10/18/19  MLS Playoffs Start Sat, Indy 11 to host Playoff Game next Sat at the MIKE, US Men lose to Canada, Carmel High Girls on to Regionals

Indy 11

Huge 2-1 win for our Indy 11 at Carmel FC GK Coach Jordan Farr again had a standout night in the victory with numerous great saves!  Dane scored the winner late as the 11 secured their 3rd place finish in USL Championship division.  Our Indy Eleven will host a First Round Playoff Game next Saturday night at the MIKE – Carroll Stadium. The action begins at 7:30 p.m. ET and will be live locally on MyINDY-TV 23.  ESPN+.  Tickets for the first Home playoff game in years remain available for as little as $15 by visiting indyeleven.com/tickets or by calling 317-685-1100.

MLS Playoffs Start this Saturday

So its MLS Playoff time – and for the life of me I can’t understand how all the games are not on network TV? Wow we just aren’t there yet are we?  The games are on ESPN+ if not one of the big games on TV.  – the first round playoff games are 1 game affairs at the home of the higher ranked team – so positioning really matters.  Lose 1 and you are going home.  So the LA Galaxy last home loss sends them to expansion side Minnesota United for their first round game!  Other intriguing matchups include Philly hosting NY Red Bulls and Seattle traveling to FC Dallas and Carmel Alum Matt Hedges.

NWSL Ladies Semi-FINALS Sunday

The NWSL has reached the Semi-Finals of their playoffs with both games on ESPN2 on Sunday as the North Carolina Courage host Reign FC at 2 pm while the Chicago Red Stars host the Portland Thorns at 4 pm also on the Duece.

US Loses to Canada

Canada 2- USA 0 – that’s not a typo folks.  Yes the US Men’s National Team lost 2-0 in Toronto in a Nations League game in Toronto.  The first lost to Canada by the US Men since 1985 – yes 1985 – the year  I graduated for high school.  Canada deserved the win and quite honestly could have won by more as they were definitively the better team.  On a night when America’s shining light Christian Pulisic pulled a disappearing act so bad he was pulled in the 60th minute in a game where he didn’t complete 10 passes. Its only a Nations League game – but honestly this rivals the loss to Trinidad and Tobago 2 years ago that knocked us out of the World Cup?  Analyst Taylor Twellman was not wrong when he said after the game – the US has some serious questions to answer.  After some moments and games where it looked like Berhalter ball was beginning to take a shape – tonight EVERYTHING fell apart?  Yedlin was horrible at right back and partially responsible for the first goal as he simply didn’t care to defend the back post on a well crossed ball.  Not sure he should be on the field for the US again anytime soon.  But it wasn’t just Yedlin – the entire team was horrific save perhaps Center Back Aaron Long.  Sloppy balls, poor passing, almost no 50/50 wins and it looked like they really didn’t want to be there – much less playing a soccer game vs a Canadian team playing for their lives.  Yes Canada looked good – but this was more about the US looking like it had no clue – and didn’t much care to play on this night.  No fight – no leadership, no one seemed to care. I am not sure if Berhalter has ALREADY LOST THIS TEAM – or they just weren’t mentally ready to play – but its not a good sign for a US team  – which at this point – might have a hard time qualifying for the next World Cup – AGAIN!  Oh the US did beat Cuba 7-0 on Friday night – making one wonder why National League in CONCACAF even exists – I am pretty sure our U15 boys team could have challenged this Cuba team.  The US returns to play in mid-November – Berhalter best get his team together by then – losing to Concacaf teams not named Mexico or Costa Rica is simply not acceptable !!

Carmel High Girls on to Regionals

The defending State Champions defeated Guerin High at home last weekend 2-0 to advance on to the Regional this weekend at New Palistine on Saturday.  Good luck lady Hounds!

 

Canada played with emotion and we failed to match it, say humbled US national team

October 16, 20191:10PM EDT

James GrossiContributor

TORONTO – It’s never fun to be on the wrong side of history.The US men’s national team lost a tough one on Tuesday night in Toronto, falling 2-0 to Canada in Concacaf Nations League action, a result that sees the Canadians remain top of Group A ahead of November’s final round and marks their first defeat to their northern neighbors in 34 years.“The first thing that stands out to me was desire, the desire of Canada,” said USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter post-match. “Give them credit, but the minimum we expect is to match that. We need to compete on every single play in games like this.”Matching that aspect of a contest is the baseline.“It’s very disappointing,” said Christian Pulisic. “It’s one thing that we can control.”Added Berhalter: “I don’t think it was purposeful, but I wasn’t happy with the desire we displayed tonight to win the soccer game. Too many 50-50 balls we lost and that hurt us. Sloppiness with the ball, too many miscontrolled touches, too many missed passes. Too many things we normally make that we weren’t making tonight.”As the first match played outside of the US under Berhalter, the trip to BMO Field was a new experience for the group.”I wouldn’t make a statement about the program based on this game,” he said. “The reason why is that these games are difficult. It was never going to be easy and come here and win the game. There was no way. When you look at their team, when at their quality, when you look at where they are right now, it wasn’t going to be an easy game. We have to accept that. I think all of us have to accept that.”We wanted to win the game, and hopefully we’re going to keep improving and hopefully we’re going to start winning games on the road, but tonight wasn’t the night to do it.”While the US had their chances – most notably Pulisic when Jordan Morris squared to his wide-open teammate deep in the hosts’ penalty box in the second half – from basically the opening whistle the balance gradually tipped in Canada’s favor.“[Canada] put a lot into that game, treated it like it was a cup final,” said Michael Bradley. “They stepped up harder, reacted quicker to every loose ball. In all the little ways in a game like that, they were on top of things. We can talk about tactics, this, that, the other. On a night like tonight, over the course of 90 minutes you have one team that, play by play, minute by minute, manages to gain the upper hand and has a better grip because of what they put into it.Absolute SCENES at the full-time whistle!!This was for you, Canada. “We’re disappointed with ourselves,” he concluded. “That we couldn’t do more in terms of better reactions, stepping up harder, coming away with little plays in different parts of the field that make a bigger difference.”hat frustration was most visible when Pulisic was removed in the 60th minute, replaced by Paul Arriola.“He was struggling with flu-like symptoms, light fever for the last two days,” explained Berhalter of his decision. “He wanted to continue, you could see the disappointment in his face. We wanted to inject some energy into the team.”Pulisic admitted to being troubled in recent days, but said he was “fine” and thought, as his reaction indicated, that he had more in the tank.“I still felt like I could help my team,” he said. “No one wants to come out of the game, so I was just frustrated a little bit.”That it was such a physical contest, much more so than the five yellow cards indicated, sets up the November rematch in Orlando, Florida nicely. Berhalter said he’d expected it would be. Who’s moving up and who’s moving down?“Desire leads to physical games, leads to them competing on every single play,” he said. “When you saw the emotion that they played with, guys like [Samuel] Piette, [Steven] Vitoria in the back, these guys were playing with emotion and we didn’t match that.

