Nice to see Megan Rapino take home the World’s Best Player award on Monday, she really has become more than just a soccer player after her performance in the World Cup – helping the US Ladies win their record 4th World Cup Title, I for one was rooting for Virgil Van Dyke to become the first defender in forever to win the Men’s Best Player Award but of course Messi wins it again. Hard to deny Messi again had a great year but I really wanted to see someone different win it this year – I guess it was the closest ever vote as Van Dyke lost by less than 1%. Too bad. Big Games this weekend on Saturday at noon on NBC we get Manchester City hosting Manchester United in the Manchester Darby, and Saturday morning on Fox Sports 2 at 9:30 am we have the top 2 teams in Germany as US midfielder Johnson and top seeded Borussia Mgladbach host Bayern Munich with their new coach looking to take themback to the top of the league.
Champions League Final Group Games Next Tues/Wed
I have had a blast watching US Starlet Christian Pulisic at Chelsea not only start but also score important goals. His Champions League goal 2 weeks back helped Chelsea garner the tie – which leaves them in prime position to qualify for the knockout rounds (Sweet 16). The two U.S. players who have been getting regular minutes in the UEFA Champions League, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic and Sergino Dest of Ajax, both head into next week’s final group stage matchday with a spot in the knockout stage on the line. It would be foolish to bet against Pulisic pulling the Blues, though. The Pennsylvania native’s otherworldly recent displays for Frank Lampard’s team have been flat-out unprecedented for an American at the highest level. Games are Tuesday and Wed with 4 groups still open as to who will either win the group or who will qualify. Chelsea faces Lille Tuesday at 3 pm on FuboTV and BR Live, while Ajax must win to hold onto 1st in the group vs Valencia at 3 pm on BR Live, If Ajax and Chelsea win they are thru. American Coach Jesse Marsh, the first American to ever coach in Champions League, will lead his Salzberg squad into a loser goes home match vs Champions League Holders Liverpool. Salsberg has the GD lead – so they only need a win to advance while a tie or win on the road will put Liverpool thru to the round of 16. If course this game will be on Tuesday at 1 pm on TNT, while at 3 pm Tuesday on TNT Inter hosting Barcelona will be needing a win to advance on assuming Dortmund win. Barca is already thru as the group winner. Wednesday we get Bayern vs Tottenham on TNT at 3 pm- a game that means nothing, while Athletico Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen battle for their Sweet 16 lives in games vs Lockomotiv and Juve (top team) respectively on BR Live and FuboTV. Wow how I hate TNT and BR Live having Champions League (man I miss Fox’s old Soccer coverage)
IU loses in Elite 8
I got a chance to tune in and watch the Elite 8 Match where the Hoosiers Lose Heartbreaker at Home in OT of Elite 8. Horrible conditions with snow blowing sideways found IU tied thru regulation before losing in the 100th minute on an unlucky slip and quick goal from Cal Santa Barbara. Still a great season for Indiana who has a very young team with most of their starters coming back from this Big Ten Champion Team.
REMINDER TO ALL CARMEL FC COACHES — GATHERING AT WOLFIES THURSDAY EVE Dec 12 at 5:30 pm to say thank you for all your hard work this season.
When: Thursday, December 12th 2019 / 5:30 pm to late
Where: Wolfies Grill – 1162 Keystone Way, Carmel 46032
Why: Carmel FC Social, celebrating 2019/2020 season
What: Light appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages will be provided; additional food & beverages can be purchased separately.
Who: All Carmel FC coaches
GAMES ON TV
Fri Dec 6
3 pm eSPN+ Inter vs Roma Berlin
3 pm FS2 Frankfurt vs Hertha
3 pm beIN Sport Villarreal vs Atletico Madrid
Sat, Dec 7
7:30 am NBCSN Everton vs Chelsea (Pulisic)
9:30 am Foxsoccer Borussia Mgladbach (Johnson) vs Bayern Munich
9:30 am FS2 Dortmund vs Dusseldorf (Morales & Steffan)
10 am?? Bournmouth vs Liverpool
12:30 NBCSN Man City vs Man United
2:45 pm ESPN+ Lazio vs Juventus
3 pm beIN Sport Barcelona vs Mallarca
Sun, Dec 8
9 am NBCSN Aston Villa vs Leciester City
11:30 am NBCSN Brighton vs Wolverhampton
12 noon FS1 Paderborn vs Werder Bremen (Stewart)
2:45 pm ESPN News Bologna vs Milan
Mon, Dec 9
3 pm NBCSN West Ham vs Arsenal
Tues, Dec 10 – Champions League
1 pm TNT Salzburg (US Coach Jesse Marsh) vs Liverpool
3 pmTNT Inter vs Barcelona
3 pm fuboTV/BR Live Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Lille
3 pm Galavsion/BR Live Ajax vs Valencia
3 pm Lyonais vs RB Leipzig (Adams)
3 pm Dortmund vs Slavia Praha
Weds, Dec 11 – Champions League
1 pm TNT Dinamo Zagreb vs Man City
3 pm TNT Bayern Munich vs Tottenham
3 pm TUDN/fubotv Club Brugge vs Real Madrid
3 pm futboTV/galavision Bayer Levekusen vs Juventus
3 pm futboTV/ Atletico Madrid vs Lokomotiv Moskov
Thur Nov 28
11 am BRLive/fuboTV/TUDN Astana vs Man United
1 pm BRLive/fuboTV/Unimas Standard Legiege vs Arsenal
Megan Rapinoe takes home 2019 Ballon d’Or but is so much more than the best player in women’s soccer
Dec 2, 2019Simon KuperESPN.com writer
PARIS, France — Megan Rapinoe, the second-ever winner of the women’s Ballon d’Or given to the best player on earth, had better things to do than pick up her award in Paris on Monday. “Bonsoir everyone!” she called out cheerily to the theater packed with dinner jackets and ballgowns, in a video that looked as if it was recorded in the corner of her Seattle living room. She apologised for not making it over: “It’s a bummer.” Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Virgil van Dijk were among those who had shown up to applaud her, yet her snubbing of the ceremony seemed fair enough: judged by her off- as well as on-field impact, she may be soccer’s biggest icon today.
