7/2/22  Indy 11 Fireworks Sat 7:30 pm, US U20s Qualify for Olympics Final Sun 8 pm FS1, USWNT Play Mon 7 pm CBSSN, Former CFC Player in Regional Final 4, Ladies Euro’s Start Wed ESPN

USMNT U 20’s Qualify for Olympics 24  – Final Sun 8 pm FS1 vs Dominican Republic

Wow our Boys came to play Friday night – A 3 – 0 THUMPING of Honduras (yes the same country that knocked us out of the Olympics last summer).  So now we are headed to the 2024 Olympic in 2024 in Paris. Check the celebration   It had the local Honduras fans so upset they hurled bottles and debris at youth soccer players.  Well that’s the difference though – now like most countries in Europe – the US had a full complement of Professional Soccer players on the field – 4 from the Philly Union, a few from Dallas, NY Red Bulls – when the DA was formed and then taken over by MLS – the # of US players playing at the U20 has literally tripled.  With MLS new found place as a selling league with millions to be made on the sale of players like Ricardo Pepi, Brendan Aaronson (who’s brother Paxton scored 4 goals in the this tourney including last night) and more.  Its unfathomable that this will be our first Olympics since 2008 when Stu Holden played.  Still what a huge accomplishment by this team to dominate this tournament (like we should).  We honestly should have NO RIVALS in CONCACAF – even Canada and Mexico were eliminated before the round of 4.  Now the US has to finish the business with what should be a pushover game vs the Dominican Republic  – who continue to shock the world with their play in this tourney after a 3-2 PKs win over Guatemala.

US Beats Guatemala Advances to Finals Sunday Night at 8 pm – American Soccer Now
USMNT end Olympics drought, qualify for Paris 2024

Grant Wahl 3 Thoughts on the Win

Indy 11 Men Play at the Mike Saturday 7:30 pm – Fireworks after 

Indy Eleven are back home again to face The Miami FC at Carroll Stadium after a month-long road trip that saw the team go 1W-2L-1D across four matches in the month of June. The Eleven are coming off a 5-0 defeat to San Diego Loyal SC, while Miami fell 3-1 to LA Galaxy II last weekend. Saturday’s match marks the first-ever match for the Boys in Blue on brand-new turf at Carroll Stadium, installed during the team’s road trip in tandem between Indy Eleven and IUPUI. The new playing surface, FieldTurf’s CORE model, is currently the playing surface utilized at five MLS venues. The boys in blue return home Sat, July 2 at 7:30 pm with a fire-works display after so make your plans to be there- tix are just $15 @ indyeleven.com/tickets.

USA Ladies Start CONCACAF Qualifying Mon vs Haiti 7 pm on CBSSN

So obviously the US ladies should finish in the top 4 needed to qualify in Monterey, Mexico– for the World Cup – but with only Canada anywhere close to the level of the US in CONCACAF the US is absolutely expected to win this tournament – even with the mix of new young players that coach A has included along with a sturdy group of veterans.  The games will all be on Paramount plus with occasional CBS Sports Network game like the opener on July 4th at 7 pm ET.  Thurs night the US faces a tougher Jamaica team at 10 pm on Para+, before group play finishes Monday at 10 pm vs home side Mexico again on Para plus.  I do have to say as I watched the US ladies take the field on Tuesday night – the cross section of players made me proud to be an American Soccer Fan !!  African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Gays, Straights, Christians, Muslims,  and the first ever player with a limb difference (missing limb)  Carson Pickett making history.  Makes me Proud. 

Shane’s Starting Line-Up Monday July 4th for Qualifying

Smith/Morgan/Pugh

Horan/ Davis/Lavelle

Fox//Sauerbrunn/cook/O’hara

Naeher

USA Ladies beat Colombia twice

The US Ladies got off to a good start in their final 2 friendlies vs Colombia.  The 3 -0 win on Sunday was impressive with Smith and Pugh streaming down the wings and Smith scoring twice before newcomer Taylor Kornieck scored her first goal in her first ever match.   I thought in both games that the Colombian goalkeeper Perez stood on her head to keep the US at bay – especially in the first  game.  (2nd Game High-lights) The 2nd game had Rapinoe starting on the left with Morgan up top and Purge on the right.  Purge was dangerous but proved why she can’t start as her final touch was just not up to par.  I would say she stands behind Trinity Rodman and of course Smith on the right side now.  Interesting minutes for Kristie Mewis in the #6 role in game 2 – a game which saw Colombia actually get some a few real dangerous shots off on the net.  Not sure Mewis showed she’s as strong as Horan or Fox here moving forward.  I thought Rodman looked good on the wing spot – and Kornieck is definitely a good late sub for the US with her Abby Wambach-like height.  Another huge moment was Carson Pickett becoming the first player with a limb difference to play in a USWNT game

Around the World of Soccer

Of course the Women’s European Championships get underway starting Wednesday on the ESPN family of networks with 2 games a day in the 12 and 3 pm slots (see full schedule in the OBC).  Top world powers France, England and Sweden are among the favorites. Read all about the Summer of Women’s Soccer.

Former Jueventus star and arguably the best defender in a generation Giorgio Chiellini gets welcomed to the 3252 (the fan section at LAFC) at the last game.  He is expected to make his debut along with former Real Madrid and Tottenham man Garreth Bale for El Traffico on Friday Night July 8th 10 pm on ESPN vs the LA Galaxy (must watch TV). 

Former CFC Player in Regional Final 4

Huge Congrats to Former Carmel FC Player Emily Roper who’s 2004 Fire Academy team advanced to the Regional Semi-Finals this week at Grand Park before bowing out.  They were one of just 2 Indiana Teams to make the Semi-Finals. Proud to have joined Carmel FC coach Bill Spencer, along with CFC Coaches Carla and Tom Baker who helped coach her up along the way. 

Women’s European Soccer Pick ‘Em Make picks throughout the Women’s European Championship for a shot at $5,000. Make Your Picks

CHS Boys -2022 Hounds Soccer Camp –July 11-14, 2022  9 am to 11 am $95 per Boys/Girls 8-14 

Carmel High School Girls – 2022 Middle School Camp – 6/7/8th Graders  $90 (includes T-shirt) July 18-21  Murray Stadium  2:30 to 4:30 pm   

I am doing some Goalkeeper Training this Summer with the high school aged – reach out if interested in small group training at inexpensive prices on Thurs. eves shanebestsoccer@gmail.com or 317-748-7174.

