4/27/18   Indy 11 Discount Tix Wed/Sat, Champs League Semi’s, ICC Tix on Sale, Toronto loses CCL

Wow – I do love Champions League Soccer – our Liverpool and Mo Salah (2 goals/2 assist) were spectacular as they scored 5 goals and were routing Roma as Anfield was rocking – then boom – the last 10 minutes Roma scored 2 goals.  Still a 3 goal lead going  back to Roma – while exactly the same deficit that Roma overcame against Barcelona in the last round – will certainly be a high hill to climb. In the other semi-final between heavyweights’ Bayern Munich and 2 time Defending Champs Real Madrid – it was again Renaldo’s group that came out on top 2-1 despite being outshot almost 2-0 in Germany and ending Renaldo’s record breaking consecutive UCL game scoring streak at 11.  Bayern suffered injuries to Robben and allstar center back Boateng in the process making the return leg to Madrid all that more daunting for the squad that has been knocked out by Real in 3 straight seasons.  See the return leg times for both next week below.  Hugely sad to see fan attack they took place around the Liverpool game on Tuesday – Klopp was beside himself describing his emotions after the big win then finding out about the attack.

Europa League

So I have to admit I found myself rooting for embattled Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger to win his 1st Europa League title despite his European Trophy snide in this his final year with the Gunners.  Was it time for Wenger to step down yes – he should have probably stepped away before last season – but still lets not forget his revolutionized the English game when he arrived 21+ years ago forging the only team to go undefeated in the EPL since the 1850s back in 2004 with the Invicibles. But honestly when the ref sent an Atletico Madrid player off with a 2nd soft yellow in the 10th minute and then kicked out the Man in Black – Athletico manager Diego Simeon in the 20th minute after his team received ball call after bad call.  I admit I flipped jerseys at halftime and though Arsenal pounded top 5 Goalkeeper Jan Oblak who was spectacular – the 1-1 tie was fitting as Antoine Griezmann made the solo run with 10 left to gain the ever important away goal at the Emerates.

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 

So the International Champions Cup times and locations have been announced as the top European Clubs including Dortmund and US star Christian Pulisic, Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Man City, Tottenham, Roma, AC Milan, and more.  I have the special code to get you EARLY ACCESS to order Tickets before they go on sale to the general public on May 1.  Just click here and use code ICCVIP.

TV Games

Man United will travel to Arsenal on Sunday at 11:30  am on NBCSN and looks to spoil Wenger’s farewell tour.  They follow West Ham vs Man City which kicks off at 7:30 am.  Also Sunday Dortmund and American Christian Pulisic travel to Mainz looking for points as they battle for top 4 (champions League spots). Saturday gives us Liverpool hosting relegation threateed Stoke City and American Geoff Cameron at 7:30 am on NBCSN, followed by Swansea and Chelsea at 12:30 on NBCSN as well.

MLS

MLS Champions Toronto FC – came surging back on the road behind Altidore and Giovinco goals and beat CD Guadalajara 2-1 but it wasn’t enough to win the CONCACAF Champions LeagueTrophy as the Mexican side won the penalty shootout 4-2 to take the Crown. Disappointing for both Toronto and MLS – but some serious guts shown by Toronto as Michael Bradley was forced to play center back do to injuries – of course he missed his penalty kick again – the loss leaves MLS never having won the UCL Title.   Looking ahead to this weekend LAFC opens their spectacular new stadium on Sunday night on Fox Sports 1 at 9 pm after Colorado hosts Orlando City and former Carmel Dad’s Club player Cameron Lindley at 4 pm on ESPN.

As we come to the end of the European season with every major league title winner basically decided except Italy’s Serie A, the eyes go to relegation battles and advancement.  In England Wolverhampton will move up to the EPL next season – battling out for the other 3 spots are one of my favorite teams Fulham (who once had 4 American’s starting about 8 years ago), Cardiff and Aston Villa (former home of US keeper Brad Guzan). Moving down is Sunderland.

Indy 11

The next two weeks will be the most difficult for the “Boys in Blue” thus far this season. Indy Eleven will face Charlotte Independence away from home on April 28. A short week follows as “Indiana’s Team” seeks revenge against rivals FC Cincinnati on Wednesday, May 2, who defeated Indy Eleven 0-1 in Indy’s home opener. Three days later, the “Boys in Blue” face Louisville City FC at home for the first time this season. Special Ticket Prices can be found here – (code indy 2018) or for just $10 per game – you can get tickets to both games.

Carmel FC – Goalkeepers – Remember we are training with former Indy 11 Goalkeeper Kristian Nicht on Thursday night not Wed next week – at Shelbourne same times.  OBC

International Champions Cup

Tix in the US go on sales May 1st to the General Public but I have a special Link to allow you in the PRE-SALE.  Just click here and use code ICCVIP.

Man City vs Borussia Dortmund – Fri July 20 9 pm Chicago Soldier Field

Man United vs Liverpool  – Sat July 28 5 pm Michigan Stadium (tix on sale now)

ICC Full Schedule

Big ICC Games Coming ESPNFC

Champions League

Liverpool Goal Threat will See Roma Off & can beat Bayern or Madrid Mark Odgen

Liverpool’s Chaotic – Awesome Attack undermined by defensive misshaps – Steven Kelly ESPNFC

Liverpool Dazzles but leaves Roma a chance – eSPNFC Mark Ogden

Player ratings Liverpool – Salah 10/10 ESPNFC

Reckless Roma Makes it Too Easy for Liverpool – Michael Cox ESPNFC

Livepool Routs Roma – Avi Creditor – SI

Salah, Liverpool overwealm Roma, Leave door Open for UCL comeback however – SI Jon Wilson

Oxlade-Chamberlain looks to be out for year

Klopp Can’t Describe in Emotions over Fan Attack in Liverpool

We should Embrace Real Madrids Nonsense Run While it Last – Joey Gunlino FC Yahoo

Real Madrid Put 1 Foot in Final as Bayern Munich rue Missed Chances – Nick Ames ESPNFC

Bayern Have Lost the Winning Edge ESPNFC Nick Ames

Mueller – we didn’t Take our Chances Well –

This the Highest Scoring Champions League Season

 

Mistakes Define Arsenal Again – Mark Ogden ESPNFC

Arsenal Squander Chance as 10 Man Atletico make them Pay – Mark Ogden SEPNFC

Indy 11

Charlotte vs Indy 11 Preview – Bloody Shambles – Rebecca Townsend

Indy 11 Bye Week Tidings

Indy 11 Two Pack – $20 for a ticket to 2 games Wed and Sat

Soony Saad puts bow on 11 Victory  – soctakes

Indy 11 Discount Tickets for Wed & Next Saturday’s Game!   (Code 2018Indy)

Flex Packs: Discount Indy 11 Flex Pack Tickets
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

Indy 11 Banner

https://www.indyeleven.com/two-pack

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 get the $11 rate its $15 at the game. You Won’t want to watch the game in any other section after standing, screaming, singing, dancing, and partying with the BEST SUPPORTERS SECTION in the US – the BYB.

GoalKeeping

Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas shows Character in Win over Bayern

Can Regular folks off the Street Score on an MLS Goalkeeper?

Every shot faced by Barcelona Ter Stegan and Roma – Becker in UCL Game  

Navas great saves vs Juve

Top Saves of the week around the World

Saves of the Week – USL

MLS

Toronto does Everything Right in CCL Final but Win – Bobby Warsaw MLS.com

3 Thoughts on TFC painfull CCL Final Loss – Matt Doyle – MLS.com

Chivas ensure MLS Wait for 1st CCL Title Continues – Tom Marshall ESPNFC

Gutting Loss for Toronto – SI – Brian Straus

Seattle hoping to Ruin LAFCs First Game at Home

Day in Training with NYCfC

How long with Giovinco be with Toronto NBCSN

Zlatan’s Return Ruled out by Sweden for WC

2018 MLS Ambition Rankings – Which Clubs Raise the Bar the Highest at the League Grows – SI Grant Wahl / Brian Straus

EPL

Arsenal Fans Excited for Times after Arsene Wenger

Why Arsene Really Left – ESPNFC

Man U out ot spoil Arsenal’s Farewell Tour

Wenger greatest Manager to Never Win a European Cup – UK Yahoo Sports

Fulham America – in contention for Promotion to EPL

Relegation Battles all over England

USA

Christian Pulisic to Make USMNT Return in Late May

US Coach Dave Sarachan Unlikely to Bring in Old Guard right now

Morroco World Cup Bid Faces Scrutiny – USA Today

GAMES ON TV

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)

Thur, May 3- Europa League

3:05 pm Fox Sport1  Athletico vs Arsenal

3:05 pm Fox Sport2  Salzburg vs Olympic Marseille

Fri, May 4-

3:05 pm NBCSN  Brighton vs Man United

Sat, May 5

7:30 am NBCSBN         Stoke Citdy (Cameron) vs Crystal Palace (Relegation battle)

9:30 am Fox Sport2   Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Mainz

10 am NBCSN              West Brom vs Totteham

12 noon beIN sport     Milan vs Verona

12:30 beIN Sport        Real Madrid vs Leganes

12:30 NBCSN              Everton vs Southampton

2:45 pm BeIN Sport   Juventus vs Bologna

7 pm ESPN+ Utube   Charlotte vs Indy 11

Sun, Apr 29

8:30 am NBCSN          Man City vs Huddersfield

9:30 am FS1              Mainz vs RB Leipzig

11:30 am NBCSN       Chelsea vs Liverpool

5  pm                                  Orlando vs Real Salt Lake

Wed, May 9

2 pm belin Sport        Barcelona vs Villarreal

2:45 pm NBCSN           Liecester City vs Arsenal

Soaring Like Eagles, Indy Eleven’s Power Animals Emerge – Charlotte Independence V Indy Eleven PREVIEW 4/28/2018

By: The Pitch Bitch (Rebecca Townsend) Bloody Shambles Blog

Today’s soccer story is not about individuals. It is about a team. About vision. About internalizing identity. Today’s soccer story is about what Indy is — and what it aspires to be.Thanks to an upbringing among the hippies and woodland folk of Bloomington, Indiana, and the surrounding country, the Pitch Bitch is inclined to look toward her natural environment for signs and signals — for messages.

