3/8/19  Champions League Stunners, Indy 11 Season opener Sat, MLS Wk2, Full TV Game Schedule

Ok I simply have to start with Champions League this week as there were unbelievable upsets and hard to figure VAR reffing decisions that dominated this week as favorites Real Madrid, PSG and AS Roma all lost. The biggest collapse was Real Madrid – the holders, 3 time Defending UCL Champions, losing AT HOME 3-1 to Ajax.  The Dutch squad with a roster full of players on the A and B team that make less per month than Real Madrid’s Garreth Bale makes.  Yes the entire squad.  Wow !!  In Paris – PSG made their annual exit at the Sweet 16 level complete as they gave up their 2-0 lead by losing 3-3 (away goal difference) to Man United.  PSG outplayed, outpossessed and outshot the EPL miracle workers but it was VAR that laid the final nail in the coffin – as a 91st minute call for hand ball on a defender turning and jumping on a shot sailing over the goal was called hand-ball and Man U won on the last second PK to send PSG and GK Buffon packing.  See below to see the call and decide for yourselves.  As a ref – I would not have called it a hand ball?  Fellow refs out there thoughts?   Either way the Champions League the top level of club soccer in the world continues to show why it is must see TV – even if we can’t see all the games because TNT/BR live stinks!  Enjoy this week’s games remember kickoffs are 4 pm this week not 3 pm because of daylight savings.

Tues Mar 12                                    Champions League

4 pm BR Live/Uni Desp               Man City 3 vs Schalke 2  CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

4 pm    TNT                                     Juventus 0  vs   Atletico Madrid 2 

10 pm Yahoo SportsOL                  Santos Laguna vs NY Red Bulls CCL

12 am Yahoo Sports                        Houston Dynamo vs Tigres

Weds, Mar 13                                CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

4 pm TNT                                         Bayern Munich vs Liverpool 

4 pm BR Live                                  Barcelona 0 vs Lyonnais  0

9 pm ET Yahoo Sports OL            Atlanta United   vs Monterrey  CCL

INDY 11

Finally our Indy 11 get underway on their 2nd season in USL on the road this Saturday afternoon in St. Louis at 2 pm on ESPN+.  An improved roster helps the 11 kick off the new season as they will have many more Saturday night home games at Lucas Oil Stadium this season.  Meanwhile – its not too late to get your season tickets for just $99 for the season. Check out season reviews below on the OBC and the USL as the Eleven are being picked as high as #4 in the league and some have us favored to represent the Eastern Division in the playoffs with the newly revamped roster that the Boys in Blue have added.   Get your season ticket package today by visiting IndyEleven.com/season-tickets or by calling 317-685-1100. First home game is Sat, March 30th vs Hartford Athletic at 7 pm at the Luke!  Season kicks off tonight at 10 pm on ESPN+ with Seattle Sounders 2 vs Rio Grande Valley.

Big Games on TV this Week

Fifth place EPL squad Arsenal hosts 4th place Man United on Sunday at 12;30 pm on NBC as the battle for the top 4 comes to a head.  Champions League Tues/Wed 3 pm on TNT.  Atlanta United hosts Cincy FC at 5 pm on ESPN Sunday, while LAFC hosts Portland after at 7 pm on FS1.

Carmel FC and Carmel Dad’s Club – Dick’s Shopping Days are this Weekend 3/9-3/10 Sat/Sun at Clay Terrace 20% off

Indy 11

Indy 11 Add New Fire Power – Indy Star Kevin Johnson

Indy 11 Tips Hand in Eleven Pre-season Final – Kevin Johnson – SocTakes.com

Indy 11 Sign former West Brom Midfielder Do Heon Kim –

Indy 11 sign New Defender & Forward

Indy 11 Draw Nashville SC in Final Preseason Game

Indy 11 Stadium Proposal Passes the Senate – Indy Star

Full Schedule Released

Flex 8 Pack Ticket is Back

Season Tickets Just over $100

USL Western Conference Preview – Soctakes.com

USL Power Rankings – Indy 11 4th

USL Picks-

Sellouts Welcome New teams in the league

USL Champions Campaign

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE  

Zidanes Return Signals Big Changes at Real Madrid are Coming – Jonathan Wilson SI

A rested Zidane ready to Return to Madrid refreshed – SI

Crazy happenings in Champions League – SI

PSG is Robbed by Ref, Var & Man United

UEFA backs Ref over Man U bad call vs PSG

PSG proves again they are Europe’s Biggest Losers – ESPNFC

Player ratings PSG

Why Real Madrid suffered their darkest night in UCL History – Marcotti ESPNFC

Bale Was Supposed to Replace Ronaldo – Why He’s Soon Out Too-  Sid Lowe

POLL: Who stays and who goes from Real Madrid?
Carvajal: Read Madrid’s ‘s— season’ is already over
Real Madrid Player Ratings: Kroos, Nacho worst of a bad a bunch

Spurs plan to play UCL quarters at home

Roma fires coach after loss

De Rossi Saddened to lose via Var

Real Madrid Coach to Be out Soon – Mourino the Target

Top Ten Teams World Wide Rankings – ESPNFC Shaka Hislop

MLS

MLS Week 2 What to Watch For – Arch Bell – ESPNFC

MLS predictions: Atlanta United favored to repeat

MLS Statues – who Deserves the Next Statue

MLS story lines: Will Zlatan dominate?