BIG GAMES ON TV

Fri, July 1

7 pm FS1                  U20 CONCACAF Semis Guatemala vs Dominican Republic

9 pm FS1                              U20 CONCACAF Semis USA vs Honduras

8:30 pm Para+                   Houston vs KC NWSL

10:30 Para+                         Angel City vs Portland NWSL

Sat, July 2

7 pm Para+                         NY Gotham vs Chicago NWSL

7:30 pm ESPN+                  Toronto vs Seattle 

7:30 pm TV23             Indy 11 vs Miami FC (fireworks)

Sun, July 3

1 pm Univision                  Pumas vs Tijuana

5 pm ESPN+                        NYCFC vs Atlanta

7:30 pm ESPN+                  Cincy vs New England

8 pm FS1                              U20 CONCACAF Final USA vs Dom Republic

Mon, July 4

7 pm CBSSN                        USA Women vs Haiti CONCACAF

Wed, July 6

3 pm ESPN                          England vs Austria  Euro Women’s Cup

Thur, July 7

3 pm ESPN2                        Norway vs Northern Ireland Euro Women’s Cup

10 pm Para+                       USA Women vs Jamaica

Fri, July 8

12 pm ESPN+                     Spain vs Finland Euro Women’s Cup

3 pm ESPN2                        German vs Denmark Euro Women’s Cup

10 pm ESPN El Traffico LAFC vs LA Galaxy Bale/Chiellini debut

Sat, July 9

12 pm ESPN+                     Portugal vs Switzerland Euro Women’s Cup

3 pm ESPN2                        Netherlands vs Sweden Euro Women’s Cup

4:30 pm Fox Seattle vs Portland

7 pm FS1 Charlotte vs Nashville SC

Sun, July 10

12 pm ESPN2                      Belgium vs Iceland Euro Women’s Cup

3 pm ESPN+                        Italy vs France Euro Women’s Cup

Mon, July 11

12 pm ESPN2                      Austria vs N. Ireland Euro Women’s Cup

3 pm ESPN2                        England vs Norway Euro Women’s Cup

10 pm Para+                       USA Women vs Mexico

Mon, July 11

12 pm ESPN2                      Austria vs N. Ireland Euro Women’s Cup

3 pm ESPN2                        England vs Norway Euro Women’s Cup

Wed, July 13

12 noon ESPN2 Sweden vs Switzerland

3 pm ESPN2 Netherlands vs Portugal

8 pm ESPN Minn United vs Sporting KC

10 pm FS1 LA Galaxy vs San Jose

Thur, July 14

7 or 10 pm Para+          CONCACAF Women’s Semis USA?

Mon, July 18

7 or 10 pm Para+          CONCACAF Women’s Finals USA?

 Indy 11 Schedule

NWSL Women’s Schedule

MLS National TV Schedule

World Cup Schedule

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US Men U20’s Olympics on Line Fri night FS1

USMNT Qualifies for the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia

The U.S U-20’s down Ticos 2-0 to qualify for the World Cup, now eye Olympics

Paxten Aaronson thriving in advanced role with USMNT U-20’s

USMNT U-20’s down Costa Rica to clinch World Cup berth

SBI USMNT U-20 Man of the Match: Paxten Aaronson

Quinn Sullivan scoring in bunches at CONCACAF U-20 Championship

US U2o Game Report

 Mexico Loses in Shootout to Guatemala

U.S. Under-20 men’s national team roster

GOALKEEPERS: Gabriel Slonina, Gavin Beavers, Alex Borto, Chris Brady, Juan Carrera, Emmanuel Ochoa, Xavier Valdez.

DEFENDERS: Noah Allen, Justin Che, Brandan Craig, Mauricio Cuevas, Jonathan Gomez, Marcus Ferkranus, Alexander Freeman, Quembol Guadalupe, Michael Halliday, Kobi Henry, Jalen Neal, Serge Ngoma, Jaziel Orozco, Kevin Paredes, Kayden Pierre, Devan Canton, Caleb Wiley, Thomas Williams, Josh Wynder.

MIDFIELDERS: Paxten Aaronson, Alejandro Alvarado Jr, Esmir Bajraktarević, Zach Booth, Javier Casas, Caden Clark, Daniel Edelman, Jackson Hopkins, Tarun Karumanchi, Luca Koleosho, Daniel Leyva, Diego Luna, Jack McGlynn, Moses Nyeman, Nathan Ordaz, Rokas Pusktas, Quinn Sullivan, Nikolas Tsakiris, Obed Vargas, Tyler Wolff.

FORWARDS: Darren Yapi, Dantouma Toure, Dante Sealy, Malick Sanogo, Oluwakorede Osundina, Kristian Fletcher, Damion Downs, Cade Cowell, Ange Bohui.

USA Women

The USWNT Concacaf roster

Goalkeepers: Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars).

Defenders: Alana Cook (OL Reign), Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit).

Midfielders: Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon), Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit).

Forwards: Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave FC), Midge Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC).


USWNT on-field victories tempered by post-Roe world

USWNT’s Carson Pickett becomes first player with a limb difference to appear on national team

USWNT TAKEAWAYS: LINEUP ROTATION, QUESTIONS AT THE SIX, AND MORE AS THE U.S. HEADS TO MEXICO JUNE 29, 2022 BY ARIANNA CASCONE

VLATKO’S TENURE, A NEW GENERATION, AND TACTICS: YOUR GUIDE TO THE USWNTBY JOSEPH LOWERY Backheeled.com

USWNT DEPTH CHART: POSITION GROUPS AND PLAYER ANALYSIS
Sophia Smith scores twice as USWNT beats Colombia, extends home streak

USWNT edges Colombia in final World Cup Qualifying tune-up

USWNT vs. Colombia – The USA has to overcome another defensive effort on the way to a 2-0 win

USWNT overcomes early struggles in 3-0 victory over Colombia

How Alex Morgan, Liz Cambage and Ali Krieger are solving a problem facing women in sports   LA Times
New Angel City forward Sydney Leroux says Kobe Bryant taught her to ‘never soften’

Orlando and US Defender Carson Picket makes a young fans night!

Women’s Soccer Euro’s

Women’s Euros big questions: England or Spain to win it all? Or will Netherlands, Germany go on a run? Bill Connelly
England’s White eyes Euro glory to cap glorious career

Team by Team Guide to the Euro’s – 90min.com

Switzerland 0-4 England: Player ratings as Lionesses win final pre-Euro 2022 friendly

 How Sweden went from underdogs to Euro 2022 favourites

Euro 2022 kit ranking: Which team has Europe’s best jerseys?