Today, the message was power — in the form of first an eagle and then three hawks. These magnificent creatures will bookend this soccer story.Driving to Grand Park, looking forward to watching professionals coach and train on a beautiful, sunny spring morning, the feeling of gratitude pervades. Not everyone is so lucky to breathe fresh air and spend quality time immersed in their greatest passion. Let those of us who do, never take that for granted. A quarter mile from the field, an eagle rises above a retention pond, scoping out its breakfast opportunities.It is strong, swerving … observant, deadly.he eagle is a power animal. We can adopt its characteristics. “How high will we soar?” is the question. And after today’s practice, the Pitch Bitch answers, “As high as we keep pushing each other.”The Indy Eleven squad was on the field on time, organized and warming up in a spirit of professionalism. By being on time and ready to go, players are saying they are serious. And when it came time to work, they were working. They were finding the balance between being tough with teammates but not too tough (aka breaking) teammates as they sharpen attacking maneuvers and accelerate defensive response times.We are heading into a massive week — an away game in Charlotte, North Carolina, this Saturday followed by two home games in four days: a grudge match on Wednesday against nasty FC Cincy (which had the audacity to steal from us victory in our first home game) and our first taste of Louisville City FC on Saturday.  Not wanting to be like a dimwitted war correspondent, telescoping the intentions of her troops ahead to enemy spies, the Pitch Bitch will not prognosticate at this point on lineups and formations, but instead on the team’s characteristics as a whole. In this spirit, she approached assistant coach Phillip Dos Santos after practice with this question: “How do you want this team to represent itself against the other teams in the league? How will you set yourselves apart?”He responded, “We want to win. What we’re bringing to practice every day is a competitive environment — that carries through to games. We have a quality roster that allows for us to win every game — at home and away. That’s what championship teams are about. We work for that every day.”

That’s a straightforward answer. It says: We are driven to push harder. We work with the intention of succeeding. If the eagle could speak English, it would say something like that: “I am strong. And I fly quick, decisive patterns to disarm — and then slay — my prey. I don’t work in vain. I don’t starve. I feast!”Our opponents will see quick pressing, sprinting attacks from all angles, commitment to possession. They will see movement off the ball, slicing open their defenses, they will feel our penetration, they will watch with paranoia as our runners slip behind them, they will struggle and (more often than not if all goes according to plan,) fail to keep up with our relentlessness. Confidence is stoked by the words of keeper Owain Fôn Williams spoken with resonant confidence from his line, “Keep working, boys! Keep working!”Returning to the city to find a heavenly perch in the sun overlooking a sea of trees and flowers in glorious expressions of long-overdue spring in Indiana, the Pitch Bitch begins to compose her report and review her photographs of training when her attention is at once stolen by the shriek of a nearby hawk.he looks up to see not one — BUT THREE — hawks flying a circular pattern just 30 feet directly above her head. The message of power is cubed!!! The birds played with their flight patterns like a group of midfielders supporting each other as they work their way up the field, dropping, overlapping, drifting wide, pushing higher, higher, higher …

Indy 11 Banner

https://www.indyeleven.com/two-pack

Liverpool goal threat will see off Roma and can beat Bayern or Madrid

6:25 PM ETMark Ogdenenior Football Writer

LIVERPOOL, England — Nobody knows better than Liverpool that a three-goal lead is not always a guarantee of success in the Champions League.They will never forget the “Miracle of Istanbul” at Anfield — that night in May 2005 when Rafael Benitez’s team overturned a 3-0 half-time deficit against AC Milan to win the club’s fifth European Cup on penalties — but there have been more recent reminders that such an advantage is not enough to be certain at the highest level of European competition.Back in November, Jurgen Klopp’s team surrendered a 3-0 lead against Sevilla in Spain to emerge with a draw in Group E and there was, of course, Roma’s remarkable 3-0 victory against Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico earlier this month, which saw the Italians eliminate the Liga leaders, despite suffering a 4-1 first-leg defeat at the Nou Camp.So Klopp’s men will certainly not travel to the Italian capital next week with any thoughts of their job being done as they attempt to defend a 5-2 lead in order to book a place in the Champions League final, on May 26 in Kiev.”There would have been work for us to do when we win 5-0 because Roma would have tried everything to strike back anyway, so that’s not a big difference,” said Klopp. “What I learn tonight is that we can win the second game as well, even when it will be different. Roma needs to score goals against us.”Liverpool have seen both sides of the coin when it comes to a three-goal lead, while Roma will go into pitch next Wednesday believing they can repeat the heroics of their Barca fightback. The Stadio Olimpico will be infused with belief and hope after seeing Lionel Messi and co. dumped out in sensational fashion.But while Liverpool only have themselves to blame for allowing a five-goal lead to be cut to three as a result of Edin Dzeko’s late strike and Diego Perotti’s penalty — Klopp said “the Liverpool way is always a little bit harder” — they can take comfort in the fact that they have more goals in them than any other team in Europe.That firepower should be enough to get them through next week’s test and will also give them confidence that they can defeat either Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in Ukraine to take the European Cup to Anfield for a sixth time.Barcelona failed to score in Rome earlier this month and that was their downfall, but Liverpool have 38 goals in this season’s Champions League group stage and knockout rounds — 11 more than second-highest scorers Paris Saint-Germain — and have hit the back of the net in every one of their away games, dating back to an August playoff win at Hoffenheim.KIopp’s men may have faced some of the weaker teams in this season’s Champions League but they hit seven away to Maribor and netted five against Porto in Estadio do Dragao during the Round of 16, not to mention the three they scored in that crazy draw in Seville.Real Madrid, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring even more regularly in this competition than Mo Salah, who managed two against his former club on Tuesday, have only managed 26 goals so far this season, while Bayern, their opponents in the other semifinal have scored 23.Ronaldo, who is the competition’s leading scorer this term with 15, will always pose a unique threat for Real, while Bayern will expect Robert Lewandowski to deliver, despite the fact he has just five European goals in 2017-18.Liverpool have been ruthless and their cutting edge has been sharpened as a result. It is why they travelled to Manchester City earlier this month confident of adding to their 3-0 first-leg victory. They did so, winning 2-1 the Etihad Stadium against the Premier League champions, with goals from Salah and Firmino.Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mane have hit 23 goals between them in the Champions League this season and Roma must find a way to stop them adding to their combined total to have any hope of another shock next week. If they do not, the mountain facing Eusebio di Francesco’s players becomes even more imposingAt the other end, Liverpool have conceded nine goals in 11 games, but the £75 million addition of Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the defence has contributed to tightening up at the back, which has seen Liverpool concede just three times in five knockout-round games.Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain’s injury could be serious and will further stretch a squad without Emre Can, Adam Lallana and Joel Matip but, if Liverpool advance to face either Bayern or Real, they will go into the final knowing that they have the forwards and attacking game to win.

Chaotic Liverpool’s awesome attack undermined by more defensive mishaps

:45 AM ETSteven Kelly

Liverpool’s semifinal tie with AS Roma should be over.They can still reach their ninth European Cup final — their third in the Champions League format — and probably will, but instead of absolute certainty there is doubt once again.With any other team capable of such breath-taking attacking football — and there’s just a few in the world, club or international level — it would be over, but this is Liverpool; specifically, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Exhilarating and infuriating.Can you name another team that could score five goals and whose fans then end up whistling furiously for the referee to end the game?Yes, it was only a first leg and everyone knows what Roma are capable of on their own ground, but such was the nervousness triggered by the Reds’ late stumble that it was obvious supporters expected a previously timid Roma to score every time they came forward.It happens too often for comfort. Last season, Bournemouth won a match 4-3 after being 3-1 down with 15 minutes to go. This season Liverpool were three up at Sevilla and ended up drawing the game. There are other examples.Over the next week fans will rev up the confidence and go into the second leg convinced it can be won.It’s all a smokescreen. In the back of everyone’s mind is the knowledge that Liverpool could blow this. As exciting as this team clearly is, they really put their fans through the wringer.The levels in Serie A may not be what they once were but such a hammering rarely happens to an Italian side in Europe. They were taken apart and if Sadio Mane had been on top of his game there might have been a record Champions League score-line.Given this was a semifinal against a team that just knocked out Barcelona, it was an extraordinary performance.People may say Roma also conceded four at the Camp Nou but there were moments of fortune for the Catalonian giants. ESPN’s Gab Marcotti tweeted as much, claiming this was a completely different game although the score was similar.Now, Roma can go through again with another 3-0 win. You can say lightning doesn’t strike twice but this is a chaotic, whirlwind Champions League tournament where anything can happen and already has.Liverpool’s Fab Three forward line scored all the goals again. Together they’ve racked up an incredible 88 in all competitions. Even Paris Saint Germain’s magical trio of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani cannot match that, despite playing in a weaker league.An individual season like Salah’s happens once in a generation and yet incredibly Liverpool might still not be playing in the Champions League next season. It’s insane, and so exasperating.A lack of defensive solidity is clearly to blame. There were warning signs on Saturday against relegation certainties West Brom and this isn’t the first time Liverpool have come under the cosh late in games.Injuries are tying Klopp’s hands in terms of rotating the squad and an early knock to Alex Oxlade Chamberlain on Tuesday did not look good. Using the same players continuously must surely be tiring.Liverpool are still favourites to get a top four place in the Premier League while also reaching the Champions League final.Over confidence in how this team can just get whatever goals they require could be damaging however, as it was during Brendan Rodgers’ title surge in 2014.Few cared if the Reds conceded two, they’d just score three. There were few qualms if they let three in, they could even score six as they once did against Cardiff City.When it mattered most however, costly mistakes took a long-awaited title away from Liverpool.Can Klopp fix these lapses? Does he even want to? The big money defensive signing Virgil van Dijk is already having moments of carelessness so it cannot be blamed on the personnel, although those who do so saw yet another error from Dejan Lovren against Roma as more proof.Some may regard it as the price worth paying for such tremendous excitement at the other end. Others will claim such brilliance simply cannot camouflage the unreliability at the other end forever.All forwards have an off day. Everyone in Liverpool’s forward line had one against Manchester United recently, though some praised Jose Mourinho’s so-called masterplan as the cause.If they were to fire blanks at the Stadio Olimpico in a week’s time it wouldn’t generally matter if your team already leads by three goals.That’s if the rest of the team is fully capable of doing their job. The team that conceded three goals in one half against Sevilla, Arsenal and West Brom in the FA Cup has needed rescuing by its forwards countless times.It would be nice if defence could return the favour in Rome next week but few would bet on it.