“It carried them into being physical on every play, sometimes on the borderline of being a little bit dirty, but that’s soccer. That’s how the game is played sometimes,” he added. “We have to come to terms with that side of the game.”The US have two games left in the Nations League next month, first the return fixture against Canada and then an away match against Cuba in the Cayman Islands. To take top spot and move on to the knockout stage of the competition, they will need to win both and score some goals to overcome Canada’s plus-9 goal differential. Until then, they must ruminate on this result and regroup.“We’re going to lose games, we’re going to win games,” summed up Pulisic. “It’s a tough one tonight, but we’re going to be alright. We’re going to move forward.”

Why Sergino Dest should represent Netherlands instead of the U.S.

Oct 10, 2019  Simon KuperESPN.com writer

Oct. 2 was quite a day for Sergino Dest. First, Ajax’s 18-year-old Dutch-American right-back was unexpectedly missing from the U.S. men’s roster announced for the upcoming games against Cuba and Canada. These are competitive matches, in the CONCACAF Nations League, so if Dest had played, he would have been bound to the USMNT rather than the Netherlands for his career. That evening, he played all 90 minutes in Ajax’s 0-3 triumph at Valencia in the Champions League. After the game, he appeared on Dutch TV.Dutch fans hoped he would announce that he had decided to play for their national team. Instead, he said he hadn’t chosen either country yet. “I still need to think longer about both options … It is a decision I have to make for the rest of my life and I want to handle that carefully.”He said he hoped to have a decision by next month. Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. coach, who had previously found Dest “enthusiastic” about playing for the USMNT, now sounded guarded. “I’ve had conversations with Sergino. The conversations were positive, and the content of these conversations is going to remain private,” Berhalter told the Washington Post.The cautious conclusion must be that the Netherlands are favorites to win this race. Certainly, they would be the rational choice for Dest. And though it’s far too early to tell, he may prove a prize worth having for the next 15 years.Dest was born and raised in Almere, a working-class town just outside Amsterdam, with a Dutch mother and a Surinamese-American father from Brooklyn. The first time he set foot in the U.S., on a visit to his dad’s hometown, was in 2014. “At home in Almere we just spoke Dutch,” Dest told the Ajax website. “In fact, a couple of years ago my English was still very mediocre. And I wasn’t thinking about my American roots [until] I started to play in U.S. youth teams. From then on my English improved, and I kept feeling more American. I realised: hey, this is my nationality too. And the U.S. passport is one of the most beautiful in the world.”

Dest had arrived at Ajax from Almere City as a child winger in 2012, and gradually transformed into an attacking right-back. Other Dutch boys’ teams enduring the ritual humiliation at Ajax’s youth complex, De Toekomst in those days, recall him flashing down the touchline, while his teammates queued in the box shouting “Serra,” each begging Dest to grant them the final touch. After every cross, Dest would trot tirelessly back to position and resume his tackling, dribbles and “pannas” (Dutch-Surinamese slang for nutmegs). He was the Everywhere Back, sometimes popping up at center-forward, but for all his activity he made few mistakes, despite being a year younger than his teammates.Yet the Dutch federation didn’t pick Dest for its national youth teams. “I never got a chance,” he says. The U.S. Soccer Federation pounced after Dutchman Dave van den Bergh, then one of the federation’s youth coaches, heard from Ajax about the boy’s American passport. Dest represented the U.S. in the Under-17 World Cup in 2017 (Ajax didn’t wanted him to go) and excelled in the team’s run to the quarterfinals of this summer’s Under-20 World Cup.For a long time, Ajax seemed ambivalent about Dest, possibly because although he’s dedicated, he was also rather headstrong. Even last fall, when he was already 18, he looked headed for the exit in Amsterdam. Only in December did Ajax finally come through with a professional contract.This summer, his career took off. After the Under-20 World Cup, Ajax head coach, Erik ten Hag, requested that Dest be given just 10 days holiday. Ten Hag had plans for him. Dest made his first-team debut in late July, and since then has become a regular, usually as a starter.

