Interesting conversations this week as the EPL is discussing at 2 week shutdown because of the recent rash of new Covid cases over the past 2 weeks. A handful of games have been delayed Man City vs Everton, Fulham vs Tottenham. All this going on in a season that is as tight at the top of the EPL table as it has been in a long time. Five teams are tied for 5th and no fewer than 11 teams are within 10 pts of the top. EPL Table Big games to watch this weekend include Man City vs Aston Villa on Peacock at 3 pm Friday, and Man City traveling to Chelsea and the reinvigorated Christian Pulisic coming off 2 fine showings on Sunday at 11:30 am on NBCSN. Sat on NBC we get the beauty of Brighton vs Wolverhampton on NBC at 12:30- my gosh the EPL sucks at scheduling bad games on NBC = but this takes the cake. I love soccer and I would rather watch paint dry than watch that game- Scary how stupid sometimes !! And yet we have to pay $6 a month to get Real Madrid vs Liverpool in Champions League – truly mindboggling! Anyway Full schedule below and on the ole ballcoach. End of Year Review
It sounds like the US is planning a January camp for MLS players again with a late Jan game vs Serbia capping things off. If so this is much stiffer competition and should be a good match to see where the youngsters of MLS might be as we head into what should be a busy summer for US Soccer on the men’s side. One of the things that caught my eye was this list of soccer movies showing during the holiday’s on different services. A bunch on Netflix might be worth catching these last few days of vacation – this offers more than She’s the Man or Bend it Like Beckham, and includes the Maradona movie on HBO, and the Game of their Lives about the 1950 US World Cup team on Prime Video.
Heartbreak city seeing LAFC lose a tight game in Concacaf Champions League to Mexican side ? It was closest an MLS team has come to winning since the new format almost 20 years ago. Great Season review here –
Huge congrats to the 2005 Boys for winning the top division at the Indianapolis College Showcase in early December at Grand Park with a perfect 3-0 mark and no goals allowed (Awesome job Charlie). Also excited about the Carmel Dad’s Club Field House to Open in 2021. Also congrats to former Carmel FC players GK Erin Baker and Brooke Bailey of Carmel High School on being named to the US Soccer Coaches All – Region Team !!
GAMES ON TV
(American’s in parenthesis)
Fri, Jan 1
1 pm Peacock Everton vs West Ham
3 pm Peacock Man City vs Aston Villa
Sat, Jan 2
7:30 am Peacock Tottenham vs Leeds
12:30 pm NBC Brighton vs Wolverhampton
12:30 ESPN+ Hertha Berlin vsSchalke
3 pm NBCSN ? West Brom vs Arsenal
2:30 pm ESPN+ RB Leipzig (Adams) vs Stuttgart
Sun, Jan 3
6:30 amESPN2 Inter vs Crotone
7 am NBCSN Burnley vs Fulham (Robinson)
9:15 am NBCSN New Castle vs Leicester
9:30 am ESPN+ Dortmund (Reyna) vs Wolfsburg (Brooks)
11;30 am NBCSN Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Man City
2:45 ESPN+ Udinese vs Juve (McKinney)
3 pm beIN Sport Huesca vs Barcelona (Dest)
Mon, Jan 4
3 pm NBCSN Southampton vs Liverpool
Wed, Jan 6
2:45 pm ESPN+ Man U vs Man City League Cup Semis
2:45 pm ESPN2 AC Milan vs Juventus (McKinney)
5:15 pm beIN Sport Boca Juniors vs Santos
Fri, Jan 8
2:30 pm ESPN+ M’Gladbach vs Bayern Munich (Carter)
2:45 pm ESPN+ Aston Villa vs Liverpool (FA Cup)
Sat, Jan 9
7 am ESPN+ (FA Cup Games in England 7/10 am, 1 & 3 pm)
9:30 am ESPN+ Bayer Leverkusen vs Werder Bremen (Stewart)
12:30 pm ESPN+ Arsenal vs New Castle United (Yedlin) FA Cup
12:30 pm ESPN+ RB Leipzig (Adams) vs Dortmund (Reyna)
3 pm ESPN+ Man United vs Watford FA Cup
Sun, Jan 10
6:30 am ESPN2 ? Roma vs Inter
8:30 am ESPN+ Man city (Steffan) vs Birmingham City FA Cup
9:30 am ESPN+ Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Morecambe FA Cup
12 noon ESPN+ Marine vs Tottenham FA Cup
2:45 pm ESPN+ Juve (McKinney) vs Sassuolo
Wed, Jan 13
3:15 pm NBCSN? Aston Villa vs Tottenham
2:45 pm ESPN+ Juventus (McKinney) vs Genoa Coppa Italia
5:15 pm beIN Sport Santos vs Boca Juniors – Copa Libertadores
Fri, Jan 15
3:15 pm NBCSN? Fulham (Robinson) vs Chelsea (Pulisic)
Joe Prince-WrightTue, December 29, 2020, 10:56 AM EST·2 min read
Christian Pulisic has been a consistent bright spark for Chelsea despite their recent slump in form.The USMNT star, 22, has been injury free over the last month and has been doing his best to drive Chelsea on.Speaking about Pulisic’s performance following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw against Aston Villa on Monday (Pulisic was involved in Chelsea’s goal), Lampard praised his fitness and his form.“Christian was really bright all game. That’s great for him, fitness-wise, to play two games in such a short space of time,” Lampard said. “He created plenty of chances, he had an opportunity himself when he hit the side-netting and it looked like it was in but overall, he was really bright.”
Pulisic was surging forward time and time again, went close on multiple occasions and he spent the game against Villa out on his favored left wing. In previous weeks Lampard had swapped him to the right wing to accommodate out-of-form forward Timo Werner, but Pulisic on the left and Callum Hudson-Odoi on the right look like his starting wingers until Hakim Ziyech returns from injury.The next step for Pulisic is scoring goals and getting assists, as he has scored once in the Premier League during the 2020-21 season. After his fine form in the summer during ‘Project Restart’ and his goal in the FA Cup final, Pulisic has proven he can add end product to his surging runs.Chelsea need him to deliver, big time, in the coming months as the Blues and Lampard are under pressure after a poor run of results in December.It will be intriguing to see if he starts against Manchester City on Sunday, as three starts in nine days is a lot for a player who has been hampered by hamstring and upper leg injuries over the last 12 months.
Marcotti’s soccer wishes for 2021: Five subs in every league, continued push for reform, Euros must happen
It’s not remotely original to say that 2020 can’t end soon enough. Most of us have experienced the single biggest collective disruption of our lives. Many of us have lost loved ones. Some have lost livelihoods. We know better than to believe that just because the Earth has made another (imperfect) revolution around the Sun doesn’t mean anything is likely to change substantially at the stroke of midnight. But that doesn’t make the sense of renewal that a change in the calendar brings any less real.If you’re reading this, football is part of your life, however big or small a slice you devote to it. And that means it too carries with it wishes for something brighter and better. I’ve shared mine below, as I’ve been fortunate to do each December for the past seven years.Roll on 2021…
1. That we reflect on the enforced hiatus from the game back in the spring — and the continued absence of supporters in most grounds — and use it to guide us. What did we miss? What matters? What matters less? Professional football is a relentless, commercially driven 24/7 operation that sits somewhere between collective spirituality and escapist entertainment. It is not set in stone. We — or, at least, the institutions at the top — can mold the future.2. That the legacy of players feeling empowered enough to take a knee, and other forms of protest, not be dissipated by the passage of time. That was — and is — about systemic racism; others may be about the environment, human rights abuses, whatever. Players have a platform. It’s at once a privilege and a responsibility. Let them feel empowered to use it when they feel it is necessary.
3. That Euro 2020 takes place, even in 2021. Even (if necessary) in another form, in different venues, with different formats. I miss international football tournaments. For many of us, they’ve defined every other summer for our entire lives.
4. That FIFA’s new regulations on agents and transfers are approved and, just as important, are applied with uniformity and integrity. Agents and intermediaries serve an important purpose but they, and the clubs that empower them, shouldn’t be allowed to operate in darkness and without regulation.
5. That we get clear rules on who can own a club and under what conditions, and that decisions be swift and transparent. No more of this nonsense that saw Newcastle’s takeover bid being strung along for months by the Premier League without explanation.
6. That, while we’re at it, we also start having a conversation about what owners can and cannot do. Among the “cannot-do list,” I’d include stuff like piling on debt irresponsibly, taking out cash for their own purposes, being entirely beholden to intermediaries and generally not being good stewards. A club, ultimately, is at the heart of a community. Whether it’s a community of a few thousand supporters in a provincial team or a few hundred million dotted around the world, that has to come first.
7. That the single biggest decision to come in the next 12 to 18 months — the reform of the International Match Calendar — not be guided by greed, power games or a handful of self-interested clubs. The year 2024 is the witching hour, when the FIFA calendar that governs virtually every aspect of club, international and youth football has to be agreed, and the stakes are huge. We could see more games, we could see Champions League games on weekends and internationals relegated to a single window every year. Everything is in play, and these reforms will dictate how the game develops for the next decade.
8. That all the breakaway European Super League talk remains just talk, unless it’s based on something other than greed. We’ve had more than 120 years of the European game existing on a pyramid structure with promotion and relegation between the various tiers. It has worked remarkably well, too. If we’re going to talk on the basis of growing the game even further and making it more sustainable, fine. But if it’s going to be — as it appears to be of late — primarily driven by some clubs’ avarice and other clubs’ need for fresh revenue after overspending or suffering economic damage because of the pandemic, no thank you.
9. That fans and media — especially those who focus on big clubs and big leagues — don’t deride and ignore the UEFA Europa Conference, which launches this summer, as just another big joke. One of the side effects of the big leagues’ flexing has been to push out the rest of football and ensure that the Champions League is stocked with clubs from the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga and Ligue 1. This competition gives others a chance to play.
10. That while it’s great that rich folks from Asia and North America (and the corporations they control) pour money into Europe’s elite clubs, at least for the clubs themselves, we create the right conditions for them to invest locally and, indeed, in the rest of the world. Otherwise, we’ll always have an uneven playing field.
11. That the world outside Europe and South America realize what worked there might not necessarily be what works elsewhere to best grow the game. UEFA and CONMEBOL have a 100-year (or more) head start. Maybe that talked-about merger of LigaMX and Major League Soccer makes sense. Maybe the Gulf nations, where there’s plenty of money, could use a regional league of their own. Maybe the notion of a pan-African league isn’t that far-fetched. Let’s be open-minded. It’s not one-size-fits-all.
12. That the concussion protocol be taken seriously. That means temporary substitutions and independent assessments pitch-side. Until then, it won’t be.
13. That we at least explore the possibility of making the five-substitution rule permanent. Looking at the league tables in France, Germany, Italy and Spain — where, unlike England, it has been adopted — that doomsday scenario about bigger, wealthier clubs dominating doesn’t quite seem to have materialized, does it?
14. That Lionel Messi stay at Barcelona. Yes, this is a personal wish. Sorry, but I love the idea of a legend spending his entire career at one club.
15. That Barcelona make themselves a club that Messi finds worth staying at. This might take a bit more work given the dumpster fire in which they find themselves — some of it self-inflicted, some of it out of their control — but elections are coming up. Believe it or not, Barcelona fans have
17. That Juventus fans and critics understand that what they’re going through this season with Andrea Pirlo at the helm is necessary. The attacking football, the belief in young players, the high line, the counterpressing, the possession game… yeah, it’s a seminal philosophical change. And maybe Pirlo, in his first senior gig, might not have the tools to deliver it. But somebody had to do it, because their previous model was unsustainable in the modern game. And even if he fails, it will make the job of his successor that much easier.
18. That Eden Hazard stay fit. Not so much for Real Madrid‘s sake — they’ll find a way without him — but more so for his sake and for the sake of all of us who loved his mazy, low-to-the ground runs, his eyes-on-the-back-of-the-head awareness and pinpoint finishes. (Oh, and because Belgium project to be among the favorites at 2021’s rescheduled Euros.)
19. That even if Marcus Rashford doesn’t develop into the world-beating superstar his precocious success suggested, everyone will remember what he has already achieved as a caring, selfless individual in public life. Inspiring others by taking a public stand isn’t for everyone, and he does it with passion and dignity. From what we can tell, he’s a better person than he is a footballer. And that’s high praise.
20. That people realize that Marcelo Bielsa plays the way he does because he believes it’s the best way to win. He’s not on some philosophical mission to entertain, he doesn’t enjoy giving away cheap goals, and he truly believes that this is the best way for him to get the best out of his players at Leeds United. And guess what? It’s working, and it’s entertaining. Next guy who calls him naive gets a boot to the head. Bielsa knows what he’s doing.
22. That Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira find some place to play when their contracts expire next June. Both joined Real Madrid a decade ago, both have been shut out for most of 2020 in part because of their enormous contracts and because they couldn’t be moved on (and did not want to take a pay cut). I don’t want to remember these two World Cup winners as sad-sack figures training by themselves while being called greedy.
23. That Kai Havertz finds a place to play on the pitch at Chelsea even if it takes time. Especially when you see him in person, you realize what a singular talent he is. But equally, how accommodating him at this stage of his development is far from easy. He’s young. Be patient.
24. That Jurgen Klopp sees out his contract with Liverpool. Yes, he has already delivered the Premier League and Champions League. Yes, he has built a team that is once again top of the league. So if someone comes calling, sure, few would begrudge him leaving despite having committed himself to the club through 2024. But what he’s doing is pretty special and the Premier League is richer for having him around.
25. That Manchester United find their mojo, with or without Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It’s true that it was good for other clubs to emerge after the hegemony of the Sir Alex Ferguson Era. But it’s been a long time since United ruled, and what’s most perplexing is the sense of perennial drift that’s been around since then. Managers have come and gone, but the decision-makers above them have stayed the same. And yet it still doesn’t feel they’re building toward anything. It can’t all be down to the manager.26. That Paul Pogba regains his smile, whether it’s at Old Trafford or elsewhere. The punditocracy — mostly ex-pros, mostly ex-United “Golden Era” players who seem hellbent on holding everyone to the standard they set (or that they think they set) — appears to take great delight in pointing out his every flaw. He’s not perfect, but he’s supremely talented and fun to watch. And that word “lazy” gets thrown around far too much when it comes to Pogba.
27. That all three of Milan’s high-profile free agents — Gianluigi Donnarumma, Hakan Calhanoglu and Zlatan Ibrahimovic — stick around after their deals expire in June… but if it’s going to be too expensive, there’s no question who you prioritize. (It’s Donnarumma, by far the youngest of the three.) All three have played a big part in Milan’s renaissance and Scudetto challenge this season, but none of them is indispensable. The system that has been built and the young players that have come on board… that’s what will drive Milan going forward.
28. That Neymar stays fit and stays productive. I feel like I say this every year. He’s not in the Messi/Ronaldo conversation, and he never will be. But I don’t want to see a guy of his ability somehow be surpassed by the next generation — the Erling Haaland/Kylian Mbappe cohort — either.
29. That Borussia Dortmund keep this crew together for a while and get them the leadership they need to succeed. They’ve gotten plenty of pats on the back as the “smartest guys in the room” for assembling that hugely impressive corps of young talent: Jadon Sancho, Haaland, Reyna, Jude Bellingham and, now, Youssoufa Moukoko, too. They’re also honest in admitting that they can’t retain them long-term. OK. So sacrifice one, get a coach who can squeeze the best out of them and persuade them to win something big — something really big — before they’re sold on.
30. That kids who fall in love with the sport be given the chance, first and foremost, to support their local club before jumping on the big juggernaut/club bandwagon simply because it’s pumped relentlessly onto their screens. Yes, this is cut-and-pasted from last year, but it’s worth repeating. And it’s the one wish over which we hav
The Top Stories From an Atypical Year Across World Soccer
2020 has been full of unprecedented obstacles, sadness, revitalization and triumph, and that’s been represented across multiple levels of the beautiful game.
Well, it certainly has been a year.The story of 2020 will always be told through the lenses of the coronavirus pandemic and the quest for social justice, and the same is true of global soccer’s last 12 months (more specifically, the last nine). It’s impossible to separate one from the other when considering how much leagues, players and organizations around the world were forced to adapt, postpone, acknowledge and sacrifice.For a time in the spring, the only active leagues in the world were found in Belarus, Tajikistan, Burundi and Nicaragua. Slowly, the beautiful game returned elsewhere, but not in a way we were accustomed to seeing and enjoying it. The bubbles, empty stadiums, fake crowd noise and COVID-19-related postponements and player absences provided the ultimate wrinkles and norm-shattering elements to a regular schedule that we all take for granted.Through it all, champions were crowned, players progressed and broke through, the business sides labored and new heroes, stars and focal points emerged. Here’s a look back at the year in global soccer, the most impactful moments, individuals, story lines and events that occurred on and off the field, accompanied by some of Sports Illustrated’s top stories of the year that told it all:
How Europe brought its leagues back
The Bundesliga was the first major league in Europe to resume play, setting a model for those that would follow. Countries had to abide by local guidelines and governmental decisions, and not all chose to resume. France’s Ligue 1 and the Netherlands’ Eredivisie, for instance, did not, and champions, relegation and European places were determined in ways that clearly left some unhappy parties.
The Champions League was postponed until all the remaining leagues could finish their domestic seasons, and even then, it was reduced to a single-elimination sprint in one country from the quarterfinals on. That UEFA and the individual associations reached the finish line at all deserved the plaudits they received and set the parameters for how to resume in the fall.
The cancellation of the Ballon d’Or robbed Robert Lewandowski of one player of the year award, but he took him FIFA’s best honor, and rightly so. With 55 goals in all competitions in the 2019–20 season, Lewandowski cemented his status as the world’s preeminent striker. He won the golden boots in the Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB Pokal, three competitions that his Bayern Munich side not-so-coincidentally won as well.
At 32, he’s in the form of his life, and with 17 goals in 13 Bundesliga games, he’s well on his way to a fourth straight Bundesliga golden boot and sixth in eight years. He just became the third player ever to score 250 goals in Germany’s top flight, and he finally has the individual accolades to recognize his greatness.
Dovetailing with Lewandowski’s success is that of Bayern, which was ruthless after the Bundesliga’s restart and resurgent after Hansi Flick replaced Niko Kovac on the bench. The club has lost a total of one (1) match in 48 across all competitions this calendar year (42-1-5), winning the treble, adding the German Super Cup and eyeing the FIFA Club World Cup this coming February.
Its dominance peaked in an 8–2 thrashing of Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals, which sent the Spanish power reeling and into full-blown crisis mode.
Its true that the repeated and expected domestic titles for clubs like Bayern, PSG and Juventus say plenty about the state of affairs across the European game and can be tiring, but there’s often a breathtaking element to the accomplishment—especially when it comes to Bayern and its relentless approach.
Alphonso Davies, Erling Haaland and Ansu Fati are just three in a rising generation of talents in their teens and low 20s taking the world by storm.
Davies, the 20-year-old former Vancouver Whitecaps academy product, cracked the FIFPro World XI, making him the first North American to ever do so (and only the third who does not hail from Europe or South America). His ascent and transition to left back were surpassed in speed by only the pace he possesses on the field, an attribute that led Thomas Muller to dub him “The FC Bayern Road Runner.”
Haaland’s power and precision have made the 20-year-old Norwegian the apple of every big-spending club’s eye. His rise under Jesse Marsch at Salzburg quickly materialized into a transfer to Dortmund, and he hit the ground running in January with his German club, where he’s formed a productive partnership with U.S. rising talent Gio Reyna.
Fati, meanwhile, has become the breakthrough talent that both Spain and Barcelona need. His current injury has impeded his progress, but there’s a reason he was getting preferred to Antoine Griezmann at Barcelona. Still just 18, he can be the star of Barcelona’s revival for the next decade, should the club elect to defy his many suitors.
Liverpool’s Premier League dominance crested over the winter, and by the time it won its first domestic league title in three decades, it was all a bit anticlimactic. But that takes nothing away from the achievement.
After winning the Champions League the season before, Liverpool was sensational, losing its run at invincibility just before the pandemic’s onset, with a late-February defeat to Watford. Regardless, it ended Man City’s reign by winning the title with an 18-point gap over Pep Guardiola’s side, a true sign of how exceptional its season truly was. Only some late faltering after the restart prevented Liverpool from setting more single-season standards.
Jürgen Klopp and the technical staff have built a dynamic and balanced club, one that has the ability to press, recover, strike, counter, defend and dominate. Injuries have put that to the test this season, but it’s a testament to the culture at the club that Liverpool remains in the driver’s seat, looking to win a second straight title.
There was perhaps no soccer-related bombshell bigger than the one Lionel Messi dropped in August, after Barcelona’s Champions League demise followed its capitulation in La Liga. Messi wanted out of the only club he’s ever known as a pro, claiming he had an agreement with now-ex-president Josep Bartomeu that he could leave for free at the end of last season, despite having a year to run on his deal. The wording of the contract evidently stated that clause expired in June, and with the end of the season pushed until August, it was no longer valid when Barcelona’s campaign actually ended.
That set off a few days of uncertainty and intensity at Camp Nou, where Messi ultimately stayed, saying that no matter his conviction, he could never take the club he loves to court. With Bartomeu out and a new president set to be elected Jan. 24, the next month will be pivotal in determining whether Messi will play out his career at Barcelona or head elsewhere. As it stands, he just became the world record holder for most goals at a single club, passing Pelé with his 644th tally in a Barça shirt.
Both in the USA and abroad, player power became quite evident. It was evident in the NWSL’s bubble in Utah, where players, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing in Minnesota, kneeled for the national anthem and amplified their voices. It was evident in MLS’s bubble in Florida, where the league’s Black Players for Change started their initiatives with a moving demonstration prior to the opening match.
It was evident abroad as well, with U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie among the first to use his platform to call attention to injustice after the events in Minneapolis. Others like Jadon Sancho, Marcus Thuram and Achraf Hakimi followed, with clubs regularly kneeling in unison at the opening whistle to make a statement afterward.
The player platforms extend beyond racism. Marcus Rashford has become a hero to the children of the U.K., taking on the government and using his voice and stature to an immense degree to ensure impoverished children are fed.
The power of a club to take a stand was also on display in the USL, where Landon Donovan’s San Diego Loyal walked off the field in a match that had playoff implications for the club, following the antigay abused suffered by one of its players.
All of these individuals and groups deserve the highest commendation for their actions and for using their platforms for good.
U.S. Soccer has been through some significant change this year. After a disgraceful defense against the U.S. women’s national team players from the federation’s legal team in the ongoing battle for equal pay and gender equality, Carlos Cordeiro resigned as president in mid-March, just as the pandemic was starting to hit the U.S. Ex-U.S. women’s player and USSF VP Cindy Parlow Cone stepped into the role, and she was joined at a remade top of the federation’s organizational chart by new CEO Will Wilson, who replaced longtime chief executive Dan Flynn.
The two struck a new tone in the case against the U.S. women and have moved to settle many of the federation’s other outstanding lawsuits as well. There’s still work to be done on all fronts—legal, competitive and elsewhere—and with the pandemic negatively impacting the federation’s finances, dynamic and steady leadership is required to keep things on an upward trajectory.
The U.S. men’s national team has evolved ever since failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and the evolution of its player pool is a big reason why. There are now young Americans at—and some featuring prominently for—Barcelona, Juventus, Chelsea, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, playing in some of the biggest matches in the world against some of the best talent in the world on a regular basis.
It seems like it was ages ago now, but Christian Pulisic was a star after the Premier League’s restart, one of the league’s most consistently dangerous attacking players until a hamstring injury in the FA Cup final (in which he’d already scored) derailed his progress.
But Pulisic is far from alone in drawing the spotlight. Tyler Adams scored a Champions League quarterfinal-winning goal for RB Leipzig, helping bring the club to its greatest heights on a European stage. McKennie moved to Juventus, Sergiño Dest signed with Barcelona and there’s a genuine feeling that this is a golden moment for U.S. youth, with more moves to clubs of global significance in the offing.
Women’s national team players have been testing themselves abroad at new levels as well, with NWSL’s atypical season and lengthy offseason coinciding with the run-up to a postponed Olympics. Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle have gone to Man City, while Tobin Heath and Christen Press are across town at Man United. Alex Morgan spent the first half of the FA WSL season at Tottenham, while Emily Sonnett won a Swedish title with her short stint at Goteborg.
There’s never been a more intriguing and essential time for Americans abroad.
MLS’s 25th season was completely derailed, but completed nevertheless. What began with Chicharito’s landmark signing, Miami and Nashville’s introductions and plans for a grand celebration turned into months of labor negotiations, coronavirus protocols and uncertainty. But the league, to its credit, reached the finish line, becoming the first American league to complete a playoff season in home markets. The Columbus Crew wound up lifting the trophy at home to cement a massive turnaround in that market, months after the Portland Timbers emerged as the best in the bubble at MLS Is Back.
The first successful bubble experiment in U.S. team sports belonged to the NWSL, with the Houston Dash commanding respect and changing their narrative by winning the Challenge Cup. The league resumed play with a Fall Series won by the Portland Thorns, and excitement continues to build with the addition of Racing Louisville FC in 2021 and Angel City FC–with its loaded ownership group–in 2022.
Sadness has been a constant throughout everything this year, and the soccer world knows that quite well. Three World Cup legends, Diego Maradona, Paolo Rossi and Papa Bouba Diop, all died within two weeks of each other, with the passing of such a titanic figure like Maradona, especially, grabbing the world’s attention.
They were unfortunately far from alone. Among the many other former players, managers and administrators to lose their lives this year–for COVID-19 reasons or otherwise–were four players from England’s 1966 World Cup title team (Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Peter Bonetti and Norman Hunter); Argentine left back great Silvio Marzolini; Argentina’s 2014 World Cup manager Alejandro Sabella; and treble-winning former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier.
May their memories be a blessing, and may the holiday season and year ahead be filled with way more joy and significantly less pain.
MLS 2020 season review: Columbus Crew SC were worth saving
eMajor League Soccer concluded its season with Columbus Crew SC‘s MLS Cup victory on Saturday night, and with preseason preparations for the upcoming campaign set to begin as early as one month from now, attention is already turning to 2021. But before we look too far into the future, ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle and Austin Lindberg look back on a 2020 season that won’t soon be forgotten.
Three years ago, Columbus Crew SC seemingly had no future in Ohio’s capital. Owner Anthony Precourt announced in October 2017 he intended to move the club to Austin, Texas, in 2019 if a new stadium in downtown, partially funded by public tax dollars, couldn’t be secured.
He told ESPN shortly after the announcement that the club needed “to see a dramatic change” in attendance and other factors if it was to remain in Columbus. Reading between the lines, it was clear that in his mind there was little that could keep him from taking the Crew from the capital of Ohio to the capital of Texas.What he didn’t count on was the fierce resistance, the organization and the persuasion of the fans and local community. He didn’t count on the #SaveTheCrew movement.The fans made an almighty racket, making their voices heard at the capitol and in stadiums across MLS — and in many cases, stadiums hosting teams that had nothing to do with the Crew. The city of Columbus canvassed business leaders throughout the region as it sought to put together an ownership group that would keep the club in town.
With significant investment from the Haslams and Edwardses — which included the signing of $7 million designated player Lucas Zelarayan and a privately financed downtown stadium scheduled to open in 2021 — and the vision of Porter and Bezbatchenko, the Crew embarked on a reimagining of the club that culminated with last Saturday’s MLS Cup win.