Read all about the Summer of Women’s Soccer

Women’s European Soccer Pick ‘Em Make picks throughout the Women’s European Championship for a shot at $5,000. Make Your Picks

US Men

STEFFEN VS. TURNER: THE USMNT GOALKEEPER DEBATE TAKES ANOTHER TURN
USMNT striker Jordan Pefok bought by Union Berlin

Steffen Loaned to Middlesbrough in Championship from Man City

Yunus Musah, Joe Scally among Americans Abroad set to play for new managers

Rounding up moves for USMNT players Chris Richards, Tyler Adams, and Zack Steffen  By Parker Cleveland

Your Guide to World Cup Stadiums for 2026 –  MLS
How Kansas City became the 2026 World Cup’s most unlikely host city

Musah and Aaronson Bond

MLS

Bale to LAFC in non-DP blockbuster, Atlanta woes, wild Philly-NYCFC game, and more
LAFC confirms 12-month Bale deal with options through 2024
 

READINGS FROM THE MLS SURPRISE-O-METER ON GARETH BALE, CINCY, AND MORE
CTE diagnosed in ex-MLS player Scott Vermillion, a first for league

First known case of CTE in American pro soccer diagnosed in brain of former MLS player Scott Vermillion

LAFC ‘perfect for me’ — Chiellini

Voting open for 2022 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target

Power Rankings: Philadelphia Union leapfrog NYCFC after Week 16

Leagues Cup Showcase to feature FC Cincinnati, Nashville SC, Real Salt Lake against Liga MX clubs

MLS midseason awards: 2022’s best players and coach so far
Carlos Vela re-signs with LAFC through 2023 season

Gareth Bale may need MLS and LAFC more than they need him

Sacramento Republic beat MLS’ Galaxy to reach Open Cup semifinal

WORLD

Romelu Lukaku loaned back to Inter Milan
Man City agree deal for Leeds midfielder Phillips: reports

As English soccer player Jake Daniels finds acceptance, others will follow | Opinion

 REFFING This Crazy Game

Female referee at men’s World Cup wants the game to shine

Ref Question    Whats the Right Call

Funny Mike Dean Story – EPL Ref who just retired

Goalkeeping

Manuel Neuer Legendary Saves

Juve’s Gigi Buffon Amazing Saves

Liverpool/Brazil Alisson Great Saves

Ochoa Great Saves

Mike Magee – Field Player GOALKEEPER

Indy 11

PREVIEW | INDVMIA

RECAP | SD 5:0 IND

USLW RECAP | ZOO 0:1 IND

Indy 11 Park Announced

Indy 11 Park

Indy 11 Bike Night & Fireworks July 2

Familiar foes Honduras, U.S. meet again for Olympic berth U20s World Cup Qualifying

Published on 30 Jun 2022 / Updated on 30 Jun 2022 at 19:11

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – A familiar scene will take place on Friday night at the Estadio Morazan in San Pedro Sula, as host nation Honduras take on the United States in the semifinals of the 2022 Concacaf Men’s Under-20 Championship.

Both sides secured their place in the 2023 FIFA Men’s Under-20 World Cup in Indonesia with victories in their respective quarterfinals, but now a very big reward awaits the winner of Friday’s duel: A place in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

It will mark the third straight time in which a Honduras-U.S. semifinal match-up will determine an Olympic spot. The Catrachos emerged victorious in the previews two encounters, a 2-0 win in the 2015 Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship for Rio 2016, followed by a 2-1 victory in March 2021 in the CMOQ for Tokyo 2020.

The U.S. arrive into the contest after posting a 2-0 quarterfinal win against a tough Costa Rica side, in which Paxten Aaronson starred with a brace. Aaronson now has four goals in the tournament, just one behind Quinn Sullivan for the team lead (5 goals).

Sullivan has also played the role of provider, with three assists, but the chief playmaker for the U.S. attack has been Diego Luna, who has amassed four assists and driven opposing defenses crazy with his movement and pace.

The U.S. will be up against a Honduras team that has been outstanding at both ends of the field. The Catrachos have 15 goals thus far in the tournament and have only conceded twice following Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Panama in the quarterfinals.

Up front, Honduras can turn to the tournament’s leading scorer in Marco Tulio Aceituno, who has six goals, while Odin Ramos and Miguel Carrasco have been workhorses in the middle of the park. Ramos has two assists to go along with 13 fouls received, while Carrasco was a vacuum cleaner against Panama with four ball recoveries.

In the CMU20 modern era since 2009, there have been three meetings between the two, including a 5-3 U.S. penalty shootout win in the 2017 Final following a 0-0 draw, plus a 1-0 U.S. win in the 2018 edition. They also played to a 0-0 draw in the 2009 tournament.

The U.S U-20’s down Ticos 2-0 to qualify for the World Cup, now eye Olympics

Led by a two goal performance from Paxton Aaronson, the United States is off to the 2023 U-20 World Cup following its 2-0 win over Costa Rica. The job, however, is only halfway done as 2024 Olympic qualification is on the line Friday night vs Honduras. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta breaks down the game in detail.

BY BRIAN SCIARETTA  JUNE 28, 2022

THE UNITED STATES U-20 national team qualified for the U 20 World Cup on Tuesday after a 2–0 win over Costa Rica. It was a hard – fought when that was ugly at times, but the United States prevailed thanks to two goals from Paxton Aaronson.One of the keys to the game for the US team was to take advantage of opportunities early. Costa Rica was the US team’s toughest opponent so far and the US team had to take control of the game early and not let the Ticos remain in the game.The United States was successful in this, although not as much as they hoped. Aaronson scored in the fourth minute on a lovely build up that started with Alejandro Alvarado playing Quinn Sullivan out wide. Sullivan then sent a pass back across the box to Aaronson, his teammate in Philadelphia. Aaronson made no mistake with a left footed finish.Costa Rica responded well to the United States taking the lead. Chris Brady had to make three saves the remainder of the half and the game was even until the break.The US team should have been out more, but they missed two unbelievably good chances in the remainder of the first half. Quinn Sullivan had an opportunity that he would normally convert but Costa Rica’s goalkeeper, Bayron Mora, made a brilliant save. he beginning of the second half was eventful. The United States scored again early in the half on another goal from Aaronson. The play started with right back Michael Halliday sending in a cross that found Caden Clark. Clark then headed the ball back across the goal for Aaronson who finished from close range. Just minutes later, Costa Rica squandered its best opportunity in the 52nd minute. A handball in the box from Mauricio Cuevas gave the Ticos a penalty – Brandon Aguilera shot sailed over the goal and the game remained 2-0. That miss seemed to deflate Costa Rica who was never dangerous the rest of the game.The biggest story of the night came after the final whistle. When the US went out to the field to celebrate their win, Costa Rican players confronted the Americans. Punches were thrown, some players were kicked, and it left a black mark on what was a hard-fought game.The United States achieved one of their two goals for this tournament in qualifying for next year’s U–20 World Cup in Indonesia.The cycle will now continue after this tournament, and the United States can build for another top international tournament at the youth level.The second goal, and perhaps the biggest priority, will take place on Friday night when the United States will take on hosting Honduras, with the winner qualifying for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. The men’s program in US Soccer has not qualified for the Olympics since 2008. Here are some thoughts on the game.  

