10/29/19 Indy 11 Advance to face Nashville Sat, MLS Semi-Finals Wed/Thur Eve, CHS Girls Advance to State Finals at Fishers Sat.

Huge congrats to the #1 Carmel High School Lady Greyhounds as the Defending State Champions are advancing to their 2nd straight Finals after a huge 1-0 victory over Castle in horrid conditions in Evansville on Saturday.  Former Carmel FC player Olivia Fray scored the winning goal on a long shot from outside the box!  Olivia, the daughter of former Carmel FC Director Andy Fray, is a senior this season – looking for her second straight state title along with a number of former Carmel FC players on the squad including All State Goalkeeper Erin Baker – who made 2 huge saves in the victory.  Here are Highlights.   /Indy Star Story .   The State Final will have undefeated Carmel (18-0-3) Facing 2nd ranked and undefeated Noblesville (16-0-3) at 4 pm at Fishers High School Saturday.  All the Indiana State finals games will be there Friday night and Saturday so head over to catch some great soccer – including the Zionsville Boys vs Lake Central at 6 pm. Sat.

CHSGirls_Olivia_Fray

Carmel’s Olivia Fray (20) is embraced by her team after making the first and only goal of the game during the second half of the IHSAA Class 3A semistate matchup against the Castle Knights at Bundrant Stadium in Evansville, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. The Greyhounds will advance to the Class 3A state championship.  (Photo: SAM OWENS/ COURIER & PRESS)

MLS Playoffs – Tues 10 pm LAFC vs Seattle ESPN &  Wed 8 pm Atlanta vs Toronto FS1

So I don’t have a ton of time to pontificate here – but El Traffico between LAFC and the LA Galaxy was epic last week !!  As LAFC behind 2 goals from league MVP and the leading scorer in a season Carlos Vela beat Zlattan Ibrahimovich and the LA Galaxy 5-3 (should have been 4-4).  LAFC were gifted the first goal with a horrible no call or VAR overrule and later the LA Galaxy had a pretty bad pushing call overturning a Zlattan goal.  That being said LAFC deserved the win and to advance on to play the Seattle Sounders in the Final Tuesday night at 10 pm on ESPN.  A boisterous crowd in the 3252 (fan section) at Banc of California carried LAFC on and Vela and coach Bob Bradley finally broke the Galaxy’s spell on them (0-2-2) and finally won when it counted.  Sad if that is the way Ibra has to go out – as if he just had a defense – 31 goals in 31 games should be good enough to get teams thru the playoffs to at least the Championship game. Either way despite little defense being played – the 5-3 finish was ridiculously exciting!   In the Eastern Conference – Atlanta United use a full house at Mercedez Benz Arena and Josef Martinez to secure at hard fought victory over the Philly Union – setting up a home match with Toronto for the Easter Conference Finals on Wed Night at 8 pm on Fox Sports 1.  Should be a doozy.  I have loved the 1 game and done format – although I have this feeling I would prefer a home and away format for the Finals.  Either way – Exciting soccer to Watch – Playoffs – MLS Style!

Indy 11 Win Home Playoff Classic 1-0 at the Mike

Huge 1-0 win for our Indy 11 as Carmel FC GK Coach Jordan Farr again had a standout night in the victory with a couple of great saves!  The threat of Rain and Storms kept the crowd at the MIKE small as only just under 6,000 fans ventured to IUPUI to watch our Boys in Blue win their first home playoff game in a few years.  The 11 scored midway thru the 1st half and held on late to take home the victory as a sold-out BYB section cued the Smoke and carried the sound thru the windy night air in victory for our Indy 11.  The 11 next face Nashville in round 2 Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET and will be on ESPN+.  You can watch all the USL Playoff action on ESPN+.

Ladies Soccer

Defending NWSL Champs North Carolina Courage made it 2 in a row with US star Heather O’Reilly as they defeated the Chicago Red Stars 3-0 in the Finals Sunday.  Also the US Hired Vlatko Andonovski – NWSL Coach to coach USWNT.

USA

Finally a huge week for Christian Pulisic at Chelsea as he records a Hat Trick in his start vs Burnley this past Saturday as the Chelsea fans yelled USA, USA.   The 21 Year Old American earned back a start and rewarded coach Frank Lampard with some spectacular goals – making him just the second US Player to Ever score a hat-trick in the EPL!!  Can anyone tell me the other ??? Chelsea and Pulisic return to action in League Cup play vs Man United on Wed at 4 pm on ESPN+ and Sat vs Watford at 12:30 pm on NBCSN or NBC – not sure which?  Oh and a huge get for US Coach Berhalter as Dutch Defender Sergino Dest of Ajax chooses the US over the Netherlands to play his international soccer.  Hope to see him in uniform next month for the rematch with Canada.

GAMES ON TV

Tues, Oct 29

3:45 pm ESPN+                                 Man City vs Southampton – League Cup

4:!5pm  beIN Sport

10 pm ESPN                LAFC vs Seattle – Western Conference Finals (MLS Playoffs)

WEds, Oct 30

3:30 pm ESPN+                                 Liverpool vs Arsenal – League Cup

4 pm ESPN+                                       CHelea (Pulisic) vs Man United– League Cup

4 pm Fox Sport 2                              U17 World Cup – Korea vs France

4:15pm  beIN Sport                         Real Madrid vs Leganes

7 pm Fox Sport 2               U-17 World Cup USA vs Japan 

8 on Fox Sport 1         Atlanta United vs Toronto -Eastern Conference Finals (MLS Playoffs)

Fri, Nov 1

3 pm NBCSN                                      Southampton vs Leicester City

 Sat, Nov 2  

7:30 am NBCSN                                Bournemouth vs Man United

9 am ESPN news                               Roma vs Napoli

9:30 am Fox sports1                       Frankfort vs Bayern Munich  

10:30 am NBCSN                             Man City vs Southampton

12:30 pm NBCSN                        Watford vs Chelsea (pulisic)  

4 pm beIN Sport                               Real Madrid vs Real Bettis

7 pm Fox Sport 2                             USA U17 vs Netherlands U17 World Cup

8 pm ESPN+                                      Nashville vs Indy 11 (Playoffs) 

