The Indy 11 look to stay undefeated at home vs 2nd place Nashville at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night. Tickets for the 7:00 p.m. kickoff remain available for as little as $15 at IndyEleven.com/tickets or by calling 317-685-1100. Special Indy 500 jersey’s and merchandise will be available during this “Racing Indy Night” with free special edition Indy 11/IMS Caps going to the first 500 in the building the night before the Indy 500. The game will also be on Wish TV.
USA World Cup
The final of the USWNT’s send-off friendlies will be this Sunday vs Mexico on May 26 (Noon ET, ESPN). The US Ladies have dominated in their 2 other games (3-0 vs NZ + 5-0) and look ready to roll as the Women’s World Cup is now just 2 short weeks way. Interesting stories below on Lindsay Horan’s skipping college and going to Europe before landing on the US squad and US star d-mid Julie Ertz being a bad, bad woman! Check out the Casual Fans Guide to the Women’s World Cup, the World Cup Power Rankings and follow along on Yahoo Soccer for all the updates. The World Cup from France gets underway June 7 with the US starting June 11.
- Fri, June 7 3 p m FS1 France vs South Korea
- Tues, June 11: 3 p.m. ET, Fox USA. vs. Thailand,
- Sun, June 16: Noon ET, Fox USA. vs. Chile,
- Thurs, June 20: 3 p.m. ET, Fox USA. vs. Sweden
On the men’s side – Gold Cup Preparations are underway as US Coach Greg Berhalter has called in a large squad for training before cutting down the roster on June 7th right before the first friendly in Cincy on Sunday, June 8th. Notable omissions from the squad are defenders John Brooks and outside back DeAndre Yedlin – who will both miss the tourney due to injuries. Headliner’s include Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, Schalke’s Weston McKennie and RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams along with Toronto’s Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. (see full roster below). The USMNT U20’s with coach Tab Ramos at the helm start their World Cup campaign on Friday at 2:30 pm vs Ukraine, then Monday at 2:30 vs Nigeria both on Fox Sport 1. PSG Winger Tim Weah and Philly’s Chris Richards will lead the way. The US games along with many other U20 World Cup games will be featured on FS1 & FS2 – here’s a US quick preview and the TV games are listed on the schedule.
Europa and Champions League
Trophies are not all that’s on the line in the Europa League final on Wednesday afternoon between Chelsea and Arsenal this Wednesday, May 29 on TNT. Arsenal finished in 5th place in the EPL – which means a victory is the only thing that will put the Gunners into the lucrative Champions League next season. For Chelsea there are rumors it will take a win for manager Sari to keep his job next season when American Christian Pulisic will join the team. I am afraid Chelsea will win a close one but I will be rooting for Arsenal! Of course the All English Finals continue on Sat, June 1 at 3 pm as Liverpool will face Tottenham on TNT for the Champions League final.
Bayern Munich won its 7th Bundelisga Title as club legends Frank Ribbery and Arjen Robben both scored in their final home games. Bayern edged Borrusia Dortmund by 2 pts for the title after Dortmund blew their lead down the stretch. Good news for Americans in Champions & Europa League next season in Germany as John Brooks of Wolfsburg, Fabian Johnson of Borrusia Monchengladbach and Timothy Chandler of Enintract Frankfurt all made Europa League and Tyler Adams of RB Leipzig finished 3rd for a Champions League spot. Of course, Tyler Adams and Red Bull Leipzig will face Bayern Munich in the German Cup finals this Saturday at 2 pm on ESPN News. Barcelona battles Valencia Saturday at 3 pm on ESPN Desportes/Watch ESPN for the Spanish Copa Del Rey title. Meanwhile, Italy has 1 spot available in Champions League between 3 teams as Milan, Inter and Atalanta battle it out this weekend – games are Saturday on ESPN+.
Big news in MLS this week as Indiana’s own DeMarcus Beasley has announced his retirement at the end of Houston’s MLS Season, the former US international played professionally overseas for clubs such as PSV Eindhoven, Man City, and Celtic Rangers, before returning to finish out his career in Houston as a left back – here are some highlights. I for one was hoping he might hook up with the Indy 11 at some point – who knows? The only free TV game this week features Sporting KC vs Seattle Sunday evening 6 pm on FS1. Of course, most MLS games are on ESPN+.
Carmel FC Tryouts & Camps are Set
Tryouts for kids from U8 till 18 are right around the corner. Carmel FC is a community -based club who has put tons of kids on the local high school teams at Carmel High, Guerin, University and more. Tryouts are June 4th for academy teams U8-U10, and June 10 & 11 for U13 & above. Click here for more info about CFC Tryouts. For Goalkeepers getting ready for high school or club tryouts – Carmel FC’s Head Goalkeeping Coach Indy 11’s Jordan Farr is offering individual and small group training – contact him at email@example.com.
Indy 11 Soccer Camp – Carmel Dad’s Club Badger Field June 17-20 9-12 noon.ages 6-14 $135
GAMES ON TV
Fri, MAY 24
2:30 pm Fox Sport 1 USA U20s vs Ukraine U20 WC
Sat, MAY 25
2 pm ESPNNews German Cup Bayern Munich vs RB Leipzig (Adams)
2:30 pm FS2 Argentina U20 vs South Africa U2
3 pm ESPN Desp Copa Del Rey – Barcelona vs Valencia
3:30 pm ESPN+ Chicago Fire vs NYCFC
7 pm WISHTV Indy 11 vs Nashville (Lucas Oil)
7:30 pm EPSN+ Cincy vs NY Red Bulls
Sun, MAY 26
9 am ESPN News Torino vs Lazio
9:30 am FS1 Mexico U20 vs Japan U20
12 pm ESPN USA Ladies vs Mexico
2:30 pm ESPN+ SPAL vs Milan (champ league race)
2:30 pm ESPN+ Inter vs Empoli (champ league race)
2:30 pm ESPN+ Atalanta vs Sassuolo (champ league race)
6 pm Fox Sport 1 Sporting KC vs Seattle
7:30 pm EPSN+ Toronto FC vs San Jose
Mon, MAY 27
2:30 pm FS1 USA U20s vs Nigeria U20 WC
Weds, May 29 Europa League Finals
2:30 pm TNT Chelsea vs Arsenal
Thur, MAY 30
2:30 pm FS1 USA U20s vs Qatar U20 WC
Sat, June 1 Champions League Finals
2:30 pm TNT/FuboTV Liverpool vs Tottenham
8:00 pm ESPN+ Colorado vs Cincy
8:30 pm ESPN+ Dallas (Matt Hedges) vs Seattle
7:30 pm ESPN2 Portland vs LAFC (new stadium opens!)
Sun, June 2
11:30 pm FS2 U20 WC Sweet 16
2:30 pm FS2 U20 WC Sweet 16
Mon, June 3
2:30 pm FS2 U20 WC Sweet 16
Wed, June 5
2:45 pm ESPN2 Portugal vs Switzerland Nations League
Thurs, June 6
2:45 pm ESPN2 Netherlands vs England -Nations League
Women’s World Cup June 7-July 7
- Fri, June 7 3 p m FS1 France vs South Korea
- Tues, June 11: 3 p.m. ET, Fox S. vs. Thailand,
- Sun, June 16: Noon ET, Fox S. vs. Chile,
- Thurs, June 20: 3 p.m. ET, Fox S. vs. Sweden
- Sun, July 7 3 pm ET, Fox Women’s World Cup Finals from France
Gold Cup TV Schedule June 15– July 7
Champions & Europa League
http://www.nwslsoccer.com/videos/8DC0EB23-738E-2F96-D474-B760EE0662DB Saves of the week
Indy 11 THREE THINGS | OPEN CUP & WEEK 11
By IndyEleven.com, 05/22/19, 7:30PM EDT
Our three things from Indy’s back-to-back wins in U.S. Open Cup & Week 11
DONUTS FOR EVERYONE
I’ve only worked in a true office environment for a little over a year now, but it seems customary to bring donuts when you’ve shown up late or made some department’s life a little harder. That’s what goalkeeper Evan Newton did last Thursday morning after receiving an early red card in Indy’s U.S. Open Cup fixture against Lansing Ignite the previous night. He brought donuts to training to thank his guys for having his back a gracious gesture appreciated by his teammates (just ask defenders Paddy Barrett and Macauley King).But this point is about more than delicious, empty calories. It’s about how much adversity Indiana’s Team has overcome courtesy of red cards and the toll they take on you not only physically, but mentally. Just ask Head Coach Martin Rennie.
“What’s been important is we’ve had a bit of adversity early in the season,” the Scotsman said. “We’ve had red cards twice in the first 20 minutes.”Two red cards in the first 20 minutes of two matches two weeks apart; that’s going to take a toll on your squad, mentally, physically and emotionally. What’s most impressive though, were the donuts – aka “zeroes,” aka shutouts – that followed the cards. The squad pulled out a point by keeping an old-school glazed yeast against a goal heavy Tampa Bay Rowdies down a man for 70 minutes, followed by a chocolate cake clean sheet in the face of a strong North Carolina FC three days later.After a week off to recover, the Boys in Blue found themselves short-handed for 70 minutes after Newton’s early ejection against Lansing. That meant it was Jordan Farr’s turn to make the donuts with the defense (more on him later), and the team rallied to pitch a 1-0 maple long John to advance in the USOC. Another game, another donut (we’ll go vanilla sprinkled) three days later against Charleston helped spur the squad to a pivotal 1-0 win, ended a string of games that tested Rennie’s and the team’s resolve – and fitness.“We’ve come into home games with only two days recovery, but we’ve still been picking up points and winning games.”
THE HOT HAND AT HOME
Undefeated at home. Curse of the football lines, credit the defense, thank god for majestic own goals, or kiss the left foot of Tyler Pasher … regardless of whatever reason you put the most emphasis on for the home form of the Boys in Blue, they’re undefeated. as Oil Stadium is becoming a fortress, and last Saturday night’s fixture against Charleston Battery helped justify that.In the first four games at home, the ledger has been a bit unorthodox: four clean sheets – which helped ‘keeper Evan Newton become the newest Lew’s Crew to hold a USL Championship regular season record – two goals, one red card, and no losses.“We’ve been kind of unfortunate in the sense all of our home games have been after two days of recovery,” Rennie said. “As a result, we haven’t been coming out flying.”What has been flying is the defense. Indiana’s Team hasn’t allowed a goal at home in 360 minutes during the 2019 season, and 421 minutes dating back to October 6, 2018. But on Saturday night, fans had something to cheer about besides a fourth clean sheet after the 90 minutes against Charleston. The Boys in Blue scored their first goal at home, by our own player, when midfielder Tyler Pasher rocketed a shot off the chest of Charleston’s goaltender into the back of the net to secure a 1-0 win.“We talked about it before the game and again at half time that it was really important that we got a goal,” Rennie said. “At home in this stadium we haven’t had one of our players put the ball in the back of the net yet, so it was really important, even if it meant risking losing a goal, to go for it.”Now, with the proverbial monkey off the back of the collective Eleven attack and the squad able to enjoy a full week’s rest, the result could be more streamers floating over the BYB starting Saturday night against Nashville.
