12/21/18 Carmel FC team headed to Disney Tourney, Man United Fire Mourinho, Champ League Games Sweet 16 Games Set, Happy Holidays TV Game Schedule

As we head into the Holiday Season I want wish each of you a very Happy Holiday and thank you for being part of soccer nation with me.  Its been an interesting year – and circumstances this year have reminded me just how precious life is and how lucky we are to get to coach, and ref  and play and enjoy this beautiful game of soccer.  Click thru to the Ole Ballcoach and read the beautiful story about former US National Team star Claudia Reyna and his family story of life, loss and soccer.  2018 was an interesting year as we had to watch a World Cup without our US men’s team in it for the first time since 1990 (that’s 28 years), we got to see our own Indy 11 move into a new league and into the friendly confines of Lucas Oil, and we got to enjoy a State Championship for the Carmel Girls Soccer team and 8 former Carmel FC players.

CFC05Goldboys

Huge congrats to our Carmel FC 05 Boys Gold Team coached by Doug Latham (right) and Commish Jeremy Slivinski (left).  They went 5-2-1 to claim first in the Premier Division becoming the first ever Carmel FC boys team to do so.  They also were Grand Park Festival Champs this fall and finished 3-0 in the top flight of the Indianapolis College Men’s Showcase in early December.  Up next a move up to the National League (old MRL) in the Spring and a trip to Disney over the holidays for the famous Disney Soccer Showcase arguably one of the best youth soccer tourney’s in the country held at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.  (see full story below) Best of luck boys !!

CHSGirls_state_champs2018

What A Season for the Carmel High Girls Soccer Team as they Won their 10th IHSAA State title with legendary Coach Frank Dixon and 8 former Carmel FC players (All-State Keeper Erin Baker, Emma Antoine, Brooke Bailey, Olivia Fray, Carly Jessup, Riley Pennington, Anna Springer, Emily Roper and former Carmel FC Coach coach Carla Baker.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Wow some juicy games in the Sweet 16 as Atletico Madrid will face last season’s semi-finalist Juventus, Tottenham will face Borussia Dortmund and US star Christian Pulisic (assuming he can get that starting spot back-he started and went the full 90 this past weekend), Man United (post Jose) vs PSG, Schalke and US Weston McKinney against Man City, and perhaps the toughest draw defending finalist Liverpool and Bayern Munich.

Here’s The Full draw:

Schalke vs. Manchester City

Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus

Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain

Tottenham vs. Borussia Dortmund

Lyon vs. Barcelona

Roma vs. Porto

Ajax vs. Real Madrid

Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich

MLS

I was excited to see MLS is adjusting the Playoff Schedule starting next year – reducing the season length by 3 weeks which will allow the season to end in mid Nov.  Part of the change will include reducing all of the playoff series to 1 game knockout games instead of 2 game Champion League like series.  I love both changes !!

Indy 11

Conference Alignment Set for 2019 USL Season as new teams Memphis FC, Birmingham Legion FC, Hartford Athletic and Loundon Uited will join the Easter Conference with the Indy 11 with 18 teams, 36 total across the Eastern and Western Divisions.  The Season will start March 9 with the 11 traveling to St. Louis.  Our Indy 11 are busy selling the best deal in town with Season Tickets for as low as $99 just in time for Christmas.  Check out the new jersey for the 2019 Season on sale now just in time for the Holidays! I kind of like the collar look for the first time ever in the club’s history.  All Season ticket holders get Exclusive Meet the Team Events, More Games on Saturdays less on Weds, Ticket Exchange Program (mix and match your games if you miss a game get double seats for another game of choice, 20% off team merchandise.  Click here for more info or Call 317-685-1100 for more details and tell them the Ole Ballcoach Sent you !  Oh I forgot think your good enough to play for the Eleven? Open Try-outs start Jan 12, 10-2 pm at Grand Park.

2019 Carmel FC Winter Players League

Location:  Off the Wall Sports

Address:  1423 Chase Ct., Carmel, IN 46032

Offered to:  Carmel FC Academy Players, Travel Players & Select Players from 8U-14U

Dates:  January 10th – March 15th (2019)

Days:  Thursdays & Fridays

Cost:  $125 per player

Thursday evenings:  Games will be played from 5pm-8pm.  Games will be 50 minutes in length, Fields 1 & 2 Age group: U8 Coed – U10 Coed.

Friday evenings:  Games will be played from 5pm – 8:45pm.  Games will be 50 minutes in length, Fields 1 & 2 Age group: 11U/ U12 Girls & U11/U12 Boys; U13/U14 Girls & U13/U14 Boys.

Space is limited and spots are filling up so sign up soon.  Payment is confirmation of

registration.Please note that this is an optional activity we are offering our players.  It is not required.To register:http://carmeldadsclub2016.org/form.php?id=39fcc6879909ac1f108c128c49f721d8

If you have any questions please contact Juergen Sommer, Director of Soccer Operations.

Email: jsommer@carmeldadsclub.org

GAMES ON TV

Fri, Dec 21  

2:30 pm FS1          Dormunt (Pulisic) vs M’gladbach (Johnson)

2:45 pm NBCSN    Wolverhampton vs Liverpool

Sat, Dec 22   

7:30 am NBCSN          Arsenal vs Burnely

9:30 am FS1                RB Leipzig vs Werder Bremen (Stewart)

10 am NBCSN             Chelsea vs Leicester City

11:30 am FS1             FIFA WORLD CLUB CUP FINAL Real Madrid? vs ??

12:30 pm NBCSN?      Cardiff vs Man United

12:30  Fox Sp 2           Frankfurt vs Bayern Munich

2:30 pm EPSN+           Juventus vs Roma

3 pm beiN sport        PSG vs Nantes

Sun, Dec23  

11 am NBCSN            Everton vs Tottenham

 Wed, Dec 26  -Boxing Day

7:30 am NBCSN          Fulham vs Wolverhampton

10 am NBCSN             Leicester City vs Man United

10 am NBCSN              Liverpool vs New Castle United (Yedlin)

12:15 NBCSN              Brighton vs Arsenal

2:30 pm NBCSN?      Watford vs Chelsea

Sat, Dec 29  

10 am NBCSN             Tottenham vs Wolverhampton

10 am NBCSN             Leicester City vs Man United

12:15 NBCSN              Liverpool vs Arsenal

Sun, Dec 30  

7 am NBCSN             Crystal Palace vs Chelsea

9 am NBCSN                Southampton vs Man city

11:30 am NBCSN        Man United vs Bournemouth

Tue, Jan 1  

7 am NBCSN             Everton vs Leiscester City 

10 am NBCSN              Arsenal vs Fulham

12:30  NBCSN             Cardiff vs Tottenham

Wed, Jan 2  

3pm  NBCSN                New Castle United (Yedlin) vs Man United

Thur, Jan 3  

3 pm  NBCSN              Man City vs Liverpool

 EPL

Manchester United Runs Out of Reasons to Stay Course With Mourinho– SI Avi Creditor

Sam Borden: Jose Mourinho’s Last Stand

Mourinho’s sacking overdue

Inside Story of how Man United and Mourinho Broke Down

Mourinho finally speaks

Why Man U’s Decision to appoint former player Solskjaer is so Surprising Michael Cox ESPN.com

Top Priorities for New Manager Solskajaer At Man United

Who is this New Manager for Man United – Sam Wallace the Telegraph

Spurs must Show Pochettino what he would miss if he left for United or Real Madrid- Mark Odgen ESPNFC

Liverpool’s Lovren says they can match Arsenal’s Invicibles

Liverpool Fans Ridicule Shows how Far Jose Mourino has Fallen- Mark Odgen ESPNFC

Shaqiri, Liverpool Add to Man Uniteds Woe – Mark Ogden ESPNFC

Mo Salah goes GQ

 WORLD

What do the  Big Teams Need in the Jan Transfer Window?

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Here’s The Full draw:

Schalke vs. Manchester City

Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus

Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain

Tottenham vs. Borussia Dortmund

Lyon vs. Barcelona

Roma vs. Porto

Ajax vs. Real Madrid

Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich

UCL draw: United face PSG, Liverpool vs. Bayern

Manchester United will face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16, while Liverpool have been drawn against Bayern Munich. ESPN

 Klopp meets the team he turned down

Gab Marcotti digs into each of the round of 16 matchups in the UEFA Champions League as the draw put together some heavyweight teams.

Spurs will face different Dortmund in UCL – Vertonghen

Vertonghen is expecting a tougher test when the north Londoners meet Lucien Favre’s side, who are leading the Bundesliga by nine, in February. Ben Pierce – ESPNFC

Less of the ball is more: Praise for football’s minimalists

While the likes of Pep Guardiola have made control of the ball a central part of how their teams play, two notables are thriving without it.

Man United drew PSG, and social media loved it

“Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani against that Man Utd defence …” pretty much sums up the reaction to the Red Devils drawing PSG in the round of 16. Chris Wright ESPNFC

USA

USMNT player of the year Zack Steffen reflects on superb 2018

Zack Steffen talks to ESPN FC about his move to Manchester City, the future of the U.S. national team and ignoring all the haters.  Noah Davis ESPNFC

 The Reynas’ Story of Loss and Legacy

Claudio and Danielle Reyna experienced tragedy upon the death of their son, Jack, but his memory and legacy endure and are carried on in part by another son and U.S. youth national team standout, Giovanni.by Grant Wahl  SI

Keep Sargent expectations realistic – Bremen boss

Josh Sargent scored less than two minutes into his Bundesliga debut as Bremen beat Fortuna Dusseldorf 3-1.