For so many reasons, 2020 has been miserable, with few bright spots. The Crew’s championship, on the back of their fans’ righteous, successful campaign to keep their club — the league’s original club — in town, is a sliver of sunshine we could all do with more of. — Austin Lindberg
None of this seemed possible on March 12, when in the first days of the pandemic, MLS engaged in a shutdown that would last four months. Yet the league managed to get off the deck, first with the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida.
The wounds — some financial, others physical — will take time to heal. The MLS Players Association reported that “almost 20%” of the league’s players contracted COVID-19 at some point during the year. The long-term impact of those infections is still to be determined. There were also layoffs across the league, both at league headquarters and within MLS teams.
But the league is still here, highlighting a resilience that has long been one of its hallmarks. One can only hope that the 2021 campaign proves easier to navigate for all involved. — Jeff Carlisle
A tale of two expansion teams
When Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF began the season, it was Nashville that looked like an econobox sedan, while Miami bore a closer resemblance to a flashy sports car. But sometimes the sedan does a better job of getting you to where you want to go, and that proved to be precisely the case in this instance.
General manager Mike Jacobs fashioned a defense-first side that saw Nashville finish seventh in the Eastern Conference — which would have qualified it for the postseason even without the generously expanded playoff field — while Miami finished 10th. And as fate would have it, that saw the teams meet in the play-in round of the postseason, with Nashville proving it was by far the better team in a 3-0 victory.
Granted, it’s impossible to avert one’s eyes from Miami, which is quickly approaching car-wreck status. Chief operating officer and sporting director Paul McDonough paid the price for too many swings and misses in the international transfer market and stepped down last week. Then on Monday, ESPN confirmed a story in The Athletic that manager Diego Alonso exited an end-of-year meeting with ownership thinking he had been fired, and told players and staff about it, only for that to not be the case. Alonso is still the manager, although his continued presence seems awkward at best. After a six-year wait to take the field following the team’s inception, owners David Beckham and Jorge Mas have some cleanup work to do. — Jeff Carlisle
The formation of Black Players for Change
It wasn’t just the coronavirus that had some players on edge. The death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police galvanized the community of Black MLS players and brought about the formation of Black Players for Change. The organization aimed to advocate for social justice and put in place programs to further that end, both inside and outside the game of soccer.
Away from the field, the BPC was impactful as well, partnering with the LeBron James-led nonprofit More Than A Vote to encourage minority communities to register to vote and engage in the electoral process. That included getting 95% of the league’s players registered.
The BPC also dedicated its first mini-pitch in Newark, New Jersey. The project, in partnership with the U.S. Soccer Foundation, is the first of 12 such pitches to be built in Black communities across the country in a bid to get more kids involved in the sport of soccer.
Philadelphia further legitimizing homegrown blueprint
After 11 years of existence, the Philadelphia Union finally won their first trophy, claiming the Supporters’ Shield in 2020. It was a just reward for a fan base whose passion delivered the city a club in the first place and never let up in the ensuing lean years.
For the fans, it probably means a bit more that this silverware was secured by academy products Brenden Aaronson (who’s off to FC Salzburg in January) and Mark McKenzie (who’s attracting plenty of interest from European clubs himself) and SuperDraft selection and Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake. For everyone else in MLS, it means a great deal, too: Philadelphia’s success further solidifies a familiar blueprint for success.
The Union is the fourth team in the past six years (New York Red Bulls in 2015, FC Dallas in 2016 and the Red Bulls again in 2018) to win the Shield following a formula reliant on homegrown talent. Thirteen years after the inception of U.S. Soccer’s academy program, the past six seasons have been demonstrable proof that cultivating talent in-house is a viable path to success.
As MLS sees spending increase year in and year out, primarily on burgeoning stars imported from South America or Europe, Philadelphia (along with the Red Bulls and Dallas) is demonstrating that clubs can win in this league without spending a fortune on exotic imports — although that helps. — Austin Lindberg
Young players are departing — and that’s a good thing
For years, MLS had had a reputation for practically holding young players hostage, rarely transferring players out of the league before their contracts ran down. But recent campaigns have shown that to be changing. According to data on the league’s website, in 2017 only four players were transferred out of MLS. In 2018 that number grew to 12, and then to 14 in 2019. In 2020 that number climbed to 19.
Even worse, the league managed to get the MLSPA to accept the presence of a force majeure clause in the CBA. While the clause would allow either side to terminate the agreement in the case of catastrophic conditions, it gives considerable leverage to ownership in that it could once again force the union back to the bargaining table.
Labor tensions usually crop up only every five years, but for now they are a continual fact of life between owners and players. — Jeff Carlisle
Great to see Weston McKinney win the US Player of the Year this year. What a year for McKinney as he gambled on himself on loan to Juventus and has become a starter and full out star with the Old Lady! Gio Reyna is a worthy winner of the Young Player of the Year – with his breakout year at Dortmund this year. I truly think he has the chance to be better than Pulisic as he doesn’t get hurt.
Sam Mewis wins the USWNT Player of the year – after her big year – especially overseas for Man City.
Huge news that Dortmund fired their coach and American Jessie Marsh might be on the shortlist of candidates. Marsh has does wonderous things as head man at Redbull Saltzburg as part of the Red Bull organization. Two great runs in the Group Stages the last two years where he scared the pants off huge clubs and almost qualified for the Sweet 16 Knockout stages each time despite a huge difference in quality of player. Dortmund would be smart to give the American coach a chance. Wow would that be awesome.
Not much time this week – except to say I hope you have a Wonderful and Safe Holiday and Best Wishes for the New Year. I have updated the TV game schedule in case you have time to mix in some soccer watching with your Holiday festivities. Pulisic should be on Boxing Day – Sat for Chelsea at Arsenal at 12:30 pm on NBC.
GAMES ON TV
(American’s in parenthesis)
Sat Dec 26 – Boxing Day
7:30 am NBCSN Leiester City vs Man United
10 am NBCSN Aston Villa vs Cyrstal Palace
12:30 NBC Arsenal vs Chelsea (Pulisic)
3 pm NBCSN Man City vs New Castle
Sun, Dec 27
11:30 pm NBCSN Liverpoool vs West brom
2:!5 pm NBCSN Woverhampton vs Tottenham
Mon, Dec 28
10 am NBCSN Crytsal Palace vs Leicester
12:30 pm NBCSN Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Aston Villa
3 pm Peacock Everton vs Man City
Tues, Dec 29
1 pm NBCSN Brighton vs Arsenal
1:15 pm beIn Sport Barcelona (Dest) vvs Eibar
3 pm NBCSN Man United vs Wolverhampton
Weds, Dec 30
1 pm NBCSN Tottenham vs Fulham (Robinson)
3:30 pm beIn Sport Elche vs Real Madrid
3 pm NBCSN New Castle vs Liverpool
Fri, Jan 1
1 pm Peacock Everton vs West Ham
3 pm Peacock Man City vs Aston Villa
Sat, Jan 2
7:30 am Peacock Tottenham vs Leeds
12:30 pm NBCSN Everton vs Arsenal
12:30 ESPN+ Hertha Berlin vsSchalke
3 pm NBCSN ? West Brom vs Arsenal
2:30 pm ESPN+ RB Leipzig (Adams) vs Stuttgart
Sun, Jan 3
6:30 amESPN2 Inter vs Crotone
7 am NBCSN Burnley vs Fulham (Robinson)
9:15 am NBCSN New Castle vs Leicester
9:30 am ESPN+ Dortmund (Reyna) vs Wolfsburg (Brooks)
USWNT’s support for racial justice ‘a long time coming’ – Becky Sauerbrunn
Dec 22, 2020ESPN
United States defender Becky Sauerbrunn said the USWNT had failed its Black players by not taking a stand against racial injustice sooner.The U.S. women displayed their support before a 2-0 friendly defeat of the Netherlands in late November, with the players wearing warmup jackets with the words “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned on the front, and nearly every member of the team took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.Accompanying the pregame show of solidarity was a statement posted to team members’ social media accounts.peaking on USWNT teammate Kelley O’Hara’s podcast called “Just Women’s Sports” on Tuesday, Sauerbrunn said she regretted the team’s lack of awareness for so long.
“I’m actually conflicted that it took us thing long as a national team to get to this point because we for so long we have fought for so many things,” she said. “For gender equality, for pay equality. We wear jerseys for LGBTQ, for military, and we’ve never as a group come together to fight for social justice and racial inequality.”It has been a long time coming and in a way I feel we’ve failed the Black women on our team, on our program and our Black supporters by not being more aware to this fight. I’m glad we came together and I’m glad we got all the Black women together and as a team and a small group decided what we could do to bring more awareness to BLM [Black Lives Matter].”It’s amazing that we got to do that but it’s also, I feel like, it’s been too long for this to finally come to fruition and hopefully it’s just the first of many things we do to continue this fight.”Nine out of the 11 starters knelt for the anthem against the Netherlands. O’Hara, a defender, and midfielder Julie Ertz were the two who stood. Sauerbrunn said the team understood their reasons not to participate.”As you know, it was the first time as a team that we ever had a conversation about race. And it was awkward at times and there was tension and it was emotional, but I think people really got to speak their truths for the first time in that group setting. So, I’m proud about that, and even though people decided to participate in the anthem the way that they did, at least it was done with an understanding for one another’s motives.”Still work to be done, but it was a really big step for the group,” she said.ue to a pause in international play caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the match in November was the first for the USWNT since the death of George Floyd — a Black man who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 — sparked worldwide protests and calls for racial justice and an end to police brutality.Earlier in the month, the United States men’s team wore messages calling for justice on its tracksuits prior to its 0-0 friendly draw with Wales in the team’s first match back since Floyd’s death.
USWNT stars Morgan, Heath, Lavelle went to Europe due to the pandemic, but don’t expect a larger movement
Manchester City’s Alex Greenwood describes how Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis have benefitted the team this year. (1:10)
Dec 22, 2020ESPN
When whispers began circulating at the end of the summer that a number of high-profile United States women’s national team players would be making their way to England, there was curiosity on both sides of the Atlantic as to what this might mean for the global game.
Several players had done stints in Europe before, of course, but the arrival of five of the 2019 World Cup winners’ top stars — Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle, Christen Press, and Sam Mewis — to England was a marked difference to previous moves that had drawn criticism and even seen national team careers threatened.
In 2018, Portland Thorns and USWNT star Crystal Dunn cut her time at Chelsea short over fears her national career would suffer, while Morgan (Lyon) and Carli Lloyd (Manchester City) also previously faced criticism after leaving for opportunities abroad.
Former United States manager Jill Ellis was a strong advocate of players remaining in the USA and the USWNT’s existing pay structure makes playing outside of the U.S. quite complicated for players, especially if they don’t have the support of U.S. Soccer. The federation pays the players’ international salaries and game bonuses, as well as the club salaries for USWNT players who play in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). While teams own the league, U.S. Soccer are employed through a contract to manage aspects of the league. This includes paying national team salaries for some players as well as salaries for at least 22 other players. In exchange for these salaries, the teams and the league limit the amount of players who can go overseas, though this contract is revisited periodically and the next review is due at the end of 2021. It all means that the USSF has an extra interest in its big stars staying home and playing in the States.
Americans in Europe
ESPN highlights the biggest stories around United States stars plying their trade overseas, bringing inside information to their successes and struggles, sitting down with some of the national team’s top players, and scouting the next generation of Americans breaking through across Europe.
However, these controls have been loosening in the last year due to a number of internal and external factors. The league has been looking to lessen the control U.S. Soccer has on its players while Ellis’ successor as USWNT coach, Vlatko Andonovski, has said he sees the benefits of players getting experience abroad.
“Every player that is Europe-based, if they’re healthy and performing well, they’re going to be in our plans and will be called for upcoming camps,” Andonovski said when asked about the Europe-based members of his squad.
However, one factor undoubtedly pushed the balance for the players this year: the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the NWSL was the first professional sports league to return to play in the United States after the initial pandemic-enforced shutdown, uncertainty led to Press and Heath opting out of the league’s Challenge Cup, while Morgan’s club side, the Orlando Pride, were forced to withdraw from the tournament entirely due to a spate of COVID-19 tests.”It was a really impossible situation,” Heath told ESPN. “I haven’t played a real game of football since March, and it was a long time to press pause on my career. It was a very tough decision because I have given so much of my career and my heart there.
“The NWSL is a great league. It’s so competitive from every single team and every single game. They have the right people and they are invested in it. It’s unfortunate that the outcome right now isn’t players staying.”Man City’s Mewis (North Carolina Courage) and Lavelle (OL Reign) did compete in the tournament, but the chance for regular football ahead of an Olympic year was a massive draw.”I think the NWSL did such a good job with the Challenge Cup,” Mewis told ESPN. “I think it is such an individual decision to switch teams or change leagues, and the opportunity is so great that I personally was like this is a chance for me to add some depth to my game and continue to evolve as a player.”
Not only was the certainty of England’s FA Women’s Super League (WSL) season a draw for the players, but their coaches also backed them for pursuing regular game time and continuing their development. “Most important for Sam right now are competitive games, especially leading into an Olympic year, and she will be able to play 20 games over the next six to seven months, which is hugely valuable,” North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley said when her transfer was announced.While the winds may be slightly changing for the USWNT, it is unlikely — especially with the return of the NWSL and several new expansion teams coming soon, like Racing Louisville FC and Angel City FC in Los Angeles — that these moves will herald a mass exodus to Europe. The role of COVID-19 and subsequently a lack of domestic options for players also cannot be understated, with Morgan announcing on Monday she will be leaving Spurs to return to Orlando in January.
However, as women’s football becomes a more global game and the ties between U.S. Soccer and the league continue to loosen, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more of the USWNT’ stars make the move across the pond in the future. — Kathleen McNamee
Matthew Hoppe explains why he wanted to step out of his comfort zone and take his skills to the next level in Europe.
The Californian, who has made three appearances to date for Schalke, is hoping to make his USMNT debut soon and sat down with ESPN’s Sebastian Salazar to discuss the future of the USMNT, his unlikely rise at Schalke and which strikers he models his game after.
Stock watch: Assessing the ups and downs of Americans abroad
Tobin Heath, Manchester United — On the rise : Coach Casey Stoney’s work to secure the signatures of USWNT stars Tobin Heath and Christen Press at Manchester United was one of the biggest coups of the summer transfer window. Heath in particular has made her presence felt since her arrival at the club, with her distinctive and confident play helping United head into the Christmas break top of the WSL table. With United still a relatively young side, Heath’s four goals have been impressive, but her leadership and experience have undoubtedly been just as important to the Red Devils’ success so far this season.
Tim Weah, Lille — On the rise : After a lost 2019-20 season due to multiple hamstring injuries, Weah is finally starting to make his mark in France. The American attacker has made the most of his appearances of late, scoring goals against Celtic and Dijon and adding an assist against Slavia Prague in the month of December. Weah has yet to start a game in Ligue 1, but it seems as if that is only a matter of time now.
“He has improved massively. He is getting better and better. We forget sometimes that he is only 20 and that he had a very serious injury last year. He is working really hard, and we have great hopes for him for this season,” a Lille source tells ESPN’s Julien Laurens. Healthy and confident again, Weah looks as if he is getting back to his best, which is great to see after an injury-marred 2020 for the ex-PSG man.Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Trending down: Adams remains a contributor for RB Leipzig, but some around the team worry about his form and his competition for the starting defensive midfield role. After scoring the goal that sent RB Leipzig into the Champions League semifinals in August, the 21-year-old has endured a mixed start to the season, marked by inconsistent playing time and a minor knee injury.
The American has started seven of Leipzig’s 13 games in the Bundesliga, six of those as a defensive midfielder, but faces competition from both Marcel Sabitzer and Kevin Kampl in the heart of the pitch. Ulli Kroemer of NTV rates him behind Sabitzer and Kampl in terms of ball control and adds that at the moment, Adams lacks the class and experience that the other two possess. Maybe more troubling is that Kroemer also says that Adams has struggled to win back balls of late, which is one of the attributes the former New York Red Bulls product typically hangs his hat on. Adams will need to turn it around soon or he could be the odd man out in Julian Nagelsmann’s constantly changing midfield.
Rose Lavelle, Manchester City — Trending down: Picked to the NWSL Challenge Cup’s Best XI, Lavelle’s arrival at Manchester City was met with real excitement. However, it feels like we’ve yet to see the best of the midfielder across the Atlantic. Manager Gareth Taylor has said that she arrived to the WSL with a different level of fitness to teammate Sam Mewis, which is why her game minutes have been somewhat limited. A goal against the Netherlands for the USWNT in November was a timely reminder of what she is capable of, however an injury soon after set her back again. Many will be hoping 2021 is the year she banishes any fitness doubts and establishes herself as a key cog in the Man City machine.
The young American defender has enjoyed a fairytale 2020-21 season so far. In the space of a few eventful months, the Alabama-born center-back has gone from a talent to a proper pro, starting for Bayern in the Bundesliga and the Champions League and making his debut for the USMNT against Panama. The 20-year-old’s journey to the German champions hasn’t been the easiest — he had to undergo a trial and a loan move before his permanent €1.1 million move from FC Dallas — but he’s passed every exam along the way with flying colours.
Fielded mainly as a centre-back for Bayern’s second team in the third tier of German league football, Richards has alternated between his preferred position in the middle and as a right-back for the senior side. Despite being mobile, he doesn’t have the extreme pace of his teammate Alphonso Davies and at centre-back, but his obvious qualities — aerial power (he’s got a great leap), composure on the ball, and one-on-one defending — come to the fore much more readily.
While not quite yet ready to permanently replace Jerome Boateng or David Alaba (whose contracts expire at the end of the season) in the first team, the accumulated playing time and faith he’s been shown by Bayern head coach Hansi Flick will work wonders for his further development. With work on his positional and game-reading skills, he’ll have every right to envisage a future as a regular starter for the reigning Champions League holders. – Tor-Kristian Karlsen
Wow Columbus got off to a fantastic first half and knocked the defending Champion Seattle Sounders off last weekend. The 3-0 score line is really misleading – as after getting off to a surprising 2-0 lead Columbus really buckled down and defended with occasional counters. After playing their worst half of the year/decade in the first half – Seattle attacked with reckless abandon in the 2nd half. Shots to the left of goal, shots over the post – 3 times, shots just over the goal. In all Seattle peppered Columbus with 15 shots in the 2nd half – but they just couldn’t put them on target and late in the game – 1 final counter attack made it 3 – 0 for Columbus as the title returned to Columbus for the first time since in 25 years. Great story for Columbus who this time last year were headed to Austin. Until the Owner of the Browns stepped up on the ownership side with begging from the Columbus fans holding one of the original 8 MLS franchises at its home in Columbus. The first ever soccer specific stadium built – hosted its last game – a Championship Win – bookcasing a fantastic 25 Years of MLS. I for one am happy Columbus stayed – Columbus is still the home of the USMNT in games that must be won vs Mexico – and I can’t wait to be there next time the game takes place with fans. Congrats Columbus – I guess its ok you beat my Seattle this time.
On the CCL – Atlanta won their 2nd game but only LAFC will advance to the final 4 Tuesday on FS2 at 10 pm in the annual battle between MLS and LigaMX. The Finals are Sat night on FS2. (See the schedule)
Champions League last 16 schedule
Borussia Monchengladbach v Manchester City
Lazio v Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid v Chelsea
RB Leipzig v Liverpool
FC Porto v Juventus
Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain
Sevilla v Borussia Dortmund
Atalanta v Real Madrid
The first legs of these games will be played on Feb. 16-17 and 23-24, while the second legs will take place on March 9-10 and 16-17.
GAMES ON TV
(American’s in parenthesis)
Sat, Dec 19
7:30 am Peacock Liverpool vs Cyrstal Palace
9:30 am ESPN+ RB Leipzig (Adams) vs Koln
10 am beIN Sport Barcelona (Dest) vs Valencia
12:30 pm NBCSN Everton vs Arsenal
12:30 ESPN+ Bayern (Richards) vs Bayern Leverkusen
It’s noteworthy, perhaps historic, that the winner of the 2020 U.S. Soccer male player of the year award is a 22-year-old midfielder who, after standing out for struggling Bundesliga side Schalke 04 in the spring, became the first American player to sign for mighty Juventus.It’s equally noteworthy that Weston McKennie, who’s played 13 times and already scored twice for the Bianconeri, beat out U.S. teammates at Barcelona, Chelsea and RB Leipzig for the American game’s most prestigious honor.After a couple down years for the men’s national team program, not only has the player of the year award recouped some of its luster, it’s also become much tougher to win. And that trend is likely to continue as more U.S. players climb the club pyramid in Europe and play games at the highest level. MLS players are eligible as well, of course, but the bar for contention has been raised considerably. It’s yet another sign that the USMNT has entered a new era.McKennie, 22, won the award after being named on 44% of the ballots cast by national team coaches, players who were called up to the USA in 2020, members of the U.S. Soccer Federation board of directors and Athletes Council, MLS and USL head coaches, media members and “former players and administrators,” according to the USSF. Each voter selects just one nominee. Last year’s winner, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, finished second with 27% of the vote and Barcelona’s Sergiño Dest placed third at 14%. The other finalists were Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders) and Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew).McKennie was informed Friday after training in Turin by new National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Carlos Bocanegra, who met McKennie in 2006 when he was a child growing up at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. McKennie has said that meeting, which also included Landon Donovan, sparked his dream to play for the national team.“I want to thank everyone for this huge honor. It’s been a journey, especially through these difficult times during the pandemic,” McKennie said. “Our fans have stuck with us throughout and we really appreciate it. Hopefully in 2021 we can have many more memories together.”The pandemic limited the USA to four friendlies in 2020, and only two of those came during a FIFA window and were open to players based in Europe. McKennie started and excelled in those October games, a 0-0 draw at Wales and a 6-2 win over Panama. But this was a year in which club performance was going to take precedence, and McKennie’s was good enough at Schalke to earn the move to Juventus. Once there, he attacked the opportunity. He’s made eight starts already, including three in the UEFA Champions League, and there are reports that Juventus is ready to make his loan from Schalke a permanent transfer.McKennie is the fourth-youngest recipient of the award, which was first handed out in 1984. He finished third last year, but the 2019 honor was a two-man race between Pulisic and Morris. It was an uneven period for the USA as coach Gregg Berhalter looked to get comfortable and implement his system during his first year in charge. ADVERTISING
U.S. Soccer The Americans advanced to the Concacaf Gold Cup final but were beaten by Mexico on a frustrating night outside New York City. Then there was the embarrassing Nations League defeat to Canada in Toronto. By year’s end, only Pulisic and Morris really stood out. Pulisic tallied three goals and three assists at the Gold Cup and then completed his move to Chelsea, for which he scored five times. Morris was outstanding for Seattle in MLS, notching 13 goals and eight assists, but no one else really staked his claim during a year of national team transition.Goalkeeper Zack Steffen was named player of the year in 2018, an even stranger period marked by coach Dave Sarachan’s interim tenure, a lot of friendlies and a voting dynamic that saw Adams and McKennie split the “exciting European prospect” vote. Steffen started in five of the USA’s 11 games and backstopped the Crew to the MLS Cup quarterfinals as he was named MLS’s goalkeeper of the year. In 2018, that was enough.The year before, untainted by the USA’s World Cup qualifying failure, Pulisic won the first of his two awards with a ridiculous 94% of the vote. That type of landslide won’t happen again. That year, the voting was an indication of crisis. This time and in the future, it’s likely to reflect the unprecedented growth and progress of the American player pool.
MLS Finals Set Seattle vs Columbus Sat 8 pm on Fox
Seattle came back from 2 goals down to Minn United at home with 3 goals in the last 15 minutes to snatch away the victory. The 2nd goal in the 89th minute and the final goal off a corner header in the 93rd minute to secure the victory as MLS’ new dynasty the Seattle Sounders will look to complete a Back to Back at Columbus on Saturday night. The defending MLS Champs were taken to the woodshed in the first 30 minutes by upstart Minn United. The 4th year team – just 2 years removed from having the worst record in the league has made steady progress under coach Adrian Heath and looks to be set to compete moving forward in the West. Meanwhile, Seattle has set the standard in MLS this decade as this is their 4th MLS Cup in 5 years with Championships last year and in 2016. Columbus Crew SC are the home team and they’re 12W-1L-0D at MAPFRE Stadium this season, including Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs wins over the New York Red Bulls, Nashville SC and the New England Revolution. The Seattle Sounders, meanwhile, are the defending champions and are looking to join D.C. United, the Houston Dynamo and the LA Galaxy as the only teams in league history to win back-to-back titles. This is honestly a toss-up and the way this MLS Playoff season has gone – is much watch TV Sat Night at 8 pm on Fox. Also CONCACAF Champions League kicks off next week Tues/Wed/Sat between MLS and Mexican teams on Fox Sports 2 – see schedule below as Atlanta United, NYCFC, LAFC and Montreal will all be in action with the Semi’s on Sat eve.
What to Watch in Europe This Week
Its Derby weekend in England and Spain this weekend as the Manchester Derby between Man United and Man City is Sat 12:30 pm on NBC (finally as good game on NBC!!) and the Madrid Derby with Real Madrid and Athletico is Saturday at 3pm on beIN Sport. A lot of good games on Sartuday as American Christian Pulisic should be available vs a sliding Everton at 3:30 pm on Peacock. In Germany Tyler Adams and RB Leipzig host Werder Bremen and forward Stewart at 9:30 am on ESPN+, while Dortmund and Gio Reyna host Stuttgart at the same time on ESPN+. Sunday gives us Fulham and American’s Ream and Robinson trying to hold down high scoring Liverpool at 11:30 am on NBCSN. Juve and American Weston McKinney (fresh off his wondergoal in Champions League Wed) will travel to Genoa in Italy at 12 pm on ESPN+, and finally Sergio Dest will travel with Barcelona to face Levante at 3 pm on beIN Sport. There are bunch of midweek games headed by Liverpool vs Tottenham on NBCSN at 3 pm Wed.
US Men Wallop El Salvador 6-0.
Wow want goals – how’s 6-0. So this is how we are supposed to handle 3rd tier CONCACAF teams when our 3rd team plays their first team. Quite impressive of the the young American squad and of course veteran’s Llegget and Paul Arrieola. Overall I thought the entire squad was impressive on the night. It certainly sets up some interesting choices for coach Gregg. Hopefully they can pull together another – MLS camp in January – as we prepare for the busy summer of the Olympics, Gold Cup and Nations League this summer.
GAMES ON TV
(American’s in parenthesis)
Sat, Dec 12
7:30 am Peacock Wolverhampton vs Aston Villa
9:30 am ESPN+ Dortmund (Ryna) vs Stuttgart
9:30 am ESPN+ RB Leipzig (Adams) vs Werder Bremen (Stewart)
10 am beIN Sport Getafe vs Sevilla
12:30 pm NBC Manchester United vs Man City
12:30 ESPN+ Bayern (Richards) vs Union Berlin
3 pm beiN Sport Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid
3:30 pm Peacock Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Everton
8:30 pm FOX Columbus Crew vs Seattle Sounders MLS CUP
STEFFEN’S SHUTOUT CAPS RECORD SHATTERING UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP STAGE FOR AMERICANS IN EUROPE
SBI SoccerJust Now
Zack Steffen’s UEFA Champions League debut may have felt like a bit of a formality for a Manchester City side that had already clinched its group before Wednesday’s match against Marseille, but the goalkeeper’s shutout performance still carried significance as a worthy cap to a record-setting group stage for Americans.