FARR OUT MAN
It might not have happened the way Rennie expected, but second-year goalkeeper Jordan Farr finally made his professional debut between the sticks for Indy Eleven last Wednesday against Lansing Ignite FC, the appearance coming 15 months after signing in February 2018.“It was funny,” Rennie said in the minutes following the U.S. Open Cup Second Round win at Butler University’s Sellick Bowl. “I brought him into my office [Tuesday] and spoke to him and said, ‘Look, I’m not going to play you in this game, but I do believe in you and think you’re going to be a great goalkeeper for us. I’ve got no problem putting you into a game when that time comes.’”What wasn’t funny was Farr’s performance. The 24-year-old made multiple acrobatic saves and looked more composed with every minute under his belt on his way to earning the first clean sheet in the Eleven’s now eight-game LHUSOC history.“When I got in it felt like home,” Farr said. “It felt fantastic and like I belonged there.”Farr’s next appearance will be anything but unexpected, the Corban University product is guaranteed to start due to Newton’s USOC red card suspension when Indy travels to take on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in the Third Round next Wednesday. This time he’ll have to keep the net empty for a full 90 minutes, a task his head coach is confident he can handle.
“He proved what I already knew – and that is he is a very good goalkeeper.”
Indy Eleven’s busy month of May continues this Saturday, May 25, with the club’s first-ever “Indy 500 Eve” game. Kickoff for “Racing Indy Night” against Nashville SC at Lucas Oil Stadium is set for 7:00 p.m., and the first 500 fans through the gates will receive a special-edition Indy Eleven/IMS cap. Tickets remain available for as little as $15.
Pulisic wants to emulate Hazard at Chelsea
3:48 AM ET ESPN
New Chelsea signing Christian Pulisic has said he wants to fill the void left by Eden Hazard should the Belgian leave for Real Madrid this summer.
Chelsea signed Pulisic for £58 million (€64m) from Borussia Dortmund in January, a record fee for a U.S. player, although he remained in the Bundesliga for the rest of the 2018-19 season.
Pulisic could be the only new face to arrive at Stamford Bridge this summer with the prospect of a two-window transfer ban hanging over the club, while sources have told ESPN FC that Hazard wants to complete a move to Real as soon as possible, with the winger’s final game for Chelsea likely to be against Arsenal in the Europa League final on May 29.But Pulisic, 20, has said he is ready to replace Hazard should he exit Stamford Bridge this summer and has set his sights on emulating the Belgian, who has lit up the Premier League since his arrival in 2012.”It is incredible to see what Eden can do. He is a guy to look up to and what I would love to become,” Pulisic told BBC Sport.”It is definitely a goal. Any player would be dumb not to want to be in the same team as him.”Hazard led Chelsea in both goals and assists as the club finished third in their first season under Maurizio Sarri, scoring 16 Premier League goals while setting up another 15. Pulisic, meanwhile, scored on the final day of the Bundesliga campaign to take his season tally to four, although the forward was hit by injuries during the year.During his time in Germany, Pulisic became the youngest non-German to score a Bundesliga goal and the youngest player to play for Dortmund in the Champions League. He is also the youngest player to captain the U.S. men’s national team, but says he is motivated to set new records now he has arrived in the Premier League.”I don’t want to be looked at as someone who is the youngest to do this or that,” Pulisic said. “I just want to be an established player and someone people respect, who is successful in this league.”It is completely new to me and something not a lot of American players have experienced. It is a blessing to be in this position, so I can inspire American kids, to show them we can do it too.”Pulisic also wants to help Chelsea close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool, who finished 26 and 25 points ahead of the Blues last season respectively.”Liverpool and City are two great teams who had great seasons but I have seen Chelsea compete against big teams and do well against them this season,” he said.”We want to go in with a winning mentality and compete with them right away.”
Gold Cup: Yedlin left off U.S.’s preliminary roster
May 20, 2019Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent
Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, Schalke’s Weston McKennie and RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams join Toronto’s Michael Bradley as the headliners on United States coach Gregg Berhalter’s 40-man preliminary roster for this summer’s Gold Cup, while DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks Jr. have missed out.
CONCACAF released every team’s preliminary roster on Monday.In addition to the big names, Berhalter dug up a few surprises for his list, selecting Derby County midfielder Duane Holmes as well as Tyler Boyd, currently on the books of Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes, who just had a one-time switch to represent the U.S. approved after playing a handful of friendlies for New Zealand.There is also a recall for MSV Duisburg attacker Joe Gyau, whose once-promising career has been devastated by knee injuries. Fulham full-back Marlon Fossey, himself a victim of a knee injury last year, has been added to the list as well.Andrew Gutman, currently on loan with the USL’s Charlotte Independence after signing with Celtic, was named to the list, as was defender Miles Robinson, who has been outstanding for Atlanta United this season.There were a couple of notable omissions, though the biggest were injury-induced. Newcastle United defender Yedlin will miss out after recently undergoing groin surgery, while a knee ailment has rendered Wolfsburg defender Brooks unavailable.Bobby Wood, who hadn’t made the game-day roster in over two months while on loan at Hannover 96, also didn’t make the cut.Berhalter is expected to announce the group that will participate in a pre-Gold Cup training camp on Wednesday.The final 23-player rosters will be announced by CONCACAF the first week of June. After the official announcement, only injury-related changes will be allowed, up until 24 hours before each team’s first match, and any injury replacements must come from the preliminary 40-player roster. – Morris injures hamstring as Gold Cup looms
U.S. preliminary roster:
Defenders: Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Marlon Fossey (Fulham FC), Greg Garza(FC Cincinnati), Omar Gonzalez (Club Atlas), Andrew Gutman (Charlotte Independence), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Matt Miazga (Chelsea FC), Tim Ream(Fulham FC), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)
Midfielders: Paul Arriola (DC United), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Tyler Boyd (MKE Aknaragücü), Duane Holmes (Derby County), Jonathan Lewis(Colorado Rapids), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Schalke 04), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea FC), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jonathan Amon (FC Nordsjaelland), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake), Joe Gyau (MSV Duisburg), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Christian Ramirez (LAFC), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
Bayern wrap up Bundesliga and say goodbye to legends. PLUS: Vincent Kompany calls time at Man City
May 20, 2019 Gabriele MarcottiSenior Writer, ESPN FC
After another action-packed weekend in soccer, Gab Marcotti reflects on the big talking points in his latest edition of Monday Musings.
Bayern wrap up turbulent season with another league title
There was no drama on the final day of the 2018-19 Bundesliga season. Bayern won and did it emphatically, beating up Eintracht Frankfurt, 5-1, to win their seventh straight title. Despite being 90 minutes away from a Double — they play Leipzig in the German Cup final next weekend — Niko Kovac’s job is on the line.The fact that he said “I’m convinced I’m staying” rather than simply “I’m staying” speaks volumes here, and if you followed Bayern’s season, you’ll know why.
– Honigstein: Can Bayern ever replace Robben, Ribery?
This is a team that was nine points back from Borussia Dortmund in December. And rather than putting together an inspired comeback, the narrative of the campaign has been more about taking advantage of their rivals’ stumbles (and there have been many). In Kovac’s case, it was also about less-than-inspired football — the ghost of Pep Guardiola still haunts the Allianz Arena — and occasionally stormy relations with a number of first-team players. Saturday also marked the goodbye for three men who have marked Bayern’s recent history: Rafinha, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery after a combined 30 seasons at the club. Robben and Ribery in particular ought to be singled out. It’s easy to forget that both started and made their name as traditional wingers, only to evolve into something different and more modern, during the Guardiola era. It’s one thing for young players to adapt to a new boss, quite another for two veterans pushing 30 to reinvent themselves and make a radically different change. That’s a credit to their professionalism and the environment that existed at the club.
There are big decisions ahead for Bayern even if Kovac ends up staying, but the lasting legacy of this season ought to be a warning shot across their bow: this title is more about your opposition’s flaws than your own merits. Fix things or watch someone else win next season.
Praise for Vincent Kompany
Watford failed to put up much of a fight in the FA Cup final as Manchester City romped to a 6-0 win, matching a record for margin of victory that stood since 1903 when Bury defeated Derby County. The win seals City’s domestic Treble and yes, they probably are the greatest English side in the Premier League era, although they certainly did not need Saturday’s win to prove it.In some ways, the day was all about Vincent Kompany, who announced his departure to join Anderlecht, the club where he grew up, in a player-manager role. Kompany, of course, may be City’s greatest-ever captain and the way he stormed back into the starting line up after three injury-riddled seasons, scoring the key goal at Leicester in the most improbable way only cements his place in history. (The fact that by shooting from 30 yards out, he chose not to follow the standard Guardiola instruction for a center-back in that position — play it out to the wings — also shows what a leader is: someone who knows when to follow orders and when to trust his gut.)Anybody who has met Kompany will tell you he is precisely the sort of charismatic, intelligent and empathetic individual who is bound to do something important in football upon retirement — if he so chooses. The fact that he opted to return home when, you’d imagine, City were willing to roll out the red carpet for him and groom him as a future coach or club executive — as they did with Patrick Vieira and wanted to do with Frank Lampard — as well as giving him the option of another season on the pitch, says plenty about him.He’s been a tremendous servant to City, but the Etihad is not reality. It’s an extreme situation, with a unique set-up and manager. If he wants to learn the ropes, he needs to dig in further down the food chain. The fact that he can do it at the (other) club he loves is a bonus.
