INDY 11 Home Sat 7 pm
Our Indy 11 will return to the field this Saturday, June 9th at 7 pm with a home match-up with Atlanta United. Of course discount tickets below $15 are available Click here for Discount Tickets for the Game and enter 2018 INDY as the promo code – It will be the last chance to catch our Indy 11 in person until June 30th.
USMNT loses 2-1, Plays France Sat 3 pm ESPN
WORLD CUP TEAMS ON TV THIS WEEK
The youthful USMNT got a wake-up call in Ireland over the weekend as the experience of the Irish side came to bear in a 2-1 defeat for the Red, White and Blue. The US got on the board first late in the 1st half as Bobby Wood poached another goal for country on a corner kick. But in the end – the experience of the Irish squad — including the retiring John O’Shea who left after his _____ cap/game for the Green was too much as 2 second half goals gave them the win. The young US team struggled – US Goalkeeper Bill Hamid had a forgettable day as his blunders cost the US both goals. Obviously, at least early on, the move to Europe, where he has yet to break into the starting line-up, has not helped Hamid to this point. The step-up in competition also showed in the midfield as youngsters McKinnie, Will Trapp, and Tyler Adams were often over run – and in the center of D where Carter-Vickers, and Matt Miazga struggled especially in the 2nd half. Winger Tim Weah looked good again and had a chance or two that could have given the US the win. Overall – a good learning experience for the US – who honestly played well enough to secure this victory. Off to France now where a match with a team expected to fight for a Semi-Final berth in the World Cup awaits. It will be interesting to see how we hold up against some of the best young players in the world like Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Antoine Greizmann and more on Saturday afternoon at 3 pm on ESPN. Of course the US Ladies have a double with China this Thurs 9 pm on FS1 and next Tues at 7 pm on ESPN2 here are 3 keys to the challenge as they prepare for the She Believes Cup in July.
WORLD CUP TEAMS ON TV THIS WEEK
As the World Cup is just around the corner with a June 14th start on Fox – we get lots of teams playing this week in their last warm up games before the cup. Thurs we get England vs Costa Rica at 3 pm on FS1, and Portugal vs Algeria at 3:15 on beIN Sport. Friday gives us Germany vs Saudi Arabia at 1:3o pm on ESPN Desportes and Poland vs Chile at 2:45 pm on beIN Sport. Sat has the US vs France of course at 3 pm on ESPN, along with Spain vs Tunisia at 2:45 pm on ESPN Desp. Of course the World Cup itself starts next Thursday, June 14th at 11 am on Fox with the home side Russia taking on Saudi Arabia. Friday gives us Egypt and Mo Salah we hope vs Uruguay on FS1 at 8 am, Morroco vs Iran at 11 am on Fox, and the biggest game of the first weekend at 1 pm on FOX as Portugal and Renaldo faces Spain and all of their superstars like De Gea, Sergio Ramos, Gerald Pique and too many more to list. Big time Big Game!! Big Games Saturday include Argentina and Messi vs European overachiever Iceland at 9 am on Fox and Croatia vs Nigeria at 3 pm on FS1. Sunday we get THE OTHER SHOWDOWN in Round 1 – defending Champs Germany vs America’s Team Mexico at 11 am on Fox Sport 1. See the entire schedule and a boatload of Stories, previews and predictions below. And of course don’t forget I have a World Cup Pool – click here to join. Make yourself a login and play along. With the US out and my 2 other favorites Italy and the Netherland’s out I figured I better do something to give myself more reason’s to watch all the games. J I will share my favorites to advance, get to the final 4 and win in next week’s edition of the OleBallcoach on Friday. Until – Enjoy the Biggest Sporting Event in the World – and lets hope like heck we hear on Wednesday at 6 am that the US will host the 2026 edition!
So a huge congratulations to my coaching buddy – Jeff Oberndorfer – his U-18/19 boys wrapped up their season last week undefeated in this their last season together. I had the privilege to coach on the same field with Jeff and share many a scrimmage along the way – the ultimate professional he keeps his practices loose but intense and did a heck of job with the 1999/2000’s. This team was our second full group from our second “official season” of travel soccer at Carmel FC starting at then U10 going thru now the U19’s. Jeff’s team’s many accomplishments included having players on Guerin, Carmel, Park Tudor and Brebeuf High School teams, multiple tournament wins, a run to the Challenge Cup final weekend 2 years back, and President’s Cup Finals last spring. It all culminated with a league title run and undefeated season this spring. at U19. Congrats on a great season – You Represented Carmel FC Well !!
Here is the full U19 Group with Head Coach Jeff Oberndorfer (right) Asst Dan Rowe (Lft)
Special congrats to these 5 players (L to R – Chad Oblazney, Eric Banda, Bennett Lawlor, Wes Watson, and Will Oberndofer GK who started their Carmel FC careers as U10 boys and stayed with us the entire time thru U19. (Our 1st U10 team to play their way all the way thru with Carmel FC).
Carmel FC folks a reminder to please sign up before tryouts on Monday so we can get a feel on #s of players coming out. Also Coaches – our Annual CFC Coaches Game will be Thursday after Tryouts – Thurs June 14th at 6:30 pm at Shelbourne. Please RE: if you can play – managers and Asst coaches also welcome and of course your players can come cheer you on!
Tryouts for Carmel FC – @ Shelbourne Fields
Mon/Tues June 11 & 12 (U11-U13 5:30 pm- 6:45 pm), (U14-U19 – 7:15 pm – 8:30 pm)
Carmel FC Coaches Game @ Shelbourne Fields
Thursday, June 14th 6:30 pm
GAMES ON TV
3 pm FS1 England vs Costa Rica
3:15 pm beIN Spt Portugal vs Algeria
9 pm FS1 US Ladies vs China
Fri, June 8
1:30 pm ESPN3/Des Germany vs Saudi Arabia
2:45 pm beIN Spt Poland vs Chile
8 pm ESPN+ Philly vs Toronto FC
Sat, June 9
2:45 pm ESPN3/Dep Spain vs Tunisia
3 pm ESPN France vs USA Men
5 pm ESPN Columbus Crew vs NY Red Bulls
7 pm Myindy23 Indy 11 vs Atlanta United (BYB @Union Jack Pub)
Tues, June 12
7 pm ESPN2 USA Women vs China
Thur, June 14 World Cup on Fox
11 am Fox Russia vs Saudi Arabia
Fri, June 15 World Cup on Fox
8 am Fox Sport1 Egypt (Salah) vs Uruguay
11 am Fox Morocco vs Iran
1 pm Fox Portugal (Renaldo) vs Spain
Sat, June 16 World Cup on Fox
6 am FS1 France vs Australia
9 am Fox Argentina (Messi) vs Iceland
12 noon FS1 Peru vs Denmark
3 pm FS1 Croatia vs Nigeria
7 pm ESPN+ Toronto II vs Indy 11
Sun, June 17 World Cup on Fox
8 am Fox 59 Costa Rica vs Serbia
11 am Fox Sp1 Germany vs Mexico
2 pm FS1 Brazil vs Switzerland
McCordsville/Ronald McDonald House – Greater Indy 3 vs 3 – June 23
www.3v3live.com $200 per team up to six players. Each player will receive a t-shirt, top three teams in each division get custom medals, top four qualify for Regionals the road to Disney. Full details and fun details on our tourney https://www.3v3live.com/mcdonalds
Don’t forget to catch the BYB Facebook Live prior to every game! Join us at Gate 10 and be a part of the audience.
GET READY TO TAILGATE WITH THE BYB –Indy 11 Soccer Fan Club
Park and Tailgate for indy 11 Games with the BYB – Parking in the Gate Ten BYB Section is $4 cheaper per game than the stadium’s South Lot- and OBVIOUSLY more fun! Located at 343 W McCarty Street, Gate Ten is just across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium. Gate Ten—the 2018 official home of the BYB–is convenient and affordable. Parking is $11 per car for single games! Click HERE to purchase your pass today. 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.
5 Things to Know – US Ladies vs China Thurs Night
YAHOO FC Team previews
Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan
Exploding Heads ESPNFC group previews VIDEOS
Group D: The World Cup’s nice group
Group E: Be very afraid of Brazil’s squad
Group G: Can we just talk about England?
INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP SKILLS CHALLENGE
The International Champions Cup Skills Challenge is a FREE event, coming to Chicago at Toyota Park on June 10th! Participants will engage in four challenges, receiving points based upon their performance in dribbling, shooting, juggling and passing. Top participants will be awarded in each of the three age groups (U12, U16 and Open age) in male and female divisions. Winners will receive two match tickets to the International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund on 7.20.18 and will be awarded their trophy during halftime! Click Here to Register
FIFA: North American 2026 World Cup bid outscores ‘high-risk’ Morocco
Jun 1, 2018Associated Press
FIFA judged Morocco’s 2026 World Cup proposals to be “high-risk” in three areas and offered significant praise for the North American bid, which outscored its rival by a wide margin in an inspection evaluation report published on Friday.The joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico scored 4 out of 5, while Morocco scored 2.7 following FIFA inspections.Morocco’s risks relate to stadiums, accommodation and transport. No part of the North America bid was flagged a high risk, and FIFA said it “has a clear lead” to advance the governing body’s mission to “push new boundaries in terms of sports-related technology and engagement” since stadiums and hotels already exist.FIFA’s five-man panel could have disqualified Morocco had the North African country scored less than two overall, and less than two on key measures, including stadiums.The FIFA Council has to approve both candidates at a June 10 meeting in Moscow. The final vote of up to 207 member federations is on June 13, and the inspection task force scores can be ignored when making their decision.The 2026 World Cup is the first tournament FIFA has confirmed will expand from 32 to 48 teams — putting increasing demands on the stadiums and facilities required to stage 80 games.While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North America does not require any tournament-specific building work.”The amount of new infrastructure required for the Morocco 2026 bid to become reality cannot be overstated,” the bid evaluation task force said. “The Morocco 2026 bid and United 2026 bid represent two almost opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the nature of their bids.”The North Americans scored the only maximum 5 mark for its ticketing and hospitality plans, which helped drive a forecast revenue for the tournament of $14.3 billion, “significantly higher” than Morocco’s $7.2 billion. However, the lowest mark out of 5 for either bid in each of nine categories is 2.0 for the North American bids’ projected organising costs, which were driven up by having 16 stadiums instead of the minimum 12.In 20 categories evaluated for risk, the North American bid had three medium-risk areas — government support, human rights and labor standards, and organizing costs — and 17 low-risk. Morocco had the three high-risk sections, 10 medium-risk — also including human rights and labor standards — and seven low-risk.Guillermo Cantu, general secretary of the Mexican football federation, said FIFA’s ratings reflected well on the United bid.”It’s a candidature with very low risk, practically none,” he said. “It is good for us because it confirms that we have a responsible candidature, with stadiums already constructed, base camps operating and all the communications and lodging ready and operating. In the next eight years, there will be an improvement in infrastructure in stadiums in all North America.”FIFA ordered more-rigorous inspections after criticism of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes in 2010, with a five-man delegation this time paying the countries weeklong visits in April.FIFA sent a second group of officials to Morocco after finding deficiencies in their bid offering, including the stadiums proposed. The Associated Press also revealed that Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to football’s governing body in the human-rights risk assessment included in the bid book.”The documents submitted do not specifically discuss risks to some potentially affected groups, such as representatives of the LGBTI+ community,” the FIFA report said. “Also absent from the documents is a comprehensive methodology to prioritize risks.”The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA headquarters to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.But the North American campaign has been dogged by questions on the impact of policies from the Trump administration, including attempts to implement a ban on travel by residents of six majority-Muslim countries. The U.S. has offered fresh guarantees to FIFA that there will be no discrimination around entry to the United States at a World Cup in 2026.”Due to new entry regulations that are currently being proposed in the United States in relation to citizens from certain countries, there are significant risks to discrimination-free entry to the country,” FIFA said.Scores out of 5 (the various categories carry a different weighting in the overall score):
Overall score: United bid 4.0, Morocco 2.7
Stadiums: United bid 4.1, Morocco 2.3
Team facilities: United bid 3.7, Morocco 2.9
Accommodation: United bid 3.9, Morocco 2.6
Transport: United bid 4.3, Morocco 2.1
Telecommunications: United bid 4.0, Morocco 3.5
Fan Festival locations: United bid 3.6, Morocco 3.2
Organising costs: United bid 2.0, Morocco 3.0
Media and marketing: United bid 4.9, Morocco 4.6
Ticketing and hospitality: United bid 5.0, Morocco 2.4
Which USMNT players would have been selected for the World Cup?
Imagine for a moment that the U.S. national team’s fateful loss in Couva, Trinidad, eight months ago never happened. That Bruce Arena’s side had managed just one more stinking goal—or at the very least, that one of the equally unlikely results in Costa Rica and Mexico that conspired against the Americans on that October night had gone slightly differently — and that they instead secured a spot at an eighth consecutive World Cup.What would Arena’s 23-man U.S. roster for Russia 2018 have looked like? Now that FIFA’s deadline for teams to submit their final squads for the tournament has arrived, let’s break down the likely picks using a mix of history, current form and a recent conversation with the former U.S. boss and others involved with or close to the program. (Players with a * next to their name were included in the 2014 World Cup squad.)
*Brad Guzan, 33 years old, Atlanta United (MLS) – He backed up Tim Howard for most of Arena’s first year in charge, but the smart money was on Guzan leapfrogging Howard before the main event kicked off. He’s been solid in Atlanta this season even if his save percentage is only middle of the pack in MLS.
*Tim Howard, 39, Colorado Rapids (MLS) – A fan of the saying “father time is undefeated”, there’s no doubt Howard began to show his age late last year. His experience is unmatched, though, and in a pinch the 2010 and 2014 starter still would’ve been more than capable of manning the net in Russia.
*Nick Rimando, 38, Real Salt Lake (MLS) – The consummate pro and locker room favorite would have had no problem accepting the cheerleading assignment that comes with the No. 3. role.
No room for Alex Bono, Bill Hamid, Ethan Horvath, Zack Steffen:
It’s entirely possible that Steffen, the frontrunner (as of today) to backstop the U.S. during the 2022 cycle, would’ve made Arena’s 23 on the strength of his strong start to the MLS season with the Columbus Crew. The 23-year-old certainly would’ve pushed kept Guzan and Howard on their toes. However, Arena went with experience in the No. 3 role twice before; he took Tony Meloa over a young Howard in 2002, while 33-year-old Marcus Hahnemann served as third string in 2006. Bob Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann employed a similar strategy in 2010 and ’14, picking Hahnemann and Rimando respectively.
Tyler Adams, 19, New York Red Bulls (MLS) – He’s a natural central midfielder, and that’s where Adams’ sky-is the-limit future lies for the national team. But with the U.S. in desperate need of right back depth, the technically sound, tactically aware and mentally tough teenager probably would’ve gotten his Cup chance on the back line.
*Matt Besler, 31, Sporting Kansas City – While Besler would be on the bubble, his play so far in KC (only one MLS team has surrendered fewer goals than Sporting) and his ability to provide emergency cover at left back could’ve helped him survive the cut.
*John Brooks, 25, Wolfsburg (Germany) – A thigh injury cost the country’s most naturally gifted defender most of his first season with Wolfsburg, but the rangy Berlin native returned to the lineup just in time to help the Bundesliga mainstay narrowly avoid relegation.
*Omar Gonzalez, 29, Pachuca (Mexico) – He had a nightmare in Trinidad, and then lost his starting role in Liga MX. But he won it back by season’s end and has been a longtime favorite of Arena’s. The coach is loyal to a fault. You have to think Gonzalez would’ve gotten the benefit of the doubt.
Matt Miazga, 22, Vitesse (Netherlands) – A month after the qualifying failure, Arena went on television and suggested that Miazga would have been a starter alongside Brooks in Russia. It’s hard to see his opinion changing after Miazga helped humble Vitesse reach next season’s Europa League.
Tim Ream, 30, Fulham (England) – Ream rebounded from a poor performance in his last U.S. appearance (the 2-0 home loss to Costa Rica last September) by leading Fulham back to the Premier League. Arena noticed. And like Besler, Ream’s experience at left back doesn’t hurt.
Jorge Villafana, 28, Santos Laguna (Mexico) – He would be the starting U.S. left back because of a lack of competition as much as anything else. But Villafana is also right in his prime, and he just won a Liga MX title with his club.