A really good icon arrives at just the right moment in history. We’re living in an era when women, sexual minorities and non-white people are saying we won’t be treated as second-class humans anymore. Certain men in the traditional ruling class reply we get to decide that. And into that battle walks Rapinoe. Her expressive face, uninhibited humor and sense of style make her an ideal spokeswoman for almost any cause, and as an activist she’s an update on past stars of her sport.The face of American soccer 20 years ago, Mia Hamm, “was sort of a gateway to the world becoming used to female soccer players,” says Gemma Clarke, author of Soccerwomen. “She was marketed as wholesome, as the girl next door.” By contrast, adds Clarke, Rapinoe wouldn’t have been accepted as an icon “even five years ago.”
Now 34, Rapinoe spent most of her career just short of front-rank status. Yet even without the protection of stardom, she never shied away from unpopular causes. She campaigned for prisoners’ rights on behalf of her brother, Brian, who has been in and out of prison with drug problems. A former white supremacist with swastika tattoos, he watched many of his sister’s triumphs from behind bars.In 2016, she became the first white American athlete to kneel during the national anthem in solidarity with the anti-racism campaigner and NFL player Colin Kaepernick. “It took guts. It could have ended her career,” says Clarke. The U.S. Soccer Federation responded by banning the act of kneeling. Meanwhile, Rapinoe and her girlfriend, WNBA star Sue Bird, were “normalizing a lesbian relationship” in American public life, notes Brenda Elsey, coauthor of Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America.But Rapinoe’s joint careers as athlete and activist reached their crescendo this summer. If the U.S.’s victory at the World Cup in France was expected, her domination of the tournament wasn’t. She hasn’t been the best female player of her era, but she peaked when it mattered. “She’s a big-time player,” says the USWNT’s coach Jill Ellis. Rapinoe’s confidence — exemplified by her trademark arms-outstretched celebration, known as “the Rapinoe” — was a rejection of old-style submissive femininity, and particularly stunning coming from a working-class woman.Rapinoe dared take on Trump, the candidate who had swept most voters in her rural northern Californian hometown — including her own father. She promised she wouldn’t be visiting the “[expletive] White House” if the U.S. became world champions. “Megan should win first before she talks!” tweeted Trump. A few days later she’d not only won her second World Cup, but also the Golden Ball for best player and Golden Boot for highest scorer. playRapinoe has called herself “a walking protest” and her advocacy of the U.S. team’s lawsuit for equal pay was another feet-first leap into one of the social issues of 2019. Her own career had almost been cut short by gender inequality: four years ago, she tore her ACL while practicing with the USWNT on a grass field in Hawaii so bad that it was lined with plastic-covered sewer plates. “Equal pay!” the crowd in Lyon chanted after the Americans defeated the Dutch in the World Cup final, a chant that’s resounded through stadiums across the National Women’s Soccer League this year. But the USWNT’s lawsuit shines a light for women beyond sport, and beyond the U.S. too.In modern sports, activism is usually treated as a potential distraction. Speaking in platitudes or sponsor-fed slogans is considered the professional thing to do. Even some of Rapinoe’s teammates on the national team seem to take that view. They talked about wanting to “stay in their bubble” during the tournament, says Caitlin Murray, author of The National Team, about the USWNT. Rapinoe’s spat with Trump threatened to pull them out of it, but the furor didn’t distract them; equally, it seemed to energize her.
Rapinoe is more than a professional: she is a performer. On the pitch she’ll joke with the referee, banter with opponents, or acknowledge a fan, says Murray. “She always looks like she’s having fun.” Her irreverence seems to help her stay loose on the field, and lets her relax a potentially overstressed locker room.Wowing the world has left her little time for her Seattle club, Reign FC: her stats for this season are no goals and no assists in just 333 minutes of play. But then, she’s made for greater things, like further investment in women’s soccer. In a video celebrating her Ballon d’Or, her father mused: “I don’t know where you go from here: the best player of the universe?” In fact, her international playing career may culminate with next year’s Tokyo Olympics, but that would surely just unleash her onto a new path, or maybe various paths. “At this point she’s so popular that she could do almost anything,” says Elsey. It’s easy to picture her running for political office, but that feels perhaps too tritely obvious for her.”That’s the thing about the greatest icons,” says Clarke. “There’s really nobody to compare them to.”
Euro Championship on US network TV for 1st time since ‘08
The Associated Press•December 3, 2019
BRISTOL, Conn. (AP) — The European Championship is returning to U.S. network television for the first time since 2008.ESPN said Tuesday that five of the 51 matches will be televised on ABC. In 2008, ABC carried two of 31 games: a quarterfinal and Spain’s victory over Germany in the final.All of ABC’s telecasts will be on weekends: Belgium-Russia on June 13, Spain-Poland on June 20, round of 16 matches on June 27 and June 28 and a quarterfinal on July 4.Ian Darke will be ESPN’s lead commentator and will broadcast the opener between Italy and Turkey at Rome on June 12 and the final in London on July 12, paired with analyst Taylor Twellman.Thirty-nine games will be on ESPN, including the opener and the final, and seven on ESPN2.Univision has U.S. Spanish-language rights.
