I went to the Indy 11 2-0 win over Nashville on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium and WOW. What a beautiful setting for futbol – ah Soccer. I thought the field was fine, the Brick Yard Battalion was loud and proud and the over 10,000 person crowd (while no nearly as large as the first game) – was active and interested. Honestly – the concessions and bathrooms are fantastic and plentiful – the parking was fine, and with the upper level curtained off – If the Indy 11 can do 17-20K for games – it will make it look and feel pretty full It will be interesting to see what an open roof will be like – as the roof kept the sounds of the BYB in pretty well. As for the play of the almost completely new team – they were active, they hustled and they basically controlled play in this match-up with potentially one of the better teams in the USL Eastern Division in Nashville. The 11 got off to a good start with a spectacular long pass from Indy 11 defender Ayorze Garcia to 11 leading scorer Soony Saad. His sprint thru and finish in the 15th minute was clinical. A second goal was actually #5 on ESPN Sportscenter Sat night as Saad took a pass from Jack McInerney off a free kick and sent this Bender from 35+ Yards out on a dime curling past a wrong footed goalkeeper in the 34th minute! Overall the game day experience is light years ahead of what is was at the Mike. Now we just need to put 17 to 20 thousand in for every game and show we belong in the MLS discussion someday.
So I have still not recovered from the worse red card I have ever seen in Pro Soccer – the tossing of my beloved Gigi Buffon of Juventus vs Real Madrid 2 weeks back – but I am ready for some Champions League football next week and the week after. We are down to the – the top 4. Bill’s Liverpool will open at home vs surprise semi-finalist Roma (anyone want to join us for the game??) on Tuesday on Fox Sport 1 – should be a hugely entertaining game as both teams can really score! Followed by Powerhouses Bayern Munich hosting 2 time defending Champs (Holders – they call it in Europe) Renaldo’s Real Madrid on Wednesday on Fox Sports 1. I will of course be rooting like heck for anyone but Real from this point going forward as I feel they ripped off my Juve (especially with the sending off of Buffon right before he would have saves Renaldo’s PK). Anyway these are the top 4 teams in Europe folks – at these the Semi-Finalist – Enjoy – set those DVRs, watch the replays, catch the replay shows – soon it will be over. Also don’t forget MLS’ top team Toronto FC will be going for broke on the road down 2-1 in the CONCACAF Champions League vs Chivas of Mexico (Liga MX) Wed night at 9:30 pm on Univision. Of course Europa League Final 4 also plays on Thursday Fox Sports 1 & 2 as well known squads Arsenal and Athletico Madrid are still alive and looking for that automatic qualification for Champions League next year.
Tues, Apr 24- Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Liverpool vs Roma (semi-finals)
Wed, Apr 25- Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid (semi-finals)
9:30 pm Univision Chivas vs Toronto FC (Finals CCL)
Thur, Apr 26- Europa League
3:05 pm Fox Sport1 Arsenal vs Athletico
3:05 pm Fox Sport2 Olympic Marseille vs Salzburg
Tues, May 1- Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich (semi-finals)
Wed, May 2- Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Roma vs Liverpool (semi-finals)
Thur, May 3- Europa League
3:05 pm Fox Sport1 Athletico vs Arsenal
3:05 pm Fox Sport2 Salzburg vs Olympic Marseille
I caught the Dortmund game at Schalke on Sunday as 2 of our top American’s overseas battled. Christian Pulisic started and was dynamic for Dortmund – crossing many balls and taking guys on and doing his thing. He helped with the build-up of Dortmund’s goal to take what looked to be the winner. But Schalke inserted Weston McKinney at D-mid at the 70th minute mark and all he did was deliver his normal energizer bunny pace in the middle but he also drew a PK on a spectacular give and go – a PK that allowed Schalke to take the lead and eventually win the battle of 2nd (Schalke) and 3rd (Dortmund) in the oldest and most intense Derby in the German Bundesliga. It means Schalke have all but wrapped up a top 4 (Champions League) spot while Dortmund and Pulisic have more to do. You can watch Pulisic and Dortmund Sat at 12:30 vs Leverkusen on Fox Sports 1 and McKinney and Schalke on Sun @ 12 noon on FS1 as well. In Spain it’s the Copa del Rey Final as Barcelona will look to complete the double vs Sevilla on ESPN News at 3:30 on Saturday.
Late Breaking news today that Arsene Wenger the longtime coach of Arsenal will step-down at the end of the season. The tributes have begun to pour in on one of the greatest coaches in EPL history. Unfortunately it was before I was a fan of the EPL and a sort of Arsenal fan. Still his undefeated team of 2004 the Invincibles might well be the greatest team of all time according to many. It was past time to go – but honored he should be. I would love to see them win the Europa League and send him out with more honor! (see full coverage below) So Man City wraps up the League title with like 5 weeks left in the season when Man U choked at home last weekend to West Ham. Man U will have a chance to reverse fortunes this weekend in FA Cup Semi-Final action vs Tottenham live on Fox 59 at 12:15 pm, Sunday FA Cup Semi-Final #2 has Chelsea facing Southampton at 10 am all at Wembley of course.
Interesting Story in the Washington Post this week about Mexico (El Tri) being “America’s Team” – especially this World Cup. The Truth is Mexico plays to much larger crowds in the US than our national team has ever drawn. Sad – but the truth is when the US plays in Columbus – how many of you actually tried to go to the game on a Tues night at 7 pm? I did and a few friends – but trust me when I say there are many more Mexican American’s in Indy who would make the drive over than US National Team American’s. I have always defended the US crowds by saying hey if I lived in France and the US came to play within a 3 hour drive of me I would certainly make the trek to the game – and it’s the same for Mexican-American’s in the US. But honestly its more than that when Mexico routinely packs our best 80,000 seat stadiums in Dallas and LA and Atlanta and we can’t put 20K in a soccer only stadium for the US games. Maybe Mexico is “America’s Team.” Funny the battle between Arena and Klinsy about who’s fault it was and how far back the US will be missing this World Cup. (see stories below). I think we are all devastated and the TV ratings will reflect it this summer for Fox – but both coaches have a lot of blame for the failures. Klinsy is right –they have to tie or win 1 game – at Trinidad and Tobago. Our U19 Travel team would give them a game!! There is NEVER and will NEVER be an excuse for the US LOSING that game – for that Bruce Arena and every single player on that team will have answer for the rest of their lives. I like Bruce – but to say I think he blew it would be an understatement of a lifetime. Not starting Dempsey and Cameron will go down as one of the most questionable moves in the history of US soccer.
Stunning result and disappointment for Toronto FC in their 2-1 loss at home to mid-level Mexican league side Guadalajara in the Concacaf Champions League leg 1 final. They take to the road for leg 2 and must score at least a 2-0 or 3-1 victory or greater to win the Championship. Zlatan and the LA Galaxy came out on top of the battle of former European Superstars as his goal in the 46th minute of his first start knocked off Bastian Schweinstiger’s Chicago Fire on Saturday afternoon in front of a nationwide Fox broadcast. NYCFC used a last minute goal to tie Atlanta 2-2 on the road in a battle of the top 2 teams in the MLS Eastern Division.This weekend MLS gives us two bottom feeders in Min United and Seattle Sun at 4 pm on ESPN, meanwhile the LA Galaxy and Zlatan hosting 2nd ranked Atlanta United is on ESPN+ Sat night at 10:30 pm (good job guys!!) We do get an improving Portland hosting top ranked NYCFC on Sunday night at 6 pm on Fox Sports 1 – Portland games are ALWAYS worth watching with the cutting of the log, the Gang Green TIFOs, Timber Joey and one of (if not the best) supporter sections in the US – TIMBERS ARMY – do yourself a favor and get there early to catch the National Anthem sung by the ARMY – its bonechilling!
GAMES ON TV
Sat, Apr 21
9:30 am FS2 Frankfurt vs Hertha
9:30 am FS1 Hannover vs Bayern Munich
10 am NBCSN Watford vs Crystal Palace
12:15 pm Fox 59 Man United vs Tottenham (FA Cup Semis)
12:30 pm Fox Sport 1Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Leverkusen
3:30 pm ESPN News Barcelona vs Sevilla (Final Copa del Rey)
7 pm ESPN3+Utube Cincinatti FC vs Pittsburg Riverhounds (USL)
10:30 pm ESPN3? Atlanta United vs LA Galaxy
Sun, Apr 22
8:30 am NBCSN Arsenal vs West Ham
9 am beIN Sport Milan vs Napoli
10 am FS1 Chelsea vs Southampton (FA Cup Semis)
11:30 am NBCSN Man City vs Swansea
12 noon FS1 koln vs Schalke (McKinney)
4 pm ESPN Seattle Sounders vs Minnesota United
6 pm FS 1 Portland Timbers vs NYCFC
Tues, Apr 24- Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Liverpool vs Roma (semi-finals)
Wed, Apr 25- Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid (semi-finals)
9:30 pm Univision Guadalajara vs Toronto FC (Finals CCL)
Thur, Apr 26- Europa League
3:05 pm Fox Sport1 Arsenal vs Athletico
3:05 pm Fox Sport2 Olympic Marseille vs Salzburg
Sat, Apr 28
7:30 am NBCSBN Liverpool vs Stoke Citdy (Cameron)
9:30 am Fox Sport2 Bayern Munich vs Frankfurt
10 am NBCSN Huddersfield Town vs Everton??