Bill Simmons on US Youth Soccer’s and MLS’s ‘Pro’s and Cons   SI

MLS

MLS shortens playoffs, goes to single elimination

The format’s implementation will see the number of playoff qualifiers increase from 12 to 14 teams.

Zlatan signs Designated Player deal with Galaxy

The former Sweden international was already under contract for 2019 but had long chafed over a deal that paid him just $1.5 million in 2018.

Why are LA Galaxy, MLS’s most decorated club, such a mess?

No one has more MLS Cups than LA Galaxy, but for the second straight year, they’ve missed the playoffs. What’s plaguing MLS’ original glamour club?

Ibrahimovic has unfinished business with Galaxy, MLS

Ibrahimovic scored plenty of goals in 2018 but his club missed the playoffs. He’ll try to put that right next year.

Atlanta’s MLS Cup hangover just beginning

Right now, Atlanta United is on top of MLS. But with an offseason of change ahead, how will the champions replace their most influential characters?

Indy 11 

Conference Alignment Set for 2019 USL Season

Indy 11 Opening Game March 9 @ St. Louis

Indy 11 Roster Starts to Take Shape

New Players added

Open Tryouts Sat Jan 12

Full Update on the Carmel FC 05 Gold Team headed to the Disney Showcase over the Holidays

CFC05Goldboys

The Disney Soccer Showcase is arguably one of the most coveted showcase and tournament opportunities for youth soccer in the country.  Any travel team can apply but the tournament is known for being invitation centered and bringing in the top teams from around the country.  It is held on two sites, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and additional facilities nearby.  The Carmel FC 05 Boys Gold team was the only Indiana boys team accepted in the 14u age division this year.  There are 48 teams in their age group in the tournament out of 100’s that applied.

Families will be heading to Orlando on December 26th.  Games are scheduled for the 27th, 28th and 29th.  The finals are on the 30th.  The competition looks fierce as they will be playing teams from multiple levels of national league.  This will be a good first test for these boys as they are moving to national league for the 2019 spring season.  They are the first boys team from our club to ascend to this level of play.  They did so by winning ISL 1st Division twice and then ISL Premier Division this past fall season.  They were the Grand Park Soccer Festival champions this fall and also finished 3-0 in the top flight at the Indianapolis Men’s College Showcase at the beginning of December.

Our hope is this 05 Boys team is representative of the great things to come for our club.  This team was not recruited/built.  It was developed.  Of the 16 players on the team 14 have spent their entire travel experience with Carmel FC.  Four of these players come from the original 2005 academy group when they were formed at u9 before the US Soccer age mandate change.  Two come from the original 2006 academy group.  The remainder joined the program the following couple of years.

This opportunity demonstrates the reality of player development that sometimes gets missed.  Over half of the 05 Boys team played on our 2nd (Blue) or 3rd (White) teams at some point when they were younger.  Our club’s and this age group’s focus on technical development over wins at a younger age has led to these players graduating to elite level play.  They developed technically on their respective teams over the years and now physically they are catching up.  John Carter, the past Indiana Soccer Director of ODP who passed away this fall used to say, (paraphrasing) “A player’s real ability and potential isn’t truly known until their teenage years.  At younger ages bad technical ability can be hidden by physical play.  Good technical ability may not be realized simply due to slower development of physical ability.  It all evens out when they get to 11v11 and growth spurts slow down.”  Carmel FC and specifically the 05 Boys team has taken those concepts to heart and is now seeing the results of patience.  At the younger ages they focused on every player on every team in their age group.  We think teams following in their footsteps will realize the same success.   Big thanks to Carmel FC General Manager and coach Jeremy Sklivinski for the full rundown and good luck boys!!

Bill Simmons on U.S. Youth Soccer’s Issues and MLS’s Pros and Cons

  • After getting involved heavily on the Southern California youth soccer scene with his daughter and becoming an LAFC season-ticket holder, The Ringer’s Bill Simmons notes the many flaws in the U.S. youth system and has some ideas for MLS.

By GRANT WAHL December 13, 2018

On the latest episode of the Planet Fútbol Podcast, SI.com interviews HBO’s Bill Simmons, the founder and CEO of The Ringer, about his experience over the last five years getting deep into Southern California youth soccer with his daughter—including being part of starting a new youth club. Simmons shares his thoughts on the youth soccer system in the U.S. and, as an LAFC season-ticket holder, on what MLS is doing and not doing well.You can listen to the full conversation in the podcast console below and subscribe to and download the Planet Fútbol Podcast on iTunes. Recent guests include ESPN’s Katie Nolan, former U.S. women’s national team forward Abby Wambach, former U.S. men’s national team forward Eddie Johnson, broadcasters Bob Ley and Derek Rae and U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

Planet Fútbol with Grant Wahl

Bill Simmons on California Youth Soccer, MLS and US SoccerBill Simmons on California Youth Soccer, MLS and US Soccer

Here some of the highlights of the conversation:

On youth soccer and U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy:

“If you play on a Development Academy team, they say you can’t play for your high school. Right? So now you’re basically turning your kids into professional athletes when they’re 15. There’s no way in hell I wouldn’t want my daughter to play … in high school next year as a ninth-grader. What is better than playing for your high school team? That’s the single most important thing you can do as an athlete until you go to college.”

On what MLS owners need to do:

“It’s crazy to me that rich people just haven’t said, Let’s make the MLS a real thing. Let’s like quintuple the salary cap. Let’s just go for it.”

On being an LAFC season ticket holder:

“They were able to build a tradition in the span of like three weeks. There’s the eagle at the beginning, and they have the whole side behind one of the goals, everyone’s standing and doing chants the whole game and people are holding scarves up. And the logos. It kind of felt like the team had been around for 28 years, and meanwhile they’d been around for, you know, two weeks.”

On the quality of play in MLS:

“Unfortunately, the problem with the MLS is that the soccer is not as good as the experience. I think people love going to soccer games and being fans and emulating what they see in Europe and all these different places, and the soccer just isn’t good enough yet. It’s fine. It’s probably somewhere between double- and triple-A baseball, I would say.

“But the stands are major league. The fans and the experience and the stadiums, and you have all these rich owners now that are frustrated because they can’t get into the NBA or the NFL oh, so this is where they’ve taken their sports ownership juices, basically. But if you actually watch the games? It’s like, I went to this LAFC-New England Revolution game in [September], it was honestly one of the worst sporting events I’ve ever been to. It was so awful. The Revolution had like 20 fouls. They were just being thugs, they just weren’t that talented. And it was just awful. I was like, ‘Oh man, this is not a fun way to spend a Saturday.’ But then you go to other games, and the soccer is close enough that it’s fine. Every team has a couple really good players they can kind of latch onto.”

WAHL: Atlanta Raises the Bar as an MLS Champ–and Soccer City

On why the Krafts are perhaps the best owners in the NFL but maybe the worst in MLS:

“It’s too bad. It’s so easy and simple. They just need to build like a 22,000-seat soccer stadium somewhere in Boston that everyone can get to by an Uber. And put it in Cambridge, put it in the Seaport, wherever the hell you’re going to put it, put it next to Suffolk Downs, whatever. It just needs to be 22,000 people, and they’ll get a lot of college kids. You can’t go to those games in Gillette. It’s the same problem the WNBA has. The WNBA insists on putting their games in these NBA arenas, and then there’s 2,000 people there and it’s the most depressing place in the world. And you look at the Revs, and they’re in the 70,000-seat football stadium, it’s ludicrous. There’s no energy at all. It’s the worst. LAFC is like 28,000. So I would say either sell or try to build that stadium. Honestly, 22,000 is probably not big enough. Maybe 25,000?”

On sexism in youth soccer:

“Everything is geared toward boys’ soccer, especially in Southern California. These big clubs, they just care about the boys teams more. Their boys teams get better practice times, better fields, better everything. Better resources. Better coaching. It’s kind of shocking. I had never considered myself a sports feminist. And it was weird to go through this situation where you’re like, ‘Wow, my daughter is getting the short end of the stick because she’s female.’”

On what U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro should do with the youth soccer system:

“Carlos Cordeiro. Listen, Carlos, if you’re listening, this sucks, what’s going on right now. It’s really bad. We’re in a situation now with this club that we’ve built. We have 130 girls, one-third of them are scholarship. We’re playing the style that everyone wants America to play but we don’t. And we’re on the outside because we’re not one of the Starbucks clubs. I would love to know what the solution is for that. Your system that we’ve created for youth soccer does not allow for outliers.”

On his advice to youth soccer parents:

“To the parents out there, pick a side in the games. Then all get your chairs and stuff, and then you go on that one side. You don’t get to do the things where you’re kind of on both sides, because that’s how fights happen in games. Pick a side.”