A big summer ahead for Real Madrid and Gareth Bale
Real Madrid’s season finished with a whimper, beaten 2-0 at home by Betis in Quique Setien’s final game in charge of Betis. It was their 18th defeat of the season, their 12th in La Liga. It also marks arguably their worst campaign in more than two decades, and while the arrivals of Eder Militao and Luka Jovicmay inject new life in the side next season, Sunday also offered a reminder of how they can’t just flip a switch, blow up the team and start over.After two straight weeks where he was fit but wasn’t even called up to the match day squad, Gareth Bale made the substitutes’ bench against Betis. He was an unused sub as Zinedine Zidane sent on Marco Asensio, Isco and Lucas Vazquezinstead. Cameras pictured him laughing on the bench with Toni Kroos. At the final whistle, he disappeared down the tunnel while his teammates gathered to salute the fans: few got resounding cheers, other than Keylor Navas, who is leaving.Bale is one of the five highest-paid players in the world, with a salary of more than $30 million a year. While his output, when prorated over minutes on the pitch, has actually been relatively steady, at least statistically, he no longer fits into the club’s plans. They have Vinicius Junior, Asensio, Lucas Vazquez, Brahim Diaz and they hope to sign Eden Hazard. It’s seemingly an open secret that they’d love to sell him.Except Bale’s contract runs through 2022, on the eve of his 33rd birthday. And the reality is that very few clubs can afford those wages and those who do maybe don’t want or need Bale. Certainly not at that salary, anyway, and not if they also need to pay a transfer fee however small. Bale doesn’t want to go on loan, and as far as we know, he won’t take a pay cut either.That’s his prerogative, of course. If he’s willing to sit and wait for Zidane to change his mind about him or for a new manager to take over, that’s his choice. But he shouldn’t be surprised if people don’t understand how a guy who likely has close to $100 million in the bank is unwilling to take a pay cut in order to play. His pride may be wounded, sure, but in a couple seasons, his body won’t allow him to play the game at all. And he’ll never get that opportunity back.Here’s hoping he takes a leaf out of the Arjen Robben play book, swallows his pride, cuts his salary — in the short term, at least, in the long-term it might extend his shelf-life and the money he earns — and relaunches his career elsewhere.I don’t want Bale’s Real Madrid tenure to end the way Jack Rodwell’s did in Sunderland. I refuse to believe the fire has gone out and that this really is all about golf.
Serie A’s top-four race goes to final weekend
The FC crew have their say on who among Atalanta, Inter, Roma, or Milan will be celebrating Champions League football qualification next weekend.
Serie A is going down to the wire in the battle for the final two Champions League spots after the weekend’s matches which saw Roma draw away to Sassuolo (0-0), Inter get thumped at Napoli, Milan overcome Frosinone (2-0, after Gianluigi Donnarumma saved a penalty with the game scoreless) and Atalanta concede a late equaliser away to Juventus (1-1).The first obvious point to make is that the old trope whereby late-season Serie A games yield “weird” results as teams that don’t need points happily gift them to the opposition is out the window. Napoli had nothing to play for and neither did Sassuolo. Juventus stormed back in the second half after a horrendous first 45 minutes. And sure, you can say that they didn’t want to spoil the postgame scudetto party but equally, quite a few of their fans wouldn’t have minded seeing Atalanta knock one of the Milanese clubs out of the Champions League places.The upshot?Atalanta — home to Sassuolo in theory but in practice away to Sassuolo, since Atalanta’s stadium is closed for renovations — and Inter (home to Empoli) control their own destinies. A win guarantees a place in the Champions League. Milan (away to SPAL) need to win and hope that Inter or Atalanta draw or Milan can draw if Atalanta lose since the head-to-head tiebreaker favours the rossoneri. There’s also a scenario where Roma can qualify, but it would require three different results to go their way, and they’d need a massive swing in goal difference.The stakes are high for everyone, particularly Inter and Milan.The former have just come out of their financial fair play settlement agreement, but missing out on Champions League revenue would limit the much-needed rebuild. (And yes, if you saw how awful they were at Napoli, you’d agree they need serious help beyond just a new manager). The fact that they’re playing Empoli, who desperately need the points to stay up, isn’t encouraging either. Meanwhile, Milan have their own FFP issues, of course, and things will only get more complicated if they miss out, particularly after shelling out $90 million in January on Krzysztof Piatek and Lucas Paqueta.Whatever happens, even if they don’t qualify Atalanta have already won Serie A, metaphorically speaking.
Will the real Dortmund please stand up?
From one vantage point, it’s hard to tell who the real Borussia Dortmund are. Are they the side that lost just twice before February and enjoyed a six-point lead at the top of the table? Or are they the team that won just eight of their past 17 games in all competitions the rest of the way?Youth can be an excuse for many things, and this is undoubtedly a side packed with promising talent. Then again, that’s why they signed an experienced coach in Lucien Favre who was supposed to guard against a second-half collapse. Instead we saw a side lacking maturity in the spring, particularly when injuries hit.In some ways, their final act of the season, away to Borussia Moenchengladbach, was a metaphor of the season, only in reverse. Against an opponent that still had a shot at winning a place in the Champions League, Dortmund looked chaotic and flimsy in the first half, only to rediscover themselves in the second and storm back to a 2-0 victory. Favre needs to convince the players that the real Dortmund is the one we saw after the break Saturday.When you throw titles away, it always hurts more, but this is the club’s third highest points total ever. There is plenty of raw material with which to work, and if they sell a prize asset or two, there will be plenty of resources available to narrow the gap with Bayern, who look to be heading towards a transition year next season.
Messi wraps up another Golden Boot?
Having sealed their eighth league title in 11 years, the main purpose of Barcelona’s final match of the Liga campaign away to Eibar was Lionel Messigetting a chance to pad out his goals total with a view towards winning his sixth European Golden Boot. (Whether or not he cares and whether he’d happily swap them all for a World Cup, Copa America or even another Champions League is a matter for debate.)
As it happened, he bagged both goals in the 2-2 draw, which means his season ends with 36 Liga goals: he has 50 overall, with the Copa del Rey final to come. Assuming Kylian Mbappe fails to score five goals in Paris Saint-Germain’s final game of the season (not likely he will) and Fabio Quagliarella doesn’t bag 11 in Sampdoria’s last outing (even less likely), it’s yet another piece of silverware for his trophy cabinet.
De Rossi’s exit causes chaos at Roma
News that Daniele De Rossi will be leaving Roma at the end of the season marks the end of an era. The man once known as “Captain Future” because, of course, there can only ever be one Capitano at Roma, will play his final game next weekend at home to Parma after 18 years at the club. The club are fortunate that they have quality ready-made replacements ready to take over the armband. Just as they went from Francesco Totti to De Rossi, they’ll go from De Rossi to Alessandro Florenzi and, perhaps, one day to Lorenzo Pellegrini and then to Luca Pellegrini (no relation, in case you’re wondering).That said, it’s telling how De Rossi’s departure is wreaking such havoc at the club. He simply said he imagined himself playing for Roma until he could no longer stand and they “dragged me off the pitch.” He also said that had he been in charge, he would have renewed his contract another year. He even said he was willing to stay on a “pay-for-play” deal. That was enough for a popular uprising among some supporters against the Roma top brass, from owner Jim Pallotta to executives Mauro Baldissoni and Franco Baldini. Even Claudio Ranieri, the outgoing manager, appeared to take a swipe when he said that he would have kept De Rossi around.You can get the fans’ reaction — we want our heroes to be immortal — but some of this also feels like a case of “point-scoring” against the club for what has turned into a disappointing season.As for De Rossi, you can’t picture him wearing different colors, and you’d imagine that if he has to play for a different club, he’ll want it to be as far away as possible. The fact that he speaks good English and his wife is British-American (although she was raised in Rome) has prompted some to see Major League Soccer in his future. You’d imagine that would be an option, although the legacy of great European midfielders moving to MLS isn’t great: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo didn’t exactly pull up trees.So here’s hoping he takes the more romantic option, mooted by some: he has long been an admirer of Argentine football, what if he rocked up at Boca Juniors or River Plate for a season or two?I have no idea if this is even a possibility, but yeah, if it happens I’ll want to witness it. And so will you.
Julie Ertz is the ass kicker of the U.S. women’s national team
Off the field, U.S. women’s national team star Julie Ertz is a ball of sunshine. On the field, she’s a tsunami. She’ll be a key to the U.S.’s success at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Mary Ellen Matthews for ESPN
May 16, 2019Allison GlockSenior Writer, espnW
IT’S 10 MINUTES before practice in the Chicago Red Stars’ training room, and midfielder Julie Ertz is curled up on a massage table, cupping the arches of her feet. She suctions her skin into a small, pressurized globe, a process that calls to mind medieval torture but allegedly relieves tightness. Her toenails are painted periwinkle blue. A small cross tattoo is tucked behind her ear like a flower.Ertz winces as she pops the seal of skin, then hops off the table and runs the tender pockets of her feet over a golf ball. She has high arches, a foot shape better suited to ballet than soccer and one that causes her intense discomfort every time she hits the pitch.”I was 23 in the last World Cup,” the team captain says matter-of-factly. “Now I need to listen to my body more.”On the floor, various teammates receive their own treatments: icing knees, heating quads, feet submerged in buckets soaking ingrown nails. They chat amiably about the dubious sartorial cred of Uggs, big versus small dogs, new restaurants, Gossip Girl — the free-flowing, unconcerned conversation found in groups with decades of shared history and unambiguous commonalities. Every few minutes, forward Michele Vasconcelos’ toddler, Scarlett, is rolled through the room in a plastic pushcart, a small soccer ball bouncing in the front.”It was fire,” Ertz shares about the foosball tourney she and a few other players got into last night, noting, “I made Gilly [Arin Wright, née Gilliland] switch positions because she wasn’t defending well enough.” Ertz laughs, says she had no skin in the game beyond “you know, pride.”Soon, the players hit the field and begin running laps. They shift like a flock of geese, repositioning en mass, pivoting to and fro as if nudged by the wind. During drills, Ertz transforms. She yanks her ponytail tight, walks the turf with a purpose, bowlegged, arms bent and floating at her hips like a cowboy ready to draw. Her expression is serious, contemplative, her genial demeanor subsumed by the beast within.”I’m the kind of person that wants to take advantage of all my opportunities,” she explains. And for Ertz, practice is as critical an opportunity as any.
For more on the U.S. and global stars of the upcoming 2019 Women’s World Cup, check out the June issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Capitalizing on her prospects is something the seasoned defensive champion has been doing since her teens. After a winning stint at Santa Clara University, the NWSL rookie of the year became the second-youngest player on the victorious 2015 World Cup team, a position she slid into after an injured Crystal Dunn was dropped from the roster. Former alternate Ertz seized her moment by the throat, playing every second of the tournament, emerging as a star. In 2017, she was named U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year, and she is now viewed by many as the most critical component in the projected success of the 2019 national team — the strategic linchpin and a player head coach Jill Ellis describes as “a weapon” who “will run through anything.”Like the Kool-Aid Man, Ertz has a reputation for furiously demolishing barriers with a smile. On the outside, she is all warm, sunny blond; on the inside, it’s Game of Thrones, mother of dragons. She has etched her place in soccer history as a rare amalgamation of physical and technical threat, the uncommon defender who dissects film and tackles audaciously, her body as ruthless as her brain.”Julie is incredibly intelligent about the game,” Chicago head coach Rory Dames says. “She’s like having another coach on the field.”Dames drafted Ertz to the Red Stars five years ago, in large part because of her brute chutzpah. “Julie puts her body on the line. It’s unusual to have a player that has all the characteristics that Julie has and still have her willingness to tackle,” he marvels, adding, “There is no gray area for her.”Teammates describe Ertz as a player who thrives under pressure, joyfully running headlong into the mouth of every cannon.”Julie is probably one of the more aggressive players that we have,” says keeper Alyssa Naeher, who plays alongside Ertz on the USWNT and the Red Stars. “She’s the one that’s going to the ground. Which is weird because off the field, you don’t see that side.”Out of uniform, Ertz, 27, is chill, open, thoughtful. She makes a lot of deep eye contact. She keeps her indulgences in check. She does not smoke or drink or eat crappy food or sleep late or skip practice. She’s like Sandra Dee, if Sandra Dee possessed a secret, bone-deep desire to knock your punk ass into the artificial turf.”If her goal was just to be a great soccer player, that goal would’ve already been accomplished,” observes her husband, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. “She could rest on her laurels and be complacent. But she’s not.”Julie Ertz is the opposite, consumed by self-scrutiny, poking at what she perceives as her weak spots like a tongue prodding an aching tooth.”When you fail or you make a mistake, you learn a lot about yourself,” she explains. “That wouldn’t happen if I just did everything right. You know what I mean?”