12:30 beIN Sport Real Madrid vs Leganes
12:30 NBCSN Swansea vs Chelsea
12:30 Fox Sport 1 Leverkusen vs Stuttgart
7 pm ESPN+ Utube Charlotte vs Indy 11
Sun, Apr 29
9::15 am NBCSN West Ham vs Man City
9:30 am FS1 Mainz vs RB Leipzig
11:30 am NBCSN Manchester United vs Arsenal
12 pm FS2 Werder Bremen vs Borussia Dortmund (Pulisic)
4 pm ESPN Colorado vs Orlando City
6:30 pm YES net NYCFC vs Dallas (Hedges)
9 pm Fox Sports1 LAFC vs Seattle Sounders (opening of LA New Stadium)
Tues, May 1- Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich (semi-finals)
Wed, May 2- Champions League
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Roma vs Liverpool (semi-finals)
7 pm Myindy23 Indy 11 vs FC Cincinnati (@ the Luke) discount Tickets here (code -2018indy)
Thur, May 3- Europa League
3:05 pm Fox Sport1 Athletico vs Arsenal
3:05 pm Fox Sport2 Salzburg vs Olympic Marseille
Sat, May 5
12 pm MyIndy23 Indy 11 vs Louisville City (@ the Luke) discount Tickets here (code -2018indy)
2 pm ESPN NY Red Bull vs NYCFC
Soony Saad Brace Carries Indy 11 over Nashville at the Luke – Bloody Shambles
Indy 11 Discount Tickets here (code -2018indy)
A Guide to Kyiv 2018 Site of the Finals
Real Madrid, Atletico, Juve, Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City
USA +_ World Cup
Great Day For Indy, Saad Day For Nashville – Indy Eleven V Nashville SC REVIEW (4/14/2018)By: James Cormack http://bshambles.blogspot.com/
After all the pre-match worries of injuries and selection issues, they became null and void on Saturday as Indy Eleven defeated Nashville SC and claimed their first home win of the 2018 USL season.Carlyle Mitchell returned to the starting lineup alongside Brad Rusin and over the whole Indy’s backline played comfortably and confidently conceding only one goal in the first half. We’ve talked about the strength in depth of our roster many times and Brad Rusin is a great example of that.The result of the game itself was crafted in the first half and credit should be given to the entire team for a second-half defensive performance that kept Nashville from finding a way to a second goal. In the few short weeks of the season, we’ve had many great plays to talk about and there were several in this match including Zach Steinberger’s 89th-minute clearance of a ball that was going to find back of the net.
Indy Eleven may be accustomed now to shuffling their lineup and the first eleven was eagerly anticipated heading into this game. Carlyle Mitchell proved too strong to keep down and we started with three of the back line that began the match against North Carolina, Mitchell, Ring, and Ayoze. Brad Rusin replacing Karl Ouimette this time.Probably the biggest surprise was Matt Watson starting the game on the bench, not a bad trick to be able to bring in a captain late in the game to help clinch the three points. 4-2-3-1 has been the most frequent formation we have seen for Indy thus far, Zach Steinberger started in place of Watson alongside Nico Matern in front of the back line and Soony Saad took the middle of the three between Pasher and Lewis. Jack McInerney returned to the starting XI as the lone striker.onsidering the potential for a makeshift backline I had expected Nashville to come out strong and press for an early goal but it was Indy Eleven who controlled possession in the early stages and throughout most of the first half. Thanks to a pass of un-earthlike quality from Ayoze Garcia deep in his own half to connect with Soony Saad in the 15th minute, Saad found himself one on one with Matt Pickens and buried the ball left past the Nashville keep to open the scoring.Saad wasn’t finished finding the back of the net and some fifteen minutes later scored a second goal that will have every other team in the league playing catchup for the goal of the week. After a foul on Jack McInerney by Liam Doyle 35yrds out from goal, McInerney slid the free kick sideways to Soony Saad who rifled a shot with the outside of his right foot that swerved around the outside of one defender before swinging back to wrong-foot Matt Pickens and put Indy Eleven two goals up.Roberto Carlos would have been proud of that strike!A tough blow for Nashville but to their credit, they picked themselves up and finished the half strongly. Michael Reed came close to pulling one back a few minutes before halftime with a neat turn just inside the 18, his shot had the beating of Owain Fôn Williams but not the crossbar.Nashville was not done yet and right at the end of the regular 45 minutes a lay off pass to Lebo Moloto was taken to the end line and slipped back to find Ropapa Mensah advancing on the edge of the 6 who he poked home a poachers goal past Williams to give the visitors a fighting chance going into the break.That was the scoreline that took the three points for Indy Eleven. The second half was goalless. Nashville stepped up their game and probably took the lion’s share of possession in the second 45 but couldn’t find a way to goal. Alan Winn had a good opportunity in the 63rd minute but was foiled by Fôn Williams. Not to be outdone in the shot-stopping tally Matt Pickens pulled out big saves to deny Tyler Pasher twice. With the final minutes winding down Nashville almost found the back of the net from a set piece on Indy’s left. The free kick was floated into the back post and found the head of Bradly Bourgeois. From my position behind the goal, this ball was almost certainly going to find its own way in, if not Robin Shroot would have helped it in but Zach Steinberger stepped up with with a huge clearance to prevent Nashville from tying up the game.I mentioned Matt Watson earlier. When your team is trying to nail down the three points and the opposition comes out in the second half determined to turn things around its more than just a luxury to be able to bring in three players with huge experience as we did with Watson, Justin Braun, and Juan Guerra, this is something that could prove critical for Indy Eleven over the course of a full season.
It’s important to stay grounded and not get over excited, but as a supporter, it’s very difficult. I re-watched the entire match again and pretty much everything Greg Rakestraw and Brad Hauter says about this team is on the money. Considering we are at the beginning of a season when you can expect a stuttery start, even with injuries and constant changes this team has never looked to be lacking in confidence on the field or uncomfortable. After the win in North Carolina, this was already our best start to a season in the history of the club. If I were to criticize the team in any way at all it would be for us to use a little more creativity in set pieces and provide better delivery. This is something that will improve with time but when we get opportunities with free kicks in the width and corners we need to start making those count. We seem to be okay from central positions, Soony’s strike from the free kick pass this weekend and also his direct free kick against Cincinnati show we can take chances from there, but with big players coming up from the back which always risks a counter attack, we need to be more creative and more accurate on our delivery in these situations.That is based on observations from four league games and one preseason match and it is still very early. Maybe I am also being a little selfish but I’d like to see some cheeky plays crafted at the training ground on free kicks from the left and right and from corners. We have a confident and skillful squad of players so why not?
Indy Eleven has a couple of weeks break now, hopefully enough for us to see all of our players recovered and fit for the match against Charlotte Independence, if we can bring a good result from there we can ride confidently on the back of it into two very important back to back home games against FC Cincinnati and Louisville City. The result of those matches could be critical in the long run despite coming early in the season.