THE REYNA’S STORY OF LOSS AND LEGACY

Following the Tragic Loss of their son as they make their way thru life in Soccer

By Grant Wahl  Sports Illustrated  December 12, 2018  

They were American soccer’s royal couple. In the summer of 1994, not long before the U.S. hosted the World Cup, the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams were both staying in Laguna Beach, Calif., at the Holiday Inn. Claudio Reyna, a three-time NCAA champion at Virginia, was an emerging star, a gifted playmaker who had just made the first of his four World Cup squads. Danielle Egan, on her way to winning four NCAA titles at North Carolina with players like Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly, was a speed demon on the wing who had recently scored her first goal for the world champion U.S. women. Their futures had no ceiling: Reyna and Egan were both 20 years old.Reyna was handsome, with thick, dark hair in a bowl cut, the New Jersey-born son of immigrants from Portugal and Argentina. Egan was gorgeous, a blonde tomboy, the pride of an Irish-American family on Long Island. They met in the hotel lobby. Reyna was speaking to some women’s players. Egan was looking for her roommate. He still remembers his pickup line: “Do you like pizza?” She did. They talked that night. They kept talking all summer. In three years they were married.From 1995 to ’99, a time when European soccer seemed exotic and was almost never broadcast on U.S. television, the Reynas lived their own two-person continental adventure. Claudio played in the German Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen, and then Wolfsburg. Danielle competed for a period in the German women’s third division, but it wasn’t nearly as serious as her Carolina days. Teammates smoked cigarettes and drank beer at halftime, and the eight-hour bus rides to games were brutal. So she stopped, and whenever Claudio had an off day husband and wife would pick a random spot on a paper map and drive there. Amsterdam, Brugge, Rotterdam. “Even little towns,” says Danielle. “We’ve been to more places in Holland than most Dutch people.”So much was happening. They lived in a modest one-bedroom apartment, drove a Volkswagen Beetle and hosted college friends for visits. Claudio’s career was taking off. Life was simple and pure and thrilling.And it got even better when their son Jack was born in April 1999. Claudio had just transferred to Rangers, a storied club in Glasgow, and the couple’s first months in Scotland were marked by a domestic league title and the joy of being around their newborn.“He was the easiest baby, the perfect firstborn child,” says Danielle. “He was like the first baby of everyone, soccer-wise. I’ve been told so many times: ‘The reason we had our baby was because of Jack.’”In the years ahead, whenever Claudio joined up with the national team, Jack was the unofficial team mascot, running up and down the sideline at practice.“I never saw anyone laugh and smile as much as him,” says Claudio. “He was so enthusiastic about everything.”Ultimately, as Claudio moved from Rangers to Sunderland to Manchester City to the New York Red Bulls, the Reynas would have four children in all, each with their own personalities and interests. Jack, who once recited poetry in UK speaking competitions with a full posh British accent, loved geography and architecture, and he fell for soccer by memorizing the names of famous stadiums.Giovanni (aka Gio), born in 2002, had a Manc accent that he lost, just as Jack did with his once they came to live in the States in 2007. Always more quiet than Jack, Gio is now one of the U.S.’s top soccer prospects, a 16-year-old forward who blends Claudio’s soccer IQ and Danielle’s athleticism, has his own Adidas video ad and just moved to Germany, where he’s expected to join Borussia Dortmund soon. (Former NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira has compared Gio to his French World Cup-winning teammate David Trezeguet.)Joah-Mikel, now 11, likes cooking and soccer, especially the tactical side of the game. And Carolina, the Reynas’ daughter, whip-smart at age 9, plays several sports and makes sure Joah doesn’t forget anything on his way to school.After his playing days, Claudio became the youth technical director for U.S. Soccer and then, in 2013, the sporting director at New York City FC. Don’t get him wrong, he was deeply disappointed when his team lost to Atlanta United in the recent MLS playoffs. But the Reynas also have a perspective on what matters in life that they earned in the most excruciating way possible. In May 2010, shortly after Jack’s team won the New York State Cup for his age group, he complained to his parents of a splitting headache.“At first,” says Danielle, doctors “thought maybe it was meningitis or Lyme disease or a sinus infection. But he had no other symptoms. None.”Then a neurologist noticed an issue with Jack’s peripheral vision in his left eye, and a subsequent CAT scan revealed a golf-ball-sized brain tumor. Surgery came next, followed by an agonizing three-week wait for a diagnosis.The result: Jack had stage IV glioblastoma, the kind of tumor John McCain and Ted Kennedy had—an extremely rare and aggressive condition, one that affects mostly men in their 60s and 70s.Jack Reyna was 11.

Jack (lying on his parents’ bed): Mom, am I going to die?

Danielle: Well, we all die. We just don’t know when. We don’t know if we’re going to be young. We don’t know if we’re going to be old. We don’t know if we’ll be hit by a truck, or get cancer. No one knows. It just kind of comes. When God is ready for you, he will come.

Upstairs, in the boys’ bedroom, the Lego structures are still intact. Intricate and towering, with as many as a thousand pieces each, the creations are a window into the mind of the boy who built them. A four-foot-high Eiffel Tower with the French tricolore on top. A block of three-story townhouses on a British streetscape. An elaborate recreation of the Death Star from Star Wars, replete with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and stormtroopers. Whenever Jack was suffering from his chemotherapy—from the nausea and the pain—he would repair to his room and work with the plastic bricks.“This was like his relaxation after chemo,” says Danielle. “He was very proud of this.”Adds Claudio: Each one “took a couple of weeks. He would go in here and sit. It was like his distraction. His therapy.”It’s a cloudy fall morning. The Reynas’ house in Bedford, N.Y., an hour outside Manhattan, is a monument to their children, to sports, to art and to the warmth of a family that welcomes a steady stream of friends and relatives through an open door. A basketball hoop stands sentry out front, and the backyard opens onto a soccer field, the fencing around its goal having been repaired not long ago after years of pounding by the kids.On the boys’ bedroom walls: a Lionel Messi jersey signed by the Argentine national team; an autographed Thierry Henry Barcelona shirt; jerseys dedicated to Jack by the Dutch national team and by Inter Milan legend Javier Zanetti. There’s also a wall-sized mural of a world map, designed for Jack, with the names of all the countries. Down in the living room, Claudio and Danielle sip coffee and share Jack’s story for three hours, their memories punctuated in nearly equal parts by smiles, laughter and tears.Back in their playing days, Claudio and Danielle shared a similar reputation for setting up teammates with perfectly-weighted passes—just the right speed, touch, direction and placement to give the receiver the best possible opportunity to do something positive with the ball. They do the same with each other when describing their firstborn son.

Danielle: “He was really smart. Super into geography—”

Claudio: “—geography, architecture, capitals. The second I got into the car, wherever we drove, he didn’t stop asking me questions. I couldn’t believe how happy he was with everything, including when we took him out to dinner. Do you remember?”

Danielle: “Especially in Europe. They didn’t always love when kids came. But we knew we could bring him to any restaurant, no matter how fancy. We would show up with this toddler, and they would gasp and say, ‘He’s so well-behaved!’”Claudio: “He always liked trying new kinds of food. The joy he had for life was just incredible. He would amaze us all the time—”

Danielle: “—and he loved chatting with adults. He was kind of like an old soul, talking about his travels and asking people about where they had been. He was super-inquisitive about other people’s lives.”Claudio: “We didn’t even talk about his dancing.”Danielle: “He loved music.”Claudio: “If music was on, he was dancing. Pop. Hip-hop. Everything.”A long pause. Slow, deep breaths. Tears.

Claudio: “He taught us how to love more, to trust more. You could count on him. You knew the love he had for his family.”Danielle: “And he loved how good Gio was t soccer. He [always] let Gio play with him and his friends. He always included him.”From the start, Gio was a freakish natural athlete, a child who could watch golf on TV for a few minutes and then pick up a club for the first time and hit picture-perfect iron shots in the backyard. He could dunk a basketball in the eighth grade. By the time he was 5, he was dominating Under-9 soccer games in the park. Claudio remembers how parents would give him the wink-wink, nudge-nudge look, assuming he was running Gio through countless hours of soccer drills, Marv Marinovich-style, on their backyard field. “What do you do with him?” they asked.“Nothing,” replied Claudio, who’d once helped coach Jack’s youth team but by now did little more than mess around with his boys in the backyard. They had no idea, Claudio thought to himself. Gio’s “training?” He was just playing with Jack and his older friends.“That’s what carried Gio, what launched him,” says Claudio. “He played with Jack. He fought with him. Jack would go in goal and let him shoot—not always let him win, though, that’s for sure. And Gio fought and fought, and that’s why he played. That’s who he wanted to be. He idolized and worshipped Jack. The one who made him what he is today, his talent, was really Jack.”

Jack is a boy. He has curly dark hair and soft brown eyes.

Jack’s smile is everybody’s favorite.

Jack has lots of favorites.

Jack loves food. He likes strawberries and salad and especially Lela’s Milanese.

But sushi is his favorite. His favorite restaurant is Nobu in New York City. He went there for his 13th birthday.

Jack plays lots of sports. He loves basketball and football, especially the Baltimore Ravens.

But his favorite sport is soccer. His favorite soccer team is Man City.

Jack has played on many soccer teams. His favorite coach is his dad, and his favorite player is his mom.

