a new team, I score always in the first game,” he said, referencing his debuts with Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United. “So, I wouldn’t let it down this time. I had to score.”His commitment to walk the walk, like just about everything else about him, is outsized. The Galaxy won the first game of the LA-LAFC rivalry, 4-3. But Zlatan surely would tell you that all of Los Angeles won as well, not to mention MLS, American soccer and anyone around the world who happens upon the last 15 minutes of Saturday’s game online.“I choose LA Galaxy because I wanted it. I know what I can bring it and I will bring it,” he said at his introductory press conference. “This thing was supposed to happen a couple of years before but it didn’t. I am here now. The destiny was that it was supposed to happen, the question was only when.”t all happened Saturday. You’re welcome.

Armchair Analyst: Zlatan, Zlatan, Zlatan Zlatan & more from Week Zlatan

April 1, 20183:23PM EDTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer

So this is the start of the Major League Zlatan era. I have to say that my expectations were lower than they should’ve been, given that he is, indeed, Zlatan.36? Coming off of devastating knee injuries? Not even close to fully fit?It took him fewer than five minutes to create what will probably be the most-viewed highlight in MLS history (at least until Cristiano scores a banger for Miami in three years). The Galaxy became the second team in MLS history – over 5100 games – to overcome a 3-0 deficit, winning 4-3. The man has a sense of the moment.And the first El Tráfico quite obviously dwarfed the rest of the league’s storylines this past weekend. Charlie Davies, who joined us for Matchday Central and knows a thing or two about big games, called it the greatest game in MLS history. I think it doesn’t quite measure up to the second leg of the Toronto FC/Montreal playoff series in 2016, but in terms of regular-season outings… yeah, I think I’m with Charlie. It was almost too much spectacle to analyze.

That said, let’s give it a quick run-through:

  • LAFCdominated the first hour with what’s become their defining feature — the ability win moments of transition by playing quick, short passes until Carlos Vela gets on the ball in a pocket of space. That space is created in large part by the tireless and intelligent running of Marco Ureña, who drags opposing backlines all over the field and puts constant pressure on teams with his movement.The overall effect is to force the opposition into reactive defense. The Sophie’s Choice coaches have to make is “do we step up and be more proactive about shutting service down in the first place, and risk them running in behind?”• Sigi Schmid chose wisely. Zlatan’s the headline, which is right and just. But Schmid’s decision to push central midfielder Servando Carrasco higher early in the second half was the tactical change that got the ball rolling downhill for the Galaxy. It paid in a very obvious way, as Carrasco forced the turnover that led to LA’s first goal (which came just as LAFC fans were attempting to “Olé!” the Galaxy in their own stadium – in retrospect a bad idea that the soccer gods viewed with disfavor).It also paid in a less obvious way, as the pressing of Carrasco and Sebastian Lletget stopped the flow of service to Vela. Once that faucet was shut off, the hosts grabbed ahold of the game.• Both Carrasco and Lletget were subbed off by Schmid in favor of a 4-4-2 for the final 20 minutes, which also turned out to be a smart choice. Usually teams in a 4-4-2 struggle in possession against anybody playing a 4-2-3-1 (as LAFC were), but by that point the Galaxy had so thoroughly wrested control of the game away from LAFC that momentum mattered more than numbers.Plus, quite simply, there’s the Zlatan effect. Defenders are hyper-aware of him, which bends the entire game toward him and opens up space for his teammates. Watch Ema Boateng waltz through the LAFC backline here on the second Galaxy goal:That doesn’t happen if it’s Ariel Lassiter drifting off the ball. It happens because it’s Zlatan.And so there we have it, the recipe for an instant classic that we will indeed be talking about a decade hence and probably longer. Or, from a different perspective: just another day in the life of Zlatan.