Soony Saad carries Indy Eleven to first win at Lucas Oil Stadium
Kevin Johnson, Special to IndyStarPublished 3:34 p.m. ET April 14, 2018 | Updated 3:37 p.m. ET April 14, 2018
INDIANAPOLIS — Usual Indy Eleven starting center back Reiner Ferreira was out injured. Another defensive starter, Karl Ouimette, was handed a three-match suspension after getting sent off last weekend at North Carolina FC. Carlyle Mitchell, a regular starter at center back, hobbled off the pitch late in that match.With a patchwork defense that might as well have been held together with a piece of gum, the Indy Eleven downed Nashville SC 2-1 on Saturday afternoon for the club’s first-ever win at Lucas Oil Stadium in front of 10,188 fans. All it took was a cohesive performance from the defense and a masterclass from forward Soony Saad.Saad buried two goals in the first half, the second of which was worthy of Sportscenter Top 10 consideration.”He played extremely well,” said strike partner Jack McInerney of Saad. “Hats off to him. He put in the work and was rewarded with both goals.”The Eleven didn’t twiddle their thumbs waiting around to open the scoring. In the 15th minute, left back Ayoze played a low, dangerous ball into space that was misplayed by an off-balance Nashville defender. It resulted in Saad finding himself alone behind the defense with Nashville goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Saad calmly slotted the ball home to put Indy up 1-0.Saad doubled Indy’s lead about 20 minutes later on an absolute screamer from 35 yards out. Fellow striker Jack McInerney tapped the ball to Saad on an indirect free kick, who’s rifled shot dipped and dived like a righty’s two-seam fastball past Pickens.Just before the half in stoppage time, Nashville SC midfielder Lebo Moloto connected with forward Ropapa Mensah to pull one back for the visitors. But the 2-1 scoreline held up after a fairly evenly contested second half.For a ragtag defense featuring converted midfielder Brad Ring at right back and a guy who hadn’t seen the pitch much over the past couple years in starting center back Brad Rusin, holding Nashville to a lone goal felt like an accomplishment. Rennie was impressed with how his back four stepped up.”I thought overall we handled it,” Rennie said. “Obviously, Brad Ring is playing right back. Brad Rusin is coming back. He’s not really played for a while because he was in Miami and they had their team kind of set and he wasn’t in the lineup. But I know how good a player he is, so it was great to see him playing with confidence and really doing a great job back there. And Mitchell has done that I think every game for us. He’s been very, very good.”After laboring off the field last week, Mitchell’s availability in the starting 11 definitely provided Indy a huge boost. Led by their anchor, Mitchell, an in-sync defensive performance combined with Saad’s brilliant finishing ultimately carried the Eleven to victory.Indy will get a week off before hitting the road for an April 28 meeting against the Charlotte Independence.
6 Questions 4 an 11 – from the Brick Yard Battalion
Soony Saad, Forward
Hot off a 2 oal game against Nashville, we speak with Soony Saad to get to know him a bit better.
What was your age and the name of the first team you played on when you first started playing soccer? I was about 3 maybe when I first started playing. My brother was 1 year ahead of me so I played with his team called the Thunderbirds.
Which player (from any era and any league) would you want the opportunity to face on the pitch? Zidane. Already played with him actually for an Adidas ESP All Star camp back in 2008.
Do you have a pre-game food or ritual that you indulge in? I normally make sure to get a good breakfast with fruit, hashbrowns, eggs, possibly smoked salmon and for lunch I just make a standard pasta.
Favorite team? Liverpool is my first love and Real Madrid because of Zidane.
What’s your go-to phrase for expressing displeasure on the pitch? Ahhhhh
What is your favorite thing about Indianapolis and Indy XI? I love the group of guys we have. Not one player is bigger than the team and most importantly we know the importance of keeping a lead. I love the fans and look forward to produce on the pitch and can’t wait to see where soccer in Indianapolis goes. Hopefully MLS one day.
Liverpool vs. Roma gives us romance; Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich is royalty
By Simon Evans April 13
The Champions League semifinal draw on Friday gave us romance on one side and a clash of titans on the other. It’s a mix that injects fresh life into a competition that had been criticized for becoming too predictable while maintaining a marquee matchup.
Few experts expected Liverpool and Roma to be in the last four of this competition but having fought so impressively past Manchester City and Barcelona, respectively, they will meet each other in an encounter that immediately recalls the 1984 European Cup final, which the English team won in a penalty shootout at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.There is an air of nostalgia about the fixtures — the ’80s were a glorious period for both clubs, with Roma winning one of its three Serie A titles in 1983 and reaching its only European Cup final the following season. Liverpool’s triumph in ’84 was its fourth in eight seasons but it had been a decade since the Merseyside club reached this stage of the competition.A further twist is that both clubs are owned by Bostonians: John W. Henry’s Fenway Sports Group is the parent company of Liverpool and the Boston Red Sox while Roma’s James Pallotta has also a minority share of the Boston Celtics.On top of that, the tie creates a fascinating reunion, with Liverpool’s Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah, who has scored 39 goals in all competitions this season, up against the club he left for Anfield in the summer.[Champions League draw: Bayern Munich to face Real Madrid, Roma to play Liverpool]And how each team got to this point has energized the competition. Liverpool stunned Premier League leader Manchester City with a 3-0 first-leg victory at Anfield, followed up by an impressive 2-1 win at City’s Etihad Stadium on Tuesday as its manager, Juergen Klopp, again got the better of Pep Guardiola.
Roma’s quarterfinal achievement was even more impressive. After being somewhat unfortunate to be on the receiving end of a 4-1 result in Barcelona, the Italians pulled off one of the biggest surprises the competition has ever seen with a 3-0 win at an ecstatic Olimpico, an outcome that led Pallotta to jump in a fountain at Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, earning himself a fine of 450 euros (about $550).
While Liverpool, with its devastating and speedy attack, will likely start as the favorite, Klopp said Roma’s win over Barca speaks for itself.“If anybody think this is the easiest draw then I cannot help this person; they obviously didn’t see both games against Barcelona,” he said.“The second leg was outstanding, it was outstanding what they did. They should have probably won four- or five-nil. I was really impressed,” he said.It is no surprise for either Bayern and Real to be in the last four — anything less would have been measured a failure for clubs that will meet for 25th and 26th times in Europe, making it the most-played UEFA competition tie.
While Bayern got past Sevilla in their quarterfinal without too much stress, Real was moments away from a shock exit to Juventus. Having won the first leg in Turin 3-0, the Spaniards conceded three goals at home on Wednesday before a late Cristiano Ronaldo penalty kept their campaign alive.
Real is looking to become the first club to win three straight European Cup titles since Bayern’s hat trick between 1974 and 1976. The pair are level on 11 wins each from their previous encounters, including the Spanish club’s 5-0 aggregate win in the 2014 semifinals. They also met in last season’s quarterfinals, when Real triumphed, 6-3, on aggregate.Real badly needs European success this year to compensate for its disappointing campaign in La Liga, where it sits in fourth place, a full 15 points behind leader and archrival Barcelona.
On the other side, Bayern can focus on its tie without much distraction, having wrapped up its sixth straight Bundesliga title last week. It also has an emotional boost: The German club announced on Friday that former player Croatian Niko Kovac will take over as coach next season from 72-year-old Jupp Heynckes, who is stepping down.It could be an emotional end to the season for Heynckes, who led Real to the 1998 Champions League title but was nonetheless fired at the end of that season, then came back to win the trophy in 2013 with Bayern. With Real looking vulnerable despite Ronaldo’s extraordinary performances, Bayern has a chance to provide their coach with the perfect send-off — and even provide a little bit more romance.