Liverpool dazzle but give Roma small chance in CL semifinal second leg

4:50 PM ETark OgdenSenior Football Writer

LIVERPOOL, England — Three thoughts from Anfield as Liverpool raced to a 5-0 lead vs. Roma only to let in two late goals in their Champions League semifinal, first leg.1. Liverpool could face anxious night in Roma after late slump

Liverpool need to avoid a three-goal defeat in Rome next Wednesday to reach the Champions League final, but Jurgen Klopp’s team should have already booked their place in Kiev after building a 5-0 lead before conceding two late goals against Roma.Having scored two late goals through Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti, Roma gave themselves hope of another Champions League miracle, having stunned Barcelona in the quarterfinals. But Liverpool will still travel to the Italian capital as favourites to make it to the final having dominated this tie for over an hour.Two Mohamed Salah goals, another two from Roberto Firmino and one from Sadio Mane gave Liverpool what seemed an unassailable lead. But Dzeko’s late strike and a Perotti penalty left Eusebio Di Francesco’s team needing to win next Wednesday’s return leg 3-0 to make it to the final — the same score that saw the giallorossi eliminate Barcelona in the last eight.Can Roma do it again? Well they will need to perform better than they did at Anfield, when they allowed the Liverpool forwards far too much time and space to run riot.Liverpool were sublime at times, tearing holes into the Roma defence, with Salah in particular giving his former club nightmares. But the defensive frailties that always threaten Liverpool’s progress returned in the final stages and only time will tell how costly the late Roma goals will beKlopp’s team, who lost Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to a first-half knee injury, remain most likely to make it to Kiev for the Champions League final, but they ill travel to Rome knowing that they could be in for a torrid time at the Stadio Olimpico next week.

  1. Salah just goes on and on

When Mo Salah was announced as PFA Player of the Year on Sunday, there were many who believed that Manchester City’s midfielder Kevin De Bruyne should have claimed the award. But even the most ardent City fan must now accept that the Liverpool forward has enjoyed such an exceptional season at Anfield that not only was he deserving of that award, he is now a strong candidate for the Ballon d’Or trophy that’s been the property of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the past decade.At some point, their stranglehold on the award will be broken and Salah’s incredible season makes him the most obvious challenger to take it off them.The Egypt international’s double against former club Roma took his tally for the season to 43 goals. He also set up two for Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, just to show that he is more than a guy who simply puts the ball into the back of the net.Salah has been in majestic form for months and if he stays fit, Liverpool will have a fantastic chance of winning a sixth European Cup against either Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in Kiev next month if they can see the result out next week. His goals are all similar, either a curler into the top corner or a chipped effort over the keeper, but nobody has yet found a way to stop him.Neither Real or Bayern would fancy facing Salah in Kiev, especially with the underrated Firmino and Mane alongside him. And if he can help inspired Liverpool to glory in the Ukraine capital, Salah may just move himself into pole position for the Ballon d’Or.

  1. How did Barcelona lose to Roma?

Roma’s quarterfinal success against Barcelona, when they overturned a 4-1 first-leg deficit against La Liga’s leaders, will go down as one of the most memorable fight-backs in Champions League history, but it now looks like a freak result that will haunt Barca.Roma started well enough at Anfield but once 20 minutes had elapsed, they had surrendered the initiative to Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp’s team set about destroying them with a ruthless display.Barcelona, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez up front, are arguably even more potent than Liverpool going forward, so their inability to score in Rome is inexplicable judging by the Italian club’s performance at Anfield.Roma were shambolic at times. The hapless Juan Jesus had a night to forget while goalkeeper Alisson did little to justify his reputation as one of the world’s best goalkeepers. In midfield, Daniele De Rossi played like an old man while Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan could not get close to the home team in the centre of the pitch. Perhaps Barca’s defeat in Rome was an example of what can happen when teams take their foot off the gas and pay for their complacency.Roma’s two late goals give them hope next week but if they go out, it will be their awful performance for an hour in this game that will cost them.

Roma make it too easy for Liverpool in Champions League with reckless tactics

5:43 AM ETMichael Cox

Come the end of the 2017-18 campaign, Liverpool’s 5-2 victory over Roma on Tuesday will probably be remembered as the greatest night of the club’s campaign — depending, of course, upon whether they go one better and win the final itself.It was almost the archetypal Liverpool victory, one of those famous European nights at Anfield where they blow away the opposition with almost illogical levels of pace and power, nights that would be mythical if they didn’t happen quite so frequently.Yet in terms of performance, it probably won’t even rank in Liverpool’s best five of the campaign. Forget, for now, about the two late Roma goals that cast a peculiar shadow over the overwhelming victory — Liverpool’s performance wasn’t one of their best, simply because it didn’t need to be. It was just so easy for Liverpool to penetrate Roma’s defence repeatedly because of the staggeringly naive tactics used by Giallorossi boss Eusebio Di Francesco.Yet Di Francesco’s approach must be considered in the grand scheme of things, and in relation to Italian football’s position in Europe over recent years. For over 15 years now, Italian football has been mocked for two separate reasons. First, because it’s still seen as slow, defensive and overly tactical. Second, because their clubs have consistently underperformed in European competition.The two are, in a sense, related: football has shifted towards teams being more proactive, attack-minded and possession-based, and Italian sides have largely been left behind.There has, however, been something of a backlash. Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli aren’t simply overwhelmingly popular amongst neutrals because they’re the underdogs, but also because of their style of play. Napoli press well, pass well and, more than anything else, they play at an extremely high tempo.This has been Italian football’s major problem over the last decade in European football — they’re not tactically or technically inferior, but they’re completely unable to cope with the speed of the opposition. Think, for example, about the way Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon ripped apart both Inter and Milan for Tottenham back in 2010-11, or the way Juventus were pressed out of the game by Bayern Munich in 2012-13.Sarri is the leader in something of a revolution, and Di Francesco is on board too. Roma weren’t expected to progress from their Champions League group, up against both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, but provided a surprise in terms of both results and tactics.Away at Stamford Bridge, they pressed aggressively and cohesively in a manner barely seen from Italian clubs in recent years. In their famous 3-0 victory over Barcelona they completely outplayed the Catalan side. And suddenly it seemed Italian football had, at last, risen from the ashes. A title fight between Juventus and Napoli, both excellent sides, and a third team into the semifinals of the Champions League; Serie A hadn’t seen anything like it for years.In simple terms, Roma got carried away with their all-out-attack approach, and tried to play against Liverpool the same way they’d played against Barcelona. But the two are entirely different sides. Barcelona are now a structured, narrow and slightly one-paced outfit that can be “got at” through aggressive midfield pressing. Lionel Messi plays just behind Luis Suarez with no threats from the flanks, and therefore a narrow three-man defence made sense.When the teamsheets were revealed at Anfield, Di Francesco was clearly using the same system. But surely it would be interpreted differently against the speed and width of Liverpool’s front three, with Roma effectively using a back five rather than a back three?It seemed that way in the opening stages, but when Roma pushed forward, so did the wing-backs. Not one at a time, as you might have expected — with the opposite wing-back tucking inside into a four-man defence — but both at the same time.Roma briefly caused problems with overloads on the wings, but more than anything they exposed their three-man defence to the speed of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. There are very few defenders in Europe who could have played that way. Kostas Manolas, Juan Jesus and, in particular, Federico Fazio aren’t in that number.Liverpool had space everywhere: space for Firmino to drop into between the lines, space for Mane to speed into in behind, space on the outside for Salah to collect the ball on the flanks, and even space for Salah to cut inside into for his outstanding opening goal.The second was typical of Liverpool’s approach, Firmino dropping into a classic false No. 9 position to poke through for Salah. It’s the Egyptian who gets the Messi comparisons, but Messi’s old false No. 9 role is now being played expertly by Firmino with assists like that.The third was the simplest goal, with Trent Alexander-Arnold tossing the ball into 40 yards of space, Salah sprinting onto it and then ambling almost casually towards goal. Firmino and Mane actually did poorly here, making almost the same run, but Roma’s defence was in such a state that they couldn’t cut out the pass to Mane. The fourth was very similar, Salah in acres of space and Firmino with a tap-in. Then Firmino added the fifth from a set-piece.It was a tactical disaster, and the irony is that Di Francesco has spent much of his period at Roma talking about how 4-3-3 is the “ideal formation.” There would have been no guarantees that Roma would have coped with Salah and Liverpool better in that system, but it wouldn’t have resulted in this complete collapse. Roma essentially played exactly the way Jurgen Klopp would have wanted them to: half-pressing up the pitch.The two late goals, scored by Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti with a lovely penalty, added some respectability to the scoreline. Perhaps, considering the comeback against Barcelona, it means the tie is still on.But in the wider scheme of things, those two goals might have a significant impact upon tactical thinking in Italy, a country which is still largely sceptical of the kind of attacking approach Roma showed at Anfield. A 5-0 thrashing may have dissuaded others from following that template, the performance unintentionally promoting the merits of a deep defensive line and a spare man.Di Francesco got it wrong on Tuesday night, but it’s important to remember that Roma’s performances have largely been excellent this season, and his approach is in keeping with the continent’s more progressive, modern and successful managers. Roma are on the right path; Italian football is too.However, there’s a time and place, and pressing heavily with a high defensive line — leaving three-on-three against Europe’s quickest attacking trio — was a hugely counter-productive approach. For Liverpool, it was almost too easy.