You can see why, because he is the full-back that a high-pressing modern side needs. Ten Hag says, “A back at Ajax has to be able to function as a midfielder and winger, too. It’s a very dynamic role. We want to introduce a lot of variation into our game, to surprise opponents.”That’s Dest’s way. He told Amsterdam’s Het Parool newspaper, “I think of myself [as someone who has] a good technique. I don’t get frightened when I get the ball — also not when under pressure, or on the opponents’ half.”His high-risk game gives Ajax an attacking threat from right-back that they lacked even in their extraordinary last season. “Maybe in the past, when I first got into a higher team, I’d take it easy,” Dest says. “But I’ve stopped doing that. Now I show at once what I can do.”In Ajax’s opening Champions League game in September, a 3-0 win over Lille, he produced a roulette through two opponents from the full-back position — a showboating move that Ten Hag may not have enjoyed as much as the fans did. Dest also has the good fortune that his partner on Ajax’s right wing is Hakim Ziyech, a world-class player whose continued presence in the humble Dutch league is a mystery.Dest’s main shortcoming, for now, is that for a defender, he isn’t great at defending. Being the speediest member of Ajax’s back four, he’s essential in snuffing out counter attacks, but he sometimes gets caught out of position. (Ajax’s opening two clean sheets in the Champions League are above all down to keeper Andre Onana, surely headed for a giant club next summer.) Ajax demands that players “defend forward,” that is, charge into challenges to try to win the ball back fast rather than sit back and cover space. Dest has yet to master this difficult art.The consensus in the Netherlands is that he isn’t ready for Oranje. Still, the Dutch federation knows it has to act fast. In September, Berhalter gave him his debut for the USMNT, starting him against Mexico and Uruguay. But these were non-binding friendly games; Dest retains the option to switch to the Netherlands. The Dutch would like to give him a full cap in a competitive match to claim him for life, then let him mature in the under-21s side.The Dutch federation still laments missing out on Ziyech, who trained with Oranje in 2015 before choosing Morocco. It’s determined not to make that mistake again. It is focused on recruiting Dest and the possibly even more talented 17-year-old Dutch-Moroccan Mohamed Ihattaren, PSV Eindhoven’s playmaker who is tearing up the Dutch league.Like the U.S., the Netherlands is short a top-class right-back: PSV’s Denzel Dumfries, who has been filling the role with Oranje, lacks the technique for international level. Netherlands’ coach, Ronald Koeman, and the Dutch FA’s director of “topvoetbal,” Nico-Jan Hoogma, sat down with Dest in September. Hoogma reported afterwards: “You can’t promise someone a first-team place, but you can indicate who their rivals are. Based on our story, Dest has to make a decision.”Koeman said, “I’m not promising anyone anything, but I indicated to him that I see a future for him with the Dutch team. He decided to take his time. That he hasn’t travelled to the U.S. now shows that the issue isn’t decided for him.”The Dutch have a good story to tell. Since the U.S. returned to World Cups, in 1990, the Americans have progressed further than Oranje at a tournament only once, in 2002. (Of course, both countries failed to qualify for 2018 in Russia.) Moreover, if Dest chooses the Netherlands, he won’t have to spend his career making disruptive exhausting trips to play second-rate national teams from the CONCACAF region.On the other hand, Dest has an emotional attachment to the U.S., and the USSF was good to him at youth level when the Dutch FA ignored him. The Americans have a chance. But as battles for binationals become the norm in international soccer, the Dest case ought to be a prompt for the U.S. to ask itself: Why does the tiny fraction of American passport-holders raised in western Europe still produce such a disproportionate share of this giant country’s best players?Meanwhile, in a joint interview on the Ajax website with the U.S.-Mexican Alex Mendez, who plays for Ajax’s reserves, the conflicted Dest turned to Mendez and asked: “What would you do if you were in my shoes?”These decisions are always in part matters of the heart, but the betting must be that Dest chooses Oranje.

Wiebe: Why your team will (or will not) win MLS Cup in 2019

October 17, 20196:07PM EDT

Andrew WiebeSenior Host & Producer

Back in 2017 and 2018, I wrote this column ahead of opening weekend of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Here’s what I had to say about the eventual champions from the past two seasons, edited for brevity…

From 2017…

Toronto FC will win MLS Cup because the best players in the league refuse to be denied this time around. The roster that took them to the brink of an MLS Cup triumph is even better this time around, and lifts the treble (Canadian Championship, Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup).

And now 2018…

Atlanta United will win MLS Cup because nobody can slow down Tata’s Four Horsemen. The Five Stripes wreck opposing defenses on the counter as King Peach pulverizes the league’s top attacks, building on their fourth-best MLS defense from 2017 with the help of a TAM d-mid picked up during the summer.

In summation: NAILED IT, I AM ALL-SEEING

Just ignore the cases I made for all those other, not-championship teams. That stuff absolutely could have happened! The TFC treble absolutely did! And you can’t deny the existence of Almiron and Martinez’s insane partnership (the only two horsemen who matter) and that TAM d-mid did arrive in the summer (Eric Remedi) just as I predicted.

Now that you know I mean business, let’s get down to staring into the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs crystal ball ahead of Saturday and Sunday’s Round One matches. We’re going in alphabetical order so you can’t claim I’m biased in any way.

Atlanta United will win MLS Cup because

… they have the most ruthless, single-minded, voracious goalscorer in MLS. Yes, in a league that boasts Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, that’s still Josef Martinez. Plus, Darlington Nagbe is capable (yes, I know it’s not an every-game occurrence) of taking over games singlehandedly, and Brad Guzan is more than capable of erasing any defensive mistakes, which is important because…

Miles Robinson is likely to be out until at least MLS Cup with a hamstring injury suffered with the USMNT. That, more than any other, is reason to believe the Five Stripes won’t repeat.