Sun, Nov 3

7:30 am NBCSN                                Crystal Palace vs Leicester City

11:30 NBCSN                                    Everton vs Tottenham

12:30 pm FS1                                   Ausburg vs Schalke (McKinney)

2:45 ESPN+                                       Milan vs Lazio

3 pm FS2                                            Cameroon U17 vs Spain U17 WC

6 pm FS2                                            Mexico U17 vs Solomon Islands U17 WC

Tues/Wed Nov 5 & 6 Champions League

Indy 11 

Indy 11 Advance with home Playoff Win – Jordan Farr Saves the Day

Highlights of Playoff Win – Including GK Jordan Farr’s Saves

Indy 11 Win Home Playoff Game Advance to Next Round in Nashville

MLS

MLS Conference Finals preview and predictions

FiveThirtyEight projects Conference Finals

Doyle: Keys to victory in the 2019 Conference Finals

For first time ever, no founding clubs in Conference Finals
MLS Best XI includes three LAFC stars, Zlatan

ATL’s Ambrose: Opposing teams “in awe” when they come to MBS

USA

US Hires Vlatko Andonovski – NWSL Coach to coach USWNT

Andonovski aware of expectations as new US women’s coach
Americans Abroad: Pulisic shines with hat trick, Sargent assists

Berhalter apologizes to USMNT supporters for actions after Canada loss

Dest commitment a big win for Berhalter, Stewart’s USMNT

Biggest Win Yet – Dest Comitting to US Team – yahoo sports

Why Sergino Dest’s decision is such a big win for the USMNT     
USMNT left back Robinson making waves with Wigan

Busio scores early, US U-17s unravel late in WC opener

2019 FIFA Under-17 World Cup Schedule

EPL

VIDEO: Every touch from Christian Pulisic v. Burnley

Pulsic Scores First EPL Hat Trick

Chelsea ratings: Pulisic hat trick nets perfect 10
Pulisic watch: U.S. star makes huge impact vs. Burnley

Goalkeeping

Highlights of Playoff Win – Including GK Jordan Farr’s Saves

Carmel FC GK Coach and Indy 11 GK Jordan Farr with some good Saves in last game

MLS GK of the Year from Minn United

MLS Save of the Year – Retiring Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake & US National Team

NWSL Save of the Week

USL Save of the Month – NCFC GK

No. 1 Carmel survives challenge from Castle to win semistate title

Kyle Sokeland, Indianapolis StarPublished 10:10 p.m. ET Oct. 26, 2019

VANSVILLE – Frank Dixon has coached soccer at Carmel High School for nearly 30 years. Only one time can he recall anything like this.Mother Nature did not cooperate on Saturday with those wishing to watch the soccer semistate at Evansville North’s Bundrant Stadium. A persistent, annoying rain combined with swirling gusts of wind made the evening miserable for all involved.Well, the Greyhounds don’t hate it anymore. The defending state champions left the turf field with smiles and hugs, unlike their opponent.No. 1 Carmel survived the elements to defeat No. 5 Castle 1-0 in the Class 3A semistate. The Greyhounds advance to the state championship at Fisher High School to face Noblesville.”It was survival of the fittest,” said Dixon. “As I told Doug (Diedrich, the Castle coach) I wish we could come back on Monday or Tuesday and play in the right kind of weather. We got one ball to go in there.” Diedrich concurred with his counterpart. During his playing days, he had to combat snow, rain and winds. But this was a different beast.The winds, which gusted over 30 miles per hour, eliminated any designed game plan. It came down to when the Knights wanted to kick with the wind or against it. Take advantage of it.”I couldn’t imagine playing in it,” said the Castle coach. “Just the wind and the rain tonight was worse than anything I’ve been involved with since coaching high school. Both teams have to play in it, they took advantage of the opportunity they had.”Castle elected to go with it in the first half. Its best chances came in those 40 minutes with senior Jessica Jacobs nearly fitting a free kick under the crossbar. Carmel goalkeeper Erin Baker also corralled a loose ball in front of the net. By halftime, neither side dented the scoreboard.”When we didn’t score in the first half, we knew things were going to be a little more difficult,” said Diedrich. “We had some opportunities, but the wind made it so difficult to do anything.”Even in the second half, Castle felt confident with its possession. That changed with 15 minutes left after Carmel had a corner kick cleared.Senior Olivia Fray took possession and did what she was supposed to do: send the ball back in. The shot was high enough to avoid any defenders and the wind kept sending the ball toward the net.It sneaked past Castle keeper Kassidy Elkin to give the Greyhounds a 1-0 lead.”Those players are supposed to put it back in, not over the goal,” said Dixon. “It went a little better than she thought it was going to do.” Over the final 10 minutes, the Knights sent a flurry of chances at Carmel. Addie Turnock had a free kick outside the 18 sail high, while Jacobs had a flurry of corner kicks go unanswered. She later had a free kick clang off the corner.The loss ends a stellar postseason run for Castle (17-3-1). The Knights won their first regional title in five years and took the defending state champions to the brink.Castle won the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference and graduates 10 seniors.”They came to work every day and had fun,” said Diedrich. “This group played loose most of the year and did what you asked them to do. When you get players like that, they’re going to do well. It’s a lot of fun to coach.”Making it back to the state championship was no guarantee for Carmel. The Greyhounds graduated a strong senior group, which included a pair of all-state defenders.But they took everybody’s best shot and remain perfect in the loss column going to Fishers next weekend.”These senior, who were junior last year, just picked it up,” said Dixon. “I have the best goalkeeper in the state. She kept us in that first half. If not for her, we would have been down two or three to nothing.”Follow Courier & Press sports reporter Kyle Sokeland on Twitter @kylesokeland.