Salah, Liverpool Overwhelm Roma, But Leave Door Open for Another UCL Comeback

By JONATHAN WILSON April 24, 2018

Mohamed Salah struck twice against his former club as Liverpool took a huge step towards the Champions League final with a 5-2 win over Roma in the first leg of the semifinals at Anfield, but the end result was not as one-sided as it should have been.The Egyptian took his tally in all competitions for the season to 43 with two brilliant first-half goals, and then set up goals for Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to become the first player to register two goals and two assists in a Champions League semifinal.Firmino headed a fifth from a 69th-minute corner to become the second, but just as the game seemed to be drifting to a conclusion, Edin Dzeko snatched an away goal.A Diego Perotti penalty then gave Roma real hope. Having overturned a 4-1 deficit against Barcelona in the last round, a 5-2 deficit means a 3-0 win would be good enough again–and a 4-1 win would do the trick as well, leaving the tie unsettled as it heads to Rome.Here are three thoughts on another high-scoring night at Anfield:

ROMA’S BOLD APPROACH BACKFIRES

Only twice before this season had Eusebio Di Francesco gone for a back three: in the league game away at Lazio and in the second leg of the quarterfinal against Barcelona. His use of it here was something of a surprise when it had seemed a specific tactic to combat Barcelona’s slightly pedestrian 4-4-2. The danger against Liverpool’s 4-3-3 was twofold: that Daniele De Rossi at the back of midfield would be swamped by the Liverpool press, and that the spaces behind the two fullbacks would be a vulnerability ripe for exploitation by the pace of Mane and Salah.As Roma pressed high, an unexpectedly bold and ultimately flawed approach, what transpired was a game of chicken, with Liverpool allowing the Roma wingbacks, Alessandro Florenzi and Aleksandar Kolarov, to push on, gambling on being able to break 3-on-3. But Liverpool seemed unsettled by Roma’s aggression and struggled for rhythm early on, a problem exacerbated when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was forced off early on with a knee injury. As Loris Karius fumbled an Aleksandar Kolarov drive against the bar, it even seemed that Roma might cause an upset. But as the first half wore on, those transitions did begin to develop and Roma disintegrated.

LIVERPOOL SURGES BEHIND SALAH

Liverpool is a side that plays in pulses, suddenly upping the tempo and ripping into opponents. At its peak, there are few sights like it. Perhaps the intention was always to begin slightly cautiously, or perhaps the lack of an early charge was a result of Roma’s press, but once Liverpool got going, Di Francesco’s side had no answer. A game that had seemed tight, that Roma was perhaps even having the better of, suddenly tipped Liverpool’s way.The endless string of chances was faintly ridiculous, and if Mane had shown a little more composure in front if goal, the tie might have been settled by halftime. Then again, were it not for the finishing brilliance of Salah, signed from Roma for $48 million last summer, Liverpool might have ended up without a lead at all.Mane, set clean through, blasted over in the 28th minute and Liverpool had begun its onslaught. Mane then fired a Firmino cross over, and then Alisson was forced into a diving save to deny Salah, followed by Mane having an effort ruled out for offside. Seven minutes after that first Mane chance, Roma, understandably reeling, allowed Salah a couple of yards inside the box, allowing him to cut into his left foot. His finish was deliciously precise, just kissing the bar in its way into the top corner, though he neglected to celebrate the vital goal against his former side.But the surge continued. Dejan Lovren headed against the bar form a corner, Mane failed to control a chance in the box, Georginio Wijnaldum had a shot beaten away by Alisson and Firmino had a shot deflected wide. Then, with Roma clinging on desperately for the halftime break, Salah, again, ran onto a Firmino through ball and gently lifted the ball over Alisson for his second of the night and a backbreaker going into the locker room.

ROMA MANAGES TO HAVE HOPE

The tie should have been over, as Liverpool increased its lead to 5-0, but two soft goals conceded in the final 10 minutes breathed new life into the series.Halftime should have been an opportunity for Roma to regroup, to accept that there is a good reason why Premier League sides do not play with a high line against Liverpool. But the only change Di Francesco made was to bring on Patrick Schick for Cengiz Under and switch from 3-4-2-1 to 3-5-2. That, though, did nothing to solve the basic problem of a back three playing high against a much quicker front three. Poor Juan Jesus and Federico Fazio had nowhere to turn, vulnerable to the simplest ball over the top.Perhaps Salah was offside as he laid in Mane for the third, but then Mane hadn’t looked offside a couple of minutes earlier when he had been called back chasing another through pass. The fourth goal came from the same source–a long ball flicked on with his heel by Trent Alexander-Arnold for Salah, who jinked by Jesus and crossed for Firmino to tap in his 50th Liverpool goal.By then Roma seemed dazed, player after player approaching Di Francesco seeking advice. But the issue by then was psychological as much as tactical, nobody picking up Firmino as he headed in a right-wing corner from James Milner to make it 5-0.That should surely have cemented Liverpool’s place in the final, but Dzeko gave Roma hope, just as he did in the first leg against Barcelona. He fired in after Lovren misjudged the flight of a Radja Nainggolan cross. Liverpool, suddenly, was the team panicking and as the game began to resemble the end of the 4-3 win over Manchester City in the league when Liverpool, having gone 4-1 up, was left to hang on, Perotti made it 5-2 from the spot after Nainggolan’s drive had struck Milner’s arm. Roma is in an unenviable spot, but at least it’s one it has confronted before.

Mohamed Salah a perfect 10, Roberto Firmino 9/10 for rampant Liverpool vs. Roma

6:52 PM ETDavid Usher

Liverpool’s wild ride in this year’s Champions League got a little wilder on an almost surreal night at Anfield. Mohamed Salah tormented his old club with two goals and two assists to put the Reds in dreamland as they raced out to a 5-0 lead. Liverpool ran out of steam late on, though and Roma snatched the faintest of lifelines to just about remain in a tie that should have been well beyond them. There’s never a dull moment watching Liverpool.

Positives

Everyone connected with the Merseyside club would have taken a 5-2 victory prior to the game so that should not be overlooked. This was a Champions League semi-final, usually tense, tight affairs, yet Liverpool completely blew their opponents away with a display of pace, skill and power that few sides on the planet are capable of. The late wobble should not overshadow that fact, as the Reds have put themselves in a great position to reach the final.

Negatives

First and foremost, the injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, which looks like it could be serious. Beyond that, the worrying drop-off after 80 minutes should be a concern as it is not an isolated incident. Everton, Bournemouth and West Brom have all put Liverpool under pressure in the final 10 minutes of recent games too.

Manager rating out of 10

8 — Jurgen Klopp undoubtedly won the tactical battle as the Reds went very direct and blitzed Roma with runners to absolutely shred their high defensive line time and again. Liverpool scored five but it could, probably should, have been double that. The substitution of Salah was a big turning point but Klopp should not be criticised for that as a manager should be able to sub his star man with a 5-0 lead and not have to worry.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Loris Karius, 5 — Made a complete hash of a first-half shot from Aleksandar Kolarov and was very fortunate to see it come back off the crossbar. Had no chance with either of Roma’s late goals.

DF Trent Alexander-Arnold, 8 — Another strong showing from the youngster who did not let an early yellow card impact his play. Defended well and showed glimpses of what he can do going forward, not least with a lovely flick to set Salah away to create Liverpool’s fourth goal.

DF Virgil Van Dijk, 8 — Cruised through the game and was rarely stretched as his defensive partner tended to be the one doing battle with the powerful Edin Dzeko. Comfortable in possession and showed a nice range of passing at times.

DF Dejan Lovren, 7 — It was all going so well for the Croatian until he got caught under an exquisite pass from Radja Nainggolan and allowed Dzeko to score. Until that moment he’d been outstanding and his aggression in attacking the ball was a big reason why Liverpool were able to play on the front foot so often.

DF Andrew Robertson, 8 — Typically accomplished and energetic display from the Scot. Delivered one brilliant, late cross that should have been converted by Georginio Wijnaldum and had a shot of his own blocked after a lung-busting run.

MF Jordan Henderson, 9 — Inspirational performance from the captain. Pressed intelligently and relentlessly and stopped potential Roma counterattacks at the source time and again with great strength and determination.

MF Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, NR — Started brightly and had an early shot from distance that he didn’t quite catch as he would have liked, but his evening — and possibly his season — was ended prematurely as he left the field on a stretcher.

MF James Milner, 9 — As he has been all season in Europe, the experienced Milner was top class. His use of the ball was excellent, his work out of possession inspirational. He became the first player in Champions League history to record nine assists in a single campaign but then unluckily conceded a penalty late on when a shot struck him on the arm. How he was expected to get out of the way is a question for the referee to answer.

FW Mohamed Salah, 10 — Wow. Just wow. If anyone was in doubt as to whether his PFA Player of the Season award was deserved, they surely can’t be now. An incredible performance from the Egyptian. Two fantastic goals took his tally to 43 for the season and he then added a couple of assists just for good measure. Seems to reach new levels of excellence each week now.

FW Roberto Firmino, 9 — Outstanding yet again. Led the line masterfully, laying on both goals for Salah in the first half while also scoring two goals himself after the break. That saw him equal Adriano’s record for the fastest player to reach 10 Champions League goals, having done it in just 11 games. A great night’s work for the Brazilian.

FW Sadio Mane, 6 — If the Senegal man had been at his best then this tie would be over already. Whereas Salah and Firmino both brought their “A game”, Mane was wasteful and hesitant. Two terrible misses in the space of a minute seemed to knock his confidence, but he did find the net later when he converted a Salah cross from close range. An off night, but expect him to deliver next week.

Substitutes

MF Georginio Wijnaldum, 9 — The Dutchman’s introduction for the unfortunate Oxlade-Chamberlain helped the Reds overcome a wobbly start. He kept the ball well and showed good strength in possession, but it was his surging runs off the ball that repeatedly opened up the Roma defence and created space for his teammates. One of his best performances for the club.

FW Danny Ings, NR — Replaced Salah and the game started to drift as Liverpool’s intensity dropped. Had little chance to attack and spent most of his time tracking back as Roma grabbed a late lifeline and went hunting for more goals.