IF YOU ASK her, Ertz will tell you she doesn’t have nightmares. She dreams nearly every night. But her head is filled instead with happy fantasies and memories. Sometimes she dreams about past vacations or trips to the sea. More often, she dreams of soccer.”I see moments of a game that could happen,” she says, knitting her brow. Premonitions and “visions,” not of trophies but of plays, of tackles. Even at rest, she is strategizing.Ertz sees nothing odd about this. The infinite calculus of soccer has been her abiding preoccupation since she was an eager child in Mesa, Arizona, stumbling into a lifelong passion while trying to beat her two-years-older sister, Melanie, at something, anything. (Ertz’s grandmother remembers Julie making up rules to win at Candy Land.)Natural athletes, the sisters were encouraged to battle. Their father, David Johnston, a starting kicker for LSU, designed makeshift physical challenges to entertain them whenever he could. Chores became races. An idle jump on the trampoline transformed into a contest to see which daughter could jump higher over a swinging pipe.David worked in the cold room at Shamrock Foods, lifting heavy stock 65 hours a week. Mom Kristi was a nurse. The family bedrock was hard work and the belief in its ability to cement character.”It was tough love,” Ertz recalls.”My dad wanted us to find that drive at a young age,” Melanie says. “The mentality was, ‘No one is stopping you but yourself.'”The two girls shared a room, an enforced closeness that Melanie says brought benefits — “We were partners in crime” — and annoyances — “Julie borrowing my Hollister T-shirt, not hanging it up, it’s on the floor types of things.”The sisters excelled in every sport but showed particular promise in soccer, a game “my parents didn’t know anything about,” Ertz recalls. By age 9, Ertz thought of little else. Local leagues were joined. A net was erected in the backyard. Self-motivated practice was expected. If this was where the family time and money was going to be spent, the girls were called upon to take their commitment seriously. Ertz says the early accountability was a blessing.”It made us super independent. Our parents made it known, we’re going to treat you like an adult.”David and Kristi logged extra shifts to pay for team expenses. The girls’ heavy sporting schedule meant cheap pizza dinners in the car, hours commuting to matches every weekend. There were no vacations that didn’t revolve around soccer.”That’s why Julie and I are so hard on ourselves to perform at a higher level,” Melanie says. Neither child wanted the sacrifices their parents made to be for nothing.Whenever Melanie joined a league, Julie followed. After a growth spurt in middle school, Julie began eclipsing her sister on the pitch. “Julie was so advanced. She played above her age,” Melanie recalls.At 13, Ertz switched to a more hard-core club with European coaches, and the die of her career was cast. “I loved how seriously everyone there took it,” she says — her most of all. It was a fevered dedication that’s only grown over the ensuing dozen years, Ertz sewing up a heady college run before dropping out to go pro in 2013, a decision that haunts her slightly.”I wanted to finish, and I really, really tried,” she says. “It was hard to balance classes while I was getting called in with the national team. My parents still ask me when I’m going to finish my education, and I tell them, ‘Soon.'”When asked why she would bother at this point, Ertz says flatly, “To say I did it.”She is a completionist. “I want to win more games,” Ertz says of her immediate goals. “I will never be satisfied,” she says of her competitive mentality. “It’s such an honor to be able to represent your country that I just don’t ever want to let it down.””Julie is a sore loser,” Zach confides with a chuckle. “If I beat her at something, I try to keep it mellow because I know the repercussions if I go all out.”Julie does not disagree. “I want to be a good, moral person and have good values,” she says earnestly. “But I don’t think I’ll ever mature about how to act about losing. I hate losing so much.”Ertz is happiest with her husband. (The soccer field, she says, is a close second.) Her call log reads like a skipping record. Hubby, hubby, hubby, hubby, hubby FaceTime, hubby FaceTime, hubby. The two famously met at a Stanford baseball game, him quiet, her chatty. They shared sunflower seeds. A friendship developed. Six months later, they were an item, bonding over their willingness to forgo late nights on the quad for a pursuit of athletic excellence, a commitment unusual among their peers. Zach also reminded Julie of her father: reserved, with a well of sweetness beneath the surface. She knew it was serious when the two of them could drive in silence and not feel awkward.Julie took Zach home, the first boyfriend to meet her parents. It was July in Arizona. Sweltering. “He was absolutely miserable,” Julie remembers, laughing.Adding to the discomfort, the family Johnston is a “more the merrier” extended dance remix crew, the sort that gathers every aunt, uncle and second cousin together any chance they get; boisterous, voluble — at least on the maternal side. When Zach was introduced to the cheerful chaos, “he was like, ‘This is insane!'” Julie recalls. “He was really nervous.”Since then, “Julie has pulled a lot of stuff out of me,” Zach says. When they are together, the pair put fun first. They play games of gin or Bananagrams, tease each other good-naturedly. “More her making fun of me. We rarely have a bad day.”The couple did marriage counseling before they wed, approaching their partnership like they do their sport — giving it their all, in all ways.”Zach knows me better than anyone else in the world,” Julie says. “He’s that person I’m vulnerable with. We grew up together. In the soccer world, it’s really hard to root yourself.”For Julie, Zach is home. And that home is sacred. The couple decided long ago that their marriage would come first, before football, before soccer, before the World Cup and the Super Bowl and the raining down of international acclaim.”Our relationship wasn’t built on Julie’s ability to play soccer and my ability to play football,” Zach explains.”Don’t get me wrong,” Julie clarifies. “We want to give sports everything we have. But this career isn’t something you can do forever.”
IT IS LATE afternoon, and Alyssa Naeher is driving Julie to their midtown Chicago gym for their second workout of the day. Naeher’s side mirror is knocked off, so she wrenches her head hard left.”You look like me on the field,” Ertz jokes, dramatically swiveling her body, thick ponytail snapping. The women laugh, talk about Mike Trout’s record-breaking contract for $36.8 million a year.”Where’s our multimillion-dollar payday?” Naeher asks.”Right?” Ertz chimes in, noting that she and Trout are nearly the same age. (Ertz says she has no comment on the current USWNT lawsuit seeking equitable pay and treatment, preferring to “keep a one-track mind toward France.”)Ertz reminds Naeher that she knows Trout personally, that he’s a great guy. She and Zach have couples dinners with him and his wife. She says her second wedding anniversary is coming up, and she and Zach are going to buy each other surprise outfits to wear to dinner. She’s worried about what Zach will pick. She usually dresses him.”Hips Don’t Lie” comes on the radio, and Ertz breaks into song. She makes an inspirational playlist every December, adding songs “over the year whenever I hear one that speaks to me in the moment.” The last tune she added was “Sunshine,” by Maoli, a breezy island bop celebrating true love. She says it reminds her of a trip to Turks and Caicos with Zach.Earlier in the week, Ertz was interrupted by a soccer dad during dinner out. He said his 13-year-old daughter was holding herself back on the field and that he’d advised her to act like Ertz, told her, “It’s OK to be a savage on the field. I guarantee Julie would destroy someone.”Ertz nodded along, pleased.”My teammates all know not to go into a tackle when I go for it,” she told the man.Ertz is not ashamed of her rep for aggression. Or how observers interpret her game. “No matter what we do, somebody will have something to say about it.” She shrugs. “That’s just how it is if you’re a woman athlete.”Ertz knows all too well the cruel vagaries of pro sports, especially for women, where scarcity of opportunity casts every high and low in crushing relief.During the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Ertz was hitting her stride at center back. “The game against New Zealand was one of the best games I’ve played.” Later came Sweden: the first time Team USA didn’t win gold in 16 years and the first defeat for Ertz.”I’d never lost with the team when I was on the field until that game,” she says. “It didn’t feel real.”After the loss, Ertz was the one U.S. player randomly pulled for drug testing. She was driven to the doctor with a member of the Swedish team. They both waited for hours to pee in a cup, Ertz biting her cheeks in silence as her opponent gleefully celebrated into her cellphone, the scene something out of a goofy European farce.”I didn’t get to see my teammates, give them hugs,” Ertz says. “I didn’t hear what the coaches had to say.”When she made it back home to Philadelphia, Zach was already with the Eagles in OTAs, and Julie found herself alone in an empty house. Zach flew in her parents to nudge her out of her funk. “And I didn’t talk to them,” she says. “I literally sat in silence for two weeks.”On her phone, she kept a photo of her near-miss block in the fatal game as her screen saver. “It was not a great time in my life,” Ertz says, sighing.When you are a defender, your job is basically proving a negative, your triumphs largely invisible while your mistakes scream loud as sirens.”You could play a great game for 89 minutes, and then if you don’t do one thing …” Ertz quiets, shakes her head. “A forward can suck for 90 minutes, but if you score in overtime, no one remembers the rest of the game.”Ertz was benched from the national team after the Olympics. For nearly a year she didn’t start, an abrupt and gutting life change.”It was a really hard time for me. I never asked why. Probably never will. I don’t want to know.”Ertz is not one for self-pity. She can do the USWNT math. The bench is deep with exceptional players. Rejection is in the DNA of the cutthroat selection process. Still, it was hard to reconcile.”It’s weird to talk about,” she says. “I was pissed: ‘I’ll show you the mistake you’re making by not using me.’ I said that every day at practice in my head. Then as it went on and I wasn’t playing, I started thinking, ‘Maybe your life is going in a different direction than you think.'”She considered retirement. Sitting out game days was almost too painful to bear. But “I realized my career has been started in those moments. I could either choose to sit there and be mad or be prepared and prove my point. I still had that pride.””When you’re dealing with adversity as an athlete, you can pout and point the finger at someone else, or you can reflect and ask yourself, ‘How can I get better?'” Zach says. “That’s what she did. She ramped up to another level.”Ertz leaned in to the inescapable grind of professional sport. The monotony behind moments of elation, trudging through muddy parking lots to dimly lit practice fields to do the same drills she’d done almost every day for 20 years. She also doubled down on overall fitness.”To be elite, my fitness had to go way up. And I had to accept that mentally it’s going to be very, very hard and push past it.”Playing in the NWSL was a balm.”Feeling wanted, at least somewhere,” Ertz says, allowed her “to figure out where I belonged.”As it turns out, it was in the midfield. Asked by Ellis to sub as a midfielder for the Brazil game in the 2017 Tournament of Nations, Ertz didn’t hesitate. She did what she has always done. She said yes and worried about the details later.”I was told, ‘Don’t expect to be a midfielder.’ And I kind of just stayed there. I was working my ass off. I was thinking, ‘If this is the way that it’s going to go, at least I’m going to leave knowing that I did everything that I could.'”Observes Dames, “A lot of people would not mentally be able to overcome those obstacles. Her ability to reinvent herself in the midfield and become arguably the most vital piece of the U.S. team’s success, it’s special.””This is not a normal thing what we do,” adds Naeher. “It’s hard to understand the psychological side of it unless you’re in it.”Ertz still wants her passing completion to be higher. She wants more goals outside of the 18 she has. She wants to be fit enough to play seven games “at my top, because that’s what it’s going to take to win the World Cup.” But she is #grateful for her hardships.In the best case, failure begets knowledge, and Ertz has learned plenty. About her fortitude. About the limited value of what others believe are your limits. About going to the mattresses. She knows who she is now.”Days after the World Cup, I couldn’t wait until we could win the Olympics. And then days after we lost the Olympics, I couldn’t wait for another World Cup. I thought, ‘If I just won this, it would be everything.’ And then you get there and you always want something else.”Ertz sensed there had to be more than leapfrogging from medal to medal, goal to goal. “All I had was soccer. That was my identity. If soccer didn’t go well, nothing else was great.” So she shifted her perspective. Less end game, more journey. Ertz started asking herself, “What else is there?” And her answer was faith, family and deep friendship.”Everyone feels alone in this world,” she says. “I felt alone in college, and I lived in a room with five girls.”Ertz pauses, takes a beat to ponder her spiritual growth.”Sometimes it’s hard. I want to be a really good role model, but at the same time, look, I’m still trying to grow up.”