FC Cincy’s First Ever Goal in MLS at Seattle last weekend

Ibra out vs FC Dallas with Injury – New MF Joe Corona could play

EPL

Klopp defends Salah Goal Record this month

As Liverpool Stumbles Klopp says he prefers to chase Title from behind-NBCSN

Chelsea’s Higuain Seems to Have Hit Stride

GAMES ON TV

Fri, March 8  

10 pm ESPN+                                        USL Seattle Sounders 2 vs Rio Grande Valley

Sat, March 9 

9:30 am FS1                                            Bayern Munich vs Wolfsburg (Brooks)

9:30 am FS2                                            Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Stuttgart

9:30 am Fox Soccer +                                              RB Leipzig (Adams) vs Ausburg

10 am NBCSN                                        South Hampton vs Tottenham

10:15 am beIN Sport                                               Atletico vs Leganes

12:30 pm NBCSN                                Man City vs Watford

1 pm ESPN+                                            Chicago Fire vs Orlando City SC

2 pm ESPN+                                           USL- St Louis vs Indy 11

3:30 pm Univision                              Dallas vs LA Galaxy

Sun, March 10 

8 am NBCSN                                           Liverpool vs Burnley

10 am NBCSN                                        Chelsea vs Wolverhampton

10 am ESPN2                                         Inter vs SPAL  (Italy)

12:30 pm NBC                                      Arsenal vs Man United

3 pm ESPN+                                            NYCFC vs DC United (Rooney)

5 pm ESPN                                               Atlanta United vs FC Cincy

7:30 pm FS1                                           LAFC vs Portland Timbers

Tues Mar 12                                           Champions League

4 pm  BR Live/Uni Desp                     Man City 3 vs Schalke  2 

4 pm  TNT                                              Juventus 0  vs  Atletico 2 

10 pm Yahoo SportsOL                   Santos Laguna vs NY Red Bulls CCL

12 am Yahoo Sports                          Houston Dynamo vs Tigres

Weds, Mar 13  CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

4 pm TNT                                             Bayern Munich 0 vs Liverpool 0 

4 pm BR Live                                       Barcelona 0  vs Lyonnais  0

9 pm ET Yahoo Sports OL            Atlanta United   vs Monterrey  CCL

Fri, March 15

3:30 pm FS2                                         Borussia M’Gladbach vs Frieburg

Sat, March 16 

10:30 am FS1                                         Schalke (McKinney) vs RB Leipzig (Adams)

9:30 am FS2                                            Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Stuttgart

9:30 am Fox Soccer +                                              RB Leipzig (Adams) vs Ausburg

11 am NBCSN                                        Bournmouth vs New Castle United

1 pm ESPN+                                            Chicago Fire vs Seattle Sounders

1:30 pm Fox Sport 2                                                 Hertha vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

2 pm ESPN+                                            Columbus Crew vs Dallas (Matt Hedges)

2 pm ESPN+                                           USL- St Louis vs Indy 11

3:30 pm Univision                              Dallas vs LA Galaxy

Sun, March 17 

8:30 am Fox Sports 1                                               Bayer Leverkusen vs Werder Bremen

10:15 am NBCSN                                 Fulham vs Liverpool

10 am ESPN2                                         Lazio vs Parma (Italy)

12:30 pm NBC                                      Everton vs Chelsea

1 pm Fox Sport 2                                Bayern Munich vs Mainz

3:30 pm ESPN+                                    Milan vs Inter

3 pm Fox Sport 1                                NYCFC vs LAFC

3:45 pm beIN Sport                                                  Real Betis vs Barcelona

5 pm Fox Sport 1                                Cincinnati vs Portland (1st Cincy home MLS Game)

Plenty of new faces, added firepower up the ante for Indy Eleven in 2019

Kevin Johnston, Special for IndyStarPublished 9:33 a.m. ET March 8, 2019

There are plenty of new faces on the Indy Eleven’s roster this season as the club pushes for a USL Championship title. Matthew Glenesk, Wochit

After the Indy Eleven sputtered out 4-1 in the first round of the 2018 United Soccer League playoffs to rival and eventual-champion Louisville City FC — Indy’s first year in the USL Championship — expectations are elevated this year.With the breadth of talent coach Martin Rennie assembled in the offseason, the 2019 Eleven are looking more like a team expected to contend for a title alongside Louisville as opposed to last year’s iteration that finished seventh in the Eastern Conference and looked overmatched when it mattered most.“I think that there are opportunities for everybody, and I think that guys will get time and get chances to play,” Rennie said of his roster depth. “It’s nice to have those options. I think we’ve got a lot more pace, a lot more danger going forward than we maybe had before, so I think that’s going to help us during the season.”Indy bulked up its roster by tapping into the FC Cincinnati well and by bringing in some of the most accomplished Division 2 attackers available.