*DeAndre Yedlin, 24, Newcastle United (England) – Right back Yedlin is as entrenched at his position as any player in the national team pool. A surprise inclusion four years ago, his experience and all-world wheels would have been vital to the U.S. in Russia.
No room for DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Timmy Chandler, Eric Lichaj, Walker Zimmerman, Graham Zusi:
Cameron was in Arena’s doghouse before he lost his job with relegated Stoke City, one of the two worst defensive teams in the Premier League last season. Converted winger Zusi never seemed completely comfortable at right back. Lichaj was an unused sub in five of Nottingham Forest’s last seven games. Chandler’s club from has never translated to the national team, plus he didn’t play a minute for the U.S. in 2017. Arena liked Zimmerman, and the LAFC center back could’ve edged out Besler or Gonzalez. But that would’ve been a surprise. Carter-Vickers isn’t ready. And at 36, four-time World Cup vet Beasley’s legs appear to have finally deserted him, at least at the sport’s highest level.
Kellyn Acosta, 22, FC Dallas (MLS) – Acosta has played well for hometown club FCD lately after returning from hernia surgery. He could’ve filled in at fullback if necessary, too.
Paul Arriola, 23, D.C. United (MLS) – As one of the few natural wingers in the U.S. player pool, the speedy San Diegan would’ve been in contention to start on the right side this summer.
*Michael Bradley, 30, Toronto FC (MLS) – The U.S. captain wasn’t great during qualifying but he was lights out for the Reds during last year’s MLS Cup run and this spring against a trio of Mexican foes in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Sebestian Lletget, 25, LA Galaxy (MLS) – Arena fast-tracked his former Galaxy handyman into the U.S. squad in early 2017 only for Lletget to suffer a season ending foot injury in a qualifier against Honduras. But he’s started 11 of 14 games so far this year, including eight of the last nine.
Weston McKennie, 19, Schalke (Germany) – In his first full season in the Bundesliga, the hard-tackling future U.S. captain helped Schalke to a second-place finish (and the Champions League spot that comes with it).
Darlington Nagbe, 27, Atlanta United (MLS) – The silky smooth Nagbe has started all 14 games for the domestic league’s top team following six seasons in Portland.
Christian Pulisic, 19, Borussia Dortmund (Germany) – Obviously.
Kenny Saief, 24, Anderlecht (Belgium) – His age, ball skills, ability to play out wide and easygoing attitude would’ve been enough for Saief to claim a spot on Arena’s roster.
No room for Alejandro Bedoya, Marky Delgado, Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan, Christian Roldan or Danny Williams:
Arena never seemed to appreciate Bedoya and didn’t start the 2014 vet once during qualifying. Williams still isn’t fully recovered from the broken leg he suffered in March playing for Premier League side Huddersfield. MLS playmakers Kljestan and Feilhaber, at ages 32 and 33, were never serious contenders for Russia, while Delgado and Roldan lacked experience this time around.
*Jozy Altidore, 28, Toronto FC (MLS) – Altidore was in some of the best form of his career late last year and early this one despite playing with a broken foot for the better part of eight months. Although he finally underwent surgery to repair it in May, one would think it could’ve waited until after the World Cup.
*Clint Dempsey, 35, Seattle Sounders (MLS) – The joint-top scorer in U.S. history is goalless through six games with the Sounders, but maybe that wouldn’t be the case with a trip to a fourth World Cup up for grabs. Either way, a lack of better options combined with Dempsey’s nose for goal and the way he accepted (if not embraced) a supporting role under Arena would’ve gotten him to Russia.
Bobby Wood, 25, Hamburg (Germany) – After a trying year during which he scored just twice for HSV, joining the national team ahead of his first World Cup would’ve rejuvenated the Hawaiian striker, who has two goals in his last two U.S. games.
Gyasi Zardes, 26, Columbus Crew (MLS) – The top American scorer in MLS this season, Zardes is enjoying a career year after moving from the Galaxy last winter. With 37 caps, he also offers valuable international experience.
No room for Dom Dwyer, Aron Johannsson, Jordan Morris, Josh Sargent:
Morris was a no-brainer before he suffered a season-ending knee tear in February. Dwyer was a long shot even before he missed Orlando’s last three games with an injury. (He’s only played seven matches in 2018.) Johannsson is hurt, too. Sargent, Ar-Jo’s teammate at Werder.Doug McIntyre covers soccer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
France vs. United States | 2018 International Friendly Match Preview
June 6, 201812:44PM EDTDylan ButlerContributor
France vs. United States Groupama Stadium — Lyon
Saturday, June 9 — 3 pm ET WATCH: ESPN, UniMás, UDN
After a 2-1 loss to Ireland last Saturday in Dublin (a step up in competition from the 3-0 win over Bolivia on Memorial Day) the young US national team will face the ultimate test Saturday when they take on World Cup contender France in Lyon.The match will be the final for Dave Sarachan’s side until a busy fall, which includes a friendly against Mexico on Sept. 11 in Nashville and reportedly matches against Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, England and Italy.“France is going to be a really good test for us and a very good experience for everyone on this team. We’re all excited,” Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen said. “I think we just go in with our game plan and want to show everybody who’s watching what we’ve got and go in and play as a team, work for each other, have fun and enjoy the experience.”
United States Outlook
A modest four-match unbeaten streak came to an end last Saturday in Dublin when Alan Judge netted the 90th-minute winner to send the US to a 2-1 defeat to Ireland. The Yanks led 1-0 at the break thanks to Bobby Wood’s 12th international goal in first-half stoppage time.Graham Burke leveled for Ireland, which bounced back from a 2-0 loss to France to improve to 6-2-2 all-time vs. the United States.New York Red Bulls defender Tim Parker, Fulham’s Luca de la Torre and Levante’s Shaq Moore each came off the substitute’s bench in the second half to make their USMNT debuts, while midfielders Julian Green (right foot) and Kenny Saief (right knee) were held out of the squad due to injuries.
This match serves as the World Cup sendoff for a France squad that has lofty expectations in Russia later this month. Didier Deschamps’ team ran roughshod over Ireland, winning 2-0, on May 28 with Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud and Nabil Fekir from Lyon striking before halftime.They followed that up with a 3-1 victory over Italy in Nice on Friday with Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti and Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann gave France a two-goal lead before the half-hour mark. Leonardo Bonucci pulled the Azzurri within a goal in the 35th minute, but Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele put the game away with a 63rd minute goal, his second for Les Bleus.
The United States are 0-3-0 all-time against France and have been outscored, 10-0. Loïc Rémy came off the substitute’s bench to score the 72nd-minute winner in a 1-0 victory for Les Bleus in front of 70,018 fans at Stade de France on Nov. 11, 2011
Players to Watch
United States — Zack Steffen. After a rusty Bill Hamid made some blunders, including one that resulted in Ireland’s equalizer, fans on social media were clamoring for Steffen in net against France. The Crew SC goalkeeper has been outstanding in MLS play, having set a club shutout streak that spans five matches and 505 minutes.
France — Paul Pogba. The midfielder had an uneven first year with Manchester United, butting heads with Jose Mourinho on more than one occasion. While his return to the Reds will be one of the summer’s biggest questions, there is no doubt Pogba can be extremely influential with France. A return to his prior form at Juventus could put France on the podium next month.
United States’ loss to Republic of Ireland proves there’s a lot of work to do
Jun 3, 2018Jeff CarlisleSoccer
The United States got a bit of a reality check in its 2-1 defeat to the Republic of Ireland. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Granted, there were reasons to be disappointed at the result. The U.S. actually took the lead in first-half stoppage time on a real poacher’s goal from Bobby Wood. That the U.S. failed to build on that advantage, or at least manage the scoreline better is cause for a furrowed brow or two.But in many ways, this match served its purpose, if for no other reason that to temper expectations a bit, and paint a sharper picture of where exactly the players on the current roster stand, even as they gained more experience. Certainly after the 3-0 cakewalk over Bolivia a bit of irrational exuberance ensued, though to be clear it wasn’t coming from caretaker manager Dave Sarachan, nor did it emanate from the players. But in the wake of Saturday’s defeat it’s clear that this group has a ways to go.On this day it was telling that while there were some moments of impressive play, they were only that — moments.There were no real standout individual performances from the match, and there were some critical breakdowns. Bill Hamid will shoulder most of the responsibility for the first goal, having attempted to come out for a cross and not getting anywhere near it. But Alan Judge’s game-winner was more down to the collective. The U.S. found itself outnumbered on the right wing, and no player took charge to address the situation. Tyler Adams was the wrong side of James McClean, and sure enough a teammate found McClean with the ball, allowing the Ireland midfielder the freedom to run at Matt Miazga, who bit on the West Brom player’s feint. With only Hamid to beat, Judge — who also was untracked — intervened and fired home for the winner.Granted, the parade of substitutions that often accompanies a friendly can compromise defensive organization. In this case it certainly didn’t help.”I think the guys will learn,” said midfielder Weston McKennie in the post-match mixed zone. “A lot of the guys play over in Europe anyway so we’re learning tactically.”And the guy’s that are playing in MLS are still learning tactically and knowing how to play in these situations, so I think it’s OK.”But this was as much about focus as anything, and while the stakes were small, the lesson was still harsh, at least in the context of this game.”We were playing against a very experienced Irish team and we’ve just got to learn and stay concentrated for 90 minutes,” said Wood.So this is where this crop of players is right now. Talented? No doubt. Plenty of promise? Yes. That was the case before these last two games, and it’s just as true now. But there will be plenty of mistakes along the way. There may even be a heavy defeat or two.That is what possibly looms next weekend, when the U.S. will take on a France side that is talented enough to win the upcoming World Cup. There will be high-caliber opponents all over the field from Antoine Griezmann to N’Golo Kante to Kylian Mbappe and so on. Staying healthy will be a primary concern for Les Bleus, but there will also be a desire to impress France manager Didier Deschamps.That makes for a daunting task. The U.S. has acquitted itself reasonably enough by playing its kids be it at home or on the road. Without question it should continue to do so. Just be ready for a rollercoaster ride once the next World Cup cycle begins in earnest.
Young U.S. side shows its inexperience, takes a step back in defeat to Ireland
Jun 2, 2018Jeff CarlisleSoccer ESPNFC
Ireland defeated the U.S. men’s national team 2-1 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in an international friendly on Saturday.Bobby Wood put the U.S. ahead just before halftime with an opportunistic goal, but Graeme Burke notched the equalizer for the home side in the 57th minute, touching home Darragh Lenihan’s strike. Substitute Alan Judge then scored the game winner in the 90th minute to give the home side a dramatic victory.Here are three thoughts from the match.
- U.S. fades in second half
Saturday’s match was always going to be a tougher encounter than the holiday cruise that was the 3-0 win over Bolivia earlier this week. Ireland was not only playing at home but also fielded a much more experienced side than Bolivia did. Sensing this would be the case, U.S. caretaker manager Dave Sarachan responded in kind, going with a more experienced crew that saw eight changes to Monday’s lineup. International veterans DeAndre Yedlin, Jorge Villafana, and Wood all started the match, as did players like Bill Hamid, Wil Trap and Matt Miazga, who have accumulated plenty of club experience.The first half proved to be a fairly drab encounter, as the U.S. struggled to string many passes together and Ireland carved out an edge in possession. The right side of the U.S. defense looked suspect, with Yedlin struggling with his distribution and Cameron Carter-Vickers seeming a step slow to every ball. The U.S. did create a few chances in the opening 45 minutes. A half-cleared corner was blasted goalward by Tyler Adams in the 23rd minute, only for Rubio Rubin’s deflection to go wide of goal. Yedlin did get involved in a good opportunity two minutes later, touching a loose ball to Wood that saw the Hamburg forward curl his shot just wide.Ireland had some opportunities as well. James McClean had a shot from distance that was parried away by Hamid in the 20th minute. Hamid then failed to collect a cross late in the first half, but Ireland couldn’t capitalize.It was left to the U.S. to jump on top in first-half stoppage time. Trapp’s free kick was headed toward goal by Matt Miazga, and Wood was first to pounce on the loose ball, prodding home from close range.The level of U.S. play eroded in the second half, however, as the Americans struggled to maintain possession. Ireland equalized in the 57th minute from a set piece that was largely down to an error by Hamid. A corner was played back and then served in by Callum O’Dowda. Hamid came out for the cross but was left stranded by a wall of bodies. That allowed Kevin Long to head back to Lenihan whose shot was deflected home by Burke.The U.S. went close a couple of times through Wood and Timothy Weah, but then caught a break when Lenihan had a goal disallowed for offside when replays appeared to show him in an onside position.The home side then bagged a late winner. McClean maneuvered around Miazga, allowing Judge to step in and blast his shot past Hamid and just under the bar.The fact that a young U.S. side accumulated more international experience will go down as a positive, but the match was also short of memorable performances. That is to be expected when dealing with inexperienced players, and may serve to rein in some of the exuberance that was evident following the Bolivia match. The next test will be even tougher, a friendly against powerhouse France in a week’s time.
- Wood once again finds comfort with U.S.
There’s no disputing just how brutal a club season Wood had. He managed just three goals in 25 league and cup appearances, one that saw Hamburg get relegated from the Bundesliga for the first time in its history. The fact that he was sent off in the season finale against Borussia Moenchengladbach only added salt to a gaping wound. Yet Wood has usually managed to find some semblance of form with the U.S. no matter how things were going for his club. Back in March he scored the lone goal from the penalty spot in a 1-0 win over Paraguay. Against Ireland Wood came through once again with an opportunistic strike, and went close on a few other occasions. Granted, friendly success doesn’t quite make up for the struggles Wood has experienced with his club, but it at least provides a ray of light as the current campaign comes to a close.Much now remains to be decided about Wood’s future. Is he better off trying to regain his club form with Hamburg in the 2. Bundesliga, or should he move on elsewhere? He’ll have the next few months to decide.
- Hamid shows rust
Dublin’s Aviva Stadium will not go down as Hamid’s favorite venue. Back in 2014, Hamid was in goal for a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the Irish. His performance on this day wasn’t quite as bad, but it was by no means a positive performance. Hamid looked particularly suspect in the air. Only some poor finishing let him off the hook for his aforementioned first-half fumble, and his decision to come out to try and claim O’Dowda’s cross left the goal wide open, allowing Ireland to equalize. Hamid steadied himself and improved from that moment onward, but the damage was done.It’s clear, at least so far, that Hamid’s move to Danish side Midtjylland has yet to pay off. He made just three league and cup appearances since making the decision to move away from D.C. United during the winter, and the lack of first-team game action was evident.Prior to the Bolivia match, Hamid stated how he felt the move had helped him by getting him out of his comfort zone and showing him a different style of soccer. That’s all well and good, but without consistent playing time with his club, it’s going to be difficult for Hamid to make a case for playing time at international level, especially with the likes of Zack Steffen showing continued improvement.
Timothy Weah impresses again, Bill Hamid fails to convince in U.S. loss to Ireland
Jun 2, 2018Jason Davis
goal late in the first half through Bobby Wood, the Americans conceded twice in the second half to fall 2-1.
Another batch of young American players got their chance to step into the senior team as head coach Dave Sarachan continues the process of refreshing the talent pool. Mixing in a few more experienced hands, Sarachan got a chance to see potential partnerships in midfield and defense that might play a role in the squad moving forward.
Whether it was the changes made to the lineup or the turnaround from Monday, this version of the USMNT lacked the necessary cohesiveness to control the game. A tendency to play backward colored the proceedings for the Americans and while the midfield trio of Tyler Adams, Weston McKinnie and Wil Trapp all had reasonably good performances individually, they did not combine effectively.
Manager rating out of 10
5 — The choice to start Bill Hamid proved to be a poor one for Sarachan, though the desire to see as many players as possible excuses it somewhat. Could have made changes to encourage more service for Timothy Weah on the wing, where the best U.S. moments originated. Used five of six available subs, finding minutes for a good portion of the roster. If there’s any gripe, it’s that some of those substitutions should have come earlier.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Bill Hamid, 2 — Culpable on Ireland’s first goal after a poor decision to come off his line. Struggled with balls in the air on multiple occasions and did not distribute well.
DF DeAndre Yedlin, 4 — Made several big mistakes with the ball in the first half. Caught out of position on occasion, putting the U.S. under pressure. Contributed just one cross.