Arsene Wenger to quit Arsenal with tarnished legacy but respect will return
Mark OgdenSenior Football Writer
Arsene Wenger was ahead of his time when he arrived at Arsenal in 1996, but he leaves, almost 22 years later, out of time and out of step with the game he helped to transform during the first half of his reign as manager.So the Frenchman’s announcement of his decision to step down at the end of the season, halfway through the two-year contract he signed last summer, is a bittersweet moment for Wenger and Arsenal.To suggest that now is the right time for change at the Emirates would be to overlook the reality that that time actually came perhaps four or five years ago.It is a harsh assessment of the final years of Wenger’s spell in charge considering he has won three FA Cups in the last four seasons, but the Arsenal that Wenger built into the most formidable team in English football was about more than winning FA Cups.It was a team which ended Manchester United’s lengthy dominance of the domestic game; an outfit which blended flair and steel, determination and the breathtaking brilliance of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp.That Arsenal team made waves, but the one Wenger leaves behind has been treading water for too long and change is overdue.Deep down, it is difficult to imagine that Wenger does not know this too.The 68-year-old is one of the most driven men in football, a winner to the core, and he will surely have looked at his current side with dismay when compared to his previous teams.Yes, he was the architect of both good and bad, but the qualities which made the 1998 Double winners and 2004 “Invincibles” stand out from the pack have been absent from his Arsenal squads for the best part of a decade.The financial burden of the move to the Emirates in 2006, combined with the game-changing takeovers at Chelsea and Manchester City, conspired to weaken Arsenal at a time when financial power became the primary ingredient of the best teams.Prior to the arrival on the scene of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, Wenger’s ability to manage, spot talent and build great teams without breaking the bank saw him become the most direct threat to Sir Alex Ferguson’s standing as the greatest manager in the game.Former United chief executive Martin Edwards revealed earlier this year he had identified Wenger, and spoken to him, as the ideal successor to Ferguson when the Scot originally announced his decision to step down in 2002.Wenger rejected United’s advances and stayed at Arsenal to build the Invincibles, but it underlines his early achievements at Arsenal that he was the first choice to succeed Ferguson at Old Trafford back then.The rivalry between Wenger and Ferguson in the late-1990s and early-2000s was so hard-fought and acrimonious that it defines the both of them.They built fiercely competitive teams — which remain arguably the best the Premier League has ever produced — but while Ferguson timed his United exit to perfection in 2013 after guiding the club to a 20th league title, Wenger stayed on too long.Ferguson left United wanting more, and the five years since his departure have shown just how much he has been missed, but Wenger will leave with many Arsenal supporters celebrating his decision to step down.In time, the fondness and respect he has earned will return, but as of now, his failure to move with the times and keep Arsenal competitive has tarnished his legacy.nited fans still mourn Ferguson’s departure, but the emotion of the Arsenal supporters is different and that is a great shame for a man who will go down as the club’s greatest manager.His request within his statement, which urges “our fans to stand behind the team and finish on a high,” is a pointer towards the dissatisfaction in the stands at the Emirates.But perhaps by going public now with his decision to leave, Wenger can inspire a successful end to his reign — something befitting a man who has turned Arsenal into one of Europe’s super clubs.They have a tough Europa League semifinal looming against Atletico Madrid, but with the final in Lyon next month, it would be the perfect end for Wenger to lift a major European trophy in France and hand his successor a passport back into the Champions League.If the football gods are smiling on Wenger — and they don’t seem to have been in recent years — they will allow him to leave next month with the Europa League trophy as a leaving present.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal Exit Was Overdue, But His Tenure Was Revolutionary
- Arsene Wenger is leaving Arsenal after 22 seasons in charge, and while the recent past has clouded his accomplishments, it’s clear that the English game owes a debt of gratitude for his contributions.By JONATHAN WILSONApril 20, 2018
Football had waited a long time for this moment, but when Arsene Wenger’s departure from Arsenal was finally confirmed Friday morning, it still came as a shock. There will be something very strange about turning up at the Emirates next season and seeing somebody else in the dugout. And yet, along with the inevitable sadness and the memories, there is also a sense of relief.The time had come for him to go. In fact, the time probably came a few years ago. The sense of drift at the club was palpable. This season, Arsenal will probably finish sixth, which would be its worst finish under Wenger. It hasn’t picked up so much as a point away from home since the turn of the new year.When Wenger signed a two-year contract last summer, the suspicion always was that the club would look to ease him out this summer–even if there were major doubts as to whether it would actually go through with it. By announcing now, with a month of the season still to go, Arsenal has ensured that the anger and frustration, the apathy even, that has characterized recent home games, will be transformed into nostalgia and support. For what he has done for the club, and indeed English football, Wenger deserves to leave with fans cheering his name rather than to a backdrop of boos and jeers.And there may even be a glorious finale if Wenger can, at last, win a European trophy by seeing off Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semifinals and then winning the final against either Salzburg or Marseille. Football is not prone to dispensing sentimental favors, but there is something appropriate about the fact that the final is being played in his native France.Contrary to popular belief, there never was an “Arsene Who?” headline on the back of the London Evening Standard when Wenger was appointed in 1996, but that was the general attitude. Appointing a manager who had been successful in France and then gone to Japan was an extraordinarily bold move by Arsenal, but its wisdom was instantly apparent.Wenger replaced the booze culture that had dominated the club, promoted what at the time seemed an outrageous diet based around steaming fish, chicken and broccoli, and used his knowledge of the French leagues to strengthen his squad with signings who in retrospect looked like unfathomable bargains: Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry…He won the double in 1998, and for the six years that followed played a full part in an entertainingly acrimonious rivalry with Manchester United and Alex Ferguson. His sides were capable of beautiful, rapid football, but also had a toughness, mental and physical, at their core.
It was only hindsight that would invest it with enormous significance, but the moment when the trajectory took a downward turn came in the Champions League quarterfinal in 2004 when Wayne Bridge scored the winner for Chelsea. Arsenal went on to win the league as the first unbeaten champion since Preston in 1887-88, but the environment had changed.Arsenal had realized that to keep up with United, it needed to increase its revenue, and so had set in motion plans that would result in the club leaving Highbury for the Emirates Stadium in 2006. The problem was that by the time they moved into the larger stadium, Chelsea, funded by the seemingly limitless wealth of Roman Abramovich, had changed the financial rules. Making a profit and generating income suddenly mattered far less than just having a wealthy owner. Chelsea’s victory over Arsenal in the Champions League in 2004 was the moment when it replaced Arsenal as London’s leading team.Arsenal kept battling, of course, and the decline was not precipitous. It won the FA Cup in 2005 and reached the Champions League final in 2006, but the trend was downward. Wenger at times became self-parodic, insisting on packing his teams with diminutive creative players, focusing always on aesthetics and neglecting the muscle that had underlain his best sides.Keeping Arsenal in the top four for as long as he did while keeping the spending under control was an achievement in itself, if not one that ultimately was enough for Arsenal fans. Last season, Arsenal finished fifth, and nothing much has changed. The appointment of a new head of scouting, Sven Mislintat, against Wenger’s wishes, signaled a change of tone. Preparations were being made for his departure. The suggestion is that he was told that if he did not walk he would be pushed.The question remains of what he will do next. He has little or no hinterland. Football is his life. Asked on his 60th birthday what he intended to do to celebrate, he said he would be watching that evening’s mid-table Bundesliga game. Faced with incredulity from the media, he eventually agreed to place a candle on the television to make it feel special. It’s hard to believe that he will not seek another role in the game, and it may be that the France job will become available after the World Cup.There have been FA Cups, a record seven of them in Wenger’s reign, but the last decade has been tinged with disappointment and the last couple of seasons have reeked of stagnation. But Wenger is one of the greats, not just of Arsenal but of the Premier League as a whole. He was the first really successful foreign manager, and he revolutionized thought about nutrition. English football owes him an enormous debt.
Arsene Wenger’s best moments as manager of Arsenal
5:20 AM ETNick MillerESPN FC
Arsene Wenger will leave Arsenal at the end of the season, after over 21 years and 10 major trophies. Nick Miller rounds up the manager’s 10 best moments in more than two decades with the club.
This article was first published in September 2016.
10. Henry’s first goal versus Southampton
A single goal in a relatively routine league victory might not seem like a highlight of 20 years at a club, but this one was different. One of the great triumphs of Wenger’s reign was the purchase of Thierry Henry from Juventus in 1999, then his subsequent transformation from a flighty, speedy winger into one of the best strikers in the world. Yet in his early days at Arsenal, Henry looked lost, leading author Nick Hornby to wonder if Arsenal had signed “the French Perry Groves.” But after starting his account against Southampton a few weeks into the season, the floodgates opened, and Wenger’s judgement was proved sound.
9. Always finishing above Tottenham
In tangible terms, constantly finishing above one other Premier League team is nothing particularly special and not something to be especially pleased with. But again, this is different: This is Tottenham. For Wenger’s entire time in London, Arsenal have always finished above their local rivals, leading to mirth aplenty on the red side of town and, of course, the ever-popular chant “It’s happened again.” Indeed, since last topping Arsenal in 1995, at some point or another Spurs have finished above every single other team to compete in the top flight. Perhaps the nadir/peak (delete according to allegiance) came last season, when Tottenham were fighting for the title but then collapsed, and Arsenal pipped them to second on the last day. Or perhaps it was 2006 and “Lasagnegate,” when Spurs looked on to finish in the top four only for their stricken side to be overhauled again. If all else fails, there’s always local pride.
8. Thrashing Inter at the San Siro
Arsenal have arguably underperformed in the Champions League under Wenger. Their qualification in so many consecutive years is often held up as a defence of his methods, but one final in 19 attempts isn’t great. Still, they have a few standout, glorious performances under him, perhaps most notably the 1-0 underdog victory over Real Madrid in 2006. But the most devastating of all was the 5-1 hammering of Inter Milan in 2004. Having not won their first three group games (including a 3-0 home loss to Inter), they needed a win in Milan and got one with some gusto. Henry’s opener was cancelled out by Christian Vieri, but a second-half blitz from Edu, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires and Henry again sealed a remarkable win. Arsenal went through, but the result would cost Inter, who drew their final game and were eliminated.
7. The 2014 FA Cup
There’s a very persuasive argument that suggests Wenger should have probably called it a day at Arsenal after this victory. It would have allowed him to go out on a high, winning their first trophy in almost a decade and wrestling a significant monkey from his back. This was a hugely important and arguably quite sentimental victory for Arsenal. At the start, it looked like it might be another calamity, with Arsenal going 2-0 down to Hull inside eight minutes. But Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny heaved them back into contention, and Aaron Ramsey scored an extra-time winner. It could have been a fitting exit, but Wenger is the most stubborn of men. Realistically, it was never going to be.