– From Jack’s Favorites, a children’s book written by Liz Johnson, Jack’s fifth-grade teacher at Greenwich Country Day School

Jack fought. Oh, he battled. Chemo started right after the World Cup in 2010: Once every five weeks, for nine months, Jack and his parents would visit New York University’s Hassenfeld Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders. It always made Jack sick afterward. So did the radiation treatment he received for another six weeks.“The bravest person I ever met,” says Kristian Shkreli, who played youth soccer with Jack and later with Gio on NYCFC’s U-19 team. “Always, no matter what, he had a smile on his face.”After Jack’s diagnosis, Claudio had taken a leave of absence from his job with U.S. Soccer.“A complete fog,” he says of those days. “I couldn’t even take in information. I would sit with Jack all week. [Danielle and I] would live at the hospital and see the doctors and tag-team sleep.”Then, in April 2011, came what seemed like a reprieve. After nine months of chemo, everyone celebrated Jack’s 12th birthday with fantastic news: His MRIs were clear. No cancer.“The doctors were amazed,” says Danielle. “They said, ‘We’ve never seen a kid bounce back from radiation or chemo like this. He is such a fighter, he is always so positive.’”Tim Gerber, another old friend, remembers meeting Jack for the first time that September, at the start of seventh grade. He heard Jack talking to a teacher about soccer, and he could tell this kid knew his stuff.“I was a big soccer fan, and you don’t find many in our town,” says Gerber. “So I butted into the conversation, and we made a fast connection.” They would spend hours and hours playing FIFA.In December, though, Danielle noticed Jack’s speech was a little off, and so she and Claudio took him back to NYU. The bad news: Doctors said his cancer was back. The worse news: They would treat Jack, but it would only slow down his steady deterioration.“That’s when we knew,” says Claudio. “There was nothing you could do.”Over Jack’s final seven months, whenever he had the energy, he and his family would attack his bucket list. The Reynas traveled to Mexico (where at the hotel swimming pool Gio switched roles, helping Jack when he needed it). They toured the top of the Empire State Building, dined at Nobu, watched the Ravens from field level and met Dirk Nowitzki at a Mavericks-Knicks game. But there were other days when Jack didn’t want to go out at all. Or his parents didn’t.“Days I couldn’t even leave our bed,” says Claudio. “We couldn’t even move. Didn’t want to go anywhere.”For the most part, though, the Reynas kept their front door open, and visitors poured through. Gerber came by on Champions League matchdays or to play FIFA and talk sports and girls.Liz Johnson, Jack’s fifth-grade teacher, always stopped over on Wednesdays to see Jack. When 3-year-old Carolina saw her, she said, “You’re Jack’s favorite teacher!” On her drive home one day, Johnson decided to write a children’s book for Carolina about her brother called Jack’s Favorites. When she read the story to Jack, he flashed one of his brilliant smiles.

Jack likes school and he’s good at it. He solves math problems faster than his friends, and he reads lots of books.

His favorite subject is geography. Jack knows all the countries and all the capitals in the world almost.

One of Jack’s favorite things to do is travel. He likes to fly on airplanes and visit new places. Jack has been to many cities, including Paris, Rome, London, Milan, Amsterdam and Buenos Aires, just to name a few.

Jack loves dancing and music too. His favorite concert was Jay-Z in Carnegie Hall in New York City. He went there with his dad in 2012. He even got to go backstage and meet Jay-Z in person.

P.S. Jack has moves.

At home, Jack was put on a morphine drip to ease the pain. But even as he lost his abilities to walk and eventually to speak, the visitors kept coming. Claudio and Danielle still marvel at the 12- and 13-year-old classmates who would sometimes spoon-feed their dying friend.“I don’t know how we did it,” says Claudio, “but despite all the sadness we had this really happy place. People wanted to be here. It was loud, and he loved it. [We] felt it was important for him to see that everyone was still happy.”The Reynas had resolved that they still had to have joy in their family, Danielle explains, but their emotions were complex.“Nobody should have to watch their child, someone they love, die,” she says. “It’s horrible. You could tell he was fighting it. We had him in the house, and there were almost always at least 20 people around, sometimes more. He got good energy from them. People also needed to see him. And from what friends have said, they needed to see us. And they got strength from us. The day he died, we called the hospice near us. We kind of knew it was coming. She came and said it was. And we sent Gio to two of our best friends here. Then Jack passed. You’re so numb at that point. You don’t want him to go, but you don’t want him to be in pain anymore.”

Jack Reyna passed away on July 19, 2012, at the age of 13, surrounded by people who loved him.

One day after Jack’s funeral, Claudio and Danielle were sitting in their backyard with some friends and family. A recent rain had cleared, and everyone gazed up at the sky to witness an upside-down rainbow shaped like a human smile. Jack.“I had never seen one in my life,” says Claudio. “None of us had. It was perfect.”Six years after Jack’s death, his presence remains palpable in so many ways. A half-dozen friends wrote about him in their college application essays. A few years ago, Gerber penned a 25-page diary entry about Jack (“My Hero”) that he plans to give to Claudio and Danielle. Now a sophomore at Dartmouth, Gerber is studying economic development, dreaming of someday working for a nonprofit or starting a social entrepreneurship company.

“A lot of what I think about my future is because of what Jack taught me about the importance of being kind to others and about the privilege that we have,” Gerber says. “Not just getting to go to great schools and have the chance to travel and have different experiences, but also the ability to wake up every morning and see the people you love and be a good brother, a good teammate, a good family member.”  Claudio and Danielle remember seeing a family therapist when Jack was sick, and their counselor was struck by how they managed to still spend time with their other kids, preventing their home from descending into total gloom, maintaining support for one another. They’d heard stories about couples divorcing after losing a child, and they wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to them.Asked if they have any advice for parents in a similar situation, Claudio and Danielle point out that every case is different. But then Danielle says: “Keep laughter in your family. Respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses and grieving processes, because we’re all different humans, and you’re not always going to be on the same wavelength or in the same mood. Be as happy as you can with the kids. Don’t sweat the small stuff. That’s a cheesy little saying, but it’s really true.”For Claudio, this shared experience brought even more perspective to the idea of what’s important and what isn’t.“You’re living for your children. But this took it to a whole other level,” he says. “You have to be really strong every day, but also understand that I would feel very good one day and she wouldn’t—or vice versa. There are these different waves.”The notion that it gets better with time, though? That’s not true, Claudio says. Every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, every birthday without Jack is still painful. Not long ago, when the family was driving through New York City, their car’s GPS system had them pass by the NYU hospital where they’d spent so much time with Jack.“We didn’t even say a word, but I knew Danielle was thinking about it,” Claudio says. “There are constant reminders.”And those reminders lead frequently to hypotheticals. “Where would he be now?” Danielle asks of Jack, who would be 19, a college sophomore. “Would he be playing college soccer? Would he be at UVA? At Carolina? Because to me he was that kind of player. Would he have a girlfriend? What would he be studying?”

One question they feel comfortable answering: What would Jack think about Gio’s emerging soccer stardom?

Claudio tells a story. In Jack’s final months, just before he started using a wheelchair, he went with his dad to see Gio’s tryout for a basketball team. Jack was slurring his words by then, but 30 minutes into the session he turned to Claudio, with his trademark smile, and said, “Dad, Gio is the best player here by far.” And he was right.

“He wasn’t jealous about anything,” says Claudio. “He absolutely thought Gio was incredible.”The feeling was mutual. Gio was 9 when Jack passed away. And while Danielle says Gio was mostly quiet about it, she could tell it was extremely difficult for him. The evening after Jack died, she says, her voice breaking, Gio told her: “I’m never going to be a good soccer player now, because my big brother taught me everything.”Years later, Jack’s presence is felt every time the Reynas watch Gio play. His rise to the top of the U.S. soccer prospect pool was swift and at times overwhelming for the family. In April 2017, when Gio was 14, his NYCFC team won the Generation Adidas Cup, a tournament for MLS U-17 teams, and Gio was named the event’s best player.The following month, at the Torneo Delle Nazioni in Italy, he had four assists and four goals, including the game-winner in the final against England, as the U.S. U-15 national team won one of the world’s most prestigious youth tournaments.

Europe’s top clubs scouted the event, and afterward Claudio started receiving calls from teams in Germany, the Netherlands, England and Italy.

At 14, Gio hired an agent, and he signed a long-term endorsement deal with Adidas after a bidding war with Nike. He also secured a Portuguese passport (through Claudio’s mother), which allowed him to sign officially with a European club when he recently turned 16—as opposed to having to wait until he turned 18 per FIFA rules if he only had a U.S. passport. In August, Goal.com reported that Gio was set to join the academy of Borussia Dortmund, the club of fellow American Christian Pulisic. (Claudio said he had no comment for now on Gio’s club future.) For the past couple months, Gio has been in Germany acclimatizing to the environment as he waited to turn 16.The decision for Gio to leave for Europe was hardly an easy one. When Pulisic joined Dortmund at 16, he was able to live with his father, Mark, for the first two years. Claudio and Danielle can visit Gio, but they have to stay in the New York area for their two younger kids and for Claudio’s job. Meanwhile, Claudio has received criticism from some quarters of MLS and from NYCFC supporters for not keeping Gio with the team he works for, or even signing him to an MLS pro contract and then selling him for a transfer fee to, say, Dortmund.“I believe 100% in what we’re doing at NYCFC,” says Claudio, “but I have to remove my hat as a sporting director for him. I’m his dad first, second and third, and I’m going to support him” and what Gio decides to do.Danielle, meanwhile, says that, as a mother, part of her desperately wanted Gio to stay at home with NYCFC—at least until he turned 18.“The thought of him leaving at 16 is pretty heart-crushing,” she says. “I’m sure it has something to do with Jack, too, in the sense that I have relied on [Gio] as the big boy. … I cry a little just thinking about it.”

But it’s hard for anyone to argue against the notion that, in soccer terms, Dortmund would be the best possible place for Gio’s career. The club has a proven track record of developing young talent and for giving those players opportunities with the first team, even in Champions League games. And Gio’s potential is tantalizing.“He’s much more of an athlete than I was, much more of a goal scorer,” says Claudio. “He’s very technical and has a good feel for the game. He has a great free kick and can strike a ball well. Danielle was a great runner—and he’s a runner.”It’s no wonder that Gio’s first ad campaign with Adidas focused on creativity, presenting him as part of the solution in reviving U.S. soccer after the World Cup 2018 qualifying failure. And while Gio has his own distinct identity, the influence of Claudio, Danielle and Jack is unmistakable.