A Change is Gonna Come

The day’s other 4-3 game was a giant sigh of relief for Orlando City, who finally got off the schneid in 2018 with the win over the visiting Red Bulls. How much you want to take from it depends upon how much stock you put in the fact that New York – who are justifiably more focused upon their Concacaf Champions League semifinal in Guadalajara on Wednesday night (10 pm ET; UDN, go90.com) — put out a B or even a C team with just a smattering of starters.I’m not here to rain on the Purple Lions’ parade, though. A win is a win, and for large parts they looked very good doing so in attack (defense remains a real and potentially fatal issue). The big catalyst was a halftime switch to the 4-2-3-1, which spread the game out and made it tougher for RBNY to get pressure to the ball in midfield:

“It is absolutely our ideal scenario to be able to play in different shapes,” is how Jason Kreis put it after the game, embracing flexibility but with a notable air of defiance. “We’ve been working through that since preseason. And so yes, I do think that you will see variations in how we approach matches, no doubt. Both within matches and from match to match.”There had been calls — loud and prolonged — from the fanbase for a move away from the 4-4-2 diamond and into the 4-2-3-1. Kreis had resisted them for a number of reasons, one of which, he hinted, was the prolonged absence of Dom Dwyer and subsequent injury to his backup, Stefano Pinho. Without those two guys there was no true target forward on the team, and without a true target forward you can’t really play a 4-2-3-1 unless you possess through the middle like Barcelona.Orlando City have not possessed through the middle like Barcelona this year. And so the attempt was to compensate by playing two drifting forwards in the 4-4-2, an approach that worked better on paper than on grass. So it goes.Switching to the 4-2-3-1 puts Dwyer, Justin Meram and Sacha Kljestan in their best positions, and early returns suggest the same will be true for Josue Colman, who looks comfortable at right wing.Those four should be potent enough to create without all that much help from the six other players in purple, and that’s probably a good thing because they still are quite a mess. Mohamed El-Munircompletely lost track of Florian Valot on the first RBNY goal. A turnover and quick counter up the gut ripped the defensive midfield and central defense apart on the second RBNY goal. Lamine Sane was overpowered on the third.These can all be chalked up, at least in part, to individual errors. But when these types of individual errors happen game after game (and they have), you have to start wondering how much of it is simply baked into either the system or the personnel on hand.If that’s the case then all of Orlando City’s problems won’t be solved with a simple formational switch, but maybe they can be mitigated. Perhaps the fullbacks won’t be so vulnerable if they don’t have to push as high to support the attack, and perhaps central midfield will be more solid if they go to the dual pivot of the 4-2-3-1 in place of the single d-mid of the 4-4-2 diamond. Maybe the knock-on effect of that is more protection for a central defense clearly in need of it no matter who’s been out there this year.That’s a lot of ifs, maybes and contingencies considering we’re just one month into an eight-month season, but points won (or lost) now count just as much as those won in September and October. What it looks like now is that the Purple Lions dug themselves a hole over the first four weeks of the season and, on Saturday, discovered a tool that might be useful – essential even – in climbing out of it.

A few more things to ponder…

  1. I wrote about Toronto FC’s cruise-control winover visiting RSLon Friday night. The Reds, like RBNY, were more focused on CCL play (they host Club America on Tuesday) than the regular-season.RSL, meanwhile, appear to have major problems. Mike Petke says he’s going to fix it.
  2. What’d the five fingers say to the hand?

That, from Daniel Lovitz, is our Face of the Week, from Montreal’s 1-0 win at Seattle. The Sounders are 0-3-0 with no goals scored and five conceded, as well as three red cards in those three games. Brian Schmetzer was steamed.”Very disappointed, very disappointed,” Schmetzer said afterward. “[Kelvin Leerdam] understands what he did. He apologized. But again, it comes down to me because I have to make sure I tell them exactly what the expectations are of this club. We don’t need to do those things. Because it’s not the way we want to do things. … And that sort of stuff is going to stop. It’s going to stop.”The Impact have been feisty all year. They didn’t dominate this one even when up a man, but the one time they had a chance to make a decisive play, they got the ball onto Ignacio Piatti’s foot and, yes folks, he made that play.This Montreal team isn’t complete, but I think they’re going to be much better than most (including me) suspected in 2018.