6. The move to the Emirates
Highbury, with its marble halls and rich history, was a fine ground, but pretty early on, Wenger recognised that to compete financially with the best in England and Europe, they would need something more modern. The Emirates is very much the house that Arsene built, overseen by him and still one of the slickest and most modern stadiums in the country. Perhaps the atmosphere isn’t what it could be, and you could say that paying for the thing hamstrung Arsenal at the worst possible time, but the Emirates will perhaps be Wenger’s most gleaming, tangible legacy.
5. The 1998 Double
Back in the late 1990s, the Double was very much an achievement talked about in hushed tones. Before Manchester United did it in 1994, only five teams had managed to win the FA Cup and the league title in the same season, so for Wenger to manage it in his first full campaign in England was a hugely notable thing indeed. This was Wenger’s first great team, with Marc Overmars tearing down the left, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira establishing themselves as the most fearsome midfield partnership in the league and the old back four still in place. Manchester United were edged out in the league and Newcastle beaten in the cup final, and Wenger was hailed as a revolutionary. He was.
4. The six FA Cup wins
Only two managers have ever won the FA Cup six times: One is George Ramsey, who won it with Aston Villa between 1887 and 1920, and the other is Wenger. He’s rightly proud of his record in the old competition, one area in which he has outdone his fierce rival Alex Ferguson and, well, virtually everyone else who has ever managed in England. From the first win in 1998 to the most recent in 2015, the FA Cup has been a constant in Wenger’s career, and he would have won the thing one more time were it not for Michael Owen’s late intervention in 2001. You can criticise Wenger for many things, but his record in the FA Cup is not one of them.
3. The 2002 Double
Being the first foreign manager to win the double is impressive, but doing it twice is a marvel. This was arguably Wenger’s best side to watch, with Pires at his peak and Henry close to his. The season started in fine style for Gooners everywhere, as Sol Campbell infuriated Spurs fans by moving across north London on a free, and after a so-so opening (Arsenal only won five of their first 12 games and were fifth at the end of November), they went on an incredible post-December tear. Arsenal didn’t lose any of their last 21 games, dropping just six points in the process, and beat Manchester United to the title. Indeed, they sealed it in the perfect manner: Sylvain Wiltord’s goal at Old Trafford confirming Wenger’s second Premier League title, as Ferguson seethed close by.
2. Arsene who?
The unfamiliar is — or perhaps was — often treated with suspicion in English football. So when a Frenchman not many had heard of arrived from Japan, heads were scratched and scorn was poured. “Arsene who?” ran the headline on the back of London’s Evening Standard, an opinion widely held in the days when information about foreign football (Wenger had of course won the French title with Monaco in 1987-88) was much more limited. Wenger proved wrong those who doubted him because of unfamiliarity, and soon enough, everyone knew exactly who he was.
1. The 2004 Invincibles
You can pick holes in the achievement; you can say that plenty of those games were draws, that other teams achieved greater points totals and aren’t as feted. You can say Manchester United’s treble in 1999 was more impressive. But going a full season, 38 league games home and away, without defeat is a most remarkable thing. It started with a 2-1 win at home to Everton and ended with a 2-1 win at home to Leicester, and between those two there were 24 wins, 12 draws, no defeats and some often-astounding football. Perhaps the team of two years earlier were a more exhilarating watch, but the 2004 side will always go dow
Sir Alex Ferguson Pays Tribute to ‘Great’ Arsene Wenger in Honor of Arsenal Exit
April 20, 2018
Sir Alex Ferguson has paid a glowing tribute to old rival and ‘friend’ Arsene Wenger after the Arsenal boss announced he will leave at the end of the season.Wenger and the legendary Manchester United boss locked horns from 1996 until Ferguson retired from management at the end of the 2012/13 campaign, and were regularly at each other’s throats on the sidelines as they eyed wins for their respective sides.However, underlying their rivalry was a close friendship and the duo got on swimmingly out of the dugout, as Ferguson alluded to in an interview with United’s official site.Indeed, the Scot explained why he had so much respect for the veteran Frenchman and believed that his longevity – Wenger has been at the helm for 22 seasons – was down to his professionalism and hunger to win every game that he could.Ferguson revealed: “I am really happy for Arsene Wenger. I have great respect for him and for the job he has done at Arsenal.”It is great testament to his talent, professionalism and determination that he has been able to dedicate 22 years of his life to a job that he loves. In an era where football managers sometimes only last one or two seasons, it shows what an achievement it is to serve that length of time at a club the size of Arsenal.”I am pleased that he has announced he is leaving at this stage of the season, as he can now have the send-off that he truly deserves. “He is, without doubt, one of the greatest Premier League managers and I am proud to have been a rival, a colleague and a friend to such a great man.”Perhaps the greatest contest between the two teams was the 1999 League Cup semifinal showdown, while other notable clashes between United and Arsenal included the infamous ‘Pizzagate’ saga after the October 2004 game and the September 2003 encounter that saw tempers flare after Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s penalty miss.
What Toronto FC must do in Guadalajara to mount a CCL final Leg 2 comeback
April 18, 201812:19AM EDTCharles BoehmContributor
Toronto FC suffered a nightmarish start to the Concacaf Champions League final, surrendering a 2nd-minute goal to Chivas Guadalajara and eventually falling 2-1 on their home turf in the first leg.It leaves the Reds with a daunting task in Leg 2 at Chivas’ Estadio Akron home next Wednesday (9:30 pm ET | TSN in Canada, Univision Deportes, go90.com in US). Not only did the Mexican heavyweights bag a road victory, they scored two away goals, raising their odds of victory significantly, with away goals serving as the first tiebreaker should the two-legged series finish tied on aggregate (total) goals. So just what are TFC’s routes to an against-the-odds comeback?First off, and obviously, only a victory will do in Leg 2. The easiest way for Toronto to win the series at this point is a 2-0 win in Guadalajara, which would give them a 3-2 aggregate series win.Should they mirror the Leg 1 result by winning 2-1, the two sides would be level on both aggregate and away goals, meaning that the two sides would go straight to a penalty-kick shootout to decide the next champions of Concacaf. (Yes, that means CCL is not using extra time; a 2-1 TFC win at Estadio Akron would be immediately followed by PKs.)If Chivas score more than once in Leg 2, TFC’s job gets even harder. The Reds would have to either win the second leg by a margin of two goals or more, or win Leg 2 by one goal while scoring more away goals than the two that Chivas bagged in Toronto.TFC are 1-1-1 in CCL away legs during this tournament. They won 2-0 at Colorado in the first leg of their opening round, lost 3-2 at Tigres in the second leg of their quarterfinal series (a series that ended 4-4 on aggregate, with Toronto advancing via the away-goals tiebreaker) and drew 1-1 with Club América in the second leg of their semifinal clash.
Armchair Analyst: Toronto FC fall on their face in first leg vs. Chivas
April 17, 201811:17PM EDTMatthew
The obvious comparison that sprang to mind in the immediate aftermath of Toronto FC’s 2-1 home loss to Chivas in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League final was the US national team’s loss to Trinidad & Tobago back in October. The gap between the two teams wasn’t that large, of course – the US should beat T&T 29 times out of 30, and TFC should obviously not be favored like that over Guadalajara.But they still should’ve been favored. They were the better team, and they were playing at home. They had the wind at their backs, metaphorically speaking. They shouldn’t have been on the wrong side of the scoreline.And yet, here we are. The free space in CCL Bingo is always disappintment.
Here’s how it unfolded:
Part of the above was because TFC were so flat, they just kept losing 50/50s and failed to track runners and/or simple combination play. Obviously the best (worst?) example of that was on the game’s opening goal, which came inside of two minutes.Chivas accomplished that by sliding their own central midfielders – usually Orbelín Pineda, who was excellent – into the gap wide on their own right (TFC’s left), which always provided them an outlet and meant that Ashtone Morgan was always outnumbered.
It set the tone, and obviously a goal inside of two minutes is a dream start.
The goal came in the 19th minute. Jozy Altidore slipped Marky Delgado through, and Delgado’s low, hard cross to the back post was slid home by Jonathan Osorio. It was nice, and it felt like it worked the Reds up.
The other contributing factor to TFC waking up is their own switch to a diamond-ish 4-4-2 in the immediate aftermath of that equalizing goal. That prevented the type of overloads that had killed them in the game’s first 20 minutes, and while it sacrificed some of the central midfield, they compensated for that by 1) holding possession more out wide, and 2) having Altidore drop back deep while keeping a Chivas defender on his back.It was the right switch from Greg Vanney, and one that should’ve paid off with a goal. It didn’t in part because TFC didn’t execute as well as they should’ve in the final third, and in part because Goats goalkeeper Miguel Jimenez had a blinder of a game.• Alex Bono did not have a blinder of a game
Bono’s been great during this tournament, but that second goal feels like a back-breaker. He’s largely right. At worst, TFC should be going down to Mexico at 1-1.But they’re not. A 2-1 result is not the very end – another way this night was different from that USMNT loss to T&T – but it gets the Reds most of the way there.The free space, year after year, is disappointment.