When Sergiño Dest pledged his commitment, the USMNT got more than just a great prospect

Leander SchaerlaeckensYahoo Sports•October 28, 2019

Since taking over as head coach of the United States men’s national team at the start of the year, Gregg Berhalter has won nine games. On Monday, he got a 10th victory when 18-year-old Dutch-American fullback Sergiño Dest decided to stick with the USA when the Netherlands, where he was born and raised, had recruited him as well.The long-awaited announcement by Dest, who made his debut for the U.S. against Mexico last month and can play on either flank, felt like a coup. Because he’s forsaken a chance to play with a golden generation of Dutch prospects who have already reached an international final in the UEFA Nations League. Instead, he committed to Berhalter’s wholesale rebuilding project in the wake of a humiliating loss to Canada.But Dest’s choice doesn’t represent the capture of a coveted player. It means something bigger than that.The thing to remember in all of this is that Dest probably never expected to break into the starting lineup at Ajax Amsterdam as quickly as he did this season, or indeed next season.Even though Ajax had moved on from right back Rasmus Nissen Kristensen and part-time left back Daley Sinkgraven over the summer, the logjam at both positions still made for very long odds for Dest. In Noussair Mazraoui and Nico Tagliafico, manager Erik ten Hag had well-established starters in both wing spots. And central defenders Daley Blind and Joel Veltman were the preferred alternatives. Dest didn’t figure in anybody’s projections for significant playing time, as underscored by the number he was assigned – 28.Which is all to say that chances are, not even Dest figured on having to make a difficult choice about which national team to pick. Because he likely didn’t think there was a choice at all. You don’t get a look for the Dutch national team until you’re getting steady playing time at a well-established club. So when Dest did break out during the preseason he put himself on Ronald Koeman’s map. Dest’s senior debut with the U.S. in September evidently sent alarm bells ringing at the Dutch federation headquarters, and an effort to retain the newly minted and suddenly coveted defender was quickly mobilized. A meeting with Koeman followed. And Dest rejected invitations from both nations for the October international window, in order to prevent cap-tying himself to either.Dest was likely surprised and unprepared for the choice between the country that had nurtured his international career – the United States, by bringing him to two youth World Cups – and the nation where he’d been born and raised, the Netherlands.   Monday’s choice for the American program, then, followed weeks of agonizing, a process Dest said he didn’t particularly enjoy.

“I chose America because to me that was the best choice,” Dest told Ajax’s website. “It wasn’t an easy choice. I spent a long time thinking about it. America, I spent my entire youth [national team career] playing with and they treated me well. On the Netherlands, of course, you play with the best players in the world. They have a very good team. And that’s great. But in the end, it was my gut feeling that was the most important.”Dest said he’d had several conversations with both managers and admitted to being tempted by Oranje. He felt a lot of pressure, he said, but in the end he simply followed his gut, rather than make some kind of grand calculation about playing time and positional competition. “I don’t think I have any certainty on either team,” he said. “Maybe the players are a little less good there [on the USA], I can admit that, but I still have to do my best.”Landing Dest means more than just securing a very promising player who can be slotted into two problem positions. It will inject the program with some optimism. Since the missed World Cup of 2018, it’s felt like the senior men’s national team has careened between regression and being entirely rudderless. Morale has gotten so low that Berhalter sent a letter apologizing to fans for not going over to thank them for their support during the loss to the Canadians on Oct. 15, the first loss to them in more than a generation.

Dest’s commitment finally imbues the program with some desperately needed momentum, a flash of hope that a strong new core really is forming, alongside midfielders Christian PulisicWeston McKennieTyler Adams and forwards Josh Sargent and Tim Weah.And there could be a knock-on effect down the line. In a globalized world, where dual-nationalities threaten to become the norm, any program with pretensions of belonging to the elite will need to win more of these battles for the biggest prospects than it loses. One such prospect tends to beget more. Players are sensitive to fashions. And seeing Dest pick the U.S. might reassure some other player wrestling with the same decision down the line that it’s a sensible move.Most of all, Dest signaled publicly that he buys into Berhalter’s project, that he can see his vision. National team coaches have to be salesmen too. Berhalter sold an 18-year-old on passing up on a better team, which he’d grown up fantasizing about.  Dest, above all, is a vote of confidence.Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports

USWNT officially hires Vlatko Andonovski as coach. Who is he, and what’s next?

Caitlin Murray,Yahoo Sports 17 hours ago

Vlatko Andonovski has officially been hired as the next coach of the USWNT. (AP)

The U.S. women’s national team has a new coach.Vlatko Andonovski, who has coached in the National Women’s Soccer League for the past seven years, was announced Monday as the eighth coach in USWNT history.“It’s a huge honor and I’m very excited to get started with this group of players and staff as we work towards continued success for this program,” Andonovski said in a statement. “All of the talented coaches and players that have come before have built a legendary tradition of excellence and I’m committed to working very hard to continue to move this program forward.”

Vlatko Andonovski? Who is this guy?

Anyone who has been watching the NWSL since its inception in 2013 will know Andonovski well, especially since he has coached his way to two NWSL titles – but everyone else will probably have no clue who he is.Andonovski left his native Macedonia in 2000 to play professional indoor soccer, and he ended up at the Kansas City Comets, which competed in the Major Arena Soccer League. When the owners of the Comets started a women’s team to launch with the NWSL named FC Kansas City, they asked Andonovski to be the coach.Although he had experience as a youth coach on the girls side, no one in the upper echelons of women’s soccer had ever heard of him, and some USWNT players listed FC Kansas City as their one allocation veto due to concerns over the unknown coach.But he quickly earned a reputation for the attractive possession-style soccer his team played, and he led FC Kansas City to back-to-back league titles in 2014 and 2015.He was poached by Seattle-based Reign FC last year and led the team to two straight playoffs, including this year despite the team being ravaged by injuries, as he employed a pragmatic approach that required fielding more than 30 different players over the course of the year. For that, he was named the 2019 NWSL Coach of the Year.

Why did Andonovski get the USWNT job?

Aside from his success in the NWSL, it seems to boil down to his work with the USWNT player pool.On one hand, U.S. Soccer is getting a manager who is already deeply familiar with the players on the USWNT and on the bubble. He has coached the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Allie Long and Becky Sauerbrunn, who were all on the USWNT’s recent World Cup-winning squad, and he has coached against most of the rest of the USWNT pool.That’s important because the clock is ticking down to the 2020 Olympics, which begin in nine months, and Andonovski won’t have much time to get his team ready.