DF Cameron Carter-Vickers, 3 — Poor day all around. Struggled in possession under pressure, especially in the first half. Picked up a yellow from a late challenge. Slow with his decision-making.
DF Matt Miazga, 6 — Solid for most of the match, stepping up and snuffing out danger on multiple occasions. Regressed in the final 10 minutes, including whiffing in the box on Ireland’s winner.
DF Jorge Villafana, 5 — Put in his usual fine defensive performance without offering much going forward. Took the easy route when playing out of the defensive third too often.
MF Wil Trapp, 6 — Solid but not spectacular, especially in the first half. Provided good set-piece service at times, but missed on a few in the second half. Passed well, but without much forward thrust.
MF Timothy Weah, 7 — Should have done better with a late chance, but was positive and dangerous for most of the match.
MF Tyler Adams, 7 — Missed just five passes on the day while playing a smart midfield. Might have pressed higher more often. Lacked a clear understanding with teammates to build moves in the final third.
MF Weston McKennie, 6 — Quiet over 90 minutes playing in front of Trapp higher up the field than on Monday against Bolivia. Pressed sporadically. Good moment late when a positive touch led to a shot on goal.
MF Rubio Rubin, 5 — Active, especially in the first half. Did not make much of an impact in the final third, registering no passes into the penalty box. Took two shots cutting inside on his right foot.
FW Bobby Wood, 5 — Scored to close the first half by capitalizing on a mistake by the keeper off of Miazga’s header. Failed to make his touches count, ineffective as target forward.
DF Tim Parker, 5 — Mostly composed when the game was stretched and the U.S. was under pressure. Not complicit on winning goal. Forced to scramble into emergency defending more than once.
DF Shaq Moore, NR — Showed speed and positivity up the wing, immediately getting into the attack upon introduction. Defended adequately.
FW Josh Sargent, NR — Had more good moments as a target in 20 minutes than Wood in 70.
MF Luca De La Torre, NR — Played positively from the moment he entered the fray.
MF Joe Corona, NR — Limited contributions in 10 minutes on the field.
USMNT Player Ratings: Not much to celebrate in sobering loss at Ireland
June 2, 20188:35PM EDTGreg SeltzerContributor
A green US national team side was brought down to Earth from last week’s win over Bolivia in Saturday’s 2-1 collapse to friendly hosts Ireland.The young Nats had far more trouble running their game plan against the firmer opposition provided by an Ireland side holding a huge experience advantage. Bobby Wood opportunistically put the visitors up on the edge of halftime, but they acquiesced control of play in the second half and were eventually punished for it near full time.With nothing at stake from the result, we can safely consider the contest a lesson for the kids.
Bill Hamid (3.5) – Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he’s mostly watched from the bench since moving to FC Midtjylland in January, but Hamid had some obvious struggles commanding his area. His weak attempt at tracking down a serve into the box effectively teed up Ireland’s equalizer.
DeAndre Yedlin (4.5) – Though he offered some positive attack work in the opening half-hour, Yedlin virtually disappeared on the ball from there. It wasn’t any better on the defensive end, where the Newcastle man had repeated troubles in his corner and gave up a danger free kick while helping in the middle due to wild tackling form.
Cameron Carter-Vickers (5.5) – The young center back was uneasy on the ball throughout his hour of work, but did bring a foreboding presence to his side of the box.
Matt Miazga (5) – It was a tale of two halves for the Chelsea defender, who ably cleared danger at the back and notched a flick-on assist before the break. Miazga was much busier after intermission, and some mistakes followed. Though he worked his way up to 10 clearances, it mattered not when he was skinned alive in the box on Ireland’s winner.
Jorge Villafaña (5) – It was not a great night for the left back. He was either safe (in both the good and bad sense) or loose with the ball and did not have enough impact defensively.
Wil Trapp (5) – The Columbus Crew SC skipper was solid enough on the ball for his role, but it became progressively easier for the home side to knock on the gate to the defense as the game went on. The question of whether Trapp can provide enough steel to play defensive midfield at this level remains wide open.
Tyler Adams (5) – The New York Red Bulls ace had his stray moments of excellence on both sides of the ball, but his influence vanished for long stretches. Aside from a worthy set-up move near the hour, Adams was often invisible after the break.
Weston McKennie (4) – The best of McKennie’s attributes went missing for most of the night. He wasn’t standing Ireland up in midfield, had too many cheap giveaways and wasn’t breaking the lines with his usually incisive passing game.
Timothy Weah (5.5) – The pacy winger ate ground on the rush without truly threatening goal during the opening frame. Weah faded badly after the interval, yet managed to find his best chance of the night – which he promptly missed high. As with all the youngsters listed, there should be better nights ahead.
Rubio Rubin (5) – The Tijuana attacker suffered for the lack of flank push provided by Villafana. That was just part of the recipe for his overly bland showing.
Bobby Wood (6) – Getting straight to the point, Wood’s nice ninja attack tally brought his grade up to average. You’ve heard of scoring against the run of play? Well, this goal was against the run of the performance, which largely lacked his usual defender-disturbing runs.
Coach Dave Sarachan (5.5) – I’m not going to be too hard on the coach for this one. This game was always going to be a challenge for his green side. There shouldn’t be too much griping over his lineup or subs, but it might have been nice to shift tactics when the game was getting away from them during a tough second half.
Tim Parker (6) – It was not an entirely clean shift from the Red Bulls center back, but he gets a passing grade for his debut. Parker racked up nine total defensive stops in just a half-hour.
Shaq Moore (6) – The Levante right back showed that a) his physical skills are promising & b) plenty of polish is still needed.
Josh Sargent (5.5) – The teen striker certainly didn’t do anything egregious, but he also was unable to find the right runs and receiving spots to unsettle Ireland’s defense.
Luca de la Torre (6) – The debutant pitched in with a few nice link passes and a few defensive actions in 13 minutes of play. It’s too bad he wasn’t getting much help on the left side.
Joe Corona (-) – Only a few game incidents for the midfielder in a 10-minute cameo.
Who Will Win the 2018 World Cup? SI’s Expert Predictions and Knockout Brackets
By SI.COM STAFF June 04, 2018
The World Cup kicks off June 14 in Moscow with a meeting between the two lowest-ranked teams in the field, which, in some ways, is quite appropriate. The competition is meant to be a crescendo, one whose drama and defining moments don’t occur until the very end. With the way the draw and schedule worked out, that’s precisely how Russia 2018 is shaping up to play out.Russia vs. Saudi Arabia will be a massive 90 minutes for the host nation, which can set its tone for the tournament in front of its partisan crowd. But once it’s over, the focus will shift to the traditional powers and the individual superstars who figure to have plenty of say in determining the 2018 world champion. At least that’s how we see things going. In anticipation of the 32-team, month-long battle for international supremacy, SI’s Avi Creditor, Luis Miguel Echegaray, Brian Straus, Grant Wahl and Jonathan Wilson size up the tournament field and make their picks for who will get out of each group and how the knockout stage will unfold–from the round of 16 to the moment the trophy is lifted July 15 at the same Luzhniki Stadium where all of the drama will kick off.
Group Winners: A – Uruguay | B – Spain | C – France | D – Croatia | E – Brazil | F – Germany | G – Belgium | H – Colombia
Group Runners-Up: A – Egypt | B – Portugal | C – Peru | D – Argentina | E – Costa Rica | F – Mexico | G – England | H – Senegal
The World Cup field seems pretty straightforward, with most groups having a clearly defined top two. There’s room for some slight surprises–and juicy storylines–to develop, though. Like how about Argentina finishing secondin its group and going into the same quadrant of the bracket as Portugal for a potential Messi-Ronaldo quarterfinal showdown? And after that, how about the potential for an Argentina-Brazil semifinal, which would be their first World Cup showdown since 1990? And what about a Paolo Guerrero-sparked Peru getting out of its group and making some noise as this year’s Costa Rica, going on an inspiring quarterfinal run?
Ultimately, the bluebloods will decide the winner, and we’re left with an incredible final four. Argentina and Brazil provide an all-South American semifinal on one side, while Spain and Germany make for an all-European one on the other. Ironically and poetically, a more balanced and multi-pronged Brazil will advance due to Argentina’s over-reliance on one star, while Spain has the skill and depth to break down a resolute defending champion in Germany. Neymar makes the difference in the final, lifting Brazil to its record sixth title–60 years after Pelé carried the Seleção to their first.
LUIS MIGUEL ECHEGARAY
Group Winners: A – Uruguay | B – Spain | C – France | D – Argentina | E – Brazil | F – Germany | G – Belgium | H – Senegal
Group Runners-Up: A – Egypt | B – Portugal | C – Peru | D – Nigeria | E – Switzerland | F – Mexico | G – England | H – Colombia
There are two World Cup predictions I feel very strongly about: Radamel Falcao will score more goals than anyone in the group stage, and, for the first time since 1958, Brazil will win the World Cup on European soil.With all due respect to Serbia, Switzerland and Costa Rica, the group is Brazil’s for the taking, meaning the Seleção can ease Neymar back into the lineup and get him ready for the knockout stage.Brazil, however, is not just about the PSG star. This is a loaded team in every facet, and thanks to Roberto Firmino and preferred starter Gabriel Jesus, there is serious competition in the No. 9 role, something that has been missing for a long time. Thanks to coach Tite, this squad is as creative as it is disciplined, and the latter will be the deciding factor in the knockout rounds. After beating Mexico in the round of 16 (sorry, El Tri fans), Belgium awaits in the quarters, and this is where I think experience overrules talent, as Brazil beats Roberto Martinez’s side. The harder test will come in the semis when France comes knocking, but this goal-fest will go in favor of the South Americans, and you know what that means? The final presents an opportunity for redemption against Germany and a chance for Brazil to heal the wounds from 2014’s shocking 7-1 semifinal exit on home soil.In the end, Brazil writes a new ending against Joachim Low’s squad and wins its sixth World Cup.
Group Winners: A – Uruguay | B – Spain | C – France | D – Croatia | E – Brazil | F – Germany | G – Belgium | H – Poland
Group Runners-Up: A – Egypt | B – Portugal | C – Denmark | D – Argentina | E – Switzerland | F – Mexico | G – England | H – Colombia
Past performance never guarantees future results, but in searching for patterns that might help predict a World Cup, it’s worth looking at what we’ve learned from recent editions.World Cups aren’t won by second-tier countries led by golden generations. They’re won by nations that produce talent far more consistently, without dramatic peaks and valleys. World Cups are won by teams on the rise that have paid their dues, not by sated or aging stars. And they’re won with world-class resilience and depth. Champions evolve during a tournament and have options available as they adapt, and they need talent in reserve in big moments. Germany’s Cup-winning goal in Rio was scored by a sub and set up by a midfielder who relieved the guy playing in place of the injured starter.There will be three teams in Russia with enough talent, depth, fortitude and pedigree to win–Germany, Spain and France. Germany, who’s bringing back less than half its 2014 squad, will edge Spain in one semi. France, whose ‘B’ team might make the final four, will knock out Belgium’s golden generation in the other. In the final, a French team bursting with talent that will have hit its stride—both in the long-term and during a tournament in which it faces a few tactical questions—will triumph. Les Bleus will come in waves, and they have the hunger, quality and flexibility to triumph.
Group Winners: A – Uruguay | B – Spain | C – France | D – Croatia | E – Brazil | F – Germany | G – Belgium | H – Colombia
Group Runners-Up: A – Russia | B – Portugal | C – Denmark | D – Iceland | E – Switzerland | F – Mexico | G – England | H – Senegal
Spain will win its second World Cup in three cycles by relying on an experienced core balancing solid defense (goalkeeper David De Gea; center backs Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué), a masterly midfield (Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta, Thiago) and an emerging front line (Marco Asensio, Isco, Diego Costa).Their ball control will wear out defending champ Germany in the semifinals and then, in the final, Belgium, which will outlast a slew of talented teams in the Red Devils’ half of the draw: Brazil (upset by Mexico), France (which has at least one stinker every five games) and Uruguay.Ultimately, the teamwide strength of Spain will prevail in a tournament of surprises over the individual stardom of Brazil’s Neymar, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi (who will go out in the group stage as Argentina finishes behind Croatia and Iceland).
Group Winners: A – Uruguay | B – Spain | C – France | D – Argentina | E – Brazil | F – Germany | G – Belgium | H – Colombia
Group Runners-Up: A – Egypt | B – Portugal | C – Denmark | D – Croatia | E – Switzerland | F – Mexico | G – England | H – Senegal
World Cups are not rational and there is something very strange about the fact that in a competition that even in its expanded form lasts only seven games, there has not been a surprise winner in the mold of a Denmark or Greece in the Euros. The only real shock winner, in fact, was West Germany in 1954, and subsequent history indicates what a shock that was. The World Cup is long overdue for a surprise.Having said that, there are four squads that have quality and depth far in excess of their rivals, and the way the draw has worked, Spain, Brazil, Germany and France can all avoid each other before the semifinal; although Spain, in particular, may fear the quarterfinal where Argentina probably lies in wait (Spain’s recent 6-1 friendly win over Jorge Sampaoli’s side notwithstanding). This is a Spain team rejuvenated under Julen Lopetegui, and given Brazil’s issues at right back in the absence of Dani Alves and the way Spain seems to be coming into form at just the right time, it is my favorite to win in Moscow on July 15.
Paul Pogba -Ready To Shine in World Cup
After a hellish club season, Paul Pogba is determined to reclaim his joy in Russia. And if he happens to disprove his critics — and his coach — in the process? Even better.y Wright Thompson18This is the cover story for ESPN The Magazine’s June 18 World Football issue. Subscribe today!
Paul Pogba stands in his kitchen and mists himself with cologne. The Pogmood is Pogtense. A strong Arabian musk crossed with bright athletic notes might chase away his uneasy feeling. He gives a generous spray on each side of his neck, one spray for each arm, with a torso shot or two for good measure. You can always smell Pogba before you see him. Its work done, the fragrance bottle goes back into his white snakeskin dopp kit, which he can always identify as his because of the enormous gold-plated No. 6 on the side. Like all people who started in obscurity and live in fear of returning to it, his name and image are never far from his line of sight: excessive branding as a sophisticated method of clawing at a crumbling cliff’s edge. It’s a Tuesday between the end of Manchester United’s season and the team’s FA Cup final down in London, and Pogba had been feeling good until he opened a text message from the team. Now he’s thrown off-center, and this creates widening ripples in the Pogforce.
“The club changed all the travel plans,” his manager says. “They unbalanced him.”
The Red Devils are now leaving tomorrow at 7 a.m., the whole trip pushed up a day. Since players are due at pre-World Cup camps, losing a day means losing time to close up houses and carefully pack. Pogba, just 25, lives in a Manchester suburb that’s home to dozens of current and former Premier League stars who whip around the leafy streets in luxury cars. Hanging around his house today are his Parisian boyhood friend and gofer Mamadou, his Bolivian-model girlfriend Maria Zulay Salaues, his Brazilian manager who lives in Monaco and speaks six languages, and, of course, his cook, who hails from Naples and chatters away in Italian as she futzes around the kitchen.