ERTZ LIVES OUT of a single suitcase. On the left side are her undergarments. On the right side, her toiletries. She packs only four outfits, two big old coats, leggings, sweatpants, tank tops. She’s an expert at simplifying in the service of excellence, at winnowing life to the crux of what matters.In third grade, Ertz’s teacher asked the class to draw a dream board of what the children wanted their futures to be when they grew up. Her classmates drew pictures of houses and dogs and firemen and doctors and flowers and princesses. Young Julie drew a soccer player. It was the only image on her board.Over coffee at a hipster café in the West Loop, Ertz contemplates her résumé: “I played soccer and I baby-sat. It would literally be that.”Ertz has already begun considering the end of her game. She is at her peak. And peaks do not last. That reckoning has not gone down easy. She does the mental prep, tries to focus on the joy that still awaits — children, her foundation, paying it forward, her faith. But the verdict remains heavy.”If I retire when I’m 55 or 28, it will never be the right moment. There is nothing that makes me as excited and joyful as soccer does.”Dames recently repositioned Ertz into the Red Stars’ back line, even though she’s ramping up for the World Cup at midfield.”The soccer IQ needed for juggling those two positions at this level is huge,” Naeher says.”It wasn’t best for her,” Dames acknowledges. “But she said, ‘Let’s do it!’ No hesitation. Not, ‘Well, I need to get into the six and my spot might be in jeopardy.’ Just a very simple, ‘Yep, I agree. It’s best for the team.'”To compensate for the demands of dual positions, Ertz adds extra running to her workout, concentrates on specialized ballhandling. She rarely takes a day off; she is still, as her parents imparted decades ago, accountable. The exigent complexity drives her.”When I’m called upon, I’m going to be ready.”After Red Stars practice, as her teammates trot off to showers and lunches, Ertz remains on the field. She does drills, gets in extra touches, examines her weaknesses, systematically dismantles them.In the far corner of the field, she launches the ball repeatedly into a wooden kickboard, maneuvering and adjusting her footwork centimeter by centimeter.Boom. Thump. Boom. Thump. Again and again she kicks.It sounds like a heartbeat.
Lindsey Horan’s road never traveled
The sobs were audible. Chubby tear-stained cheeks visible via Skype. On her first of many lonely nights at 10 Rue de Poissy, in an apartment 10 miles west of Paris, long before she became a reticent U.S. national team star, an 18-year-old girl from Colorado called her mom and cried.It was September of 2012 when Lindsey Horan first wondered what the hell she had done. Months earlier, she had barged into her mother’s bedroom at a similarly nocturnal hour, flicked on the lights, and revealed the biggest decision of her life. She had turned down the most prestigious college scholarship in women’s soccer. Turned down a well-worn path to USWNT stardom, and instead chosen an untrodden one, all because of a dream. So in late August, to fulfill it, Horan flew an ocean and half a continent away from home, to a sprawling European metropolis, its culture and intricacies capable of swallowing up even the most mature foreign teenager. She was there to do something no American woman had ever done: Play soccer, professionally, straight out of high school. For PSG. On a six-figure contract.
But before she could, not two weeks into her trailblazing adventure, the club moved her out of a host family’s house, into the apartment on Rue de Poissy. And with her first evening alone winding down, she came to a problematic realization.She had no bed sheets.So she cried. Clicked Skype. Dialed mom, for one of several hundred emotional transatlantic calls that immediately became daily routine. She slept on towels that night, with a thought coursing through her mind.“Oh my God, what am I getting into?”
With a decision no other American girl had ever made came a journey no other American girl had ever embarked on, a journey armed with challenges no other American girl had ever faced. Challenges as complex as soccer drills, explained only in French, defenders and profanities bombarding her with equal venom; and challenges as simple as grocery runs. Or cooking. Or a search for a fitted sheet.For weeks, they consistently brought Lindsey Horan to tears. “Not that I was depressed,” she recalls six years later. “But I was homesick.”But the journey, in part because of those unprecedented challenges, led her to a podium in Portland, an MVP trophy in hand. It led her to world player of the year shortlists; to the cusp of World Cup stardom; and, last fall, to a hotel lobby in Raleigh, where, sporting a black “E♀UALITY” t-shirt and an effortless smile, she reflected on her odyssey using both words and a hand motion: Up and down, up and down, the wave-like movement representing the trajectory of her rise.“There were so many learning experiences,” Horan says of her time 5,000 miles outside her comfort zone. And in so many ways, she’s stronger because of them.
The most remarkable aspect of Horan’s story isn’t anything that transpired on glistening swaths of French grass. It isn’t her unique footballing blend of physical prowess and artistry. It isn’t a starting point or a final destination. It’s an incongruity – between the profile of a prototypical pioneer and the profile of this one.Horan, in her own words, “wasn’t outgoing whatsoever” as a kid growing up in Golden, Colorado. When an overflowing soccer schedule relented, her most common weekend diversion involved smuggling food into a movie theater with her best friend. When she arrived in Paris, she’d snuggle up in her room with TV shows or soccer streams. And when her first American teammate, Tobin Heath, arrived at PSG, Horan was the last to greet her – with minimal eye contact, in the corner of the room, timidity and nerves obstructing words.Heck, when organized footy first enticed her, 5-year-old Lindsey would only play if her mom, Linda, signed up to coach.“So shy,” Horan says now of her younger self.
Soccer, though, has transformative power. It reshapes personalities, cracks shells. And Horan, from a young age, was “just obsessed” with it. She and her older brother, Michael, would play in backyards and basement hallways. Linda remembers Michael’s friends retiring to the house after hours of friendly competition and marveling to him: “Man, your sister’s tough.”The obsession broadened around age 11 when a club coach with the Colorado Rush, Tim Schulz, gave Horan an assignment: Don’t just play the game fanatically; watch it as well. Schulz mentioned Barcelona and a 17-year-old phenom named Lionel Messi. Horan became an OG Messi fangirl – “never a bandwagon[er],” she clarifies – with multiple jerseys, a scarf, a Barca flag and posters still adorning the walls of her childhood bedroom to this day.
Then, soon after her European football indoctrination, Horan realized this magical world in which she’d immersed herself through TV screens was in the same universe as hers. After a club practice, Schulz told Horan and her teammates that one day, one of them would play professionally, perhaps overseas. Which led to her declaration, in the car on the way home: “Mom, that’s gonna be me.”Over the coming years, she’d occasionally reiterate her ambition. And after one regional coach literally laughed at it, she pursued it compulsively. After a youth national team coach cut her, leaving her in tears for three days, she became almost possessed. She’d rise with the Rocky Mountain sun for 7 a.m. training, rearranging school schedules to accommodate dream-chasing. After her last class of the day, she’d zip to practice with the academy boys from 3-4:30 p.m. Then she was off to her own team. Afterwards, she’d go again, a fourth session in 12 hours, with whoever had the field next, no matter the age group or gender.She prioritized training over school dances and family dinners, instead returning home late at night for microwavable meals. She endured criticism and rude comments from opponents for playing with a boys team. “Everything I did was for soccer,” Horan says. She fit in whatever homework she could.And that was all before what she now calls “the most stressful year of my life.”
It began with a phone call, at Denver International Airport, with vacation mere hours away. The Horans were checking in for their flight. Their destination? Barcelona, then a European cruise. The occasion? Grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary.But now Lindsey’s phone was buzzing. Schulz’s voice was coming through it, delivering fantastic yet inconvenient news: He’d negotiated an opportunity for her to train with Lyon, the reigning European champions.“You’re kidding me,” Lindsey immediately thought. “When is it?”What followed was a 12-day trip that Linda admits “was horrible.” While she and her husband – Lindsey’s father, Mark – argued about whether to let their 17-year-old daughter go to France alone, their daughter fretted about measuring up to top pros. The vacation impeded preparation. Lindsey’s solution was a small-sided field on the cruise ship’s deck that hosted daily pickup games. Her parents’ solution was to arrange for Erik Bushey, one of her club coaches back home, to accompany her to France.So Horan jetted from Barcelona to Lyon, and eventually trekked up into the Alps, with big eyes and almost zero French words in her linguistic arsenal. She ran and biked miles at altitude, the preseason fitness regimens startling to a girl who’d never sniffed a proper strength and conditioning program. She battled with and against French national teamers while French instructions rippled off tongues and over her head.And yet the brutality, the challenges, the draining work … they would have broken most 17-year-olds. But they attracted Horan.Over two grueling weeks, she earned a four-year contract offer. She and her family eventually decided it came a year too early. Back in Colorado, with a deadline looming, and with parents pushing the importance of at least completing high school, Lindsey sat down with some of her best friends, cried, hugged them, and said through sniffles, “I don’t want to leave you guys.” With fulfillment of her dream at her fingertips, she bravely turned it down.But she still yearned for it. The opportunity lingered, and therefore a decision – go to college, or turn pro? – loomed throughout senior year. The top-ranked player in her recruiting class, Horan committed to the University of North Carolina. The program’s track record – 20 of 30 national titles, 21 American World Cup stars produced – fueled unimaginable pressure to honor the pledge. To do what every other player in the history of the U.S. women’s national team had done. To take the safe route. To conform.But as she sought advice, heard opinions – most nudging her toward Chapel Hill – she found herself thinking: “No, you’re wrong. I know what I want.”