:27 PM ETArch Bell The Portland Timbers were the big movers this week, while the top four stay unchanged.
- New York City FC (no change)
NYCFC impressively had Atlanta pinned back at certain stages of Sunday’s 2-2 draw. Patrick Vieira keeps showing his coaching chops each week.
- Atlanta United (no change)
Ezequiel Barco finally made his MLS debut in the 2-2 draw with NYCFC, albeit for just 20 minutes. Buckle up for the Barco-Miguel Almiron-Josef Martinez trio.
- New York Red Bulls (no change)
After Saturday’s 3-1 win over Montreal, coach Jesse Marsch said it’s time to unleash Kaku. Too bad he couldn’t have realized that three days prior.
- Sporting Kansas City (no change)
With Seattle desperately seeking its first point, Sporting KC rallied nicely in the second half to salvage a 2-2 home draw against the Sounders on Sunday.
- LAFC (+4)
After the nightmare of the previous 120 minutes (outscored 9-0), LAFC responded big-time with a 2-0 win in Vancouver thanks to their big stars: Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi.
- Columbus Crew SC (-1)
There was simply no way past former Crew GK Steve Clark in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to D.C. United. Columbus didn’t help themselves, either, by conceding inside the first minute.
- Toronto FC (no change)
Yes, they lost 2-0 to Colorado, but it was a reserve-heavy side with the CONCACAF Champions League final in mind. TFC has bigger fish to fry right now.
- Vancouver Whitecaps (-2)
A bad display from the ‘Caps in Friday’s 2-0 loss to LAFC. Not enough touches for Alphonso Davies and poor defending on the Diego Rossi goal.
- LA Galaxy (+2)
Must-Swede TV ended with Zlatan’s team winning 1-0 in Chicago on Saturday thanks to Zlatan’s goal. Zlatan’s teammate Jonathan dos Santos was the unsung hero in midfield.
- Orlando City (+2)
Dom Dwyer is en fuegowith four goals in three games after Friday’s 2-0 win in Philly, and it’s no coincidence that Orlando has now won three straight.
- New England Revolution (-3)
New coach Brad Friedel has the Revs playing better this season, but a late defensive lapse proved costly in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to FC Dallas.
- Houston Dynamo (-2)
Wilmer Cabrera’s side just can’t seem to shake the road woes. For the second straight road game, the Dynamo conceded an equalizer in the final 10 minutes in their 2-2 draw in San Jose.
- FC Dallas (+2)
In very quiet fashion FC Dallas are unbeaten through their first five after Saturday’s 1-0 victory in New England. The fewest goals conceded thus far? Believe it.
By Steven Goff April 16 at 7:00 AM Email the author Washington Post –
El Tri — as the Mexican squad is known because of the three-colored flag — enjoys a U.S. fan base crossing a continent and unifying generations.(Melissa Macaya/The Washington Post)
ARLINGTON, Tex. — It’s a Tuesday night in March, 2½ months before the World Cup, and almost 80,000 ticket-buyers are dashing through a day-long thunderstorm to attend an inconsequential soccer match under AT&T Stadium’s closed roof.As part of preparations for this summer’s spectacle in Russia, the Mexican national team has swept into town for a friendly against Croatia. Crowds begin arriving hours before kickoff, jamming Tom Landry Freeway and Cowboys Way.Vendors fly flags, scalpers pitch prime seats.The massive venue is home to “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys, but in the original form of football — or, in this case, futbol — Mexico has, in some ways, become America’s team.The U.S. national team picks up millions of casual followers during the World Cup, but among hardcore fans of the sport in an increasingly diversified nation, Mexico turns out bigger crowds at U.S. venues.On this night, while the Mexicans fill an NFL facility, a U.S. team that will miss the World Cup for the first time since 1986 continues its reconstruction with a friendly against Paraguay before a sellout crowd of 10,000 in suburban Raleigh, N.C. El Tri — as the Mexican squad is known because of the three-colored flag — enjoys a U.S. fan base crossing a continent and unifying generations: An estimated 36 million people of Mexican descent live in the United States (11 percent of the population), and many are passionate admirers of the team.“It’s the only national team that can draw 70-75-80,000 people in Mexico but can do it as well in the United States,” Coach Juan Carlos Osorio said. “I don’t think that happens to too many national teams.”Nope. Only to Mexico and only in the United States.
‘We’re becoming mainstream’
For 15 years, through a business deal between Mexico’s soccer federation and a marketing company owned by U.S.-based pro league Major League Soccer, El Tri has played between four and seven friendlies annually at U.S. locations.In fact, since 2008, Mexico has played more than four times more friendlies in the United States than at home (61 to 15), an unprecedented arrangement in international soccer. And that total does not include El Tri’s quadrennial appearances here for World Cup qualifiers against the United States and the biennial regional championship, known as the Concacaf Gold Cup.“We’ve been in this market for a long time, and recently we see we’re becoming mainstream,” said Guillermo Cantu, the Mexican federation’s general secretary. “Before, it was a lot of Mexicans working very hard to have the American Dream, Mexican-born. Now, it’s second, third and fourth generation. This is a unifying thing — the Mexican national team.”Annual average attendance the past four years has ranged between 40,000 and 60,000. Last month, in a four-day span, El Tri played friendlies at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., and at AT&T Stadium in front of a combined 148,000 fans. Neither game fell on a Saturday or Sunday.On May 28, 20 days before facing defending champion Germany in its World Cup opener in Moscow, Mexico will play a friendly against Wales that is likely to sell out the 90,000-seat Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.On June 2, it will finally play its first game of the year on home soil.To counter the Mexico factor in World Cup qualifiers, the U.S. Soccer Federation scheduled the past five home matches at a 21,000-seat stadium in Columbus, Ohio, where, through advance sales to U.S. fans, it ensured a partisan crowd.El Tri’s popularity is not limited to cities in California and Texas with large Mexican communities. Over the years, the tour has hit Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Charlotte, Miami, New York, Orlando, even Nashville.This year’s circuit — which also included San Antonio on Jan. 31 against Bosnia and will make at least one stop this fall at a venue to be determined — coincides with the decline of the U.S. team. After gaining an edge over their bitter rivals in recent years and making the World Cup seven consecutive times, the Americans failed to qualify last fall because they couldn’t manage a draw at last-place Trinidad and Tobago on the final day of the regional race.Mexico is among the countries with strong U.S. ties vying for the support of Americans left without a team to back at the World Cup this summer.“Just follow the guy in green,” Cantu said with a smile. “And you will have fun. You will enjoy having that encounter with people who really care about the game and many other things. You will find very nice people cheering for one common team.”Despite the rivalry, he said he takes no joy from the U.S. failure. After all, four years ago, Mexico failed to earn an automatic berth in the Concacaf region and needed to go through an intercontinental playoff to claim the last ticket to Brazil.“It was a fluke they did not make it,” Cantu said of the U.S. program, a 2002 World Cup quarterfinalist and round-of-16 participant in 2010 and 2014. “It’s not something I wish on anyone. In football, it’s death.”