More: Eleven owner talks about stadium, MLS and ‘good bill’ from lawmakers

More: Eleven stadium deal now would require team cash and MLS buy-in up front

NEW FACES

Four notable new guys — defender Paddy Barrett, goalkeeper Evan Newton and midfielders Kenney Walker and Tyler Gibson — all come from FC Cincinnati, the team with the best record in the USL last season that has since moved on to Major League Soccer. All four have a solid chance to start in the Eleven’s opener Saturday at St. Louis.Indy also signed USL all-time leading scorer Dane Kelly, forward Ilija Ilic from Louisville City and striker Thomas Enevoldsen from Orange County SC. Kelly captured the league’s Golden Boot award with 18 goals in 2017, Ilic was a key offensive component of Louisville’s title run and Enevoldsen bagged 20 goals and 10 assists last year.We have a lot of talented players, so anyone can make that break to score or set up that goal,” Kelly said of the team’s attacking options. “So hopefully once the league starts, we can get a lot of goals.”Other newcomers include: goalkeeper Mario Perez, defenders Neveal Hackshaw, Lucas Farias, Mitchell Osmond and Macauley King, midfielder Do-Heon Kim, forwards Joshua Penn and Alioune Diakhate.Brad Ring, the former IU standout who had played with the Eleven since their inaugural season, announced his retirement this offseason.

WHO’S BACK

Left wingback Ayoze and center back Karl Ouimette return this season. Both are likely to remain starters when healthy.The only other familiar faces from the 2018 roster are captain Matt Watson, midfielder Nico Matern, winger Tyler Pasher, forward Eugene Starikov and backup goalkeeper Jordan Farr.

PROJECTED STARTING XI (3-4-3)

In what looked like a regular-season dress rehearsal Saturday against Nashville SC in the team’s final preseason match, here’s essentially what Rennie rolled out:

View image on Twitter

 

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The only thing to note is that the lineup played more like a 3-4-2-1, with Pasher and Ilic clearly playing deeper than Kelly, who was constantly staying even with the last defender in search of a dangerous run in behind the defense. Pasher and Ilic also regularly swapped sides, so look for plenty of interchange between them.Rennie utilized a few different formations last season, so it’s entirely possible he diverts from this setup. But that’s how it appears Indy is set to begin its 2019 campaign if Saturday was any indication.

SEASON OPENER AND 2019 GOALS

The Eleven will visit St. Louis FC for their season opener 2 p.m. Saturday with their focus squarely on one game and one game only, according to Rennie. But the undercurrent of unfinished playoff business will surely flow underneath Indy’s subconscious throughout the season — especially with raised expectations.“The main thing I’m thinking about is just the first game of the season,” Rennie said. “And get on with that. That’s our first goal, you know. Win that game, and we’ll go from there.”“I’m trying to score as many goals as I can,” Kelly added. “But definitely we’re trying to get a championship in Indy, for sure.”Indy Eleven season prediction: a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference table, a win in their first home playoff match and a loss in the conference semifinals.

 

Opinion: Rennie tips hand in Eleven’s preseason finale

March 7, 2019by Kevin Johnston

Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/Soc Takes

EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Indy Eleven manager Martin Rennie somewhat prides himself on being cryptic about his lineups and tactics, especially during the preseason.

The first time I interviewed him and inquired about his coaching philosophy shortly after he took the job, he told me he didn’t want to give away too much before the regular season started, which was many weeks away. He’s also a stickler at times when it comes to formations. It doesn’t matter what the USLsoccer.com match center shows nor what the bird’s-eye view from the press box leads you to believe. If you try to pin him down with a question about a specific formation, he generally deflects it with something like, “No, that was just our usual, 4-4-2, 4-3-3.”

In a sense, I get it. It’s quite common for lineups to completely change from offense to defense, and even more common to tinker with everything as a match wears on. For example, Gregg Berhalter religiously played a 4-2-3-1 while at the helm of Columbus Crew SC, but when his side transitioned from offense to defense it essentially morphed into a 4-2-2-2. Again, I get it from the coaching side of things. That said, after observing Indy’s 0-0 draw against Nashville SC with a keen eye Saturday afternoon at Arad McCutchan Stadium, I’m ready to face the “2019 Martin Rennie Challenge” head on. If Saturday truly was a regular-season dress rehearsal of sorts, which Indy’s gaffer hinted at, it was crystal clear how he intends to set up his squad.“I think more so than other preseason games, this was more of like kind of putting our team together a little bit with an eye towards next week,” Rennie said after the match. “So, I think we certainly learned some good things and see some things we need to work on, but overall it was a performance I was happy with and I think there’s a lot more to come.”Spoiler alert: his lineup involves an influx of central defensive midfielders. Pics or it didn’t happen, right?The most accurate and pedantic way to label it is a 3-4-2-1. For the sake of not being a pedantic dimwit, let’s call it a 3-4-3. A 3-6-1 might also suffice, but — OK, I’ll stop, 3-4-3 it is. Here’s exactly how the Eleven took the pitch Saturday, which I have every reason to believe is precisely — or very close to — how they’ll line up this Saturday against St. Louis FC in the regular-season opener:

One thing to note is that there was quite a bit of side swapping between Tyler Pasher and Ilija Ilic, as the arrow indicates. Rennie has either deliberately asked them to switch flanks often to constantly give the defense a different look, or given them the green light to roam about the attack more so than other players and it’s happening naturally as a result of that extra freedom.