“In the end,” she says, “I knew what I wanted the whole time. I needed a push.” It came during an hours-long discussion with Bushey after training. Coach did most of the talking, impartially laying out pros and cons. Pupil listened. And cried.And drove home. Linda remembers it being after midnight. “My mom’s in bed,” Horan recounts. “I turn on all her lights. And I was like, ‘Mom, I made a decision!’ ”Linda, still groggy, wondered: “Am I having a dream?”“She’s half asleep,” Horan continues. “And I’m like, ‘I’m going pro!’ ”
The French adventure
Lindsey Horan, in case it wasn’t already clear, is a crier. She wept while telling her best friends she wasn’t ready to leave them, then a year later while realizing she was. She wept when a youth national team coach told her she wasn’t good enough. She wept without bed sheets, without family on Thanksgiving, without English-speaking friends consistently by her side. And on the Friday before her maiden away trip with PSG, the list grew.Horan had snubbed UNC for Europe. Lyon, however, had maxed out its international roster slots. With the back-to-back European champs no longer an option, Paris Saint-Germain swooped in to seal a deal. Horan, despite an arrival delayed by a July knee surgery, quickly earned a place in the starting 11.Before her professional bow, though, was a trip to France’s western tip, to tiny Guingamp. And before her team’s match was her other team’s match.One of many things Horan sacrificed to turn pro was a crack at the 2012 Under-20 World Cup. As former and future teammates marched onto a field in Tokyo for the final that Friday, Horan sat in a hotel lobby, staring up at “this tiny-ass TV in the corner of the lounge area.” As seconds ticked away on a U.S. victory, a few PSG players joined her and remarked: “Oh, you were supposed to be there!”Horan forced a laugh. Tried to stifle tears. Couldn’t.“I just started bawling my eyes out,” she recalls. “Like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I do? I’m in Guingamp.’ It was a nightmare.”UNC also won a national championship that fall. Meanwhile, Horan would retreat to her room, resort to frozen foods or McDonald’s, too afraid of a short grocery store expedition. Adapting to a foreign land as a timid teen, she says, “was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.”On the field, assimilation came quicker, but was nonetheless turbulent. At training, Horan would wait for English explanations that never came. Some of her first French words were the soccer terms for “man on” (sa vient) and “space” (sol) – but of course she mixed them up, and would turn into pressure, or hurry passes unnecessarily, until realizing the interpretive error.She also had to reform her diet. “I was the worst with my nutrition and fitness,” Horan admits. “I knew nothing about it, nor did I care about it.” And the club’s technical staff, led by head coach Farid Benstiti, didn’t care about communicating fitness goals respectfully. “They were just terrible,” Horan says. “Especially with female players, they were just [saying], ‘You need to lose weight, you need to get thinner, you need to run more.’“But it was more [about] how you were seen and not how it was helping you play,” Horan says of the demands. At one practice, Benstiti told her she was benched until she shed weight. Afterward, she called mom and said she wanted to quit.As she struggled with adaptations, however, she largely found comfort in football. (Horan uses both “football” and “soccer” interchangeably.) With her four-a-day practice habit reduced to one per day, she would sneak in solo sessions. (“Don’t tell Farid,” she jokes.) In late September, she scored on her debut. She bagged five goals in her first five league appearances, and 17 in 20 by the end of her first season.And in January, she received a godsend in the form of Heath’s arrival. After awkward intros and unwelcoming beginnings, the two Americans bonded. They explored the city. They frequented a nearby Indian restaurant, so frequently that after a while they didn’t even have to speak to order. Heath would get buttered chicken, Horan tikki masala. “Every time,” Horan remembers with a smile. They’d sit and talk for hours, hours that felt unexceptional at the time, but that in retrospect, Heath says, “were really special.”As Horan eased into her new life, however, soccer began pelting her with adversity. After two USWNT appearances in 2013, she went 23 months without a senior call-up. U.S. head coach Jill Ellis stated publicly that Horan’s decision to play abroad – despite accelerating her development – hurt her national team chances. Then, as Ellis called in roster after roster comprising exclusively U.S.-based players, Horan suffered a January knee injury that ruled her out of 2015 World Cup contention.Instead, she trekked to Canada as a fan, and was overcome with mixed emotions. “I’ll never forget being in the stands as the national anthem started to play, just looking down onto the field, and seeing all the women with their hands over their hearts,” she recalled in a Players Tribune article. “And I mean … I lost it. I wanted to be out there so bad that I actually started to cry.”
The dream realized
In a few weeks, one of those women will be her. On June 11 in Reims, 90 miles along highway A4 from the city that hosted so much suffering and yet so much growth, Lindsey Horan will stand with her right hand over her heart. She’ll face an American flag. She’ll sing. And then she’ll justify all the four-practice days and offseason grinds; all the homesickness and risk; all the courage required to follow that heart and take a road never traveled.In January 2016, Horan left PSG after three and a half seasons as a prolific striker – and after a week of teary-eyed goodbyes. She arrived in Portland, to play for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Thorns, at the same age a typical college grad would – but with a “reading [of] the game, game intelligence, game understanding,” says Thorns coach Mark Parsons, that “was a big, big difference from the player you normally get at that age.”Since, Horan has morphed into a domineering midfielder the likes of which 21st-century women’s soccer has never seen. She sits deep and dictates play, then bursts forward into the attacking third, a 6, 8, 9 and 10 all packed into one 5-foot-9, 24-year-old frame. “There is no midfielder in the world that has all the elite tools that she has,” Parsons says. And numbers reinforce his passionate praise. In the NWSL in 2018, Horan touched the ball more than any other player; won it more than any other player; and won more aerial duels, too. She completed the second-most passes and second-most dribbles, and scored the third-most goals. Her all-around excellence earned her an MVP award and 26 consecutive USWNT appearances, a streak interrupted only by minor injury.The positional changes, Horan says, actually haven’t been difficult. Not for someone who got tastes of everything from center back to center forward growing up. Not for someone who’s “glued to the TV any time football is on”; who consumes women’s and men’s games, as fan or student; who’ll sometimes do both, greeting Barca goals with yelps, but also recording matches and re-watching for educational purposes. “Watching football is such an underrated thing to help you grow as a player,” she says. And “if you know the game,” she later continues, “if you’re a football player, you can play anywhere.”There’s a certain confidence about Horan nowadays, a confidence she credits Parsons with instilling. It shows up in the way she purposefully checks to the ball or attacks crosses, but also away from the pitch. Soccer, throughout her life, is the one thing that has consistently pulled her out of her shell, into a comfort zone. With self-belief in her soccer soaring, and with close friends almost always close by, she is no longer that timid teen who boarded a plane to Paris seven years ago.Which is not to say the accolades that accompany success don’t make her uncomfortable. She “absolutely hated” the fanfare that came with last year’s MVP announcement the day before the NWSL Final. She has “a love-hate relationship” with her nickname, “The Great Horan” – the brainchild of U.S. teammate Rose Lavelle via Twitter shenanigans. “More hate,” grins Lavelle, who considers it one of her “proudest accomplishments.” With the moniker now adorning T-shirts, Horan has reluctantly embraced it. But “she still does not like the spotlight,” her mother says – even if she’s getting used to it.At times, Horan has wondered whether well-traveled roads would have led her to similar success. Whether the homesickness and heartache were necessary. “Any player can make their situation good for them,” she admits. “If I went to UNC, I’m sure I would find a way to make myself better, make things harder, challenge myself. It’s what the player puts into it.“But then again, where I went, the challenges I went through … experiencing a different culture, language … you can’t get that anywhere else.”Occasionally, back at 10 Rue de Poissy, or in that Guingamp hotel lobby, it all felt like a “nightmare.”“That was the best thing for me,” Horan says now. “I do not regret it whatsoever.”
Previewing the US national team at the 2019 U-20 World Cup
May 20, 20195:56PM EDTTravis ClarkContributor
The Under-20 World Cup kicks off this week in Poland with arguably the best US Under-20 national team roster ever assembled, ready to compete against some of the top talents in the world.Head coach Tab Ramos is preparing to lead the US in the competition for the fourth time, and as Concacaf champions for the second straight cycle.At the start of May, Ramos named a roster of 21 players set to compete in Group D, aiming to improve on two straight quarterfinal finishes in 2015 and 2017. Ten of the players on the roster hail from MLS teams, with early season standouts like Edwin Cerrillo and Paxton Pomykal among the contenders to carve out key roles.
A familiar style
Ramos has favored a press-intensive style of play throughout his time in charge, looking to win the ball high up and the field and turn that into scoring chances. This year’s group should be similar to past Ramos teams: a 4-3-3 formation, pressing high and looking to control games and create chances in that fashion. He has a dynamic and exciting group of attackers to choose from, with Tim Weah, Konrad de la Fuente, Justin Rennicks, Ulysses Llanez and Ayo Akinola among the wide options to complement Sebastian Soto in the middle.
Defensive questions to answer
Provided the attack clicks and the US show that they are capable of scoring goals, the group’s defensive quality is going to determine how far it can go in the tournament. Chris Richards is potentially the team’s most important player, as the Bayern Munich center back has the intelligence and athletic ability to put out fires where needed.As the team presses high, if they lose out in transition moments, that could put pressure on the back line and leave them exposed. One of Cerrillo, Chris Durkin or Brandon Servania are likely to be on the field as well, shielding the team’s defense and providing a helping hand at the back.Who lines up next to Richards is the other part of the question. Matt Real, while more of a left back, saw time centrally in qualifying. Aboubacar Keita, the Columbus Crew SC Homegrown signing who is on loan at Richmond Kickers, is another. Mark McKenzie is still working his way back to full fitness from an appendectomy as well, but should be in the mix soon. Sergino Dest and Chris Gloster are the leading candidates to start on the right and left, respectively, providing support on both sides of the ball.