D.C. United will win MLS Cup because

… they strangle the life out of teams defensively – oh my Gawwwwwd, is that Bill Hamid’s music? – and get some breaks. Emotionally, I wanted to predict the return of LuchoRoo. Logically, I just can’t do it. That era is dead, but they’ve got five straight shutouts, harkening back to a different era with a catchy name! The first break came when Jozy Altidore stepped on a defender’s leg and did his quad. Greg Vanney says he won’t be 100 percent for Saturday. Second break, NYCFC won’t play at their usual home, should D.C. get that far.

Why won’t they win it? They can’t score. Fewest goals scored in the playoff field, fourth lowest total (42) in the entire league. Gotta score to win, or just throw up scoreless draws and bang the ball home from the spot, I guess.

FC Dallas will win MLS Cup because

… the Cobra goes absolutely crazy. Zdenek Ondrasek went from a big, fat TAM goose egg from March through August to unstoppable (in MLS and on the international level) from August onward. That, and Paxton Pomykal plays like March and April Paxton Pomykal instead of the beat up Pomykal we’ve seen the past two months. This long break to rest up ought to help.

But they’re not going to win – zero offense intended – because they’d have to go 4-for-4 on the road, where Luchi Gonzalez’s team is 3-11-3 in 2019. Never. Gonna. Happen. I will go ahead and Baerantee it.

LAFC will win MLS Cup because

… they’re the best team in the league. They have the best player in the league. They only have to win three games, all at Banc of California Stadium, to get it done. Pretty simple math here.

If you were watching Canada’s big win on Tuesday night, you know there’s now an unknown variable introduced to LAFC’s previously straightforward MLS Cup equation. Mark-Anthony Kaye’s hammy. First Robinson, then Kaye? It’s a cruel world we live in. Lee Nguyen is more than capable, but he’s a different sort of player. Will it matter? We’ll find out. Heal up, MAK.

LA Galaxy will win MLS Cup because

… Zlatan thrives on big moments, and that Galaxy backline doesn’t have to keep teams off the board for 180 minutes thanks to the new playoff format. LA are a flawed team, but anything can happen in a single game. The draw was kind, too. Minnesota have never been here before. LAFC can’t seem to get over the rivalry hump. The other side of the West bracket is sort of meh.

They won’t win because this is a team that lost to Vancouver and Houston to finish the regular season. Flawed might be a kind word for the Galaxy. Probably is, actually. They’re sorta … bad. Like, third most losses in MLS (14) behind FC Cincinnati and Houston since the start of May bad.

Minnesota United will win MLS Cup because

… they’ve got a championship spine and one of the strikers gets hot. Vito MannoneIke OparaOzzie AlonsoDarwin Quintero (I’m counting the good Darwin) and … I’m gonna say Mason Toye is the guy who goes on a heater. Ike vs. Zlatan is must-watch stuff. That’s the sort of matchup that might just quiet the big man. Plus, they’re the only team in the league to win at LAFC this year. Gimme all the Adrian Heath “You never believed in us!” shade and a lemonade to sip on while I sit in it.

Why won’t they win it? Because this is their first time in these waters. I feel like a gut punch is coming after all the good vibes. Also, the comment section said it better than I ever could: Minnesota won’t win the Cup, not because it’s our first time on this stage, but because we are a Minnesota team.

New England Revolution will win MLS Cup because

… they have arguably the three best players on the field, no matter the opponent. Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou are that good. The third? Matt Turner. Goalkeepers on a heater are going to play a big part in this new postseason format. Like D.C., the Revs got a big break when Robinson got hurt over the international break. They’ve also got the only manager in the playoffs with multiple MLS Cup wins.

But Bruce Arena will probably have to wait at least another year for his sixth ring because New England, like FC Dallas, would have to win four straight on the road. They don’t lose much on the road, but they don’t win much either. Bad odds there, less than one percent according to 538.

NYCFC will win MLS Cup because

… they’re arguably the most balanced team in MLS. Goalkeeper? Sean Johnson got my vote for Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year. Backline? Not a weak link. Midfield? Maxi Moralez (4th in my internal MVP vote), Alex Ring and whoever Dome Torrent figures is best for the moment. Goalscoring? Three players in double digits, and a potential hatty off the bench in Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.

Home-field advantage (11-1-5 at Yankee Stadium in 2019) is the other reason they’ll win MLS Cup, unless it isn’t. The club announced Citi Field will host the Conference Semifinal match. Will it matter? We’re gonna find out.

New York Red Bulls will win MLS Cup because

… there’s no pressure this time around – well, less pressure than in previous seasons – and being on the opposite side of the bracket of NYCFC is a pretty sweet reward for finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference. On paper, the backline could chuck a couple straight shutouts. They could also get the Revs in the Conference Semifinals, a home game. If they got that far, maybe New York is red in the Conference Finals.

Lots of maybes here. Maybe the Red Bulls are going to come up short in the playoffs again. Almost certainly they will, in fact.

Philadelphia Union will win MLS Cup because

… all the pieces fit together and some of those pieces are game-changers. Looks like Kacper Przybylko, he of 15 regular season goals, is gonna be good to go. Same for Alejandro BedoyaJamiro Monteiro can boss a game on his own. Ilsinho can change it off the bench. The collective is greater than the individuals, which is a credit to Jim Curtin and all the players.