These four friends, along with his mom and two brothers, protect him from the circling wolves of criticism. He’s in that dangerous career zone in which his immense potential, long the source of his wealth and fame, could become the central exhibit in the case for his failure. Manchester United bought him in 2016 from Juventus for upward of 89 million pounds, the largest transfer fee in history at the time, and he’s worn that scarlet number around his neck. Tabloids compare him to the other biggest busts in football history. Sometimes he doesn’t even start.It’s not all his fault. Most people can see that Pogba’s free-flowing game doesn’t fit with manager Jose Mourinho’s conservative style. He’s a sequined jacket in a hit man’s closet. These could be his final days living in this house and city as he decides whether to run again or stay and fight for his future. Russia is coming at the perfect time for him. No other player on the planet needs the psychic reboot of a World Cup as much as Pogba. “He is at an important crossroads,” says Mamadou’s brother, “Papis” Magassa, who coached Pogba in their neighborhood in Paris.Today’s anxiety over schedules and packing clashes with the boyish spirit of the house, which is a bedroom poster dream of where a footballer might live. Nobody should ever feel sad in such a ridiculous place. Big windows look out onto trees and hedges. The kitchen glows green when the afternoon sun shines through the limbs and branches. Out front rises a towering fir tree just like those in the common area of the French public housing complex where Pogba grew up. The interior is decorated with pictures, trophies, murals and, obviously, his interlocking “PP” logo. He’s got the logo on his pool table and on his custom black-and-gold foosball table and on the four throw pillows fluffed and ready on his giant L-shaped couch. A logo is on the center of his small, caged indoor football pitch — which is where the indoor pool used to be — and there are paintings of him in celebration on the wall. He’s got the logo in his ears, one on each earring, in case he happens upon a mirror. Some people design for comfort or aesthetics. His house is designed for confidence, a place where he can celebrate one of those missile shots he calls a PogBOOM! The white marble floors shine. The lines are cold and modern. The stairs are hard plastic trays filled with fake diamonds, and in the stairwell, a huge taxidermied lion rests its left paw on a soccer ball, as if it might launch a well-timed and kingly cross to a streaking kudu.”I make it the Poghouse,” Pogba says.AS HE SAYS this, Pogba is facing his enormous fish tank. The Pogtank! He’s a Pisces, Mamadou explains, hence the fish. They dart in and out of the tower of coral, hiding in the shadows and zooming through the blue light, oblivious to faces pressed against the glass watching them swim. The new Taurus moon tells all Pisces to trust their inner voice, to let the past go and look toward a clear future. All of which is ridiculous because what kind of lunatic actually believes in hoscopes — and yet the fish tank.This is an odd and important time to drop into Pogba’s world, which is exactly as weird and singular as you’d want it to be. The last Premier League season, which ended two days ago, exposed clearly the conflict that will dominate the rest of his career: Can the joy and whimsy that define his play survive the pressures seeking to harden him into something serious and mathematical? If Pogba succumbs to Mourinho’s system, he might become the best player of his generation. Or he might lose the most important part of himself and his game. “It has to be fun,” Pogba says. “It started like that. It started fun. So why does it have to change?”Friends describe him as one of the happiest people they’ve ever met, a trait he inherited from his mother, who looks on every good thing in her life as a blessing to be celebrated. The people closest to him believe his joy serves as a kind of pilot light for his talent. Two of those people stood in their kitchen two days ago, on the morning of Man United’s final league game, and remembered Pogba saying years ago, “I’ll play football wherever it makes me feel happy.”Paul and Carol Dalby served as Pogba’s host family when he first came to England as a teenager to attend the Man United academy. He spent three years there before joining Juventus in 2012. They remember the drama of his departure, after he fell out of favor with Sir Alex Ferguson and was allowed to leave for nothing. Pogba confided in the Dalbys at the time, “I like them, but they don’t seem to like me.” When he signed with Juventus, they knew before nearly anyone in the world, and when Pogba struggled to deal with the aggressive Italian fans — one time in Turin, a Juve fan got into the passenger seat of his car at a red light to take a selfie — he’d talk to them about it. Once when Juve came to play Man City, Pogba asked the Dalbys to visit him at the team hotel. Sitting in the second-floor restaurant overlooking the river in the old textile mill town, he shared his frustrations.”What are you going to do?” they asked. “You don’t seem too happy at Juventus.”
ESPN FC: World Cup 2018
When he left Italy, he returned to a feeling as much as a geographical location, something deeper and more personal than chasing dollars and prestige. It seems strange that he should be searching for something most observers think he’s already found. He makes millions a year playing a game — and yet that seems to be the central question. Is it still a game? Grown men have been fighting one another in court and in public over his talent since he was a boy. His second agent and his first engaged in a yearslong dispute over the first contract Pogba signed, a predatory deal in which he relinquished the rights to his own name and likeness. He tries not to let messy international commerce dampen his enthusiasm. That gets harder with each passing season.It’s been especially hard during this season that just ended.On the morning of United’s final league game, the Dalbys thought about the difficulty of watching a young man they consider an adopted son be trashed day after day. They’ve bristled at how easily critics, even former United players who should know better, engage so guiltlessly in a market in which players are characters and not former 16-year-old boys a long way from home, asking Carol and Paul for seconds of pasta.”It’s so cruel, you know?” Carol says. “It’s so cruel. He’s just been battered.”
That day found them writing the obituary and eulogy for Paul Dalby’s brother, who died suddenly while on vacation in Spain. When Pogba heard the news, he reached out. When he scored in a United game a few days later, he sent the Dalbys a note saying that the goal was a gift for their grieving family and that he’d be delivering the shirt he wore while scoring. He stops by whenever he can — not long ago, he and Zulay showed up for a visit wearing matching bright-red Adidas tracksuits. The Dalbys could only smile and shake their heads. That’s the Pogba they’ve always known. They remember him rushing to the fridge in the morning to find the word of the day, which he’d use in conversation. Even when Pogba got a flat in Manchester, he would still spend lots of time with his “second family,” as he’s written on some signed shirts they keep. They made sure he didn’t live on just Chinese takeout.Pogba is family to them. He bounded around their home with the same youthful enthusiasm that he took to the pitch, where he’d bounce before games, smiling and joking with teammates and opponents alike. He found the purest expression of his inner self on the field. At least he once did. “He used to prance around the pitch,” Paul Dalby says. “A little bit of that has left him now.”They can take one look at him and know how he’s doing. Earlier this year, Carol walked through the room where their big television played the United game. Paul grew up watching Bobby Charlton and George Best and loves to see his local club play. Almost accidentally, Carol caught a glimpse of Pogba on the pitch.”He doesn’t look very happy,” she said.”He’s not,” he said.
Own Goal: The Inside Story of How the USMNT Missed the 2018 World Cup
In October, the United States failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in more than 30 years. A loss to Trinidad and Tobago sealed their fate, but according to players, coaches, commentators, and executives across American soccer, the disaster doesn’t come down to just one unfortunate result. No, it was the culmination of nearly a decade of mismanagement that broke the team’s spirit and condemned them to failure.
The players smelled it. In the locker room at halftime, the stench of impending failure hung as heavily as the humid Caribbean air. Try as he might, U.S. men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena could not keep the desperation from creeping into his voice.If we get one goal, the veteran American coach said to his defeated-looking team, we’re going to get a second. Just keep pushing forward.“You could see him getting agitated,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber recalled. “He would be positive, and all of a sudden, he would level up, and sort of start getting louder. ‘Come on, guys, come on.’ It was definitely his body language, but it was also his tone of voice, going from trying to be calm to being more aggressive, and going back and forth. You could tell that the coaches were kind of on edge. Maybe even more so than the players.”Needing only a draw to advance to the World Cup in Russia, the team had traveled to Trinidad for their final qualification match on October 10, 2017. Success was so assured that only 1,500 spectators even bothered to show up. But after conceding two freak goals in the first half, the U.S. found itself on the brink of disaster. What Arena himself once deemed “unthinkable” was becoming reality: The United States men’s national team was just 45 minutes away from missing the World Cup for the first time in more than 30 years.In one corner of the cramped locker room sat a glowering Geoff Cameron. The veteran Premier League defender was irate from being left on the bench during the past two matches — a decision all the more galling now that his replacement, Omar Gonzalez, had opened the scoring with a horrifying own goal.Cameron’s anger was just one example of tension inside the U.S. locker room. According to several close observers, the environment around the team during the past few years could be “toxic” at times, a lingering aftereffect of the inconsistent and culture-degrading management style of Arena’s predecessor, Jürgen Klinsmann, who had been fired one year before. Arena had labored to rebuild team chemistry, but that had proved to be more challenging than the veteran coach had expected.Michael Bradley had long known that the team’s fragile identity could derail qualification. Moving around the room, the captain and central midfielder tried to rally his teammates, beseeching them to raise their collective games. But he was also one of the most polarizing figures in the fractured dressing room: His massive seven-figure MLS salary and sometimes overbearing leadership style grated on teammates. Although Bradley knew that all of their legacies were on the line, he was an imperfect messenger.Christian Pulisic, only 19 and already the team’s best player, sat in concentrated silence. He’d joined the team at the start of the qualification campaign and was on the verge of single-handedly propelling the group to Russia, notching seven goals and assisting on seven more. As the USMNT took the field for the second half, he tried to once again drag his beleaguered teammates to the World Cup. After just 90 seconds, he sliced through the Trinidad and Tobago defense and scored a goal to pull the U.S. within one.But the second goal that Arena had promised never came. Clint Dempsey’s 77th-minute shot off the post was the closest the team came to equalizing. When the whistle blew, Pulisic sank to the turf, exhausted and angry, having experienced his first major failure as a professional player.“The image that will stay with me was our best player, Christian Pulisic, the kid that had done so much, seeing him in the showers, fully clothed, with his hands in his face just crying,” remembered 31-year-old midfielder Dax McCarty.Back in the United States, the reactions were similarly bleak as fans grappled with not only the qualification failure but also just how badly the U.S. had played in a match that sealed their World Cup fate. Landon Donovan watched events unfold from a friend’s couch in California, feeling as though he’d been punched in the gut. “It was a physical illness,” the U.S. legend said. “I think a lot of people felt the same way. I was sick to my stomach. It was hard to process just how much this would impact U.S. soccer.”
In Charleston, South Carolina, longtime American soccer executive Kevin Payne watched the defeat alone at a bar. “I felt the same way that I felt when I woke up the morning after Election Day,” he said. “Like my world has been unmoored, and how did it happen?”With all of its advantages over its continental competitors, how did the U.S. fail to qualify for the World Cup? The question has divided the American soccer community ever since. Some have blamed the player development system. Others have questioned Arena’s tactics. And some have just said that the U.S. had a bad game on a hot night in Trinidad.“You don’t make wholesale changes based on the ball being 2 inches wide or 2 inches in,” said then–U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati on the night of the collapse, referencing Dempsey’s near equalizer.“That’s when you start feeling sorry for yourself. Then you start thinking, ‘Holy shit, we just let down our entire country.’” —Dax McCarty
Behind the scenes, though, the disaster that unfolded in Trinidad was not the result of one shot hitting off the post or one poor tactical decision. The failure to qualify for the World Cup was the direct result of seven years of mismanagement at the highest levels of U.S. Soccer, which fostered disunion among the team’s players and ultimately doomed them to defeat.“We put Band-Aids on things all the time and hope that they change and that things turn around,” USMNT defender Brad Evans said. “All of these successes were just Band-Aids for a failure that was going to potentially happen, and it did.”This insider’s view of the epic American World Cup collapse — from the boardroom to the locker room — is based on interviews with more than 40 current and former players, coaches, and sources close to U.S. Soccer leadership, conducted in the aftermath of the U.S. defeat. Many spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to describe scenes honestly, expressing fear of negative consequences for their careers if they spoke on the record.Taken together, their accounts reveal that the seeds of the World Cup failure had been planted years earlier, in 2011, when U.S. Soccer president and Columbia University economist Sunil Gulati landed Klinsmann, a former World Cup–winning player with an elite international reputation, to become the new coach of the U.S. team. Yet Klinsmann’s methods — laudable in theory — decimated the team’s culture. Despite hearing about these problems from some men’s national team players and from U.S. Soccer staff members, Gulati and the federation’s leadership failed to react in time.Even with the dysfunction at every level — from the executives down to the coaches and the players — the team was still one game away from qualification. Playing without energy or hunger when both were needed, they lost to a vastly inferior opponent. That result will follow them around for the rest of their playing days. But the failure was far from theirs alone.“The thing that I thought about, selfishly, was that there goes my only chance to represent my country in the World Cup,” said McCarty, who watched the disaster unfold from the bench. “That’s when you start feeling sorry for yourself. Then you start thinking, ‘Holy shit, we just let down our entire country.’”
Act 1: Hope and a Honeymoon With Jürgen
The road to Trinidad began in the summer of 2010. In a hotel in Vancouver, Jürgen Klinsmann laid out his bold vision for the future of American soccer. Around him sat U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn, and then–D.C. United president Kevin Payne, all listening with rapt attention.At the time, Gulati was mulling a coaching change for the U.S. men’s national team. Bob Bradley had just completed a four-year tenure as manager that ended with the U.S. team’s ouster in the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup. Soon afterward, Gulati had flown to Vancouver to meet with Klinsmann, a former German superstar with the same relentless sunniness that characterizes his adopted home of California.“Bob was the head coach,” remembered Payne. “And Sunil asked me to come along and just give him my impressions of Klinsmann.”For Gulati, there was a lot to like about Klinsmann. He had played in World Cups and in the Champions League, and he was viewed as an iconoclastic thinker, willing to challenge convention and make difficult, if unpopular, decisions. He’d earned that reputation managing his home country to a third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup, a performance that had led to Gulati’s first unsuccessful attempt to make Klinsmann his coach.Among top-level European managers, Klinsmann also had the advantage of understanding the eccentricities of American soccer. Klinsmann had lived in Southern California since 1998 and had embraced his adopted home, learning about the college soccer system, MLS, and the millions of kids running around pristine suburban fields. His son Jonathan, a goalkeeper, competed in U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy, the top American youth league, designed to provide young players with a professional-caliber training environment.Most importantly for Gulati, though, Klinsmann represented something larger: a chance to turn the latent potential of American soccer into actual power.Then in his fifth year as the president of U.S. Soccer, Gulati had done just about every job in the sport. He’d driven buses and bought balls at Kmart during national team camps. As deputy commissioner, he’d designed Major League Soccer’s signature single-entity structure, in which each team is owned by the league’s group of investors. Elected U.S. Soccer president in 2006 after running unopposed, Gulati, along with Flynn, had built the nonprofit organization into a juggernaut with a $100 million annual budget and 140 full-time employees.“You knew your role. You knew exactly what was going to be asked of you. You were going to have to go out there and be a motherfucker.” —Herculez Gomez, on playing for Bob BradleyOn the field, Gulati wanted to push the American team from international soccer’s middle class into the sport’s elite, but he wasn’t convinced that his current coach was up to the job. The father of U.S. midfielder Michael and a well-respected figurehead within American soccer circles, Bradley had followed a well-trod path to the national team gig. Like his national team predecessor Arena, he’d risen through the ranks, from collegiate soccer to MLS and then to the U.S. job. And like Arena’s teams, his squads didn’t always play the flashiest soccer, but they did tend to transcend their lack of elite talent with a collective fighting spirit.“You knew your role. You knew exactly what was going to be asked of you. You were going to have to go out there and be a motherfucker,” said Herculez Gomez, a forward for the national team under Bradley.During his tenure, Bradley led the U.S. team to regional victory at the 2007 Gold Cup and to a second-place finish in a major international tournament, the 2009 Confederations Cup, with a Cinderella run that included a 2–0 victory over the world’s no. 1 team, Spain. But after a World Cup performance that featured plenty of grit and guile but not enough aggressive soccer for Gulati’s taste, the federation president was ready to consider alternatives, which is why he’d flown to Vancouver to hear out Klinsmann.In 2010, the German’s vision for the national team was incredibly ambitious. He wanted the U.S. to play proactive, possession-based soccer and no longer rely on goalkeeping and counterattacks. He wanted both youth teams and the senior national team to build a uniquely American soccer identity, fusing together all the disparate cultures of the country’s melting pot. Above all else, he wanted to rid the U.S. team of its inferiority complex, its self-defeating mind-set that it couldn’t contend with the best teams from Europe and South America.
t was a heady vision, and one that appealed to Gulati’s desire to revolutionize American soccer. “I don’t think it was any secret that [Gulati] did want Jürgen to take the job,” said Mike Edwards, the vice president of U.S. Soccer from 2006 to 2016. “Each president wants to put their own stamp on things.”But Klinsmann’s asking price as well as demands for control were too much for Gulati. Klinsmann wanted the authority to hire not just the senior team’s technical staff and coaches but also the permanent staff of the federation, from the press shop to the trainers and the equipment managers — employees that had traditionally remained in their positions regardless of who ran the men’s team. Moreover, Klinsmann wanted to circumvent the federation’s power structure. “Really, [Klinsmann] didn’t want to report to anybody. He wanted to report to Sunil,” remembered Payne. It was an organizational structure that would have bypassed Flynn, the chief executive of U.S. Soccer. The deal fell apart.Reluctantly, Gulati extended Bradley’s contract in August 2010, and the hiring process revealed a bigger truth about the way decisions have historically been made inside U.S. Soccer. Gulati and Flynn — despite having never played or coached the sport at a high level — had the unilateral authority to hire the national team coach. Even the organization’s vice president at the time, Edwards, was not involved in the decision-making.Over the next year, Gulati’s eye continued to wander toward Klinsmann. And luckily for Gulati, Klinsmann’s job prospects had cooled since his 2006 World Cup triumph. His last head-coaching gig, as the manager of Bayern Munich, had ended in the spring of 2009 after only nine months. At the time of his dismissal, Barcelona had just demolished Bayern in the Champions League quarterfinals, and his team — perennial title contenders — sat in third place in the Bundesliga and were in danger of missing out on European competition. The Bayern leadership pulled the plug with just five matches remaining in the season.“Jürgen really has a magnetism to him that makes people want to get in there and listen to what he has to say. I think he was the right guy at the right time to bring us a shot of enthusiasm.” —Mike Edwards
After failing to ink a deal with U.S. Soccer in 2010, Klinsmann was hired as a consultant to fix MLS club Toronto FC. Acting as a headhunter, Klinsmann recommended that TFC hire Dutch manager Aron Winter and former New England Revolution assistant Paul Mariner. But both of his picks flopped, and the team remained mired at the bottom of the league.By June 2011, Klinsmann was itching to get back into the coaching game but lacked the bargaining power he had once commanded. It was then that he landed an invitation to a state dinner in Washington in honor of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He reached out to D.C. United’s Payne, requesting a meeting while he was in the nation’s capital.Before agreeing to the meeting, Payne called Gulati, wanting to know what to say if Klinsmann brought up the U.S. job. Bradley had a contract that ran through 2014, and his team was slated to play their first match in the Gold Cup the same night as the state dinner. What do you want me to do? Payne asked Gulati. I can just tell him there’s nothing to talk about.“And Sunil said, ‘Tell him if he does want to have a conversation, it’s got to start and end at this number,’” Payne said. “‘Not at his number.’”Payne met Klinsmann for breakfast at the swanky W Hotel, just steps from the White House. Payne relayed Gulati’s message, and Klinsmann agreed to the lower salary figure.