Steffen became the ninth different American to play in this season’s Champions League group stage, further shattering the previous record of six. He became just the third American goalkeeper to start in Champions League (joining Tim Howard and Ethan Horvath), posting the first shutout since Horvath posted three shutouts in a row with Standard Liege in 2018.The end of the group stage offers a moment to reflect on a collection of matches Americans aren’t going to forget any time soon, a period highlighted by Weston McKennie’s stunning goal and man of the match performance for Juventus against Barcelona on Tuesday.
The American contingent in Champions League set new records for matches played (30) and goal scorers (three), with several playing key roles on top teams. Sergino Dest has become a regular starter for FC Barcelona while Gio Reyna has continued to develop into a top threat for Borussia Dortmund.
The knockout rounds could produce even more magic, with eight Americans set to take part, and five of the eight being part of group-winning squads, including Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic
Monday’s Round of 16 draw could help setup the first knockout-round match to feature American players on both sides. Potential clashes between Gio Reyna and Sergino Dest, or Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, could put a finishing tough on a special Champions League season.
The ultimate goal for all eight remaining Americans in Champions League will be to try to become the second American to win a Champions League winner’s medal, joining Jovan Kirovski, who won one as part of the 1996-1997 Borussia Dortmund title squad.
BREAKDOWN IN EUROPE THIS WEEKEND
Derbies have often served as turning points in seasons, something Real Madrid and Manchester United will be hoping for this weekend.
Manchester United is coming off a disappointing Champions League exit ahead of its clash against Manchester City, while Real Madrid will be eager to get its title defense back on track against Atletico Madrid.
The Galacticos just punched their ticket into the Round of 16 in midweek and will now shift their attention on cutting into Atletico’s six-point lead atop La Liga. Elsewhere, Barcelona’s struggles continued under Ronald Koeman, losing out on first place in their group following their defeat against Juventus. The Blaugrana takes on Levante, while Real Sociedad hosts Eibar.
Chelsea’s affair with Everton presents an intriguing clash of styles, with the Blues looking to maintain the pace atop the table with Spurs and Liverpool. Jose Mourinho’s men return to action against a fellow London side, Crystal Palace, while the reigning champions take on the newly-promoted Fulham. All eyes in England will be on the Manchester Derby, as the fierce rivals lock horns on Saturday at Old Trafford.
In Germany, Bayern Munich engages in an intriguing affair with Union Berlin, hoping to extend its lead atop the Bundesliga. Bayer Leverkusen faces off against Hoffenheim, while Borussia Dortmund will be hoping to claim its first Bundesliga win in three games against Stuttgart. RB Leipzig hosts Werder Bremen, in what promises to be an enthralling matchup.
In Italy, Juventus travels to take on Genoa, in search of its sixth win of the season, while Inter Milan take on Cagliari on Sunday. League-leading AC Milan takes the field on Sunday against a tricky Parma side.
Here is a closer look at this weekend’s action in Europe’s top leagues and competitions:
The latest iteration of the Manchester Derby headlines the action in England this weekend, as the Red Devils welcome Manchester City into Old Trafford. Manchester United will be eager to put its Champions League disappointment behind them on Saturday and continue its recent surge up the table. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s men have won their last four in league action, sitting just five points behind first with a game in hand. Manchester City enters the derby in fine form as well, having yet to concede a goal on its latest five-game unbeaten run. As just one point separates them in the table, the English giants will be raring to go.
Chelsea’s title credentials will be put to the test when they travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton. Frank Lampard’s men most recently punched their ticket into the Champions League Round of 16 in convincing fashion and are currently riding a 14-game unbeaten streak. Chelsea’s recent resurgence has them within two points of the league leaders ahead of the crucial holiday stretch. Everton has slowed down since its hot start, picking up just one win in its last seven encounters. Dominic Calvert-Lewin continues to find the back of the net despite the Toffees’ struggles and leads the league with 11 goals. The Blues will be hoping to confirm their contender status and return to winning ways following their draw in mid-week.
Tottenham has taken the Premier League by storm this season, marching to first place in recent weeks. Jose Mourinho’s men will now shift their attention to the in-form Crystal Palace. Roy Hodgson’s side is coming off a 5-1 win over West Brom, with Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke each netting braces. Spurs will be hoping to keep its momentum going, most recently emerging victorious over Arsenal in last weekend’s North London Derby. Harry Kane and Heung-min Son were once again on target and will be hoping to continue their productive start on Sunday. Spurs currently sit in first place, level on points with Liverpool, and are yet to lose since their surprise defeat against Southampton back in September.
The reigning champions’ next stop takes them to Craven Cottage to take on Fulham on Sunday. Liverpool enters this clash off the back of a comprehensive victory over Wolves and will be looking to create some breathing room atop the table against the newly-promoted side. Scott Parker’s men are languishing dangerously right abovethe drop zone, sitting just one point ahead of Burnley. Fulham most recently lost to Manchester City in a fiery affair, indicating they can compete with England’s elite. Liverpool may still be without key men but has demonstrated its impressive depth in recent weeks, extending its unbeaten run to seven games.
Real Madrid hosts its fierce rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday, in hopes of reigniting its title hopes. The Galacticos sit six points behind Diego Simeone’s men, having played one more game than them and will be eager to make up some crucial ground. Both clubs are coming off successful weeks in Europe, booking their place into the knockout stages of the Champions League. Real Madrid put an end to its recent skid, recording back-to-back victories against Sevilla and Borussia Moenchengladbach to get its season back on track. Their crosstown rivals – Atletico Madrid – have since emerged as the favorites to dethrone them, kicking off the La Liga season on a 10-game unbeaten run. Joao Felix and Luis Suarez have provided the firepower, scoring five goals apiece.
Barcelona will be looking to bounce back following its disappointing defeat against Juventus, welcoming Levante into the Camp Nou. The Spanish giants have struggled under Ronald Koeman, opening their season with four defeats in their opening 10 games. Barcelona currently trails the league-leading Atletico by 12 points and will be hoping to put its recent woes behind them. Levante has stumbled out of the gates themselves and hovers dangerously above the drop zone. Despite this, Paco Lopez’s men are unbeaten in their last five games, albeit having drawn four of their clashes. As their title hopes slip away, Barcelona needs to start picking up results.
Real Sociedad relinquished the top spot for the first time this season last week and will be hoping to overtake Atletico Madrid when they square off against Eibar. The Basque outfit most recently played out to a stalemate against Alaves, dropping points for the second consecutive weekend. Real Sociedad has only lost one of its 12 La Liga encounters this season and has since propelled itself in the title race. Imanol Alguacil’s men have their sights set on first place, sitting just one point behind Atletico Madrid. Los Colchoneros, however, have played two games in hand on Real Sociedad. Eibar enters this clash in decent form, currently riding a four-game unbeaten run in league play.
Borussia Dortmund will be hoping to return to winning ways on Saturday, hosting a resurgent Stuttgart side. Lucien Favre’s men punched their ticket into the Champions League knockout stages as group winners but have dropped points in consecutive matchdays in the Bundesliga. Erling Haaland has missed his side’s last three games and is expected to be sidelined until January, forcing Dortmund to make do without its towering hitman. Stuttgart has proven incredibly hard to break down in the early goings of the season, losing just twice in 10 games. Pellegrino Matarazzo’s side will be looking to confirm its European credentials, hoping to put its name in the conversation for the Europa League. Bayern Munich heads into its clash with Union Berlin in top form and is yet to lose since its defeat on matchday two. The German giants may be leading the Bundesliga, but just two points separate them and third place. Union Berlin has impressed in its second season since returning to the top-flight, emerging as unlikely contenders for a place in Europe. Max Kruse has led the charge for the capital-based club, registering six goals and five assists in eight starts. Urs Fischer’s men will be eager to put its recent skid to an end, having failed to win their last two games. Bayern Munich’s high-powered attack has propelled them past the competition thus far, netting 34 goals in its opening 10 games. Robert Lewandowski leads the league with 12 strikes already and will be on the hunt for more on Saturday.RB Leipzig will be looking to carry the momentum from its midweek triumph over Manchester United into matchday 11. Julian Nagelsmann’s men host Werder Bremen, who is winless in its last eight games. Florian Kohfeldt’s men have struggled in recent weeks, dropping to 13th place. RB Leipzig will want to confirm its title credentials and maintain the pace atop the table with Bayern Munich. The German giants are coming off a taxing game against Manchester United but will need to be at their best on Saturday. Werder Bremen may be struggling, but they have proven they can compete with any side in the Bundesliga on their day, holding Bayern Munich to a draw.Bayer Leverkusen will put its unbeaten record on the line when they welcome Hoffenheim into the Bay Arena on Sunday. Peter Bosz’s men are currently riding a 10-game unbeaten streak and sit just one point behind Bayern Munich in first place. Leverkusen most recently overcame a winless Schalke side, emerging comfortable winners in a 3-0 victory. Hoffenheim has turned its fortunes around following an indifferent start to the season and will be hoping to extend its three-game unbeaten streak. The German side has already booked its place in the Europa League’s Round of 32 and will be eager to throw a wrench in Leverkusen’s title hopes. Hoffenheim remains the only side to have beaten Bayern Munich this season, putting four past the Bavarian giants.
With first place in its Champions League group secured, Juventus can now turn its attention on boosting its title defense against Genoa this weekend, with the Italian champions making the trip to the Luigi Ferraris on Sunday. Andrea Pirlo’s squad enter this clash off the back of a comprehensive victory against Barcelona and will be hoping for much of the same against Genoa. Juventus has struggled for consistency in the opening rounds of league play, drawing five of its opening 10 games. The Bianconeri currently trail AC Milan by six points and cannot afford to fall any further behind Stefano Pioli’s men. Genoa will be eager to turn its season around, having won just one of its first 10 games. Davide Nicola’s men are flirting dangerously with the drop zone and are winless in their last nine encounters.
AC Milan welcomes Parma into the San Siro on Sunday, looking to maintain its sizable lead atop the table. The Rossoneri sit five points above fierce rival Inter Milan. Pioli’s side is coming off a narrow victory against Sampdoria, extending its unbeaten run in Serie A to 22 games, dating back to last season. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Parma will be looking to continue its recent resurgence. Fabio Liverani’s men have only lost once in their last eight encounters in all competitions, indicating a hard-fought battle ahead.
Inter Milan will not have much time to lick its wounds following its European elimination, traveling to Sardegna Arena to take on Cagliari on Sunday. The Nerazzurri are unbeaten in their last five league encounters, recording three consecutive wins. In fact, Inter Milan’s only defeat in league action came in the Derby Della Madonnina against their fierce rivals. Antonio Conte’s men will try to cut into AC Milan’s five-point lead atop the table but will not have it easy against Cagliari. The Sardinian outfit has proven to be a free-scoring side under Eusebio Di Francesco, with Joao Pedro and Giovanni Simeone combining for 11 goals already this season.
Paris Saint-Germain hosts Olympique Lyonnais on Saturday, with just two points separating the sides. Rudi Garcia’s side has undergone a recent resurgence and is unbeaten since its loss against Montpellier back in September. PSG heads into this intriguing matchup off the back of a dominant performance against Istanbul Başakşehir, putting five past the Turkish side. Neymar and Kylian Mbappe combined for five goals between them and will look to translate their goalscoring exploits into this game. Lyon possesses a dynamic attack of its own, having scored six goals in their last two convincing victories.
PSG’s encounter with Lyon may dominate the headlines, but Marseille’s upcoming clash against AS Monaco will be just as compelling. Andre Vilas Boas’s side is coming off an abysmal European campaign, but still sits just two points behind PSG with two games in hand. Monaco will be looking to return to winning ways after losing narrowly to Lille last weekend. Niko Kovac’s men were previously riding a four-game winning streak, including a come-from-behind win against PSG. Only five points stand between a fifth-place Monaco and first place, indicating an intense title race ahead.
Portuguese football is on pause this weekend, as the fourth round of the Taça de Portugal is set to resume. Sporting CP hosts Pacos Ferreira on Friday, while Porto welcomes Tondela into the Estádio do Dragão on Sunday. Elsewhere, Benfica takes on Vilafraquense while Braga makes the trip to CO Montijo.
Champions League group stage winners and losers: Manchester United headlines early exits
The most condensed UEFA Champions League group stage in the history of Europe’s top club competition came to an end Wednesday as the final slate of Matchday 6 games concluded.
Despite the breakneck pace of the schedule — the 2020-21 campaign started a month later than normal because of fixture congestion caused by the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in games almost every single week — there was absolutely no drop-off in drama. Now that the first round is over, with the knockout phase set to begin February as usual, a look and the biggest winners and losers is in order.
Champions League group stage winners
Real Madrid: The most successful team in tournament history came into its sixth and final match sitting third in a tricky Group B, meaning Real Madrid needed to beat then-leader Borussia Monchengladbach to emerge from a foursome that also included Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk.
But Zinedine Zidane’s team made no mistake, strolling to a comfortable 2-0 victory over the German side, with veteran striker Karim Benzema scoring both of the goals. Not only did the triumph vault Real into the next stage, it was enough to take the group, too.
Juventus: The Italian titan came into its final Group G contest knowing that following a 2-0 loss to Barcelona in Turin in October, only a three-goal margin in the rematch in Spain would be enough to leapfrog Barca and top the group, guaranteeing (in theory anyway) an easier Round of 16 foe. For a club looking for its first European title this century following a pair of fruitless appearances in the finals since 2015, every advantage matters.And in the first meeting between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in more than two years, Ronaldo got the better of his fellow living legend by scoring twice from the penalty spot — including the all-important group clincher — in a 3-0 rout at the Camp Nou.
Borussia Monchengladbach: After losing to Real, the only hope Gladbach had of advancing was if Inter and Shakhtar played to a stalemate in the other Group B contest. Yet that’s how it shook out, allowing the Germans to move on.
Chelsea: Frank Lampard’s Blues were the favorites to win Group E from the start. But after opening the tourney with a disappointing scoreless draw with Sevilla, Chelsea was lights-out in advancing, stringing together four consecutive wins — including a 4-0 drubbing of the Spaniards in Seville — en route to the top spot.
U.S. men’s national team: When Manchester City keeper Zack Steffen made his debut in the competition Wednesday in the already-qualified Sky Blues’ group finale, he became the record ninth American to play in the Champions League this year.
Steffen kept a clean sheet in 3-0 win over Marseille, and he’ll join seven of his other eight compatriots — Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Konrad de le Fuente, Sergino Dest (both Barcelona), Weston McKennie (Juventus) Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich) and Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) — in next year’s knockout round. The only USMNT regular who didn’t advance was Club Brugge’s backup backstop Ethan Horvath, who starred in a last-gasp win over Zenit St. Petersburg in his only appearance this campaign.
Champions League group stage losers
Manchester United: The Red Devils’ furious comeback was too little, too late in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss in Leipzig, relegating once-feared United to third place behind last season’s surprise semifinalists and Group H winners Paris Saint-Germain. (PSG trounced İstanbul Başakşehir 5-1 behind Neymar’s hat trick Wednesday, a day after the match was abandoned following a racist incident.)
Despite being drawn into arguably the most difficult of the eight groups, it was an embarrassing exit for the three-time European champs. And it heaped more pressure on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who now must balance trying to win the Europa League with climbing up the standings in the Prem, where United sits sixth.
Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk: Both teams came into their final day meeting with the chance to move on from Group B. A win for either would’ve been enough; a draw would result in mutually assured destruction. Inter attacked like crazy, but put just four of 20 shots on frame, while defensive-minded Donetsk clearly was content to settle for the Europa League rather than risk finishing last.
Lionel Messi: Watching a visibly frustrated Messi in Tuesday’s thumping by Juventus, it was hard not to think back to the historic drubbing Bayern Munich put on Barcelona in the 2019-20 quarterfinal. This one wasn’t as bad, granted. But it also inspired zero confidence that this Barcelona squad, as currently constructed, has any realistic chance of competing for the Champions League title, either this year or in the near future.
However long Barcelona is able to survive in the knockout stage, those matches could well mark the last handful of Messi’s incomparable Blaugrana career. The 33-year-old, who tried to leave his only professional club last summer in a bid to win another European crown before he retires, has just six months remaining on his contract.
MLS Finals Set Seattle vs Columbus Sat 8 pm on Fox
Seattle came back from 2 goals down to Minn United at home with 3 goals in the last 15 minutes to snatch away the victory. The 2nd goal in the 89th minute and the final goal off a corner header in the 93rd minute to secure the victory as MLS’ new dynasty the Seattle Sounders will look to complete a Back to Back at Columbus on Saturday night. The defending MLS Champs were taken to the woodshed in the first 30 minutes by upstart Minn United. The 4th year team – just 2 years removed from having the worst record in the league has made steady progress under coach Adrian Heath and looks to be set to compete moving forward in the West. Meanwhile, Seattle has set the standard in MLS this decade as this is their 4th MLS Cup in 5 years with Championships last year and in 2016. Columbus Crew SC are the home team and they’re 12W-1L-0D at MAPFRE Stadium this season, including Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs wins over the New York Red Bulls, Nashville SC and the New England Revolution. The Seattle Sounders, meanwhile, are the defending champions and are looking to join D.C. United, the Houston Dynamo and the LA Galaxy as the only teams in league history to win back-to-back titles. This is honestly a toss-up and the way this MLS Playoff season has gone – is much watch TV Sat Night at 8 pm on Fox.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – FINAL Group Matches – Real & Man U on Edge, 7 spots up for grabs, Renaldo vs Messi
The Champions League group stage has reached its climax, with seven places in the round of 16 still up for grabs. The crucial action comes in Group H as Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig fight it out for the two places, while Borussia Monchengladbach, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk are in a titanic battle in Group B. With that in mind, we run you through all the action ahead of what promises to be another unpredictable, dramatic week of Champions League action. Who will seal their places in the knockout stages? It’s a Winner advance game today at 3 pm on CBS All Access and TUDN between RB Liepzig and Man United as American Adams looks to help RB Leipzig advance to the Sweet 16. A PSG win or tie puts them into the next round. Dortmund and Gio Reyna – fresh off a goal over the weekend – will look to claim first place in their group with a win at 1 pm at Zenit- either way they are thru. Also Tuesday with 1st place in the group on the line is a rematch of Messi vs Ronaldo as Juventus and American Weston McKinney travel to Barcelona with American Serginio Dest at 3 pm on CBS AA. Wednesday’s marquee matchup is Real Madrid hosting Borrusia MGladbach with the winner advancing to the Knock-out stages at 3 pm on CBS AA and TUDN. At the same time Inter and Shakhatar are playing their own winner goes on – loser goes home match. Atletico must win or tie to hold on their spot in the next round vs American Coach Jesse Marsh and Salzburg also at 3 pm Wed. At 1 pm Ajax and Italy’s Atalata will face off on CBSAA for a shot to the next round. Finally American GK Zach Steffan gets the start for Man City vs Marseille – as Man City has basically clinched top in group B. Today and Wednesday just might be the day to watch the Goalazo show on CBS Sportsnetwork with so many games of such importance! Here’s the Table going into the final matchday of group play.
USA Men face El Salvador Wed 7:30 pm ESPN News
The US Men take a mighty young very U23 looking team of MLS stars into their game with El Salvador on Wednesday night.
The US Men take a mighty young very U23 looking team of MLS stars into their game with El Salvador on Wednesday night. Some things to watch for Wed night are who makes a mark. Lots of players are battling for a chance to be on the roster this summer as the US looks towards the Olympics (U24s), Gold Cup and Nations League Finals this summer. Can the US score will be once question as Sebatian Soto looks to start up top. Line-up prediction – This team should win by at least 2 goals!
2020 International Friendly United States vs. El Salvador Inter Miami CF Stadium – Fort Lauderdale December 9 – 7:30 PM ET
TV: UniMás, TUDN, ESPN News
After the young, largely European-based US men’s national team impressed last month with results against Wales and Panama in the team’s first matches in nine months, a young crop of MLS players will look to impress Gregg Berhalter in an international friendly against El Salvador at Inter Miami CF Stadium Dec. 9. It is the last competitive match of the calendar year ahead of what will be a very busy and very important 2021, which includes World Cup qualifiers and the Concacaf Gold Cup. Of the 23 players called up, with Benfica goalkeeper CJ Dos Santos the lone player not from MLS, 13 are looking to earn their first USMNT cap. There’s some interesting storylines as well ahead of this match. Berhalter called in a handful of players who are either dual nationals or available to compete for several national teams, including Efra Alvarez from the LA Galaxy who has represented both the US and Mexico as a youth international. Young forwards Daryl Dike from Orlando City SC and Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola both have multiple international options with each impressing in the 2020 season. Brenden Aaronson’s year started with his first USMNT cap in January and included playing a starring role in the Philadelphia Union’s historic Supporters’ Shield run as well as a Best XI presented by Home Depot selection. Berhalter challenged Aaronson, who will join Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg in the new year, to show what he did in MLS on the international level against a tricky El Salvador side. “What we’re looking for him now is to validate it. Validate it on the field,” he told reporters in a video conference call. “It’s a good opponent we play. Against El Salvador, it’s going to be a tight game and this is where he should be able to be very effective. We’re really looking forward to him capping off a strong season with a good performance against El Salvador.”Paul Arriola, who spent much of the season working his way back from a preseason ACL injury, returns to the fold and the D.C. United midfielder has more goals (5) and appearances (33) than any other player on this roster. And there’s an open competition at the center back spot to earn regular starts with Aaron Long of the New York Red Bulls, newly-minted MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman from Nashville SC and Mark McKenzie of the Union leading the charge. While Berhalter has one eye on the the USMNT future of some of these young players, many are also eligible to compete in Olympic qualifying, which should also take place in 2021. “They’re here for a reason, they’ve here because they’ve earned this call-up based on what they do well and keep doing that well and we’ll fit them in to what we do,” Berhalter said of the young players in camp. “That’s the important message for these guys.”Houston Dynamo midfielder Darwin Ceren and Andres Flores from the Portland Timbers, who have a combined 125 appearances, have been called into the El Salvador team for this match. The USMNT hold a 17-1-5 all-time advantage in the series dating back to 1977. This is the first friendly meeting in more than a decade with Brian Ching and Sacha Kljestan scoring in a 2-1 win in Tampa on Feb. 24, 2010. The most recent match was a 2-0 USMNT win in the 2017 Gold Cup quarterfinals with Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj scoring first-half goals.
Champions League: Who can reach last 16?
Joe Prince-Wrighton, December 7, 2020, 10:30 AM ESTThe UEFA Champions League group stage will enter its finale next week, and only nine of the spots in the last 16 have been decided.
Groups B and H will be intriguing as seven of the eight teams across those groups head into the final 90 minutes knowing they can reach the last 16. There is also plenty to sort out when it comes to third place and which teams will move down to the Europa League Round of 32.
While below we look at the Champions League permutations and who needs what on the final day.
Who can reach UEFA Champions League last 16?
Reigning champs Bayern have won the group, while a final day showdown sees USMNT legend Jesse Marsch lead Austrian champs RB Salzburg against Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid at home. A win for Salzburg would seal their first-ever passage to the last 16. Atleti only need a draw to reach the last 16.
Qualified: Bayern Munich (group winners) In the hunt: Atletico Madrid, RB Salzburg
Final day games: RB Salzburg v Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich v Lokomotiv Moscow
This is the most exciting group. All four teams can still qualify, as Shakhtar’s two wins against Real Madrid have really mixed things up. Real have never failed to qualify from the group stage, but it is a straight shootout between themselves and Monchengladbach for a spot in the last 16. Inter Milan have to beat Shakhtar to have a chance of advancing, and hope that Madrid v Monchengladbach doesn’t end in a draw. Wow.
Qualified: Nobody In the hunt: Borussia Monchengladbach, Shakhtar Donetsk, Real Madrid, Inter Milan
Final day games: Real Madrid v Borussia Monchengladbach, Inter Milan v Shakhtar Donetsk
Another belter of a group. Manchester United head to RB Leipzig knowing a point will be enough to reach the last 16, but Leipzig need a win to guarantee their path to the last 16. PSG host already-eliminated Basaksehir and a win would see them qualify. However, there is a scenario that if United and Leipzig draw and so too do PSG, then Les Parisiens will go through by virtue of away goals scored in their head-to-head record with Leipzig. Wild. Root for chaos.
Qualified: Nobody. In the hunt: Manchester United, PSG, RB Leipzig
Final day games: RB Leipzig v Manchester United, PSG v Istanbul Basaksehir
This is interesting. Borussia Dortmund are through but need a win against Zenit to guarantee top spot. Lazio host Club Brugge in a straight shootout to see who joins them in the last 16. Lazio need a point to seal their place in the last 16.
Qualified: Borussia Dortmund In the hunt: Lazio, Club Brugge
Final day games: Zenit v Borussia Dortmund, Lazio v Club Brugge
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have eased through as group winners, while Ajax v Atalanta is a straight showdown to see who joins them. A draw for Atalanta is enough to reach the last 16 and send Ajax to the Europa League. Ajax have to win.
Qualified: Liverpool (group winners) In the hunt: Atalanta, Ajax
Final day games: Midtjylland v Liverpool, Ajax v Atalanta
Easy in this group, as City have already won the group and Porto will finish second. Marseille and Olympiacos are battling for third and qualification to the Europa League as they’re both locked on three points.
Qualified: Manchester City (group winners), FC Porto
Final day games: Manchester City v Marseille, Olympiacos v Porto
Chelsea have eased through as group winners, while Sevilla join them in the last 16. Krasnodar have also sealed third place and Europa League qualification. Nothing to play for in Group E, other than pride for Rennes.
Qualified: Chelsea (group winner), Sevilla In the hunt: Nobody. Krasnodar have sealed third place
Final day games: Chelsea v Krasnodar, Rennes v Sevilla
Barca need a point at home to Juve to seal top spot, but a defeat could see Juve jump above them (as long as they better the result from Barca’s 2-0 win at Juve in October). Dynamo Kiev and Ferencvaros square off for third place with both teams on one point after their 2-2 draw in Hungary earlier in the group stage.
Qualified: Barcelona, Juventus In the hunt: Dynamo Kiev, Ferencvaros in battle for third.
Final day games: Barcelona v Juventus, Dynamo Kiev v Ferencvaros
Another belter of a group. Manchester United head to RB Leipzig knowing a point will be enough to reach the last 16, but Leipzig need a win to guarantee their path to the last 16. PSG host already-eliminated Basaksehir and a win would see them qualify. However, there is a scenario that if United and Leipzig draw and so too do PSG, then Les Parisiens will go through by virtue of away goals scored in their head-to-head record with Leipzig. Wild. Root for chaos.
Qualified: Nobody. In the hunt: Manchester United, PSG, RB Leipzig
Final day games: RB Leipzig v Manchester United, PSG v Istanbul Basaksehir
JPW’s Champions League predictions
Group A – December 9
Bayern Munich 3-1 Lokomotiv Moscow RB Salzburg 2-2 Atletico Madrid
Group B – December 9
Inter Milan 3-1 Shakhtar Donetsk Real Madrid 2-1 Borussia Monchengladbach
Group C – December 9
Olympiacos 1-2 FC Porto Manchester City 4-1 Marseille
Group D – December 9
Ajax 2-3 Atalanta Midtjylland 1-2 Liverpool
Group E – December 8
Rennes 1-1 Sevilla Chelsea 4-0 Krasnodar
Group F – December 8
Zenit 1-2 Borussia Dortmund Lazio 2-1 Club Brugge
Group G – December 8
Dynamo Kiev 1-1 Ferencvaros Barcelona 1-3 Juventus
Group H – December 8
Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 Istanbul Basaksehir RB Leipzig 1-1 Manchester United
Champions League Matchday 6 preview: Man United, Real Madrid could bow out in pivotal week
10:40 AM ETTom HamiltonSenior Writer
The Champions League group stage has reached its climax, with seven places in the round of 16 still up for grabs.The crucial action comes in Group H as Man United, PSG and RB Leipzig fight it out for the two places, while Borussia Monchengladbach, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk are in a titanic battle in Group B.