They won’t win it because their form is poor and, to borrow some Calen Carr logic, the Union don’t have veteran central defenders. That seems to matter a lot in the playoffs. Find me a team that was missing experience in that position who won the Cup. Good luck.

Portland Timbers will win MLS Cup because

… nobody believes they’ve got it in them, and that might be just what Giovanni Savarese needs to light a fire under this sleepwalking team. They’ve been in a daze for the past month. Their big summer signing is out dealing with personal issues. The soul of the club, Diego Valeri, seems disconnected. Win a playoff game and maybe something changes. Win two and who knows!

I feel like I just made the case for why they’d win and lose in the same graf. They don’t have Brian Fernandez. Their form is poor. They look uninspired. They go to Real Salt Lake, who are tied for the second-most home wins in the league, one behind LAFC. They’ll be lucky to repeat last year’s epic almost.

Real Salt Lake will win MLS Cup because

… adversity and distractions don’t seem to faze them. This season has been … interesting. And yet, RSL are the third seed in the West with a reeling Timbers side missing Fernandez and their mojo coming to to town and a ho-hum Sounders team likely up after that. They could easily win both games. If they do that, who knows? July-to-August Real Salt Lake was sort of a menace.

But also … Mid-August-to-September Real Salt Lake, far less menacing. Why should you believe in them? That’s sort of the problem. I can make a decent case for RSL, but it doesn’t feel that convincing. They could win a couple games, and I wouldn’t be surprised. They could get bounced and same. What sets them apart?

Seattle Sounders will win MLS Cup because

… they’ve got a bunch of gamers in the squad and home-field advantage against everyone but LAFC. Their side of the playoff bracket shouldn’t put fear in Brian Schmetzer’s heart. The Sounders should push through to set up a showdown with, I am assuming, LAFC. Bad news is that LAFC whooped them at the Banc early in the season, 4-1. Good news is that that was a long time ago!

They won’t win it because there just seems to be something missing from this team. I can’t put my finger on it, but they look more vulnerable more often. Oh wait, they don’t have Chad Marshall. The theorem exists for a reason. Plus, Raul Ruidiaz hasn’t scored in five games. If that continues, not gonna happen for Seattle.

Toronto FC will win MLS Cup because

… Jozy Altidore’s quad injury is more headline than real concern and he goes full-on beast mode. If he’s in the laboratory, cooking up some great stuff for the Toronto faithful, we know that’s liable to end in a parade. Two years ago, it was with Sebastian Giovinco at his side. This time it’s Alejandro Pozuelo. Toronto FC have the talent. They are on a 10-game unbeaten run. They are absolutely capable of winning four straight games. I’m talking myself into this now.

They won’t win it because it is NYCFC’s year and Dome Torrent gets some revenge for the 4-0 whooping the Reds laid down in late March and the 1-1 draw at Yankee Stadium a month ago, a game in which Pozuelo missed a PK and NYCFC was denied a spot kick in second-half stoppage time. Please please please let me see the rematch in the playoffs.

NWSL Playoffs: Key Questions, Players for All 4 Contenders

The North Carolina Courage, Portland Thorns, Chicago Red Stars and Reign FC are vying for NWSL’s title.

MOLLY GEARYOCT 17, 2019

The 2019 NWSL playoff bracket is set, with four teams having punched their ticket to the semifinals: the North Carolina Courage, Chicago Red Stars, Portland Thorns and Reign FC. The Courage will host the Reign and the Red Stars will host the Thorns on Sunday, Oct. 20, with the winners advancing to the final in Cary, N.C., on Sunday, Oct. 27.

Here’s what you need to know about each team heading into this year’s playoffs:

No. 1 Seed: North Carolina Courage

One Big Question: Can They Make It Two in a Row?

No NWSL team has gone back-to-back since FC Kansas City in 2014 and 2015. The Courage though, recently wrapped up their third straight NWSL Shield and will enter the playoffs as the favorite to repeat. Their quest is not without challenges though: for one thing, they recently lost right back Merritt Mathias to a torn ACL, thrusting veteran Heather O’Reilly into a starting role that no one saw coming. O’Reilly is retiring at the end of the season and had largely played a bench role this year for the Courage, but she’ll now be counted on in a big way. One year ago, North Carolina overcame the loss of midfielder McCall Zerboni, who had been playing like the team’s MVP, right before the playoffs and still went on to win the title. Can they do it again?

X-Factor: Debinha

The Courage are littered with high-quality and high-profile players—the likes of Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Jessica McDonald, Abby Dahlkemper, Lynn Williams and more—but Debinha has quietly been integral to their success. The Brazilian midfielder has come into her own in 2019, recording seven goals and six assists, and has generally been a force in the North Carolina attack with her vision, mind-bending passes and goal-scoring ability. The Courage have won all seven of the games in which she’s scored, and she figures to play a crucial role if this team is to repeat.

Why They Will Win It All: While its season wasn’t quite as dominant as in 2018, North Carolina is still the NWSL’s most complete team and actually scored one more goal than it did last season, breaking its own league record. The Courage’s relentless, high-pressure attack (they’ve taken an absurd 103 more shots than the next closest team) wears opponents down and has been known to have a snowball effect, turning a 1-0 or 0-0 game into a two or three-goal margin in the blink of an eye. Motivation isn’t a problem for this squad, which has fully bought into Paul Riley’s system and famously embraced an underdog mentality in 2018 despite being anything but that. Additionally, North Carolina has home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, with the final already set for Sahlen’s Stadium—where the Courage haven’t lost this year.