(Klinsmann did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.)
From there, Klinsmann’s agent reached out to U.S. Soccer to express interest in the job, and after Bradley’s team lost the 2011 Gold Cup final to Mexico, Gulati was ready to listen. Over coffee in Frankfurt during the Women’s World Cup, Klinsmann and Gulati met to discuss the terms of a deal. More important than haggling over salary, Klinsmann agreed to operate within the federation’s existing organizational structure, the principle reason negotiations had failed in 2006 and 2010.Just a year after offering his current coach a new four-year contract, firing Bradley and hiring Klinsmann would be a massive decision, the biggest of Gulati’s tenure. It would represent a new start for the men’s team: a shared ambition to break its current identity and to build something newer, stronger, and better in its place. For Gulati, it also meant that its success — and its potential failure — would be his responsibility.On July 28, 2011, one month after Bob Bradley’s team lost to Mexico, Gulati fired the veteran American coach. The next day, Klinsmann was announced as the new manager.At the time, the excitement inside American soccer was palpable. To many, the future in which the U.S. could one day win a World Cup suddenly seemed within reach. “Jürgen really has a magnetism to him that makes people want to get in there and listen to what he has to say,” said Edwards. “I think he was the right guy at the right time to bring us a shot of enthusiasm.”And for a little while, at least, things appeared to be going well. In March 2012, the U.S. beat Italy on Italian soil, which the team had never done. That summer, the Yanks dropped Mexico in Mexico for the first time in 25 tries, breaking a decades-long curse. More than anything, most players involved with the national team program seemed to benefit from the fresh vibe. Where Bradley was strict and taciturn, Klinsmann was warm and bubbly, tanned and full of energy. He had a way of putting players at ease.“It was tough to feel uncomfortable around him,” said Feilhaber.
He cajoled America’s top players to get out of their “comfort zones” and to play in Europe’s top leagues. It was the ethos that had defined his own career as a player — a relentless hunger to achieve, a visceral hatred of inertia — and Klinsmann attempted to implant that mind-set inside his new players. “He said it privately in meetings to a lot of players, he said it in front of the group during team meetings, and he said it publicly,” remembered Donovan. “He never shied away from that message.”Klinsmann was also able to persuade a number of German-based players with American heritage to don the red, white, and blue, and he brought his energy and ideas to how things were run inside U.S. Soccer. He wasn’t afraid to be critical of how the organization made decisions, pushing the leadership on player development initiatives and coaching education just like he pushed the players on the senior team to take their game to the next level.“For a lot of us … we were all really hungry at the time and really wanted to prove that we belonged,” Evans said. “We worked our tits off to be there, and we got results.”At the time, no one could have could imagined that five years later the Klinsmann experiment would end in failure, and its two chief architects would be out of work.
Act 2: How to Lose a Locker Room
The road into Stanford University, lined with Canary Island palm trees, welcomed the U.S. men’s national team to their training camp before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Thirty players arrived on the campus in Palo Alto on May 14 to fight for a spot on Klinsmann’s final roster, but only 23 would board the team’s plane to Brazil.Training was intense. The group was composed mostly of familiar faces — Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley — but there were a few new ones, too. Bayern Munich’s 18-year-old German American Julian Green was a surprise inclusion. Despite his impressive club pedigree, he had made his senior international debut only one month prior and had featured just once as a substitute for his club. To the team’s close-knit veterans, he was an obvious threat to a seat on the flight to the World Cup.“Nobody was prepared for what was coming. If you can prepare yourself for a disaster situation, it’s easier to cope with than things just happening, like a car crash.” —Brad EvansOn May 22, the players were expecting just another typical practice day. Instead, it quickly became an inflection point in Klinsmann’s tenure and a symbol of the larger battle that Klinsmann, who’d recently signed a contract extension, was waging for control of U.S. Soccer.The final roster wasn’t supposed to be announced until a week later, but that day, a few players were pulled aside as they walked off the practice field, about to be culled from the herd in shock. The setting was too informal, and the process too rushed, for Klinsmann to offer anything but a platitude on the side of the pitch for all to see: You know, I’ve just got to go with my gut here. We’re not going to bring you to the World Cup.“Nobody was prepared for what was coming,” said Evans, who was one of the cuts. “If you can prepare yourself for a disaster situation, it’s easier to cope with than things just happening, like a car crash. I think the way it was gone about was wrong.”Defender Clarence Goodson, another of the cuts, asked Klinsmann for an explanation. “I told him very calmly that I didn’t agree and asked for his reasoning. I felt I should be starting, not trying to make the team,” Goodson said in an email. Klinsmann told him that they could speak after the World Cup. “I said to him, ‘Let’s be honest. My U.S. career is over.’ Still, he refused to give me an explanation, which of course is his right as the coach, but I felt in the moment that I deserved better.” Klinsmann and Goodson have not spoken since.The early roster cuts weren’t just a surprise for the players. No one in U.S. Soccer had been briefed, including Gulati and Flynn. As the dejected players walked off the pitch, it slowly dawned on federation staff that Klinsmann wasn’t just dropping a few players from the group of 30; he was announcing the final 23-man roster for Brazil.The manner in which players were informed was not the only point of contention. Veterans like Evans and Goodson were regarded as key locker-room leaders. In their place was a cohort of German Americans including John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, and Green — on paper, talented players, but subject to occasional grumbling about their commitment to the squad. The complaints about German American players could have xenophobic undertones, but over time — rightly or wrongly — Klinsmann’s perceived preferential treatment for this group of players would damage team morale.
The last player to learn that he would not be traveling to Brazil was also the most controversial: Landon Donovan. The forward had stayed after practice to hit a few free kicks, and when Klinsmann called for Donovan, shivers of panic went through U.S. Soccer staff. Most of the cuts so far had been players on the fringe of the roster, but Donovan was the most famous American soccer player alive and the team’s all-time leading goal-scorer. It was his last-second goal in 2010 that had propelled the USMNT into the knockout round. Then on the wrong side of 30, he was no longer quite the player he once was, but few inside the locker room believed the team was better off without him.Donovan and Klinsmann had butted heads for years, dating back to when the coach put his reputation on the line to bring the forward to Bayern Munich. On loan in 2009, Donovan made only six substitute appearances and didn’t score a goal. The episode played a major role in fracturing the club’s faith in Klinsmann’s judgment before his firing.Their personalities didn’t mesh, either. As new-agey as Klinsmann could sound, he was a ruthless competitor. For all of his talents, Donovan just wasn’t built like that. He thrived in MLS, with the national team, and in loan stints with Everton, playing situations in which the introspective forward felt within his comfort zone. He once took a self-imposed sabbatical from the sport to recharge his burnt-out emotional batteries in Cambodia.“The single dumbest thing that Jürgen Klinsmann has ever done. Period. I don’t know anybody that agreed with that decision. No one. And I was furious.” —Richard Groff, on leaving Landon Donovan off the 23-man roster for Brazil
Later on the same day of the cuts, Klinsmann’s son Jonathan taunted Donovan on social media, and though his tweet was quickly deleted, it was clear to many involved that the decision was personal.The team was universally shocked. If it could happen to Landon, it could happen to any one of us. Around American soccer, the outrage was swift and widespread.“The single dumbest thing that Jürgen Klinsmann has ever done. Period,” said Richard Groff, a former member of U.S. Soccer’s board of directors. “I don’t know anybody that agreed with that decision. No one. And I was furious.”Cutting Donovan brought into public view the behind-closed-doors battle for control of U.S. Soccer that was waged during the Klinsmann years. Gulati and Flynn had hired Klinsmann to revolutionize American soccer, but the initial stumbling block over control during his hiring process foreshadowed the fault lines of an eventual conflict. Dropping the team’s highest-profile player before the World Cup wasn’t a random act; it was part of Klinsmann’s plan to assert control over the team’s culture. “Everybody thinks this whole, like, California, blond surfer-dude attitude is Jürgen. [But] he is very German. I mean really German. Really rigid on a lot of things,” said Payne.For those inside U.S. Soccer and for many of the team’s veteran players, the problem was not that Klinsmann wanted to enact change, but that his plans lacked continuity. Many of Klinsmann’s innovations — from motivational speakers to yoga classes, fitness regimens, strict nutrition controls, and constantly evolving tactical schemes — were introduced one day and forgotten the next. It was hard for players to tell whether a Klinsmann decision was calculated “creative disruption” or just the whim of a coach who woke up with a new idea.Klinsmann’s divide-and-conquer tactics had started long before the Donovan decision. In March 2013, he axed veteran defender and captain Carlos Bocanegra, a popular figure who had kept the locker room united during the changeover from Bradley to Klinsmann. It was similar to one of the decisions he made as Germany’s head coach, when he sacked legendary goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and stripped him of the captaincy.“I saw it firsthand. The training sessions were incongruous. They were muddled. They didn’t make sense, and they didn’t prepare the team for the weekend. The players didn’t know what positions they were playing until the day of the game. I mean, it was a mess.” —Kyle Martino
Klinsmann’s messaging also created tension. Early and often, the manager implored American players to mirror his mind-set: ruthlessly competitive, never satisfied, and always looking to play in bigger and better leagues. His goal was to challenge the symbiotic relationship that had developed between MLS and U.S. Soccer, and the league bristled at any suggestion that it was not an appropriate destination for national team players. Rightly or wrongly, USMNT players in MLS felt devalued.These slights could have been tolerated if the team had played like the one Klinsmann described in public — an attack-minded, progressive force — but by the time he cut Bocanegra in 2013, many of the players had begun to question Klinsmann’s tactical acumen. The group had struggled through the preliminary round of qualifying, not clinching progression until a win against Guatemala in the final game. Then, they lost the opening game of the final qualification round, the Hexagonal or “Hex,” to Honduras in San Pedro Sula. In a blockbuster piece in the Sporting News by Brian Straus published after the Honduras match, multiple U.S. national team players blasted Klinsmann and his assistant Martin Vasquez anonymously, arguing that both lacked the tactical sophistication to lead the team.Their complaints echoed those of Philipp Lahm, a German national team star and fullback for Bayern Munich during Klinsmann’s brief tenure there. In his 2011 autobiography, published after U.S. Soccer had hired Klinsmann, Lahm blasted his coaching methods. “We practiced little more than fitness [at Bayern]. Tactical things were neglected. The players had to get together before [games] to discuss how we wanted to play,” Lahm wrote. “After six or eight weeks, all the players knew it wouldn’t work with Klinsmann. The rest of the season was damage limitation.”NBC Sports’ Kyle Martino had also been hearing complaints from players about Klinsmann and Vasquez’s tactical shortcomings. The week after Straus’s piece came out, Martino traveled to California to watch the team practice. “I saw it firsthand. The training sessions were incongruous. They were muddled. They didn’t make sense, and they didn’t prepare the team for the weekend,” he recalled. “The players didn’t know what positions they were playing until the day of the game. I mean, it was a mess.”
Martino took these reflections to the airwaves, arguing that Vasquez lacked the qualifications to prepare the team, and the next day he got a call from Klinsmann. “Basically, he tried to bully me to get me on board. He started by trying to intimidate me a bit,” said Martino. “And then he did this, ‘Kyle, you’re an important figure in soccer, people listen to you. You can’t say things like that because it’s going to be damaging to the team. Next time, please call me beforehand.’”It didn’t end there. Klinsmann then rescinded Martino’s invitation to a media roundtable, a warning sign to any future critics. Only after NBC responded to U.S. Soccer and said that it supported Martino and would not be sending anyone to cover future U.S. Soccer events was his access returned.
Despite the dispute, Klinsmann heeded Martino’s advice in the run-up to the World Cup. He fired Vasquez, replacing him with national team veteran Tab Ramos and bringing in former German national team coach Berti Vogts as an adviser.“That is a massive window into the psychology of Jürgen Klinsmann and the authority he had been given by [U.S. Soccer],” said Martino. “He was out to control everything. That ordeal was the first time I was truly concerned the emperor had no clothes.”On its face, the 2014 World Cup was a net win for Klinsmann, the group’s collective frustrations taking a backseat as the team competed in the world’s biggest sporting event. Despite having been drawn into what some considered the Group of Death, with Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and longtime bogeyman Ghana, the U.S. advanced out of the group stage, and was a close-range shank from Chris Wondolowski — a forward who made the roster over Donovan — from reaching the quarterfinals.Yet for all the talk about revolutionizing the team’s style of play, the U.S.’s round of 16 match against Belgium was a step backward. The Belgians dominated from start to finish, firing off a mind-boggling 38 shots, 26 of them on target. If not for Tim Howard recording a tournament-record 16 saves, it would have been a rout rather than a near miss.After the World Cup, Klinsmann continued his plans to disrupt American soccer. He called up Miguel Ibarra from a second-division side, the NASL’s Minnesota United, and Jordan Morris from Stanford — moves that were widely interpreted as shots at MLS. He even went after the big-money MLS homecomings of national team stars like Dempsey, Bradley, and Jozy Altidore, sparking a war of words with powerful MLS commissioner Don Garber in the fall of 2014.“I wouldn’t have done this to your father, and I’m not doing this now. I just want to score goals and go fishing.” —Clint Dempsey to Michael Bradley, according to multiple sources“I think at the beginning, Jürgen did a good job. Jürgen talked a lot about systemic change … [but] he didn’t understand that it works a lot better if you can try to achieve some consensus as opposed to just dictating how to do things,” said Payne.Inside the team, the four-plus years of inconsistent tactics and messages began to take a toll. Players described routinely having to figure out positions in the tunnel on the way onto the pitch. “The thing that got talked about the least in the national team for five years was soccer,” said a source close to the team. When asked about the struggles, players articulated that it wasn’t any one issue but instead a compounding frustration, slowly rising in temperature, like a pot of water about to boil. The question of whether or not Klinsmann should be the coach became a serious discussion point for those on the team.A few weeks before a friendly with Chile in January 2015, veterans Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey had a conversation about the state of the team. Dempsey, a quiet Texan who was the team’s captain, led with his play on the field, not with his words. When Gulati reached out in 2010, asking him to discuss the state of the team under Bob Bradley, he never picked up the phone or returned the calls.