Never was that more clear for Claudio and Danielle than on April 8, 2016, one day before Jack would have turned 17. Gio, then 13, was playing against Uruguay in his first international appearance for the U.S. U-15 team. The game was in Rosario, Argentina, the birth country of Claudio’s father, Miguel, who had traveled with his wife, Maria, to watch alongside Claudio and Danielle.Gio was magical that day in a 2-0 U.S. victory, and in the 38th minute he scored a truly remarkable goal. Running at speed onto a pass down the right side, Gio was tripped by a lunging Uruguayan defender and fell to the ground in a somersault, then somehow vaulted back up to his feet without missing a step. The assistant referee raised his flag for a foul, but the referee played the advantage, and Gio beat two more defenders before coolly slotting his shot past the goalkeeper into the net.Claudio can’t tell the story of that day without breaking down in tears.

“It’s hard for us,” he says between sobs. “We do bring up Jack to Gio. We talk about Jack all the time, but we don’t want to push it on him. Sometimes we say, ‘Your brother is with you.’ And that day [in Rosario] there was no doubt. The next day was Jack’s birthday. The whole game Gio was ridiculous. You don’t know how your kid is going to do, and he had such an amazing game.”

That day, the Reynas couldn’t help but imagine Jack turning to Claudio again, flashing his proud smile and saying: “Dad, Gio is the best player here by far.”

Michael Bradley, Zack Steffen included in Gregg Berhalter’s first U.S. squad

erhalter details what he believes the DNA of the U.S. national team should be after being introduced as the team’s next head coach. (1:07)

10:00 AM ETJeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent

The first squad picked by new U.S. men’s national team manager Gregg Berhalter features a 27-man roster comprised entirely of Major League Soccer players. Among those set to attend the annual January training camp are Michael Bradley, the most-capped player in the squad with 142 international appearances, and U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year Zack Steffen.Also included are MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long, Rookie of the Year Corey Baird and Comeback Player of the Year Gyasi Zardes. One notable omission from the initial list is Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore, who underwent ankle surgery in October.The team will meet in Chula Vista, Calif. starting Jan. 6, and the camp will conclude with friendlies against Panama in Glendale, Ariz. on Jan. 27 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and against Costa Rica in San Jose, Calif. six days later. A 28th player is expected to be added some time prior to the start of camp.”In putting together this domestic-based roster, we started with a number of players who we think can be a core part of the group moving forward,” Berhalter said. “We then looked at players that excelled this year in Major League Soccer, and finally chose players that can play a specific role in our game model.”We are very excited to start to implement our ideas about the style of play and the culture we want to develop in the national team.”The average age of the team is 24 years, 230 days, with the average number of U.S. appearances standing at 10.The roster also includes 12 uncapped players, seven of whom — Baird, Russell Canouse, Jeremy Ebobisse, Daniel Lovitz, Mark McKenzie, Djordje Mihailovic, Tyler Miller and Auston Trusty — have been invited to a U.S. camp for the first time at senior level.The camp has usually been held at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., but Berhalter opted to hold the gathering at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, formerly the Olympic Training Center.”Being in Chula Vista will help us create a team environment as we start to establish our culture and really be able to work on the details of our style of play,” he said. “The facilities are outstanding and provide everything we need to accomplish our goals both on and off the field. They are accustomed to hosting elite athletes, so we believe this will be a great place for this group to get started.”

U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; Caps/Goals):

GOALKEEPERS (4): Alex Bono (Toronto FC/CAN; 1/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 5/0), Tyler Miller (LAFC; 0/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 6/0)

DEFENDERS (10): Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 2/0), Greg Garza (FC Cincinnati; 10/0), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 2/0), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact/CAN; 0/0), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Keegan Rosenberry (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 4/1)

MIDFIELDERS (10): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 23/2), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 17/2), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 142/17), Russell Canouse (D.C. United; 0/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC/CAN; 6/0), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 5/1), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 5/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 11/0)

FORWARDS (3): Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers; 0/0), Christian Ramirez (LAFC; 0/0), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC; 40/6)

USMNT player of the year Zack Steffen reflects on superb 2018, is ready for Man City

12:06 PM ETNoah DavisU.S. soccer writer

At the beginning of 2018, Zack Steffen hadn’t played a minute for the United States men’s national team. At the club level, he had been a starter with the Columbus Crew for just a single season, and the team’s future in Ohio was very much in doubt.Twelve months later, the Crew are saved, Steffen is the U.S. No. 1 goalkeeper and he has just completed a multimillion-dollar transfer to Manchester Citythat will see him head back to Europe in July. That’s enough to get a player named U.S. Soccer’s Men’s National Team Player of the Year, which was confirmed for Steffen on Tuesday.On the eve of the announcement, Steffen chatted with ESPN FC about #SaveTheCrew, his former club manager Gregg Berhalter taking over the U.S. job and whether he will ever get between the posts for Manchester City.

ESPN FC: This year was a whirlwind for you. Can you put the experience into words?

Zack Steffen: I think you’ve put it in the best of terms. It’s a testament to hard work, dedication to your craft, being humble and using your support system when you need it to keep going through the ups and downs. You need to persist.

ESPN FC: What’s the best save you made this year?

Steffen: I would have to go with the double save against France in that game in Lyon. That knuckling ball, and then having to go low and get just a touch to keep it out.

ESPN FC: You got your first national team minutes in January against Bosnia and Herzegovina. What do you remember from that match?

Steffen: I remember that I wasn’t nervous. I remember just telling myself to go out and play the game. Have fun. Don’t do anything that I didn’t normally do. Just try to reach back and be calm. That’s exactly what I did.

Zack Steffen was named U.S. Soccer’s Men’s National Team Player of the Year for 2018. USA Today Images

ESPN FC: Do you feel like the U.S. No. 1?

Steffen: I mean, I know all the spots are up for grabs. We have a whole new coach and a whole new staff. It’s going to be a brand-new year. So, I do not. I think that’s the way I’ve been raised, to be humble, stay down in it and always train like it’s your spot to take and your spot to lose. I’m going to go into training with the attitude of building off this year, trying to get better, trying to push my teammates and become a leader.

ESPN FC: Can you take that spot?

Steffen: Yeah. I think it’s anybody’s spot to take. It’s open. Right now, every position is wide open. But I feel confident in what I’ve done. Those games and the camps have given me a good foundation to keep working hard and hopefully do well in the coming games.

ESPN FC: Gregg Berhalter was coach at Columbus and now he’s the U.S. national team coach. How does that change your relationship with him?

Steffen: Gregg’s great. I think it’ll change our relationship a little bit just because I don’t see him every day and joke around with him every day. He’s not out there pushing me every day. But at the same time, it’s going to be great. He has great respect for me and great respect for soccer in this nation. He’s a demanding coach, and I can see him being even more demanding with me than he was with the Crew. I’m ready for it. He’s going to bring in a plan and give us a character as a team and as a nation. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes and what exactly he’s going to be like.

ESPN FC: Have you talked to him about this at all?

Steffen: Nah. We’ve only texted here and there, congratulations for each other and happy holidays.

ESPN FC: How good can this U.S. team be?

Steffen: There’s a lot of young talent. We’re very explosive, quick and powerful. I think we can use that to our advantage. I think Gregg will use that to our advantage. This year, we really needed a plan going into games, a style going into games. Personality. That was obviously tough when we had so many guys debuting for the national team. It’s nice to get this year as a foundation for the youth.

Shaka Hislop explains why Zack Steffen chose Man City

While Shaka Hislop doesn’t see Zack Steffen dislodging Ederson as Manchester City’s No. 1, he still sees benefits from the move for the American.

ESPN FC: Who’s your closest friend on the team?

Steffen: I have a lot of close friends. It helps that Wil [Trapp] and I are on the Crew together. We go to national team games together, and that’s great. Gyasi [Zardes] is a great guy, as well. Then we have Shaq Moore, Tim Weah, Kellyn Acosta. There are a lot. Ethan Horvath and Alex Bono. I could keep going. Tim [Howard]. Tyler [Adams]. That’s the good thing about this group: There aren’t really any big egos. Everybody is coming into work hard, and everybody is coming in to get better.

ESPN FC: A big story off the field was the “Save the Crew” movement. Where were you when you found out that the team was going to stay?

Steffen: I was in my hotel room in Tampa Bay when the U.S. was playing Colombia. I think I got a call from somebody or saw a tweet. I started making calls and checking Twitter. It was an awesome day. Before that, there were some times where you were caught thinking about what was going to happen next year. Gregg and the coaching staff did a pretty good job in helping us focus on soccer and the season because they are very detailed. But when that day came and the news broke, it was definitely a feeling of relief and happiness, for ourselves, but also for the fans of Columbus and the community. It was a testament to their dedication to us, the team and the community. They are the ones who did it in the end.

ESPN FC: What most excites you about moving to City?

Steffen: It’s a new opportunity and new challenges. I can look forward to that. Getting back over to Europe and playing at a little bit higher level, then hopefully becoming a leader for the national team.

ESPN FC: When did you first know they were interested in signing you?

Steffen: I knew in mid-August. That’s when it all started. David Rouse, a goalkeeping scout for Manchester City, came over for maybe a week in October. He was an awesome guy. He showed me what kind of club they were like. We talked about Manchester City. He watched me and watched a game.

ESPN FC: What’s that like, knowing that there’s a scout from one of the biggest teams in the world watching you play live? Were you thinking about him in the stands?