Why They Won’t: The Courage have looked strangely vulnerable at times of late, including needing a highly questionable PK call to edge the Houston Dash 1-0 at home in September and then falling 2-1 to the Washington Spirit less than two weeks later. In both games, a familiar issue plagued North Carolina: finishing. Houston opted to crowd the box in its matchup, conceding possession and getting as many bodies as possible in the way to either block or alter shots. Against Washington, N.C. logged 27 shots, including nine on target, but only found the back of the net once. This is the same team that took 40 shots to score twice in a last-second win over Manchester City in the summer ICC tournament, a reminder that despite all its weapons, one collective bad or unlucky day in the playoffs could sink the Courage.

No. 2 Seed Chicago Red Stars

One Big Question: Can They End Their Semifinal Curse?

Being in the NWSL playoffs is nothing new for the Red Stars, who are making their fifth straight appearance. That’s the good news. The bad news is that their last four trips all ended in the semifinal round, by a combined score of 8–1. Needless to say, one goal in four years is not going to cut it. But there is more good news for Chicago: this year, it avoids North Carolina in the semis after being eliminated by the Courage in back-to-back seasons. If the Red Stars, a team that’s been around since 2009 in the WPS days, can get by Portland and wind up facing N.C. for the championship, it may give them the mentality shift they need to win their first title.

Key Player: Sam Kerr

It’s hard to picture Chicago snapping its semifinal curse without a big day from Kerr. A full-fledged star, the 26-year-old Australian striker has scored a combined 51 goals in the last three seasons and broke her own NWSL single-season record this year with 18. In the 12 matches Kerr has scored in this season, Chicago has gone 9-1-2. She’s still looking for her first career NWSL playoff goal, having been held scoreless in last year’s semifinal and in two starts back as a 20-year-old for the Western New York Flash in 2013.

X-Factor: Casey Short

Painfully left off this summer’s USWNT World Cup roster, Short responded by putting together a campaign that could win her NWSL Defender of the Year. The left back has had a brilliant season and is someone Chicago can trust to lock down the wing and make life miserable for opposing attackers. In the regular season, she logged 43 clearances and 26 interceptions and even chipped in offensively with two goals and three assists. Short was the league’s only player named to all six NWSL Team of the Month lists in 2019, a testament to her consistency. The Red Stars’ defense will need to be staunch against an attack like Portland’s (and in a potential final matchup with North Carolina), and that starts with Short.

Why They Will Win It All: The Red Stars have gone through their share of highs and lows this season, but their highs are as good as anyone. After hitting a rough patch in August, Chicago won five straight in September to end the regular season, outscoring those opponents by a combined 10–2. The connection between Kerr and Yuki Nagasato is the best in the league and tough for anyone to contain, and the defense has the likes of Short and Julie Ertz in front of goalie Alyssa Naeher.

Chicago will enter the Oct. 20 semifinal having last played a club game on Sept. 28, a break of 22 days (the other three playoff teams played on Oct. 12). Rust is a natural concern, but the Red Stars’ lowest points this season have felt influenced by the fatigue of a crazy year around the league. Six of Chicago’s players spent the offseason playing in Australia’s W-League, and four more are U.S. players who went the distance at the World Cup. And while those U.S. players had a couple friendlies since their last NWSL game, the bonus time off could be a difference-maker.

Why They Won’t: For one thing, there’s that aforementioned semifinal curse. Chicago must get that monkey off its back before it can even think about winning a championship, and to do so it must beat the Thorns for the first time this season. Beyond that, the Red Stars’ attack can at times grow too dependent on Kerr, and if they’re struggling to keep possession or create chances, they may be tempted to revert to lobbing balls over the top and hoping their star can get on the end of them. It’s not a bad strategy with someone as good in the box as Kerr, but Chicago is at its best when it’s giving different looks in the attack. Only three Red Stars (Kerr, Nagasato and Vanessa DiBernardo) have scored at least three goals this season; compare that to Portland and North Carolina, who have five players apiece.

No. 3 Seed: Portland Thorns

One Big Question: Can They Turn Things Around Quickly?

Unlike its semifinal opponent, Portland certainly isn’t entering the playoffs on a high note. Since winning three straight in August, the Thorns are 1-3-1 over their last five games, the lone win being a 1-0 home victory over the Houston Dash. Even more concerning is the fact that the one goal against Houston, scored by Tobin Heath, was Portland’s only goal in that five-game span. That window also included a brutal 6–0 loss to the Courage in front of 17,500 of its home fans, a game that the Thorns had entered as the first-place team in the league table. Instead, they sputtered down the stretch and now must win on the road if they are to reach their third-straight final.

Key Player: Lindsey Horan

It’s been an interesting year for Horan, who was coming off a career season in which she scored 13 goals won the 2018 NWSL MVP award. Even acknowledging a club season cut short due to the USWNT’s time in France, Horan hasn’t had nearly the same production in her 13 games in 2019, scoring just one goal and adding two assists. The 25-year-old also recently returned from a concussion but played 78 minutes in the Thorns’ regular-season finale and seems to be a go for Sunday. Portland needs Horan to be a force in the midfield and could especially use some of the set-piece magic that helped her score seven goals with her head alone in 2018.

X-Factor: Midge Purce

With the likes of Horan, Heath, Christine Sinclair and Hayley Raso all missing time at the World Cup this summer, it was Purce who stepped up in the Portland attack and helped the Thorns go 5-2-2 in the span when their U.S. players were away. With six goals in eight games, Purce proved she deserved minutes even after the Thorns’ stars returned and has continued to play a role in the attack. While she’s cooled off in terms of scoring (her only goals since were a brace against Chicago) and may come off the bench on Sunday, she could be a valuable piece for Mark Parsons if Portland is hunting for a goal in the second half.