Now, posed with a question about what should happen with Klinsmann, Dempsey wanted no part of it. “I wouldn’t have done this to your father, and I’m not doing this now,” he told Bradley, according to multiple sources within the team. “I just want to score goals and go fishing.”“Throughout the last cycle, there were tough moments that led to hard conversations. As captain, different things came to me. I never shared who was involved or what was said, and I’m not going to start now.” —Michael BradleyThe game in Chile, however, did nothing to quiet the unrest. Despite having hardly so much as practiced the formation, the U.S. came out in a three-defender setup with Jermaine Jones, a midfielder, operating as a center back and attacking midfielder Mix Diskerud deployed in a defensive role. The lack of preparation was obvious in the 3–2 defeat. After training the following day, Bradley, Dempsey, Altidore, and Jones took a few extra laps around the practice field and vented about the nonsensical tactics, the team’s plummeting morale, and Klinsmann’s role in all of it.It was only the start of the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign, but something was amiss inside the group. Over the next year, the team’s veterans would continue to talk; the water was boiling over.Michael Bradley provided the following statement about this period: “Throughout the last cycle, there were tough moments that led to hard conversations. As captain, different things came to me. I never shared who was involved or what was said, and I’m not going to start now. After the game in Trinidad, I answered every question. I took responsibility and said we have nobody to blame but ourselves.”When the results were good, Gulati and the federation had been willing to tolerate the tension Klinsmann created because it had some positive benefits. But as the team trended in the wrong direction, Gulati would be forced to make a choice about his embattled coach.
Act 3: Gulati Can’t Quit Klinsmann
The 2015 Gold Cup had been a struggle from the start. The American team looked disjointed during the group stage, eking out results against regional minnows Honduras and Haiti. A blowout in the quarterfinal over Cuba felt cathartic, but then the U.S. lost its semifinal clash with Jamaica. The defeat was historic: The team had never lost to Jamaica on home soil.In a regional tournament that the United States usually wins or loses in the final to archrival Mexico, Klinsmann’s team placed fourth after losing a consolation match to Panama. In the aftermath, Klinsmann blamed the poor results on referees, and privately told U.S. Soccer officials that he believed some of the matches were rigged.“Sunil keeps very close counsel, and I think that did not serve him well over time.” —Mike Edwards
For those inside the federation, alarm bells were ringing. They’d heard the grumblings about player discontent going back years. Gulati himself had heard much of it firsthand. He had a long history of backchanneling with players to keep a pulse on what was going on inside the locker room, a tactic that some in American soccer circles believed undermined the authority of his coaches. In 2014, women’s national team coach Tom Sermanni had been fired after what some viewed as a players revolt.As 2016 began, the Klinsmann question vexed Gulati. He polled U.S. Soccer’s leadership and players, outside confidantes, and even some journalists about what to do regarding his embattled coach. Gulati had gambled heavily on Klinsmann, and even as reports filtered back to him that Klinsmann wasn’t working out, Gulati was hesitant to make a change.“Sunil keeps very close counsel, and I think that did not serve him well over time,” said Edwards, the former U.S. Soccer vice president. “People have their style, and until now the [U.S. Soccer] membership tended to defer to the president, particularly on the men’s coach.”Just a few years before in 2013, Gulati had doubled down on his bet. At the time, the German’s stock as U.S. coach had never been higher. After the tumult around the Straus story, Klinsmann took a more active role in planning training sessions and rebuilding team morale. That, alongside the potential of missing the World Cup, motivated the group. That summer, a U.S. B team won the Gold Cup. Then, the U.S. rallied from their early stumbles in World Cup qualification, finishing in first place in the “Hex,” the final six-team qualifying stage. It was the best run of results during his five-and-a-half-year tenure.In November 2013, Klinsmann made his power play, asking Gulati for a contract extension that would grant him more money and more power. In addition to coaching the senior team through the 2018 World Cup, Klinsmann wanted the job of technical director. The position would give him more control over the direction of all U.S. youth teams and a wide perch to affect player development. Most importantly, Klinsmann wanted the new deal done before the 2014 World Cup.For advice, Gulati reached out to Payne. Gulati feared that Klinsmann could quit if not given a new deal. At the time, rumors were flooding the tabloid press in England that Klinsmann might land the Tottenham job or take over the Swiss national team after the World Cup.“If we had known that armed with that, he was going to become what he became — that he was going to say ‘Fuck you’ to everybody and leave Landon Donovan off the World Cup team and create the seeds of dissension that plagued him for the remainder of his tenure, then I would have said, ‘Don’t give him the extension yet.’” —Kevin Payne
Payne said he warned Gulati about expanding Klinsmann’s role to technical director, saying, “Just understand that he’s not going to do the work.” But he asked Gulati a simple question: Are you happy with Klinsmann’s performance? “And he said, ‘Yes, I am. The things that we’ve hired him for, he’s done. He’s raised the profile of the program. He’s had a pretty open door, and he’s been open to a lot of different players. He’s gotten us results in places that we’ve never got results before.” Moreover for Gulati, Klinsmann was now the face of U.S. Soccer. To give up on him would be to admit the failure of Gulati’s grand vision.On December 12, Gulati announced Klinsmann’s contract extension. The deal gave Gulati the right to terminate the agreement should the U.S. stumble in the World Cup, but it showed that the federation and U.S. Soccer would continue to be synonymous with Jürgen Klinsmann.Payne now says that he gave Gulati the wrong advice. “If we had known that armed with that, he was going to become what he became — that he was going to say ‘Fuck you’ to everybody and leave Landon Donovan off the World Cup team and create the seeds of dissension that plagued him for the remainder of his tenure, then I would have said, ‘Don’t give him the extension yet. And if he wants to go [after the World Cup], then let him walk away.’”To follow up the failure at the 2015 Gold Cup, the team lost at home to Mexico in the 2015 CONCACAF Cup, costing the United States a spot in the Confederations Cup. Meanwhile, Klinsmann continued his public clash with MLS commissioner Don Garber and repeatedly failed to accept responsibility for his team’s lackluster results.Inside U.S. Soccer, the tensions that Payne had warned Gulati about were growing. Klinsmann clashed with chief operations officer Jay Berhalter, a rising power inside U.S. Soccer, who had assumed the day-to-day duties that many within U.S. Soccer thought Klinsmann was neglecting as technical director. According to sources close to the team, CEO Dan Flynn was growing weary of the drama and ready to fire Klinsmann, but Gulati still wavered, hoping the project could be salvaged.“I think the mind-set of all of us at U.S. Soccer was that we can’t not qualify for the World Cup,” said Edwards. “It clouds your thinking of the immediacy of the need to resolve a problem.”By March 2016, a moment of reckoning had arrived. The senior team lost to Guatemala for the first time in 32 years. The loss put the U.S. in danger of missing out on the “Hex.” Just a few days later, the U.S. under-23 Olympic team, coached by Klinsmann’s hand-picked assistant Andi Herzog, failed to qualify for the Olympics for the second time under Klinsmann’s watch.A month later, Gulati finally made his move — well, almost. As described in detail in Bruce Arena’s forthcoming book, What’s Wrong With US?, the veteran American coach was first approached by Gulati and Flynn soon after the team’s disastrous March. (An advance copy of the book was sent to The Ringer by Arena’s agent, Richard Motzkin.) On April 25, the group met secretly in Chicago, and Gulati and Flynn agreed in principle to fire Klinsmann and bring in Arena.
Arena was the closest thing American soccer had to a Grand Pooh-bah. He had won five MLS Cups, the most in league history. He’d already headed up the national team once, from 1998 to 2006, leading a memorable run to the quarterfinals in 2002, the team’s best showing at a World Cup in the modern era. At the time of his meeting with Gulati and Flynn, his L.A. Galaxy team had won three of the previous five MLS championships and looked like legitimate contenders to make it four out of six.Yet the 64-year-old couldn’t resist giving it one more shot with the national team. He remained upset about his team’s three-and-out performance at the 2006 World Cup and wanted a shot at redemption. Furthermore, answering his country’s distress call in a time of need appealed to his ego. Protecting previous accomplishments wasn’t enough to keep Arena from one final shot at World Cup glory.In Chicago, Arena did not want to sign a contract until his agent and U.S. Soccer power broker Motzkin was looped in, so the trio agreed to regroup the next afternoon. Inside U.S. Soccer, preparations were being made. Federation staff had drafted a press release and were ready to send it out to their media contacts to announce the massive decision once they got the OK from Flynn.Awaiting a phone call the next day, Arena instead received a vague note from Flynn saying that his appointment would have to wait. Flynn, unbeknownst to anybody outside the U.S. Soccer hierarchy, was awaiting a heart transplant that could save his life. Flynn received word of a potential donor the morning after the initial meeting with Arena, and immediately flew to Kansas City for emergency surgery. His recovery timetable was eight weeks, minimum, before he could return to work.The decision to hire or fire Klinsmann now rested solely with Gulati. Klinsmann’s failures in March and subsequent refusal to accept responsibility for the team’s struggles had prepared him to pull the trigger. But with Flynn incapacitated, he began to waver.In his book, Arena describes a phone call with Gulati. Everyone now knew about Flynn’s previously secret heart problems. Sensing Gulati’s hesitations, Arena told him that he would understand if he held off on making such a decisive move until Flynn returned to work. “Listen, Sunil, do you feel uncomfortable about this?” Arena said. “Forget about it. Don’t worry about it.”By the time Gulati was finally ready to fire Klinsmann, the situation would be worse. Instead of taking over for the full Hexagonal cycle, Arena would be given only eight games with a team that lost its first two matches. There was still some margin for error; it just wasn’t big enough.
Act 4: Arena and the Old Guard Come Close
In November 2016, at the end of a practice session ahead of what would be Klinsmann’s final match in charge of the U.S. national team, defender Timmy Chandler gave a younger teammate some telling advice. Forward Bobby Wood was nursing minor knocks suffered from the previous match — a disappointing 2–1 loss to Mexico on home soil — and Chandler told him not to risk aggravating his injuries. Wood was still establishing himself as a regular starter in Germany’s Bundesliga. Why, Chandler posited, risk that by overexerting yourself for your country when your club team was paying most of your bills?Wood ignored Chandler’s advice and started the match, but the exchange symbolizes the state of the team that Arena would inherit. Historically, the USMNT had been known for its grit and fight — a team that exceeded the sum of its parts. But Klinsmann’s tenure had cracked that collective spirit, and it was exposed in ruthless fashion in the match against Costa Rica. It wasn’t just that the team lost 4–0; it was how the side capitulated under pressure. The humiliating defeat exposed the team’s broken culture, and most importantly revealed that most of the group had given up on Klinsmann.One week after the loss to Costa Rica, Gulati fired Klinsmann, in late November, and brought in Arena seven months after he had initially planned to hire him. To announce the decision, the U.S. Soccer press shop had it easy. It merely changed the date on the press release it had prepared in April.
Gulati’s rationale for hiring the former national team coach was simple. Arena was the coaching antithesis of Klinsmann, known for his strong ability to speak bluntly with players. Everyone on an Arena team would know their role. There would be no surprises and no miscommunication. Plus, despite the poor start, the United States was still one of the top three teams in the region and had more than enough individual talent to qualify.However, the decision to go back to a known quantity in Arena revealed Gulati’s insular management style. Having waited so long to replace Klinsmann, Gulati was wary of handing the team over to another high-profile foreign coach, and there wasn’t enough time to entrust an up-and-coming American manager with such a major rescue job. He needed a quick fix to salvage World Cup qualification now that his team was down 2–0, and his only option, according to a source familiar with Gulati’s thinking at the time, was to recall a former U.S. national team manager. It was a shortlist of two: Arena and Bob Bradley. Relations with Bradley, however, were still strained following his unceremonious 2011 dismissal, leaving Gulati — in his mind — with no choice but to hand the job to Arena.The new coach’s plan to get back on track was straightforward. Arena wanted to resurrect the camaraderie that had characterized the group he’d managed in the first decade of the 2000s. Whereas under Klinsmann there were mixed messages, Arena was clear-cut about his demands and expectations. Even at the expense of raw talent, Arena dropped many of the players whose commitment to the team had previously been questioned, including Chandler.For much of the group, the training camp in January 2017 was a breath of fresh air. With Klinsmann gone, it was as if a weight had been lifted; spirits were light. And for the most part, Arena’s strategy worked. The U.S. defeated Honduras and Trinidad at home, and earned tough road draws at Panama and at Mexico’s Azteca. For a while, the Americans looked on a comfortable track toward qualification.Helping power the resurgence was Christian Pulisic. Only 18 years old when he first appeared under Arena, the Hershey, Pennsylvania, native emerged as one of the most promising prospects in U.S. history. As a fast, aggressive dribbler, he’d broken into the starting lineup at Borussia Dortmund, one of the biggest clubs in the world. Still in his late teens, Pulisic had already accomplished more than most American outfielders ever had, and his status on a German Bundesliga powerhouse immediately earned him the respect of his much older peers.“We were pushing the guys in front of us, the older guys. We were going to fight for our positions. I don’t know that there is that right now.” —Brad Evans, on the difference in playing under Klinsmann and ArenaAs a standout youngster, however, Pulisic was very much the exception rather than the rule. According to those familiar with Arena’s thinking at the time, he was reluctant to introduce new faces. With only eight games remaining in qualification, he instead leaned heavily on veterans he believed he could trust.“We were pushing the guys in front of us, the older guys,” Evans said of the early days under Klinsmann. “We were going to fight for our positions. I don’t know that there is that right now. I don’t know that there are those guys pushing the ones in front of them, trying to push them off.
Arena’s delicate balancing act between fixing the team culture and getting the most out of an already shallow talent pool was personified by Geoff Cameron.A standout defender in the Premier League, Cameron had been one of the few top American players to remain in Europe during Klinsmann’s tenure. Bradley, Dempsey, Altidore, Jones, and later Howard and Brad Guzan had all repatriated back to MLS on big-money contracts, but Cameron continued to grind out results with Stoke City. Although Cameron recognized Klinsmann’s limitations as a manager, he’d appreciated how the German had pushed American players to challenge themselves at the international standard, the level he played at week in, week out in the Premier League.
From the start, his relationship with Arena was rocky. Cameron and some other players didn’t respect the level of experience that Arena’s assistants brought to the team. Although coaches Richie Williams, Matt Reis, and Kenny Arena (Bruce’s son) had all played in MLS, none had played in Europe’s top leagues or in a World Cup. As tensions at practice sessions grew, Arena’s staff came to believe that these players were more interested in earning a ticket to the World Cup than in the overall health of the squad, reminding them of the troubles during the Klinsmann years.
As it was before, when the results were good, team chemistry wasn’t as much of a problem. According to one source, Cameron’s attitude was exceptionally positive during the team’s hard-fought draw against Mexico. But when the squad struggled, like in its 2–0 loss at home to Costa Rica in September that again put qualification in doubt, the locker-room problems resurfaced.Tensions with Cameron climaxed during the team’s next qualification match, a must-win against Panama in October. Before the match, rumors around the team swirled that Cameron would get sent home. According to a source close to the team, Cameron himself asked about leaving after hearing from Arena that he would not be starting the match.But Cameron elected to remain with the squad, and in the middle of the resounding 4–0 victory — which put the U.S. within one point of qualification for Russia — Cameron allegedly grumbled to his benchmates about his lack of playing time even as his teammates dominated on the pitch. Word of his complaints reached Arena’s staff, which sealed Cameron’s fate: He would not play in the final match against Trinidad.Reached for comment, Cameron’s agent strongly denied that the player complained about playing time on the bench, and said that Cameron has been universally committed to the national team.With one match to go and needing only a draw to advance, the U.S. coaching staff discussed shuffling the lineup ahead of the fateful game in Trinidad in October 2017. Some suggestions included adding an additional central midfielder to support Bradley in the center of the pitch, or giving some of the starters from Panama a rest in order to let players with fresh legs deal with the sultry Caribbean climate.Ultimately, Arena elected to use the same lineup he had against Panama four days prior. He reasoned that an overly defensive lineup would signal to his team that he was playing only for a draw. Furthermore, all the starters from the Panama game wanted to play again. Instead of shuffling the lineup, and at the risk of fatigue after such a quick turnaround, he would bring out the same team that had won so convincingly in Orlando.From the opening whistle, it was clear that Arena had miscalculated. The U.S. played slowly and without energy. It confounded the coaching staff and players on the bench. “It was clear to me when we took the field that we were playing like we already qualified for a World Cup,” said McCarty, who started the match on the bench. “Trinidad looked like the team that was trying to qualify. I was shocked at the level of passivity.”In the 17th minute, disaster struck. What initially looked like a harmless Trinidad cross ricocheted off defender Omar Gonzalez’s shin and spun over a helpless Howard for an own goal. But instead of being spurred into action, the U.S. slipped deeper into its shared malaise. Twenty minutes later, T&T defender Alvin Jones fired a speculative shot from more than 35 yards out that swerved around a befuddled Howard into the top corner to make it 2–0. A sparse home crowd, filling only a portion of Ato Boldon Stadium, roared its delight.Multiple American players described the sensation as something like sleepwalking through a nightmare. At halftime, Arena tried his best to wake the team up and to keep the rising panic he felt growing in his chest from showing through.