Up front, Dane Kelly was consistently central on the last defender, ever a threat with his finishing ability and pace. Pasher and Ilic were clearly playing a little deeper.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of this particular setup was central midfielder Matt Watson essentially playing as a right wingback. Rennie vaguely indicated that he’s pleased with what he’s seen from his captain in the role.

“I think he looks good in that position and we’ve got other guys who can do it as well,” he said.

Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/Soc Takes

With extra bodies in the midfield, Indy mostly controlled the middle of the park against Nashville SC, but it’ll be interesting to see how this group does defensively on a faster surface with more pressure coming their way. Saturday’s preseason match featured a patchy pitch and 40-degree temperatures, so neither side appeared too comfortable nor sharp in the final third.

Of course, none of this is top-secret intel. The Indy Eleven Live Twitter account put the starting XI out there for public consumption, it was simply a matter of observing and connecting the dots. But the sometimes-guarded Rennie finally provided a glimpse Saturday — after mixing in several trialists in all his prior preseason lineups — as to what we might see from Indy early in the season.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KJboxing.

 

Major League Soccer 2019 predictions: Atlanta United favored to repeat; SKC, LAFC in hunt

USA TODAYPublished 10:00 a.m. ET March 1, 2019 | Updated 7:38 p.m. ET March 4, 2019

MLS commissioner Don Garber, sees the future of the league as one that continues to grow and serve the “soccer nation” he sees developing. Autumn Allison, Nashville Tennessean

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With the 2019 Major League Soccer season kicking off this weekend, we surveyed the USA TODAY Sports team of writers for their predictions on how the new season will shake out.

Can Atlanta United become the first repeat MLS Cup winner since the LA Galaxy did it in 2011-12? Which players will define the season? Which teams win trophies?

Pat Brennan, Cincinnati Enquirer
(@PBrennanENQ)

MLS Cup winner: Atlanta United

MLS Cup finalists: Atlanta United vs. Sporting Kansas City

Supporters’ Shield: Atlanta United

U.S. Open Cup winner: Atlanta United

MVP: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)

Golden Boot: Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)

Jim Reineking, USA TODAY Sports
(@jimreineking)

MLS Cup winner: Atlanta United

MLS Cup finalists: Atlanta United vs. Seattle Sounders

Supporters’ Shield: Sporting Kansas City

U.S. Open Cup winner: Philadelphia Union

MVP: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)

Golden Boot: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Martin Rogers, USA TODAY Sports
(@RogersJourno)

MLS Cup winner: LAFC

MLS Cup finalists: LAFC vs. Atlanta United

Supporters Shield: Sporting Kansas City

U.S. Open Cup: Seattle Sounders

MVP: Pity Martinez (Atlanta United)

Golden Boot: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)

Nate Scott, For the Win
(@aNateScott)

MLS Cup winner: Atlanta United

MLS Cup finalists: Atlanta United vs. Sporting Kansas City

Supporters’ Shield: New York Red Bulls

U.S. Open Cup winner: Sporting Kansas City

MVP: Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)

Golden Boot: Josef Martinez

2019 STORYLINES: Can Atlanta United repeat? Will Zlatan dominate?

ESPN’S CHAMPION: MLS’s ‘potential is limitless’

ONLY THE BEGINNING? Major League Soccer reaching new heights

JOZY ALTIDORE: Minorities should be inspired by riches of MLS

DAILY SPORTS, DELIVERED: Get the best sports news in your inbox!

 

MLS Statues: Who else deserves the David Beckham treatment?

Mar 4, 2019Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent

Saturday marked the unveiling of David Beckham’s statue outside the LA Galaxy stadium, a testament to the remarkable era in Major League Soccer that began with his arrival in 2007. (It’s also an era that will continue when Beckham’s franchise, Inter Miami CF, begin league play in 2020.)

Beckham moved to the U.S. over a decade ago following an illustrious career at Man United and Real Madrid. The league’s designated player rule — known as the Beckham rule — has allowed MLS clubs to attract high-profile players such as Thierry Henry, David Villa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the years since. Beckham was a force on the field, with 18 goals and 40 assists in 98 appearances over five seasons, helping the Galaxy win back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.

This recognition got us thinking: Who else will merit the bronzed treatment when they retire given their services to the beautiful game in the USA? We present five such choices, players who impacted the league in their own way and would be seriously statue-worthy.

Landon Donovan: The American

 

Why he’s worthy: When it comes to leading lights in the modern MLS era, few come close to matching Donovan’s impact.The Galaxy have no shortage of candidates to have their likeness put up in front of Dignity Health Sports Park. There were Mauricio Cienfuegos and Cobi Jones from the team’s early years. Robbie Keane was arguably the league’s best player for much of his time with LA, too, which is why the decision to put a David Beckham statue in front sparked a considerable debate in Galaxy circles.But Donovan wasn’t just the face of the team; he was the face of an entire league when MLS was at one of its lower points and the term “designated player” was still a few years away. In that moment, there were no Beckhams or Henrys to share the media spotlight.Donovan delivered on the field as well. The Galaxy won four MLS Cups, two Supporters’ Shields and a U.S. Open Cup crown during Donovan’s time in Los Angeles, with the California kid making a massive contribution. He finished his career with the most goals (145) and assists (136) in MLS history and proved remarkably durable despite being a marked man for the entirety of his career.There will always be those who think Donovan’s career would have been better served by his spending more time in Europe — and he’s still playing, having switched to indoor soccer in 2019 — but there’s no doubting his contributions to the Galaxy and MLS.