Steffen: Yeah, that was in the back of my mind. But at the same time, you just have to go out, play your game and not do anything that you’re not used to or uncomfortable with. They’ve scouted you. They wouldn’t be watching you if they didn’t like you and didn’t trust you. You have to keep playing and not think about it. Think about it afterwards. It worked out.

ESPN FC: You went to Freiburg in 2014. What did you learn about playing in Europe during that stint that will help you at City?

Steffen: When I was over there, I learned a lot about the style of soccer and the lifestyle. Off the field, I learned a lot about myself. I wasn’t ready at that time. I wasn’t happy. Coming back was a smart call. Now, I’m much more mature. I’ve had my stint at Columbus. My family has been right by my side throughout, and that’s exactly what I wanted. I found my happiness. I’m ready to head back over and take on the challenges. I don’t think it’ll be as hectic and hard this time.

ESPN FC: Have you spoken with Pep Guardiola?

Steffen: I have not. When I went over for meetings, I met a bunch of the coaches. I went out to dinner with the goalie coach and some of the other higher-ups. They are all great people, welcoming and caring. It’s great.

ESPN FC: The British press can be brutal. One recent headline was, “Zack Steffen is unlikely to ever play for Man City. So why did he join them?” What’s your reaction to that?

Steffen: Negative press is always going to come out. There are always going to be your supporters, and then there are going to be haters. I kind of laugh at them. I’m confident in my abilities and what I can do if I continue to work hard and focus. I don’t really care what other people think.

ESPN FC: City Football Group has clubs all over the world, and there has been some talk that you’ll get loaned out. Are you going there to play for Man City?

Steffen: Of course. I want to get there as soon as possible and compete. Or whenever that happens, I think I’ll be ready. And they know I’m ready to compete.

ESPN FC: Would you be disappointed if you weren’t on a Premier League roster next August when the season starts?

Steffen: I trust in Man City and what plans they have for me. So no, no, I won’t be.

ESPN FC: Can you be their No. 1?

Steffen: If everything works out and everything falls into place, anything can happen.

ESPN FC: Best-case scenario for you in 2019?

Steffen: I would love to be in Manchester on the roster. We’ll start with that.

Major League Soccer changes playoff format, increases number of teams

Dec 17, 2018Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent

Major League Soccer announced its new playoff structure on Monday, introducing a new single-elimination format to be used in the 2019 season.The format’s implementation will see the number of playoff qualifiers increase from 12 to 14 teams, and will also see the playoffs take place entirely between the October and November FIFA international windows. The playoffs will begin on Oct. 19, while MLS Cup will be held on Nov. 10.The changes address several criticisms of the format that has been used for the last several seasons. The most recent format was comprised of an initial, single-elimination knockout round followed by conference semifinals and finals that were contested over two legs. The MLS Cup final was then held at the home field of whichever team had the better regular season record.But there had been complaints that the format didn’t do enough to reward teams for regular season excellence. In single-elimination games the higher seed advanced 67.3 percent of the time, while in 78 examples of two-game series over the years, the higher seed advanced just 55.1 percent of the time. Now the higher seed will host every match, with the top seed in each conference receiving a first-round bye.The schedule also reduces the impact that the two FIFA windows had on the competition. The November window was especially problematic given that the playoffs essentially went on hiatus for two weeks, disrupting the rhythm of the postseason. Now that break has been eliminated, while the October window can be used by teams as a recovery period ahead of the playoffs.The earlier finish to the season will increase the odds of better weather for the season’s most important games. The calendar will also allow for more compatibility with the 2022 World Cup, which is set to begin on Nov. 21 of that year.The upcoming MLS season begins on March 2 and will consist of 34 matches. The regular season will end on Oct. 6.

Transfer window: Man United, Arsenal, Real Madrid need defenders; Man City, PSG to wait?

3:01 AM ETESPN

The transfer window is nearly upon us, but clubs across Europe are already planning for their January business. Who will come in? Who will depart?ESPN FC’s club correspondents delve into the deals which may be on the cards.

Premier League

MAN CITY: In need of a holding midfielder

TRANSFERS

What does the team need in January?

Manchester City have two quality players for every position, with the exception of defensive midfield and left-back. The holding role in the centre of midfield is a crucial position within Pep Guardiola’s setup — acting as a pivot going forward and crucial defensively — and while Fernandinho plays the role perfectly, at the age of 33 he can’t be overplayed and any injury would be a serious setback.Benjamin Mendy is the only left-back at the club and is ruled out until February, although Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko have done a good job as replacements.

Who are the major targets?

Guardiola has ruled out any major new signings in the January transfer window. The City boss is aware that his squad is short in the centre of midfield and wanted Italy international Jorginho in the summer — before he opted to follow Maurizio Sarri from Napoli to Chelsea. Netherlands international Frenkie de Jong is now a leading target for the position, but with Ajax reaching the Champions League knockout stages and battling PSV for the Eredivisie title, the 21-year-old wants to wait until the summer before considering a move. City are prepared to be patient.

Who will be leaving?

Highly-rated young forward Brahim Diaz has turned down a new contract, and with his deal running out in the summer, he looks set to leave in the January transfer window. Sources have told ESPN that Real Madrid are leading the chase for the Spain under-21 international and are prepared to spend around £10m to show their commitment, rather than waiting until the end of the season and picking him up for free.Centre-back Eliaquim Mangala has not played this season and could leave, while fringe players Philippe Sandler and Yangel Herrera could also go out on loan.

Any new contracts?

City have already been busy tying up some of their most exciting young talent to new deals over the past 12 months. Guardiola has revealed that the club have opened talks with Leroy Sane over an improved contract, although the Germany winger’s current deal doesn’t run out until the summer of 2021. John Stones is also seen as part of the long-term future but is signed up until 2022.City have three players out of contract at the end of the season: Diaz turned down a new offer, and Mangala will be allowed to leave for free, which leaves captain Vincent Kompany. The 32-year-old has had injury problems in recent years, but has played his part this season. After a decade in Manchester, he wants to stay. — Jonathan Smith

LIVERPOOL: Will injuries force them to spend?

What does the team need in January?

Liverpool’s position up until to the past few weeks has been that there would be no January incomings. Injuries, however, may force Klopp, who has been reluctant to make additions midway through a season, to reassess his thinking. Liverpool currently have just two centre-backs fit and available.Will that mean Liverpool make a move for a centre-back next month? It remains unlikely given that Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are expected to return shortly after the New Year, but Liverpool will be open to activity in January.

Who are the major targets?

The links to Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic, whom Liverpool have tried to sign in the past, will not go away. Sources have told ESPN FC that the U.S. star is keen on a new opportunity, with his Dortmund contract expiring in 2020 and no sign of a new deal forthcoming. However Dortmund’s stance, both publicly and privately, remains that no “essential” player will be sold in the winter as they sit atop of the Bundesliga.World Cup-winning right-back Benjamin Pavard has been linked with a move recently, although there are suggestions that the €35m release clause in his Stuttgart contract only comes into force in the summer.

Who will be leaving?

There should not be any high-profile departures this January. This time 12 months ago, Philippe Coutinho was gearing up towards his £142m move to Barcelona. But Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have all signed long-term contracts at Anfield in recent months.

An agent for Simon Mignolet told ESPN FC that his client is seeking a move next month but appreciates that it will be difficult for Liverpool to grant that wish. Elsewhere, a number of teams desperate for a striker may take a punt on Divock Origi, and Dominic Solanke could leave on loan, having not made a single appearance this season.

Any new contracts?

Liverpool have been proactive in locking down top players to new contracts, but it’s a different story for Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno. Both of their contracts expire in the summer, and Moreno is expected to leave on a free transfer, with sources telling ESPN FC that his former club Sevilla are monitoring the left-back.Meanwhile, teams will be keeping close tabs on Sturridge’s betting case with the English Football Association. Sturridge has been given until February to respond his charges from the FA of allegedly breaching rules on betting. That could rumble on. — Glenn Price

 

MAN UNITED: Quiet January ahead at Old Trafford?

What does the team need in January?

In terms of personnel, Manchester United need a centre-back and a right winger but more importantly, they need to find some inspiration from a new manager after the sacking of Jose Mourinho. There’s a chance that bolstering the squad may offer some of that, but the problems at Old Trafford extend beyond the players and former manager. A new signing might lift the mood ahead of the second half of the season, but it’s difficult to know what position is most important because United are struggling at both ends of the pitch.

Who are the major targets?

Sources have told ESPN FC that despite Mourinho’s exit, the club are still happy to spend in January if long-term targets become available. There is, though, an acknowledgement that it is not an easy window in which to do business, and they will not panic-buy just for the sake of it. If defenders like Kalidou Koulibaly, Milan Skriniar or Nikola Milenkovic were made available for a reasonable price, United would be interested.

Who will be leaving?

There is discontent among the players who are not featuring regularly, although Mourinho went on record to say no one has asked to leave. Andreas Pereira, Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian will consider their options if offers are made in January, but the bulk of the squad should stay together unless individuals push to leave.Sources have told ESPN FC that United will reject offers for Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, but they are braced for their resolve to be tested with cut-price offers — particularly from Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

Any new contracts?

Sources have told ESPN FC that United are in talks with Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Ashley Young, who could all be free agents in the summer. David De Gea and Anthony Martial are also priorities but they have deals until 2020 and United have time on their side. — Rob Dawson

ARSENAL: Defensive help is a priority

What does the team need in January?

A defender, preferably two. A proper winger would be nice as well, but shoring up the injury-ravaged back four must be the priority for Arsenal. They currently only have three fit centre-backs in the squad, with Laurent Koscielny only just coming back from a seven-month layoff, while all four of their full-backs have had injury problems this season.Arsenal’s unbalanced attack also needs a natural wide player, but those are expensive and the club might be reluctant to ruin the prospects of starlet Reiss Nelson when he comes back from his loan at Hoffenheim next season.