But USWNT general manager Kate Markgraf also emphasized that player input would be part of the coach selection process, and Andonovski has reportedly been the most popular choice amongst the USWNT core.That also matters because it wasn’t long ago that a group of veterans on the USWNT tried to stage an unsuccessful coup to get coach Jill Ellis fired. Ellis had the last laugh, sticking around and winning another World Cup, but even after that, the relationship between Ellis and the players seemed surprisingly cold for a team that had enjoyed so much success.When Ellis announced her plan to step down, sources close to the team told Yahoo Sports the decision was probably affected by a dynamic where the veterans didn’t seem to like Ellis very much. When Ellis coached her final game at the helm, newer players who Ellis brought into the fold offered kind parting words in videos produced by U.S. Soccer, but veterans were absent, and the players’ social media channels offered deafening silence.Of course, the players don’t need to like the coach, as Ellis’ World Cup win in France proves. But it’ll be better for the federation and the players alike if the team isn’t trying to stage mutinies.It’s worth noting that every coach of the USWNT since Tony DiCicco has been the subject of a player revolt. Whether Andonovski will break that streak remains to be seen.

What kind of coach is Andonovski, and will he be a good fit?

Although he arrived in the NWSL as an unknown, he quickly won praise for the style of play he implemented in Kansas City. It was positive, possession soccer that involved knocking the ball around in the way soccer fans say they love.But he has also proven himself tactically flexible, willing to adapt and pragmatic, which the 2019 season demonstrated in a nutshell. Each week, the Reign FC injury report looked like a page torn from a phone book, but Andonovski kept conjuring up ways to keep his team afloat. He finished the year giving minutes to 34 different players, which is impressive since the maximum roster size in the NWSL is 22.Andonovski is also known for his intensity and his thorough preparation at the most granular level. Staff at FC Kansas City can tell stories about surreptitiously moving Andonovski’s perfectly aligned cones for drills, which the coach always noticed and fixed, frustrated with himself for messing up.Players rave about playing under him and say he makes them better players. He is also talked about as being a very direct and blunt with players, but a good people manager who is generally well-liked and offers a calming influence.

Are there any concerns about Andonovski?

Perhaps the biggest concern is a lack of experience, which was the primary reason he was left off Yahoo’s list of top coaching candidates when Ellis stepped down.Andonovski has never coached at the international level – not even at the youth level – and he hasn’t played on national team duty either. National teams and club teams are very different, and the transition from club coach to international coach isn’t always an easy one.For a clear example, look no further than Gregg Berhalter, who took over the U.S. men’s national team last year. Berhalter was lauded for the complicated possession system of triggers and movement he built with the Columbus Crew, but he is finding it much more difficult to implement something similar with the USMNT.The USMNT hasn’t shown much progress since Berhalter took over, losing in a shock upset to Canada, and there is growing concern that a system-oriented coach like Berhalter is a bad fit for the USMNT. After all, there is a big difference between training with a club team everyday year-round, and getting together with a national team every couple months for a week or two at a time.But, keep in mind, the USMNT is not the USWNT.The USMNT, which lacks talent relative to the rest of the world, probably needs a pragmatist to put the country’s best players in their best positions and worry less about finding players for specific tasks. The USWNT, on the other hand, has a glut of talent and the apparent capacity to execute just about anything Andonovski can dream up.After all, going into the 2019 World Cup, much of the conversation around the USWNT was that the team wasn’t playing its best and players weren’t being used in their optimum positions. There was a feeling that the team had more potential – and yet they won the whole darn tournament in France. That’s the difference.

What should be his first order of business with the USWNT?

How do you take a World Cup-winning team and make it better? That’s the seemingly impossible question that Andonovski has signed up to answer.If Andonovski has any grand notions of expanding the player pool to find the next wave of USWNT stars, or implementing a new system with a different style of play, he’ll probably need to wait.The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo start in July, but the qualification tournament comes much more quickly – that schedule hasn’t been announced yet, but usually the CONCACAF qualification tournament is held in January.For all of Ellis’s success in the World Cup, the less-discussed part of her coaching tenure was a disastrous 2016 Olympics where the USWNT suffered its earliest exit in a major tournament in program history. In other words, winning a World Cup is not a guarantee of success at the Olympic stage.Although Andonovski is already set to host an identification camp in December that will include only players not already in the USWNT fold, he actually needs to shrink his USWNT before he expands it. That’s because the Olympic roster has only 18 spots, down from the 23 players that go to the World Cup.When a team is as good as the USWNT, paring down to just 18 players may be the toughest part, and there’s an argument that Ellis’s roster selections in 2016 ultimately doomed her, particularly bringing an unfit, recently injured Megan Rapinoe over Heather O’Reilly.Andonovski has to decide what to do with the likes of Carli Lloyd, who has said she’d rather retire than rot on the bench for the USWNT, or Alex Morgan, who will have recently given birth by the time the Olympics roll around.There are no easy decisions when it comes to the USWNT roster, and Andonovski doesn’t have a lot of time to figure it out.Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women’s national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.

Armchair Analyst: Previewing the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Finals

October 28, 20199:53AM EDTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer

MLS is now just shy of a quarter century old. The past half-decade of this existence – the TAM era, for all intents and purposes – has seen the league at least partially shed its previous skin. As in: This is no longer a league of parity.Atlanta UnitedToronto FC and the Seattle Sounders have accounted for the past three MLS Cups. LAFC are trying to join them this year after breaking all sorts of records en route to winning the Supporters’ Shield and the admiration of neutrals across the continent. These four teams also (not entirely coincidentally) have four of the seven highest payrolls in the league, as per the MLS Players Association release, and when you factor in all the ancillary stuff – transfer fees, scouting and analytics departments, academies and reserve teams – it probably stands to reason that these are four of the five or six highest-spending teams in the league.They mostly showed that in the regular season (Toronto FC are the only stragglers in that regard, though they had a great second-half of 2019 after splashing out during the summer window), and have mostly reaped the rewards by achieving and then capitalizing upon home-field advantage in the playoffs.Is this the new normal, the endpoint after salary budgets really started to expand in 2015? Or is there now a blueprint that others will follow, as the early majority begin catching up to the early adopters?