A ‘massive machine’ of a tour
Fervent U.S. supporters would never root for Mexico, not after the fiery encounters between the teams since the 1990s. But casual fans might swing to Mexico’s side — for a few weeks, anyway.The Mexican federation is making a play to broaden its base, launching English versions of Twitter and Facebook accounts this year.“We are speaking English now — not because of us, but the people following us,” Cantu said.Language often separates generations.“Going to some of these games, the parents are pro-Mexico and wearing the Mexico shirts,” said Alfonso Mondelo, MLS’s director of player programs. “And then the children are wearing the USA shirts. So when the Mexican fans say, ‘Si, se puede’ [‘Yes, we can’], the kids will answer, ‘No se pueda’ [‘No, it can’t’].”Many current Mexican players have forged greater name recognition in the United States than their predecessors because they’ve left the comforts of their domestic league (Liga MX) for clubs in MLS and Europe. Three high-profile figures are employed in MLS: Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC) and brothers Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos (Los Angeles Galaxy).Visits to the United States are perfectly comfortable for El Tri’s coach: Osorio is Colombian but played, coached and started his family here.The Mexican tour is “this massive machine,” said Gabe Gabor, a senior international communications consultant for Soccer United Marketing, the MLS entity that owns the rights to Mexican friendlies played in the United States, except those against the U.S. squad.In the early years of the Mexico-SUM deal, fans typically bought tickets at the stadium box office on the day of the match. Now, online pre-sales leave few seats available for last-minute purchase.During the team’s Dallas stop, fans had learned where the delegation was staying and lined the entry to the Westin hotel, two or three thick in some places.Tour sponsors include Delta, Adidas and Coca-Cola. The Mexican team has its own sponsorships, such as Movistar (mobile phones) and Citibanamex (banking).Live TV broadcasts are shot from opposite sides of the field: One displays advertising signboards for Mexican broadcasters, the other for U.S. outlets.The full-time press corps following the team numbers more than 50, and media requests total several hundred in big U.S. markets. The day before the game against Croatia, five Spanish-language TV outlets carried Osorio’s news conference live. More than a dozen other cameras taped his comments.The friendly against Iceland on March 23 in Santa Clara attracted 2.4 million TV viewers in the United States, almost all on Spanish outlets Univision and Univision Deportes (as well as 57,000 on Fox Sports 1).Four days later, 2 million watched Mexico vs. Croatia on UniMas and Univision Deportes, with another 195,000 on FS1. The U.S.-Paraguay match logged 588,000 on UniMas and Univision Deportes, plus 337,000 on FS1 for a total of 925,000.El Tri’s popularity is an extension of Liga MX’s weekly status. TV coverage of league matches on Spanish outlets dominates the list of televised soccer in the United States.On March 10-11, for instance, 1.25 million watched Club America vs. Leon on Univision. Tigres vs. Tijuana on Univision was next at 931,000. The Premier League showdown between Manchester United and Liverpool on NBCSN and Telemundo drew 594,000, while D.C. United at Atlanta on ESPN garnered 576,000.“The old adage at Univision was the five most popular sports for the Hispanic audience are soccer, soccer, soccer, soccer and boxing,” said David Neal, Fox Sports vice president for production, who worked for the Spanish outlet in 2011-12. “It’s a passion. It’s a family tradition.”
Neal is the executive producer for Fox’s coverage of the World Cup this summer. Without a U.S. team to center on, the network will focus heavier coverage on Mexico, even though Telemundo, which owns U.S. Spanish rights for the tournament and features famed announcer Andres Cantor, is the natural choice for Mexican fans.Fox Sports won’t concede the audience. It will carry Mexico’s matches (in English) with three Latino announcers well-versed in all things El Tri.“What we’ve learned in audience research, an increasing percentage of Hispanic households are language agnostic,” Neal said. “They’ll go where they are getting the most information, the most enjoyment. For us, it comes down to delivering the best news and information about El Tri.”To MLS — which has 23 teams in 21 U.S. and Canadian markets and has struggled to gain ground on Liga MX in quality and popularity — the public’s admiration for El Tri has helped grow the sport here.“We are at a point where anything that is good for soccer in this country is good for MLS,” said Mondelo, the MLS official. “There is a huge base of Mexican fans here, and hopefully that will translate to some of them following MLS as well.”For the Mexican soccer federation, the fan base here has provided a second home for the national team.“Wherever we go,” Cantu said, “they will follow.”
Bruce Arena called the United States’ failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup a “wake-up call,” but didn’t go as far as his predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann did about the ramifications of the Americans’ failure to reach the tournament in Russia.On Wednesday, Arena, who presided over the catastrophic end of the U.S. bid to qualify for an eighth-consecutive World Cup, said in a lengthy interview that missing out on soccer’s greatest competition was a disappointment but not a tragedy.”We are not the first country not to qualify for a World Cup,” Arena said. “There’s going to be days when England doesn’t qualify, as Italy didn’t this time around, or Chile or Holland.”Those are countries well ahead of us. That’s all a part of it. And it allows you to reflect a little bit. You re-examine what you’re doing and you try to make things better. So it’s not a crisis, but it’s a wake-up call.”It is no coincidence that Arena’s remarks came just days after Klinsmann, in an interview with German soccer publication kicker, gave a far gloomier prognosis.”It’s been set back by several years,” Klinsmann said, when asked about the state of soccer in the country. “That was a huge disappointment. The qualification really was never in doubt, but then the lads had a blackout versus Trinidad and Tobago.”They only needed a point, were too sure of that and underestimated that final match.”There are differing opinions on who should shoulder most of the blame for the qualifying debacle. Klinsmann was fired after appearing to have lost the trust of the players and suffering a home defeat to Mexico and a 4-0 drubbing in Costa Rica to begin the final phase of the CONCACAF regional qualification process.Arena took over and sparked an initial revival, before four points from the final four games — capped off by a shocking defeat in Trinidad — ended the team’s hopes of going to Russia this summer.”When I took over the program, we weren’t fooled by the fact it was going to be a long road,” Arena added. “We really knew it was going to come down to the last game. On another day, perhaps we win [against T+T] but we didn’t.”Would we do many things a whole lot differently? No, in all honesty. We got ourselves back into the thick of things and had everything in our hands on the last day, and we fell short.”As we look around, we have no one to blame but ourselves. On the day nothing went right, and we fell short. We had the control of things. If we got a result, we would not have to depend on anything else.”Overall coaching standards, from grassroots to elite level, are often blamed for the U.S.’s inability to become a major world power in soccer. Arena has a different take.”Our system needs to get better,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be changed radically. Typically, people look at [soccer in America] as lacking in coaching, lacking in player development. I disagree with that. I think the administration and management of the sport has to improve greatly.”
Juventus, Gigi Buffon and Real Madrid must close officiating can of worms
How about we all take a step back and keep the hell away from that Pandora’s Box?That means you, Marca, who saw fit to devote Tuesday’s front page to the following concept: the accusations of pro-Real Madrid refereeing bias might hurt Zinedine Zidane’s team against Bayern Munich.And you, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, who accused UEFA head of refereeing Pierluigi Collina (who happens to be Italian) of being so obsessed with appearing transparent and unbiased that he ends up penalizing Serie A clubs. You too, Medhi Benatia, who compared events at the Bernabeu last week to a “rape” and, when an Italian comedian called him out on it, replied “if you’d like to try it out, I’m at the [training ground] every day… you can put it wherever you like.”And, as much as it pains everyone who has admired your career, you too, Gigi Buffon, who — while saying on Sunday that the way you expressed yourself was over the top — stood by your basic concept: that calling a match-deciding penalty when the game is about to go to extra time is wrong because you should “let the pitch do the talking.”As for the pond scum who littered social media as well as the offline world with threats and abuse toward referee Michael Oliver and his wife, Lucy, they don’t need to take a step back. Instead, they need to be identified, exposed, named and shamed to their wives, children and employers as well as face criminal charges where applicable.But back to the folks who really should know better. Amid the chaos, Max Allegri said it best on Tuesday.”Let’s not waste energy on this stuff,” said the Juvents manager. “This is life, we’re part of the show. It’s over. I don’t want to hear one more of my players go back to this. It’s been a week. We’re done.”He’s right. Not just because lost amid the chaos of the penalty and the red card was one basic fact: Juventus had roundly defeated Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, putting three goals past them. That matched Madrid’s heaviest home defeat in a European knockout tie. (Spartak Moscow beat them 3-1 in the 1990-91 European Cup quarterfinal, except unlike Juve, they weren’t 3-0 down on aggregate when the match kicked off.)That’s what we should talk about, not vast conspiracies. I say this as someone who, more than most, isn’t averse to discussing conspiracies if (key point, here) there is logic behind them to make them plausible.So let’s do some deconstructing, shall we?Yes, referees have been accused of favouring Real Madrid in the past. Just last season, they got some huge calls in the return leg against Bayern. But guess what? It happens to most big clubs who do well in Europe. Or have we forgotten those hilarious “UEFAlona” jibes already?Simply put: If favouritism exists, it’s not clear why it should suddenly end. If there is no favouritism — and you’d tend to believe that if there was a big pro-Madrid plot, they wouldn’t leave it until six seconds from the final whistle to spring into action against Juventus — then you wonder why they would suddenly overcompensate. Or, indeed, how it would benefit Juventus given that they’re out of the competition.Agnelli’s logic is equally twisted. He accuses Collina of not wanting VAR in the Champions League, which is a bit odd since he’s pushed VAR in his other role as head of FIFA’s Referees Committee. It’s also bizarre because under the current VAR protocol, Oliver would not have overruled himself.The other part of the argument is that in his desire to appear impartial, Collina sends weaker and less experienced referees to officiate the Italian sides. Now, it’s true that Oliver, age 33, isn’t particularly seasoned compared with some UEFA officials. But with Mark Clattenburg (who would have gone to the World Cup) decamping to Saudi Arabia, Oliver is probably the top Premier League referee. The way to get experience is to actually officiate Champions League knockout rounds. Had the first leg been closer, you’d imagine that somebody else might have received the call, but with Real Madrid coming off a 3-0 away win, the appointment made sense.What about the theory that Collina penalises Italian clubs? When he took over at UEFA, Serie A was fourth in the country coefficient rankings. Now it’s third and Juventus have reached two of the past three Champions League finals, which suggests that if Collina is leading a big anti-Italian plot, he’s not doing a very good job.Agnelli, rather ominously, spoke about replacing Collina. If he were just a club president you could understand it. But he’s also the chairman of the European Clubs Association and a member of UEFA’s Executive Board, which makes the statement rather ominous and ill-advised.Benatia needs some counselling if he thinks comparing Oliver’s penalty to rape is appropriate.Buffon’s situation is complicated by all the extraneous smoke and mirrors around it. He says he’s being honest about how he feels, how moments like that make him feel alive, how he’s not going to hide behind conformist niceties. Great. But strip it all away and what is his basic point? That a big game should not be decided by a contentious penalty in injury time.It’s true that most neutrals and all Juve fans would have enjoyed extra-time. Let them settle it on the pitch, sure, but a referee has to call what he sees. Buffon should know that, because the shoe has been on the other foot in the past.Remember this? When Lucas Neill brought down Fabio Grosso deep in injury-time in the Round of 16 game between Italy and Australia at the 2006 World Cup, nobody remembers Buffon running after the referee saying you couldn’t possibly award a penalty in those circumstances. If Buffon had been in goal for Australia, maybe he would have reacted exactly the same way. But it still would not have been right.Complicating everything are the folks (usually neutrals) for whom the referee is always right, regardless. They’re also the ones who tend to view referees like some sort of collective entity, a bit like the Borg from Star Trek: they are to be respected and never questioned… at least unless their team is playing.It doesn’t work that way in real life. If you talk to most high-level referees, they’ll tell you it shouldn’t. They are individuals, they are uber-competitive, they take pride in their work, they are self-critical (away from the cameras) and they don’t hesitate to critique the work of their colleagues.We witnessed a thrilling Champions League quarterfinal and an outstanding performance from a Juventus side devoid of (arguably) their best player, Paulo Dybala. Now take Allegri’s advice and move on.