AARONSON WAS FANTASTIC

 Much like his older brother, Paxten Aaronson is a very effective player who can come up in big moments. This younger Aaronson probably has the biggest upside of the players on this team. That is saying a lot because a lot of players on this team will probably have long and successful careers in the sport. It is a fun team, and it is very attacking oriented. But Aaronson‘s vision really makes the whole team play more cohesively.My guess is that when he returns to Philadelphia after this tournament, he begins to take a bigger role within Jim Curtin‘s team. From there, his development should skyrocket with more professional minutes.

 UNION’S HUGE FOOTPRINT

With Aaronson netting two goals, Philadelphia Union players have scored 10 goals for the United States in this tournament. Quinn Sullivan has five. Aaronson has four. Jack McGlynn has one.But beyond the goals, they are all playing well. This includes Philadelphia Union defender Brandon Craig who struggled against Canada but was very good against Costa Rica. All of the Union players are participating in the attack, and they fit very well into the pressing style that U-20 head coach Mikey Varas wants to play.For example, Sullivan did not score against the Tico‘s but his assist made it happen. Craig, meanwhile, is a Central defender that can take free kicks well and his deliveries in the box created numerous chances.The entire union organization should be very proud of how big they are contributing to the U-20 team and also the U-17 team. They are not just successful in development, but their entire organization wins while doing so too. These youth tournaments have reflected very well on their organization. 

U.S DEFENSE IMPROVING

One of the big takeaways for this game is that the US team’s defense looked improved. Costa Rica had a lot of possession and a lot of free kicks. The back line of the United States held up very well. Even the penalty they conceded was more of a fluke handball than a bad play.Coming into this tournament, success was going to hinge on the backline. The US team had the attacking talent but defense was going to be an issue. That concern was heightened during and after the Canada game. But this was a good performance.One of the reasons why the US backline has improved is also with the consistently strong performances they are getting from the defensive midfielders. Varas is rotating Daniel Edelman and Rokas Pukstas at the No. 6 and both are delivering big. That is making things a lot easier for the defenders. 

DISGRACEFUL ENDING

When speaking to the media after the game, Varas said that he hopes Concacacf investigates what happened after the final whistle. The video and the pictures that emerged paint a very ugly picture of Costa Rica‘s behavior.US goalkeeper Antonio Carrera was kicked in the back. Jalen Neal, the US central defender, was hit in the back of the head. Paxten Aaronson was also kicked.   The US responded, but Costa Rica clearly instigated the incident. The U.S players were simply looking to celebrate their win. The game itself indicated that the teams did not care for each other. There was pushing and shoving throughout the game, but that happens. The near brawl after the game was uncalled for, even in Concacaf where you always have to expect the unexpected.Expecting justice from Concacaf is often expecting too much. But to anyone watching, several of the Costa Rican players should be suspended from international play. Costa Rica’s own federation should think about suspending them from domestic play as well.

LOOKING AHEAD TO HONDURAS

 The United States fans should be very happy with the teams performance on Tuesday night. Costa Rica has a good U-20 team. The fact that the United States had to fight so hard is more reflective on Costa Rica‘s quality than any struggles the US team had.The United States has put itself into a good position. The team is playing well and it is improving on its weaknesses as the tournament progresses.Awaiting them will be Honduras, and this will easily be the toughest test. It is not that Honduras is simply a good team, but they are the hosts. The Honduran team has been very well supported in this tournament. In their win over Panama on Tuesday, the stadium was full and providing a lot of support to their team. It will only be even more emotional and intimidating on Friday with the Olympics on the line. For the younger age groups, it is even tougher to go away and play in such an environment with a lot on the line.Mikey Varas will have to rotate some of his squad while also keeping a good chunk of the core together. At this point, it will be very tough to change the backline too much. Halliday played well against Costa Rica, but he could be replaced by Noah Allen and move Cuevas to the right side.In the midfield, Alvarado had a great game against Costa Rica, but he is also interchangeable with Jack McGlynn and getting fresh legs into the starting lineup might make sense. Diego Luna also might swap with Cade Cowell 

Predicted U.S XI vs Honduras: Brady;  Allen, Neal, Craig, Cuevas; Pukstas, McGlynn, Aaronson; Cowell, Clark, Sullivan

 OLYMPIC DREAMS

 Everyone knows now the importance of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics. It would open up yet another important tournament for young American players. Also, the Olympics are a U-23 tournament, so it would then open the door for opportunities for the 2001 and 2002 birth years. That is different from this U-20 team which is for the 2003 birth years and younger. So qualifying for this tournament opens the door for two birth years who are not involved at the youth levels right now. This means U.S Soccer could then start calling up players like John Tolkin, Joe Scally, Ben Bender, Tanner Tessmann, etc.

 Ashley Sanchez steps up as USWNT learns to win without Catarina Macario

11:32 PM ET  Jeff Kassouf

Catarina Macario was meant to be the focal point of the United States‘ generational transition. That plan, however, had to be put on hold after the 22-year-old tore her ACL in May in Lyon‘s final match of the season.On Saturday, ahead of next month’s World Cup qualifiers, the Americans got their first look at life without Macario — and a preview of what much of qualifying will look like against lower-ranked opposition.The U.S. slogged through a scoreless first half against Colombia at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado, before scoring three times in a much better second 45 minutes to win 3-0.

Washington Spirit striker Ashley Hatch started in the No. 9 role Saturday ahead of Alex Morgan, who leads the National Women’s Soccer League with 11 goals in 10 regular-season games (17 goals in 17 games all competitions). Hatch is a seasoned poacher who won the NWSL Golden Boot last season, and she is the most traditional center-forward option the U.S. has. She got her first start of 2022 on Saturday, and there appeared to be a lack of familiarity with wingers Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh as the U.S. struggled through the first half. Movement from the front three was too stagnant, and execution in the final third was frequently sloppy.