McIntyre’s USMNT Stock Watch: Christian Pulisic’s unprecedented rise continues
Doug McIntyreYahoo Sports•December 3, 2019
It’s early December and the year is already over for the United States men’s national team and all of its MLS-based players. For those members toiling away in Europe, though, things are as busy as ever. The Bundesliga is hurtling toward its month-long winter break, with German Cup games also on tap this week.
There’s a full slate of midweek English Premier League fixtures, the Prem schedule now ramping up ahead of the jam-packed festive period at the end of the month. Meantime, the two U.S. reps who have been getting regular minutes in the UEFA Champions League, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic and Sergino Dest of Ajax, both head into next week’s final group stage matchday with a spot in the knockout stage on the line.
It would be foolish to bet against Pulisic pulling the Blues, though. The Pennsylvania native’s otherworldly recent displays for Frank Lampard’s team have been flat-out unprecedented for an American at the highest level. The news isn’t as rosy for others, but that’s as good a place as any to kick off our latest USMNT Stock Watch.
USMNT players trending up
M/F Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (England)
Pulisic wasn’t able to prevent Chelsea from losing at home to West Ham over the weekend, but he’s been Lampard’s best player for the last six weeks, scoring seven goals across all competitions — including in last week’s thrilling 2-2 tie at Valencia in the Champions League — in his last eight outings.
Takeaway: Mexican striker Raul Jimenez took home PFA Fans’ Player of the Month honors for November, but it could’ve just as easily gone to Pulisic. After a rough start to life in London, the 21-year-old is now in the form of his young career and hitting heights never before seen from a U.S player. After a quiet outing on Saturday, expect a strong response from Pulisic in Wednesday’s contest vs. Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge.
M Weston McKennie, Schalke (Germany)
After entering as a substitute against Werder Bremen on Nov. 23 following international duty, McKennie reclaimed his starting job for last Friday’s 2-1 win over Union Berlin.
Takeaway: The Texan might not have a goal or an assist yet, but the versatile 21-year-old —who has even played a little center back this year — is quietly having an excellent season under new coach (and former USMNT midfielder) David Wagner, helping Schalke rebound from an awful 2018-19 and into third place in the Bundesliga.
G Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)
After a rough outing against Bayern Munich two weekends ago, the U.S. No. 1’s five stops stole a point for Fortuna away to Hoffenheim.
Takeaway: The best news of all regarding Steffen is that the 24-year-old only has to play four more Bundesliga matches before the break provides some badly needed rest for his sore left knee.
M Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)
The Berlin-born central midfielder, 29, has started four consecutive games for Fortuna, going the distance in each of the last three.
Takeaway: No player in the U.S. pool forced his way into U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter’s plans though club performances more than Morales — who hadn’t been capped since 2016 — did this year. He’s clearly established himself as a regular, if not a starter, heading into 2020.
D Antonee Robinson, Wigan (England)
Robinson has played almost every minute of second-tier Wigan’s 19 league games this season and has also been a mainstay with the U.S. U-23s.
Takeaway: The Latics have struggled mightily this season and while Robinson, 22, has struggled at times he continues to pick up valuable experience. In March, he’ll be key part of the U-23s effort to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. And given the U.S.’s ongoing depth issues at left back, don’t be surprised if he gets the opportunity to add to his seven caps later in the new year.
USMNT players trending down
M/F Tyler Boyd, Besiktas (Turkey)
Boyd was pulled at halftime of last week’s 2-1 Europa League win over Slovan Bratislava, and the New Zealand-reared attacker has played just 14 minutes over Besiktas’ last seven Super Lig matches, including Monday’s 4-1 win over Kayserispor.
Takeaway: The third-place Black Eagles have won six times and drawn once in seven games over that span, making it unlikely that the 24-year-old will see a ton of action over the club’s final four league matches before Turkey’s winter break. Whether Boyd retains his starting Europa League role next week at Premier League Wolves remains to be seen.
D/M DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle (England)
A hip injury rendered Yedlin unavailable for Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City.
Takeaway: The timing stinks for the veteran right back, as Newcastle is back in action Wednesday against Sheffield United. Yedlin had started the Magpies’ previous six Prem matches. But if he can’t go midweek, and if Javier Manquillo produces another strong showing in his stead, the 26-year-old Seattle native could be forced to win back his spot when healthy.
M/F Julian Green, Greuther Furth (Germany)
An MCL injury has forced Green out of the second-tier club’s last two matches.
Takeaway: Although he’s been ignored by Berhalter so far, Green — who is still just 24 — was quietly having a strong season for Greuther Furth, with four goals in 13 total 2. Bundesliga games, when he went down. Green will probably have to pick up where he left off, at the least, in early 2020 to earn a USMNT look in March.
F Bobby Wood, Hamburg (Germany)
After going all of October without seeing the field in the 2. Bundesliga, Wood played in each of Hamburg’s last three games. But he was yanked at halftime of Die Rothosen’s most recent match, a 2-1 loss to Osnabruck, and still hasn’t scored this campaign
Takeaway: It’s been a miserable year for the 27-year-old, who went without a cap in 2019 for the first time since breaking in with the U.S. in 2012. Even with the USMNT’s lack of depth up top, Wood figures to remain on the outside unless and until he reverses his fortunes at club level.