With that in mind, we run you through all the action ahead of what promises to be another unpredictable, dramatic week of Champions League action. Who will seal their places in the knockout stages?
Jump to groups: — Wednesday’s matches: A | B | C | D — Tuesday’s matches: E | F | G | H
Standings: Bayern (13 pts), Atletico Madrid (6 pts), FC Salzburg (4 pts), Lokomotiv Moscow (3 pts)
Bayern Munich are through as group winners but second place is up for grabs. If Atletico Madrid avoid defeat against FC Salzburg, they go through, but if Salzburg win in Austria then it’s Jesse Marsch’s team who will progress.
Lokomotiv may yet need a result in Munich to secure a spot in the Europa League and will take heart from their 3-1 win over Rubin Kazan at the weekend where Vladislav Ignatyev scored twice. They have Mikhail Lysov, Dmitri Barinov, Daniil Kulikov, Ze Luis and Feder Smolov all out injured.
Both Salzburg and Atletico have a shot at reaching the knockouts, with the Austrians needing to beat Diego Simeone’s side to go through. Jesse Marsch’s Salzburg suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to Flyeralarm Admira at the weekend but will hope for more of the same from their last Champions League match where they won 3-1 at Lokomotiv. Antoine Bernede misses out through injury while Noah Okafor is a doubt.
Standings: Borussia Monchengladbach (8 pts), Shakhtar Donetsk (7 pts), Real Madrid (7 pts), Inter (5 pts)
This is all to play for. All four teams can progress: Gladbach need to avoid defeat to go through, while Real Madrid need to beat the German side to qualify. Shakhtar need to beat Inter to keep fate in their hands, while Inter need to win and hope for anything other than a draw in the other game.
Shakhtar will progress if they win in Milan and travel with plenty of confidence having won 5-1 over Mynai at the weekend with Fernando, Manor Solomon and Mykola Matviyenko all scoring alongside a pair of own goals. Shakhtar drew 0-0 with Inter first time out, and will be without Ismaily, Viktor Kornienko, Yevgen Konoplyanaka and Junior Moraes. Inter should have too much for the visitors here.
Real Madrid’s topsy-turvy season continued with a 1-0 win at Sevilla win at the weekend, thanks to a Yassine Bounou own-goal, but the pressure’s on Zinedine Zidane’s side to get a result against the impressive Borussia Monchengladbach. Sergio Ramos could play while Dani Carvajal has trainedm but Eden Hazard, Martin Odegaard and Federico Valverde will all miss out.Gladbach drew 2-2 at Freiburg on Saturday with Breel Embolo and Alassane Plea scoring. They lost to Inter Milan in the last round, but know they may need a draw to go through. Jonas Hofmann and Ramy Bensebaini will both miss out for Marco Rose’s side but there is a slim chance Nico Elvedi returns. We think Zidane will pull this one out of the hat and Madrid will progress.
Pep Guardiola’s side are through as group winners so expect some rotation against Andre Villas-Boas’ team. City saw off Fulham at the weekend 2-0 thanks to goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, leaving City sixth in the Premier League. They have Sergio Aguero still out injured but Guardiola’s team should see off Marseille.
Marseille will be hoping to get a result in Manchester to book a spot in the Europa League and will travel over the Channel buoyed by their 2-0 win at Nimes on Friday. Dario Benedetto and Valere Germain both scored in their Ligue 1 victory and Villas-Boas only has winger Nemanja Radonjic absent.
Like Marseille, Olympiakos will be gunning for third and qualification to the Europa League and won 4-1 against Volos in Super League Greece on Saturday. Youssef El-Arabi grabbed a hat trick in that comfortable win, and they will fancy their chances against Porto on Wednesday. Veteran midfielder Mathieu Valbuena misses out through injury.
FC Porto drew with City last time out and edged past Tondela at the weekend in a 4-3 thriller. They had Mateus Uribe sent off late on, but moved third in the Primeira Liga thanks to Moussa Marega’s double and other goals from Zaidu Sanusi and Mehdi Taremi. Ivan Marcano and Pepe both miss out. We think this will end in a draw with Olympiakos taking third spot.
Danish champions FC Midtjylland will finish at the foot of Group D while Liverpool head into the knockouts as group winners so hopefully this’ll lead to an expansive, end-to-end match. Midtjylland won 2-0 at Vejle BK on Saturday with Erik Sviatchenko and Alexander Scholz scoring. Liverpool breezed past Wolves 4-0 on Sunday with Jurgen Klopp juggling his squad with precision. Mohamed Salah, Georginio Wijnaldum and Joel Matip all scored, alongside a Nelson Semedo own goal, but expect Klopp to shuffle his pack again for Wednesday’s trip to Denmark.
This will be one of the games of Matchday 6 with everything on the line as Atalanta travel to Ajax. If Atalanta avoid defeat, they’ll go through to the knockout stages but a win for Ajax will see them leapfrog the Italians into second.
Ajax suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Twente on Saturday with Dusan Tadic’s second-half penalty not enough to earn a point, so they’ll hope to fare better against Gian Piero Gasperini’s side. Noussair Mazraoui, David Neres and Mohammed Kudus are all likely to be unavailable.
Atalanta’s match at Udinese at the weekend was called off due to a waterlogged pitch so their previous match was the 1-1 draw at home to Midtjylland last week. Mattia Caldara and Robin Gosens will both miss out. We think this will end in a draw, with Atalanta going through.
Krasnodar swiped aside Rotor 5-0 at the weekend thanks to braces from Ari and Viktor Claesson, and another goal from Magomed Suleymanov. They are already secure in third spot in this group. They will be without Dmitri Stotskiy and Sergey Petrov and will do well to get anything out of this trip to Stamford Bridge.
This group’s standings are cemented with Rennes finishing fourth, and Sevilla going through as runners-up. Rennes’ Champions League campaign has been disappointing and they fell to a 2-0 defeat at home to Lens at the weekend to leave them ninth in Ligue 1. Manager Julien Stephan said afterwards he was concerned by the team’s “negative spiral” and said they have to behave like they are in a “fight against relegation.” Rennes have a number of injury concerns with Daniele Rugani, Jonas Martin, Nayef Aguerd, Serhou Guirassy, Martin Terrier and Alfred Gomis all absent.
Anything other than defeat will see Lazio through and they’ll hope to carry momentum into Tuesday’s game from their 2-1 win over Spezia on Saturday. Ciro Immobile grabbed his 10th of the season alongside another from the incredibly talented Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Senad Lulic and Vedat Muriqi are both unavailable for Tuesday’s match but we expect Lazio to finish this group with a victory.
Club Brugge edged past Sint-Truiden 1-0 on Saturday thanks to David Okereke’s second-half goal. They beat Zenit 3-0 last time out and have a fully fit squad for the trip to Rome.
Standings: Barcelona (15 pts), Juventus (12 pts), Dynamo Kiev (1 pt), Ferencvaros (1 pt)
Barcelona are in the driving seat and will keep top spot if they avoid defeat by three goals (or two goals, if the score is 3-1 or higher) against Juventus. Dynamo Kiev need to avoid defeat against Ferencvaros to get the Europa League spot.
This is a tantalising battle between two European giants for the top spot in Group G – and we’re all hoping to see Lionel Messi up against Cristiano Ronaldo. But Barcelona head into this clash off the back of impressive European form, but a dismal performance in the league as they lost 2-1 to Cadiz on Saturday. Ronald Koeman has rotated Messi in their last two European games and he should start but Barcelona’s injury list is ever-lengthening with Ousmane Dembele out with a hamstring injury. Gerard Pique, Ansu Fati and Sergi Roberto are all long-term absentees while Ronald Araujo should come back into the side.
Standings: Man United (9 pts), PSG (9 pts), RB Leipzig (9 pts), Istanbul Basaksehir (3 pts)
PSG, Manchester United and RB Leipzig are all tied on nine points. A draw will see PSG through. Manchester United go out if they lose, but need a point at Leipzig to go through. Leipzig realistically need to beat United to go through.
Basaksehir lost 4-3 to Leipzig on Matchday 5, and drew 1-1 at Yani Malatyaspor on Saturday with Giuliano de Paula scoring. Martin Skrtel is suspended while Basaksehir will also be without Boli Bolingoli, Alexandru Epureanu, Mehmet Topal and Ifran Kahveci. PSG should win this comfortably.
MLS Playoffs Are Spectacular – Finals East & West Sun 3 pm ABC/Mon 9 pm FS1
While the games were not as spectacular the results were certainly interesting as the bottom seed in the East the New England Revs knocked of Orlando on the road to match up against the 3rd seeded Columbus Crew. The game will be Sunday at 3 pm on ABC – and should be good as 3 time MLS winner Bruce Arena looks to spring another upset vs a stalwart in the East over the past few seasons Columbus. In the West it’s the mighty Loons of Minnesota – just 4 years removed from expansion looking to unseat the defending Champion and MLS’ top dynasty of the 2000’s Seattle on Monday night at 9:30 pm on Fox Sports 1.
USA Men face El Salvador Wed 9 pm ESPN/TUDN
The US Men take a mighty young very U23 looking team of MLS stars into their game with El Salvador on Wednesday night. I promise I will have more preview stuff for this and Champions League Tues/Wed early next week!!
As we get down to the nitty gritty of the Audi 2020 MLS Playoffs, picking winners becomes harder if only because everyone left fully deserves a place in the final four.One can make a reasonable advertisement for the virtues of each team left in the title chase, and well, we’ve already seen over the past couple weeks that anything can happen when the MLS postseason arrives.Before we get into Eastern Conference and Western Conference final predictions, a quick update of my playoff track record after a successful last round. I hit on three of the final four, with only New England making m look foolish. That brings my playoff mark to 10-4, which is quite acceptable to me. That’s squared away, so let’s set up the next episode.
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution
Sunday, Dec. 6 @ 3 pm ET | ABC, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN4, TVA Sports in Canada
Both conference finals hold a similar vibe. Each features a balanced favorite at home against a visiting side that one would struggle to call an underdog based on form. Fitting half the bill, Columbus have conceded just eight goals in winning 11 of 12 games at MAPFRE Stadium in 2020. Ably spelling the other half, the Revs have bumped off both Philadelphia and Orlando City, and are 7-4-1 on the road this year spanning the playoffs and regular season.
The fun part about New England’s run (aside from the chance to watch Bruce Arena field more media questions) is they’re just coming out of their shell offensively. Matt Turner and his crew at the back have carried the Revs most of the season, but Carles Gil’s return from injury has them excelling at both ends. Further back, I tabbed New England as the team nobody in the East should want to face in the playoffs. They’ve made me look good – well, only partially, as they’re responsible for half my four missed playoff predictions. Arena’s postseason game plans have worked a charm, with his charges jumping ahead early to control the game states.
On the other hand, Caleb Porter’s Crew tend to write match narratives through patience around whether they can strike early or not. Their defeat of Nashville SC marked the fifth time they’ve emerged victorious from a second half that began scoreless. They’re also 7-1 when carrying a 1-0 lead into the break.
In other words, it’s not about how long it takes them to score (they’re probably going to score eventually, having been shut out just three times in 2020). Playing Columbus often boils down to how long they keep you from scoring. New England have the cogs necessary to pull off what should be considered a minor upset, but can’t quite match the Crew’s overall balance. Being partial to teams that dictate the game with oppressive possession, I’m going with a tense 1-0 Columbus triumph.
Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United FC
Monday, Dec. 7 @ 9:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in US, TSN, TVA Sports in Canada
Fresh off slaying a road demon in Kansas City, could the Loons possibly do it again against the oft-rampant defending champs? That is a big question, of course. Minnesota have dropped all three previous games in Seattle (even if each was close at the end), and are yet to beat them anywhere in seven series tries. And this is the Sounders we’re talking about. In the postseason. At home. This is no small ask.
Despite everything they’re up against, it’s a question worth considering. Adrian Heath’s boys are gutsy, perhaps more complete than they’ve been since March and unbeaten since late September. They’re also brimming with hot hands, from Dayne St. Clair and Michael Boxall to Kevin Molino and Emanuel Reynoso. This team will definitely bend, but they just find ways to get the job done. Another away upset almost feels possible.
Then you remember who they need to tackle, and where, and when. You remember that the Sounders come in playing their best defense of the year and that they’re on the verge of their fourth final in five years. You remember that Brian Schmetzer has his own swarm of players in championship form, and not for the first time.
Once you also note that Minnesota will have a long-ish flight with two fewer days of rest at the tail end of a long, strange season, an inevitable outcome seems clear enough. The Loons will give them a good fight, but the firm of Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz will be the ones who find a way this time. Let’s say Seattle 2-1.
Too bad this amazing Orlando City season has to come to an end | Commentary
By MIKE BIANCHIORLANDO SENTINEL |NOV 29, 2020 AT 8:45 PM1 / 32
No, it can’t be over, can it?Please don’t let it be over.Don’t let Orlando City’s amazing, trailblazing season come to an end.Don’t let the Lions go home just yet.
They’ve been too much fun; they’ve spread too much joy; they’ve actually given us something to root for and rally around during this abysmal, awful pandemic-plagued year.
“I could not be prouder of this group,” said first year coach and franchise savior Oscar Pareja. “It has been an honor for me to coach them.”
But, sadly, Pareja’s fabulous first season is over by virtue of Orlando City’s 3-1 loss to the New England Revolution in the MLS Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday at the Purple Palace. It was the final game in this season of firsts: First playoffs. First playoff victory. And, sigh, first playoff loss.
Too bad a season of such celebration and jubilation had to end like this: In bitterness, in frustration, in anger; with emotions erupting, tempers flaring and Orlando City’s players and coaches feeling as if they weren’t just playing against their opponent, but also against MLS officiating.
Whatever inner ill will the Lions were harboring, it caused them to lose their composure and make mistakes, including one monumental blunder in the 60th minute. That’s when Orlando City veteran midfielder Mauricio Pereyra was rightfully given a red card and ejected from the match after he came in spikes-up and gouged New England’s Matt Polster in the back of the calf.The referee immediately showed the red card and Orlando City players, including team captain Nani, went berserk, argued vehemently and even made physical contact with the official. But they were arguing a call that was inarguable. Pereyra made a huge mistake that changed the complexion of the game.“Today, there was a moment where we lost our head and that cannot happen,” Pareja said in his postgame news conference. “… At this moment, there is a lot of pain and frustration that we have been carrying in the last 10 days.”Obviously, Orlando City’s coach and his team haven’t taken kindly with having at least one of their players red-carded and having to play a man down in three of their last four home matches. In last week’s incredible playoff victory over NYCFC, Orlando City had two players tossed out of the match, including starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, who was suspended from Sunday’s game because of last week’s ejection.
“Every game we play at home, it seems like there’s zero tolerance [from the officials,]” Nani said. “That makes it tough on us emotionally.”
Even so, Orlando City has won matches before when they were a man down. They did it last week against NYCFC, playing the final 43 minutes with 10 men to send the game into penalty kicks. The Lions, trailing 2-1, actually had chance to tie the match on Sunday even after they went a man down following Pereyra’s ejection.Orlando City rookie Daryl Dike was taken down from behind in the box and earned a penalty kick. That’s when everybody started to wonder: Could it be another miracle? Could Orlando City win another playoff game while playing 10-on-11?
Ah, but this time it wasn’t to be. Nani, the team captain, was chosen to take the kick and fired his shot to the left side of the net, but New England goalkeeper Matt Turner guessed right and made a massive save to keep the score 2-1. If somehow Nani had converted, it might have swung the momentum of the match and put all the pressure on New England.According to teammates, Nani cried after the game because he felt he had let his teammates down at the moment they needed him most.
“I will take responsibility,” Nani said. “Today, I couldn’t make the penalty kick. I feel sorry for my teammates because the dream finished right there.”
But what a dream and a dream season it was. Yes, this final loss is disappointing, but not when you put it in perspective. Unlike past seasons when Orlando City left the pitch for the final time, there’s actually a feeling of hope and optimism about the future.
Who will ever forget the previous five seasons of disenchantment, discontent and dysfunction? In the past, the hapless, hopeless Lions were simply playing out the string at the end of another miserable, depressing season; fans were grumbling; ownership was anxious; the head coach’s job was perennially in jeopardy.Not anymore. Pareja, in one magnficient season, has put some pep in the step of Orlando City’s beleaguered, bedraggled franchise. He and this Orlando Gritty team have restored the emotion and devotion of a fan base that had begun to lose faith.
“We made history this season,” said midfielder Junior Urso, who scored the Lions’ only goal Sunday. “Orlando City had never been to the playoffs, but I want more. We want more. So let’s try to get it next season.”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.For the first time in Orlando City history, this season ended way too suddenly and next season can’t get here quick enough.
Iconic, legendary superstar Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60
So I have to admit I have never been a huge Maradona guy, he was just before I really started watching soccer. I know about the el Mano El Dio and the wonder goal where he dribbled 7 guys before dribbling the English goalkeeper then scoring in the World Cup Semis in 1986. Maradona’s Top 5 Goals But as I hear the players who played with him wonder at the marvel of this wonderful player Maradona the legend becomes more apparent. I hear there is a great HBO documentary about him as well. Hope to watch this weekend. One of the strangest stories I have read involved his warmups -Fans would arrive an hour before gametime just to watch Maradona’s legendary warm ups – especially when he played at Napoli in Italy. Nice short video on Diego by The Guardian. While the man was often missunderstood and a bit nuts – the legendary player their is not doubt about. RIP Maradona.
MLS Playoffs Are Spectacular
So I will admit – with nearly all the games on ESPN+ over the last few months of the MLS season – I have not watched a lot of MLS Soccer after the MLS tourney in Orlando to start the season. But now that the SINGLE ELIMINATION MLS playoffs are underway – I have been sucked back in. I know a lot of European soccer fan buddies who laugh at MLS still – but man if tune in for Playoff Soccer MLS style I promise you will return. It started with high scoring games and shootouts – some of them crazy early. But each and every game I have watched has been dripping with Drama – most of them decided late and extremely competitive. The Top 2 seeds in the East were sent home #2 Toronto – 4 time finalist was knocked out deservedly by MLS Expansion team Nashville. More huge games this Sunday as Orlando City hosts NE Revs and coach Bruce Arena at 3 pm on ABC, while ESPN will have Columbus and US Forward Zardes hosting Nashville and Walker Zimmerman at 8 pm. Tues and Wed have the other 2 games see schedule below.
USA Women Face Netherlands Fri 12:30 on ESPN
The World Champs will travel to face the team they beat to win the last world cup in their first competitive match since the She Believe’s Cup back in March. Returning to the fold is Forward Alex Morgan back from having a baby and now playing in Tottenham. The full roster is here – of course missing are Rapino, Pugh, and Carli Lloyd still recovering from injuries and Horan who has been diagnosed with Covid. Will be interesting to see how coach works in the newcomers with the old guard next week. A Good Friday after Thanksgiving Sitdown at 12:30 on ESPN – along with football,
US Ladies Roster
GOALKEEPERS (3): Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Aubrey Bledsoe (Washington Spirit), Jane Campbell (Houston Dash)
DEFENDERS (8): Alanna Cook (PSG), Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns), Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals), Midge Purce (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns), Emily Sonnett (Orlando Pride)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Rose Lavelle (Manchester City), Sam Mewis (Manchester City), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Jaelin Howell (Florida State), Catarina Macario (Stanford)
FORWARDS (6): Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Tottenham), Christen Press (Manchester United), Tobin Heath (Manchester United), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage)
On Friday, the U.S. Women’s National Team will take the field for the first time in 261 days when it faces the Netherlands at 12:30 p.m. ET at Rat Verlegh Stadium in Breda, the Netherlands. The match, which will be the final game of 2020 for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions, will be televised live on ESPN2 and TUDN. Here are Five Things to Know about the reigning European Champions and Women’s World Cup runners-up.
NETHERLANDS NOVEMBER CAMP ROSTER
Nine of the 14 players who saw action for the Netherlands during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final are on this roster, led by midfielder Sherida Spitse, the Netherlands’ all-time leader in caps. Spitse has 180 caps and 41 goals for the Netherlands. She received a yellow card early in the World Cup Final in Lyon. Of the 23 players on the roster, 12 play outside of the Netherlands, with a strong contingent of five in England, two in Spain, three in Germany, one Norway and one in France. Of the 11 domestic-based players, three play for Ajax, three play for PSV, and five play for FC Twente, which are the top three teams currently in the Women’s Eredivisie, respectively.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Lize Kop (Ajax), Sari van Veenendaal (PSV), Daphne van Domselaar (FC Twente)DEFENDERS (8): Stefanie van der Gragt (Ajax), Dominique Janssen (Wolfsburg, GER), Kika van Es (Twente), Merel van Dongen (Atlético Madrid, ESP), Danique Kerkdijk (Brighton & Hove Albion, ENG), Aniek Nouwen (PSV), Lynn Wilms (Twente)MIDFIELDERS (5): Sherida Spitse (Vålerenga, NOR), Daniëlle van de Donk (Arsenal, ENG), Jackie Groenen (Manchester United, ENG), Inessa Kaagman (Brighton & Hove Albion, ENG), Victoria Pelova (Ajax)FORWARDS (8): Lieke Martens (Barcelona, ESP), Shanice van de Sanden (Wolfsburg, GER), Lineth Beerensteyn (Bayern Munich, GER), Renate Jansen (Twente), Sisca Folkertsma (Twente), Katja Snoeijs (Bordeaux, FRA), Jill Roord (Arsenal, ENG), Joëlle Smits (PSV)
WE MEET AGAIN
Friday’s game will be the eighth meeting all-time between the USA and Netherlands and the fourth in the last eight years. The USWNT leads the overall series with a record of 7-1-0, with its lone loss to the Dutch coming in a 4-3 defeat during the first matchup between the teams in 1991. Since then, the USA has won the last seven games and outscored the Netherlands over that span, 24-2. Friday’s match will be just the third time the U.S. Women have played in the Netherlands. The most recent match took place on April 9, 2013, in The Hague, a 3-1 U.S. victory. Tobin Heath had one goal and Christen Press had two in that match while Sydney Leroux dished out a pair of assists. The goals were the fifth and sixth international goals for Press, who is now in the top-10 in U.S. Women’s National Team history with 58 career goals.
ORANJE IN ACTION The 2017 European Champions, Netherlands qualified for the next UEFA Women’s Euros by routing Estonia 7-0 at home on Oct. 23. After a 6-0 win over Kosovo on Oct. 27, head coach Sarina Wiegman’s side sits atop their group with a maximum of 27 points from nine matches, earning their spot at the Euros in England, which were originally scheduled to be played in the summer of 2021. Due to COVID and the postponement of the Olympics to 2021, the UEFA Women’s Euros will be played July 6-31, 2022. Only three of the Netherlands’ UEFA qualifiers were played this year, a 1-0 victory over Russia in September in Moscow followed by the drubbings of Estonia and Kosovo during the most recent FIFA window. Forward Katja Snoeijs tallied a hat trick for Netherlands in their 6-0 win over Kosovo while midfielders Daniëlle van de Donk and Jackie Groenen both tallied braces in the 7-0 victory over Estonia.Following the match against the USA, the Netherlands will play Kosovo on December 1 to finish the UEFA group play, but with a nine-point cushion over Russia in Group A, qualification for the Euros is already secured.
FAMILIAR FACES The defending European champions feature some of the world’s best players at their positions in goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal (PSV), who was named the Best Goalkeeper of the tournament at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, midfielders Daniëlle van de Donk (Arsenal), Jackie Groenen (Manchester United) and Sherida Spitse (Vålerenga), and forwards Lieke Martens (Barcelona) and Miedema (Arsenal). The 25-year-old Groenen, who has 64 caps and five goals, is currently teammates with Tobin Heath and Christen Press at Manchester United and has appeared in all seven Women’s Super League matches for top of the table United this season.The Netherlands will be without one of its star forwards in Arsenal star Vivianne Miedema, who has a hip injury. At the age of 24, she has scored a remarkable 71 goals in 90 games for the Dutch. With Miedema’s absence, the top scorer on the roster is now Martens, who at age 27 has 46 goals in 116 caps. Martens won the Bronze Boot as the third leading scorer and the Golden Ball as the best player at the 2017 UEFA Women’s Euros and was named the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year in 2017.
WIEGMAN ERA WINDS DOWN, BUT NOT BEFORE TOKYO 2021
Head coach Sarina Wiegman, who was recently named to the seven-person shortlist for The Best FIFA Women’s Coach 2020, will coach the will coach the Netherlands through the Olympics next summer before taking over as the head coach of England. Wiegman played college soccer in the USA at the University of North Carolina and earned 104 caps representing the Netherlands as a player. Six months after becoming head coach of Netherlands, Wiegman led her home country to the 2017 UEFA Women’s Euro title, a feat that earned her the 2017 Best FIFA Women’s Coach award.
Diego Maradona Was a Timeless Icon
The Argentina legend died Wednesday at 60 of a heart attack. His career was marked by extremes—especially the heights of the 1986 World Cup—but he was beloved every step of the way.GRANT WAHL Sports illustrated
It is an accepted truism of modern soccer that, unlike in the five-on-five world of basketball, the 11-on-11 nature of fútbol makes it nearly impossible for a single superstar to take over a game and lead his team to a championship. In fact, data shows that soccer tends to be a “weakest-link” sport, which is to say that you’re only as good as your worst player on the field. If there is a singular exception, however, it is Diego Armando Maradona’s performance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. In the history of the men’s World Cup, which has now been contested 21 times, no player has ever lorded over a single tournament the way Maradona did that year by leading Argentina to its second title.
Maradona, the flamboyant and controversial legend who died of a heart attack Wednesday at age 60, will forever be frozen in time at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca as the 25-year-old genius who confounded the best efforts of West Germany, Belgium and England and lifted an otherwise ordinary Argentine team to glory. During the same game, a 2–1 quarterfinal victory against England, Maradona scored two goals four minutes apart that could be described as the greatest and most notorious World Cup goals of all time. On the first, Maradona leaped in the air and beat English goalkeeper Peter Shilton to the ball, surreptitiously (and illegally) using his left fist to punch the ball into the goal. Maradona would later say the goal had been scored by “la mano de Dios,” and it was forever known as the Hand of God goal.
But Maradona’s second goal that day was a distillation of all the qualities—superhuman ball control, next-level speed of thought and the sheer audacity of his imagination—that made him perhaps the sport’s greatest genius. Receiving the ball in his own half near midfield, Maradona spun and flicked it with his left foot to elude two defenders, then embarked on a glorious 60-yard run at speed, never touching the ball with his right foot, beating four more hapless English interlopers before sliding the ball past Shilton into the net. The television call from Argentine commentator Víctor Hugo Morales remains indelible: “What planet did you come from?”