With the unthinkable just 45 minutes away, there remained realistic hope that they would be granted a reprieve thanks to other results. Even if the United States lost, they would be eliminated outright only if Panama and Honduras both won, too. At halftime, Costa Rica led in Panama City and Mexico was up on Honduras. When Pulisic pulled a goal back for the U.S. less than 90 seconds into the second half, there was another collective exhale.But the worst-case scenario unfolded. Panama was mistakenly awarded a game-tying goal that never crossed the line, and Honduras edged in front of Mexico in San Pedro Sula with two quick goals. Those on the field in Trinidad had no idea — only the players on the bench were given updates of what was happening elsewhere. When midfielder Benny Feilhaber entered as a sub in the 83rd minute, the USMNT was still alive. When the final whistle blew, it took only a glance at the faces of his teammates on the sideline to confirm the worst: Panama had scored again.Arena wrote in his book that he experienced a moment of peace as the match ended, “knowing we had given everything for this struggle.” He consoled himself with a note of encouragement sent to him by Garber — a Churchill quote — and a bottle of wine at the hotel bar with Reis, his goalkeeping coach. To this day, Arena is defensive about his decisions, accepting responsibility in word then proceeding to blame others for the result in Trinidad.“It is incumbent upon everybody in U.S. Soccer to make sure no other group of players ever has to feel that way again.” —Dax McCarty
In a sense, he’s not wrong. The failure to qualify for the World Cup was a collective failure of the entire American soccer community. It was a flawed outsider, Klinsmann, and his divisive leadership that clashed with an insular organization — led by Gulati — that was unwilling to loosen its grip on power or admit to its own mistakes. It was Arena’s overreliance on veteran players and his inability to reunite a divided locker room in a short period of time. The centralized power structure, and the small size of the media corps covering it, encouraged an echo chamber where the thought of missing the World Cup was considered impossible until it happened.And, of course, a core group of U.S. national team players failed to get a result when they needed one. The burden of failure has fallen most heavily on their shoulders. For many veterans, the 2018 World Cup would have been their last shot to play in the world’s biggest sporting event. To be the team to have fallen short for the first time in 32 years was devastating for all of them.Asked if there was a single snapshot of that night burned into their memory, multiple players recall the sight of Pulisic, the most blameless person in the entire catastrophe, still in full uniform, weeping in the shower.“You just feel sorry for the kid, because a talent like his deserves to be seen on the world stage this summer,” McCarty said. “It is incumbent upon everybody in U.S. Soccer to make sure no other group of players ever has to feel that way again.”
Act 5: More Hope, but No Change
After the defeat, American soccer’s power brokers fought off widespread calls for institutional reform, reasserting their power in the wake of failure.At first, there were a few superficial fixes. Arena stepped down from his post a few days after the T&T loss, and U.S. Soccer announced that a new position of general manager would be created to oversee the hiring and firing of the national team coach.Gulati, however, attempted to survive the blowback. In November 2017, he began plotting his reelection as U.S. Soccer president, and even started to reach out to potential new men’s national team coaches, including the recently available Martin O’Neill, whose contract with Ireland had just expired.But Gulati misread the roiling anger among fans. A few members of the American Outlaws, the largest American soccer supporters club, with more than 30,000 members and 200 chapters worldwide, were even discussing a plan to protest outside U.S. Soccer headquarters in Chicago if he did declare his candidacy.Gulati ultimately decided against running, opening the field for presidential hopefuls as wide ranging as former women’s national team goalkeeper Hope Solo to reform-minded candidates like former national team members and current broadcasters Kyle Martino and Eric Wynalda.Yet, when the dust settled, Gulati’s former no. 2, Carlos Cordeiro, won the day, with the help of Carlos Bocanegra, the former national team captain whom Klinsmann had axed. On election day, Bocanegra, now an executive with Atlanta United of MLS, steered the decisive votes with the help of MLS commissioner Don Garber.Despite the fanfare about the new general manager job, the position remains vacant. Several MLS executives have interviewed for the job, including current front-runner Earnie Stewart of the Philadelphia Union, Claudio Reyna of New York City FC, and Bocanegra. Press reports indicate that some candidates believe that U.S. Soccer’s leaders have not imbued the position with enough power to make real change, and others see the role more cynically, as an ideal scapegoat should a failure like Trinidad ever happen again. The job could be filled in the coming weeks, and recently U.S. Soccer announced that Bocanegra, rather than continuing his candidacy, would lead the committee responsible for making the pick.The knock-on effects of the USMNT’s elimination continue to reverberate beyond U.S. Soccer HQ. Citing a loss of ad revenue, FourFourTwo, the British magazine, essentially shuttered its U.S. branch, putting several of the country’s top soccer journalists out of work. Soccer bars in places like Seattle will miss out on an estimated $20,000 in revenue on days the U.S. would have played. And many U.S. national team players also suffered multimillion-dollar personal financial hits on endorsement deals that hinged on qualification.Despite the World Cup setback, Gulati, Garber, and others within the soccer bubble have played down the negative consequences of failure, insisting instead that soccer in America is still on the rise. While that remains largely true — investments in player development are churning out more high-quality players than ever, MLS continues to expand, and soccer is increasingly popular among young Americans — missing out on the tournament is a gigantic setback for U.S. Soccer’s quest to convert new fans.Every four years, the World Cup affords the sport a chance to move from a sporting subculture into the mainstream. Players appear on nationally broadcast morning and late-night shows, on billboards in Times Square, and on global advertising campaigns. With a team that would have been led by Pulisic, the most talented player the country has ever produced, it’s easy to imagine that the 2018 World Cup would have been the most successful off-the-field event in American men’s soccer history.Yet, even if the U.S. had managed to earn that measly draw against Trinidad, the team would still have been riven with divisions and competing against the world’s best teams while led by an aging core. Though Arena may have been able to use the prospect of playing in a World Cup to rebuild team morale and reunite the squad, leading this U.S. team through a World Cup would have been one of the biggest challenges of his coaching career.Seven months after the Trinidad game, we now have a more complete picture of what went wrong. But where do we go from here? The answer isn’t much clearer than it was that night.
Andrew Helms is a writer in New York. Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Guardian, Howler Magazine, and ESPN. He is also the author of The Sound and the Glory, a forthcoming book on the Seattle Sounders to be published by ECW Press in March 2019.
United States of El Tri: Mexico Owns America’s World Cup Spotlight
- Mexico’s national team regularly outdraws the USMNT on U.S. soil and its national league dominates the U.S. TV ratings race. Their popularity in the USA is nothing new, but El Tri having America’s World Cup spotlight to themselves has taken it to another level.By BRIAN STRAUS May 30, 2018
The man they call El Matador signed autographs and posed for selfies. Luis Hernández greeted fans who could recall every one of his 35 goals for Mexico, and some who hadn’t been born when the forward retired in 2004. It was a Thursday afternoon, and a couple hundred supporters turned out to celebrate a national icon, many wearing green or carrying props—a replica World Cup trophy, an oversized cutout of Hernández’s smiling face…
They waited for El Matador outside a Wells Fargo bank adjacent to a San Jose strip mall, yards from a Ross Dress for Less and 500 miles north of the Mexican border, at the intersection of two nations that often run in parallel, one just as authentic and American as the other.Hernández tried to explain the crowd of Mexican-Americans gathered on a weekday in March, one day before El Tri faced Iceland in a Bay Area friendly.“The passion of the fans here, they live it more,” he said in Spanish. “They feel love for their land and for the Mexican national team.”But the word he used for land, tierra, refers to more than the square mileage enclosed by a border or the prevailing bureaucracy. A nation is just as much about tradition and shared memory. Sports can be incredibly effective at tapping into the reservoir of what Hernández called sentimentalismo. It’s so intuitively obvious, it’s become a marketing cliche. Red Sox Nation and Raider Nation don’t exactly have seats on the U.N. Security Council, but everyone understands what those slogans represent.Because their sentimentalismo is real and undying, and because they number in the millions, Mexico fans show up time and again in the U.S., to stadiums or strip malls, in the cities you’d expect and others—Charlotte, Nashville, Seattle—you might not. That connection between country and nation is only deepening this spring, as their team prepares for a World Cup that its main on-field rival will miss. El Tri, in fact, are an integral part of American soccer—so much so that since the start of 2010, Mexico has played more than twice as many times on U.S. soil as on its own. That’s an astonishing, unique and counterintuitive bit of trivia that speaks to the power of national identity as well as to the raw popularity of the team that binds a diaspora. The Mexican national soccer team may be the most broadly popular sports outfit in the United States.
Like so many of his countrymen, Javier Hernández, the star striker for the Mexican squad heading to Russia, has family in the U.S. His aunt lives in San Francisco. The 30-year-old who goes by Chicharito is a footballing icon. He’s prolific, charismatic and cosmopolitan, the leading scorer in El Tri history and a man who’s played for some of the world’s biggest clubs. And he made his national team debut in Dallas, in a 2009 friendly against Colombia. As he sat in a conference room inside his team’s hotel in San Jose—abutting the Plaza de César Chávez—a couple dozen fans gathered in the courtyard below, hoping to glimpse one of their heroes walking across the second-floor skyway.It was common for Mexican players of El Matador’s generation to spend most or all of their pro careers at home; the soccer culture was insular. But Chicharito’s national team is full of players from European leagues or MLS—men who speak English and who are citizens of a shrinking world. For Chicharito, staging national-team matches in the U.S. makes sense.“Why not? We are neighbors. We’ve been close since the beginning of the world,” he said earnestly, tapping on a table for emphasis. “It’s different [playing here]. You can see now people waiting for us, just for a picture, for an autograph. Then, you go to the stadium, and it’s full—completely full.”That leaves an impression. “It makes a sound around the world,” he says.Chicharito claimed he’s had teammates in Europe who saw highlights during an international break ask for clarification about where his game took place.“They ask me, ‘You play in Mexico?’ No. We play in USA.”At the end of that week in San Jose, El Tri defeated Iceland before nearly 69,000 fans at Levi’s Stadium. Chicharito & Co. then left for Dallas, where more than 79,000 attended a loss to Croatia. Combined U.S. TV viewership for those two exhibitions on Fox (which has been paying to broadcast Mexico games in English since 2016) and Univision exceeded 4.5 million. The next two most-watched games that week were Liga MX affairs. A U.S.-Paraguay friendly ranked fifth, at 925,000.“There’s no denying the Hispanic demographic in the United States,” says David Neal, who experienced its heft at Univision before becoming VP of production for Fox Sports in 2012. “It’s the latest growing demo and shows no signs of slowing down. That’s a simple fact. You would be in error to not pay attention to that simple fact, and it coincides with the explosive growth of the game.”The atmosphere and attention surrounding El Tri in the U.S. is such that Mexico’s coach, Juan Carlos Osorio—a Colombian who graduated from Southern Connecticut State and managed the Chicago Fire and the New York Red Bulls—believes these American-soil friendlies help prepare his players for a World Cup. For El Tri exhibition matches in Mexico, he says, “the crowds are very low and there is no football environment.” But an engaged throng of 70,000 can test a player’s nerves.It’s also lucrative. There’s been a cultural and economic awakening in the U.S., where an increasing number of brands have embraced the power of the Latino and Mexican-American markets. El Tri’s 2018 U.S. tour has 15 corporate sponsors, each hoping to reach a greater portion of a country that has the second-largest Spanish-speaking population on the planet. According to Census Bureau data, in 2016 there were more than 36 million U.S. residents who identified as Mexican or Mexican-American. That’s more than 11% of the country—and according to Soccer United Marketing, there are that many, or more, El Tri fans in the U.S.“One of the biggest misconceptions,” though, says SUM senior vice president Camilo Durana, “is that [this Mexican] fan base is only first-generation [immigrants]. In reality, we find that only 28% are first-generation, and 72% are second-generation or higher. A lot of our fans are bilingual, bicultural and, in many cases, English-preferred.”Our fans? Well, yes. Because SUM, which is part and parcel of MLS, is in business with the Mexican federation (FMF). Since 2003, SUM and the FMF have worked together to stage roughly five friendly matches per year across the U.S. (Add in official tournaments such as the Concacaf Gold Cup, which is also promoted by SUM and played in the U.S., and you get that crazy stat about the number of El Tri games north of the border.) SUM pays the Mexican federation an appearance fee and in turn sells sponsorships and tickets. Fans flock in from an average of 30 states and participate in tailgates, parties and promotional events like El Matador’s at the bank. A pregame walk through the parking lots surrounding Levi’s Stadium in March was testament to SUM’s research: They were filled with green jerseys and unaccented English.
“There are not only bigger numbers of die-hard Mexico fans in American than there are [U.S.] fans, but the passion that they have is unlike anything other sports in this country can understand. And you see it every time Mexico plays in the States,” says Landon Donovan, who lived and breathed the USA-Mexico rivalry throughout a record-breaking 14-year international career.
At many Mexico games, Sergio Tristan is one of those fans. His parents arrived from San Luis Potosí during the immigration boom that began in the 1970s. Those families crossed the border, settled in tight-knit communities, maintained native traditions and labored to give their children a better life. Born and raised in Austin, Tristan is now a Texas graduate, a lawyer at a government agency and a U.S. Army veteran—an El Tri fan with a Bronze Star. He’s had his patriotic credentials challenged, he says, but he insists there’s nothing wrong with loving two nations in a world of fluid cultures and permeable walls. In 2013, Tristan founded Pancho Villa’s Army, a supporters club for U.S.-based Mexico fans that has 5,000-plus members. PVA travels the country and the world—there will be roughly 80 of them in Russia—to support El Tri.“We are dipped in both cultures—we eat burgers the same way we eat tacos; our education is in English, and we consume our media in English—but we’re also Mexican,” Tristan says. “Mexico games aren’t just soccer games. [They’re] a moment in time where we can be proud of our culture and surround ourselves with our language, food and music, and hang out with people just like us.”The communities Tristan’s parents and their peers built, he says, have mostly bled into the American fabric. Sundays scheduled around church, barbecues and televised Mexican league matches are now the stuff of wistful memory. But when Mexico plays, there’s a chance to reconnect. For a couple of hours, whenever and wherever El Tri take the field, those Sundays are relived.“It’s really our final link to where we come from,” Tristan says, “and to the identity our parents gave us.”