Colombia set up in a low defensive block much like the U.S. expects to see from some opponents at World Cup qualifying, which begins July 4. Overmatched opponents have played the Americans that way for years with varying levels of success, although Colombia’s use of a sweeper behind its back four is unlike anything the U.S. has seen in a long time.”It’s no secret that they were very much focused on not getting scored on,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “So, the main focus for us is going to be [the] final third, different combinations, creating space, and executing the opportunities that we create.”Morgan — in her return to the team after a nine-month hiatus — replaced Hatch to start the second half, and that substitution, along with the insertion of Ashley Sanchez in place of Lindsey Horan, immediately changed the tone of the game for the Americans.Sanchez joined Rose Lavelle to create an aggressive system utilizing two attacking central midfielders. Lavelle and Sanchez are exceptional dribblers in tight spaces and, together, their movement to find the ball and subsequent technical mastery drew Colombia out and forced the visitors to lose their shape. Lavelle pounced on the occasion, playing a pair of sublime through-balls to assist Smith for goals in the 54th and 60th minutes.  These are the games in which Lavelle is most needed. Lavelle was ushered onto the senior team in early 2017 in response to the U.S. being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics, when Sweden sat in a low block and dared the U.S. to be creative. The Americans were not, and then-head coach Jill Ellis set out to find a playmaker such as Lavelle, who could break down defenses on the dribble and play a killer final ball on the ground. Lavelle was central to the U.S.’s 2019 World Cup victory and won the Bronze Ball at that tournament.Now, Sanchez presents a similar profile in a similar place in the cycle. Like Lavelle, Sanchez is unpredictable, trying bold moves that range from back-heel nutmegs when she is trapped on the sideline in a 2v1, to a scorpion-kick assist. She played a role in the buildup to the first goal Saturday and she was fouled on the dribble to set up the free kick that resulted in the U.S.’s third tally.”I think that Ashley Sanchez was one of the main reasons why we got a little more sophisticated in the second half,” Andonovski said.”Because she was able to eliminate players on the dribble and she was able to connect well with the players around her. She also asked different questions from the defenders. They had to adjust on a couple different occasions, which, any time you are trying to figure out how to adjust, the opponent is able to take advantage of that timeline. I thought that’s where we were very good, taking advantage of the period of adjustment that the opponent had.”Together, Sanchez and Lavelle give the U.S. an unprecedented level of ball mastery and creativity in the middle of the park. Andonovski will need that throughout qualifying, when the risk of having the back four exploited is lower. They could prove useful either in tandem or in rotation come the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.This, like with the No. 9 role, is where Macario’s absence is felt. Macario, who was one of the best players in Europe this season for Champions League winner Lyon, established herself this spring as a false nine whose interchange with Lavelle created a fluid, dangerous attack capable of confusing opponents. Andonovski marveled at how the players around Macario adapted to her.With Macario out for the foreseeable future, the No. 9 role is up for grabs, and there is a void to fill in the departments of creativity and game-changing ability. Placing such significance on the absence of a player who only has 17 caps might seem like hyperbole but building around Macario for right now, and for the 2023 World Cup, is exactly what the U.S. spent the last nine months doing.Now, it’s down to Morgan and Hatch to fill that No. 9 role. Hatch is not done having a say — and Andonovski praised her postgame when asked — but Morgan reminded the world (and Andonovski) on Saturday why she has been the U.S. team’s dominant forward of the past decade, scoring 115 goals and winning a pair of World Cups over 190 caps.Morgan evolved her game through the years to be more multidimensional than she typically gets credit for, but she is still a very different player from Macario, and that means the approach that was being developed this spring will require some retooling at a crucial stage.Sanchez will be part of that process, too. She, too, is relatively inexperienced at the international stage, but that is where the U.S. finds itself now, on the eve of World Cup qualifying: turning back to Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, who also made her return to the team and assisted on the third goal, and to new players such as Sanchez and Taylor Kornieck, who scored that final tally in her first international cap.Whether Andonovski has the right mix of veterans and youth will be determined at World Cup qualifying in Mexico. There is little danger of missing the tournament given the four spots up for grabs, but with only the winner of the CONCACAF W Championship automatically qualifying for the 2024 Olympics, getting these decisions correct now is a must.

USWNT defeats Colombia 2-0 in friendly as Kelley O’Hara scores after lightning delay

By The Athletic StaffJune 29, 2022Updated 1:49 AM EDT

The U.S. Women’s national team defeated Colombia 2-0 in a friendly at Rio Tinto Stadium Tuesday night. This is the second consecutive friendly victory for USWNT over Colombia as the squad won 3-0 on June 25.USWNT right back Sofia Huerta forced an own goal off of Colombia’s Manuela Vanegas, opening the scoring in the 22nd minute. Huerta, who plays for OL Reign in the NWSL, played in her 14th cap for country on Tuesday.Colombia poured on the pressure in the second half trying to equalize. USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made a big save with her palm, keeping it a 1-0 lead. Despite Colombia having several looks in the box, USWNT extended the lead after the lightning delay at the 76th minute. Kelley O’Hara scored in the 77th minute, her first for country since 2016, sealing USWNT’s win.USWNT enters the CONCACAF W Championship as the No. 1 team in the FIFA Women’s rankings. They are trying to win their third consecutive CONCACAF W Championship. The winner of the CONCACAF W Championship not only qualifies for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup but will secure a berth in the Paris 2024 Olympic women’s soccer competition.USWNT opens their CONCACAF W Championship against Haiti at 7 p.m. ET on July 4.

How did the USWNT look overall against Colombia?

Steph Yang, USWNT beat writer: The USWNT looked like a typical team trying out some new tactics and some new players before settling its roster for a tournament, a typical pattern from Vlatko Andonovski and his staff by now. One interesting look from the team is his double 10 midfield setup, which Andonovski spoke about in media calls as being a possible tool for breaking open a very defensive team, something the USWNT expects to encounter in CONCACAF.

The team was also trying to use the movement of its three forwards to suck in defenses and open up wide spaces for the fullbacks, a strategy that did generate opportunities in the box but suffered for lack of finishing. Still, Andonovski told media after the game he thought the forwards did a good job.

“In a game like this, when the forwards are surrounded with four or five players at times, it’s hard to find them,” he said, pointing to things like Alex Morgan assisting Sophia Smith in the first game as positive indicators.

Who stood out for the USWNT?

Yang: Sophia Smith and Mal Pugh both showed moments of brilliance on the ball; to a slightly lesser extent so did Trinity Rodman. Sofia Huerta definitely fulfilled her assignment as a fullback in the setup the USWNT used and both Ashley Sanchez and Rose Lavelle demonstrated some of the creativity they were asked to bring in order to crack open a deep block.

What expectations should we have going into the CONCACAF W Championship now?

Yang: Andonovski told media after the game that the team will head directly to Mexico now to start training in Monterrey, and that for the most part, his tournament starting XI is known to both him and to the players.

“It’s not hard to predict who’s going to be on the field,” he told media after tonight’s game.

He complimented the team’s ability to score goals in different ways, despite acknowledging that this second performance against Colombia “was not our best performance.” For all that, Andonovski pointed out these two games were exactly the type of opponent the team wanted and needed, as they were likely to face similar tactics in CONCACAF.

“It was physical and very, very tight,” he said. “And it’s good for us to prepare for it.”

 Quinn Sullivan scoring in bunches at CONCACAF U-20 Championship

The Philadelphia Union attacker is turning heads in Honduras.