Embrace Real Madrid’s glorious Champions League nonsense while it lasts

Joey GulinoFC Yahoo•April 25, 2018

I know, I know. Real Madrid is mega-rich, mega-successful and mega-annoying.But here’s some bad news you almost certainly know already: Unless you root for one of maybe 10 clubs in the world, yours is never winning the Champions League. Soccer is as top-heavy as any sport, so you have to find someone or something to root for at the highest level.You could analyze the tactics and pour over the match film and still come up well short of reasonable answers for why Real Madrid has put together the most unprecedented dominance in the history of club soccer. It doesn’t make sense. So isn’t it sensible to just embrace it?Take Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal leg against Bayern Munich, for example. The Allianz Arena is a cauldron for 99 percent of Europe. Not Real Madrid, which plays with such reckless abandon that it’s now won three straight times at Bayern’s home stadium in the Champions League knockout stages.And perhaps the key is that abandon is completely self-conscious. Real Madrid absolutely knows how good it is, and it absolutely fills the side with confidence every time it takes the pitch.That’s why Marcelo, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez put away Bayern Munich. It wasn’t a multi-goal showcase from all-time great Cristiano Ronaldo. It was supporting players punishing mistakes with ruthless efficiency (and making upfor their own).This team isn’t simply bought and paid for, either. Vazquez is from Real Madrid’s academy. The club identified young stars-in-waiting like Asensio and Isco early in the transfer market, and beat others to their signature. Same with Marcelo. Real Madrid developed all of them into match-winning talents, as it has with others in this current squad.Then there’s Zinedine Zidane, who was a phenomenal player but also a big risk as a manager. That didn’t stop Real Madrid’s brass from hiring him to oversee the club’s B-team without the necessary experience, nor did it stop them from sackingthe vastly more experienced Rafa Benitez after half a season in charge to make way for Zidane.The reward? An incredibly well-tempered leader who’s never for a single moment looked overwhelmed by the toastiest seat in soccer. A man who hasn’t wavered in supporting a volatile defensive spine, nor hesitated to bench established stars. A club legend who fought to get defensive midfielder Casemiro into the Starting XI on a regular basis, a move which paid off tenfold.And boy, does Real Madrid work hard. What they may lack in strategic acuity they make up for in effort, abundance of quality and some decidedly dumb luck. And it won’t last forever. The core players have been around awhile now, so the reality is they’re about to get old or get sold. But three Champions League trophies have rained down thanks to their time together.Remember all the talk being about when Real Madrid would win a 10th European title, aka La Decima? They’re on the verge of La Decimotercero just four years later. They’ve trademarked winning Champions League games they shouldn’t, getting results when it makes zero sense that they would.So no, this last half-decade of Real Madrid isn’t soccer at its purest. It doesn’t need to be. It’s glory, and more endearingly, it’s glorious absurdity.Joey Gulino is the editor of FC Yahoo and moonlights as a writer. Follow him on Twitter at @JGulinoYahoo.

Real Madrid know-how shows Bayern Munich have lost their edge

7:04 PM ETNick AmesESPN FC

MUNICH — In an interview earlier this week, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted that he has never brought himself to watch again the 2013 Champions League final. An all-German affair, played before a rapturous Wembley crowd, ended with Arjen Robben’s winner dampening the exuberance of Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund, who could hardly have done more in attempting to upset the odds.Bayern, though, that distillation of cockiness and knowhow, found a way to win yet again that night and outgoing manager Jupp Heynckes was able to hand the incoming Pep Guardiola a Treble-winning team that sat proudly on top of the world.If that game still makes agonising viewing for Klopp, then perhaps what has gone since is an awkward watch for Bayern. While they remain dominant in the Bundesliga, similar moments in Europe have been elusive in the half-decade since that glory night in London.Whereas Dortmund sparkled but fell short at Wembley, it is now Bayern — still laden with quality — who find the fine margins going against them. Next Tuesday, they will walk out at the Bernabeu in hope rather than expectation and kick off their Champions League semifinal second leg trailing Real Madrid 2-1.But it should never have been that way: Decisive errors at either end of the pitch aside, Bayern were better than Madrid during the tie’s first meeting at the Allianz Arena. The problem, though, is that that is becoming a familiar lament when they reach the competition’s latter stages and, this season at least, it will take something special to break the cycle.”We weren’t clinical enough,” admitted Heynckes, now back in the Bayern dugout, on Tuesday. “I haven’t seen something like that [from us]; it doesn’t happen very often.”But while that may be true domestically, where Bayern rattle out almost three goals a game on average and nobody minds too much when opportunities to add garnish go begging, it is a repeat occurrence in Europe and especially against Real.Bayern should have put the eventual winners to the sword in last season’s quarterfinals but, instead, contrived exactly the inconvenience they face now and lost the first leg at home, 2-1, having opened the scoring. Three years earlier, Madrid overwhelmed Guardiola’s side 5-0 in the semifinals.Only five of the players who were involved in a chastening second leg, which saw Bayern concede four times at home, were in action on Wednesday but it is pertinent to wonder whether something snapped that night in 2014. Bayern are not quite the force of old and there is a sense that past disappointments are weighing them down.It is the opposite for Real Madrid, whose winning instinct is so fine-tuned that they can turn in what was — despite Zinedine Zidane’s post-game insistence that, “overall, we controlled the game very well” – an average performance and still emerge, not only as winners but as resounding tournament favourites. Their sense of certainty was the one with which Bayern walked out at Wembley five years ago.Perhaps Zidane was watching a match in which Robert Lewandowski did not fluff free headers and shoot wide when put through on goal, or one in which Franck Ribery never had the chance to lose his footing with the goal gaping, or one that did not allow Thomas Muller an air shot from a matter of feet away.But maybe that sense of assuredness simply comes from being Real Madrid: There are few modern-day demons to haunt them, no unwanted ghosts to surface during moments of tension and minimal neuroses to tilt the balance. Real play a European tie and Real eventually win; why, in an era of dominance that has seen them win three of the last four European Cups, should it be any other way?”The match showed Real can be harmed in defence and, if you look at their home match against Juventus, it was the same,” Heynckes said. “We can take hope out of it.”It is that speculative word again: “Hope.” They had plenty of it last year when they went 2-1 up in the second leg and forced extra-time, only for Arturo Vidal’s red card to spark a Cristiano Ronaldo-led onslaught by Madrid.Bayern is a club where second-best cuts no ice but has become force of habit; at this rarefied level, they have become a team for whom the hard luck stories can be reeled off. Consider the semifinal against Atletico Madrid two years ago, when Muller’s missed penalty at 1-0 allowed Diego Simeone’s side a way back into the game and, ultimately, to the final.Beyond Heynckes’ laments about his team’s profligacy there was the observation that Bayern created chances “in a very nice way, I have to say.” Nobody would dispute that; Ribery showed throughout that he is no faded force at 35 and Thiago Alcantara was a formidable creative force in the first half after replacing the injured Robben.James Rodriguez, meanwhile, was full of purpose and intent and showed some fine touches. One set up a goal for Joshua Kimmich, who was so effective going forward, though questionable when asked to defend.The German champions were fluid, easy on the eye; Real, by contrast, bordered on the stodgy. But therein lies the catch: Nice teams rarely win Champions Leagues. Perhaps a Bayern group viewing of that magical London afternoon of five years ago might serve to underline the point.

Real Madrid put one foot in Champions League final as Bayern Munich rue missed chances

5:05 PM ETNick AmesESPN FC

UNICH — Three quick thoughts from Real Madrid’s 2-1 win Wednesday over Bayern Munich in their Champions League semifinal first leg at the Allianz Stadium.

  1. Madrid put one foot in Champions League final

Real Madrid have one foot in yet another Champions League final, although they might wonder how. Superb finishes from Marcelo and Marco Asensio overhauled the advantage Joshua Kimmich had given Bayern Munich, who missed a host of chances, and Jupp Heynckes’ side have it all to do if they are to conduct a second-leg turnaround.An attack-minded Bayern side almost broke through within 23 seconds when Robert Lewandowski wriggled free on the left before volleying a cross-shot that was too strong for Thomas Muller to turn home. Toni Kroos centred beyond everybody after finding space behind the defence, and at that stage, an open encounter looked on the cards.It was 20 minutes before either side had another serious sniff at goal, though, with Jerome Boateng intercepting a dangerous Cristiano Ronaldo cross after a clever dummy from Luka Modric had sent him away. Then Dani Carvajal rifled straight at Sven Ulreich after the ball had bounced kindly on the edge of the area.But it was Bayern, whose threat had been present but hardly convincing, who struck first. James Rodriguez’s slide-rule pass sent Kimmich into acres of space down the Bayern right and, with Keylor Navas setting himself for a cross, the right-back fired inside the exposed goalkeeper’s near post.Soon afterward it would have been two if Ribery had not miscontrolled when set up by substitute Thiago Alcantara. Mats Hummels headed over at the far post before half-time and Muller saw a shot deflected over. Real looked grateful for the whistle; then Marcelo, taking aim at the edge of the box, unleashed his bolt from the blue with an equaliser that whistled into Ulreich’s far corner. There was still time for Robert Lewandowski to miss a headed chance at the other end.A cagier start to the second half was blown open when Real completed the turnaround. It was a calamity for Rafinha, who gave the ball away to Lucas Vazquez and set in train a move from which Asensio, who replaced Isco at the break, coolly lifted over Ulreich.Still Bayern made chances: Navas beating away Ribery’s shot and tipping another around the post; while, with 23 minutes to play, Muller somehow failed to make contact from two yards out with the goal gaping.Ulreich saved from Karim Benzema on a rare Real counter, but Bayern’s final chance fell to Lewandowski, who, incredibly for a striker of his ability, slotted wide with only Navas to beat.