Maradona added two more goals to beat Belgium 2–0 in the semifinals and the assist on Argentina’s game-winner in a 3–2 classic against West Germany in the final, sealing his place in the lore of the sport.Maradona would end up playing in four World Cups from 1982 to ’94, losing in the final to West Germany in ‘90 and being thrown out of USA ’94 when he failed a doping test. Meanwhile, his greatest exploits at club level came in Italy at Napoli, which Maradona captained to the club’s first league titles in 1987 and ’90. But Maradona’s tumultuous time in Italy came to an end after he failed a drug test for cocaine and faced a 15-month suspension from 1991 to ’92. Maradona’s drug use and weight gain led to a pattern of health scares over the years, including multiple occasions when he was near death but survived.Yet Maradona’s dark side and human frailties only seemed to endear him more to an Argentine public that anointed him a cultural deity among the likes of Eva Perón and the tango singer Carlos Gardel. Raised in the Buenos Aires shantytown of Villa Fiorito, Maradona rose to the closest position in sports to the King of the World—and then tumbled dramatically off its pedestal. It is a peculiar aspect of Argentine public life that Argentines have always adored Maradona far more than Brazilians have loved Pelé. The two are inextricably linked as the greatest men’s soccer players of the 20th century. Pelé won three World Cups to Maradona’s one, but Maradona hit loftier heights in 1986 than Pelé did in any of his World Cups. Ultimately, a fan’s choice of one player over the other reveals not just a sports preference but a general worldview. For what it’s worth, Maradona and Pelé clearly had differing perspectives on the United States. While Pelé played for the New York Cosmos in the NASL from 1975 to ’77 and visited the U.S. frequently, Maradona reveled in his disdain of Uncle Sam and his support of leftist leaders from Cuba’s Fidel Castro to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. (For many years, Maradona’s drug record prevented him from gaining admission to the U.S.)Unlike Pelé, who never became a coach, Maradona had a checkered career as a manager that never came close to matching his playing achievements. His most memorable coaching tenure lasted from 2008 to ’10 with the Argentine national team and its superstar, Lionel Messi, who was always as reticent as Maradona was voluble. It was a poor match. Messi never appeared comfortable with Maradona, who was unable to put together a tactical game . plan that unleashed Messi’s talents for the national team. While Maradona regularly won the press conference during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, his rudderless Argentina was throttled by Germany 4–0 in the quarterfinals, wasting Messi at the height of his powers.Yet for as combative and rude as he could be, Maradona will always be known for his unparalleled love affair with the ball. It is no coincidence that one of his most popular highlight videos—with millions of views on YouTube—has no game highlights at all. Instead, it’s a three-minute video of Maradona warming up by himself before a 1989 game, shoes untied, oblivious of the camera, performing casually jaw-dropping tricks with the ball to the soundtrack of the Opus song Live Is Life. Maradona is 28 years old in the video, but he still exudes the simple joy of a boy with his ball. That feeling, which he may have possessed more deeply than any human to live on this planet, is universal. Timeless.
Unbelievable first round of the MLS Playoffs as 3 games went to Penalty Shoutouts, 1 after a goal in the 94th minute. The leading scorer in MLS history Chris Wondolowski scored in the 94th minute for San Jose to send their game with top seed Sporting KC into a 3-3 tie ,only to have Sporting KC win in the shootout. New England scored in the 95th minute to beat Henry’s Montreal 2-1. Nashville won the battle of Expansion teams 3-0 over Miami to set up their matchup Tues with Philly at 8 pm on ESPN. But the craziest of them all was Orlando’s OT Shootout win over NYCFC after the goalkeeper was ejected for jumping off the line to early on the 4th PK save. Orlando Centerback Rodrigo Schlegel had to sub in and saved his 2nd shot faced to win it for a pretty loud and boisterous Orlando City in front of the home crowd. They will now face the Philly/NE Winner on Sunday. You have to see the links below for the shootout and GK Jersey sale. Wow what a weekend of MLS !!!
Champions League viewership up nearly 40 percent – Returns Tues/Wed
Through three matchdays, coverage of the UEFA Champions League has averaged 432,000 viewers across UniMas and Galavision — up 39% from last year. In particular, UniMas is up 35% (to 372K) and Galavision is up 100% (to 60,000).This year’s competition has already included two of the three most-watched UCL group stage matches on record, with Juventus-Barcelona on October 28 ranking first (757K) and Tuesday’s Real Madrid-Inter Milan match third (561K). No idea on CBS SportsNetwork on CBS all access as they don’t do neilsen ratings. But it appears folks in the US are at least watching in Spanish for sure. Champions League match-day 4 is next week with the big games Tuesday being US players Gio Reyna for Dortmund hosting Club Brugge and GK Horvath on TUDN at 3 pm, while PSG hosts American Tyler Adams and RB Leipzig with the top spot in the group on the line right behind Man United. Wed’s top game features Inter Milan hosting Real Madrid on TUDN at 3 pm in a loser might be out in group C game. Salzburg and their American coach will be looking for a lifeline vs defending champs Bayern Munich and US defender Chris Richards at 3 pm on TUDN and of course all the games on CBS All Access and the CBS Sportsnetwork (check your listings you might have it) Goalazo show –goals from each game jumparound show. Full Standings thru 3 matches here.
San Jose scored the sixth goal of the game in the seventh-minute of stoppage time — courtesy the league’s all-time leading scorer Chris Wondolowski — before Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia made amends for allowing three goals by stopping all three of San Jose’s penalties.
Three more matches are set for Tuesday, with big names angling for weekend places in the conference semifinals
Toronto v Nashville SC – 6 pm ET Tuesday
Greg Vanney’s TFC might’ve failed to claim the Supporters’ Shield, but the MLS Cup Playoffs have been their friend to the tune of three final appearances and one win in the previous four seasons.
Alejandro Pozuelo is arguably the league’s best player and the Reds have gotten 18 goals between Pozuelo and breakout Canadian-American forward Ayo Akinola. With Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Chris Mavinga, Jozy Altidore, and others, there’s a lot of experience here.
But Nashville is stingy and led by Gary Smith, who has experience in managing an underdog to an MLS Cup win. With Walker Zimmerman and Dax McCarty, the expansion side will hope to keep TFC in check but the absence of newly-injured Anibal Godoy makes that a tall task.
Philadelphia v New England — 8 p ET Tuesday
Philly scored more goals than anyone in the East and allowed the conference’s fewest markers, too. In five matches against the Revolution between MLS is Back and the regular season, Jim Curtin’s Union won four times and drew once with a combined score line of 7-2.
Bruce Arena’s men had trouble scoring this season but have bagged five goals in their last two outings after beating Thierry Henry’s Montreal Impact in a play-in game. Can the legendary MLS manager conjure an upset of the Supporters’ Shield winners?
Seattle v LAFC — 10:30 pm ET Tuesday
The Sounders won eight of 12 matches to start the season, but have won just twice in their last seven. They’ll hope a 4-1 win over San Jose to finish the regular season was the fuel to kickstart a run to a fourth final appearance in five seasons. USMNT winger Jordan Morris has been wonderful for the Sounders, who won it all in 2016 and 2019.
LAFC is seventh in the West, a far cry from its incredible 2019 campaign, but Bob Bradley’s a heck of a coach and he’s got a lot of firepower between 16-goal man Diego Rossi, savvy veteran Bradley Wright-Phillips, and reigning MVP and record breaker Carlos Vela.
Reason to stay up late.
Sporting KC v Minnesota United — Dec. 1 or 2
Seattle Sounders v FC Dallas or FC Dallas v LAFC — Dec. 1 or 2
Philadelphia v Orlando City orOrlando City v New England — Nov. 29
Toronto v Columbus orColumbus v Nashville — Nov. 29
Christian Pulisic isn’t all the way back from his hamstring injury yet, but Kai Havertz has returned from coronavirus and is set to play. Chelsea can clinch a round of 16 berth with a win. Rennes’ Eduardo Camavinga is also back in action, and this game will be another big stage for one of the world’s top young prospects.
Kylian Mbappe is back to fitness after missing two games this month with a hamstring injury, including PSG’s 2-1 loss at Leipzig on Nov. 4. He returned last Friday at Monaco, his old club, and PSG blew a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 defeat. Leipzig should have Tyler Adams, who went all 90 minutes in a 1-1 tie at Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday after two good performances for the U.S. national team.
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Wednesday, 12:55 p.m. (Galavision, CBS All Access)
Group B has been the wildest group in the Champions League so far. Monchengladbach (5 points) is in first thanks to an astonishing 6-0 win at second-place Shakhtar (4) on Nov. 3. Superpowers Real Madrid (4) and Inter Milan (2) are in third and fourth. The standings are tight enough that a Monchengladbach win wouldn’t clinch a knockout stage berth, but it would go a long way.
Inter Milan vs. Real Madrid
Wednesday, 3 p.m. (UniMas, TUDN, CBS All Access)
There will obviously be a lot of pressure on Inter to win, but there will be plenty of pressure on Real too. Manager Zinedine Zidane’s squad got thumped 4-1 at Valencia going into the FIFA break, then came out of it with a 1-1 tie at Villarreal. That’s more than enough to have the Madrid media crying panic — and Zidane snapping back at them, as he did Saturday.
Earlier this month, Internacional’s American midfielder Johnny Cardoso became the first player from a South American league to make the senior U.S. men’s national team in 25 years. Born in northern New Jersey and raised in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the central midfielder debuted for the Sao Paulo-based club last year at age 17.U.S. scouts learned of him soon thereafter and brought him to an under-23 camp. They liked him and he liked them, and he has kept rising up the ranks ever since. When he made his senior debut this month, his jersey carried just his first name, following Brazil’s soccer tradition. His club does the same.This will be another high-profile game for Johnny. Boca Juniors is one of South America’s titans, the legendary home of stars from Diego Maradona to Carlos Tevez — who’s now leading the club once again.
Lille vs. AC Milan- Europa
Thursday, 12:55 p.m. (TUDN, CBS All Access)
Thanks partly to a 3-0 win at Milan earlier this month, Lille can take a big step toward clinching first place in its Europa League group with a win at home here. Canadian striker Jonathan David is coming off finally scoring his first goal for the club, while American winger Tim Weah continues to fight for more playing time.
Milan hasn’t lost since Lille’s visit, and has yet to lose at all this season in Serie A. Zlatan Ibrahimovic starred again in a 3-1 win at Napoli on Sunday, scoring two goals. But he had to leave the game late with a leg injury that could sideline him for up to a month.
After nearly a decade in exile, Rangers are finally back at the top of Scottish soccer. James Tavernier and Canadian midfielder have the Glasgow-based club flying high atop the Premier League standings and tied for first in its Europa League group with Benfica.
These teams played to a wild 3-3 tie in Lisbon on Nov. 5 that featured a red card, an own goal by each team and a 91st-minute equalizer by Benfica’s Darwin Nunez. Benfica’s squad has many familiar names, including former Tottenham Hotspur players Jan Vertonghen and Adel Taraabt.
So maybe the young #9s are not so bad after all? Lets see – Gregg FINALLY Plays the 2 kid # 9s and they actually score 4 goals? Imagine that Gregg – forwards scoring goals playing the #9 spot. Sometimes the coaching ineptitude astounds me. That being said it was nice to see our young 20 year old #9s actually score goals up front. Both of them stuck their noses in – played high and were in the correct spot. Now if only Greg had played one of them at least a half vs Wales? Oh well – better late than never. Again the US looked ok on Monday vs a very overmanned Panama team with a bad GK. The first 45 minutes we looked really good – with 70+ percent possession and a solid 3-1 lead with 2 goals from 20 year old forward Gioacchini scoring 2 on GK drop and a beautifully hard fought header. Soto checked in around 70 minutes in and added another header two headers off good crosses to give our #9 forwards slot 4 goals on the night. Overall it was 6-2 as Reyna scored a beauty off a free kick right outside the box and Letgett headed another from his traditional mid spot. Overall another solid performance with Dest moved the the left back this time. He was still our best outside back but I thought Cannon was better on the right than Robinson was on the left in the first game. Again the energy in the middle with Adams at the 6 and McKinney at the 8 is electric. I like the 18 year-old Englishman Yunus Musa in the middle – man he and Adams and Reyna and Dest had some really nice combinations. Musah – unlike most of our mids in the past actually takes the ball and ATTACKS. Much like Pulisic – he runs at defenders and holds the ball really well in transition as he moves it forward. If we can convince Musah to play for the US instead of England – he could really make a difference in 2022. I thought overall the offense was a little stronger today – with a real #9 playing at the forward spot things were much, much better. Soto and Gioacchini looked good up front – I missed not having Sargent up front but the 2 20 year-olds looked great on Monday. I thought the defense was a little weaker tonight – Ream is not Brooks and Miazga was good but not great. The first goal was a miscommunication between the 2 middle backs. Again this was Panama not Wales – but still 6 goals with young 20 year old forwards up front scoring 4 of them is mighty exciting. Controlling 60+% of the game possession again – again is not a normal US approach. The working the ball out of the back was almost flawless Monday as well. Overall a solid win for Gregg’s US Team and reason to be really excited with our young US team moving forward. Looking forward to seeing the MLS’ers in a December friendly at some point.
MLS Playoffs Starts Tonight
The MLS Playoffs get underway Friday with the Play in games on FS1 at 6:30 pm as New England takes on Montreal and Henry followed by the battle of Expansion Teams Nashville vs Inter Miami on ESPN at 9 pm. Sunday we get Sporting KC vs San Jose at 4 pm on FS1, while Colorado travels to Minn United at 7:30 pm on ESPN, followed by the Portland Timbers hosting Dallas and former Carmel High Star defender Matt Hedges at 10 pm on ESPN. Sat if you have Unimas or TUDN you can watch Orlando City hosting NYCFC at 12 noon and the Columbus Crew vs the NY Red Bulls at 3 pm. I don’t think they are ESPN+ but I sure hope so. Here’s the complete bracket. While Sporting KC has the top spot in the west I like one of my favorite squads in the West either #2 and defending Champs Seattle or #3 seed and MLS bubble champ Portland to come out of the West. While in the East – it’s a toss-up man. Philly has gone from whipping boy to the tops in the league and Shield Holders with young home grown players, while Toronto is of course still Toronto at #2. I would love to see 3 seed Columbus (closest to us) or the amazing Orlando the 4 seed with Nani who has worked wonders in just one year under the guy who should have been coach of the year Oscar Pareja. Looking for a team to root for – here’s a newcomers bandwagon guide.
What to Watch in League Play This Weekend
The EPL has some big games this weekend actually on normal TV – Saturday NBC actually has a good game with #2 Tottenham playing Man City at 12:30 (of course same time as my Gators ☹), right after former top slot now 6th place Aston Villa host Brighton at 10 am on NBCSN. Sunday we get Liverpool hosting Leicester City at 2:15 pm on NBCSN, right after Arsenal traveling to Leeds United at 11:30 am. My Fulham now out of the relegation zone wakes us up at 7 am vs Everton on the Peacock, while Chelsea does the same vs New Castle on Sat. sans Pulisic who is still injured. La Liga has Altetico Madrid hosting Barcelona at 3 pm Sat on beIN Sports – unfortunately Suerez the biter will not be there for Leti (covid). In Germany US 17 yo Gio Reyna and Dortmund travel to Berlin to face Hertha Berlin and American teammate John Brooks Sunday at 2:30 pm on ESPN+.
Champions League viewership up nearly 40 percent – Returns Tues/Wed
Through three matchdays, coverage of the UEFA Champions League has averaged 432,000 viewers across UniMas and Galavision — up 39% from last year. In particular, UniMas is up 35% (to 372K) and Galavision is up 100% (to 60,000).This year’s competition has already included two of the three most-watched UCL group stage matches on record, with Juventus-Barcelona on October 28 ranking first (757K) and Tuesday’s Real Madrid-Inter Milan match third (561K). No idea on CBS SportsNetwork or CBS all access as they don’t do Neilsen ratings. But it appears folks in the US are at least watching in Spanish for sure. Champions League match-day 4 is next week with the big games Tuesday being US players Gio Reyna for Dortmund hosting Club Brugge and GK Horvath on TUDN at 3 pm, while PSG hosts American Tyler Adams and RB Leipzig with the top spot in the group on the line right behind Man United. Wed’s top game features Inter Milan hosting Real Madrid on TUDN at 3 pm in a loser might be out in group C game. Salzburg and their American coach will be looking for a lifeline vs defending champs Bayern Munich and US defender Chris Richards at 3 pm on TUDN and of course all the games on CBS All Access and the CBS Sportsnetwork (check your listings you might have it) Goalazo show –goals from each game jumparound show. Full Standings thru 3 matches here.
USA Women Face Netherlands Fri Nov 27 12:30 on ESPN
The World Champs will travel to face the team they beat to win the last world cup in their first competitive match since the She Believe’s Cup back in March. Returning to the fold is Forward Alex Morgan back from having a baby and now playing in Tottenham. The full roster is here – of course missing are Rapino, Pugh, and Carli Lloyd still recovering from injuries and Horan who has been diagnosed with Covid. Will be interesting to see how coach works in the newcomers with the old guard next week. A Good Friday after Thanksgiving Sitdown at 12:30 on ESPN – along with football! I want to wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving ! The OBC.
US Ladies Roster
GOALKEEPERS (3): Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Aubrey Bledsoe (Washington Spirit), Jane Campbell (Houston Dash)
DEFENDERS (8): Alanna Cook (PSG), Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns), Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals), Midge Purce (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns), Emily Sonnett (Orlando Pride)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Rose Lavelle (Manchester City), Sam Mewis (Manchester City), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Jaelin Howell (Florida State), Catarina Macario (Stanford)
FORWARDS (6): Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Tottenham), Christen Press (Manchester United), Tobin Heath (Manchester United), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage)
GAMES ON TV
(American’s in parenthesis)
Sat, Nov 21
7:30 am Peacock New castle vs Chelsea
9:30 am ESPN+ Bayern (Richards) vs Werder Bremen (Sergent)
10 am beIN Sport Villareal vs Real Madrid
10 am NBCSN Aston Villa vs Brighton
12 noon TUDN Orlando City vs NYCFC MLS Playoffs
12:30 pm NBC Spurs vs Man City
12:30 pm ESppn+ Frankfort vs RB Leipzig (Adams)
2:30 pm EPSN+ Hertha Berlin (Brooks) vs Dortmund (Reyna)
3 pm beiN Sport Atlletico Madrid vs Barcelona
3 pm unimas/TUDN Columbus vs RBNY MLS Playoffs
Sun, Nov 22
7 am Peacock Fulham (Ream, Robinson) vs Everton
9 am NBCSN Leicester City vs Wolves
9 am ESPN+ Torino vs Inter
10:15 am beIN sport Real Sociadad vs Granada (Sp)
11:30 am NBCSN Leeds United s Arsenal
2:15 pm NBCSN Liverpool vs Leicester
2:45 pm Napoli vs AC Milan (Zlattan)
4 pm FS1 Sporting KC vs San Jose MLS Playoffs
7:30 pm ESPN Minn United vs Colorado MLS Playoffs
10 pm ESPN Portland vs Dallas (Matt Hedges) MLS Playoffs
Your flying car is back from the mechanic and parked in the air garage that floats above your house. You’ve had your dinner capsule and the kids are in bed, after taking their UV baths. It’s time to relax, activate your brain streaming and enjoy some United States men’s national team action.The future is here.Was Monday’s 6-2 win over Panama — in, of course, Austria, because where else? — only a friendly played on ocean away from both nations at the tail-end of an international break wedged into an already-jammed club season? Yes. Sure.Was this Panama team every bit as dangerous as the Panamanian army? Well, since Panama doesn’t have a standing army, also yes, pretty much.
But 2020 has been a woeful year in every way. And if you’re a committed U.S. national team follower — or, worse, a devoted fan — this has been a very long cycle or two for you. You’ve been in the wilderness as the national team fell apart, missed a World Cup and lumbered along for years, mostly looking feckless and directionless. So you deserve this. We deserve this.Because there’s something to get excited about. There’s a lot to get excited about.A national team that is young, talented, competent and compelling and maybe even a tad cocky — but the good kind of cocky. The doing-tricks-on-the-ball-in-a-real-game kind of cocky.“I don’t even know — was it six or seven?” Reyna asked casually on a video conference after the game, wondering about the score. “I don’t even remember to be honest. Six, right? It was six.”There is an awfully long way to go until the Americans get back to a World Cup, let alone make a breakthrough there. Lots of obstacles remain; there is much growing and improving to be done. But there are glimmers. Glimmers and sparks. So many of them that they’re almost blinding.And in dark times, you have to celebrate the flickers of light. Besides, it was the USA’s the last game of the year anyway — a calendar year of just three games, thus undefeated! — the ideal time to draw sweeping and overly emotional conclusions about the team’s direction and future. Plenty of times, the Yanks have looked fetid in these November friendlies. Not this time. So let’s enjoy this.
Let’s enjoy that the starting lineup was, on average, only 22 years old — and aged significantly by the presence of 33-year-old captain-for-the-day Tim Ream. Let’s enjoy the already world-class status of RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams, Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna, FC Barcelona’s Sergino Dest and Juventus’ Weston McKennie, which they all confirmed once again against Panama. Let’s enjoy how good the team looked over this game and Thursday’s very credible 0-0 tie with Wales even without injured star Christian Pulisic.Let’s enjoy how the Americans came back with a seven-minute three-goal flurry in the first half on a Reyna free kick and two goals from Nicholas Gioacchini — a tap-in and an acrobatic header.Let’s not worry so much about the fact that Panama went ahead in the eighth minute when Jose Fajardo found too much room between Ream and Matt Miazga on a cross not closed down properly. Let’s not worry about McKennie deserving a red card on a rash challenge, which the presence of VAR would probably have meted out, unlike referee Harald Lechner.Let’s also not fret about the fact that the second half was much sloppier for the Americans, or that they gave away a cheap second goal to Fajardo when he sauntered through the U.S. back line to latch onto a loose ball and shank it past Zack Steffen.Instead, let’s remember how debutant Sebastian Soto scored the fourth on a strong header from the cross dispatched by fellow newcomer Richie Ledezma. Or how Sebastian Lletget bagged the fifth with a header that dinked in off the bottom of the near post. And how Soto got his second on yet another header — a sixth — in injury time. Or that it could have been seven, had Gioacchini not botched his penalty kick.“All we wanted to do from the beginning is get the fans on our side — it was an important step for us,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said after the game of his team’s rapidly improving watchability. “That’s how it should be.”We needed something to feel good about. And what we saw from this U.S. men’s national team in the past week is something to feel good about.Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist
Nicholas Gioacchini, Sebastian Soto offer encouragement in USMNT’s striking stocks
The worth of a forward is often in the eye of the beholder. A 30-yard-blast counts as much as a 2-yard tap-in, even though the former is often what gets the hearts of fans beating faster.There is value in both kinds of goals — not to mention link play and pressing — but the U.S. men’s national team was grateful for the two short-range tallies from Nicholas Gioacchini and another pair from substitute Sebastian Soto in a 6-2 friendly win over Panama on Monday.Forward play — and really the lack of playing with one by virtue of using a false nine — was one of the main talking points following the 0-0 draw with Wales last Friday. The U.S. dominated possession but had little in the way of attacking thrust, especially in the box. Against a rebuilding Panama side, manager Gregg Berhalter decided to go with a more standard alignment, handing Gioacchini his first start. “You could tell he was a little bit apprehensive,” said Berhalter about Gioacchini. “My job was just to give him confidence and tell him that he’s good enough, and he showed it tonight.”The Caen forward didn’t get on the ball much, just 18 touches in his 77 minutes of work. But he was in the right spots when it mattered, pouncing on a rebound in 22nd minute to put the U.S. ahead for good 2-1, and then adding another four minutes later on a diving header following a slick buildup.”I had a week that I’ll never, ever, ever forget,” Gioacchini said afterward. But he was also already critiquing his own performance, which included a penalty that was saved by Panama goalkeeper Orlando Mosquera.
“My first impression I don’t think was a bad one,” he continued. “But I could have done way better for myself, been more available to the midfield even to the center-backs. In the box, I still had areas where I felt like I should have been five steps ahead of where you were, even two steps ahead. So, you know, it’s always something to review and to remember. But still, two goals is not easy for anyone.”The day was just as memorable for Soto, who came off the bench to score two headed goals. In the process, he showed off his mobility and knack for being in good spots.The play of both players hints that the depth at the forward position might be a bit deeper than originally thought, though context is needed. Mosquera looked very shaky on his international debut. It also seems unlikely that either forward will jump ahead of the likes of Josh Sargent, Gyasi Zardes or Jozy Altidore. That said, the impression made by both players was a positive one.
“For me, it was a good performance by [Soto and Gioacchini],” Berhalter said. “But it’s important. When we talked last week about potentially the depth chart of the striker and forward position being limited, any chance you get, you need to take it, and these guys did a good job.”While the forwards delivered, the play of the team as a whole was a bit all over the place, filled with some sparkling play and also some teachable moments. That was just fine with Berhalter, who was pleased to see his young side be exposed to how a game against a CONCACAF opponent can play out.”It was a very difficult game, a very physical game — more physical than the Wales game,” said Berhalter. “We needed that. The guys needed it. We had some guys calling for fouls. These aren’t going to be fouls. You’ve got to play on.”The U.S. started the match almost asleep, lacking in defensive focus, only to be woken up by Jose Fajardo‘s eighth-minute header that gave Los Canaleros a shock 1-0 lead. The U.S. soon asserted control through its midfield, scoring three times in an eight minute span, with recent birthday boy Gio Reyna netting his first international goal courtesy of a free kick that was won by Yunus Musah.
In the second half, the U.S. then returned to sleep mode, as Panama ratcheted up its intensity and physical play. Weston McKennie, while excellent on the night, was lucky to stay on the field with a two-footed tackle on Panama’s Gaby Torres that drew only a yellow card. When Fajardo bagged his second of the night in the 79th minute with well-taken drive, there was a question of whether a team with plenty of debutantes on the field could see the game out. That they did, with Richie Ledezma assisting on both of Soto’s goal and Sebastian Lletget adding another.”That was the period I was most interested in,” said Berhalter. “I was really interested in seeing where we gonna buckle or could we hang in there. And not only did we hang in there, we pulled away at the end, scoring a number of goals, so I was pleased with the performance.”Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this international window was the play of the U.S. central midfield. Once again, Tyler Adams, McKennie, and Musah shined. The task now is to convince Musah to stick with the U.S. for the long term. The two recent performances don’t cap-tie him to the U.S., and England have made it clear they don’t intend to let Musah go without a fight. The U.S. have been able to strike first, however, and that at least gets Musah pondering his options.”I was really happy with, with Yunus’ performance, I’m really happy with him in camp. The guys really took to him well,” said Berhalter.”All I’ve ever said about players in his category is that all we want to do is create an environment for them that they want to be in, that they trust is a good environment for their development. And it seemed like that was the case for Yunus. It seems like he sees us as a pathway to continue to develop and play with a good, young group. But in the end, it’s going to be him and his family that decide.”Things are already looking up for the U.S. given how young players are beginning to establish themselves with their clubs. If Musah commits to the U.S., that feeling will only increase.
The USMNT’s Future Is Bright; Just How Bright Can it Be?