USMNT Stock Watch: Surprise November standout Jackson Yueill trending up
Doug McIntyreYahoo Sports•November 25, 2019
For the U.S. men’s national team, recent wins against Canada and Cuba did more than qualify the Americans for June’s CONCACAF Nations League semifinals. The two matches also provided some valuable insight into where a number of players fit within the positional pecking order under coach Gregg Berhalter.That matters, because the twin victories also guaranteed that Berhalter will remain at the helm of the USMNT through at least next summer. Berhalter’s first year had some low lows, with shocking losses against the Canadians and fellow border rival Mexico sticking out. The fanbase remains cynical, quite understandably after missing last year’s World Cup.But if Berhalter is to lead the USMNT to a more convincing 2020, he’ll likely lean on many of the names listed in the section immediately below. As for those Americans whose national team sock is trending the other direction at the moment, they should be heartened by the knowledge that fortunes can change quickly at the sport’s highest level.With the program’s 2019 slate finished, here’s a snapshot of where some of the national team’s most interesting players stand right now.
USMNT players trending up
M Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
The crafty central midfielder started both U.S. games in November, turning in two fine performances despite having not logged a minute of action since the Quakes’ season ended in early October.
Takeaway: No player helped himself more this month than the 22-year-old Yueill, who will head into 2022 as a presumed starter even when veteran Michael Bradley returns from the ankle injury he suffered during MLS Cup. “I really liked his intensity,” Berhalter said after naming Yueill his man of the match against Cuba. “He didn’t let up for 90 minutes, and to turn around from a very physical Canada match to now play again in these conditions, I thought he did a great job.”
D Sergino Dest, Ajax (Netherlands)
The USMNT officially cap-tied the Dutch-born fullback against Canada, and Dest looked like a man with a weight lifted off his shoulders in the 4-1 win.
Takeaway: With Dest’s decision to represent the U.S. now made, the 19-year-old figures to quickly establish himself as a key player on both sides of the ball. “It feels great if you can do both,” Dest said after the Canada match. “I also want to make an impact on the team defensive-wise and attacking-wise.”
M Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy (MLS)
With Christian Pulisic nursing a hip injury, Lletget stepped into a playmaking role against Canada and provided some of the attacking swagger that was missing in October’s 2-0 loss north of the border.
Takeaway: “Sebastian is a guy that gives you a little bit more of the game-changing quality that that Christian possesses,” Berhalter said after his side exacted revenge on Les Rouges in Orlando. Lletget probably returns to the bench when Pulisic’s healthy, but he definitely didn’t hurt his case for more minutes in 2020.
M/F Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Morris scored five goals in the final five U.S. matches of 2019, including two in last week’s 4-0 rout of Cuba.
Takeaway: The all-action 25-year-old is coming off a career season for club and country; Morris was the USMNT’s best player during the second half of 2019. Don’t be surprised if European suitors come calling. “I’d never rule anything out,” Morris told Yahoo Sports after helping his hometown Sounders to a second MLS Cup in four years earlier this month. “If an offer or something came along that I really enjoyed and thought was right for me, I would have no quarrels with making a jump.”
D John Brooks, Wolfsburg (Germany)
Brooks made just his second appearance under Berhalter in Orlando, and his experience and pedigree made a huge difference defensively. “He’s got that quality about him that’s very calming,” center back partner Aaron Long said. “He’s very smooth on the ball, definitely a guy that calms the game down for us.”
Takeaway: While Brooks’ ability has rarely been in doubt, questions about his commitment and ability to stay heathy remain. Only time will tell if the 26-year-old answers them in 2020.
F Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew (MLS)
U.S. fans’ favorite whipping boy at least temporarily silenced his haters with two well-taken strikes in Orlando.
Takeaway: Goals aside, Zardes still had an excellent match, making smart decisions on and away from the ball. He might not be Berhalter’s first choice up top when everyone is available, but in a paper-thin forward pool he proved that he should remain in the conversation for minutes.
F Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (Germany)
Sargent didn’t let the disappointment of not playing against Canada linger versus Cuba, against whom the 19-year-old scored twice.
Takeaway: It was a fitting way to end the year for Sargent, who wasn’t even in the coach’s plans as recently as June’s Gold Cup. “Overall I think you can tell he was hungry to score goals and that’s what I liked,” Berhalter said. “He had a very good mentality in this match.”
D Aaron Long, New York Red Bulls (MLS)
The 27 year-old scored the backbreaking third goal against Canada and went the distance in the 2019 finale, too.
Takeaway: It was a strong way to finish the year for Long, who suffered late summer swoon with both his club and national team after the Red Bulls turned down an offer from English Premier League strugglers West Ham.
USMNT players trending down
G Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)
With tendonitis in is his left knee, Steffen was allowed to skip both games and rest. But he struggled in his return, gifting Bayern Munich its second goal in Saturday’s 4-0 loss.
Takeaway: Steffen remains the U.S. No. 1. But his position is perhaps less secure than it was a few weeks go. The 24-year-old continues to struggle playing out of the back, and veteran Brad Guzan acquitted himself well in Steffen’s absence.
D Matt Miazga, Reading (England)
Four months after Miazga started both the Gold Cup semifinal and final, the 24-year-old central defender was left off the U.S. roster entirely this month.
Takeaway: The snub is especially head-scratching considering that the New Jersey native has been ever-present for Reading in the English second tier when healthy. He even scored a game-winning goal against Preston North End shortly before Berhalter’s latest squad was announced.
F Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC (MLS)
Although he was able to recover from a quad injury enough to come off the bench (and score) in the Nov. 10 MLS Cup, Altidore did not join up with the USMNT afterward.