Back in 2017, the US U-20s won Group F, advancing to a favorable Round of 16 matchup against New Zealand. The ambition heading into the 2019 edition of the competition, where they’ve been drawn into Group D with Ukraine, Nigeria and Qatar, is the same: Win the group. That would see the United States advance to a knockout game against a third-place team from Groups B, E or F, which is likely a more favorable opponent.A second-place finish means a round-of-16 clash against the first-place team in Group E; barring a huge shock or surprise, that is almost certain to be France, considered to be one of the favorites of the competition. That means getting off to a good start against Ukraine in Friday’s group opener is huge, as that provides the ideal platform to progress as deep in the tournament as possible.
D Chris Richards – As noted above, the Alabama native’s presence in the backline is huge. He’ll need to stay fit and avoid picking up too many yellow cards, as there is a notable drop-off in quality between him and the other options in central defense.
F Timothy Weah – It’s been an up-and-down club season for Weah, who spent the first half of the 2018-19 season hardly playing for Paris Saint-Germain, before playing in fits and starts on loan at Celtic FC in Scotland. Like others on the roster, he’s a versatile player, capable of lining up as the central striker or on either wing. His desire to play at the U-20 World Cup is notable, and he’ll provide an important presence and experience on and off the field.
M Alex Mendez – Winner of the Golden Ball at the U-20 Concacaf Championship, where he scored eight goals, Mendez heads into the World Cup in good form. A smooth, left-footed central midfielder who can pick a pass, smash home from distance and deliver dangerous set pieces on a consistent basis, the LA Galaxy academy product has recently scored some spectacular goals for SC Freiburg’s A-Junioren side. That threat is going to be massive for the US, whether it’s unlocking an opposing defense with his passing range or offering up a chance to score from set pieces.
F Konrad de la Fuente – Something of a mystery to US fans, the FC Barcelona prospect is one of a host of exciting options on the wing. Between him and Uly Llanez, Ramos has a pair of wide attackers that can take defenders on one-v-one, which can certainly create chances in transition moments during the game.
M Paxton Pomykal – Before picking up a hamstring injury, Pomykal had been firmly in the middle of a breakout season with FC Dallas. Assuming he’s healthy and available for selection, his two-way ability in either central midfield or potentially on one of the flanks can create space and opportunities for his teammates.
Champions League revamp would wreak havoc on Premier League and others
May 16, 2019 Gabriele MarcottiSenior Writer, ESPN FC
There are bad ideas and there’s bad execution. The European Club Association’s (ECA) proposed “reforms” of the Champions League happen to be both.On the one hand, they are bad ideas founded purely on the self-interest of a tiny number of wealthy super clubs. On the other hand, the plan has been ham-fistedly executed. It has prompted not only threats of lawsuits and expulsion from domestic leagues, but also failed to rally the public support of other super clubs, thereby negating the leverage — rich revenue-driving clubs acting in unison to get their way — they might otherwise have had.The battle rumbles on because the deadline is not that far away. Once the current deal governing the FIFA calendar expires, in 2024, European football could look a whole lot different.
Here’s the proposal:
– Instead of eight groups of four playing a total of six games in the Champions League group stage, you’d have four groups of eight playing 14 games. The top four in each would advance to the Round of 16, which would continue as normal. So if you get to the final, you’d play a total of 21 matches, rather than 13.
– The majority of teams wouldn’t qualify, as they do now, based on their domestic finish the season before. Instead, the top six sides in each group would automatically return the following season. The bottom two would be “relegated” to next season’s Europa League, unless they managed to qualify via their domestic seasons. But, of course, that would be more difficult, since there would be only four slots (remember, four would go to the Europa League semifinalists, who get “promoted” to the Champions League) to share among 55 leagues.- To maximize global revenue, some games, maybe in the knockout stage, would be played on weekends.- It would be a three-tiered system, with the Champions League on top, Europa League in the middle and UEFA’s new third European competition on the bottom.That’s it in a nutshell, with details to be determined. The thinking is that with most of Europe’s biggest clubs guaranteed a place and with more games (and a potentially bigger audience) the competition will grow and generate far more money, some of which would be reinvested back into the system and a lot of which would go back to the super clubs. Trickle-down economics at its finest.Last week, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, one of the main backers along with ECA (and Juventus) president Andrea Agnelli, said it was “evolution” and that the fans were asking for it.This is where you might be tempted to call BS.
Given how lucrative the Champions League is to most clubs, you’d effectively be creating a permanent upper class of clubs who would be guaranteed a massive stream of income year after year, only for finishing sixth or higher in a group of eight. And if they do screw up? No worries, they can still qualify via their domestic league. In an already polarized footballing landscape, where the one-percenters dwarf the rest, is this what football needs?Then there’s the obvious issue of incentives. If four of eight qualify in a 14-round tournament, there’s bound to be somebody who locks up their spot, just as there’s bound to be somebody who will finish bottom early, with nothing to play for. You already have meaningless in a six-round format: you’d have many more with 14.Would fans of the big clubs even enjoy the group stage? Bartomeu says everybody wants to see the big clubs playing each other more often. Sure, if it means something. But if they have already qualified for the knockouts — and that will happen early and often with four of eight teams going through — is it really an audience-grabber?Agnelli loves comparing Champions League revenues with those of the NFL, which are twice as high despite having a smaller audience. I can’t tell if he really thinks this is a valid comparison or if he’s being ignorant. In any case, here are 10 reasons why it’s a foolish analogy. Then there’s the fact that this proposal would wreak havoc on domestic leagues. Whether it’s playing games on weekends — sure, you can move the Champions League clubs’ domestic fixtures to midweek, but what about all the other clubs? Are they going to sit around weekends? — or creating situations where sides have no shot at winning the league but have already secured their spot in the UCL by December so they simply go through the motions the rest of the year, it would simply be disastrous for the domestic game. Which, of course, is the bread-and-butter for most clubs and, indeed, supporters.Why are they pushing this? One-percenters would say it’s only fair because they take on the “entrepreneurial risk”: they spend more, they have more skin in the game, they generate most of the income, so why should they share equally with clubs along for the ride?The problem with that argument is that, in an era of Financial Fair Play, owning a big club is no longer the loss-making, risky affair it once was. Europe’s top-flight clubs made more than a half billion dollars last year on aggregate. In the Premier League, 85 percent were profitable last year. The reality is that it’s really about delivering ever-increasing returns to your shareholders, which, in Juventus’ case, happens to be mainly Agnelli’s own family, who own nearly two-thirds.Or, in the case of clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid that don’t have shareholders, becoming even more of a perpetual powerhouse would be a surefire way to bolster your status as a president and maybe one day have a stadium named after you. (It worked for Santiago Bernabeu… how does Estadi Josep Bartomeu sound?)It’s not surprising that representatives from Europe’s top leagues fired back, with Liga boss Javier Tebas saying he’d go to court to stop the ECA proposal. French league officials have said they’re ready to ban any clubs participating in such a monstrosity from Ligue 1. Even the usually rather measured Premier League boss Richard Scudamore said it was “out of order.” You’d imagine mid-sized to small associations, who make up the bulk of UEFA’s 55 members, are also ready to go on the warpath.The UEFA president, Aleksander Ceferin, insists these are consultations and brainstorming. He notes that the last time we had major reform, in 2016, just before he took over, it was the result of private backroom negotiations between UEFA and the clubs. This time, he wants to bring the discussion into the open before a decision is reached.Of course, he’s caught between a rock and a hard place. Big clubs drive Champions League revenue and the threat of some sort of breakaway league/Champions League boycott is always in the background despite assurances to the contrary. It happened before in basketball with the creation of the Euroleague and it’s not lost on anybody that three Euroleague clubs — Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern — also happen to be elite football clubs.Backers of the proposal argue that there would be a windfall for everyone, with increased revenue trickling down the system. On the flip side, given how high the barriers of entry would be (and they’re already sky-high) you wonder why anybody would ever invest in a club outside the elite. For what? To play on Wednesday nights in a devalued domestic league, at best competing for a title against sides who either have 10 times your revenue (most of it due to their virtually permanent Champions League status) or who field reserve teams because their focus is Europe?
There is an additional bulwark against this: the Premier League. England’s big clubs are far less reliant on Champions League income, because the Premier League is so lucrative. Which means they would balk at anything that messes with the Premier League.It’s also notable that other continental super club bosses have stayed on the sideline. You wonder if even they realize that this is an asinine proposal, but they’re happy to let Agnelli do the dirty work: a bit like a spoiled 18-year-old demanding a Lamborghini for his birthday knowing he’ll have to settle for a Porsche.Agnelli and ECA keep pushing, while plenty worry that UEFA are in lockstep with them. Ceferin denies this. Others say he’s giving Agnelli enough rope to hang himself. The impression is that unless Agnelli can build support among the leagues and other stakeholders, which appears about as likely as Cristiano Ronaldo developing a beer belly over the summer, UEFA won’t even consider it.Yet frankly, it’s a whole heck of a lot more appealing than what ECA are proposing. If this crashes and burns it will have more to do with ham-fisted incompetence in the way it was pushed, rather than the idea itself. That’s why the game needs to remain vigilant. These guys will be back, in another guise, likely with a similarly self-serving pitch.
Goalkeepers go to ‘dark places’ after making a high-profile mistake. How do the pros handle the pressure?