By Brendan Joseph  Jun 30, 2022, 8:20am PDT  

The United States advanced to the semifinal round of the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, qualifying for the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup and on the cusp of reaching the 2024 Summer Olympics. There have been a few strong individual performances, with Quinn Sullivan challenging for the Golden Boot award. The 18-year-old is a highly-rated midfielder with the Philadelphia Union, steadily developing at one of Major League Soccer’s top talent factories. As the competition draws to a close, his scoring touch may be required to secure a place at the Paris Games.Born in Philadelphia to a family with deep roots in the city’s soccer scene, Sullivan began playing with Fishtown Athletic Club before joining the fruitful Philadelphia Union Academy at the U-12 level, while also attending the YSC Academy. The prospect contributed 32 goals in 90 total appearances, including scoring 19 times and adding six assists during the 2018-19 season. He was promoted to the club’s reserve team as an amateur in 2020, making nine total appearances during the abbreviated USL Championship schedule.The club signed Sullivan to a first-team contract in advance of the 2021 season. “[He is a] young, promising player who has fit in well with our system at every level of [his] development,” said Sporting Director Ernst Tanner. “[He] excelled at our academy, which is one of the most challenging environments for young talents. [His] work ethic is evident by [his] quick ascension and success with Union II where [he was] able to make early, immediate impacts… Quinn is strong in the tackle, covers and incredible amount of ground, and has the precise type of tenacious attitude we want in our squad.”Enjoying a “fairly smooth transition,” Sullivan made 24 total appearances during his first season, contributing two goals and one assist. After “getting better and better in training,” his first finish came during his first start, a 3-3 draw against the Chicago Fire. The “world-class” bicycle kick – which he doesn’t practice “very often” – earned the league’s Goal of the Week honor.Sullivan repeated the feat, scoring a “thunderous strike” to draw with CF Montréal. He drilled a shot from the top of the box, earning the then-17-year-old another MLS Goal of the Week accolade. “Quinn to score such a special goal on his first start, it gets no better,” said manager Jim Curtin after the initial finish. “For him to do it in his first professional start, I think is something he’ll never forget obviously… It was a great goal, a great moment for him. But Quinn would probably want three points over scoring a great goal. That’s how competitive and how good a player he is.”His debut MLS season, featuring sporadic playing time, marked him as a “strong and upcoming” talent. Despite looking ready for an expanded role, Sullivan has split time between the first-team and reserves in 2022. With his club career still waiting for consistent opportunities, the international game has provided the chance to raise his profile.Sullivan is potentially eligible for Germany, Bangladesh, and the United States, competing with the latter program. Mikey Varas named him to the roster for the ongoing 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. He thrived during a pre-tournament training camp in Argentina, establishing himself as a multi-faceted attacker and signaling his importance to the upcoming campaign.In the first group-stage match against Saint Kitts and Nevis, he registered two assists. Sullivan followed that performance with a hat-trick against Cuba. In the Round of 16, the midfielder added a brace to claim a 5-0 victory over Nicaragua. Soccer By Ives praised his “clever running and clinical abilities,” a varied array of finishes from steering crosses into the back of the net or latching onto through balls.“Same mentality as we’ve had,” said Sullivan following his performing against Cuba. “We’ve got to end teams early, try and get off on the right foot like we did tonight… Every game’s a must-win to this point, with the goal to lift the trophy and qualify for both the World Cup and the Olympics. It’s vital.”An attacking midfielder with “athletic tools and a high soccer IQ,” Sullivan puts pressure on the opponent and works to block shots. He has been compared to Giovanni Reyna as an “elite playmaker” and “roaming 10/winger drifting between being out wide and cutting in and creating danger.” His primary position is “operating in the advanced and wide” areas, serving as an “auxiliary striker/winger.” His club manager praised him for the ability to “read the game, solve problems on the field on his own, and adapt to any situation.”“He is probably the most highly regarded 2004 player in the US player pool,” wrote Marcus Chairez for Chasing a Cup. “Quinn is one of the most likely candidates to move to Europe this year or next. Quinn can really strike the soccer ball with his right foot. He is a deadly shooter from all ranges. He also has a fierce, highly competitive mentality. I’d like to see [him] improve his off the ball movement so he can get in more positions to use said deadly right foot.”Youth tournaments can be hype machines, allowing observers to catch a glimpse of the next generation. Sullivan has been one of the standouts for the United States and garnered much of the attention, as to be expected for a player scoring in bunches. If he can become a regular member of the rotation and replicate the torrid form upon returning to Philadelphia, his dream of moving to Europe may be closer to being realized than previously believed.

Welcome to LAFC! Giorgio Chiellini gets drenched during victory song Bale Arrives Too!

By Jonathan Sigal @JonathanSigal  Thursday, Jun 30, 2022, 01:48 AM

Sing it loud and proud, Giorgio ChielliniLAFC’s new star defender hasn’t yet played a game for his new club, but he’s getting a crash course in all things Black & Gold before he’s eligible to debut July 8 against the LA Galaxy in El Trafico.For the Juventus and Italian legend, that meant – at US men’s national team midfielder Kellyn Acosta’s urging – singing LAFC’s victory song before their 3252 supporters’ group after Wednesday night’s resounding 3-1 home victory over FC Dallas pushed their Supporters’ Shield lead to nine points at the 2022 season’s halfway mark (11W-3L-3D record, 36 points).“Sha la la la la la la… L-A-F-C!” Chiellini belted with a megaphone in hand, as his new teammates sprayed him with water, dampening the tailored suit the 37-year-old wore to his arrival press conference earlier that evening.Jumping up and down, with an ear-to-ear smile as fans and players alike celebrated, it suggested he’ll perhaps fit right in at Banc of California Stadium.As celebratory as Chiellini and LAFC were, their charges are only going to strengthen in the coming days. LAFC recently completed a deal for ex-Real Madrid megastar forward Gareth Bale, who’s powered Wales to the Qatar 2022 World Cup and was once the world’s most expensive signing upon leaving Tottenham. Club captain Carlos Vela, the 2019 league MVP, is back on a Designated Player deal, while Bale and Chiellini both have Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) contracts.In other words, the world-renowned center back is entering a club with an incredibly strong foundation, one that’s sparking dreams of MLS silverware on multiple fronts this year. That’s something he’d know well as a Euro 2020 champion with Italy and nine-time Serie A champion with Juventus.Given how the tea leaves are forming, Chiellini might have to get accustomed to more song-filled nights in Hollywood

.

Leagues Cup Showcase to feature FC Cincinnati, Nashville SC, Real Salt Lake against Liga MX clubs

By MLSsoccer staff @mls   Thursday, Jun 30, 2022, 01:01 PM

Major League Soccer and Liga MX are facing off in Ohio, Tennessee and Utah.