  1. Real somehow find a way to win

Somehow this Real Madrid side finds a way when it matters. The three-peat is well and truly on, and while they rode their luck at times here, they will go into Tuesday’s second leg as firm favourites after a display that relied more on know-how than any explosive attacking quality.Zinedine Zidane’s selection was surprisingly conservative, with Benzema remaining on the bench while Vazquez started on the right. There was no place in the starting lineup for Gareth Bale, either, and in the first half, Real struggled to muster any kind of concerted threat. At times, they had to hang on, and they certainly were fortunate when Ribery and Lewandowski spurned chances to double Bayern’s lead.Real clearly have not looked invulnerable this season: their unsatisfactory domestic campaign is testament to that, and their near calamity against Juventus a fortnight ago confirmed the impression. But Marcelo’s raking volley was a reminder that they have cold-blooded winners all over the pitch, and it had the effect of emboldening Zidane, who replaced Isco with the more direct Asensio at the break.He was rewarded with a superb finish by the 22-year-old, who stood up on a night when more-experienced campaigners were quieter. Modric and Kroos never really had control of the midfield, while Ronaldo, scorer of two goals here last year, hardly had a sniff this time — skewing one wild effort out for a throw-in. Their star performer over the 90 minutes was Raphael Varane, who put in an imperious display at the back; it said plenty for the way in which Real had to dig deep, but they will not be too worried about the manner in which such a seismic victory was achieved.

  1. Bayern left to rue profligacy again

How painful this was for Bayern on a night when nobody, on the balance of play and chances, would have begrudged them a first-leg lead. Instead, they need a gargantuan performance at the Bernabeu. And it was impossible, as this match unfolded, to shake off the memory of the last time these sides met at the Allianz Arena.Then, in a quarterfinal first leg just over a year ago, Bayern took the lead and missed a number of chances — including a penalty — and were punished twice, eventually falling short in the second leg despite a spirited comeback. They will need to go one better this time and will wonder how they came away losers here.It was a particularly chastening night for Lewandowski, who missed at least two clear opportunities and might have done little for his prospects of the move to Real that has been mooted in some quarters. Bayern did little wrong for long periods of this match and will also reflect that, had it not been for Rafinha’s error, they might yet have gathered themselves to regain the lead.What a blow it had seemed when Arjen Robben, who surely cannot have many more Champions League ties left in him at 34 and with his contract expiring, departed through injury with just eight minutes on the clock. Bayern had started at a high tempo, clearly looking to involve Robben and Ribery as quickly as possible, and although the Dutchman’s exit appeared to check their stride, they rediscovered that vim after taking the lead.The 15 minutes before Marcelo’s goal were not quite a spell on a par with Liverpool’s whirlwind evisceration of Roma on Tuesday, but Bayern looked convincing: Thiago’s radar was set perfectly; Ribery fizzed with the menace of someone half his age; and with James also on song against his parent club, the chances arrived regularly. They continued to flow even after Real struck against the run of play; this was a good, exciting performance from Bayern, but it might not prove to be enough.

Christian Pulisic to make USMNT return

By Joe Prince-WrightApr25, 2018, 11:16 AM EDT

It was announced on Wednesday that Christian Pulisic will return to the U.S. national team and he is heading home.The Hershey, Pennsylvania native will play for the USMNT on May 28 against Bolivia as the friendly takes place at the Philadelphia Union’s Talen Energy Stadium.Interim USMNT head coach Dave Sarachan revealed in a press conference that Pulisic will be involved against Bolivia after the youngster was left out of the past few U.S. squads to let him rest up after a busy season in the Bundesliga and Europe with Dortmund.Pulisic, 19, hasn’t played for the USMNT since their 2-1 loss at Trinidad & Tobago in October 2017 which sealed their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup this summer.The teenage sensation (who has nine goals in 20 games for the USMNT) has played 39 times in all competitions for German giants Borussia Dortmund this season, scoring five goals. The game against Bolivia will mark two years to the day that he scored his first USMNT goal, also in a friendly against Bolivia.Pulisic said the following about heading home.“I’m really excited to play in Philadelphia,” Pulisic said. “Obviously it’s close to my home and a lot of my family will be there and I’m super excited to put on the U.S. jersey again.”Speaking about Pulisic’s return, Sarachan was delighted to have him back on board and revealed he hasn’t quite made his mind up about the make-up of his squad for the upcoming friendlies.“We are excited to have him back with us,” Sarachan said. “We are still forming what make sense in terms of balance between Major League Soccer players and players from elsewhere.”The USMNT will arrive in Philly on May 20 for a training camp at the University of Pennsylvania before the friendly against Bolivia, while Pulisic is also expected to travel with the team to play in their friendlies at the Republic of Ireland and France in early June.The kid is back.

USMNT interim coach Dave Sarachan unlikely to bring in old guard right now

April 25, 20185:13PM EDTDave ZeitlinContributor

HESTER, Pa. — For the past decade, players like Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradleyand Jozy Altidore have been rocks of the US men’s national team.But after last year’s World Cup qualifying disaster, is it time to move on from the old guard?Speaking with reporters Wednesday at a media roundtable at Talen Energy Stadium ahead of next month’s match vs. Bolivia, USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan offered a delicate take on a tricky situation.“It’s a no-brainer at this point to allow these matches to be served by a lot of young guys,” said Sarachan, who will need to pick rosters for the friendly vs. Bolivia in Chester on May 28, followed by European road tilts vs. Ireland on June 2 and France on June 9. “They need these games. Jozy, Michael, Tim, Clint, you can go through a list of veteran guys, I know them well, we know them well, so it’s not like we need to see them moving forward. “The next real competition is down the line. But I do think those guys will factor in, in terms of the [2019] Gold Cup, in terms of the next round of [World Cup] qualifying. At some point, I think it will be important to bring some of those veteran guys back.”Given that the US won’t be able to play in a World Cup for another four years, there are those that might argue to pull the plug entirely on the aging veterans and focus exclusively on developing young talent. But Sarachan said it’s important to have experienced players around the program to help ease the transition as the USMNT attempts to navigate a difficult crossroads.”The national team isn’t just a given or a gift to anybody,” he said. “Just because you’re young, doesn’t mean we just throw you in and play. There’s a process I think that is critical in terms of understanding what it really means to be a part of the national team.”For example, Philadelphia Union captain Alejandro Bedoya, who was busy practicing right next door while Sarachan spoke, is a veteran that the USMNT coach decided to bring along to Portugal last November in the first game after the team’s World Cup flameout in Trinidad and Tobago. The 30-year-old midfielder, Sarachan noted, is a “good leader” and part of a “pool of guys who down the road can still offer something.”And Sarachan has tried to stay in constant touch with the longtime USMNT vets, whether by text, email or in-person talks.“The feedback has been good,” Sarachan said. “They understand. They also have a love of the program and they really want to be a part of things, especially since it didn’t go so well, leaving that taste in their mouth. The general sense I’ve gotten, talking to those guys, is: We trust what you’re doing, we get it, but we really want to be a part of things if the opportunity comes. That’s a good thing.”Sarachan insisted there’s been no discussion as to whether to bring in Dempsey, the 35-year-old Seattle Sounders striker, for an opportunity to break Landon Donovan’s all-time USMNT goal-scoring record. They both have scored 57 international goals,“I haven’t even thought about that,” Sarachan admitted. “Honestly, that’s not my job. What I would say is guys like Landon and Clint, the older guys, they’re valuable in the succession of everything — to mentor, to show these young guys what it really takes to be a part of just a national team. That’s just a valuable piece.“But as far as that [record] goes, sometimes a tie is all right, right? Share the spoils?”

Warshaw: Toronto FC did everything in the CCL they needed to, except win it

April 26, 20181:30AM EDTBobby Warshaw

Current LAFC and former USMNT head coach Bob Bradley has a line he uses often these days. It’s one his son, Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley, can be heard invoking, as well:“That’s football.”Toronto went into Wednesday night’s 2018 Concacaf Champions League final Leg 2 needing to win and score two goals to secure at least a shot at penalties.They had to do it in Mexico, where only three MLS teams had ever won before in CCL play.They had to choose a starting XI from a group that was missing five regulars to injury, including four defenders.They were playing a team with an unorthodox style that MLS teams rarely see.Toronto won. Toronto scored two goals.They watched Chivas de Guadalajara hoist the trophy after the game.There lies a space in the world between good and not good enough. It’s possible to do everything right and fail.“That’s football.”Toronto did so much right in Guadalajara. Head coach Greg Vanney produced a creative, intelligent game plan. Michael Bradley stepped in to play an unfamiliar position. Jozy Altidore started Toronto’s rally with a double-meg goal. Sebastian Giovinco scored the type of shot we’ve come to expect from him. Nicolas Hasler dribbled two players to play a pinpoint pass for an assists. Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio combined marathon running with thoughtful positioning. Alex Bono made the big saves when Toronto needed them. You couldn’t point to a Toronto starter that didn’t have a good game.Toronto didn’t choke. They didn’t blow it. They did everything right … or almost everything, at least. They were good. They just weren’t good enough.It’s frustrating. It’s infuriating. It’s sad. It’s maddening. Yet I can’t find it in me to be mad at Toronto.Unfortunately, it feels like these moments in American and Canadian soccer have come too often, too recently. But I’ll still come back tomorrow. Toronto will, too.TFC were great tonight. They just happened to not be good enough.That’s football.

Chivas ensure MLS wait for a CONCACAF Champions League title continues

Apr 26, 2018Tom MarshallESPN FC

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Chivas defeated Toronto 4-2 on penalties to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy on Wednesday in Estadio Akron.Toronto won the second leg 2-1, equalling the aggregate score 3-3, to take the game to penalties, with U.S. international Michael Bradley missing the final spot kick to hand Chivas the title.Here are three takes from a tense night in Guadalajara:

  1. Chivas scrape by as the MLS wait goes on

Twelve long years have passed since a non-Mexican team has won the CONCACAF Champions League. None in that time has come closer than Toronto FC, but Chivas were crowned champion for the first time since 1962 and will play at the Club World Cup in December for the first time in the club’s history.It was Bradley sending the final penalty high that probably will make the front pages, but Toronto midfielder Marky Delgado had a golden opportunity to win the game for TFC with the clock almost up. Sebastian Giovinco had twisted and turned down the left and set up Delgado right in front of goal, but he blasted the ball high and wide.It’s easy to reduce games to one moment and it would be unfair to put all the blame on Delgado’s shoulders, but in matchups as tight, tense and epic as the one in Guadalajara on Wednesday evening, it was huge.The wait for MLS teams to win this tournament for the first time since 2000 continues. Greg Vanney’s side produced some historic moments along the way, getting past Tigres and Club America and redefining to a degree the perception of MLS in Mexico.The performance in Estadio Akron was again impressive, getting the victory on the night in another assured display.But credit to Chivas. Coach Matias Almeyda made attacking substitutions in the second half, chased the game and the players took the penalties with authority. He has managed to motivate a team that has been desperately struggling in league play.It’ll be an all-Mexican team at the Club World Cup, while Toronto’s space for the CCL cup in its trophy cabinet will remain empty.