Why They Will Win It All: Portland is not lacking in playoff experience, having played in each of the last two finals and winning the championship in 2017. Parsons has a star-studded roster led by Heath, Horan, Sinclair, Adrianna Franch, Meghan Klingenberg and Emily Sonnett, plus a number of promising young players like Purce, Ellie Carpenter, Simone Charley and Andressinha. This team had a great shot at the Shield before its late-season slide, and it has too much talent to think it isn’t capable of flipping the switch. The semifinal matchup could work in its favor as well; the Thorns went 2-0-1 against the Red Stars this year and have only lost once to Chicago (back in 2013) in 20 all-time meetings.

Why They Won’t: The Thorns’ disappearing attack (which perhaps not coincidentally coincides with midfielder Gabby Seiler’s season-ending injury) is a major concern, and something that must be corrected before going against a Red Stars team with Kerr and Nagasato at its disposal. And while Portland is certainly capable of turning it on, it’s hard to look at its recent form and feel confident it can win one game, let alone two in a row. If it were to get past Chicago and potentially meet North Carolina in the final for a third straight year, that 6-0 blowout will linger in everyone’s minds (Portland did previously beat the Courage back in August, but it took a pair of N.C. own goals to do it). Even if the Thorns meet Reign FC, they lost all three matches against their Pacific Northwest rival this year.

No. 4 Seed: Reign FC

One Big Question: Will the Vlatko News Loom Large?

On Monday morning, the BBC reported that Reign head coach Vlatko Andonovski will be the next USWNT coach, news that U.S. Soccer told SI’s Grant Wahl is not a done deal yet and Andonovski himself has since tried to play down. While Andonovski was long rumored to be a serious candidate, the report comes just days before Sunday’s semifinal, naturally leading to questions about whether this could potentially affect Andonovski’s team, especially mentally. It’s possible knowing their coach is (likely) leaving could give them extra motivation to play for him, or it could serve as a distraction at an inopportune time. Both can also be true. Regardless, this story is sure to hover over the semifinal weekend.

Key Player: Megan Rapinoe

After missing the vast majority of the NWSL season due to a combination of injuries and the World Cup, Megan Rapinoe is back. Fresh off winning the FIFA Best Women’s Player of the Year award, Rapinoe brings a new dimension to the Reign FC attack, especially when it comes to her service into the box or on set pieces, where the USWNT forward is known to shine. For a team that has struggled to create this season (the Reign’s 27 goals lag far behind the other three playoff teams) amidst a string of injuries, Rapinoe’s presence alone makes them more dangerous.

X-Factor: Bethany Balcer

Balcer has been one of the biggest surprises of the entire NWSL season. In a perfect example of Andonovski’s keen ability to find and develop talent, she was invited to the Reign’s preseason after going undrafted out of NAIA school Spring Arbor, then earned a supplemental contract to open the season. She started the second game of the year and scored her first career goal, then made her mark when internationals were away at the World Cup with two more. Balcer has continued to get starts and minutes throughout the season and has especially come on of late, scoring three goals in the Reign’s last five games. Rapinoe gets the headlines, and English international Jodie Taylor has also stepped up her game down the stretch, but don’t be surprised if Balcer comes up big for the Reign.

Why They Will Win It All: No team has been more snakebitten by injuries this season than the Reign, who played most of the season without stars Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock (the latter of whom remains sidelined), lost two goalkeepers and now start rookie Casey Murphy. They have had their depth tested so much that they had to sign and start assistant coach Steph Cox out of retirement at one point. Yet despite all of this, here they are, one of just four teams still standing. They’ve been one of the league’s most consistent teams, losing back-to-back games just once, and they’ll be playing with house money against the Courage. The Reign have been defying the odds all season—why stop now?

Why They Won’t: Even with Rapinoe back, the attack remains a question mark. The Reign’s goal differential of 0 is the worst of the playoff teams, despite the fact that they’ve held their own defensively and conceded three or more goals in just three of 24 games. Their 17 assists rank sixth in the league, and they’re going up against a Courage team that’s had 42 assists and a plus-31 goal differential. Keeping North Carolina off the scoreboard will be a Herculean task—it’s been shut out just once this season, and that was without its U.S. players—and the Reign will need to be clinical with whatever chances they do get if they are to keep pace. One other thing of note: the Reign led the league in fouls committed and are well ahead of the other playoff teams, and set pieces are not something you want to be giving out in an elimination game.

Forward Dane Kelly’s Brace Lifts Boys in Blue to 2-1 Victory over Swope Park Rangers

 

A second half brace by forward Dane Kelly paced Indy Eleven to a 2-1 win over Swope Park Rangers in tonight’s regular season finale at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The victory, Indy’s seventh straight at home, not only capped the team’s most successful regular season on a winning note, but also secured a top four finish in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference – and the home Quarterfinal Round game that comes with it.

Indy Eleven (19W-9L-6L, 63 pts.) will begin its postseason run next Saturday, Oct. 26, back at its old home of IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium, with kickoff against a yet-to-be-determined opponent at 7:30 p.m. (live on MyINDY-TV 23). ​ Tickets will be available to the general public starting this Friday, Oct. 18, at 10:00 a.m. at IndyEleven.com/Tickets or by calling 317-685-1100.