The two leagues announced Thursday the addition of three matches to this year’s Leagues Cup Showcase, featuring FC Cincinnati vs. Chivas of Guadalajara, Nashville SC vs. Club America, and Real Salt Lake vs. Atlas FC in September. This will be the first time in history these clubs will face off.

The matches join the previously announced marquee doubleheader in Los Angeles featuring LA Galaxy vs. Chivas and LAFC vs. Club America on August 3. The five games will be broadcast on Univision and ESPN in the United States, and TUDN in Mexico.

The Leagues Cup Showcase will serve as a preview to the highly-anticipated Leagues Cup – the annual, month-long official tournament between MLS and Liga MX – that will kick off in the summer of 2023.

Matches and dates

FC Cincinnati vs. Chivas of Guadalajara – Sept. 21 – TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, OH

Nashville SC vs. Club América – Sept. 21 – GEODIS Park, Nashville, TN

Real Salt Lake vs. Atlas FC – Sept. 22 – Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, UT

FC Cincinnati vs. Chivas of Guadalajara

FC Cincinnati will host their first-ever international match since joining MLS as an expansion team in 2019 at TQL Stadium, which hosted its first game in spring of 2021. With a capacity to seat 26,000 fans, the arena is one of the league’s newest soccer-specific stadium jewels.

“We are thrilled to host Chivas of Guadalajara at TQL Stadium,” FC Cincinnati co-CEO Jeff Berding said in a release. “Cincinnati has hosted a number of incredible international soccer events, including FC Cincinnati’s match against Crystal Palace, which at the time was the largest soccer crowd in Ohio history, a US national team World Cup qualifier versus Mexico, and other US Men’s and Women’s friendlies. It’s an honor to continue that history with an exciting Leagues Cup Showcase match for our fans this September.”

FC Cincinnati season ticket holders will have priority access to purchase tickets through an exclusive presale. Tickets will be made available to the public on Monday, July 18 at 9 am ET via SeatGeek.

Nashville SC vs. Club America

Like Cincinnati, Nashville SC will host their first-ever international match when they take on Club America. They will do so at the brand-new GEODIS Park inaugurated this May, which, at 30,000 capacity, is the largest soccer-specific stadium in the United States.

“We could not be more excited about hosting our first international match at GEODIS Park,” Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre said in a release. “Nashville has been buzzing with excitement for soccer since we started in MLS in 2020 and even more so since we opened the doors to our new home. Facing off here against Mexico’s most decorated club side is an awesome next step on our soccer journey.”

Nashville SC season ticket holders will also have priority access to purchase tickets through an exclusive presale. Tickets will be made available to the public on Thursday, July 21 at 10 am ET via Ticketmaster.

Real Salt Lake vs. Atlas FC

Real Salt Lake enter the Leagues Cup Showcase having experienced multiple meetings against Mexican opposition, including in the 2019 Leagues Cup against Tigres and the 2011 Concacaf Champions League final against Monterrey. At Rio Tinto Stadium, they will welcome Atlas FC, back-to-back Apertura 2021 and Clausura 2022 winners, which make them the current Liga MX Campeón de Campeones – the overall Mexican league champion.

“Real Salt Lake is proud of our vast history of competing against international opponents, whether that be in Concacaf Champions League, international friendlies or the 2019 Leagues Cup,” RSL president John Kimball said in a release. “Welcoming Atlas FC in September to Utah for the 42nd RSL game against 30 different international opponents from 16 various countries will no doubt serve as a fantastic reward for our incredible supporters, who have long proven to value international pathways to prestigious regional hardware. We cannot wait to host this year’s Leagues Cup Showcase, and look forward to providing Atlas a sense of the best Utah has to offer.”

Tickets details for this match will be revealed at a later date but Real Salt Lake season ticket holders will have priority access through an exclusive presale.

The Leagues Cup Showcase will be a taste of what’s to come in 2023, when all 47 MLS and Liga MX clubs will participate in the Leagues Cup while both leagues break from domestic play. The tournament’s expansion is the product of a partnership that began in 2018 and will continue to build to the 2026 FIFA World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

 

READINGS FROM THE MLS SURPRISE-O-METER ON GARETH BALE, CINCY, AND MORE

COMMENTARYMLS  JUNE 28, 2022 BY JOSEPH LOWERY

Today, we’re introducing the MLS Surprise-O-Meter, a very technologically sophisticated tool that tells us how surprised we should be by various MLS things 

  • How surprised should you be about Gareth Bale’s move to MLS? What about Cincy’s turnaround? Let the Surprise-O-Meter fill you in 

© Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

We’re in that part of the MLS season where things start happening. Things you didn’t expect. Things that make you stop your Twitter scroll right in its tracks. I had a few of those moments this weekend and in response, I’m debuting the MLS Surprise-O-Meter. 

It’s fairly self-explanatory, but just to lay it all out there quickly: the Surprise-O-Meter is a very fancy and very technologically sophisticated tool that we have here at Backheeled that displays how surprised something should make us. Its readings cannot be questioned. 

Here’s how surprised the Surprise-O-Meter was by some of this weekend’s MLS events.

GARETH BALE IS HEADED TO LAFC

Reading: Close Twitter, take a lap, and then check Tommy Scoops’ feed again to make sure you actually saw that

The Surprise-O-Meter, understandably, says that we should be quite surprised about this one. On Saturday morning, Tom Bogert reported that Los Angeles FC are finalizing a deal to sign former Real Madrid attacker Gareth Bale. Bale, 32, isn’t the same player he was in his 20s but he still has undeniable technical and physical quality that you can see when he’s on international duty with Wales. 

Prior to this year, signing Bale would have felt like a very un-LAFC thing to do. Their transfer strategy has mostly focused on watching U-20 World Cup footage and bringing in young players from South America. 

But now, LAFC have seemingly gone full “sweeping up aging, out-of-contract European superstars” mode this offseason, going after both Bale and Giorgio Chiellini. Oh, and apparently Carlos Vela is staying in LA as a DP until the end of 2023. LAFC are getting older, there’s no doubt about it. However, the fact that neither Bale nor Chiellini will be DPs this season means that the risk of signing that pairing is relatively low – lowering risk is important when you’re signing older players in a league that limits your roster resources. 

There’s room for LAFC to scour South America for talent, while still taking advantage of chances to sign players like Bale. It’s not an either/or.

But, given that there was very little noise about Bale heading to LA and that Bale hasn’t played in a U-20 World Cup for Ecuador, this move rates very highly on the Surprise-O-Meter.

FC CINCINNATI ARE ABOVE THE PLAYOFF LINE ALMOST HALFWAY THROUGH 2022

Reading: Mhmm, yep, mhmm, this feels about rig…wait, what?

