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 –
MLS 2020 season review: The Crew were worth saving. It sure is fun seeing MLS being mentioned as a possible destination for Barcelona’s Messi! Won’t happen yet – but someday I hope !!
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 vs Schalke
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)
Top Soccer Stories of the Year Avi Creditor SI
Chelsea are missing something, and they’re running out of time to find it
Lampard has special praise for USMNT star Pulisic
Pulisic Watch: USMNT star starts again in Chelsea – Aston Villa
Spurs’ winless run a massive test for Mourinho and his managerial style Mark Ogden
Why PSG will replace Tuchel with Pochettino
Why PSG finally moved on from Tuchel, chose Pochettino Julien Laurens
Almost 70% of the world’s soccer balls are made in one city in Pakistan — here’s what it’s like inside one of the factories
$25 Down Gets your 2021 Season Tickets on Hold
Three More “Boys in Blue” Confirmed for 2021
2021 Roster Starts to Take Shape with Return of Six “Boys in Blue”
Lampard has special praise for USMNT star 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.”
Premier League news
Pulisic is clearly one of the first names on the teamsheet for Chelsea right now.
After an injury-ravaged start to the 2020-21 season, Pulisic has finally found fitness and his form wasn’t far behind.
What next for Pulisic?
In defeats against Wolves and Arsenal he was the shining light, and even though Chelsea dropped more points against Villa he was again their best forward player.
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
https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.432.0_en.html#goog_1033063715 Dec 29, 2020Gabriele MarcottiSenior Writer, ESPN FC
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?
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
16. That Cristiano Ronaldo keeps defying gravity and reinventing himself. We first defined him as a quick-as-a-whip winger unleashing whup-ass with an intoxicating array of tricks. Now among his signature moves is the Jordan-esque hang time on his far-post headers.
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.
21. That this generation of young American talent — Giovanni Reyna, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and others — go on to lift the sport as a whole in the United States. Why? So that one day we can laugh at that old joke “soccer is the sport of the future in America… and always will be.”
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.
AVI CREDITOR SI DEC 23, 2020
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.
Player of the year
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.
Team of the year
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.
Top breakout players
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 ends its 30-year drought
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.
Barcelona’s Messi mess
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.
The voice and power of the player
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’s transformation at the top
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 Americans abroad golden age
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.
As for on these shores…
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.
Gone, but never forgotten
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.
Jump to: Crew worth saving | Impacts of COVID-19 | Debuts of Miami, Nashville | Black Players for Change | Philly legitimizes homegrown blueprint | Young players departing | New low for labor relations | Best XI
The Crew were worth saving
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.
A year after Precourt’s announcement, the Haslam and Edwards families entered into negotiations to buy the Crew. By the end of 2018, the Crew had been saved. Barely a week later, Caleb Porter was named manager and Tim Bezbatchenko was appointed president.
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
The impacts of COVID-19
Give MLS credit. The league made it to the MLS Cup finish line, even as an outbreak of COVID-19 made its way through champions Columbus Crew during the postseason, with a total of 10 positive cases. This was on top of outbreaks earlier in the year within the FC Dallas, Nashville SC and Colorado Rapids organizations.
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.
That competition was among the first of several in the U.S. that proved the efficacy of a bubble environment, and it helped get the league back in front of fans. Matters proved more difficult when teams resumed league play in August. The MLS’ three Canadian teams, after first playing a series of games against each other, were forced to relocate to the U.S. because of travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada. A total of seven games were canceled, forcing the league to go to points per game to determine a team’s placement in the conference standings.
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.
There were powerful demonstrations of support of social justice, with MLS teams taking a knee at kickoff when play resumed at the MLS is Back Tournament, a statement that continued for the rest of the season. Following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the BPC helped orchestrate a protest of most the league’s games on Aug. 26.
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.
Earlier this month, the BPC earned the league’s Humanitarian of the Year award in recognition of its efforts in 2020. — Jeff Carlisle
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.
And it hasn’t been just guys exiting in search of one last payday. In 2019, you had the likes of Tyler Adams and Alphonso Davies, of RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich, respectively, leaving the league. In the just-concluded season, there were Reggie Cannon and Alberth Elis both being sent to Portuguese side Boavista. In 2021, the Philadelphia Union’s Brenden Aaronson will move to FC Salzburg, and New York City FC‘s Joe Scally will head to Borussia Monchengladbach.
It all has amounted to a revenue stream of which MLS teams are taking greater advantage. And the league’s academies are producing players that are catching the eye of foreign clubs.
Is there room to grow? Absolutely. But there’s no doubting that transfers out of the league are becoming more of the norm. — Jeff Carlisle
Labor relations hit a new low
All seemed rosy in February when the MLS Players Association and the league agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that left both sides — at least outwardly — feeling as though they gained something. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and because neither side had ratified the new CBA, the league used its leverage to force the MLSPA back to the bargaining table.
With the league threatening to lock out the players, the two sides ultimately reached an agreement in June, just a month before the MLS is Back Tournament was scheduled to take place. But the MLSPA membership emerged demoralized and with $150 million less than what it had agreed to in February due to cuts in salary, bonuses and a revenue-sharing plan tied to the next media rights deal.
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
Goalkeeper: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
Defense: Anton Tinnerholm (New York City FC), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Ryan Hollingshead (FC Dallas)
Midfield: Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC), Diego Chara (Portland Timbers), Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders FC)
Forwards: Chris Mueller (Orlando City SC), Diego Rossi (LAFC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)