Apr 12, 2018Jeff CarlisleTom Marshall
The CONCACAF Champions League final will be a battle of Major League Soccer vs. Liga MX, as Toronto FC and Chivas will do battle over two legs, with the first game on Tuesday at BMO Field. How did these two teams get here, and what are their chances of going on to win it all? ESPN FC’s Jeff Carlisle and Tom Marshall take a first look ahead of the final.
1. How did each team reach the final?
Jeff Carlisle: After disposing of the Colorado Rapids in the round of 16, Toronto has taken out two Liga MX heavyweights in Tigres and Club America. The team did so by staying true to its style of keeping the ball on the ground and rarely bunkering in. TFC manager Greg Vanney has been tactically flexible, using both four-man and three-man backlines, depending what the situation called for.Of course it helps to have players such as Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore delivering the goals at critical moments, but this has been a true team effort. Supporting players such as Jonathan Osorio have popped up for vital tallies, while Marky Delgado has provided a steady two-way presence. The defense led by Drew Moor has done its part as well, and Alex Bono has delivered some superb saves when called upon, in particular during the second leg of the semifinal series against America.Michael Bradley continues to be the hub around much of what TFC does. He’s the player to initiate the attack, and he provides some overall steady defense so long as he has help nearby. This is a Toronto team that is deep in all positions and is already being hailed as the best team in MLS history. A victory in the final against Chivas will put that claim beyond any doubts that might still linger.
Tom Marshall: Chivas reached the final thanks to their solid defense, grit and determination. It hasn’t been at all pretty, and at times the team has looked like a shadow of the one that swept to the Liga MX 2017 Clausura title, memorably overcoming Tigres in the final.Chivas’ approach has been more cautious than is usually associated with coach Matias Almeyda, which has been a surprise. There was a distinctly pragmatic feel to the team in the semifinal second leg against New York Red Bulls, as players wasted time early on. Almeyda’s pregame comments about wanting to play with three center-backs and on the counter — before he learned of Jair Pereira’s suspension — said a lot about how the Guadalajara manager is thinking.But putting the aesthetics to one side, Chivas haven’t conceded in 282 minutes during the competition and deserve praise for finding a way past two tricky opponents in the Seattle Sounders and the Red Bulls. It has been a case of getting the job done for Chivas and against the odds, given that the team has been poor in league play this year.
JC: More than anything, TFC needs to regain a bit of health. Toronto’s aforementioned depth is a key reason that it has progressed this far. At one stage against Club America, TFC was down five starters, with Chris Mavinga, Victor Vasquez, Ager Aketxe, Gregory van der Wiel and Altidore all sidelined. TFC hasn’t missed a beat, as the likes of Ashtone Morgan, Nico Hasler, Tosaint Ricketts and Osorio have filled in capably and at times spectacularly.But one wonders if the possible loss of Altidore for the first leg might be a case of Toronto sustaining one injury too many. It’s one thing to rely on Ricketts with a multi-goal lead in the second leg and quite another to be depending on him for goals heading into the series. The backline needs to heal as well, as Bradley was forced to drop into defense during the second leg against Club America when van der Wiel was sidelined.Otherwise, TFC just needs to play its game. Chivas isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, and the Reds have shown they can get goals against Liga MX’s best teams. But Chivas have proven themselves a defensive force, so falling behind isn’t an option for Toronto.
TM: You could argue that Chivas have the ability to make Toronto’s task even more difficult than Tigres and Club America, at least given what we saw from the Guadalajara team against the Sounders and Red Bulls. In the second leg of both the quarters and the semis, the Mexican sides were chasing the series and leaving space between the lines for TFC to exploit. A player such as Giovinco needs no invitation when space is on offer.The losses of suspended center-back Pereira and goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota for the first leg in Toronto represent a big blow for Chivas. It’ll likely be a game not too dissimilar to the one Chivas just played against the Red Bulls: respect Toronto’s attack a little more than Tigres and America did, sit back, let the MLS champion come at you and restrict the space that Giovinco and Osorio try to burst around the box.
JC: History beckons for Toronto. While MLS teams have twice claimed a continental title, both wins came back in the days when the tournament was held in a single, U.S.-based venue. Performing in front of hostile crowds at altitude wasn’t required. In fact, both D.C. United (1998) and the LA Galaxy (2000) were able to stay close to home in claiming the title, then known as the CONCACAF Champions Cup.Since then, MLS teams have failed to make much headway in the competition, with only Real Salt Lake (2011) and the Montreal Impact (2015) reaching the final. There have been some blowouts against Liga MX sides along the way, and with MLS aiming to increase its international profile, having one of its teams claim the CCL would be a tangible sign of the progress it is making.
A Toronto victory would also raise the bar for the rest of the league as well. Sure, some teams such as the New York Red Bulls have found success focusing on the academy and USL pipelines, but if the rest of MLS wants to compete at Toronto’s level, it needs to devote considerable financial resources both on and off the field and maximize the various player acquisition mechanisms.
TM: Chivas haven’t won a CONCACAF trophy since 1962, and for an institution that considers itself the biggest and greatest in Mexico, that fact isn’t very glorious.
A lot of the talk about Chivas in the CCL has surrounded the club’s poor form this Clausura and the 2017 Apertura. While obviously true, that narrative has negated their pedigree and ability to reach finals since Almeyda took over in September 2015. This is Chivas’ seventh final in that time, making it (aside from the campeonisimo team of the 1950s and 60s) one of the most successful periods ever for Chivas.Problems inside the club have also seemed to create a divide between the players and coaching staff on one side and certain directors on the other. The positive is that the friction seems to have brought unity and even more incentive for the players to win the title in spite of the alleged lack of bonus payments and subpar traveling conditions of late.Let’s not forget the nationalistic sentiment here. Chivas point out at every opportunity that only Mexicans can play for the club. Winning the regional tournament would be a source of a lot of pride for fans.
JC: For the first time since the round of 16, Toronto enters the series as the favorite. If the Reds can get some of their injured players back, that sentiment only increases. But Chivas have proven to be a tough team to break down, conceding just a solitary goal in six CCL matches. Much will depend on Altidore’s availability. If he can go, look for TFC to prevail with a home win and a draw on the road. Otherwise, the margins will shrink, with penalties deciding the outcome. Even then, I like Toronto to come out on top.
TM: Usually the question of which team is “favorite” for a game or series is pretty boring, but in this case, the opposite is true. Do you go with Toronto, which has already gotten past two Liga MX sides better than Chivas on paper? Or do you go with the team representing a nation that has won the past 12 editions of this tournament and closes out the series at home?Given the resilience and focus it has shown so far, I’d have to go with Toronto, but it’s likely to be tight.
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