Takeaway: Given the circumstances, no huge surprise there. Still, the fact is that Altidore, who just turned 30, wasn’t around much during Berhalter’s first year in charge. When he was during last summer’s Gold Cup, the coach used him sparingly. It’s fair to wonder how much he fits into the plan going forward.
M Duane Holmes, Derby County (England)
After October’s embarrassment, it stood to reason that Berhalter would call in a fresh face or two. Holmes had been called in earlier in the year, and the hard-running and versatile 25-year-old seemed like an obvious candidate after starting eight of the Rams’ 10 matches before the break.
Takeaway: Holmes’ next chance to play for the U.S. comes in March. Perhaps a few goals between now and then might compel Berhalter to reconsider.
MLS CBA: Will there be a work stoppage? And what do the league and players want?
Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent
During the MLS offseason, there will be countless discussions about player signings and trades. There will be various drafts and other roster maneuverings as teams try to retool for next season.Yet the biggest talks of all will involve every player from every team in the league. On Jan. 31, the existing collective bargaining agreement between MLS and the MLS Players Association will expire. The hope is that a new deal will be hashed out, and the two sides have actually been engaged in negotiations for the better part of the past year, but if an agreement can’t be found before the start of the season, the league faces the prospect of a work stoppage.
What’s at stake?
MLS has experienced considerable growth since the last CBA was hashed out in 2015. Heading into that campaign, the league had 20 teams. MLS will begin next season with 26, with another three set to join in the following two years. There has also been sizable investment made by owners, and not just in stadiums. Training facilities, once considered a luxury item, are now becoming ubiquitous. There has been greater investment in salaries as well, with the implementation of targeted allocation money (TAM) having the effect of increasing the salary budget for each team by $4 million a year. As such, according to Forbes, the average valuation of MLS teams has increased by 30% from 2017 to an average of $313 million.Complicating the negotiations is the fact that the current media rights deal is set to expire at the end of 2022, meaning a new media deal will be approved in the middle of the term of the new CBA. It is expected that the next media rights deal will be multiples higher than the existing deal, which pays MLS $90 million a year. That figures to be a complicated topic to tackle, although that hasn’t stopped the union from trying.”We have made detailed proposals to the league on how to deal with that [media rights] issue,” said MLSPA executive director Bob Foose.For these reasons, a work stoppage of any kind would blunt this momentum, although to what degree obviously depends on its length.
What are the odds that there will be a work stoppage?
Historically, the union and the league have been able to avoid a work stoppage, although there have been close calls in the past, including the 2015 deal that was struck just days before the start of the regular season. Mediators were also needed to help the two sides hash out an agreement.”The league isn’t seeking to have a work stoppage, and based on the discussions we’ve been having with the union, we don’t think they are either,” said Mark Abbott, MLS president and deputy commissioner. “I think both we and the union are working in good faith to reach an agreement to extend the CBA. That being said, we certainly recognize that you can’t eliminate entirely the possibility of work stoppage and we’ve been working with our teams over the course of the last year to ensure that they’re prepared and that we’re prepared in case that happened. Again, it’s not something that we’re seeking.”The MLSPA leadership has certainly made more noises about its willingness to go on strike, and has spoken of contingency plans players are making in case there is a work stoppage.”We’ve been talking about and preparing for work stoppage for two and a half years now,” Foose said. “At this point, talking about the details of what that would look like and how we would proceed, and how we would all work together, the players are very serious when they say they’re ready to do what’s best for the full player pool and the future of the [players’ association] and the league.”A strike would see the MLSPA flying in the face of some serious headwinds, however. The fact remains that MLS’ billionaire owners can withstand losing revenue to a much greater degree than the players can cope with missing paychecks. The latest annual filing from 2018 shows that the MLSPA has total assets of $10.5 million, a reflection of not only how relatively young the union is but also how low its salaries are compared with those of players in other North American sports.By comparison, the National Basketball Players Association has total assets of more than $200 million. For the MLSPA, that $10.5 million would disappear pretty quickly in the face of an extended work stoppage. Foose stressed that union funds are not the only resource players can dip into should there be a work stoppage. The players have been preparing on their own as well.”We obviously don’t have the luxury that some of the other [players’ associations] have with an extra zero in [their] resources,” Foose told ESPN. “But we certainly have plenty of money to do what needs to be done on the [players’ association] side of things.”All of that said, it behooves all involved to reach an agreement.”We understand exactly where the business is, and I think we have a very good feel for where it’s going,” Foose said. “And we have no incentive to damage that.””I think we were able to get a bit of a foundation [in late 2018], so going into 2019 we were further along on many issues than we ever had been,” said executive board member Ethan Finlay. “But the process, it’s still early.”So what are the chances that the two sides won’t be able to come to an agreement and a work stoppage will interrupt MLS’ 25th season? There is a 20% chance of that happening; both the league and the players have too much at stake to go down that road.
What’s the timeline?
The CBA might expire on Jan. 31, but the real deadline will take place weeks later. The CONCACAF Champions League round of 16 begins in mid-February, and as long as there isn’t a work stoppage, those games could go forward. The real deadline for a new CBA is the start of the MLS season, which will take place on the weekend of Feb. 29.To hear the union tell it, the league has tended to take a long time to respond to proposals, so while there’s a little more than two months to go until the CBA expires, time can get short in a hurry.”If things don’t move more quickly and [the league] takes the same approach that was taken the last time through, the odds of a stoppage skyrocket, so hopefully that won’t be the case,” Foose said. “A strategy to run out the clock is not going to be looked upon favorably by the player pool or the [players’ association].”