I honestly don’t know. But the story of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs thus far is that the most holistically ambitious clubs have put themselves in position to win MLS Cup. Let’s take a look at what’s to come:

Western Conference

LAFC vs. Seattle Sounders
Tuesday, 10 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

Bob Bradley did his work in 2018. He didn’t just lay the foundation – it wasn’t just the core players that he acquired and the core principles that he drilled. No, the LAFC boss went out and got literally all but two of his rotation players throughout an extremely busy inaugural season. He was wheeling and dealing all last year, even while pushing for a high seed in the playoffs, with the idea of getting into this season at a running start.  It’s worked. Saying it’s worked spectacularly probably sells it short, because LAFC just had the best regular season in league history and they are literally the best team I’ve ever seen in MLS. The 2017 Toronto FC team will still go down as the most successful, but LAFC are better.  What they do so well is … everything. It’s like Bradley saw last year’s MLS Cup-winning Atlanta team and last year’s Shield-winning New York Red Bulls and said “I think, with this group, we can press like the Red Bulls and pass like the Five Stripes.”

If that was his line of thinking, he was right. LAFC finished third in possession, second in possessions won and possessions won in the final third, second in chances created and first in big chances created. Bunker in and they would pass through you. Try to build out vs. them and they would turn you over and jam it down your throat. Let them build back-to-front, or get out into any sort of transition and…

Carlos Vela is the best player in the league and is currently having the best season in league history. Eduard Atuesta is the best d-mid in the league. Diego Rossi will probably be sold for $10-15 million this winter. And Adama Diomande just missed six weeks and scored a brace in his first game back, which included a goal where he looked like prime freaking Ronaldo.  Yeah, you can’t let them do that.

How to beat them: Throughout the year, the best recipe was either “bunker and hope they’re not sharp” or “have Zlatan.” The Galaxy tried to do both the other day and LAFC beat them 5-3, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Of course, LAFC didn’t exactly let the Galaxy sit deep, did they? They were entirely willing to let their next door neighbors have the ball, with the idea of pulling them upfield and scoring goals exactly like that one above (and the first one of the night, and the second). LA didn’t have the personnel or the discipline to pull it off, and LAFC suckered them into digging their own grave.  Which is to say that I still think the only thing you should try against LAFC at this point is putting numbers behind the ball and trying to hit on the counter. Frustrate them, be physical and chippy with them, and keep the game compact. Because if it gets open you’re going to lose.

The Big Question: Are the Sounders good enough in their own 18 to play like that?

Seattle have a match-winning goalkeeper in Stefan Frei. Just ask FC Dallas about that:

They also have three shutouts in their last four games, including a pair of 1-0 wins at San Jose and then against Minnesota United to end the season, There’s also a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semis. That’s a good run of results. But that wild 4-3 win over Dallas in Round One of the West playoffs is a worry, one that is in keeping with the not-so-great defending we saw from this team over a 7-8-2 stretch from mid-May to early September. The Sounders conceded 33 goals during that 17-game run, and while they’ve mostly done better than that lately, they still lean heavily on Frei and still often sit way too passively in their deep blocks. That wasn’t a problem against RSL, but “home vs. RSL” and “at LAFC” are entirely different types of tests.  Of course, Seattle have survived stern tests in the playoffs before. I do think this is one where we should see Nico Lodeiro sit deeper and try to spray through-balls – like he did back in 2016 when he first arrived – as opposed to moving upfield and trying to run the show.

Two matchups to watch:

1) Latif Blessing vs. Gustav Svensson

  • Blessing’s been this season’s biggest revelation, and his work at the front of LAFC’s press is what changed this team from “Shield favorites” to “historical juggernauts.” If he’s able to either disrupt Svensson’s distribution or drag the Seattle d-mid out of Zone 14 – or both – Seattle could be in real trouble.

2) Jordan Morris vs. Empty Space

  • I’m pretty sure LAFC aren’t going to sit in again like they did against the Galaxy. I’m pretty sure they want to attack and use the ball and win emphatically like they have most of the season. That means both fullbacks will be pushing up, which should leave Morris room to hit out on the counter. It would be a risk for Brian Schmetzer to just leave Morris high – have him cherry pick – but there’s an argument that it’s the risk that’s worth taking when playing this team, especially when you’ve got a through-ball artist like Lodeiro to lean on.

X-factor: Mark-Anthony Kaye‘s health. I’m convinced that the other reason (besides being cleverly pragmatic) Bradley didn’t have LAFC press against the Galaxy is that Kaye was not available with a hamstring strain. His replacement, Lee Nguyen, is a different type of player, one who’s more functional these days as a field-opening orchestrator than a creature of the final third on either side of the ball.

In a not-entirely-unrelated development, Nguyen had three secondary assists on Thursday night.  Anyway, if Kaye is good to go even for 30 minutes, then Bradley’s got multiple looks he can throw out there. Schmetzer can’t say the same.

Atlanta United vs. Toronto FC Eastern Conference

Wednesday, 8 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

It’s wild to try to think through and pick apart all the various iterations of this season’s Atlanta United team. A small sample: the turgid and slow 3-4-2-1 of the early part of the year; the unadventurous and uninspiring 4-2-3-1 of spring; free-flowing and open 3-4-2-1 of mid-summer and early autumn; the methodical and opportunistic 4-3-3 of the Conference semifinals.

Frank de Boer’s first year in Georgia has been a journey. It hasn’t always looked nice and it doesn’t make sense that they got here looking like this, but they’ve already won two trophies and are 180 minutes away from a third. You can quibble with the aesthetics, but this is a results business – and the results say something’s going right.

Here’s what “going right” looks like:

Where’s that Pity Martinez been? And Ezequiel Barco had an equally gorgeous assist in Atlanta’s first game of the playoffs, a 1-0 win over New England.

This team can throw out a metric ton of attacking talent – arguably more than LAFC, depending upon how highly you rate each side’s youngsters.

And even with all that, they’re probably better defensively than they are going forward. Their 2-0 win over Philadelphia was their 18th shutout of the year across all competitions, and they’ve managed it all while juggling some pretty serious injuries and squad rotation throughout the year, especially in October. It’s been a seriously impressive title defense, even while being weirdly up-and-down.