That’s a powerful thing. By now you’ve heard the stories of dual-national players, often American-born, facing the difficult decision between playing for the U.S. or Mexico. Familiarity and fusion have added unexpected wrinkles to the on-field rivalry.“The world in general is smaller and more connected, but the soccer world especially. What you learn quickly is you end up playing with a lot of different players, or you have friends who’ve played with certain players. The nastiness in that way has changed,” says Donovan, a Southern Californian whose life-long exposure to Mexican culture, and his increasing comfort, helped lead him to return to the field with Club León this year.“The connection is there. Even the rivalry we have against the USA, talking about soccer is like the only thing that can tear us apart,” Chicharito says.The battle for hearts, minds and points now plays out on increasingly equal footing, and sometimes that parity leads to unexpected expressions of unity. In November 2016, three days after the election of an American president who was promising to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall, the two national teams posed together, arms linked, for a photo before their World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio. It was an emotional display of common bonds—“You need to separate that we are human beings,” Chicharito says—sparked by a FaceTime call from U.S. midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones to Jones’s future L.A. Galaxy teammate, Mexican forward Giovani dos Santos.“Everybody wants to talk about ‘We need a soccer culture,’” says Bradley, the U.S. captain. “Well, guess what? Part of our soccer culture is that there are millions of people across our country who come from other places, and these people have strong ties to other teams. That’s us. That’s unique. And I don’t think that’s anything anyone should be up in arms about.”In other words, cheering for a foreign national team in your own country is quintessentially American. No one expects staunch U.S. fans to don green-and-red lucha libre masks and wave Mexican flags this summer, but those same diehards understand the reason their team hosts qualifiers against Mexico in a small stadium in central Ohio. You may not be a Mexico fan, but you probably have neighbors or coworkers who are. And at the World Cup, El Tri will be something very close to this country’s team.FMF general secretary Guillermo Cantú played in a few of those rough-and-tumble U.S.-Mexico games of the early 1990s. He was born in Torreón, then went to high school in Massachusetts. After trying to lead El Tri to the trophy in Russia, he’ll continue to work on the joint bid to bring the tournament to the U.S., Mexico and Canada in 2026. He said the photogenic moment in Columbus left him in tears.“We’ve come a long way since [I played],” Cantú says. “We’ve learned a lot of things. We respect each other. But that’s what happens when you actually meet people and have a conversation.”This summer, he notes and hopes, presents an opportunity for strengthening the U.S.-Mexico relationship.“Just open the door and start looking for the guys in green. It’s very easy, especially in the World Cup. There will be many, many green shirts,” Cantú says. “Just follow them. If you don’t like the party…”
Why Americans should root for Mexico this World Cup
8:00 AM ETGustavo Arellano, ESPN the Magazine
“Traitor,” my high school sweetheart’s father scoffed when I admitted to rooting for Mexico against the U.S. “Ingrate,” my college boss said. “Fool,” an ex-colleague remarked after some Dos a Cero match.Throughout my life, I’ve had to explain to exasperated U.S. fans why I side with Mexico against their team. You know, Mexico, our fiercest rival in soccer and beyond, whose corrupt government forced my parents to flee 50 years ago to el Norte, where they created better lives for my siblings and me. “You should support the U.S.,” these people whine. “You were born here.””Exactly,” I reply. “That’s why I root for Mexico.”The reasons are simple: Mexicans on both sides of the border like winners (how American of us, right?), and Mexico has historically dominated the U.S. in soccer. And this World Cup, Mexico is in and the U.S. isn’t — for the first time since 1986.Yes, we Mexican fans will blow our vuvuzelas extra loud this year, just to annoy the U.S. that much more. I feel for you, my fellow Americans, the humiliation is real. But I’ve got a simple solution: Join us.Wake up and smell the tacos. With the U.S. out, El Tri are the only team that should matter to anyone who bleeds red, white and blue. So, Americans, be turncoats and repeat after me: ¡Viva México! With those easy words, you took the first step toward the most patriotic thing you’ll do all year.Granted, rooting for Mexico is always political. But the agenda I offer isn’t liberal or conservative. It’s all about making the U.S. better — by helping Mexico when it needs us most. And that means acknowledging some fundamental truths that Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and Americans have long avoided.The most important one: Mexico is by far the most popular soccer team in los Estados Unidos. El Tri get twice as many TV viewers as the USMNT, and Mexican first-division matches whip MLS games by nearly the same margin. Because it often sells out NFL stadiums, the Mexican team has been forced to play four times as many friendlies in el Norte in the past decade as in Mexico, 61 to 15. On the same March day when El Tri played Croatia in front of a sold-out Cowboys stadium, the U.S. was lucky to get 10,000 in a stadium outside Raleigh, North Carolina, against Paraguay.
U.S. companies also desperately want a slice of the Mexican-American quesadilla. El Tri count as official sponsors an airline (Delta), a soda (Coca-Cola) and even a sour cream (Daisy) — and sour cream isn’t even Mexican!Fox Sports, which paid $425 million for the English-language rights to el Mundial, created a #rootforyourroots campaign in an obvious play for Mexican-American viewers like me. Never mind that we’ll all be watching Telemundo just to hear Andres Cantor’s melodious goal call.To support Mexico, then, is to support America’s team. And what a team! Maybe the best Mexican squad ever. With exciting young wingers Hirving “Chucky” Lozano and Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, it dominated qualifying: six wins, three draws, one loss.There’s more! A successful Mexico means CONCACAF could finally boast its own World Cup champ, which would improve U.S. soccer culture and create a better squad. The next generation of U.S. players would learn from the El Tri way, not from the plodding side that couldn’t even beat Trinidad and Tobago to qualify.Americans love when chronic underachievers finally win it all, and Mexico offers a particularly good case. It has made every knockout stage since 1994; only powerhouses Germany and Brazil have done the same. But then Mexico goes on to lose in each round of 16, nearly always in heartbreaking fashion: 2-0 to the U.S. in 2002; a 20-yard golazo by Argentina in extra time in 2006; in 2014, two goals by the Dutch in the last six minutes.Anguish doesn’t begin to describe what fans like me have felt all our lives. Our only solace all these decades? Being better than the U.S., but even that’s getting old.Mexico is ready for victory, Americans. It can do without your support, but I’m confident your cheers will push El Tri over the top. And as FIFA officials mull which country will host World Cup 2026, there’s a good chance a joint bid by Mexico, the U.S. and Canada could win. If we get it, we must show the world we can work together (with the Great White North serving as our mutual good-humored friend, as always).And if the bid isn’t successful? Let’s show FIFA what it missed at this World Cup.Maybe soccer isn’t your thing, or my argument didn’t sway you. Perhaps this will? If you join Mexico for the Mundial, you’ll help patch up the most frayed relationship since Drake and Rihanna.And we need to. Latinos are now the largest minority in the U.S., with Mexicans constituting a big chunk of that burrito. It’s not good for Mexicans and Americans to keep viewing each other with skepticism. Only fútbol diplomacy can thaw our eternal cold war; nothing else has worked so far: trade agreements, Señor Frog’s, Guillermo del Toro. Rooting together becomes an exorcism for both parties to forget the past.Americans need to take the first step. They owe it to Mexicans, you know? There’s that whole stole-half-our-country thing, and then there’s Landon Donovan. Some things are unforgivable.Gringos, jump into the fiesta! Enjoy a fantastic Mexican tailgate: the succulent carne asada tacos, the ice-cold caguamas (40-ounce beers), the brass bands we call banda sinaloense. Mexican fans will teach Americans every Spanish insult imaginable, including all the conjugates of madre (mother), the most vulgar word in our arsenal. (In exchange, may gringos teach Mexicans to stop using that homophobic chant during goal kicks, por favor.)I confess: I root for the U.S. against Mexico from time to time. El Tri can get too complacent, and who better to offer a reality check? See how easy it is to cheer for your frenemy? So follow the Mexicans, Americans. The U.S. can only improve with an ascendant Mexico and vice versa. Let’s have a great time together and hope the USMNT returns in 2022.And if it doesn’t? ¡Viva México!
Top ten goals of the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League
1 Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus 0-3 Real Madrid) – quarter-finals, 03/04/2018
UEFA Technical Observers say: An extraordinary display of technique and athleticism.
2 Gareth Bale (Liverpool 1-3 Real Madrid) – final, 26/05/2018
UEFA Technical Observers say: The crucial goal to make it 2-1 in the final, another brilliant acrobatic finish.
3 Gonzalo Higuaín (Juventus 2-2 Tottenham) – round of 16, 13/02/2018
UEFA Technical Observers say: Made the finish to this pre-planned free-kick look easy; it was anything but.
4 Antoine Griezmann (Atlético 2-0 Roma) – group stage, 22/11/2017
UEFA Technical Observers say: Another fabulous bicycle kick.
5 Edin Džeko (Chelsea 3-3 Roma) – group stage, 18/10/2017
UEFA Technical Observers say: A superb lofted through pass and an even better volleyed finish.
6 Gareth Bale (Dortmund 1-3 Real Madrid) – group stage, 26/09/2017
UEFA Technical Observers say: Excellent technical side-footed volleyed effort.
7 Fred (Shakhtar 2-1 Roma) – round of 16, 21/02/2018
UEFA Technical Observers say: Perfectly precise free-kick to complete comeback.
8 Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City 2-0 Shakhtar) – group stage, 26/09/2017
UEFA Technical Observers say: Great long-range shot.
9 Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli 3-0 Shakhtar) – group stage, 21/11/2017
UEFA Technical Observers say: Wonderful finish from distance.
10 Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid 3-2 Dortmund) – group stage, 06/12/2017
UEFA Technical Observers say: Powerful curling shot with little back-lift.
UEFA Technical Observers in Kyiv
Jerzy Engel (POL), Thomas Schaaf (GER), Mixu Paatelainen (FIN), Peter Rudbæk (DEN), Cristian Chivu (ROU), David Moyes (SCO)
THE LEGEND THAT ALMOST WASN’T
By Drew Kamaski, 06/06/18, 3:15PM EDT A look at Indy original Brad Ring’s journey to 100 games with “Indiana’s Team”
Indy Eleven midfielder Brad Ring stood near midfield with one son in his arms. To his right, Indy Eleven President Jeff Belskus held a framed jersey that read “Ring 100”. On his left, Juli , his wife, held a bouquet of flowers in one hand and their daughter in the other. Their eldest son stood at her side. Belskus presented the jersey to Ring, who then kissed his wife and daughter and hugged his sons.The framed jersey celebrated Ring’s 100th appearance as an Indy Eleven player; A feat only one other player, Don Smart, has reached with the club. Ring’s 100th appearance came against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in Week Nine of Indy Eleven’s inaugural USL season and Ring’s fifth season with the team.“The biggest take away from having 100 appearances with one club is the commitment,” Ring said. “I’ve been committed to the club, the fan base, and the city from day one.”he night of the ceremony would also mark another milestone for the 31-year-old. Ring would make his 102nd appearance for the “Boys in Blue”, as Captain, against Bethlehem Steel FC. The start would earn him the top spot on the list of all-time appearances as an Indy Eleven player, overtaking Smart.“Brad is a legend on and off the field,” Smart said. “I’m very happy and proud to be his teammate for 4 years and want to congratulate him on the accomplishment.”Ring’s journey with Indy Eleven began in 2014. However, his flight to professional soccer, and life in Indiana, began in 2005 at Indiana University in Bloomington.“Indiana University was a huge part of my foundation as a professional soccer player,” Ring said. “That’s where I started to see the game as a career, not just as fun to play.”Ring was a key part of Indiana University Men’s Soccer during his time in Bloomington. The defensive midfielder finished his collegiate career with 78 appearances, 14 goals, and eight assists.The stellar performances during his tenure at Indiana’s oldest university earned him the chance to take his soccer career to the professional level. But fate nearly kept Ring from seizing the opportunity.“My senior year at Indiana University I battled with a lower abdominal injury which ended up keeping me out of the MLS [Major League Soccer] Combine,” Ring said.Luckily, the Rockford, Illinois native was drafted 17th overall by the San Jose Earthquakes in the 2009 MLS Super Draft despite the injury.San Jose’s team doctors determined that Ring wasn’t receiving enough blood flow to his hips and would need potential career-ending surgery to fix the issue. He was left with two options: risk the surgery and his professional career or seek a second opinion.Ring chose the latter of the two and concluded the best path to recovery was to completely deactivate his body. For eight months, Ring swam laps and did yoga.“We choose to opt out of surgery and simply turn everything off,” Ring said. “It was a difficult time because I was putting my dreams on hold and my future was unclear.”
The gamble paid off. The following season, Ring returned to preseason traiing and signed his first professional contract with San Jose, pain free.Soon after, Ring was traded to MLS side Portland Timbers, where he spent the 2013 season. His career with Portland lasted one year, but the short stay with the West coast side resulted in his return to the Hoosier state.Ring’s return to Indiana didn’t land him back in Bloomington, but rather 57 miles north in Indianapolis. The midfielder signed with Indy Eleven in 2014, when he became one the members of the club’s inaugural team.“Joining an expansion team is always a bit of a gamble because you don’t know what to expect,” Ring said. “But everything worked out better than expected and I’m thrilled to call Indy home.” Ring is now the last remaining member of the 2014 inaugural team. He may not be Indy Eleven’s most prolific goal scorer, but his leadership in training and on the pitch makes him a vital squad member.Ring has also adopted a leadership role off the pitch and has become one of the leading community, athlete advocates in Indianapolis. The midfielder dedicates time to Ring’s Reading Program, an initiative he created in 2016.Ring’s goal is to share the benefits of an active lifestyle to children. During the program, he spends time reading books to young students, promoting the importance of exercise, and eating healthy.Perhaps the most special thanks during Ring’s 100th game ceremony came from the supporter group that religiously cheers their “Boys in Blue”, the Brickyard Battalion.Ring has long been a fan favorite of the Brickyard Battalion. So much so, the supporter group lifted a tifo that bore Ring’s 100 appearances during the pre-match ceremony.The tifo wasn’t the Brickyard Battalion’s only show of gratitude for Ring that night. The dedicated group of fans also wanted to display their appreciation of Ring’s willingness to give back to the community.Mike Williams, a supporter of the team since its founding, organized an event labeled Brad Ring Reads 100 Books.“I wanted to do something to support his reading initiative,” Williams said. “I wanted to help him in what he does out in the community, which is read books at elementary schools.”The idea was to donate 100 books to Ring’s Reading Program. Come time for the ceremony, the supporter group surpassed its initial goal, and collected a total of 135.With the all-time appearances record to his name, a strong communal presence, and five years and counting with Indy Eleven, Ring has solidified his nickname as the “Legend”. He will remain just that; a legend, to the fans during, and after, the existence of “Indiana’s Team” and Ring’s career.I would like to finish my career here with Indy Eleven,” Ring said. “Hopefully holding up a trophy with my teammates.”
KEYS TO THE MATCH | #INDVCHS
By Drew Kamaski, 06/01/18, 3:15PM EDTShare
Our three keys from our last home match against Charleston Battery
Set Pieces & Dead Ball Situations
Indy Eleven and Charleston Battery played one of the most exciting USL games in the Eastern Conference this season in last Wednesday’s six-goal thriller. The “Boys in Blue” converted three times, each conversion came from a dead ball situation. “Indiana’s Team” has been potent from set pieces and dead ball situations this season, finding the back of the net six times.In the most recent match against Charleston Battery, the “Boys in Blue” converted one penalty and scored two world class free kicks. The first goal came from forward Soony Saad’s foot from nearly 40 yards out in the 43rd minute. Defender Ayoze followed up Saad’s goal by tucking away a penalty to level the game at 2-2 late in the second half. The Spaniard then converted a beautifully struck free kick to the top left corner, giving Indy a 3-2 lead in the dying moments of the match.“We scored three great goals. Two world class goals,” Indy Eleven head coach Martin Rennie said. “The goals we scored from the free kicks were literally as good as you’re going to get.”
PUT THEM THROUGH THE RING-ER
The “Legend” had another stellar performance in the Indy Eleven midfield against Charleston Battery in Week 12. Midfielder Brad Ring captained the “Boys in Blue” for the entire 90 minutes against the Battery in a 3-3 draw.Ring was most influential in the passing game. He martialed the ball through the midfield with ease, completing just below 90 percent of his passes. Even more impressive was his passing accuracy in the opposition half, completing 84 percent of his passes and finding two chances.
TWO GAMES, TWO GOALS
Indy Eleven forward Soony Saad struck a free kick from much too far out to be taking shots on goal once again. Similar to his goal against Nashville SC, he let a rip from between 35-40 yards out. Except this time, the Lebanese international found the top right corner of the goal, leaving Charleston Battery goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky flat footed.Saad’s stunning goal is his fourth this season and second in as many games. The former University of Michigan standout appears to be hitting his stride after finishing a close in shot to the top right corner against Red Bulls II in Week 11 and finding the back of the net against Charleston Battery in Week 12. Saad is now tied for most goals on the team (4) with defender Ayoze .Catch “Indiana’s Team” live and in person on Saturday, June 9 at 7:00 p.m., as they take on fellow USL inaugural side Atlanta United 2. Tickets are available as low as $15 at IndyElevenTickets.com or by calling (317)685-1100.
BYB PRIDE RAISER – SUPPORT INDY PRIDE WITH EVERY
INDY 11 GOAL IN JUNE
UPDATE: as of June 5, BYB members have pledged $107 per goal.
The BYB prides itself in fostering an environment that welcomes all individuals to our section. This year, the Brickyard Battalion is participating in PRIDE RAISER to support the LGBTQ community in Indiana. We are hoping you will join the Brickyard Battalion’s Board of Directors in pledging a few dollars for every goal scored by Indy Eleven in the month of June (4 games). All pledges will go to support Indy Pride. Make A Pledge Today
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