What the MLSPA wants
The growth and investment of MLS has been noticed by the MLSPA, and it understandably is keen to carve out a bigger chunk for its members. But the union’s core issues are centered less on total salary numbers and more on systemic changes such as freedom of movement and allowing the players a greater ability to compete for the league’s dollars.A greater degree of free agency is one of the union’s goals. Although the union faced criticism in 2015 for not extracting more concessions from owners, one goal it did achieve was a limited form of free agency. As it stands, players who are at least 28 years old and who have played in the league at least eight years can be free agents when their contracts expire. They can also receive raises of only between 15% and 25%, depending on their salary level. The union wants the age and time of service threshold to be reduced and wants the cap on salary increases removed or at least raised considerably.The MLSPA would also like to see the salary budget rules simplified. Although the union was pleased to see the league pump more money into player salaries during the existing CBA, the implementation of TAM grated in that it was money that was available only to players making a salary of between $530,000 and $1.5 million. That excludes a large chunk of the rank and file, who are shoehorned into senior, supplemental and reserve roster categories that limit what those players can make.The union would also like to see the league allow its teams greater autonomy in terms of how they build their rosters, rather than have rules dictated by league headquarters.”In the simplest terms, TAM is silly,” Foose said. “It’s not necessary to try and tell our front offices how to sign players; they’re perfectly capable of doing that themselves. And frankly, if they’re not, then they should suffer the consequences, and that’s the kind of accountability that we want to see happen.”The union’s stance is that simplifying the rules would lead to more of a meritocracy. Players’ earnings would be a reflection of how they have performed on the field. It’s worth noting that, according to salary data provided by the MLSPA, 37.4% of the players make annual salaries under $100,000.The union also wants increased spending on charter flights. At present, the vast majority of teams fly commercially, which can lead to long travel days, especially when teams are flying through multiple time zones. This can hamper a player’s physical recovery. Teams are allowed four discretionary charter flights a year, but there is no mandate that they have to use them. Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya recalled how his team didn’t use a single charter flight during the regular season. Foose added that, at the end of 2018, only about half of the available charter flights were used.”It’s unfortunate that this is discussed in a CBA context, because this isn’t a CBA ssue,” Foose said. “It isn’t in other sports and shouldn’t be in ours. It is an infrastructure issue and is tied to player performance.”t’s difficult to imagine this being a “hill to die on” issue for the MLSPA, but Atlanta United midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said, “This is one piece of the pie for us, a very important piece, a commonsense piece, but one that we’re taking very seriously.”
What MLS wants
Broadly — beyond avoiding a work stoppage — MLS wants the same thing it always wants: a level of cost certainty as it pertains to player expenses. Its single-entity structure, whereby the player contracts are with the league rather than with individual teams, has helped achieve this to a large degree. This is especially true to the extent that in most instances teams retain the MLS rights of players even after that player has been transferred or his contract has expired.But MLS also wants control over where that money goes. The introduction of TAM is proof of this, whereby it wanted its teams spending more on players within a specific salary range. The league feels that a program such as TAM has been successful, and MLS will want to retain that kind of discretion as to where investments are made. Could the league have gotten to where it is without TAM? Who knows, but MLS doesn’t sound as if it wants to find out.”There are a variety of different areas that will be the subject of discussion as to where we should be making investments, whether it’s the senior team, whether it’s player development, whether it’s on other benefits,” Abbott told ESPN. “And in the CBA what we’re seeking to do is within the limits of what we’re able to spend that we ensure that we’re allocating those expenditures in the areas that are most likely to have the most impact.”
What happens now?
There were rumblings that an agreement was almost reached in 2018, although that ultimately didn’t take place. At present, the respective positions have been laid out and the two sides have exchanged proposals, but it’s also still early. The talks likely won’t get into serious mode until early January.”We have a ways to go to reach an agreement,” Foose said.Foose had stated previously that the league has been fully transparent in terms of its financials at the league, team and SUM [Soccer United Marketing] level. He has no doubt that MLS is leveling with the union on this topic. He added, “We also have a common understanding with them on the cost of various proposals, so we’re clear on what the changes that we’re seeking are going to cost.”
Euro 2020 draw: Will Germany, France or Portugal be the odd ones out? England, Croatia meet again
Nov 30, 2019James HorncastleItaly writer
Now the Euro 2020 draw has been made, the previews and predictions can begin! The tournament can be viewed LIVE in the U.S. on ESPN networks, from June 12 to July 12.
Overview: Italy were one of two teams (Belgium) to finish qualifying with a perfect record, but avoiding France and Portugal must come as a relief. Turkey took four points from six against France and go to the Euros with the best defensive record on the continent: an almost impregnable wall comprising Merih Demiral, Ozan Kabak and Caglar Soyuncu. Wales went the furthest of any of these teams at Euro 2016, and we all know where Gareth Bale‘s priorities lie. Switzerland have a wily coach in Vladimir Petkovic and keep games close.
X factor: The atmosphere at the Stadio Olimpico, starting with the tournament opener on June 12 against Turkey. Italy manager Roberto Mancini has talked up replicating the fervour he experienced at Italia `90, and doing so could give an intrepid and fresh-faced side an edge, providing an emotional charge their opponents will find tough to play against.
Must-watch game: Italy vs. Wales (June 21) If Italy knock their heads against Turkey’s brick wall and find it hard to play through a stodgy Switzerland side, the Wales game at the end of this group could light some fireworks. For all his troubles in Madrid, Bale is the arguably the one attacking player in this group who can win a game on his own, while Aaron Ramsey will know all about that Italy backline, having spent a year either training or playing against it.