There’s clear reason for optimism surrounding a talented core that’s playing for elite clubs at a young age. To think about breaking the U.S. men’s national team’s glass ceiling, though, you must first understand how high it stands. BRIAN STRAUSUPDATED:NOV 17, 2020 SI
There have been, by U.S. soccer’s historically modest standards, a couple close calls. In 2002, a men’s national team that probably was the best the country ever fielded outplayed Germany in a World Cup quarterfinal and was denied extra time by an unsympathetic referee. Eight years later in South Africa, the USA won its group and faced the most forgiving path to the semis it was ever going to get: Ghana and Uruguay. But the Americans fell to the Black Stars in the round of 16.That’s as close as the USA has come to contending at a modern World Cup. Now, consider how much further it has to go.Here’s a statistic to ponder. Let it provide some context for all the conversation, hype and footballing fantasies now taking root. Since the World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998, the eventual tournament champion has won an average of six matches. That’s six victories in one month. The U.S. men’s national team has won six World Cup games combined in the past 70 years. That’s six victories across 18 tournaments.Granted, five have come in the past eight World Cups. So that’s a relative hot streak. But still, the broad trends that somehow seem to govern World Cups suggest the USA isn’t close to contending. Its single knockout-stage win was 18 years ago against familiar foe Mexico, and since each subsequent round is logarithmically more difficult—barring a historic fluke—it’s pretty clear that at this point, the USA is a lot more likely to miss a World Cup altogether than challenge for the crown. And that fact was hammered home three years ago. In 1989, the U.S. program made its first big leap, qualifying for a World Cup for the first time in 40 years. It became a participant. To become a contender, it must make another big leap. For a couple decades now, the USA has been running in place. Group stage exits. Round-of-16 exits. Couva. A leap to the World Cup quarterfinals and beyond requires a historic disruption of that inertia. But there’s evidence that disruption is finally happening. Within the past year or so, young U.S. players are suddenly being signed by the sport’s biggest clubs. Christian Pulisic is at Chelsea. Weston McKennie is at Juventus. Tyler Adams is at RB Leipzig, a Champions League semifinalist. There are now two Americans at Barcelona, and more coming up at Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, PSV Eindhoven and more. This feels different. It is different.And so this new U.S. national team, the one that may redefine what’s possible for American soccer, took its first step into that new era over the past week. After a 10-month pandemic pause (or longer for many), during which the player pool evolved significantly, coach Gregg Berhalter gathered his squad of emerging stars for friendlies against Wales (a 0-0 draw) and Panama (a 6-2 win).For the coaches and players, it was a chance to spend time with each other, establish a bit of chemistry and start drilling down on Berhalter’s principles of play. The 24-man team initially included 10 uncapped players and 19 eligible for next summer’s U-23 Olympic qualifiers and finals. There was a lot of work to do, and not a ton of time. But during Zoom calls with the media, there were just as many questions about hype, potential and promise as there were about Wales and Panama. That’s what people want to read about. It’s what fans, still sore after the Couva catastrophe, want to revel in. The weight of hope and expectation now hangs over a U.S. team like never before, and Berhalter and his players found they’d have to manage that as much as they’d have to deal not only with the training sessions and games in front of them, but in simply getting to know each other.This game-changing team is still just finding its feet.“The hype in general comes from the outside—from the media, from the fans—and I think we’re not really playing for the expectations of other people. We’re playing for the expectations within our group, within our team, within our brotherhood that we have here,” McKennie said.“We have expectations. We have desires. And I think the most important thing is just to keep [all the young players] working, including myself,” the Juve midfielder continued. “It starts with us, and we have to kind of show that and let them know, ‘Hey, you haven’t made it yet. Day in and day out you have to bust your balls to play. You gotta bust your balls and you’re representing a whole country.’”Said defender Reggie Cannon, an FC Dallas product who lauded the level of competition he’s now getting at Portugal’s Boavista, “One thing I can say to the national team fans is be patient. … We have a lot of talented individuals obviously, and what’s going to make this team great is if we play for each other. And that’s something we’re figuring out.”Berhalter also endeavored to establish a reasonable benchmark. Unlike recent USMNT predecessors, he’s committed to the painstaking work of establishing both a coherent and consistent style of play, and an inclusive, uplifting team culture. Neither is easy, especially with so much new blood. The past week was a reminder of how much goes into laying those foundations.“One thing I’ve noticed especially when you’re working with new players or a group that’s just forming is, you go through different stages of team development,” Berhalter said. “With this group in particular, it is more of individuals looking for their position within the team, and we clearly want to move to more of a team-orientated standpoint as we get into [World Cup] qualifying.“It’s completely natural what’s happening now,” he added. “A guy wants to come into camp. He wants to make a good impression on the coaching staff. He wants to play really well, and he’s focused more on himself. As he gets more comfortable now, he’s focused more on his teammates. And we certainly want to get into that stage by qualifying because that’s going to be really important.”Qualifying is the first measuring stick. Before the USA can contend globally, it has to get back to dominating regionally. Next year will provide an ideal opportunity. Following the March friendly window, the USA will enter the four-team Concacaf Nations League finals in June. It’s a minor title, but success would whet the appetite. The Gold Cup starts in July, and then Concacaf’s World Cup qualifying octagonal finally gets underway in September.Berhalter said Monday that he’s unlikely to call in his contingent of European A-listers for both the Nations League and Gold Cup, meaning it’s one or the other, plus the March window, for those players between now and next September. Again, that’s not a lot of time.But the USA doesn’t have to win a World Cup next fall. It just has to beat the likes of Costa Rica and Honduras. And while Monday’s defensively-deficient Panamanian side may not have been the best litmus test, there clearly was progress made over the past week-plus, both from a coaching perspective and among the players. Berhalter saw some things and probably learned some things, while his charges appeared to be positive about being in camp and about playing with each other. Those are foundational building blocks. We saw Adams play as the lone defensive midfielder in Berhalter’s three-man midfield for the first and second time, quickly establishing himself as the guy who probably should man that role for the next decade. And we saw McKennie and dual-national Yunus Musah connect, cover ground and drive the ball forward in occasionally dominant fashion. If that dynamic was enough to convince Musah to commit his international future to the USA, then the camp will have been a smashing success.
But there was more. The USA defended and pressed well out of that 4-3-3 against Wales. In that match, despite the offensive stagnation, the young Americans never lost their defensive focus. And against Panama, despite going down early and then losing its grip on the game early in the second half, the U.S. recovered and put Panama in its place. Berhalter got a look at his team attacking with a false nine and with a more traditional striker, and saw how debutant Gio Reyna found (or didn’t find) space to contribute behind each. Depth at striker was a concern, with the absent Josh Sargent still unproven and Jozy Altidore aging. But Nicholas Gioacchini and Sebastian Soto—each 20 years old and with the senior squad for the first time—demonstrated some comfort in the penalty area and contributed two goals apiece. Further back, Berhalter had the opportunity to field Sergiño Dest at both right and left back, while testing a couple different center back pairings and getting Zack Steffen valuable minutes in net.There was plenty to digest. And that constitutes a good start on a long journey.“You can still see a lot of times we’ve only been together for a week. I think you also saw some really good things,” said Reyna, who turned 18 last Friday and scored his first U.S. goal on Monday. “Everybody’s been getting along very well off the field too. So I think on and off the field it’s just slowly bringing this group together where by the time qualifying comes, we’ll be ready to compete and [have] very good chemistry on and off the field.”That chemistry isn’t a given, considering they all come from different clubs in different leagues. Fans can swoon over the teams these men play for, but that doesn’t guarantee cohesion when they come together. Plenty of countries head to a World Cup with impressive rosters and then leave early because chemistry and humility are absent. The young Americans, however, carry a burden in common. Many are pioneers, in a sense—one of the first, if not the first, from their country to be counted on at their respective club. Rather than fuel a sense of ego or entitlement, it seems to have left them appreciating, supporting and challenging each other.“The best thing for us to do is to go to Europe and challenge yourself and get a taste of what real football is like, because I think that’s ultimately going to create so much challenge and so much unity within the team that everyone can experience this lifestyle and challenge each other for spots,” Cannon said. “I think that’s what makes teams great.”The chemistry is evident in interviews and on Instagram, and on the field as well. At times, this U.S. team was genuinely fun to watch. There was panache and confidence on the ball—the sort of flicks, quick touches and dexterity that Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey used to show on their own, but that now several of these players can perform in combination—as well as the fluid, 360-degree awareness not too frequently seen among American men. “We all know that we like to play. We like to combine. We like to make those small touches and small passes, and I think whenever you get into that type of confidence that you can play with your guys and everything, then I think it just brings out the confidence in yourself,” McKennie said. “I think a lot of the guys felt the comfortability with the other players on the field and we enjoyed it, We had fun. … It’s a good stepping stone and I think it was a good start after not being together for a whole year.”The possibilities are intriguing. But one barrier must fall at a time. A team with good young players who enjoy working together is a start, but there’s so much further to go. While this U.S. squad has a few individuals scattered across some big clubs, the national teams it’s chasing–the elite–have dozens. They have depth that would tie Berhalter in knots. Here’s another stat to consider, courtesy of Transfermarkt: While the USA currently has three players valued at more than $20 million (Pulisic, McKennie and Dest), world champion France has 25 players valued that highly who have never even been called in to the senior national team. It’s night and day. There is such a long way to go.But you can’t get there without coming this far first. This improvisational camp, featuring two closed-door games and so many new faces, went as well as can be expected. And so a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single stepover.
Armchair Analyst: What we learned from the November US men’s national team camp
The first US men’s national team outings in nine-and-a-half months are officially in the books. The first of those outings, a scoreless draw at Wales, was good in that it highlighted a bunch of the things that Gregg Berhalter has been trying to instill:
The US were mostly good with the ball
The US controlled possession and, thus, the tempo of the game
A bunch of new, young players made their debuts
Catastrophic errors were avoided
It was also bad in that, you know, it was a scoreless draw vs. the Welsh B team, and it’s not like it was scoreless because the US were fluffing chances. They just didn’t turn that possession into much penetration. That’s been an ongoing issue against pretty good-to-excellent teams during Berhalter’s two years in charge now.The second game, Monday’s 6-2 rout of an overmatched Panama side, was both better and worse. Here’s the worse part:
They gave up two goals to an overmatched Panama side
This was probably the weakest Panama team in 20 years. Their golden generation — players like Blas Perez, Luis Tejada and Jaime Penedo — have aged out, and the new guys aren’t anywhere near as good, nor they play with the same type of urgency. They do not score a lot of goals, and it was kind of shocking to see them score two against the US. Neither Matt Miazga nor Tim Ream covered themselves in glory on the defensive side of the ball. I do not think we will see that combo again.
But it was also good in a lot of ways:
Drubbing a non-minnow Concacaf side 6-2 is objectively good
The patterns of play Berhalter has been trying to instill were present, effective, and often executed at pace
Many of the younger players looked more comfortable in their second cap than their first
Once Panama fought back a bit, the US woke up and killed them down the stretch
It is nice to see a young team score goals, but I’d argue it is even nicer to see them refuse to get Concacaf’d.
Here’s a bit more of what we learned from this camp:
It’s a 2-3-2-3
I wrote in my preview that the US seemed destined to go for a 3-2-2-3 in possession this cycle, with Tyler Adams (or Jackson Yueill, or Johnny Cardoso — who was good vs. Wales but struggled vs. Panama) dropping back to split the center backs and pushing the fullbacks up, then spraying. There was some of that, but it certainly was not the default look.Instead, Adams largely stayed central and a bit ahead of the center backs, whether it was Miazga and Ream on Monday or Miazga and John Brooks last week. The fullbacks both got forward, which did create the “2-3” shape up top once the wingers pinched in, but more of that came from combination play via central midfield and less of it via dimed diagonals. It is a real difference, though I’m not willing to say whether or not it’s a “significant” difference. I need to see more of it against better competition and in games with real stakes.My gut is that I like it. The second line of “3” with Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah just smothered almost every counter opportunity before they could even start. Their mobility and ability to work as a trio was perhaps the biggest revelation of the camp, and it’s hard to imagine there won’t be a full-court press from Berhalter & Co. to get Musah to commit to the US team.An attacking aspect of this set-up that didn’t really work is the fact that it, in theory, allows more freeom for either McKennie or Musah more freedom to make late-arriving runs into the box for pull-backs – which one one of the very best parts of McKennie’s game in particular. You can do that in a 3-2-2-3 (McKennie literally has done it from that set-up), but there’s one more moving piece if/when you take that risk, and little complications like that can become big issues if the shot is blocked or the cross cut out and a counter starts in the other direction.
Those pull-backs are going to be the lifeblood of this attack. Watch this clip and you’ll all see the goal:
https://www.mlssoccer.com/iframe-video?brightcove_id=6210200317001&brightcove_player_id=default&brightcove_account_id=5530036772001 Watch it again, but focus on Gio Reyna. After releasing the pass he actually slows his run and opens up for the pullback. He is using the defender’s anticipation of a hard, direct run against him, and understands where the space in the box is about to materialize because of the pattern of play.This is good soccer from him and the US. There were a lot of little moments like that against Panama, and while I will reiterate that this is a weak Panama team compared to the past two decades, this is the exact type of team you have to beat in order to make it to the World Cup and face the Belgiums and Brazils of the world.
There Will Be a Press
The US alternated between pressing out of a 4-4-2 diamond, which was more prevalent vs. Wales with Sebastian Lletget as a false 9, and a 4-3-3 with some of the same principles, as we saw against Panama.In either set-up the goal is the same: force the opposing goalkeeper to make tough choices and tougher passes in order to find pockets, or coax them into blasting it long and giving the 12-and-a-half combined feet of US center backs a bunch of aerials to dominate.The only other option is to clip a ball to the weak-side fullback along the touchline, which is something Panama’s Orlando Mosquera did time and again. That is a recipe for turnovers, as happened time and again.On the flip side, I think it’s pretty clear that the US need to get ready to be pressed more often. Wales basically let the US have possession in the first half, then caused real problems — and nearly a goal — with some fairly committed high pressing in the second half. Panama’s goals didn’t come from pressing, but they definitely rattled the young US side for good chunks of the second half with some energetic, front-foot defending. Brooks and Ream were generally outstanding playing out of it, as were Sergino Dest and Reggie Cannon. Adams and Johnny struggled a bit.So it goes with young players — even ones on Champions League/Copa Libertadores sides.
Be Excited About the Kids
Musah, who might’ve been the second-best US player vs. Wales behind only McKennie, largely overdelivered. McKennie, Adams and Dest looked like what they are — veterans of the Champions League, and $20 million (at least) players. Reggie Cannon is not going to be a $20 million player, but my guess is he’ll be close to a $10 million, mistake-free RB who occasionally makes match-winning plays thanks to his understanding of when to get forward and pin-point crossing.Tim Weah looked healthy-ish, if not necessarily sharp. Antonee Robinson struggled, and I’ll go ahead and admit I still don’t quite see it with him (the door is very open for Sam Vines, though I’ll go ahead and persist in my belief that Dest on the left with Cannon on the right will end up being our best bet even if Dest didn’t look great there vs. Panama). Konrad de la Fuente and Uly Llanez looked like what they are, which is to say teenagers who aren’t yet really ready for first-team minutes. Richie Ledezma mostly looked like that as well, though he obviously had a major say in the late onslaught vs. Panama.I think Johnny will be very good as long as he keeps getting minutes and, quite frankly, I liked his willingness to kick people. I am still high on Chris Richards, though I am not enamored of his club situation (I don’t think he’s going to regularly play CB for Bayern Munich any time soon).So much of the above can change so quickly over the course of a few short months. For Musah, McKennie, Adams, Cannon and Dest, it changed for the better and they are all on clear, upward trajectories. The hope is that most of the rest of the players from this camp can do the same, but nothing’s guaranteed.Still, just from a depth-building perspective, this camp should be considered a major win.Reyna is probably the highest-rated truly young player in the pool. He was dominant vs. Panama, if a bit sloppier than I expected him to be on the ball in midfield. He’s not easily or often taken off of it for Borussia Dortmund, but got it caught up in his feet a few times vs. Los Canaleros. The same vs. Wales. I am not particularly concerned about this long-term — international soccer is just different. He’ll figure that part out.
The real issue with Reyna is this one:
https://www.mlssoccer.com/iframe-video?brightcove_id=6210211257001&brightcove_player_id=default&brightcove_account_id=5530036772001 The Reyna we’ve seen at Dortmund over the past year makes that pass. The Reyna we saw for US youth teams at various age-groups often doesn’t. It is why so many teams functioned better once they got him out of the engine room.This was his first-ever cap, and he followed it up with a much better second outing. He’s getting real minutes for one of the 15 (or so) best teams in the world at age 17 (now 18). The failure to make this pass is not a five-alarm fire.But it is something to be aware of.Another potential issue that I came away from this camp thinking about: Reyna was much better on the left than on the right. Christian Pulisic is much better on the left than the right, and Jordan Morris is much better on the left than the right.I don’t think this is a five-alarm fire, either. But it’s something to be aware of.I am curious to see how Berhalter will fit his consensus most-talented players on the field and meld them into a high-functioning unit. I don’t think that’s entirely clear yet, even if the system itself, and how it’s supposed to function, is.
The Situation at Striker
Here’s what I tweeted after the Wales game, during which Lletget was miscast as a false 9.Berhalter did indeed stop with the false 9 stuff vs. Panama, and both Nicholas Gioacchini and Sebastian Soto made good cases for themselves. Gioacchini’s natural inclination to link play is such a nice foundational building block, but he seems to pair it with high-level mobility and a willingness to scrap in the box. Soto, obviously, just has a nose for goal.None of these guys — either those two, or Gyasi Zardes, Jozy Altidore, Josh Sargent, Daryl Dike, Jeremy Ebobisse or Ayo Akinola — need to become Robert Lewandowski to play a significant role in what has the potential to become an excellent attack (though I would not complain if one did, in fact, become Robert Lewandowski). They just need to be capable of executing those patterns of play at pace, to stay on their toes, and to put the ball in the net when the opportunity presents itself.Regardless, I do believe that one of these guys needs to start even if it means leaving a nominally more talented winger or attacking midfielder on the bench. Balance, and getting the talent on the field to function together, is more important than just putting as much talent as is possible out there.
I don’t know if there’s much else to take from these games beyond that. They were B Team, shake-the-rust-off friendlies, and they were largely fun and good even if there were bits of disappointment scattered in. There is a clear plan of attack — and of how to attack — and more young talent than the program’s ever had scattered throughout the roster.But the truth is that with 10 months between now and the start of World Cup qualifying, these games will be largely forgotten as the games that matter finally come around. It’s not a scoreless draw vs .Wales that’ll determine who’s on the field and in what role next September; it’s club situations and injuries and opportunity, as well as a jam-packed next summer of US games at every age-group (Johnny, Uly and Konrad with the U-20s? I’d like to see it!).We’ll know more by then. In the meantime, the past 180 minutes were pretty fun and pretty purposeful. That’s good enough for me, for now.
Takeaways from USMNT’s 6-2 thumping of Panama, featuring Gio Reyna’s first senior national team goal (video)
The second-youngest lineup in U.S. men’s national team history didn’t look the part for most of Monday’s 6-2 exhibition rout of CONCACAF rival Panama in Austria. Following last week’s impressive if anticlimactic scoreless friendly with Wales, the Americans started slow, conceding the opening goal to Los Canaleros just over seven minutes into the contest. The early blow brought the USMNT to life. “It was a wakeup call.” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said.Giovanni Reyna started the comeback off of a seeing-eye free kick, Nicholas Gioacchini scored twice in a four minute span in the first half and Sebastian Soto and Sebastian Lletget added goals in the second as Gregg Berhalter’s side secured a convincing victory against a team the U.S. will face during qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
Here are three quick takeaways from Monday’s match:
Reyna makes his mark in his second U.S. appearance
Reyna’s much anticipated senior team debut was solid if unspectacular. But on Monday, he produced some of the end-product that has helped him emerge as one of the world’s top young talents with German titan Borussia Dortmund.Not only did his 18th-minute strike get the Americans back on level terms, it also showed off the newly-minted 18-year-old’s soccer brain, as Reyna sent his shot under Panama’s wall:
The goal made Reyna — the son of former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna and U.S. women’s team winger Danielle Egan — the third youngest scorer in program history. That it came in a dub mattered, tool.“We were all motivated today to get the win against a CONCACAF opponent,” Reyna said afterward, noting Los Canaleros physicality. “We got a little bit of a taste of what CONCACAF teams will be like against us.”It wasn’t a perfect showing; as much as Reyna was at the heart of many of the USA’s best moves at Wiener Neustadt Stadium, the normally tidy midfielder quite uncharacteristically got caught in possession on multiple occasions in the second half, before being replaced by the more defense-minded Johnny Cardoso at the hour mark.Still, in these last two games — which U.S. headliner Christian Pulisic missed because of a hamstring injury — Reyna showed, in flashes at least, why everyone is so excited about his future.
Gioacchini, Soto take advantage of opportunities up top
Even before 20-year-old Werder Bremen striker Josh Sargent was forced off the squad because of local COVID-19 restrictions in Germany, Berhalter’s 24-deep roster was painfully thin up top.With MLS options Jozy Altidore (injury) and Gyasi Zardes (playoff commitments) — probably No. 1 and 2 on the coach’s depth chart — also unavailable, LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget was deployed as a “false 9” in last week’s stalemate in Swansea, in which the visitors registered just one on-target shot.Berhalter promised Sunday that he would start an actual front runner against the Panamanians. Gioacchini made the most of his chance. “I feel like I have a lot to improve on [but] my first impression I don’t think was a bad one,” he said before being named Man of the Match. “Two goals is not easy for anyone.”The Kansas City native, 20, headed home his first off the rebound of a Uly Llanez shot following a sequence that started with Weston McKennie winning the ball in midfield and springing Reyna, who found Llanez on the right:McKennie also helped set up Gioacchini’s second by keeping the ball in play and crossing to defender Matt Miazga, who headed back across the face of goal. Gioacchini didn’t hesitate to stick his noggin into a dangerous spot to nod past keeper Orlando Mosquera:
Gioacchini, who plays for French second tier side Caen, could even have added a third and completed his hat trick, but Mosquera smothered his second-half penalty kick — a miss that made the things interesting when Jose Fajardo’s second pulled one back for Panama late on.But Soto restored the two-goal advantage six minutes into his debut. With the result beyond doubt, Lletget made it 5-2. Soto added the cherry with his second in stoppage time.For a team that needs all the finishing help it can get, Gioacchini’s and Soto’s performances had to have made an impression on Berhalter — one he’s not likely to forget in 2021.“It was really important for both of them. We’re really happy for both of them,” Berhalter said. “When we talked last week about the depth chart of the striker or the forward position being limited, any chance you get you have to take it, and these guys did a good job tonight.”
European-based Americans end difficult 2020 on a high
Monday’s win marked the final match of the year for most of the national team’s big guns, who will be busy with their European clubs if and when U.S. Soccer is able to schedule one final friendly next month outside of the international window — a game that would likely feature MLS players not involved in the domestic league’s Dec. 12 championship.Getting the two November games in at all during the coronavirus pandemic was a triumph in itself. Producing two solid displays, even if there were some defensive lapses on Monday, is an added bonus following all the challenges that this year has brought.“We were way too static against Wales,” Berhalter said. “And I think today the intention was to get behind the [back] line more. And that really helped the team, it really helped stretch Panama and gave us some space that we needed.“As we had to grind, and as the game got more difficult, that was what I was really interested in,” the coach added. “I’m really proud of that response as well. The subs who came in made a difference. Overall, it was a really good week.”
Breakdown of USMNT players in Wales, Panama friendlies
Nicholas Mendola Mon, November 16, 2020, 7:16 PM EST·6 min read
The United States men’s national team played its first two matches in 10 months this week, showcasing youthful vigor and plenty of growth since Gregg Berhalter’s program development was stalled by the coronavirus pandemic.
There were a lot of winners and few outright ‘losers’ — relatively speaking — from the scoreless draw against Wales and the blowout defeat of Panama. Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest, and Zack Steffen were the lone players to go 90 minutes in both matches, while Giovanni Reyna, Yunus Musah, Tyler Adams, and Matt Miazga were the other four players to get two starts.
Horvath not seeing the field against Panama means Berhalter sees Steffen as his no-doubt No. 1, while Odunze was just here for reps. We knew that anyway, but the 180 minutes underscores it.
Sergino Dest — 180 minutes (two starts) Matt Miazga — 167 minutes (two starts), assist Reggie Cannon — 93 minutes (one start, one sub), assist Antonee Robinson — 90 minutes (one start) John Brooks — 90 minutes (one start) Tim Ream — 90 minutes (one start) Chris Richards — 10 minutes (one sub)
Dest was electric in going 90 minutes each at right and left back, one of only two players to go the distance against both Wales and Panama. Cannon had a better camp than Robinson, but was it enough to keep Dest on his non-preferred side (and can Cannon man the left)?
Brooks was the Man of the Match against Wales and is the no doubt No. 1 in the pool, talent-wise. Miazga was fine against Wales but made mistakes on both Panama goals, with Ream sharing some blame on the opener. Richards only getting 10 minutes might say more about an extended chance for Miazga than it does for the Bayern Munich man.
McKennie was the team’s heart and soul in both matches, going the distance and barely putting a foot awry with the exception of what could’ve been a red card tackle in the second half against Panama. Berhalter had huge praise for the Juventus man, who looks very much like a player who’s been earning minutes in the Serie A powers’ midfield. He played a big role in the first three goals versus Panama.
Musah is the real deal, and the only question is whether the ball transporter will choose playing and probably starting for the USMNT now over a chance with England down the line (He’s repped England at many youth levels). The Valencia teen’s signature would be a massive victory for the USMNT.
Adams was good in both games. The question for Berhalter is whether he’s should be the lone holding/defensive midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 or if a double pivot may be needed more often.
Lletget’s 100 minutes are both misleading and not; Berhalter shoehorning the midfielder into a start at forward against Wales shows how much he loves the player who has been good in most of his USMNT caps, but he’s not getting that look with Josh Sargent, Gyasi Zardes, and maybe now both Gioacchini and Soto available.
Cardoso is green, which Berhalter noted, but he definitely had the technical skills and tenacity often seen from players who hail from Brazilian clubs.
Ledezma proved he’s ready for prime time, at least against CONCACAF defenses, by getting into space and providing two assists to Soto. He’ll continue to get looks.
Otasowie’s cameo will lead to some questions for a player who can still choose other clubs and could soon see minutes for Wolves in the Premier League.
Giovanni Reyna — 147 minutes (two starts), goal Nicholas Gioacchini — 87 minutes (one start, one sub), 2 goals Ulysses Llanez — 81 minutes (one start, one sub) Konrad de la Fuente — 71 minutes (one start) Timothy Weah — 24 minutes (two subs) Sebastian Soto — 13 minutes, (one sub) 2 goals
We finally got to see Reyna with the senior team. Neither performance would qualify anywhere near his best days with Borussia Dortmund but he honestly had looked a little fatigued in recent BVB outings and frankly he probably could use a rest after a thrilling but fatiguing breakthrough in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League. His free kick goal was wonderful.
Gioacchini’s and Soto’s performances against Panama will have a lot of us wondering if this would’ve been a 2-0 international break had Berhalter opted for either (or Timothy Weah) over lone-MLS representative Lletget in an out-of-position start last week. Their stock has risen the highest of any non-Reyna first-timer.
Llanez played in both matches and should only get better with more and more European minutes. He’s on loan from Wolfsburg to Dutch side Heerenveen, where he’s made three sub appearances and thrice been an unused sub. A scary-looking knee injury versus Panama was fortunately not a concern.
Weah is a big question mark. A super sub for Lille who’s scored six goals in 33 senior appearances between the Ligue 1 side, Celtic, and Paris Saint-Germain, his not starting at center forward over Lletget only to not get the call against Panama either begs questions that have yet to be asked of Berhalter. It’s reasonable enough to think he could be on a minutes restriction after a massive knee injury last season, as he’s gone 10, 8, 11, 7, 12, 1, and 14 minutes in his seven matches for second-place Lille.