  1. Final lives up to hype

The build-up to the final was marred by tragic events in Toronto and Chivas players protesting the club’s directors over lack of payments. It isn’t supposed to be that way. But the players put the other issues to the back of their mind and put on a classic CCL final.Toronto was missing Chrys Mavinga, Eriq Zavaleta and Justin Morrow, and Vanney slotted in central midfielder Michael Bradley alongside full-back Greg Van der Wiel at center-back.Chivas coach Almeyda sprung a surprise in his starting lineup by playing center backs Carlos Salcido, Jair Pereira and Oswaldo Alanis, but veteran Salcido played in central midfield alongside Michael Perez in a structure not too dissimilar to the usual 4-2-3-1.Chivas started the game the better team and Orbelin Pineda finished from Rodolfo Pizarro’s defense-splitting pass to give Chivas the lead in the 19th minute. The mood in Estadio Akron became one of celebration. It was premature.Toronto’s equalizer was a blow for Chivas. You expect that a player like Giovinco will make you pay at some point over the 180 minutes of a two-legged series, but Jozy Altidore’s tap-in in the 25th was shambolic from a defensive point of view and the atmosphere changed.Chivas had only conceded twice all tournament and within a shoddy 20-minute spell at the end of the first half, the Guadalajara side had let all the good work disappear.The second half was tense. Jesus Godinez hit the post for Chivas, while Giovinco went close late on for Toronto and Delgado had his golden chance.In the end, this will go down as one of the best CCL tournaments and finals in recent years. There was so little between the teams. Added to that, the importance clubs handed the competition, the quality on display and — most important — the shock to the Liga MX system of seeing Toronto take Mexican teams to the wire all added to the excitement.Next year’s will take some living up to and the Liga MX vs. MLS rivalry will grow naturally through these types of finals.

  1. Giovinco vs. Perez defines series

Almeyda told a white lie when he stated in the pregame news conference that he wouldn’t be assigning any of his players to man-mark Giovinco. Given the way Perez had limited the Italian by shadowing him in the first leg, why wouldn’t Almeyda try to same tactic?Perez, 25, was again handed the sizable task of dealing with Giovinco. He was the difference-maker in the quarterfinal against Tigres and against Club America in the semi.Perez was supreme for most of Wednesday night. Giovinco struggled to make an impact, with Perez following like a shadow. There were signs of frustration in the 43rd minute when he fouled the Mexican near the center of the pitch. Giovinco was booked for his protests.But the Italy international doesn’t need much time or space to make an impact. And when he received the ball inside the penalty area with Perez unusually not right on his back, it was all Giovinco needed. He took a touch and placed the ball inside Rodolfo Cota’s near post to make it 2-1 — one sniff was all Giovinco needed. Perez was taken off in the 68th minute because of an injury and Pineda took over marking duties.Chivas was pushing for the goal to tie the score, but Giovinco had more left in the tank. He produced some skill down the left with just seconds left to hand Delgado the kind of chance he’ll have nightmares about missing.The battle between the two ended in stalemate and with both deserving of credit.

Armchair Analyst: Three quick thoughts from a painful CCL final

April 26, 201812:37AM EDTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer

I’m too spent to really think more clearly or eloquently than that. Toronto FC just made an epic Concacaf Champions League run, beating the greatest Liga MX team in history (Club America) and then the best Liga MX team in recent history (Tigres UANL) in succession in the knockout rounds. That’d be the equivalent of offing the Lakers and then the Warriors in back-to-back playoff games.Then they played Chivas – for the sake of this analogy, we’ll call them the Celtics – and became only the fourth MLS team ever to win a game in Mexico. They actually did it! They won the second leg, in Mexico, in the knockout rounds, in the final, getting the result they needed to at least give themselves a coin flip.All of that was… well, it would’ve been a lot to believe just two months ago. But here we are.And what wasn’t hard to believe is how it ended. Chivas lost 2-1 in the game, drew 3-3 on aggregate, and won 4-2 on penalties. TFC’s epic CCL run ended in disappointment.

Here are three quick thoughts:

1. Man-to-Man all over the Pitch

What RBNY coach Jesse Marsch meant two weeks back when he said that Chivas played a unique style, and that said style called for a unique approach that almost obviated formational concerns is that Matias Almeyda has his team play man-marking all over the field. Wherever you go, they stay with you.And so that made playing Michael Bradley at center back an actual advantage for the Reds, as it forced Chivas to come higher up the pitch to get pressure to him. TFC took advantage of that space by using Bradley to hit diagonals, overloading the flanks and then providing room for their midfielders to cut across the middle and create chances.It’s not how they got the first goal (that was off a penalty), and it’s not how they dominated possession (they didn’t, and didn’t really want to). But it’s how they got Sebastian Giovinco’s goal, and how they created multiple chances in the second half.Several of those could’ve – should’ve – been the winner.

2. Having the Ball is Dangerous

Chivas are not a team with any attacking ideas. The two times when they create danger are either off of set pieces, or when they turn you over while you try to play up the middle. That’s how they got the only goal in the series against the Red Bulls, and it’s how they got their only goal tonight:That’s it, man. That’s it.

3. No Shortcuts

One of the things I’ve kept saying on our analysis shows is that there are no shortcuts to the top. You take it one rung at a time, and this spring certainly marked significant upward progress.RBNY became the first team ever to win both legs of a knockout round, pounding Xolos. TFC, as I mentioned at the top, beat America & Tigres. And then they went on the road in the CCL final and got a 90-minute win. Anyone who looks at that and says it’s not progress is lying to you, because reality causes them to question their dogma, and is thus painful to them.But as progress is painful as well. Just as TFC had to lose the 2016 MLS Cup final to become what they wanted to be in 2017, my guess is that they will treat this as another rung on the ladder/evolutionary moment for the franchise. It was both a misstep and a step forward.On a grander scale, TFC (and the Red Bulls) showed what it takes to really compete for this title. You need significant investment in local players, and in your USL team, and in top-end DPs, and in depth everywhere. You also need to have elite, tactically flexible coaches – Greg Vanney deserves some major credit for how his team came out and played, game after game, this spring.Unfortunately, you also need at least a little bit of luck. TFC didn’t have it tonight and Chivas did.The free space is disappointment, until it isn’t.

2018 MLS Ambition Rankings: Which Clubs Raise the Bar Highest as the League Grows?

By GRANT WAHL AND BRIAN STRAUS April 23, 2018

1. ATLANTA UNITED (LAST YEAR: 2)

In 2017, Atlanta ranked second based largely on potential, promise and the hiring of manager Tata Martino. This season, it takes the top spot thanks to near-flawless execution and a clear commitment to pushing the MLS envelope. There doesn’t appear anything owner Arthur Blank won’t do to make his team the league’s standard bearer. Since the release of last year’s ranking, Atlanta set attendance records at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, opened a $60 million training facility, launched a USL team, won the U16 Development Academy championship, and signed the aforementioned $15 million man, Ezequiel Barco. Atlanta will host the MLS All-Star game this summer against Juventus and this fall, will be expected to make a run at an MLS Cup title in only its second season.

2. TORONTO FC (LAST YEAR: 1)

TFC didn’t fall as much as Atlanta rose. But there’s little separating the two and in winning the first domestic treble and then ousting Tigres UANL and Club America on its way to the CCL finals, Toronto has demonstrated what’s possible with a commitment to investment and stability at all levels. The emphasis put on the CCL, which included using available TAM funds on the likes of Gregory van der Wiel and Ager Aketxe and spending extra time in Mexico ahead of the quarterfinal and semifinal deciders, will be the MLS model going forward. DP spending is static, but that’s because Toronto chose wisely. TFC is a case study in what’s achievable when ambition marries intelligence. GM Tim Bezbatchenko, coach Greg Vanney and captain Michael Bradley may not possess the glamour of their Atlanta counterparts, but they’ve got the silverware.

3. LOS ANGELES FC (LAST YEAR: N/A)

LAFC’s entry already has been remarkable. Considering the obstacles clubs in other top 10 markets have encountered trying to build new homes, the fact that Banc of California Stadium is set to open this weekend in such an iconic part of Los Angeles is an MLS miracle. The $350 million, privately-funded facility is the crown jewel of a project that already includes a $30 million training facility, the appointment of coach Bob Bradley and the signing of Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi. Some have wondered whether the five-time champion LA Galaxy would have to fight to stay relevant. That’s a sign of real ambition at LAFC. The only things missing are a track record and trophies (and perhaps some build-out on the USL and academy side), and the only place LAFC appeared to cut corners was the uniform. Everything else stands out.

4. LA GALAXY (LAST YEAR: 4)

About that bit concerning the Galaxy’s fight to stay relevant: A last-place finish will raise those questions. And LA answered a bunch of them with the blockbuster signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He may not be a DP, but ambition isn’t just about the price tag. And it’s the Galaxy, not LAFC, that’s been the talk of the league as a result. Meanwhile, the club’s DP spending rose by more than $5 million over the past year to around $17.3 million. The Galaxy are trying, as evidenced by those singings, as well as by the $4.2 million invested in 2017 in youth development and the $20 million put toward StubHub Center upgrades.

5. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (LAST YEAR: 3)

There haven’t been many significant upgrades over the past 12 months in Seattle. Remaining somewhat static may result in a slight slip in the Ambition Ranking. But the Sounders still do enough to be one of the league’s elite clubs, and they’re a two-time conference champion with six major titles in nine MLS seasons. They set the standard for expansion teams back in 2009, and now must respond to the escalation that’s happened since. To that end, the club said it more than doubled its investment in player development since 2016. It’s exploring an expansion of its Starfire training complex in suburban Tukwila, and has partnered with the Tacoma Rainiers AAA baseball team to build a new facility for its USL side. Offseason reinforcements were modest and injuries, fatigue and poor form doomed the Sounders’ CCL campaign.