Overview: No.1 in the FIFA rankings, Belgium had the best attack and defence in qualification and should not be worried by Russia, having beaten them 7-2 on aggregate during their journey to the finals. The Danes are an altogether different proposition and will fancy their chances. Finland, meanwhile, have nothing to lose after reaching a major tournament for the first time in their history. Teemu Pukki scored 10 goals in qualifying.
X factor: Looking beyond Belgium’s array of stars, Christian Eriksen ended qualifying as Denmark’s top scorer and the qualifying rounds’ second-best chance creator behind Antoine Griezmann. Out of contract in the summer, unless he extends with Tottenham, the playmaker could be playing to attract the calibre of interest he was unable to arouse [Real Madrid] at the end of last season.
Must-watch game: Finland vs. Russia (June 17) Saint Petersburg is a ferry ride away from Helsinki so expect the boats to be full. Routinely biffed by bigger neighbours, the Finns impressed in qualifying, and Pukki’s battle with Artem Dzyuba, the towering Zenit striker with the best xG numbers of any forward in qualifying [inflated by games against San Marino, Cyprus, Kazakhstan and Scotland], should be fun.
Overview: After missing the past two major tournaments, Netherlands’ run to the Nations League final, combined with Ajax making the final four of last season’s Champions League, is undoubtedly to the benefit of the Euros. Ukraine were so good in qualifying that they forced their way into the top seeds, dumping France into pot two. Austria are reliant on maverick striker Marko Arnautovic, but have talent elsewhere in Marcel Sabitzer, Valentin Lazaro and David Alaba. Of the playoff teams competing to complete the group, Kosovo were such a joy to watch in qualifying that it’s hard not to root for them to reach their first major tournament.
X factor: The Dutch have arguably the best centre-back partnership at the Euros. No centre-back has gone closer to becoming the first defender to win the Ballon d’Or since Fabio Cannavaro than Virgil van Dijk, while his partner Matthijs de Ligt emerged as perhaps the brightest talent of his generation in that position. Moreover, the pair also present a real threat from attacking set pieces.
Must-watch game: Netherlands vs. Ukraine (June 14) Andriy Shevchenko’s side are a tough cookie, having kept five clean sheets in eight unbeaten qualifiers. Draws in Portugal and Serbia indicate Ukraine won’t be fazed in Amsterdam, meaning it is a trap game for the Dutch. Atalanta playmaker Ruslan Malinovskyi looks like he came through Ajax’s finishing school, such is the refinement of his technique, while Gent striker Roman Yaremchuk — four goals in seven qualifiers — could not wish for a better mentor than Sheva himself.
Overview: If England go one better than at the past World Cup when Gareth Southgate’s team reached the semifinals, five of their seven games will be at Wembley. World Cup runners-up Croatia should push them for top spot, although the Czechs beat England in qualifying. When it comes to the playoff teams, a home nations game between England and Scotland appeals, but what about Norway and the talent emerging in their ranks? Don’t you want to see Erling Haaland, Martin Odegaard and Sander Berge putting on a show?
Euro 2020 begins on June 12, with the final in London on July 12. Getty
X factor: Haaland firing Norway to the Euros would be a fantastic story, particularly in the same year he became the first teenager to score in his first five Champions League games. Not guaranteed to see that, we can at least count on the presence of Harry Kane, who finished top scorer in qualifying with 12 goals in eight games.
Must-watch game: England vs. Croatia (June 14) Group D’s opener is a repeat of the 2016 World Cup semifinal and a Nations League tie, in which England came from behind to win late, even if much has changed in recent times. After winning the Ballon d’Or on the back of inspiring his country to the final in Russia, Luka Modric has had one of the worst years of his career, while Ivan Rakitic is on the margins at Barcelona. England, meanwhile, have more talent with Jadon Sancho having burst onto the scene, but have not necessarily pushed on in the past two years.
Overview: Tensions are high in the Spain camp following Luis Enrique’s return and subsequent war of words with former assistant Robert Moreno; whether the ripple effects are still felt by June remain to be seen. Poland have the best striker in the world in Robert Lewandowski, skilful midfielders like Piotr Zielinski and Wojciech Szczesny, who is overlooked whenever there is a conversation about the best goalkeepers on the planet. Sweden made the quarterfinals of the last World Cup — without Zlatan Ibrahimovic — and look to have found an exciting talent in Dejan Kulusevski. Joining this trio through the playoffs could be Bosnia and Herzegovina. Edin Dzeko would be the third-most prolific international goal scorer at the tournament behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lewandowski, while watching Miralem Pjanic against Spain’s midfield would be quite something.
X factor: Look no further than Lewandowski. Just when you thought he could not get any better, particularly in an unsophisticated and poorly-coached Bayern team — that is, until Hansi Flick replaced Nico Kovac — the 31-year-old is hitting new heights and has scored 31 goals already this season, including four in 14 minutes against Red Star in the Champions League. There is not a more complete No. 9 on the planet.
Must-watch game: Spain vs. Poland (June 20) The question is whether talented Poland can fulfil their potential has been an issue for them since the 1982 World Cup (hosted by Spain). Watching Lewandowski against Sergio Ramos will be one of the matchups of the group stages, and while Spain have a ridiculous amount of skill and can fold in the winners of last summer’s Under-21 Euros, it is also true that they no longer inspire the same fear as a decade ago.
Overview: Didier Deschamps (France) laughed, Joachim Low (Germany) looked ashen-faced and Fernando Santos (Portugal) stared into the distance. Group F, with its six European Championship titles, features holders Portugal and the most recent two world champions in France and Germany, all three of whom reached the semifinals in 2016. Whichever team makes up the numbers via the playoffs, it will be hard to avoid the thought they have simply won the right to finish bottom.