  1. Atlanta Unitedspent about an hour down a man and with Michael Parkhurst as the only real defender on the field. They held Minnesota United to just two shots on goal in that time while seeing out a battling-and-ugly 1-0 road win.The Five Stripes haven’t had to win many like that in their brief MLS existence, and it speaks well of them that they were able to kill off a game like that. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle LAFC’s attack next week without Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (red card) and Jeff Larentowicz (ankle injury), though.
  2. The Revs Dynamo’d the Dynamo,going into Houstonand countering their way to a 2-0 winNew England do not care about possession; they care about drawing you upfield, and then killing you in space, and so far they look pretty good at it.That was Houston’s primary – maybe only – plan last year. This year they’ve been a little more committed to trying to use the ball through midfield, and while it’s produced some pretty moments, it’s also left them vulnerable against teams like the Revs and Whitecaps who sit and clog and run, and Houston have now dropped two of their first three at home after losing just once at BBVA all last season.Should Wilmer Cabrera revert? In the short term, maybe a little bit. In the long term… no. Houston have to get more comfortable using the ball if they want to compete for MLS Cup because the truth is only one pure counterattacking team to won that particular trophy in the past 15 years (2010 Colorado).So the short-term pain should be worth the long-term gain. It would help, though, if Alberth Elisstopped wasting chances.
  3. Speaking of countering teams to death,the ‘Caps went out and did it again, winning 2-1 at Crew SC. I’m giving this cross from Felipeour Pass of the Week because it’s the perfect illustration of how a dominant aerial presence can make a low-probability strategy into a high-probability strategy:I bet that felt good for Kei Kamara in his return to Columbus.Wil Trapp can not let himself get posted up like that, by the way. He struggled mightily in this one just days after a sterling display for the USMNT in the 1-0 win over Paraguay.
  4. Dominique Badjigrabbed the first Rapids’ hat-trick in seven years as Colorado won 3-0 against visiting Philadelphia. This game was tight and choppy until the first goal, but once Badji caught Jack Elliott napping on the back post, the floodgates opened.Should it be that surprising? Philly’s backline was the youngest in MLS history, so the learning curve was steep and the on-field knowhow minimal.Still, it had to be disappointing for Jim Curtin & Co. Also disappointing so far has been the play of new DP No. 10 Borek Dockal, who has done a whole lot of nothing in his first 160 MLS minutes.
  5. Sporting KCand D.C. United were tied for worst defense in the league with nine goals conceded heading into Saturday night’s contest, so naturally they produced a tight, scrappy 1-0 SKC win on an own goal.And more to the point, after a miserable 280 minutes to start the season the SKC defense has locked in for the last 170, allowing just three shots on target in that time. I’m not sure if that means everything that had been ailing them earlier has been fixed, but at the very least it’s promising.
  6. San Jose have a problem:The gap between the central defense and central midfield keeps getting filled by guys in the wrong colors. In Saturday night’s 2-1 loss to visiting NYCFCit was Maxi Morales drifting into that spot — nobody picked him up — and getting the game-winner. Against SKC it was Graham Zusi, and against Minnesota United it was Kevin Molino.This is a not uncommon flaw in a 4-4-2 with a double pivot. If the central midfielders aren’t in sync it causes the very problem (time and space in front of the central defense) it’s supposed to prevent. And no, Anibal Godoy and Florian Jungwirth have not been in sync. Both have struggled through the season’s first month.
  7. Other than Seattle, nobody’s struggledmore than Chicago, who once again came away with a disappointing result — this time a 2-2 home draw against the similarly scuffling Timbers. But at least Veljko Paunovic, by deploying Bastian Schweinsteigeras a sweeper for about the final hour, did something interesting in trying to fix a bad situation:It really is a sword that cuts both ways. Chicago will get more of the ball with Schweinsteiger as a sweeper, and do more with it because when sweepers step into midfield they automatically create a numbers-up situation. That’s the whole point of playing with a sweeper.But they will get battered in the air if they leave him there against smart teams. I think the solution right now for the Fire is A) hope Grant Lillard gets healthy, and B) hope he’s really good. Otherwise they’ll be playing a lot of 2-2 and 3-2 games, and I don’t have much confidence they’ll be on the right side of most of those.

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