What the players think

— “[Donovan] for everything he’s done for U.S. Soccer, and LA and San Jose.” — Nick Besler, MF, Real Salt Lake

David Villa: The icon

 

Why he’s worthy: Villa will be the prevailing face of NYCFC for as long as it operates. No small feat for someone who was here just four years.

Not every designated player delivers. In New York City FC’s inaugural season back in 2015, it had two such performers in Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo who fell well short of expectations. Lucky for NYCFC that it struck gold with David Villa.The sprightly Spanish striker’s contributions came at a critical time in the club’s admittedly brief history. He was the first player signed by the organization in 2014 and he gave the fledgling club some instant street cred. He was the proverbial face of the franchise in the league’s biggest media market and his performances on the field also helped NYCFC establish a foothold in New York.Villa scored at least 15 goals in each of his four league seasons. He won the league’s MVP award in 2016 and was a Best XI selection in 2016 and 2017. Unfortunately for NYCFC fans, Villa’s heroics weren’t enough to lead his team to a trophy, but he’ll be remembered for laying a foundation in a manner that oozed class and professionalism.

What the players think

— “If New York wants to do that, they can definitely do that. [Villa] had a great impact there.” — Matt Hedges, DF, FC Dallas

Chris Wondolowski: The eternal scorer

 

Why he’s worthy: Mr. Consistency has scored goals against everyone, even keeping up his pace over time.

Sometime in the not-so-distant future, Chris Wondolowski will have the career MLS scoring record all to himself. All but four of those 144 goals will have come in the colors of the San Jose Earthquakes, too, but it isn’t just goals for which the Danville, California, native will be remembered. He’ll also be hailed for the way he went about getting there.His Quakes teams have enjoyed scant success, with just four playoff appearances in his 11 seasons, but it’s never stopped the veteran striker from going about his business with seemingly superhuman levels of consistency. He has hit double figures in goals nine seasons in a row, with his professionalism beyond reproach. That was never more evident than in the darkest moment of his career, when he missed a glorious opportunity for the U.S. against Belgium that could have put the Americans in the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup. He could have gone into a funk, but Wondolowski did what he’s always done: He put his head down, kept working and has continued to excel for his club.The Quakes had a glorious spell at the beginning of this century and boasted some fantastic players, including Landon Donovan, whose eventual move to rivals the LA Galaxy made him persona non grata to some. But in terms of Wondolowski’s level of performance and longevity, he towers over them all.

What the players think

— “He should have one whether he breaks the record or not.” — Jeff Attinella, GK, Portland Timbers

Sebastian Giovinco: The playmaker

 

Why he’s worthy: Giovinco wasn’t the only star brought to Toronto FC, but he almost single-handedly delivered a treble in 2017.

MLS teams have made big signings for the past decade, but Sebastian Giovinco’s arrival before the 2015 season, was different. At age 28, he was a little younger than the typical European star who came to the league, and from the get-go, he was utterly dominant. He won MVP honors in 2015 with 22 goals and 16 assists, and scored at least 18 goals across all competitions in each of his four seasons.Giovinco’s effect on the entire Toronto FC team was immense. While he wasn’t the only big-ticket arrival during that period — Jozy Altidore also joined that season, while Michael Bradley arrived the year before — his efforts sparked a revival at BMO Field. The Reds qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 2015 and Toronto later reached the peak of MLS, capping off its ascent with a domestic treble in 2017.

The abrupt manner of Giovinco’s departure, in which he joined Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal before the 2019 season, was far from ideal, but the heights Toronto reached in recent years are due in large part to the Italian’s influence.

What the players think

— “As a former player I’d give it to Giovinco … He did a lot for this league, he was an unbelievable player. He changed Toronto, changed that whole team, got them a championship. So yeah, I think he deserves it.” — Alejandro Bedoya, MF, Philadelphia Union

Bradley Wright-Phillips: The scorer

 

Why he’s worthy: Wright-Phillips has a remarkable century of goals in MLS, but he has some way to go to match his famous father, Ian Wright, who managed a record 179 for Arsenal.

When the New York Bulls signed Bradley Wright-Phillips in 2013, it seemed like an afterthought. He’d been toiling away in England’s third tier for the previous two seasons and arrived in MLS during the days when the likes of Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Dax McCarty called Red Bull Arena home. As it turned out, Wright-Phillips has not only outlasted them all, he’s become the biggest legend in the club’s history. Yes, even bigger than the massive presence that was Henry.