X factor: This could be Cristiano Ronaldo’s final international tournament, and, recently his best form has been reserved for Portugal, with 10 goals in qualifying. The 34-year-old is 11 goals away from passing Ali Daei’s mark of 109 as the most prolific international goal scorer of all-time. Ronaldo tends to turn it on against elite nations; remember that hat trick against Spain in the last World Cup?
Must-watch game: France vs. Germany (June 16) Since the end of Spain’s dominance, France and Germany have become Europe’s preeminent nations, with one knocking the other out of two of the past three major tournaments. Recent results suggest France have the edge; Antoine Griezmann, for example, inspired a comeback win in the Nations League. This game will set the tone for the rest of the group, and eyes will be on Low. Can he go again after disappointing at the past World Cup and in the Nations League, where Germany only avoided relegation because the competition got restructured and expanded.
Does playing pro soccer increase risk for neurodegenerative disease?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic rises for a header over Victor Ulloa in the LA Galaxy’s 2-0 win over FC Cincinnati on June 22. Photo credit: Jamie Smed/Soc Takes
A new article in the New England Journal of Medicine by Daniel F. Mackay et al. raises the question of whether soccer follows the trend of “contact” sports in terms of increased risk of neurodegenerative disease for athletes. My article attempts to (1) summarize the key findings of the article with limited use of scientific jargon, and (2) place it in the larger context of where the beautiful game currently stands in its understanding of head injuries.
What did the study show?
The study showed that a subset (more on this later) of professional soccer players exhibited an increased risk of dying due to neurodegenerative disease than non-soccer players did. It also showed that professional soccer players — aside from the neurodegenerative disease part — seemed to be less likely to die from traditional killers such as heart disease and cancers such as lung cancer.
Which neurodegenerative diseases did they look at?
- Alzheimer’s disease – The most common form of dementia. Risk factors include age and a history of brain injuries.
- Parkinson’s disease – A primarily motor disease affecting a specific part of your brain.
- Motor neuron disease – This is a type of neurodegeneration that affects the nerves controlling your movement. A common example is Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
- Non-Alzheimer’s dementias – Dementia is a catch-all term for change in cognitive function. Non-Alzheimer’s dementias are diseases that have some overlapping symptoms as Alzheimer’s, but involve different symptoms as well. These differences are due to brain regions affected, particularly during early stages of the disease. An example is frontotemporal dementia.
- Dementia NOS – All dementias (Thank you Dr. Stewart for this correction).
It is important to note that this study did not measure rates of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) directly. This was due to limitations in how the authors were able to procure the data (not their fault, by the way).
The sampling question
Something that is being missed in the analysis is that it was a study of male professional soccer players. This unavoidable bias is due to the fact that pro soccer players in Scotland are men. Therefore, the controls were required to be age and sex-matched, and hence all of this data comes from male soccer players and male controls. Whether this is applicable to women soccer players is an unanswered question. This is an important consideration as some data suggests that the rates of head injury in women’s soccer exceed those in the male version of the game.
Additionally, is this a Scotland-only effect? I ask this because there was a study that showed increased Lou Gehrig’s disease in a sample of Italian soccer players. To the best of my knowledge, this result had not been shown in soccer players from a different geographic region. This would suggest a synergistic effect of genetics (Italian for ALS or Scottish for soccer) and sport. To put it simply, this data may not be applicable to the soccer population at large. (It should be noted that this article shows an increased rate of motoneuron disease generally, but not ALS specifically.)
A particular strength of this study is that it mitigates a prevalent problem in the field of brain injury research — the self-selection bias of “bad brains.” The idea is that when someone is experiencing symptoms of neurodegeneration, they are more likely to donate their brain to science. Therefore, the percentages we get are skewed. In this study, the authors examined data to basically ascertain how it was that a person died. Therefore, they eliminate the “bad brains” bias, and their data can be interpreted as representative of — at the very least — the male soccer-playing population of Scotland.
- No soccer position-specific effect on neurodegeneration, but existing one on prescription for dementia.
- Increased rate of dementia-related prescription in soccer players versus controls (reason unknown and the authors don’t speculate, but it could be due to increased awareness or socioeconomic status.)
Where is the sport with head injuries?
The sport is dragging its feet. FIFA needs to mandate harsher penalties on high-impact contact to the head, regardless of intention/getting the ball. Recently, the USL explored temporary substitutions for head injury diagnoses, which deserves applause. MLS, on the other hand, has failed to update its concussion protocol in spite of telling Four Four Two and the Associated Press that it would. It’s been over three years.
The overarching question about the risk of heading resulting in CTE remains unanswered in the literature. Previous work suggests that technically proficient headers of the ball are unlikely to be concussed due to ball to head impact. However, the hand-wavy question of subconcussive injuries (due to an impact on the brain that causes minor, externally unnoticeable changes in the brain) remains under-explored. Given that we have a case report of CTE in a soccer player who had no history of concussion, the subconcussive question is an interesting one. (The TL;DR version is that it’s just too early to say anything about heading the ball and CTE. I previously explored the question of heading in youth soccer.)
This is a well-powered and important study — the first of its kind for soccer — that shows that professional soccer players are likely to have an increased risk for neurodegeneration later in life. This is in agreement with data from other more traditional “contact” sports such as MMA and American football. Future work will need to expand this data set to include women soccer players, amateur soccer players and soccer players from different geographic/genetic backgrounds.
Follow Nipun on Twitter: @NipunChopra7.
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