How to beat them: Back when they were playing that 3-4-2-1, I would’ve told you long diagonals to the flanks behind the wingback in order to disorganize the backline. In that 2-0 win over the Union, though, they almost completely took that ball away. Haris Medunjanin had maybe his worst game of the year, and I think I’m chalking a good chunk of that up to Atlanta.

But we don’t know if they’re going to play a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-2-1, do we? If Miles Robinson or Michael Parkhurst are back, then it’s probably the latter. If they’re not it’s likely the former. Or maybe it’s the former anyway, given how thoroughly they outplayed the Union.

I really don’t know. But I will say this: Atlanta never look good if you get inside their OODA loop. If you press the hell out of them or you possess with purpose, the goal should be to make them react to you and play the game you want. When that happens, they collectively get frustrated – and it shows.

The Big Question: Will the Reds have enough firepower to make it count?

Toronto surprised almost everyone by not just beating New York City FC without Jozy Altidore, but by largely dominating them both in the first half and over the game’s final 10-15 minutes. They managed it despite starting Alejandro Pozuelo as a false No. 9, which disoriented the Pigeons’ entire defensive structure:

It was a really good game plan from Greg Vanney, and it produced no actual goals. What produced actual goals were catastrophic NYCFC mistakes.

Atlanta haven’t made a ton of mistakes this year, and you probably can’t count on an inexplicable backpass or one of the worst tackles in league history as a bailout mechanism from week to week. The Reds need to take what possession and danger they create and turn it into actual goals, and 15 minutes of madness against D.C. United aside, they haven’t been particularly great at doing that lately.

They will get their chances. They have to do better with them than New England and Philly managed.

Two match-ups to watch:

1) Michael Bradley vs. Darlington Nagbe

  • Bradley has had two strong defensive performances, but it’s not exactly a secret that he struggles these days against quick players who are able to progress the ball via the dribble. And nobody in the league is as quick nor as adept at advancing the ball via the dribble as Nagbe, who was poor vs. the Union but has put in some breathtaking performances these days. On the flipside, Atlanta’s central midfield (Nagbe included) have to do to Bradley what they did to Medunjanin.

2) Josef Martinez vs. Chris Mavinga

  • By a few measures, I’m actually more impressed by what Josef’s done this year than what he accomplished last season, when he justifiably won the 2018 Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player award and then MLS Cup MVP. His goalscoring hunger and ability are unchanged, while he seems to be even more of a leader. And as he showed against Philly, he’s still always looking to get out into the open field. Obviously Mavinga – who had his best game in damn near two years against NYCFC – has to make sure that doesn’t happen.

X-factor: Robinson’s health? Parkhurst’s? Altidore’s? Omar Gonzalez‘s?

Yeah, all of those. But I actually think it’ll be whatever curve ball Vanney comes up with. The TFC manager conjured up a good one in Queens, and has always been willing to change it up a bit, whether it’s formation, line of confrontation, where and how to press, and obviously personnel.Vanney’s been dealt a lot of weird hands as manager and has mostly played them very well. I kind of expect that to be the case again here.

NC Courage defends NWSL title with 4-0 win over Chicago Associated Press

CARY, N.C. (AP) — Debinha scored in the fourth minute and the North Carolina Courage beat the Chicago Red Stars 4-0 Sunday for their second straight National Women’s Soccer League title.Jessica McDonald, Crystal Dunn and Sam Mewis added goals for the Courage, which won the NWSL Shield for the third straight year with a league-best 15-5-4 regular-season record.Debinha was named the game’s MVP, the first Brazilian to win it. North Carolina’s four goals were the most in an NWSL title match.Debinha’s rebound shot got past Red Stars goal keeper Alyssa Naeher to open scoring early before McDonald’s header off a feed from Lynn Williams in the 26th minute. After Dunn scored in first-half stoppage time, Mewis added a goal off a long ball from Abby Dahlkemper in the 61st.A sellout crowd of 10,227 attended the championship at Sahlen’s Stadium.The Red Stars had a six-game winning streak heading into the final, including a 1-0 victory over the Portland Thorns in the semifinal. The Courage beat Reign FC 4-1 in extra time in the semifinals.

It was the third time the Courage and Red Stars had met in the playoffs. The Courage also won the first two and didn’t give up any goals.The game capped an eventful week for the league.Chicago’s Sam Kerr was named the league’s MVP this season after scoring a record 18 goals in just 21 games. The Australian forward was absent for part of the season because of the Women’s World Cup.Kerr won her second league MVP award, after earning it in 2017 while with Sky Blue.”Eighteen goals doesn’t just come from one player, so thank you to my teammates. I love playing for Chicago,” Kerr said. “I love the girls, I love the team, and they allow me to be the best player I can be.”The Reign’s Vlatko Andonovski was selected the league’s Coach of the Year after leading the Reign to the playoffs despite a spate of injuries and the World Cup absences of several key players, including U.S. star Megan Rapinoe.Andonovski is expected to be hired as the new coach of the U.S. national team at a news conference on Monday in New York. He replaces Jill Ellis, who led the United States to back-to-back World Cup titles.The nine-team league also announced an expansion team in Louisville, Kentucky, to start play in 2021.The game Sunday was the last for Courage midfielder Heather O’Reilly. The former national team star is retiring from pro soccer and joining the staff of the women’s team at North Carolina.O’Reilly retired from the national team in 2016, finishing with 231 caps and 47 goals, along with the 2015 World Cup trophy and three Olympic gold medals. She earned an FA Cup from her time with Arsenal and two College Cup trophies at North Carolina.