Wright-Phillips has amassed 106 goals in 171 league matches, good for eighth on the all-time MLS list. Health permitting, he’ll crack the top five by season’s end. His longevity is even more impressive given the willingness of the Red Bulls to part with other beloved players. Both McCarty and Sacha Kljestan have been traded away but Wright-Phillips proved adaptable to these changes, having bought into the higher-tempo pressing style that was instituted by Jesse Marsch in 2015 and continued by his successor Chris Armas.When it comes time to put a player’s bronzed likeness in front of RBA, it will be Wright-Phillips who gets the nod.

What the players think

–“[Deserves one for his] loyalty to the club, amount of years he’s been here. He’s broken records. Absolutely adored by the club and the fans.” — Aaron Long, DF, New York Red Bulls

— “I think he’s just been instrumental for the league; he’s a good example for everyone to follow. Stayed with the same team, very loyal, scores a bunch of goals. Carries himself the right way with the media, with his teammates, with everything. He’s just a good example of what we need to strive for.” — Paxton Pomykal, MF, FC Dallas

Other players worthy of a statue

Who else would make the cut? We asked some MLS players for their picks in preseason.

— “Michael Bradley. That guy is a leader upon leaders, man. Even on the national team that guy’s had such an illustrious career. That guy leads at every given possibility. Even at meals. That guy is a legend.” — Reggie Cannon, DF, FC Dallas

— “I’d like to see someone who’s been in the league longer, so I’d go with Dax McCarty and give him some nice ginger flow and maybe a red rocket, it would be pretty epic.” — Jonathan Campbell, DF, Seattle Sounders

— “Someone who has changed the sport for MLS … I can talk about Zack Scotthere with the Sounders, what a wonderful guy. Came up from the USL and made a name for himself.” — Cristian Roldan, MF, Seattle Sounders

— “First one that comes to mind is Landon [Donovan], obviously. Just what he’s done in this sport and this country. I guess I’d be remiss though if I didn’t say someone like Preki. A Wizards legend. He’s one of the better players that this league’s seen.” — Graham Zusi, DF, Sporting Kansas City

— “They should build a Nick Rimando and a Kyle Beckerman statue simultaneously and they should go up together for a huge unveiling in Salt Lake.” — Jeff Attinella, GK, Portland Timbers

— “I think Jimmy Conrad. He’s a guy that I think is a very historical figure for this league, you know even after his playing career. He’s still kind of been at the forefront of allowing us to bring a little humor and be a little chill and off-the-cuff a little with MLS.” — C.J. Sapong, FW, Chicago Fire

— “Kyle Beckerman, because he’s been in the league 20 years now. He’s an iron man and a good representative for MLS.” — Justen Glad, DF, Real Salt Lake

 

Why Real Madrid suffered their darkest night in Champions League history

Mar 5, 2019Gabriele MarcottiSenior Writer, ESPN FC

The poison of blame, recrimination and scapegoating was already flowing through the veins of Madridismo — the collective noun encompassing the hefty slice of humanity that swears loyalty to that other White House, on La Castellana avenue in the Spanish capital — before they even stepped on the pitch for what would be Real Madrid’s darkest night in Champions League history.Two defeats — at home in the past week — to archrival Barcelona, the yin to their yang, had meant Real Madrid were out of the Spanish Cup and, barring divine intervention, out of the race for the Spanish title. The Champions League was all they had left. It is the biggest prize in the club game and a competition they had won four times in the past five years. Making it five out of six seemed unthinkable, but then, so did winning three straight, and they had managed that feat the year before. In a season when there is no dominant European club, Real Madrid had reason to hope despite their struggles elsewhere.Real’s European dreams were bolstered by the unlikeliest of opponents in this round of 16. Ajax is a historical giant of football — only five teams have won more European Cups — albeit in the way General Electric is a historical giant of industry: the game has evolved, the revenues that grease the machines flow to the big clubs in the big leagues.Ajax hadn’t even qualified for the Champions League for the past four seasons, and the last time they even reached the round of 16 of the competition was 13 years ago, when more than half of their starting lineup was in elementary school. More importantly, the first leg, in Amsterdam, had finished with a 2-1 Real Madrid victory — they hadn’t played well, but they had won because, well, that’s what winners do — and that meant that Madrid could win, draw or even lose the game 1-0 and still advance to the quarterfinals.

– POLL: Who stays and who goes from Real Madrid?
– Carvajal: Read Madrid’s ‘s— season’ is already over
– Real Madrid Player Ratings: Kroos, Nacho worst of a bad a bunch

Instead the bottom fell out. The game kicked off and within 20 minutes Ajax were 2-0 up. By the 62nd minute, Real Madrid trailed by three goals, meaning (because of the away goals rule) they would have to score three to advance. When they pulled one back to narrow the deficit, Ajax immediately hit back with an improbable looping free kick to make it 4-1. Which is how it ended, though by that point much of Europe’s largest stadium had emptied, expelling sullen, white-clad Madridistas into the night.

As upsets go, this wasn’t Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson in Tokyo. This was more like the quiet, scrawny young buck challenging the Alpha Male and forcing him out of the pack. Partly through his fresh legs and fearlessness, partly because his opponent doesn’t realize he’s a little less quick and less fierce and a little too arrogant.