Nicholas Gioacchini, Sebastian Soto offer encouragement in USMNT’s striking stocks
7:28 PM ET Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent
The worth of a forward is often in the eye of the beholder. A 30-yard-blast counts as much as a 2-yard tap-in, even though the former is often what gets the hearts of fans beating faster.There is value in both kinds of goals — not to mention link play and pressing — but the U.S. men’s national team was grateful for the two short-range tallies from Nicholas Gioacchini and another pair from substitute Sebastian Soto in a 6-2 friendly win over Panama on Monday.Forward play — and really the lack of playing with one by virtue of using a false nine — was one of the main talking points following the 0-0 draw with Wales last Friday. The U.S. dominated possession but had little in the way of attacking thrust, especially in the box. Against a rebuilding Panama side, manager Gregg Berhalter decided to go with a more standard alignment, handing Gioacchini his first start. “You could tell he was a little bit apprehensive,” said Berhalter about Gioacchini. “My job was just to give him confidence and tell him that he’s good enough, and he showed it tonight.”he Caen forward didn’t get on the ball much, just 18 touches in his 77 minutes of work. But he was in the right spots when it mattered, pouncing on a rebound in 22nd minute to put the U.S. ahead for good 2-1, and then adding another four minutes later on a diving header following a slick buildup.”I had a week that I’ll never, ever, ever forget,” Gioacchini said afterward. But he was also already critiquing his own performance, which included a penalty that was saved by Panama goalkeeper Orlando Mosquera.
“My first impression I don’t think was a bad one,” he continued. “But I could have done way better for myself, been more available to the midfield even to the center-backs. In the box, I still had areas where I felt like I should have been five steps ahead of where you were, even two steps ahead. So, you know, it’s always something to review and to remember. But still, two goals is not easy for anyone.”The day was just as memorable for Soto, who came off the bench to score two headed goals. In the process, he showed off his mobility and knack for being in good spots.The play of both players hints that the depth at the forward position might be a bit deeper than originally thought, though context is needed. Mosquera looked very shaky on his international debut. It also seems unlikely that either forward will jump ahead of the likes of Josh Sargent, Gyasi Zardes or Jozy Altidore. That said, the impression made by both players was a positive one.”For me, it was a good performance by [Soto and Gioacchini],” Berhalter said. “But it’s important. When we talked last week about potentially the depth chart of the striker and forward position being limited, any chance you get, you need to take it, and these guys did a good job.”While the forwards delivered, the play of the team as a whole was a bit all over the place, filled with some sparkling play and also some teachable moments. That was just fine with Berhalter, who was pleased to see his young side be exposed to how a game against a CONCACAF opponent can play out.”It was a very difficult game, a very physical game — more physical than the Wales game,” said Berhalter. “We needed that. The guys needed it. We had some guys calling for fouls. These aren’t going to be fouls. You’ve got to play on.”The U.S. started the match almost asleep, lacking in defensive focus, only to be woken up by Jose Fajardo‘s eighth-minute header that gave Los Canaleros a shock 1-0 lead. The U.S. soon asserted control through its midfield, scoring three times in an eight minute span, with recent birthday boy Gio Reyna netting his first international goal courtesy of a free kick that was won by Yunus Musah.
In the second half, the U.S. then returned to sleep mode, as Panama ratcheted up its intensity and physical play. Weston McKennie, while excellent on the night, was lucky to stay on the field with a two-footed tackle on Panama’s Gaby Torres that drew only a yellow card. When Fajardo bagged his second of the night in the 79th minute with well-taken drive, there was a question of whether a team with plenty of debutantes on the field could see the game out. That they did, with Richie Ledezma assisting on both of Soto’s goal and Sebastian Lletget adding another.
“That was the period I was most interested in,” said Berhalter. “I was really interested in seeing where we gonna buckle or could we hang in there. And not only did we hang in there, we pulled away at the end, scoring a number of goals, so I was pleased with the performance.”Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this international window was the play of the U.S. central midfield. Once again, Tyler Adams, McKennie, and Musah shined. The task now is to convince Musah to stick with the U.S. for the long term. The two recent performances don’t cap-tie him to the U.S., and England have made it clear they don’t intend to let Musah go without a fight. The U.S. have been able to strike first, however, and that at least gets Musah pondering his options.”I was really happy with, with Yunus’ performance, I’m really happy with him in camp. The guys really took to him well,” said Berhalter.”All I’ve ever said about players in his category is that all we want to do is create an environment for them that they want to be in, that they trust is a good environment for their development. And it seemed like that was the case for Yunus. It seems like he sees us as a pathway to continue to develop and play with a good, young group. But in the end, it’s going to be him and his family that decide.”Things are already looking up for the U.S. given how young players are beginning to establish themselves with their clubs. If Musah commits to the U.S., that feeling will only increase.
Armchair Analyst: Tactical preview of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs Play-In matches
The Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs are finally here! And that means a Play-In round, because for some reason 10 teams made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference! It’s a little weird and I still don’t get it, but what the hell — more soccer is more better.
So let’s take a look:
New England Revolution vs. Montreal Impact
Friday, November 20 (6:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN 1/4, TVA Sports)
What New England will do: It’s a Bruce Arena team in the postseason, and Bruce Arena teams are first and foremost about defense in the postseason. Remember his 2011 LA Galaxy side that won the Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double? That team had Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, David Beckham and Mike Magee, and they won their four playoff games that year 1-0, 2-1, 3-1 and 1-0.
Look at that list of players and then look at those scorelines. That’s the Platonic Ideal of a Bruce Arena playoff run.
Now look at that list of players once more, then look at the list of the Revs’ best players and… oh dear. It’s not quite the same, is it?
New England have by-and-large played good soccer this year out of a 4-4-2ish 4-2-3-1. They generate useful possession out of midfield and get both fullbacks forward into good spots, and defensively they’ve been one of the best teams in the league on top of the fact that, in Matt Turner, they have the very best goalkeeper in the league.
The problem, though, is all that useful possession has too infrequently turned into high-quality chances, and it’s because they have not gotten the sort of elite play from their DPs that Arena’s Galaxy teams could always count on:
Gustavo Bou, who was on a heater when he arrived in MLS last year, regressed in the exact manner his xG totals suggested he would. He is a conscience-less gunner who eschews the extra pass for low-percentage shots from waaaaay downtown.
Adam Buksa barely moves the needle. While his individual advanced numbers are promising, he has virtually no teamwide effect as per Second Spectrum tracking data:
When Buksa sits, New England overall produce 13.37 shots and 1.17xG per 90 minutes (4th and 10th in the league).
When Buksa plays, those numbers marginally increase to 13.78 shots and 1.25 xG per 90 (4th and 9th in the league).
Lots of shots, but a middling ROI. That’s Bou’s ethos seeping in teamwide.
All of this can be forgiven, to a degree, by the absence of playmaker Carles Gil, who managed to start just four games during an injury-riddled season. No. 10s by their very nature tend to create higher-quality chances, and Gil spent a lot of 2019 doing exactly that. His presence will help, even if he is likely better off picking the ball up in midfield and releasing the likes of Teal Bunbury and Tajon Buchanan into space than he is dictating from the final third.
What Montreal will do: They’ll most likely force New England to try and dictate from the final third. Bunbury just had probably his best year as a pro, but he is light-years more dangerous in transition than in front-foot possession. Buksa and Bou are inconsistent. Bucanan is a talent, but is not yet productive.This is the exact type of team who invites forward and just beg them to bang their collective heads against the wall for 90 minutes, and then try to smash-and-grab on the counter or a set piece. Thierry Henry’s team has not been defensively resolute enough to make that work week after week during the regular season, but they’ve got some rest now, and plenty of tape of and familiarity with the Revs. There won’t be many illusions re: what they’re facing.Enter right back/right wingback Zachary Brault-Guillard, who tormented New England when these teams first met in 2020:
His ability to make those direct runs and be dangerous at pace — while reaching a top speed that almost no one else in the league can hit — isn’t just a wild card here: It’s a devastating avenue of attack that has unbalanced the exact team they happen to be facing in this game.A lot of things have changed since March, and there will certainly be new and different faces on the pitch for both teams. And I’m not even willing to wager on what formation Henry will play (though if you forced me to, I’d say 5-4-1). But one thing I don’t think has changed since then is the best path forward for Montreal against this New England side: Up the right flank, to Brault-Guillard, and hopefully (for them) into the next round of the playoffs.
X-Factor No. 1: Whether Victor Wanyama plays or not, the Impact have been soft as hell up the spine and are prone to giving up a ton of room in that gap between the central midfield and central defense. It doesn’t matter who Wanyama’s been flanked with (Henry has at times fielded three defensive midfielders), nor whether the Impact goes with four or five at the back.
If Gil sets up shop there, Montreal’s in trouble.
And also, you can probably tell from my tone above I don’t love Bou’s shoot-on-sight mentality. But the thing is, sometimes those low-percentage looks go in, and if you’re giving him time to wind up from 28 yards and nobody’s closing him down, I don’t precisely hate his chances. A Bou golazo in those circumstances would surprise no one.
X-Factor No. 2: The Revs are one of the best teams in the league defending from open play, but are among the very worst defending on set pieces — corners in particular. Montreal aren’t anything special on restarts, but you don’t have to be to find paydirt against New England.
Nashville SC vs. Inter Miami
Friday, November 20 (9 pm ET | ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, TSN 1/5, TVA Sports)
What Nashville will try to do:Nashville beat pretty much everybody’s expectations, including my own. I had them pegged for an Orlando City-esque opening season — close to the playoff race throughout the year, but eventually finishing just shy of the dance. The difference would be the 2015 Orlando City side did it with their attack, while this Nashville team was obviously built to defend.
And defend they did, right from the jump. In fact they defended so well they survived having the league’s worst attack right up until mid-September. And since then they’ve kept defending well, while the attack has evolved to “pretty ok-ish, and sometimes even good.”
And that is why they’re in the playoffs. Nashville really did earn this spot.
To reiterate, though: It’s defense first, and quite often it’s defense first, last and always. Nashville are prone toward parking themselves — almost always in a 4-2-3-1 — right in goalkeeper Joe Willis’s lap and just living off of their ability to clear their own area and then counter. Per Second Spectrum tracking data, Nashville are:
2nd in the league in sequences per 90 minutes that begin in their defensive third, and 2nd in the league on transition sequences that begin in their defensive third (effectively tied for first with Portland (19.554 vs 19.552).
3rd in the league on live ball turnovers per game that are won in the defensive third, behind only Portland and Dallas.
8th in the league (33.143 passes per game) in long-balls, which they attempt, on average, 4th furthest from the opponent’s goal.
If you let them sit and defend a million crosses, and then give them room to counter, they will hurt you.
That said, they have progressively added more to their attack over the course of the season, including a bit of pressing:
To be perfectly honest, I think they should press the hell out of a dodgy and lacking-in-any-sort-of-chemistry Miami side as soon as the whistle blows and not stop until they’ve got a two-goal cushion. But we didn’t really see a ton of that version of Nashville.
What Miami will try to do: I kind of have no idea. There were so many changes throughout the year from Miami — personnel, formation, tactics, line of confrontation — that it’s almost impossible to predict what, exactly, we could see from them in this one. Maybe it all comes together and clicks and their multi-million-dollar global stars look like multi-million-dollar global stars. Or maybe they bag a couple of set pieces like they did on Decision Day presented by AT&T (please note: It’s easier to do that vs. Cincy than against Nashville), or maybe they… just do what they’ve done all year.
“What they’ve done all year” is have a lot of the ball and struggle to turn that into high-percentage chances. Their best looks usually come when winger Lewis Morgan is released down the right side and can pick out whoever’s making the back-post run. Know who was most effective at that in 2020? Brek Shea. Brek Shea is key to this team’s playoff hopes, folks.I tend to think Morgan and Shea will start on the wings, with Rodolfo Pizarro (if he’s back in time) as the No. 10 and Gonzalo Higuain as the center forward. Higuain has been brutally bad in front of goal — he has just one goal, which was a direct free kick, in 802 minutes since his arrival — but has actually done real and effective link-up work with his back to goal. He has arguably been the best playmaker on the team.
When you have a No. 9 doing that and two wingers who like to get to the edges of the box and a No. 10 who’s more of a runner than a playmaker, it becomes obvious what the gameplan is: Have Higuain check back to the ball and try to draw one of the Nashville center backs out, then use coordinated patterns of play to exploit that space said center back just vacated. It is easier said than done.
I do think we’re likelier to see a 4-2-3-1 than a 3-4-2-1, though neither would surprise me from Diego Alonso.
X-Factor No. 1: Nashville’s line of confrontation. I said above that I’d press the hell out of Miami — just rattle that backline early and often. They will break if you do that.
X-Factor No. 2: DP quality matters. Neither of these teams can look at their top-end talent and be happy with what was delivered this year, but if you went into the playoffs with Higuain and Pizarro as your match-winners vs. Jhonder Cadiz, Randal Leal and Hany Mukhtar, who are you taking?
I am a big “You win with 1-through-30” guy during the regular season. But in the playoffs, sometimes it’s “you don’t lose with 3-through-15 and you hope Nos. 1 & 2 get you the dub.”
Unless Walker Zimmerman goes HAM on restarts — and he might! — Miami are better suited for that kind of competition.
Bandwagon guide to the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs: Who to root for and why
Someone has to win MLS Cup. There is a very strong chance it will not be your team. If your team is eliminated or — yikes — maybe didn’t even make the playoffs, you’ll need someone to root for the rest of the way. We’re here to help.
For fans of: Good tweets, The Little Rascals successfully outsmarting adults, Saying things like “strength in numbers”, Captain America, Snake-men?
You should hop on the wagon because: The Union are the Team of the People. They would be this simply by the virtue of having Ilsinho on the team, but they’ve proven themselves to be so much more than that this year. They’ve created one of the highest-flying attacks in the league with a mixture of homegrowns and relative unknowns that embody the Soccer Man ideal of the team being stronger than the individual. You aren’t going to go wrong with adopting this team as your own. You may even win the whole thing. But with a team as fun and likable as this one, there’s always a chance they become too popular and you seem kind of lame for picking them. It’s probably worth the risk though.
You should hop on the wagon because: There are some of you who are looking for nothing more than a little comfort in 2020. It’s totally understandable. It’s nice to have constants. And a Toronto-Seattle MLS Cup will bring you back to the comforts of 2016 or 2017 or 2019.
For those of you looking for something beyond that, the only answer is Ayo Akinola. He’s one of the league’s best stories. He also happens to be a combination of all your favorite strikers at once. As soon as he’s done bullying you, he can turn around and prove he’s smarter than you just for fun. He’s the high school quarterback with a 4.8 GPA. It’s terrifying to go up against, but a joy to watch from afar. If you want to root for Toronto to make MLS Cup (again) but Ayo scores all the goals, everyone would understand.
Columbus Crew SC
For fans of: Getting an A on the first three tests so you can cruise with D-’s on the last three, The Darlington Nagbe heatmap, The Akron Zips, Taxis, Guy Fieri
You should hop on the wagon because: There’s something really commendable about starting off the year so well that you can take a few weeks off toward the end and still end up near the top of the conference. The Crew are here to appeal to those among us who have the ability to make something of themselves if they apply themselves, but aren’t really worried about applying themselves just yet. They’ll show up when it matters. And now it matters. Live vicariously through them unmotivated brilliant people.
You should hop on the wagon because: This wagon might be crowded but that’s ok. Everyone else is new here, too. Everything about Orlando’s turnaround is pretty well documented by this point, but that doesn’t mean this team isn’t absurdly fun. Chris Mueller’s whole “Money Badger” thing continues to be a blessing on all of us, Daryl Dike is The Truth, Mauricio Pereyra sees like five moves ahead of everyone else, Nani!, and Ruan is still very, very fast. If you like the part in Karate Kid where the Karate Kid kicks that other kid in the face and everyone cheers including the kid who got kicked in the face because the Karate Kid is so likable at that point, this team will work for you.
You should hop on the wagon because: Uhhh … you’re really into a fullback being the best player on the team? Anton Tinnerholm is fun! Otherwise, man, this team has been pretty quiet all season. They’ve been sneaky good though. They’re far closer to being in the top-four than I think anyone realizes. Maybe the hook is you’re someone who wants the unappreciated to be appreciated a little more. Or maybe it’s that you’ll have a wagon largely to yourself. Bring your Peloton. Do some yoga. Stretch yourself out. Enjoy the space. At least for now.
New York Red Bulls
For fans of: Classic rock, Using the appropriate ratio of shampoo to conditioner, Committing to the bit, The “new manager bounce,” Looking incredible in convertibles
You should hop on the wagon because: You love incredible hair. We could talk about this team rebounding from their coach being let go in September to become a legitimate playoff team with a chance to play a major spoiler role, but why would we when half the team has committed to not going anywhere near a barber for the last few months and They. Are. Owning it.
For fans of: Keeping your air hockey paddle up against the goal, Brutalist architecture, the 1985 Villanova Wildcats, Using your car to hit a puddle right as you pass a well-dressed businessman
You should hop on the wagon because: This team is going to ruin someone’s year. You can just feel it when you watch them. They’ve been hot throughout the back end of this season and it’s largely because they don’t really let anyone score on them. And when they do, they’ve been able to find their way back into games anyway. Don’t act like their 3-2 comeback over Orlando wasn’t a serious omen. This is coming. They’re going to run out of hot chicken and signed Jason Isbell live records soon, y’all better hop on this one while you can.
New England Revolution
For fans of: Goalkeeping, Coming back from injury at the right time, uhhhh … goalkeeping?
You should hop on the wagon because: You love goalkeeping. And you’re heavily invested in the comeback story of Carles Gil. And … you love goalkeeping?
Look, Matt Turner could spoil a team’s entire playoff run and there’s nothing more frustrating than losing after your team puts up like 30 shots and doesn’t score because the keeper goes off. If you’re that kind of abrasive, this team is for you.
For fans of: Being handsome, Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry being handsome, Not really caring if you lose by five as long as you score five, Google translate, Carelessly handling nitroglycerin
You should hop on the wagon because: This team just absolutely does not care about defense. And they’re still here. Why? Because they care a lot about scoring. They’re an incredible and underrated chaos team. They’re a combo of LAFC without the millionaire talent and San Jose without the man-marking. No one gave up more goals than them in the East. This wagon may crash at any time but it will probably explode when it does. Won’t that be cool?
You should hop on the wagon because: I know everyone is staring at the Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi floor models, but can I take you to the end of the lot and show you this shiny Lewis Morgan everyone seems to be ignoring? He has five goals and eight assists this season and has scored a few stunners along the way. This team has people who can play outside of the two huge names and that should really entice you to suppo — hahahaha no, no, I’m just kidding, this bandwagon is clearly about a “10th-seed’ winning MLS Cup because we’re all deeply broken and it would be hilarious.
You should hop on the wagon because: Despite this team finishing first in the Western Conference, I have a pretty good idea of how many experts and analysts and the general population outside of Kansas City are going to pick SKC to make MLS Cup. It is a very small amount. If you’re tired of good work being underappreciated or you love a team with an “Everyone is still doubting us” chip on their shoulder, this is your team. Or maybe you just love a good military brush cut?
For fans of: Spy vs. Spy, The Escher Staircase, Groundhog Day, Eating soup for five meals a day, Clemson-Alabama national championship games, Full House
You should hop on the wagon because: There are some of you who are looking for nothing more than a little comfort in 2020. It’s totally understandable. It’s nice to have constants. And a Toronto-Seattle MLS Cup will bring you back to the comforts of 2016 or 2017 or 2019.
For those of you looking for something beyond that, Raul Ruidiaz is liable at any time to pull off the most incredible goal you’ve ever seen in your life, Jordan Morris is a dang fighter jet on the wing despite everyone being worried about his posture, Nico Lodeiro has yet to stop running, Stefan Frei seems chill and weird in a good way, Brian Schmetzer is everyone’s dad and … I don’t know, maybe you’re really into fighting over whether certain teams are dynasties because you’re possibly anti-social? All of these are reasons this team could work for you.
For fans of: The name Diego, Brothers, The Logging Industry, Overcoming injuries, A second Hype-Cart, Little brothers becoming taller brothers, Green
You should hop on the wagon because: If you had to take your pick of who might keep us from another Seattle-Toronto MLS Cup, it’s probably Portland. They’ve given Seattle issues for most of the season and they match up well against them. It also helps that they’ve already proven they’re an excellent tournament team this season. The MLS is Back Tournament champions are for anyone who believes in wanting the ball with the game on the line.
For fans of: Having a Google Doc listing those who have wronged you
For fans of: Being technically correct
You should hop on the wagon because: You find it amazing that even if this team wins MLS Cup, they will have played less games than every single team in the Eastern Conference. Seriously, in 2020, that’s an incredible outcome. And for the more nihilistic of us, it would be funny. Other than that, I dunno, maybe you’re impressed by Cole Bassett in a big way?
For fans of: Luchi Gang, Big Bad Bryan, Cheez-Its, Wearing your shirt two-sizes too large, Clemson football, Tanner the Tank, Memes
You should hop on the wagon because: Dallas’ social presence alone almost makes this worth it, but throw in the fact you have likable and youthful personalities all over the field and this is a team where the wagon won’t be crowded, but everyone on it will be interesting and enjoyable. Like a cozy hipster coffeeshop before it gets too popular. This team is also talented enough to make a run if you’re into that kind of thing too.
For fans of: Four Loko, Chugging Four Loko, Not the new Four Loko, the old Four Loko when it was actually cool, Importing Buckfast Tonic Wine because you hear it’s like Four Loko, but maybe better, Attaching jumper cables to your ears and a live car battery while you drink Four Buckfast Tonic Wine Loko, a combination of both of your favorite drinks
You should hop on the wagon because: The wagon is actually a tank and it’s not on the ground, it’s actually falling through the sky and the tank is on fire and this could either be the greatest night of your life or the worst. Would you like some Four Loko?
San Jose Earthquakes
For fans of: The “Heart” character on Captain Planet, Jimmy Chitwood, The Fast and Furious franchise, Scoring with any part of your body, Opening Pandora’s Box because it’s a Saturday and you and your friends are bored, Heartfelt speeches
You should hop on the wagon because: You believe in love. You believe in the power of a team to become more than just a collection of players, but a family. An honest to God family. One that has each other’s back at every turn. You believe in one-on-one interactions, eye contact and a firm handshake. You believe in yourself. You believe in each other. You believe if hugs were currency, well then you’re the richest person alive. You believe the sun rises each day to give you one more chance to bring joy into the world.
You also believe it’s totally ok to give up two or six goals or so and look everyone’s just going to have to be OK with that, love can only get you so far.
After Germany’s 6-0 defeat to Spain, is it time for Joachim Low to go?
You have faith in your captain. He led your conquest of the Seven Seas. You see the cracks in the hull; he shows you how to repair them. You take on water; he tells you to pump it out. You capsize in Russian waters; he gets you to right the boat, jettisoning some of your most experienced crew. And then a big Spanish wave comes, nearly splitting your boat in two. Is it time to throw the captain overboard?
The 6-0 beatdown that Germany suffered against Spain is the country’s heaviest defeat since a 6-0 trouncing, in 1931, at the hands of the Austrian “Wunderteam” and “The Paper Man,” Matthias Sindelar. But the scoreline doesn’t tell the story. If it wasn’t for that “GER” emblazoned in the top left-hand corner of your screen as you watched the game, you’d be forgiven for thinking Spain were facing Liechtenstein or Andorra, such was the disparity on the pitch.
International football may be changing, but its currency is still that of cliché. Brazil are the creative types, Italy the defensive types and Germany, the solid, consistent, not-necessarily-pretty-but-always-present types. The stereotypes are long passé in terms of being anchored to reality, but they persist in the back of people’s minds because they aren’t conjured out of thin air, but rather reflect how a football culture sees itself.One of Jogi Low’s strengths in his heyday was to marry that sense of discipline, confidence and solidity with the tactical acumen and technical strides the country made after its reboot from the 2006 World Cup on.Under Low, first as Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistant in 2006 and then in sole charge immediately after, Germany reached at least the semifinals in every major tournament right up to 2018. Then came the debacle in Russia — when they were eliminated at the group stage for the first time since 1938 — and when belief began to waver, Low sold the notion that this was just a blip.
Low took the sort of bold, decisive steps that long-tenured coaches are often accused of not being willing to make. He owned the World Cup failure. He didn’t make excuses. He ditched his longtime stalwarts, guys who had delivered for him in the past. Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira were cast out immediately after the last World Cup; Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng were told their services were no longer needed a few months later.Except then, you have to follow up, both with results and performances. And Germany did not.
Their competitive record since Russia — nine wins, five draws, four defeats — may not seem horrific (though it is subpar by German standards), but that includes Euro 2020 qualifying against the likes of Belarus, Northern Ireland and Estonia. Limit yourself to the last two Nations League cycles when they were facing quality opposition, and the only country they’ve beaten is Ukraine. (And one of those was last weekend, against a side weakened by positive COVID-19 tests.)
“Everything was bad, from every point of view,” is how Low summed things up after Tuesday’s match. “Nothing worked, both defensively and offensively. We gave up the first goal, and we gave up our entire plan. That killed us. We abandoned our concepts and just ran around aimlessly.”Short of resigning on the spot, you won’t find a more extreme mea culpa. But … so what?Low isn’t deluded. His Geany side was humiliated by a young, rebuilding Spain team that, for all its pedigree, isn’t exactly teeming with household names. This isn’t the Spain of a decade ago, built on the sacred pact between Pep Guardiola’s Barca and Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid that delivered two Euros and a World Cup in six years. This was a team with a single Barcelona player (Sergi Roberto, who isn’t even an automatic choice at club level) and a single Real Madrid player (Sergio Ramos, who came off injured before half-time) in the starting XI. Germany gave up a hat-trick to Ferran Torres, who is 20 and is really only getting playing time at Manchester City because of injuries to Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. On the opposite flank was Dani Olmo, who this time last season was playing for — no disrespect — Dinamo Zagreb. At center-forward was Alvaro Morata, the King of Retreads, a guy who was once a “can’t-miss prospect” and, at 28, has experienced more highs and lows than Bitcoin. At the back, you had a guy who is 23, plays for Villarreal and is in only in his second top-fight season (Pau Torres). Next to him, once Ramos went off, was a 19-year-old kid who has made 10 top-flight starts in his entire career (Eric Garcia). The goalkeeper, Unai Simon, is 23 and has started fewer than 50 top-flight games.
This is who beat Germany. Not a savvy, experienced, uber-confident side filled with world superstars, but rather a hungry team of (mostly) youngsters looking to make a name for themselves. Spain’s starting lineup included four players who have won a Big Five league or Champions League at some point: Morata, Ramos, Sergi Roberto and Koke. Germany included four who won the Treble with Bayern Munich less than three months ago, plus Toni Kroos, Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan, who are also former title-winners. And Matthias Ginter, who may not have won a league title, but did win a World Cup.That, most of all, has to be one of Low’s biggest concern. His team didn’t get humiliated because they were too old or too inexperienced or too lacking in quality. They were road-graded because they failed to react and showed no inkling of a plan on the pitch. That’s not what German teams do.Jurgen Klinsmann says only Manuel Neuer has been a leader for Germany since Thomas Muller was frozen out.Even in Russia, at their lowest ebb, they didn’t look like this. In fact, with considerable mental acrobatics, you can conjure up an alternative reality where one of the many chances they created against South Korea in Kazan goes in, the ball doesn’t deflect off Niklas Sule in injury time to play Kim Young-Gwon onside and they somehow advance and go on to achieve great things.And with the same, hyper-stretching of reality, you can blame the 2019 Nations League debacle on Muller, Hummels and Boateng, boils on Die Mannschaft lanced by their exclusion, but you can’t explain away Tuesday night in any way, shape or form. This is a scar that stays with you.It’s not over for Low, though; there’s a European championship to be played in six months — pandemic permitting — and if he turns it around, nobody will forget this night in Seville. He’ll presumably be able to count on Kai Havertz and Joshua Kimmich. The former is one of the greatest raw (emphasis on the word “raw”) in his age group (he’s 20); the latter is arguably the best all-around midfielder in the world.The front three of Sane, Gnabry and Werner is terrifyingly quick and hugely prolific. Before Seville, Neuer was once again hailed as one of the best in the world, plus he’s bounced back from setbacks before. (Even if he doesn’t, Marc-Andre ter Stegen is pretty darn good.) At the back, it looks a bit grim in terms of quality right now, but there are plenty of bodies to choose from and you only need a couple to hit form at the right time.Logic tells you all that. This boat is sturdier than it feels right now, but the question remains: is Low, at this stage, the right captain to lead it out there on the water? Does he really give you the best possible chance of being successful on the open seas? Or do his poor decisions, lack of support among the crew and inherent stubbornness (he said after the match that there was no reason to recall Muller, Hummels and/or Boateng) suggest that it’s time for the old sea dog to return to port, once and for all?