Who are the major targets?

Sources have told ESPN FC that both Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Manchester United’s Eric Bailly are on Arsenal’s radar, but that would require either club being willing to sell to a direct rival. Real Valladolid’s Fernando Calero has also been linked and could be a more realistic target. Then there’s always the possibility that recruitment head Sven Mislintat will take everyone by surprise by unearthing some relatively unknown talent. In terms of attackers, Lille’s Nicolas Pepe, Roma’s Cengiz Under and Boca Juniors’ Cristian Pavon have all been frequently linked, but it’s unclear whether Arsenal can afford a deal for them at this point in time.

Who will be leaving?

It’s unlikely we’ll see any major departures unless other clubs come in with good offers for players that are surplus to requirements. Arsenal would probably entertain bids for Mohamed Elneny, for instance, but the Egyptian has shown an unwillingness to move in the past. Aaron Ramsey’s contract is up in 2019, but he is expected to stay in order to collect a major signing bonus when he leaves as a free agent in the summer, although Arsenal would want to cash in on the player while they can.

Any new contracts?

The possibilities of Ramsey’s contract talks being resurrected seem slim to none, while Danny Welbeck isn’t expected to get a new deal either. Goalkeeper Petr Cech’s contract also expires in the summer and Arsenal might consider giving the 36-year-old a one-year extension — if he’s willing to remain a backup to Bernd Leno. A few mistakes have crept into Leno’s game lately, so the club might be wise to keep Cech around a bit longer. — Mattias Karen

CHELSEA: Can they get a top striker?

What does your team need in January?

Chelsea clearly need an elite goal scorer, as Maurizio Sarri’s faith in Alvaro Morata fades with every passing game and Eden Hazard required to be as much of a creator as he is a goal threat. Strikers of such proven calibre are rare, though, and none appear to be available in January.Sarri’s reluctance to look to the transfer market for solutions, coupled with his insistence that his current first-team squad is too big, will likely dull Marina Granovskaia’s sense of urgency. Only the threat of an imminent FIFA transfer ban could significantly alter the landscape.

Who are the major targets?

Borussia Dortmund starlet Pulisic fits the profile of a Chelsea signing perfectly, particularly since both Willian and Pedro Rodriguez are getting older and Hazard could leave next summer. But there is little sense in Granovskaia making a concerted push in January unless FIFA action or the threat of a Premier League rival — Liverpool have also been heavily linked with Pulisic — forces the club to bring forward their plans, particularly since Dortmund sound determined to charge a hefty premium for any midseason squad disruption.

Who will be leaving?

Chelsea will drive Danny Drinkwater to Fulham if Claudio Ranieri decides he wants a Leicester City reunion at Craven Cottage, while Sarri has made it clear that club captain Gary Cahill and Victor Moses are not in his planCesc Fabregas seems to be linked with a move to Serie A in every window these days, but Sarri would require a replacement if the man he regards as his only cover for Jorginho is confirmed as a departure. Denis Suarez, unsettled on the fringes at Barcelona, could be a reasonably priced successor. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen will stay unless they agitate to leave. There could also be loan moves for Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi — the latter only if he signs a new contract first.

Any new contracts?

Hazard remains adamant that he will keep his options open until the summer, but Chelsea have other decisions to make. David Luiz and Fabregas are both set to be free agents next summer, although there is an option to extend Olivier Giroud’s stay by one more year

Hudson-Odoi’s contract situation is also causing some concern at Stamford Bridge — his current deal expires in 2020, the same year as Hazard. Chelsea regard him as one of the brightest talents their academy has produced, and they are well aware that the example of Jason Sancho’s defection from Manchester City to Borussia Dortmund is an enticing one for many youngsters. — Liam Twomey

TOTTENHAM: Midfield depth is thin

What does the team need in January?

Spurs need to increase the proportion of homegrown players in their squad, having been forced to leave three out of their Champions League squad because of rules limiting the number of non “locally trained” players. Their inability to sell unwanted foreign players in the summer was just as big a problem as their failure to sign anyone, so there is every chance that Tottenham’s squad will get smaller in January. But the north Londoners could do with a central midfielder as Mousa Dembele seems to be coming to the end of his time with the club, while the injury-plagued Victor Wanyama cannot be relied upon.

Who are the major targets?

Tottenham tried to sign Jack Grealish in the summer, and he would tick a couple of boxes, but the 23-year-old signed a new five-year contract with Aston Villa in September. Bournemouth centre-back Nathan Ake has also been linked with Spurs amid ongoing uncertainty about Toby Alderweireld’s future.

Who will be leaving?

Striker Vincent Janssen has not made a single appearance this season, while Georges-Kevin Nkoudou is also wasting time at the club having had only one substitute outing this campaign. Dembele and Fernando Llorente are out of contract in the summer and seem unlikely to sign new ones; if Spurs want to get any money for them, they will need to cash in next month. Michel Vorm will also be a free agent in the summer and having lost the No. 2 goalkeeper spot to Paulo Gazzaniga, he’d be allowed to leave if an offer came in.

Any new contracts?

Jan Vertonghen’s deal expires in the summer, but he has stated he expects Spurs to activate a clause that will extend his stay until 2020. Meanwhile, Alderweireld is out of contract in the summer, and although Tottenham can activate a one-year extension, that would also activate a release clause making the Belgian centre-back available for £25m in the summer. Outside of those two, the priority is to get Christian Eriksen to commit his long-term future to the club as he’s entering the last 18 months of his deal, and his status is a growing concern. — Ben Pearce

Transfer Rater: Zidane to Premier League? Morata to Barca?

ESPN FC’s Ale Moreno breaks down the latest transfers surrounding Zinedine Zidane, Alvaro Morata and many more in Transfer Rater.

Europe

BARCELONA: Will they spend big on a centre-back?

 

What does the team need in January?

Barcelona don’t feel they can improve their starting XI in January but may turn to the transfer market to ensure their relatively thin squad doesn’t become a problem in the latter stages of the Champions League. In that sense, they may move for a centre-back on a short-term deal if Samuel Umtiti’s knee injury doesn’t improve. Other plans, though, such as signing a midfielder and a long-term Luis Suarez replacement, are likely to wait until the summer.

Who are the major targets?

The club have been cagey on defenders they could target if Umtiti is going to be out for a long time. Their options will be limited (Diario Sport say Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen is the preference) given they only want a stop-gap to fill in until the summer, when they will go all out for Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt.Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong is also a target for next season, while Adrien Rabiot, who could be available for free in six months, is also on the table.

Who will be leaving?

Barca’s squad size — they have just one senior left-back, for example — means there’s not much room for departures. Midfield is one area where they could potentially subtract, but only if the players themselves are desperate for more minutes elsewhere. Rafinha might have fallen into that category, but an injury has ruled him out until next season. That means Denis Suarez is the only player with an uncertain future next month. There’s plenty of interest from Spain, Italy and England.Another to keep an eye on: B team midfielder and England youth international Marcus McGuane.

Any new contracts?

The Catalan club have the biggest wage bill in the world largely thanks to Lionel Messi’s renewal last year. Sergio Busquets, Luis Suarez and Marc-Andre ter Stegen have all been tied to new terms recently, too. The only player, then, waiting on a pay rise is Jordi Alba. His deal is up in 2020, and talks have begun between the club and his agents, although an agreement is not yet close.Munir and Thomas Vermaelen are out of contract in the summer but both, as things stand, look set to leave for free. — Sam Marsden

REAL MADRID: A January “Galactico” is unlikely

What does the team need in January?

The first six months of the season have shown huge issues in a Madrid squad that suddenly appears to have grown old together. They could really do with a new big name attacker to fill some of the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit, as goal scoring has been a big problem for both Julen Lopetegui and his replacement Santi Solari. Some experience in defence would also be very welcome: ideally someone who could cover both centre-back and left-back.

Who are the major targets?

The most discussed options in the Madrid media continue to be PSG pair Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, two long-term targets of club president Florentino Perez. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is also regularly mentioned, although there is a widespread acceptance that a “Galactico” name is unlikely in January. Instead Madrid look set to continue their policy of snapping up the best available young Spanish talent, with sources confirming to ESPN FC that a move for Man City starlet Brahim Diaz is close.

Who will be leaving?

Sources have told ESPN FC that homegrown midfielder Marcos Llorente will push through an exit in January should he lose his place in the XI when Casemiro returns to fitness. Another youngster, Jesus Vallejo, could leave having barely featured this season. Bigger names like Isco and Keylor Navas are unhappy at a lack of playing time under Solari, but have not yet done enough to force the situation far enough for a January exit.Marcelo has been linked with Juventus — by former teammate Ronaldo himself — but the Brazil left-back has denied the possibility of leaving midseason.

Any new contracts?

A policy of keeping all their players tied down to long-term deals means there are no players out of contract next summer. It had been expected that Luka Modric’s stellar year would lead to a pay rise, but there has been no change yet to the deal that is set to end in 2020. The contracts of Navas and club captain Sergio Ramos are also entering their last 18 months, with both those situations more likely to come to the boil after this season ends. — Dermot Corrigan

JUVENTUS: Marcelo would be great if they could get him

What does the team need in January?

Cristiano Ronaldo summed up Juve’s plans this winter by saying they do not need to add anybody to their already competitive squad, although he would welcome former Real Madrid teammate Marcelo. The Bianconeri already have excellent cover in all departments, with the return to fitness of Emre Can ensuring that the midfield also has great depth. Any new arrival could depend on whether any player asks to leave.