Real Madrid are out of the Champions League before the semifinal stage for the first time since 2009-10. Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Exhibit A in the arrogance file is captain Sergio Ramos. He picked up a yellow card in the first leg — his third of the tournament, meaning he was suspended for this game — and later boasted that he had done it intentionally. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t force [them to give me a yellow],” Ramos said, knowing he’d serve his suspension in the second leg against Ajax and therefore be available for the quarterfinal. Ramos later retracted his comments, but UEFA, the game’s governing body, wasn’t impressed and slapped him with an additional one-game suspension.

That sort of attitude — from your longtime club captain no less — percolates throughout a side. But it’s only a small part of the picture.

The stock explanation is that Real Madrid’s early exit — the first time they’ve failed to reach the quarterfinals in nine years — is partly due to the summer departures of coach Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo, who decamped to Juventus. But that’s simplistic. Ronaldo is staring down the barrel of an early Champions League exit, too, with Juve trailing Atletico Madrid by two goals. As for Zidane, the reality is that last season’s Champions League crown was a smoke-and-mirrors affair.

Real Madrid finished the 2017-18 season third in La Liga, a whopping 17 points off the pace. In the Champions League, they suffered through the knockout stage, particularly at home, at the Bernabeu, a place where the crowd are quick to turn. “They are like the crowd at the Opera. They have very high standards, and they will gladly boo if you don’t meet them … regardless of whether you win, draw or lose” said Carlo Ancelotti, who won the Champions League with Real Madrid in 2013-14, kicking off this cycle of success.Real Madrid were outplayed for long stretches at home by Paris Saint-Germain, they lost 3-1 to Juventus (and only advanced thanks to a last-ditch penalty) and in the semifinals against Bayern, they were the beneficiaries of major a goalkeeping blunder. In fact, they have now lost three of their last 10 home games in the Champions League and the last four straight in all competitions. You wonder if, for all the experience out there, performance anxiety played a part too.

Truth be told, the club did realize that a rebuild was necessary after last season. It’s just that, as so often happens in every sport, if you do it cautiously, try to reload instead and put your faith in the wrong players, you pay a price. Julen Lopetegui, the “system” manager chosen to replace the more orthodox Zidane, had a poor start to the season and was fired after 14 games. Rising stars like Isco, Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos did not immediately go to the next level, for a variety of reasons. Veterans like Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, who were meant to blossom now that they were out of Ronaldo’s shadow, wilted instead, particularly the Welshman: Once the most expensive player in the world, now Bale is a figure of scorn at the Bernabeu.

This is the end of a cycle that, probably, should have ended a year ago but was extended thanks to the unique combination of talent and experience, spit and gravel. With nothing left to play for, Real Madrid now embark on their longest offseason in 42 years. That’s the last time they were out of the running in every competition in early March. As defender Dani Carvajal said after the match, Real’s “s— season” is over.

Bale was supposed to be Real Madrid’s hero after Ronaldo left. Instead, he’s headed for the exit too

Mar 7, 2019Sid LoweSpain writer

They were never going to kiss Gareth Bale‘s feet, even less so after his agent said they should, but they might have offered a little encouragement. As it turned out, even that was too much to ask for.On Wednesday night, Real Madrid were two goals down after half an hour against Ajax, losing 3-2 on aggregate, when Bale appeared on the touchline ready to replace Lucas Vazquez. The unthinkable was happening: the European Champions were on their way out unless someone could change this and come to their rescue. Madrid had to score. They needed someone; they needed him.

Real’s fans might not have chosen him, even with Lucas limping off. Marco Asensio was on the bench — he’d be forced to join them six minutes later when Vinicius departed as well, with ruptured knee ligaments — and Isco was in the stands. But he was the man they were getting: the man with the best goals-per-minute record of anyone in the squad, second top-scorer for the club this season, the man who came on in the final in Kiev and did that.

This was supposed to be Gareth Bale’s year, with Cristiano Ronaldo leaving in the summer for Juventus. It sounds a bit silly — it is a bit silly, perhaps — when in all those previous years he won four European Cups, a Copa del Rey and the league, scored in two European Cup finals and got a penalty in the shootout in the third, when he’s the scorer of arguably the greatest cup final goal ever and the greatest European Cup final goal, too. But there is something in it.