Nations league play – this weekend and only 3 games on normal TV – unfortunately. Sunday England plays Belgium on ESPN2 at 2:45 pm with England in a must win or they are out for the final. Saturday former European Champs Portugal hosts France in a must win game at 2:45 pm on ESPN+. Sunday the battle in group 1 between Poland, Italy, Netherlands all battle for the top spot with games on ESPN+ at 2:45 its Poland vs Italy. Finally Croatia hosts Portugal at 2:45 pm on ESPN Tuesday. Great games in Nations League to go along with the US vs Panama game on Monday at 2:45 pm on FS1.
US Ties @ Wales 0-0
So what an exciting start for the youngsters of the US in their 0-0 tie with Wales. Lets start with the positives. This team attacked, they pressed and they maintained possession for 65% of the time, especially in the 1st half. The game was played on Wales half of the field – with the occasional counter attack. But the US set the pace and controlled possession. Now with control of the ball – the final 3rd communication was suspect and we only broke thru a couple of times. We did not have a #9 tonight – not sure why Greg didn’t play one of the actual forward youngsters Soto or Gioacchini – but his use of Lleggett as a false 9 did not work. Imagine that. Greg does love his MLS guys. Listen I like Lleggett he plays like an old school American – no skills all heart. But as a #9 – he missed no fewer than 4 chances that were perfectly crossed because he was NO WHERE to be found. He is not a forward and Greg was crazy to try it. Hopefully he’ll send Leggett back to the US for game 2. We have kids to see – I don’t need to see a US MLS hacker playing out of position. Again with a healthy Josh Sargent you would have liked to see him up top to show he could do something. But unless Soto or Gioachini get a chance up top – Altidore is still your only #9 in the US pool.
I thought Dest was a god at right back and along with Adams and McKinney the best players on the field. Adams and McKinney are darn near world class players now at the 6 and 8 spots and Dest should flair, solid attack and good defense at right back. He is our best outside back – either side. Gio Reyna had his moments but did not look comfortable in the #10 role he was handed – a winger for Dortmund – I thought he looked ok – but not great in his first start in a US Shirt. Yunus Musa certainly showed he can move with the ball as he had some really flashy moments and good possession at times in the midfield. Again not sure he’s not more suited at the wing like he plays for Valencia – but at 17 years old – he did not look out of place with the big boys. Konrad started and had his chance to make a statement for the Barcelona man – but he launched the best US chance over net from 5 feet out in the first. Overall he was good – but won’t displace Pulisic if he ever actually stays healthy enough to play.
I thought the defense was solid – Dest has improved his defense to go along with his attacking flair on the right. Brooks was sto in the middle and held things together and distributed really really well from the back. I thought Miazga was ok at right center back – good distribution – but was just a 5 or so overall. Want to see Richards there on Monday with Brooks hopefully. On the left back– Robinson was ok – but the Fulham man definitely showed he was the weak link back there. I wouldn’t mind seeing Dest on the left and give Reggie Cannon a run on right next game. Overall I think the young core of the US team looked pretty good. I give them a 7 overall. They should have had more shots to match the overwhelming time of possession but overall I think they outplayed Wales on the road (would have been interesting to see Pulisic on the wing for the US in this game). Can’t wait to see some changes for game 2 on Monday vs a Panama team we should beat. But, Overall a good show and an exciting time to be a US fan again. I truly believe our U23 team with all of our guys playing the Adams, McKinney, Pulisic, Dest, Richards, Sargent, Reyna, Konrad could make a run to the semis at least – they are that good. We are going to be good – not sure in time for 2022 – but after that – look out – I truly believe our golden generation might finally be arriving. Next Up USA vs Panama – Monday 2:30 pm on Fox Sports 1.
FORWARDS (8): Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona), Nicholas Gioacchini (Caen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Uly Llanez (Heerenveen), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Sebastian Soto (Telstar), Tim Weah (Lille),
Who Are the New Guys- from
There’s a bunch! Let’s meet them:
FW: Niko Gioacchini: A 20-year-old true center forward who plays for Caen in Ligue 2. He’s rugged and strong, does good work holding up the ball and runs a lot. He reminds me a lot of Vancouver’s Lucas Cavallini. And like Cavallini at the same age, he needs to refine his goalscoring instincts. But the raw materials are good and he’s getting real minutes and scoring fairly consistently in a pretty good league at a young age.
FW: Sebastian Soto: Another 20-year-old center forward, Soto started for the US U-20s at last year’s World Cup and made news recently by flirting with accepting a call-up from Chile. He basically lost a year of development by not playing because of his club situation, but is now scoring goals for fun in the Dutch second tier while on loan to Telstar from Norwich City. He looks stronger than he did 18 months ago, but is still kind of a lightweight. He’s also much more of a poacher than a target man.
W: Gio Reyna: You know who Gio Reyna is and what he does by now, right?
W: Konrad de la Fuente: Konrad was, like Soto, a part of that U-20 team last year. Unlike Soto he struggled badly, to the point where you could question what his immediate future was. It turns out his immediate future was significant improvement with Barcelona, to the point that he’s now made the gameday squad a couple of times (but has yet to debut) for the full first team. And he’s still just 19. He’s very right-footed and has looked much more comfortable playing inverted than as a traditional winger, as he did for Tab Ramos and the US U-20s last year.
AM: Richy Ledezma: That U-20 team was stocked, is what I’m saying. Ledezma didn’t get to show his whole range of skills since he was recovering from an injury and didn’t play much, but when he got on the field — especially against France — he was a dynamic, game-breaking No. 10. He just glides both on and off the ball, and has the ability to finish plays either by scoring or by finding the last pass.
He has not yet broken through for PSV into the regular first-team rotation (he just made his debut last week) because 1) he is too right-footed, which causes him major problems, and 2) his reactions in transition defense are poor. I still have a lot of Richy Ledezma stock, though.
CM: Yunus Musah: The youngest member of the roster, as he was born 16 days after Reyna in 2002, Musuah’s also a surprise inclusion. He’s a tri-national who had mostly represented England in the youth national team ranks, and the US had to push to get him. They pushed hard, and they got him — at least for this camp. Nothing that happens over the next week can cap-tie him, remember.
Musah, who was born in NYC and came through the Arsenal academy system, is starting for Valencia in La Liga mostly as a right midfielder though sometimes as a right winger. Consensus seems to be that his future is more likely to be as a box-to-box No. 8, and Berhalter explicitly compared him to McKennie, so I don’t think there’s too much tea-reading necessary to figure out where he’s going to play in this camp.
DM: Johnny Cardoso: Or just “Johnny,” actually, for the New Jersey-born but Brazil-raised 19-year-old, who is already a regular with Internacional of Porto Alegre. That’s one of Brazil’s biggest clubs, and that means he’s already played a bunch both in Brazil’s top flight and in the Copa Libertadores. Johnny lacks a bit of defensive bite but I think he should be right at home in the “drop between the defenders and orchestrate from deep” role.
DM: Owen Otasowie: A giant 19-year-old defensive midfielder (who might actually fancy himself as more of a No. 8) who was born in NYC and has spent the past couple of years with the Wolves academy and in their youth ranks. He’s made one first-team appearance, back in last year’s Europa League, but hasn’t been seen or heard from with the first team since then. Otasowie’s also played some center back, both for some of the Wolves youth teams and the US U-18s. I hope that’s his long-term position.
CB: Chris Richards: Ok, back to last year’s U-20s. Richards was the rock in the center of that defense, and arguably the best prospect on that team (though obviously there are cases to be made for others, with Dest being the most obvious). He is big, strong and fast — probably an A- overall athlete — and a very good-to-great distributor of the ball (though opinions from people I respect vary on that). When he made his debut for Bayern Munich’s first team earlier this year he played as a right back. I’ll go ahead and guess that fewer than 3 percent of his total minutes for the USMNT, no matter how many he eventually accrues, will come at that spot. He is a pure center back here.
GK: Chituru Odunze: I am not going to give you a scouting report on the third-string goalkeeper. Just know that he is huge, he is from Raleigh, he is a US-Canadian dual-national and he’s with Leicester City playing in the youth ranks these days.
Elsewhere, players are absent after testing positive for Covid-19, among them Eden Hazard, who is set to miss Belgium’s games with England and Denmark.Niklas Suele, Kai Havertz and Emre Can are missing for Germany, while Edin Dzeko is out for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Wissam Ben Yedder for France.nd it’s not just the players: Italy coach Roberto Mancini also had to go into quarantine after contracting the virus.
Then there are the injuries, with players struggling to keep up with the demands of a packed schedule.
England’s Liverpool defender Joe Gomez this week succumbed to a serious knee injury. Spain’s Ansu Fati and Germany’s Joshua Kimmich also suffered knee injuries just before this international break.
– Will holders Portugal reach finals? –
The winners of the four groups in League A will advance to the finals, which UEFA has pencilled in for October next year.
Portugal are the holders after winning the inaugural edition on home soil in 2019, and the reigning European champions face World Cup holders France in Lisbon on Saturday in a crunch game — whoever wins will be through to the finals, while a draw keeps things alive until the final Group 3 matches on Tuesday.
Poland, Italy and the Netherlands are all fighting it out in Group 1, while Belgium are in pole position in Group 2 and can knock out England with a win in Leuven on Sunday. Denmark are still in contention in that group too.
In Group 4, just one point separates Spain, Germany and Ukraine with two rounds left. It could all come down to Spain’s clash with Germany in Seville on Tuesday.
– Scotland, Wales to join elite? –
Hot on the heels of their penalty shoot-out win over Serbia which secured qualification for Euro 2020, a rejuvenated Scotland can clinch promotion to the elite League A.Steve Clarke’s side currently top League B, Group 2 by four points from the Czech Republic. A win in Slovakia on Sunday will therefore do the job, otherwise they have another chance to secure top spot in Israel on Wednesday.Wales are hoping to secure first place in League B, Group 4, with a one-point lead over Finland and home games against the Republic of Ireland and the Finns to come.
– World Cup incentive –
While the likes of Scotland and North Macedonia qualified for Euro 2020 after coming through play-offs based on performance in the last Nations League, there is an added incentive in this edition related to the 2022 World Cup.
Qualifying for Qatar 2022 will start in March, with 10 group winners advancing to the finals.
The 10 runners-up will go into the play-offs, where they will be joined by the best two Nations League group winners (based on overall rankings) who did not directly qualify or reach the play-offs.
A total of three World Cup spots will be available through the play-offs, so Qatar remains a long way off, but this is still an extra reason for the likes of Scotland, Wales and others to top their Nations League groups.
Three things we learned from USMNT’s draw with Wales
Andy Edwards Thu, November 12, 2020, 4:48 PM EST
Wales – USMNT: So what if the U.S. men’s national team played a very young Wales side to a mostly dull scoreless draw in Swansea on Thursday?The (not-so-) Baby Yanks were far and away the better side, but more importantly every returning player showed signs of individual progress made in 2020.Here are three things we learned about Gregg Berhalter’s side on a rainy night in south Wales…
The great thing about kids is, they eventually grow up
It had been so long — 285 days, to be exact — since we saw the USMNT and its promising generation of youngsters that some of them almost seemed unrecognizable with another year of life’s experiences under their belts. For all of the excitement around the “potential” of this group, everything still hinges upon continued development and reaching said potential. It can be difficult to see improvement with regular exposure, but the last nine months have afforded us an opportunity to look at these players in a very clear before-and-after light, so the question is this: Who has grown up the most since we last saw them in the red, white and blue?
Sergiño Dest — Aside from simply looking the part of a 20-year-old professional at arguably the world’s biggest club, Dest now appears to have a far greater understanding of where he’s supposed to be at all times, and when he can (or can’t) take a chance on either side of the ball.
John Brooks — This is a bit of a different one with Brooks ascending to another level as he enters his late-20s, but Brooks appears to have done a complete 180 from previous USMNT appearances. More on him in a moment.
Weston McKennie — For 45 minutes, McKennie was everywhere, in everything, bothering everyone. It was a far cry from the “never stop running while never actually arriving anywhere” maximum-effort approach of caps gone by. McKennie was more active than ever before, but with purpose and a tangible impact on the team — taking the ball of attackers, winning important second balls and attempting (and even sometimes completing) aggressive forward passes.
Given the positions they play and the clubs they play for, you can make an easy case that Dest, Brooks and McKennie are three of the five most important players for the USMNT as they tackle the next 24 months leading up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The fact they look to be the most improved individuals of the last 9-12 months should be a very comforting sign of things to come.
Wales managed to take all of four — yes, four — shots in this game, so this isn’t so much an assessment of Brooks, ball-winning defender, as it is about Brooks, ball-playing defender.
As we’ll discuss in another brief moment, the USMNT struggled a fair bit to move the ball from defensive third to middle third, but much more so to move the ball from middle third to final third. In a word, such progression of the ball was nonexistent. It’s nice to have a Plan B, though, and Brooks was very happy to step into the void and play a bunch of ultra-aggressive, line-breaking passes from the backline. On the rare instance the Yanks made their way into the Welsh penalty area, it was typically a direct result of Brooks picking out Konrad de la Fuente or Yunus Musah making an inside run into either channel. While it amounted to very little on Thursday, imagine Brooks playing those same passes in behind with someone else on the receiving end…
Throw in Christian Pulisic, and…
Watching the USMNT run into the glass half-circle around Wales’ defensive third was a never-ending exercise in frustration, but don’t let that discourage you altogether, because yet another youngster — 22-year-old Christian Pulisic — figures to be the missing piece for a team completely devoid of one-on-one attackers. The issue on Thursday wasn’t so much that there wasn’t a natural or recognized striker on the field for 79 minutes — though, it didn’t help — but that the front-four of Gio Reyna, Musah, de la Fuente and Sebastian Lletget are all quite passive on the ball.
Unless they see 20 yards of open space in front of them, everyone is looking to make the pass to someone in a better position. When Pulisic gets on the ball, whether in traffic or open space, he’s almost always going to carry it forward and create that open space for someone else by drawing defenders toward him. Without that player against Wales, the USMNT was slow at its best, and completely static at its worst.
U.S.’s young stars European club pedigree was visible at international level vs. Wales
6:36 PM ETJeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent
In the 285 days since the U.S. men’s national team previously played, it seemed there was a sea change for the Americans. The U.S. now has a player at Juventus in Weston McKennie, while Sergino Dest and Konrad de la Fuente are on the first-team roster at Barcelona. That’s to go along with Christian Pulisic at Chelsea and Tyler Adams at UEFA Champions League semifinalists RB Leipzig.
With that kind of pedigree in its ranks, and youngsters like Borussia Dortmund‘s Giovanni Reyna and Valencia‘s Yunus Musah breaking through, expectations have been raised considerably, even as manager Gregg Berhalter tries to downplay them.Which is why Thursday’s 0-0 draw against host Wales felt like a different kind of result on European soil. A look at the score and one would think that this was another one of those gritty, grind-it-out draws on the road, but it was nothing of the sort. The U.S. showed the kind of calmness and patience on the ball that has been rare in its trips to Europe. Playing out of tight spaces was the rule rather than the exception, with the three-man midfield of McKennie, Adams and Musah doing plenty to control the game’s tempo.
Musah — one of six U.S players to make their debut — looked nothing like a 17-year-old, and while there were moments when he could have released the ball quicker, he showed plenty of ability in terms of running at defenses as well as vision. Given that Musah is eligible to represent England and Ghana as well as the U.S., Berhalter can only hope that he ultimately chooses to represent the U.S. over other contenders.
Reyna found the going a bit tougher, and at times was even guiltier of hanging onto the ball too long. He had some dynamic moments running with the ball, but also let his frustrations get the better of him. Midway through the second half, he barged into Wales defender Tom Lockyer in retaliation for what he perceived as a foul that went uncalled. It’s precisely the kind of play that on the road in CONCACAF could be punished severely. Still, it was a day the 17-year-old Reyna will long remember.As for Adams, the match was not only his first for the U.S. in 20 months, but one in which he anchored the U.S. midfield after Berhalter had dabbled with playing him at right-back. The American side looked better for having Adams’ energy and passing in front of the defense, although John Brooks in particular looked composed in the back.”I felt good because I think that’s my natural position,” Adams said. “Being out there, being able to kind of command everything that was going on in front of me, tell players when to go and when not to go, to initiate the press, when to stay back, it allows me to lead the team in a better way, I think. I was confident in the guys in front of me understanding the tactics so it made my job a little bit easier, but I love being the cover in front of the back line being able to win balls and then just give it to the guys in front of me and let them do their thing.”The U.S. was also extremely effective in its press, and the Americans’ two best chances of the night came directly off turnovers in Wales’ defensive third, although it should be noted that this was a Welsh side missing several key players, including Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, while Ben Davies and Ethan Ampadu remained on the bench.
Yet for all of the possession that the U.S. had, there was a distinct lack of punch in the attacking third. Some of this was down to Berhalter’s decision to play Sebastian Lletget as a false nine, but it’s important to drill deeper on how the approach fared. In terms of providing an outlet and allowing the U.S. to play out of its own half, Lletget did well, completing 28 of his 32 passes. On the one hand, this is precisely what Berhalter wanted Lletget to do. But farther up field, the tactic wasn’t as successful, although that wasn’t down to just the player.”We wanted him to look for the third man more than he did,” Berhalter said about Lletget. “I think he did it once or twice, but as he comes down and it needs to be laid off, and then we should be moving behind, I think the wingers weren’t in a high-enough position to take advantage of that at times. That was something that we missed.”McKennie added that the U.S. was a bit beholden to looking for combination play rather than the run in behind the defense, something that the injured Pulisic would have helped with.”A one-on-one type of player that can beat the defender, and get down the side and play a ball in or cross it, that’s something [Pulisic] has done many times, as you saw in Gold Cup as well,” McKennie said. “I think the dynamic movement in behind the line was something that we were missing. And that’s something that we’ll obviously look at in the video, just to see how many runs we made in behind the line to open up the space and just make that unselfish run.”It has to be said that this is a group that still needs time to develop chemistry. In addition to the lengthy hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. had just two days of training — and just one full session — prior to this match. But the question still remains: Who will get the goals and provide that presence in the box to draw more attention from opposition center-backs? For that reason — and with Josh Sargent unavailable due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions — it might have made more sense to get Nicholas Gioacchini on earlier or give Sebastian Soto his debut, although there is still another game to play against Panama on Monday. The forward depth chart has long been thin, and there are scant opportunities to see what the current group of forwards can do.
That said, the foundation of possession and pressing is one that looks a bit more ingrained in the players. Given the state of the game amid a pandemic, that is largely down to the progress U.S. performers have made at club level. But Berhalter will nonetheless be pleased that he has more to work with, and the Wales match counts as a step forward.
USMNT Player Ratings: Sergino Dest, Tyler Adams stand out in scoreless draw at Wales
After more than nine months out of action, the US men’s national team got back on the field with a very green lineup that handled themselves admirably in a scoreless draw at Wales.The kids’ pressure game had them verging on dominant in the opening frame, with only a bit of immaturity in the final third holding them back. They looked a lot more pedestrian after halftime, which shaved hairs of the marks you see below.
United States Player Ratings
Zack Steffen (6.5) — On the plus side, his save just past the hour was the biggest of the game. On the other hand, we saw another ill-advised bit of distribution that could have gone horribly wrong.
Sergiño Dest (7) — The Barcelona right back’s near constant push up the flank repeatedly put Wales into scrambling situations, and a couple of his deliveries into the box deserved better pursuit.
Matt Miazga (7) — While the Anderlecht man ably handled all comers to the US defensive third, what most caught the eye about Miazga’s outing was arguably his best night of passing out of the back in a US shirt. He wasn’t breaking lines, he was flat out erasing them.
John Brooks (6) — Miazga’s partner also passed positively, as you’d expect him to do, and made a few nice interventions around the US box in the second half. However, he also got burnt on a couple of dicey steps into midfield.
Antonee Robinson (5.5) — The young left back had his moments defensively, but a bad tracking lapse granted Wales their best chance of the night. Robinson was functional going forward without ever finding room for one of his fine crosses.
Tyler Adams (7) — The RB Leipzig gatekeeper was routinely stepped in to halt any Welsh ideas of a rush up the gut, especially in the first half. Adams also showed the maturity in his transition passing game on a few occasions.
Weston McKennie (6.5) — It was an excellent first half from the Juventus midfielder. McKennie was routinely available for the ball, and though not all of his passes came off, he drove play and served the best low cross of the night. His rating dropped a shade after the break, when he kept fanning out wide, which is not where his strength lies.
Yunus Musah (6.5) — The teen debutant impressed enough that one could easily see the possibilities of his talent. Musah excelled as a fast conduit through the middle, both on the dribble and with prompt passing decisions, and was a dogged nuisance when it came time to win the ball back. He also found some good positions in attack, but flubbed a few lines there.
Highlights: Wales 0, United States 0
Giovanni Reyna (5) — Another teenager getting his first cap, Reyna was a bit underwhelming on this night. Whenever he got the ball, his “processing speed” was unusually slow. This caused him to get his pocket picked from behind more than you’d like, and kept him from finding a killer pass around the Wales area.
Sebastian Lletget (5) — Horribly miscast as a center forward, Lletget looked like a guy horribly miscast as a center forward. A proper striker probably would have demonstrated more killer instinct on a couple of crosses into the money zone. There’s not much else to say, but he did serve a few tempting restarts.
Konrad de la Fuente (4.5) — For me, the teenager simply doesn’t look like he’s ready for this level. The Barcelona prospect never challenged defenders and he fired wildly over when presented with a gift of a golden chance.
Coach Gregg Berhalter (5.5) — Let’s start with the good stuff. Despite having a highly inexperienced squad that needed a lot of introductions before the game, they came out executing both the press and the resulting fast build game like it was a familiar routine. That is not an easy thing to do, and Berhalter deserves kudos on that point.
On the other hand, few things grind my gears more than ruining the formation by going without a real center forward when three of them are available. And the fact that the boss kept Lletget leading the line until the 79th minute when it was obviously hampering a game plan that looked great until it was time to strike is downright annoying. Big red mark for that. Let’s not do that again.
Johnny Cardoso (6) — Though a few passes could have been shrewder, the defensive midfield debutant quickly showed that he’s got a handle on his primary function. A “stick in the spokes” reach foiled Wales at the door the US area, and then he committed a well-chosen professional foul to cut short a potential counter.
Ulysses Llanez (6) — The young winger wasted no time looking to goal, forcing a decent save with a long-range drive. Aside from that, not much to report from his 19 minutes.
Timothy Weah (-) — Working 11 minutes will typically get one a grade here, but Weah never got an offensive touch. His biggest impact came tracking back to harass a Welsh ball carrier.
Nicholas Gioacchini (-) — See Weah above.
Owen Otawosie (-) — A mere cameo for the teen midfielder on his debut.
Reggie Cannon (-) — In just three minutes, the Boavista right back was more involved than the three guys directly above him combined. As you’d expect, he looked solid.
Three takeaways from US men’s national team’s 0-0 draw with Wales | Charles Boehm
Despite relative paucity of goal danger, the US men’s national team gave us some tasty morsels to chew on in their long-awaited return to play, banking a decent 0-0 draw with Wales at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium on Thursday.Teenagers Konrad de la Fuente, Yunus Musah (sign him up!) and Gio Reyna made their debuts, a bustling central-midfield trio imposed themselves on the home side and the US controlled the tempo, if not the scoreboard. Here are a few other observations.
Engine room humming
As promised, Gregg Berhalter trotted out a front-foot 4-3-3, and as promised, Musah took up a central position, working alongside Weston McKennie in an FC Dallas-esque “twin No. 8s” setup backed by Tyler Adams at the 6. And verily, it was good.Showing prodigious range and bite, the troika asserted their dominance in the center of the park, looking eager to embrace Berhalter’s more assertive pressing approach. Their energy pushed Wales onto the back foot and made sure that the USMNT had plenty of the ball, tilting the possession battle 61-39 in their favor (and in the early stages it was even more one-sided than that).This didn’t solve the issues in the attacking third, but it certainly gave the Yanks a stable platform upon which to build further, and hinted at a fittingly aggressive identity in the bigger picture.
Sugar and spice
It wasn’t all blood, guts and destruction. Both the aforementioned central trio and several others, Sergino Dest in particular, were downright Brazilian in their displays of flair and swagger, squeezing in feints, dragbacks, stepovers and even an elastico at every opportunity.Of course it all needed to be capped by a firm finish or two to earn a victory. Still, given the grim cloud of frustration and opprobrium that’s hung over the program since the nightmarish finale to 2018 World Cup qualifying in Couva, it was extremely heartening to see a youthful group infused with such joy and creativity, and the beginnings of a real understanding – to borrow a term coined by McKennie, “comfortability” with one another.“You know, a footballer can recognize someone that can play football,” added McKennie. “I can recognize what someone’s good at, what someone’s not good at. And I think we all know that we like to play. We like to combine, like to make those small touches and small passes.”“In the past we didn’t so much have the little flair, the tiki-taka type, I guess, of playing … So it was just fun. I think a lot of guys had fun being out there.”t’s been far too long since this program took pride in themselves as not merely a hard-working side defending the colors, but an entertainment product, and a spicy one at that. When Dest nutmegged Dan James with a very extra, and mostly unnecessary, snake along the touchlines, it hinted at a brave new world, one that most USMNT fans will want to see a whole lot more of.
Number 9, number 9, number 9…
On first blush, Berhalter probably bears as much responsibility as anyone for the goose egg, because his deployment of Sebastian Lletget as a false No. 9 didn’t really come off. Postgame the coach explained that the idea was to create numerical advantages in midfield while also forcing the Welsh defense to make tough decisions on the fly.But as smart, selfless and willing as he is, Lletget just doesn’t play this role often, for club or country, and it showed. He looked to be playing catchup in terms of the movements and runs needed to maximize his teammates’ good work once they reached the Wales penalty box, and at that level, something more like autopilot is needed to strike paydirt.COVID-19-related restrictions prevented Josh Sargent from joining the USMNT this month, and he surely would’ve gotten the start otherwise, but it would have been good to see more time given to a true frontrunner like Sebastian Soto or Nicholas Gioacchini, who logged 11-plus minutes off the bench but had little opportunity to show himself.Thursday lends weight to the idea of a call-up for Orlando City’s Daryl Dike, and may lead fans to light a few more candles for Jozy Altidore’s troublesome hamstrings.