MLS clubs’ interest in NWSL continues to grow behind the scenes

October 27, 201912:00PM EDTJonathan SigalContributor

e National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) championship match between the North Carolina Courage and Chicago Red Stars capped a 2019 season — the 7th in the league’s brief history — of increasing buzz, steady expansion news and greater overall attention. The spring in its step this year was in no small part helped by the U.S. women’s national team winning back-to-back FIFA Women’s World Cups. After knocking off Japan in 2015, they beat the Netherlands this past July to become the tournament’s first repeat champions. “That week-in and week-out competition for the US national team players and other internationals has helped us move forward,” said Houston Dash player Amber Brooks, who has played for three different clubs NWSL since 2014. “It’s not a coincidence.”That momentum is only building. Louisville was announced as the NWSL’s 10th club earlier this week and speculation has since surrounded potential NWSL clubs for Cincinnati and Sacramento, which was named as an MLS expansion on October 21And there are still other MLS clubs engaged in fact-finding about the prospect of joining NWSL, according to interviews with the four MLS clubs currently fielding teams in the women’s pro soccer league.

MLS ties to women’s soccer

The Houston Dash (Houston Dynamo), Orlando Pride (Orlando City), Portland Thorns (Portland Timbers) and Utah Royals FC (Real Salt Lake) are all under the purview of ownership groups that are also fully cemented in MLS.

They form four of the NWSL’s nine sides, with four others – Chicago, Reign FC, Sky Blue FC and the Washington Spirit – sharing metropolitan areas with MLS clubs under separate ownership groups. But they still work together: This season Sky Blue have played at Red Bull Arena, home of the New York Red Bulls, and Washington have played at Audi Field, opened last year by D.C. United. Chicago, meanwhile, have shared SeatGeek Stadium with Chicago Fire, who will be moving back to Soldier Field beginning next year.

MLS clubs are also involved in youth development of boys and girls. An additional five MLS clubs operate teams or have affiliates in the girls’ division of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy (DA) which is in its third year of operation: FC DallasLA GalaxySan Jose EarthquakesFC Cincinnati and Sporting Kansas City. Houston, Portland and Utah are also in the DA, while Orlando competes in the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL founded in 2009), a league New York City FC recently joined after a prior stint in the DA

Merritt Paulson, chief executive officer at Portland, said those numbers are only going to grow, with the recent World Cup success acting as a catalyst. In an interview with MLSsoccer.com this past July, Paulson said he expected three more clubs will launch NWSL teams by 2022. And he noted that the Timbers have hosted two different MLS clubs at Thorns games this season, as they ponder starting their own NWSL teams.“We open up everything for them,” Paulson said of hosting the prospective clubs. “We show them the good, the bad and the ugly. We show them our books, our numbers. We’re uniquely successful, but we paint a realistic picture about the opportunities and challenges that other teams have faced, so we don’t want there to be any surprises. Our goal isn’t to get people in, it’s to have them be successful when they’re in.”That’s not hyperbole from Paulson, who asserted the Thorns are “the most successful professional women’s sports team in the world.” That’s partially because Portland, led by the Rose City Riveters supporters’ group, recently set an NWSL record for attendance (25,218) in an Aug. 11 match against North Carolina, the defending league champions. But it’s also because of the infrastructure on hand.The Thorns play at Providence Park, just like the Timbers, and there’s access to the same front-office staff for each club. Even Thorns head coach Mark Parsons has struck up quite the relationship with Timbers’ manager Giovanni Savarese.“I’m at the training facility and giving someone a tour a couple months ago, showing them around,” Parsons started. “[The Timbers] were in a staff meeting and I said to my guest ‘They look like they’re in a meeting, let’s make sure they don’t catch our eye. Gio will welcome us in and tell us what they’re doing for the weekend and tell us how they’re doing it.’ I know they don’t have that time.”That was a common theme as MLSsoccer.com connected with the four groups that operate both MLS and NWSL clubs, and it’s one that Orlando’s Erik Ustruck echoed. He’s director of soccer operations for Orlando City, plus general manager for the Pride.The clubs’ respective coaches are regularly in touch, Ustruck said, with Pride coach Mark Skinner forming a strong relationship with his counterpart at Orlando City, James O’Connor, before the latter’s dismissal in early October. Both teams use Exploria Stadium, just like those in Houston share BBVA Stadium and the pair in Salt Lake City share Rio Tinto Stadium.“They’re able to bounce ideas off each other and ask what works for both,” Ustruck said of the collaboration between Orlando Pride and Orlando City head coaches. “The men’s and women’s games can be completely different, but I think there are also some similarities. That relationship was a pretty easy one to establish and maintain.”

The business of women’s pro soccer

As aligned as the front-office and technical staffs often are, another theme that emerged was that the fanbases are largely distinct.Andy Carroll, chief business officer in the front office that oversees Real Salt Lake (MLS), Utah Royals (NWSL) and Real Monarchs (USL), said only about 30 percent of Utah Royals season-ticket holders are also RSL season-ticket holders.There’s some overlap, but they’ve found the clubs have entirely different groups to which they market.

“It’s been interesting because we have bifurcated our fanbase and last year we grew soccer consumption in this market 28 percent,” said Carroll, who helped build the Utah Royals on short notice in 2018 following the folding of FC Kansas City. “We gave ourselves a very short runway with it and did something that most organizations wouldn’t do, which is launching a brand new team in four months.“It’s been additive to sponsorship, gives us more games in the stadium, gives us an entire narrative of being a constant soccer conversation in Salt Lake and throughout Utah. That will drive the overall business.”Portland and Houston echoed similar figures for fan overlap, though they all agreed that more growth is needed as the NWSL enters a pivotal stage. The 2019 World Cup bump is alive and well, with Budweiser signing a multi-year sponsorship deal with the NWSL and the league reaching a short-term deal with ESPN to air games domestically and internationally through season’s end.But Paulson said a post-World Cup “lift” is needed, not just a “bounce.” That means a longer TV deal, more sponsorships, more media attention, increased attendance and more investment. The whole nine yards.“Any time you have success at the national team level, people can fall back and think it’s going to be a different trajectory, and that’s not always the case,” Paulson said. “People need to make sure that they’re continuing to build and positioning themselves for growth, not just in the several games or the remainder of the season, but the next season and the season after that.”