Indy Eleven, which will finish the regular season in third place in the 18-team conference, will play host to one of the troika of the Tampa Bay Rowdies (58 points), New York Red Bulls II (57 pts), or Louisville City FC (57 pts.), with this Saturday’s slate featuring those teams determining the foe.

“I think that the crowd are even more of a factor in that stadium,” said Indy Eleven head coach Martin Rennie. “I think it’ll be a really hectic atmosphere and I think that will be a big positive for us. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us. Playing at Lucas Oil Stadium, it was something that we felt we could make a home-field advantage – and we have. So we need to do that at Carroll [Stadium] as well.”

Despite Swope Park’s struggles this season, the Kansas-based side made Indiana’s Team work for the full three points tonight. After a physical first half, Kelly put the Eleven up in the 56th minute, but Rangers countered quickly through Wilson Harris just a minute later. Kelly would stamp his mark on the match with a gutsy effort in the 67th minute, taking a hard knock just after touching his shot past former Butler goalkeeper Eric Dick in the SPR goal for his 10th of the season.

Indy Eleven finished its 2019 home campaign undefeated with a 13W-0L-4D record and pushed its unbeaten streak at the corner of Capitol & South to 25 games dating back to last July.

“We’ve broken a lot of records this year. We’ve had more wins than ever before, more points, I think more clean sheets than ever before, more wins away from home, a longer unbeaten streak at home than ever before,” Said Indy Eleven Head Coach Martin Rennie. “The club is building these records and these milestones and it’s making progress. It’s making excitement and a positive culture.”

A physical first half saw the two teams combine for more yellow cards (5) than shots on goal (4). Indy Eleven nearly struck first just under the quarter-hour mark when Kelly rocketed a header off the crossbar. A whipped in cross from the foot of defender Ayoze connected with the Jamaican on the penalty spot, but luck favored Swope as his effort was denied by the woodwork.

Ayoze looked to assist again 10 minutes later after stealing the ball just outside the Swope Park 18-yard box. The Spaniard slipped in forward Cristian Novoa, who took a touch in stride and attempted to place the ball past goalkeeper Eric Dick, but the Butler University alumnus ultimately denied the Venezuelan’s chance. Indy’s offensive tempo continued to flow through the Spanish maestro as he played yet another key pass in the 34th minute, this time through defender Mitchell Osmond, but his header ended wide of the goal.

Indy goalkeeper Jordan Farr made sure the sides went into the locker rooms even after saving Swope Park defender Rennico Clarke’s open header from a corner kick in the third minute of first half stoppage time. Despite a first half that saw Indiana’s Team control 63% possession, both sides were unable to break the deadlock.

Ayoze would finally help crack the egg 11 minutes into the second half, a cross from his smooth left foot connecting with Kelly on Swope’s penalty mark. The USL Championship’s all-time leading goal scorer adjusted in the air to redirect into the bottom-left corner, garnering a 1-nil lead for the Boys in Blue. The advantage was short-lived, however, after Swope Park would draw level a minute later in the 57th minute via a header from Harris on the doorstep off Ethan Vanacore-Decker’s clipped cross from the endline.

Indy Eleven edged back into the lead ten minutes later. A quick one-two play between Kelly and midfielder Kenney Walker played the Jamaican attacker into the Swope Park box before dinking the ball past Dick – and absorbing a heavy challenge from the SPR ‘keeper in the aftermath of the shot. The Boys in Blue went on to create a few more decent looks from distance in the final 20 minutes of the match, mostly coming from midfielder Tyler Pasher, but the score line would remain 2-1 in favor of Indiana’s Team at the final whistle.

USL Championship Regular Season – #INDvSPR
Indy Eleven  2 : 1  Swope Park Rangers

Wednesday, October 16, 2019 – 7:00 p.m. ET

Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis, Ind.Attendance: 10,251

2019 USL Championship records

Indy Eleven (19W-9L-6D, 63 pts., 3rd in Eastern Conference)

Swope Park Rangers (6W-20L-8D, 26 pts., 18th in Eastern Conference)

Scoring Summary:
IND – Dane Kelly (Ayoze) 56’

SPR – Wilson Harris (Ethan Vanacore-Decker) 57’

IND – Dane Kelly (Kenney Walker) 67’

Disciplinary Summary:

SPR – Ze Pedro (Yellow card) 16’

IND – Mitchell Osmond (Yellow card) 23’

SPR – Ethan Vanacore-Decker (Yellow card) 29’

SPR – Felipe Hernanadez (Yellow card) 37’

IND – Drew Conner (Yellow card) 40’

IND – Neveal Hackshaw (Yellow card) 61’
Indy Eleven lineup (3-5-2, L–>R): Jordan Farr; Ayoze, Paddy Barrett (captain), Karl Ouimette, Mitch Osmond (Neveal Hackshaw 45’), Tyler Gibson, Drew Connor, Kenney Walker, Tyler Pasher, Dane Kelly (Nicolas Perea 83’), Cristian Novoa (Ilija Ilic 62’)

IND Substitutes: Holden Brown (GK), Eugene Starikov, Matthew Watson, Gabriel
Swope Park Rangers lineup (4-2-3-1, L–>R): Eric Dick; Alexsander Andrade, Rennico Clarke, Graham Smith (captain), Jaylin Lindsey, Camden Riley (Tyler Freeman 88’), Felipe Hernandez, Wilson Harris, Wan Kuzain (Tucker Lepley 75’), Ze Pedro, Ethan Vanacore-Decker (Mark Segbers 75’)

SPR Substitutes: John Pulskamp (GK), Jacob Davis, Kaveh Rad, Luis Olivera

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.