Who are the major targets?

The only players Juve would theoretically target would be ones who could improve the current quality of the squad and add depth. Marcelo would certainly fit in that category, giving coach Massimiliano Allegri another option at full-back or wing-back.Otherwise, Paul Pogba continues to be linked with a return, and while Juve already have many options in midfield, they would not turn down a player of his calibre — who already knows the club inside out and would not need time to settle in — if the price and conditions were right.

Who will be leaving?

Central defenders Medhi Benatia and Daniele Rugani have both expressed agitation at their lack of opportunities, and if Juve were to offload any players this winter, one of their back four would be a prime candidate.Left-back Alex Sandro, who has suitors in the Premier League, has also been tipped to move if a significant offer is received even though he recently extended his contract. Young Moise Kean could also be loaned out (as he was a year ago) since his first-team opportunities have been limited so far this season, although Juve are not keen on letting him leave on a permanent deal.

Any new contracts?

Mario Mandzukic is becoming a fan favourite in Turin and Allegri knows he can rely on the Croatian forward, whose contract is up in 2020. An extension is likely to be signed before next summer, with the 32-year-old seemingly keen to dedicate the final years of his career to the club. Central defenders Andrea Barzagli, whose contract expires in the summer, and captain Giorgio Chiellini, could also extend their stays, with both expected to end their careers at Juve. —Ben Gladwellplay

BAYERN MUNICH: Need a statement signing and depth

What does the team need in January?

Nine points adrift of Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund and with a lack of squad depth, Bayern need a statement signing to show they’ve not given up hope of winning a seventh consecutive title. However, lacking full-backs and pace in central defence, they must also add depth if they want a deep run in the Champions League.

Who are the major targets?

Bayern have signed 18-year-old winger Alphonso Davies and have reportedly agreed a summer transfer for France and Stuttgart defender Benjamin Pavard. Ahead of a summer of upheaval at the Allianz Arena in which the Bundesliga record champions will invest big, Munich are yet undecided whether to spend in the winter.

The club have been linked with Ajax midfielder de Jong, along with a host of other clubs (including Man City), and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, but with Joshua Kimmich getting more playing time in central midfield and right-back Rafinha entering the last six months of his deal, Bayern could look into reinforcing the full-back positions.

Who will be leaving?

James Rodriguez has reportedly contemplated cutting his loan at Bayern from Real Madrid short. But despite the Colombian star’s discontent, the club will not allow him to leave without a suitable backup. Striker Sandro Wagner could depart amid a lack of playing time, yet the 31-year-old remains the sole backup for star attacker Robert Lewandowski. There is also an outside chance that one of Jerome Boateng or Mats Hummels could leave if Bayern bring in Pavard in January.

Any new contracts?

Arjen Robben has already announced he will leave next summer, and 35-year-old Franck Ribery has no future at the club so won’t be offered new terms. Serge Gnabry has been in fine form this season and is set to enter the final 18 months of his contract, so the 23-year-old should land a new deal as Bayern look to the future. — Stefan Uersfeld

DORTMUND: Sales will be the priority in winter window

What does the team need in January?

Borussia Dortmund’s squad depth and the right mix of experience, hunger and youth in all positions make January signings unlikely. The Bundesliga leaders, however, are hoping to offload several players to reduce the size of the squad.

Who are the major targets?

BVB already unveiled Paco Alcacer in November and plan to sign on-loan Real Madrid defender Achraf Hakimi on a permanent basis in the summer; there are no targets for January.

Who will be leaving?

Only a huge bid in the region of €80m could change Dortmund’s mind over a Pulisic transfer amid the club’s first title challenge in seven years. Germany midfielder Julian Weigl, whose stock has dropped under Lucien Favre, might be allowed to leave if the price is right. While the media focus will be on Pulisic, Dortmund will hope to offload several fringe players.Japan international Shinji Kagawa has flirted with La Liga for a while and midfielder Sebastian Rode’s services are also no longer required. Once hailed as the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Swedish attacker Alexander Isak, 19, could also leave the Westfalenstadion after two years in which his impact has been limited.

Any new contracts?

Midfielder Mario Gotze and versatile Portugal international Raphael Guerreiro are entering the final 18 months of their deals. Dortmund look in no rush to prolong Gotze’s contract as he’s still finding his feet in his second stint at the club. Although he struggled with injuries last term, Guerreiro has shown his worth with four goals in the Champions League and a return to form in the Bundesliga. — Stefan Uersfeld

PSG: Summer spending is more likely

What does the team need in January?

Thomas Tuchel has been vocal in his desire to have a defensive midfielder added to his ranks by sporting director Antero Henrique. However, financial fair play (FFP) uncertainty could mean that Tuchel has to wait until next summer.

Who are the major targets?

Sources have told ESPN that the club met with the representatives of Ajax’s Frenkie de Jong, although the player himself doesn’t want to leave in January and would cost €75m. Elsewhere, Lyon’s Tanguy Ndombele and Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz have been mentioned, while Celta Vigo’s Stanislav Lobotka and Borussia Dortmund’s Julian Weigl have also been regularly linked since Tuchel arrived.If PSG do move for a player in January, only Lobotka looks reasonably within reach. With Marquinhos growing more and more comfortable in midfield, do not be surprised if PSG opt against winter reinforcements and instead focus on contract renewals with the intention of significant transfer activity next summer.

Who will be leaving?

Henrique is desperately trying to move forgotten man Jese Rodriguez on, so there could be movement there if there is a club willing to take a risk on the Spaniard. Otherwise, Lassana Diarra will be allowed to leave if a suitable offer materialises, and U.S. international Timothy Weah is almost certain to leave on loan until the end of the season.

Any new contracts?

Adrien Rabiot and Alphonse Areola are about to enter the final six months of their contracts, and PSG do not want to let them reach the point where they can start discussions with other clubs. Layvin Kurzawa has also been offered a two-year contract extension, and discussions with Marco Verratti over a new deal have been ongoing, but Rabiot and Areola are the two most pressing issues.– Jonathan Johnson

Top priorities for Solskjaer at Man United

Joe Prince-Wright,NBC Sports 21 hours ago

What are the five things Solskjaer must do if he is going to be successful at United?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been appointed Manchester United’s caretaker manager until the end of the season and his remit is clear: restore positivity to the club.

How will the United legend do that?

Below is a look at his top priorities to salvage something from United’s worst-ever start to a Premier League season, as the post Jose Mourinho era begins at Cardiff City on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Reintegrate Pogba
One of the things which has flown under the radar a little is that Solskjaer managed United’s reserve team which included the likes of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard back in the day. At the start of this season Solskjaer told the media he would “build the team around” Pogba, so that is great news for the World Cup winner. Mourinho’s issues with Pogba no doubt played a big factor in the rest of the dressing room turning on the Portuguese coach, but if Solskjaer is respected by the French star then it could well get the best out of him. Whatever you think about some of Pogba’s antics on and off the pitch, there’s no doubting that he is a wonderful midfield player in the right situation. In Mourinho’s last few weeks he spent most of the time on the bench. That will not be the case anymore. Having a coach later in your career who was influential in your formative years often allows a player to feel more comfortable and regain their best form. Maybe hiring Solskjaer was Pogba’s idea…

Forgot defensive solidity
If Jose Mourinho can’t get this team to defend, no coach in the world can. So Solskjaer should forget about it. Seriously. United have already conceded more goals in 17 games this season than they did in the whole of last season. With defensive injuries piling up and the likes of Eric BaillyPhil JonesMarcos Rojo and Victor Lindelof basically told they were not good enough due to Mourinho’s desperation to sign two new center backs in the summer, they all get a fresh start. That could bode well, but Solskjaer needs to focus on scoring goals and getting the best out of United’s strikers.

Get support for Lukaku
Whether it is playing Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial up front alongside him, playing two playmakers underneath him or just chucking more balls into the box from wide areas, whatever it takes you have to get the best out of Romelu Lukaku. The lack of support the Belgian forward has had in recent seasons has been shocking at times, and you almost feel sorry for him when United go away to some big clubs and he hardly has a sniff of the ball and has two center backs to hold off before he even gets a chance to get a shot off. Lukaku’s form has been up and down due to a lack of confidence and he has missed some big chances, but some one-on-one training from one of the best finishers in the game (who just so happens to be the new gaffer) should do him the world of good.

Tap into the knowledge around him
Mourinho basically did everything on his own at United, and that was fair enough. He had won enough trophies at big clips to warrant doing things his way. But Solskjaer has the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson to lean on, Mike Phelan who is returning to assist him and several of his former teammates in Gary Neville, Ryan GiggsPaul Scholes and Co. who can lend him a hand and be sounding boards. All of the aforementioned people are United fans and want the club to do well. Solskjaer would be silly to ignore their advice, while of course sticking to his own playing style and philosophies as a coach.

Involve the fans
The majority of United’s fans tried to stick with Mourinho until the very end but he is a tough guy to like at the best of times and it never felt like he bought into the identity of the club. He lived in a hotel for over two-and-a-half years at United and went back home to London whenever he could. Solskjaer is a Man United fan and his goals delivered some of the greatest moments United’s fans have ever witnessed. Getting them on his side should not be difficult, but keeping them on board for the rest of the season will be key if he’s going to be successful. If United claw back the 11-point deficit and finish in the top four, plus make a deep run in the Champions League, who is to say Solskjaer isn’t the man for the job long-term.

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