What the future holds

Everyone agreed there’s no silver bullet, though Brooks argues that more can be done with marketing players of all backgrounds.“You have the best player in the world in Sam Kerr playing in Chicago and she’s not a U.S. national team player, but she’s known and she’s a great player,” Brooks said. “If clubs, if the league in general think of us more as assets with great individual stories and different selling points, that’s something that could push us forward more.”From Carroll’s perspective, it comes down to serious investment across the board.“There has to be a commitment from the overall soccer community that this is the right thing to do,” Carroll said. “It’s very similar to where MLS was when RSL came on board when you hear commissioner [Don] Garber talk about where the league was. So the owners, like Dell Loy [Hansen] did with launching a team all-in across four months — you need that commitment.”Now, as the NWSL seeks to capitalize on the USWNT’s latest World Cup victory, it’s clear that MLS-backed clubs will continue to play an important role. Houston Dash and Dynamo president of business operations John Walker noted that expansion interest has never been higher.“There are direct conversations with some franchises who might be far down the line in the thought process,” Walker said. “Probably every MLS team has had an inkling or notion to jump in, but some are more ready than others.”Walker confirmed that “a couple” have gone in-depth with Houston on evaluating the idea, while Carroll said Utah has “kicked the tires” with two other clubs.“There are extreme synergies and efficiencies whether you’re an MLS team or a USL team in operating an NWSL team that an independent operator doesn’t have,” Paulson said. “It does make it easier, there’s no question about it.”

RECAP | INDY ELEVEN DEFEATS NEW YORK RED BULLS II IN USL CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYOFFS OPENER

By IndyEleven.com, 10/26/19, 11:15PM EDT

Defender Karl Ouimette’s First Half Finish Marks Only Goal Needed in Eleven’s Return to IUPUI Carroll Stadium

Indy Eleven leaned on its trademark stout defense in tonight’s USL Championship Playoffs opener against New York Red Bulls II, so fittingly it was a goal by defender Karl Ouimette that made the ultimate difference in a 1-0 victory in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal showdown.The victory for the #3 seed Indy Eleven in its return to IUPUI Carroll Stadium set up an away fixture in the Conference Semifinal round next weekend at #2 seed Nashville SC, which defeated Charleston Battery 3-1 this evening. The date and time for next weekend’s match is still to be announced.“It wasn’t really one guy, and that’s how it needs to be in the playoffs,” said Indy Eleven Head Coach Martin Rennie. “The guys who came on did well. They replaced guys who put everything into the game. Everyone did their job and did it well. A clean sheet and goal for a defender was fun.”In a tightly played contest, it was a stroke of brilliance by Ouimette in the 27th minute that moved  the scoreboard, his sidewinding effort set up by a smooth touch by midfielder Macca King squeezing just inside the far left post past diving Red Bulls II goalkeeper Evan Louro. Indy Eleven ‘keeper Jordan Farr made two saves on the evening, none more important than his stop on Sean Nealis’ header from close range in the 88th minute.“It means a lot. It just shows the direction we are going right now,” said Ouimette. “It just shows that now we can win and we can win in important moments. Obviously, we are going to try and continue on that path. It just shows how confident we are, how good we are, and the willingness to win we have.”Both squads came out with plenty of energy, but also looked to feel out not only each other, but the Carroll Stadium turf that was foreign to the participants. The 27th minute goal was set up at midfield by defender Paddy Barrett’s pinpoint, slicing diagonal to King, whose fourth assist of the season set up Ouimette’s volley, his third goal of the season and his first using his feet in two seasons with the squad.

Windy weather would limit chances in the first half with the Ouimette’s goal acting as the most mentionable action in the first stanza. Indy created the bulk of the chances in the choppy start, outshooting Red Bulls II 3-2 by the end of the first 45 minutes.The first 10 minutes of the second half were just as difficult when it came to creating looks towards frame. As a result, both sides worked to make the most out of set pieces, a Red Bulls II corner in the 50th minute being squandered while Indy defender Ayoze saw his free kick five minutes later seeking danger but finishing over the endline.Pressure from the Boys in Blue nearly paid in the 70th minute. After a pair of enticing back-to-back corners from Indy, Kelly took a crack at a clean look on goal, but the Jamaican’s left-footed strike from just outside the box carried over the crossbar.Six minutes later, Indy midfielder Tyler Pasher nearly “cued the smoke” after a ball played in freed the Canadian inside the box. Despite his speed, NYRBII goalkeeper Evan Louro was quick off his line to deny Indy’s goal leader in 2019 an opportunity.Red Bulls II created its best chance of the match in the 88th minute, again from a corner kick. New York defender Jordan Nealis got his head on the end of a ball played to the penalty spot, but Indy ‘keeper Jordan Farr collected the effort as he looked to record his first playoff clean sheet.New York would not seriously threaten during four minutes of stoppage time, resulting in Indy Eleven walking away with a playoff win for the second time in six seasons, and its first time since November 5, 2016, also at “The Mike.”“Really happy. I think that is the overwhelming emotion. All of our fans celebrated and seeing what it means to them was really fun. It’s fun to win big games. You notice how much it means for the organization,” stated Rennie.

USL Championship Regular Season – #INDvNY

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
(#3) Indy Eleven  1 : 0  New York Red Bulls II (#6)    Saturday, October 26, 2019 – 7:30 p.m. ET       Michael A. Carroll Stadium – Indianapolis, Ind.    Attendance: 5,175

Scoring Summary:
IND – Karl Ouimette (Macauley King) 27’

Indy Eleven lineup (3-5-2, L–>R): Jordan Farr; Neveal Hackshaw, Paddy Barrett (captain), Karl Ouimette; Ayoze, Drew Conner, Tyler Gibson, Kenney Walker, Macauley King; Dane Kelly (Matt Watson 76’), Tyler Pasher (Cristian Novoa 85’)

IND Substitutes: Holden Brown (GK), Nicolas Perea, Mitchell Osmond, Eugene Starikov, Ilija Ilic

New York Red Bulls II lineup (4-4-2, L–>R): Evan Louro; Rece Buckmaster, Allen Yanes (Janos Loebe 50’), Sean Nealis, Jordan Scarlett; Jean-Christophe Koffi, Christopher Lema, Jared Stroud, Vincent Bezecourt (captain) (Omar Sowe 77’); Mathias Jorgensen (Sebastian Elney 72’), Tom Barlow

NY Substitutes:  Rashid Nuhu (GK), Ben Mines, Preston Kilwien, Kyle Zajec

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