6. PORTLAND TIMBERS (LAST YEAR: 5)

The Timbers are a small-market club with a big-market following and mindset, and they continue to impress pound-for-pound. Among DPs earning under $3 million annually, it’s tough to find a better one than reigning MLS MVP Diego Valeri, and Portland’s commitment to investing throughout the club is notable—from the $4 million in annual red ink related to its USL and youth development programs to the remarkable success of the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, who win championships and attract record crowds. The club didn’t break the bank to replace departed coach Caleb Porter, but very few didn’t believe Gio Savarese had earned his chance. Instead, the Timbers are spending some $60 million on the expansion of Providence Park, which will include more than 4,000 new seats, and another $5 million on upgrades to its training facility.

7. REAL SALT LAKE (LAST YEAR: 12)

SL takes a big jump in the Ambition Ranking thanks to its massive investment in a $78 million training facility in Herriman, Utah, the club’s outstanding youth development and the launch of a NWSL team, Utah Royals FC. RSL is an example of how ambition can be defined by different organizations in different ways. There may be no big-ticket, big-name stars joining the first team. But top-to-bottom, it’s as complete a club as there is anywhere in the USA or Canada. In addition to the Herriman facility, which includes a residence hall and a high school, RSL plans to open six regional training centers in Utah and Arizona for youth players ages 7-14. The first, a $6 million venture, opened in December in North Logan, Utah.

8. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (LAST YEAR: 6)

Peter Vermes continues to reload. Although SKC missed out on retaining homegrown defender Erik Palmer-Brown, who left for Manchester City and a subsequent loan deal with Belgium’s KV Kortrijk, the club says the signings of French midfielder Yohan Croizet and Chilean midfielder Felipe Gutiérrez have resulted in a record amount of DP spending. Like Portland, the big upgrade at SKC is about brick and mortar. The new $75 million Pinnacle training center, which also will house U.S. Soccer Federation programs and the Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Center, opened in February. Sporting values the U.S. Open Cup more than most and won its third title in six years in 2017. It hasn’t solved its late-season swoon issues, however, and has bowed out in the MLS Cup knockout round for four consecutive years.

9. NEW YORK CITY FC (LAST YEAR: 8)

Spending a bit less on DPs has been good policy in the long run, as the club that made a lot of noise with the inaugural-season signings of David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard has been much better off with Villa and a team of better, more complementary players behind him. Blind ambition isn’t always the answer. Until NYCFC finds an escape route from Yankee Stadium, however, it’ll always be just behind the ranking’s top-tier clubs. But it’s doing a lot right in the meantime, from the investment in coach Patrick Vieira—who’s the league’s highest paid—to the state-of-the-art Orangeburg, New York, training facility it moved into last month. The Etihad City Football Academy sits on a 17-acre site and includes a 24,000-square-foot building and 1.5 grass fields.

10. ORLANDO CITY (LAST YEAR: 7)

Kaká’s departure altered the face of the franchise and had a significant impact on the salary structure. Orlando’s DPs are now Dom Dwyer, Sacha Kljestan and Josué Colmán, who are decent players but cost a whole lot less. The club said it’s spending around $8.5 million in DP money and TAM this year. That’s far from miserly, but it’s a level down from the league’s top teams and helps lead to a three-spot drop in the Ranking. None of that will matter to City fans, of course, if their club can make the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS in 2015. Orlando City Stadium has been a big success, and although the club shut down its USL outfit this season, it deserves credit for its very good NWSL team, the Orlando Pride, which features Alex Morgan and Marta.

11. D.C. UNITED (LAST YEAR: 18)

The biggest leap in this year’s ranking is made by MLS’s original flagship club, which has languished in recent years while losing loads of money at antiquated RFK Stadium. In July, DCU’s two-decade wait for a home of its own finally ends with the opening of Audi Field, a $400 million project that should transform both the club and the Buzzard Point area of the nation’s capital. United also is working toward establishing a new $50 million training facility and USL team in suburban Loudoun County, Virginia. All of this long-awaited infrastructure reportedly has attracted the interest of potential new owners, whose investment will be necessary to upgrade a squad that finished second-to-last in MLS in 2017. Paul Arriola currently is the team’s only DP, although two more may be on the way this summer. Among the potential targets is Italian striker Mario Balotelli.

12. FC DALLAS (LAST YEAR: 9)

FCD’s youth development and “busca la forma” culture was considered the gold standard for some time. But it may have taken the club as far as it can go in 2016, when the run toward a potential treble was derailed by Mauro Díaz’s Achilles injury. Since then, Dallas has been searching for stability. DP spending is around $3.5 million this year—a little above the club average but still far from the league’s elite. New DP Santiago Mosquera, a Colombian midfielder, hasn’t yet found his MLS footing. Regardless of whether Oscar Pareja’s first team has hit its ceiling, the organization has made headway elsewhere. FCD said it’s spending around $58 million on upgrades to Toyota Stadium and the Toyota Soccer Center that’ll include a new National Soccer Hall of Fame, new locker rooms and more.

13. NEW YORK RED BULLS (LAST YEAR: 10)

Red Bull Arena remains a fantastic place to watch a game, the club’s facilities are first-rate and the talent pipeline, which has produced a USL champion and newly-minted USA midfielder Tyler Adams, is among North America’s best. But it’s also the case that more star players seem to leave than sign, and that NYRB’s annual playoff faceplant is getting old (not that losing to TFC last year was anything to be ashamed of). As the years go by, it feels like the club is less appreciated in New York, and that New York is less appreciated at Red Bull HQ. NYRB rarely seems to be ambitious and competent at the same time. Among the positives are last year’s run to the U.S. Open Cup final and the club-record signing of Argentine midfielder Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra, who’s still integrating into coach Jesse Marsch’s side but may yet bring some sizzle back to Harrison.

Is Arsene Wenger the greatest manager never to win in Europe after failing on all three fronts?     Richard JollyYahoo Sport UK26 Apr 2018, 07:36

MoreThe chances are that Jose Mourinho would have a phrase for it. The Manchester United manager stands alone in winning both the Champions League and the Europa League twice. Arsene Wenger, in contrast, has never won a European trophy. And the Portuguese is the man who once branded an old enemy a “specialist in failure”.Another argument is that Wenger may be the greatest manager never to win a European trophy; certainly the greatest club manager of the last six decades who has worked at major European clubs. That could all change: sandwiching perhaps his final clash with Mourinho on Sunday is the Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid. He could exit Arsenal in both fitting and uncharacteristic fashion, securing silverware on the continent at the last and finding a way of qualifying for the Champions League that, unlike fourth place, actually is a trophy.

READ MORE: Where next for departing Wenger?  READ MORE: Exclusive – Pochettino considers future as Real circle

Or maybe the Frenchman will finish will an exercise in bittersweet Wenger-esque consistency: a 19th consecutive season of playing European football after Christmas without actually claiming the eventual prize. Wenger has been the unrewarded constant, the byword for last-16 departures from the Champions League.All of which feels a little cruel. Wenger has a unique and unwanted distinction, one which, as the Cup Winners’ Cup no longer exists, he will retain. He is the only manager to lose in the finals of all three European competitions.His Monaco were beaten by an arguably less gifted Werder Bremen side in the 1992 Cup Winners’ Cup final. His Arsenal were defeated on penalties by 10-man Galatasaray in the 2000 Uefa Cup final. His 10-man Gunners took the lead against Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final and were 15 minutes from glory. Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti had other ideas.All of which means Wenger has conquered Europe fewer times than Tony Barton or Roberto Di Matteo. They had one-off triumphs, he a career of seismic significance, but lacking that crowning glory on the continental stage. There are managers who have disappeared into the mists of history who have won European trophies: not Wenger, though, the man with the historic achievement of producing England’s only unbeaten champions since 1889. He has managed 248 games in European competitions, 201 of them in the Champions League, a huge body of work that has produced some memorable victories and generated vast revenues, but not delivered the game’s essential purpose of glory.And it does matter. There is a case for calling Arsenal the biggest club, or the most prominent, or the wealthiest, or the most constant presence among the elite, never to win the Champions League. Wenger has been one of the finest and most influential managers of the last 30 years. He has built some of the most watchable, most accomplished sides. His peers include men such as Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, Marcello Lippi, Louis van Gaal, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Vicente del Bosque, Carlo Ancelotti, Jupp Heynckes and Rafa Benitez. They are all Champions League-winning managers. He is not.And if it is both simplistic and wrong to define greatness simply because of Champions League wins, it is nonetheless a measure. By many criteria, Wenger is France’s greatest managerial export. Yet the rookie Zinedine Zidane could win his third Champions League in as many seasons in May. Wenger’s achievements lie in other fields.His place in posterity is likeliest to be preserved in France and England. It should be indisputable in his native country and adopted homeland that he is a great; those elsewhere whose are fixated on the Champions League may need more persuasion. But once the animosity of recent years has died down, memories of his 1998, 2002 and 2004 title winners, teams who combined solidity with modernity, pace with power, the physical with the technical, should remain. And yet they may not get sufficient recognition elsewhere, for one fundamental reason: they were not Champions League winners in an era when that became the measure of greatness.Wenger’s first champions were slow to adapt to Europe. In 2003-04, however, they were arguably the continent’s finest side. They were knocked out by Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea. A brash newcomer called Mourinho instead became the Champions League winner that year.Wenger reinvented Arsenal, but was defined by his era, when the elite managers were in the Champions League every year, where one outstanding team – and he kept facing Barcelona or Bayern Munich – could end his chances on annual basis. In that respect, he could be a trailblazer. Some of the finest managers of the younger generation – Jurgen Klopp, Massimiliano Allegri, Antonio Conte – have domestic titles but, like Wenger, no European crown. He had a team that, for over a decade, was one of the 10 best in Europe but, if the law of averages suggested he should have been rewarded with a Champions League win, the laws of knockout football dictated otherwise.Now Wenger may be one aggregate defeat from the end of another European adventure, a three-decade odyssey that has deprived him of silverware. And, perhaps, the status he deserves.

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