Bale is a man equipped to be Real’s saviour, hero of another hour but still, on Tuesday at the Bernabeu, there was still no huge roar, no shout, no “come on!” There wasn’t even a: “go on, then: prove us wrong.”Instead, there were whistles.So, this is it. Over. Something has broken between fans and a player when they don’t even cheer you out of convenience, need or some shared objective. Even if it wasn’t over and even if there was some way back in this match, which, as it turned out, there wasn’t. Not long before half-time, Bale hit the post, but Ajax scored two more to defeat the European champions and eliminate them three years after — 1012 days on — from the last time it happened.”Here lies a team that made history,” the front cover of the sports daily Marca said. The team that had won four of the past five Champions League were out, an era ended.Perhaps it already had ended, and this defeat was just confirmation. It was a “s— season” according to Dani Carvajal, one that ended early with Madrid winning nothing, knocked out of all three competitions — the Copa del Rey, the league (more or less) and the Champions League — in the space of seven days. The first season post-Ronaldo was over in March, ending in disaster. The first Gareth Bale Season — and maybe the last.The reaction to Bale’s introduction suggested that there is no way back for him at the club. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that this has no solution now. At least not an easy one. Had he rescued them, perhaps there would have been hope, some chance of a rapprochement. But it didn’t happen, and it can’t really happen now: there is nothing left to win, no grand stage remaining for a huge, redemptive performance.Real Madrid will not play a truly meaningful game for almost six months.As the media and the fans reacted, one question was repeated: whose fault is it? Some have looked higher, to the president: there were chants of “Florentino resign!” after the game. Some to the manager, and there were a few chants for Jose Mourinho, although most recognise that this is not a mess entirely of manager Santi Solari’s making and didn’t expect him to carry on anyway. His position is almost irrelevant in all of this.Some have looked to players, collectively and individually. Marcelo, already gone and left out once more, has not been blamed this time because he was absent, although he has been blamed in the past. Toni Kroos, who admitted that they have “all been below our level, myself included,” has been criticised. So too has Sergio Ramos, watching the disaster unfold from inside a glass-fronted box where he sat serving a suspension he admitted he’d sought.So too has Bale, although perhaps less so in the immediate aftermath of the disaster than in the build-up to it.Post-defeat, the classic reaction from fans — as it always is with supporters everywhere — has been to demand more commitment and to demand signings. In Bale’s case, those demands intersect. Polls have drawn up long lists of players they want in and even longer lists of players they want out. Bale is near the top. In truth, he already was, even before Wednesday.The difficulty is finding an exit strategy that works for everyone or a solution that allows him to stay. A Madrid manager that likes him, plays him and backs him is the ideal scenario from his point of view, giving him that freedom up front. But it feels like the tide is turning and that some in power have turned too, given the manner in which this has become entrenched. A way out is harder than it looks: his age, price and salary guarantee that.After last season’s European Cup final, when he came on and scored twice, he said he could not spend another season like it, namely sitting on the bench. He was reassured that he wouldn’t. More than that, he was reassured that he would play a central role, especially as he wasn’t the only one threatening to go that night. Ronaldo did too, and Ronaldo did go.The opportunity was there to step from the shadows — but he couldn’t. Marcelo admitted that he couldn’t really converse with Bale. Thibaut Courtois said that he didn’t join the team for meals because it was too late. He said they called Bale “the golfer.” TV cameras caught him watching a golf competition on his mobile as he walked into the ground away at Levante.The criticism was fierce. It was absurd, too. On a basic level, he was being accused of … liking golf and going to bed early.As accusations go, they’re not the most heinous crimes. Nor is his limited ability to speak Spanish, although that too was a recurring theme and an increasingly bitter one; at times, it was presented as the ultimate evidence that he should be booted out. You don’t need to be able to ask the way to the train station in order to win the European Cup.But it is true that it ran deeper, that those accusations came together to offer up a portrait of a player who was a little separate from his dressing room, a man who had not fully integrated and of a dressing room that wasn’t particularly pleased about that. He had always been quiet, except with Wales; he’d always been a little different. And it is unfair that his timidity was taken to be dismissiveness, but it was understandable too. Just as it was understandable that Bale should be annoyed that teammates should say so publicly and effectively expose him like that, throwing him to the wolves.ESPN FC’s Gab Marcotti predicts Real Madrid’s disastrous UCL exit to Ajax will be the catalyst for major changes at the Bernabeu.Speaking of understandable, the feeling grew that he and they just didn’t understand each other, although it wasn’t just about language. The fact that Bale’s teammates said that was concerning. The fans grew irritated, some whistles followed — not so unusual at Madrid and not so unanimous, but they were there. Some sections of the media, so protective of Spanish players for whom they often campaigned, went for him. Often viciously so. You’d think he was responsible for everything.

While Bale has been hugely successful and boasts a superb goal-scoring record — he has 101 goals at the club — it has not always felt enough. It is strange in a way that doubts surround a player who has done what he has done, but they do. He was the world’s most expensive player and for all the goals he got, there were all the goals he didn’t, the games he missed through injury. He has played only 50 percent of Madrid’s minutes since he arrived.Instead of sympathy, at times those injuries were presented almost as if they were his fault. There was this sense that while he was decisive, he did not always dominate. The goals he scored on the biggest stage almost came to be used against him: the fans wanted them every week.Especially this season, his season. This year, Madrid have collapsed; it’s a collective malaise but it singles out individual players, fingers pointing their way. Much has been made of Madrid’s failure to replace Ronaldo and his goals — rather less has been made of their defensive disasters, curiously enough — and that means Bale, among others. Modric suggested that some players could have stepped up this season. Again, many took that to mean Bale. He has 13 goals and has found Vinicius and Lucas playing ahead of him.Last year, in Kiev, he came on as a sub and did that, ending in another European Cup win. In Madrid on Tuesday night, he came on as a sub and hit the post, ending in defeat.As Bale stood there on the touchline, there was an opportunity, maybe a last chance to rescue Madrid and rescue himself, his relationship with them, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe it never was.

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