3:28 AM ET Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC
Tim Howard has experienced the highs and lows of goalkeeping, but it’s the lows that really stick in the memory. “You have to go to some dark places as a goalkeeper,” the former United States and Manchester United No. 1 told ESPN FC.Howard was feted by President Barack Obama and became a national hero after an incredible display during the World Cup defeat against Belgium in 2014, but his failure to hold onto Benni McCarthy’s 90th minute free kick during a Champions League second-round tie against FC Porto 10 years earlier gifted Costinha a decisive goal that knocked United out of the competition and convinced Sir Alex Ferguson that Howard was not up to the job of being the club’s first-choice keeper.”In order to be successful in England, you’ve got to be great for the better part of five-10 years,” Howard said. “I had a great season at Manchester United and then phew, I didn’t see the field for two years, so it’s not about having one or two good games.”Being a goalkeeper is a thankless task, one that requires a certain kind of individual to don the gloves and pull on the No.1 jersey. You can make 10 incredible saves — “worldies,” in goalkeeper parlance — and then allow one to slip through your grasp and into the back of the net. Guess what gets remembered?”In my experience of football, goalkeepers are more invested than outfield players in the psychological side [of the game]. And they need to be,” sports psychologist Dan Abrahams said, who has worked with Premier League players and clubs, said. “They are individuals operating in a team setting and there are times when their world can cave in if they make a calamitous mistake.”David James made high-profile mistakes during his early days at Liverpool, and once he was nicknamed “Calamity James,” it stuck for the remainder of his career. You can only imagine how former France No. 1 Dominique Dropsy — yes, that’s his real name — would have been treated in today’s ferocious, unforgiving world of social media if he accidentally dropped the ball onto the toes of an opposition forward.David De Gea, Manchester United’s No. 1 keeper, knows all about the downside of the position these days. Rated by many as the best in the world, he’s had a nightmare run of mistakes between the posts, dating back to his unconvincing performances for Spain at last year’s World Cup. His error against Chelsea on April 28 ultimately proved to be a key moment in United’s late-season slide.Loris Karius has had it even worse than De Gea. The German keeper made two huge mistakes leading directly to goals in Liverpool’s 3-1 Champions League final defeat against Real Madrid in Kiev, Ukraine, last year, and even though it transpired that he was suffering from concussion following a collision with Sergio Ramos earlier in the game, he became the target of merciless criticism. Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool defended Karius in public at the time, but he hasn’t played for the club since: He was shipped out on loan to Besiktas in Turkey, where his battle to rebuild his confidence has been marred by further mistakes. An error on his debut against Bursaspor in September resulted in Besiktas being held to a 1-1 draw and he made another high profile mistake to concede a goal during a Europa League defeat against Malmo in October. But Karius’s time in Turkey hit its lowest ebb in March when, after being jeered by fans following a goal conceded against Konyaspor, Besiktas coach Senol Gunes claimed publicly that “something is wrong” with the German.Mark Bosnich, the former United, Aston Villa and Australia goalkeeper, saw Karius make those errors against Real, and it triggered memories of his young days at Old Trafford, from 1989 to 1991 (he had a second stint at the club, 1999 to 2001). “What happened to Karius, it had been coming.” Bosnich told ESPN FC. “He had made mistakes in games running up to the final and you could see he was having a tough time. His manager, Klopp, should have helped him and taken him out of the firing line before that game and allowed him to rebuild his confidence and go again.”When I was a kid at United, I saw the same happen to Jim Leighton, who was an experienced No. 1. He had a bad run, his confidence dropped, but Alex Ferguson played him in the FA Cup final and he let in three and was dropped for the replay. Jim never really recovered from that, but sometimes a manager has to spot the problems before a big mistake happens. They have a responsibility to act before it can be too late.”Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has that decision to make with De Gea,” Bosnich added of the United manager. “I believe De Gea can come through this period but at some point, the manager has to make a decision when a keeper is struggling.”Karius and De Gea have both been in the eye of the storm, but when you are the last line of defence, you need to be able to handle that, right?”I always wanted to be a goalkeeper as a kid, but I also knew that you had to take the rough with the smooth,” Bosnich said. “As a keeper, you have to have that mindset. Whenever I made a mistake, I would just apologise to my teammates in the dressing room and move on. That’s how I was.”My best game for United was against Palmeiras in the Intercontinental Trophy, when we became world champions in 1999, but I was the same after that. No big deal. Move on.”Not all goalkeepers are as mentally tough as Bosnich, however. The Australia international was an extrovert, criticised more for being too confident rather than being riddled with self-doubt, while others have sunk after high-profile mistakes.The England careers of the likes of Rob Green and Scott Carson ended before they properly began thanks to costly errors in big games for their country. Scrutiny can be intense, especially in an era of all-angle replays, VAR and super-slo-mo analysis, but Howard said that staying strong is crucial for every keeper who has, quite literally, dropped the ball. “You have to prepare for some dark days,” he said. “You have to be strong, block out the media, the fans and even some of your own teammates when they’re looking across the dressing room at you and you know they have no confidence in you.”It’s never-ending. Your self-belief can never waver. Confidence ebbs and flows, but self-belief is not something that ebbs and flows with performances. You have to always believe in yourself.”That’s where I think a lot of goalkeepers get it wrong. I wasn’t stupid, I could look in the mirror and say, ‘By the way, you haven’t been playing very well,’ but I never discounted the fact that I belonged there or that I could play.”Ben Foster also experienced the unforgiving spotlight that comes with playing in goal for Manchester United. He, too, fell foul of Ferguson after one mistake too many. Massimo Taibi and World Cup-winner Fabien Barthez went the same way as Leighton, Bosnich, Howard and Foster at Man United. Now Watford’s No. 1, Foster said it’s taken until his 30s for him to develop the strength of mind to deal with the pitfalls of his profession.”United was definitely the wrong place at the wrong time for me,” Foster said, recalling his time as a young keeper making his way at Old Trafford. “I wasn’t equipped mentally to be able to deal with being at United at that time.”Young goalkeepers now, they get taught how to play football, with training for this and that, but they don’t get taught how to deal with stuff mentally. Personally, I think the mental side of the game is 50 percent and the coaching and football side of it is 50 percent, but the mental side is completely neglected.”The influence of psychologists such as Abrahams points to football learning that goalkeepers need specific help, countering Foster’s assertion that the area is overlooked. Abrahams said that coaching a goalkeeper to deal with adversity is the key.”There are tools and techniques to help keepers cope with making mistakes,” Abrahams said. “It’s about staying focused, using key trigger words to themselves to control the situation, projecting positive body language and, crucially, not dwelling on the mistake.”Foster agrees, insisting that “if you ever think [about a mistake], that’s when you’re going to start getting problems.”So how do you rebuild a keeper’s confidence on Monday morning, after a costly mistake, when he heads out to train?”Some keepers will want to focus on the mistake and work on it, others will just want normality and repetition of what they always do,” said Ant White, a member of Bournemouth’s goalkeeping coach team. “But they have to know their identity, what makes them a top goalkeeper and remain focused on their strengths.”A mistake could be a 1-in-5,000 incident, so you also make sure they don’t forget the other 4,999 good moments.”Only De Gea truly knows whether his energy and focus is being drained by his run of mistakes. The same applies to Karius, too: Does he have nightmares about those two errors in Kiev? Ultimately, all players grapple with mistakes they’ve made, but it’s different for a goalkeeper. They are exposed, in every sense.”I almost don’t see myself as a footballer, you know?” Foster said. “I just try to get in the way of a ball that’s going in the back of a net. That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day. But you’re on your own.”As a goalie, you’re on your own and you’ve got a deal with it on your own.”
Robben and Ribery’s status as Bayern legends assured, but are they irreplaceable?
May 19, 2019Raphael HonigsteinGermany writer
For one final time, the most important duo of wingers in Bayern Munich’s history graced the Allianz Arena pitch and scored as second-half substitutes in a 5-1 win over Frankfurt to help the club to a seventh consecutive Bundesliga title. Then they showed everyone how much they differed as characters after the game.Whereas Franck Ribery was overcome with emotions and broke down in tears in front of the Sudkurve stand, Arjen Robben bemoaned not finding the net for a second time in a TV interview — it would have been his 100th Bundesliga goal — and admitted that he had done everything to get one last run-out before his farewell.”It was important to me to play one more time, I was totally up for the game,” said the 35-year-old, who had missed most of the campaign with a series of injuries. They didn’t call him “ego shooter” for nothing in the local tabloids.Even as all of Munich was swept up in nostalgia as the end of a decade dominated by his and Ribery’s spell-binding brilliance, Robben retained his own perspective: first person, first and foremost. The Dutchman’s self-obsessed outlook, nigh-pathological commitment in training and single-mindedness on the pitch neatly mirrored Bayern’s win-at-all-cost philosophy and hard-nosed professionalism.However, the crowd found it easier to connect with Ribery: an uncontrollable, complicated bundle made up of rough-edged genius, warrior-attitude and puerile humour. Scarred by an accident in his childhood, the Frenchman was an unashamed anti-hero who embraced adversity and made other people’s derision work in his favour. Defenders and fans of rival clubs hated him, which only made Bayern supporters love him all the more.Club president Uli Hoeness, his biggest fan, cried in the VIP area after the 36-year-old’s irresistible solo run for the Bayern’s fourth goal on Saturday. “Someone up there wrote the script today,” Hoeness said, adding that “Rib und Rob” (Abendzeitung) should be seen as Bayern all-time greats among Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer, et al.heir place in the club’s pantheon of superstar icons is indeed assured. The duo did not just magically combine to produce the most crucial goal in Bayern’s recent history — the 2-1 winner over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final in 2013 — they were also instrumental in lifting the Bundesliga behemoths back to the spheres of the European elite after a few years in the second-rank doldrums.Ribery’s pacy, unpredictable style immediately added another dimension to final third attacks after his €25 million transfer from Marseille in 2007. A couple of years later, Louis van Gaal’s insistence on balance saw Robben arrive from Real Madrid for around the same price. Seen as big risk because of his persistent injury problems, the Bedum-born Flügelstürmer(winger) was an instant sensation, providing inverse wing-play class on a level which had not been seen in Germany’s top flight for quite some time.A combined tally of 185 league goals has gone some way to help Bayern win eight Bundesliga titles in 10 seasons. Their deepest impact, however, was on the team’s identity. Germany’s most successful side had traditionally relied on dominant players in the centre: sweepers, all-action box-to-box specialists and powerful centre-forwards. Robben and Ribery made Bayern’s game lateral.Attacking space and defenders with the ball on their feet, they set off tremors of panic in the opposition and excitement in the stadium; a rush that echoed football’s pre-modern roots as a gallant battle of individual dribblers hell-bent on making inroads into enemy territory.The new-found emphasis on wing-play begot a more structural approach in midfield which now had to provide defensive cover and a regular supply of passes to the dangermen out-wide. Thanks to “Robbery”‘s domineering influence, the team’s all-important metamorphosis into a position-possession team was both smooth and inevitable. The final step to Champions League-winning excellence was made when they started working much harder to hunt down the ball and protect their full-backs at the beginning of the 2012-13 treble-winning season.In recent years, Robben and Ribery were no longer able to perform consistently in line with their gigantic wages and pronounced self-importance; the club’s regression since coach Pep Guardiola’s departure in 2016, can partially be explained by the duo’s waning powers to make a difference against top opposition.Hoeness himself came close to admitting that the club’s reluctance to let them go earlier could have cost Bayern the championship this season. The dressing room will certainly feel a lot more spacious following the departure of the two super-sized egos, but Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry, their heirs-apparent, will do well to get close to their sustained levels of mastery.”Back in the day, I used to watch them on YouTube; learning from them has been amazing,” Gnabry told ESPN recently.The Germany international, 23, has closely watched the veterans’ positioning and taken a cue from their relentlessness in front of the box. “They are always on the attack,” he added. “They don’t ever shy away from an opportunity to go one against one. Whereas I would have said to [myself] before that you sometimes have to go back [with the ball], they helped me to just go again and again, saying that ‘eventually, you will break through’ [the defence.] Mentality-wise, they have defined an era here. Just to be around them has been been brilliant.”If Bayern are to get back to the world-beating heights of the first half of the decade, the successors to the most devastating double-act since Paul Breitner and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the early 1980s must become nothing less than world-beaters, too.That’s a tall order, though, and explains why Saturday’s title-celebrations were tinged with sadness — perhaps even fear. Robben and Ribery might well prove irreplaceable.
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