Don’t look now, but FC Cincinnati is a very respectable soccer team. I know that we’ve been trained not to say those words together in the same sentence, but they just keep getting respectable results and playing respectable soccer.

Pat Noonan and Co. beat Orlando City 1-0 on Friday and by the end of the weekend, Cincy found themselves in seventh place in the East. With that win over Orlando, Cincinnati pulled within one point of their best-ever MLS total. Right now, Cincy’s sitting on 23 points, just one point shy of their record 24 points back in 2019.

After winning back-to-back-to-back Wooden Spoons, hanging out above the playoff line is a nice change of pace for Cincinnati. They now have a defined style of play under Noonan, they’re playing their best attackers, and they have some respectable goalkeepers this season. According to American Soccer Analysis, FC Cincinnati have the sixth-best expected goal difference on a per game basis in the entire league. Not just in the East.

It’s safe to say that their results have been far better in 2022 than in any of their previous years in MLS.

I, for one, didn’t expect this drastic of a change. Neither did our MLS Surprise-O-Meter, apparently.

SEATTLE PICK UP ANOTHER WIN

Reading: I’m not even dignifying that with a response

Okay, it looks like we’ve angered the Surprise-O-Meter here. This one was a little bit of a heat check, because frankly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the Sounders are heating up in league play right now. They beat Sporting Kansas City 3-0 on Saturday and since May 15, Brian Schmetzer’s team has gone 5W-1D-1L.

The Seattle Sounders are getting results now that they’re fully removed from the Concacaf Champions League – and they’re starting to play some excellent soccer, too. Since the middle of May, the Sounders have been creating more open-play xG per 90 minutes than any other team in MLS. They’ve also been leading the league in average shot quality and they’re second in MLS in goals per 90 minutes. Defensively, Seattle’s numbers are strong as well. 

Even without some of their stars, the Sounders are humming right now – and as the Surprise-O-Meter tells us, that shouldn’t be all that surprising based on previous years. The Seattle Sounders have never missed the playoffs in their time in MLS and they’ve only missed the Western Conference semifinals once (last year). 

It’s bad news for the rest of the league, but great for Sounders fans: it looks like Seattle is back.

Women’s Euros big questions: England or Spain to win it all? Or will Netherlands, Germany go on a run?

Jun 29, 2022  Bill ConnellyESPN Staff Writer

The summer’s major European tournament is upon us. The UEFA Women’s Euro, a 16-team affair featuring four former champions, one debutant, 30 of the world’s 50 best players and, per FIFA, 13 of the world’s 21 best teams, begins July 6 in England and LIVE on ESPN.

Six teams in the field stand out as favorites, which could make for some incredible knockout-round action later in July. But let’s see what we can learn about each favorite and from the data produced at the club and international levels.


Why it’s coming home

Beth MeadLauren Hemp and Fran Kirby in attack. Ella Toone‘s microwavable offense. Ellen White‘s 50 career international goals off the bench. Do-it-all midfielder Georgia Stanway playing in midfield, or at fullback, or wherever another elite player needs to line up at a given time. Centre-backs Leah Williamson and Millie Bright providing flawless buildup play from the back. Barcelona-bound right back Lucy Bronze providing high-level defense and even more high-level buildup.

At first glance, England have the best of all worlds. They are world-class in attack and defense. They are seasoned: White (33), Bronze (30), defender Demi Stokes (30), forward Nikita Parris (28) and ever-present midfielder Jill Scott (35) have all topped 60 caps, and Scott and White have topped 100. They are also full of thrilling young energy: Stanway is 23, Toone 22, Hemp 21.

They have as many ESPN top-50 players as Spain and more than anyone else in the field. They’ve reached the semifinals in the past two World Cups and in 2017’s Euros. And since appointing Sarina Wiegman to replace Phil Neville as manager in September, they’ve been nearly perfect, embarrassing minnows and outscoring seven Euro-bound opponents by a combined 21-2. In June friendlies against Belgium and the Netherlands, they were held in check for most of the first half but slowly wore down their opponents. They scored three goals after the 60th minute against Belgium and scored four after the 50th against the Dutch.

If club chemistry matters, Spain indeed might be your favorite. England does boast a large Manchester City contingent — nine players were there last year — but their difference-makers hail from four different English clubs. However, that’s just about the only potential flaw one can find. This team is balanced, brilliant and playing at home. There’s always the chance that a home crowd becomes a liability if England starts slowly in a big match, but even in a field loaded with outstanding teams, England stands out. Cue the music: It’s coming home.*

*Unless it doesn’t, in which case I never said any of this.


2022 Spain (W) as 2010 Spain (M)

Vicente del Bosque had quite a luxury when naming his Spanish squad for the men’s 2010 World Cup: Relatively speaking, the best team in the world, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, were right in his backyard. Barca had just won their second straight LaLiga title and would win their third straight the following season. They had won the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup in 2009, and it took a mammoth effort — and some unlucky breaks — for them to lose to Inter Milan in the 2010 Champions League semifinals. (Total shots over two legs: Barca 30, Inter 10.)

Del Bosque ended up selecting seven Barca players, six of whom featured heavily — starters Xavi, Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets and primary substitute Pedro — as Spain finally got the major-tournament curse off their back, losing to Switzerland in the tournament opener, but winning six in a row from there to take home the trophy.

– Watch UEFA Women’s Euros (July 6-31) on ESPN+
– Soccer on ESPN+: FC Daily | Futbol Americas
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Jorge Vilda finds himself in a similar situation. The manager of Spain’s women’s team since 2015, he’s piloting a team that (a) have only one reasonable success on their résumé (reaching the semifinals of the Euros in 1997) and (b) will be leaning heavily on a dominant Barca squad.

Barcelona Femeni have played 96 matches over the past two seasons in all competitions, winning 90 with just two draws and four losses. They have outscored opponents by a jaw-dropping 429 to 48. Despite a loss to Lyon in this year’s Champions League, they are the clear, dominant force in the sport. And 10 members of Barcelona’s squad, including captain Irene Paredes, reigning Ballon d’Or Feminin winner Alexia Putellas and goal scorer Mariona Caldentey (who has 12 combined goals and assists in Spain’s six World Cup qualification matches thus far), will represent Spain in Euro 2022.

Despite a sketchy recent record — they were eliminated in the quarterfinals at Euro 2017 and in the round of 16 at the 2019 World Cup — Spain have been generally listed as the favorite in the betting markets. Depending on your oddsmaker of choice, the 16 teams have basically been separated into four betting tiers.

Tier 1a

  • Spain: odds generally between 3/1 and 7/2
  • England: between 4/1 and 9/2

Tier 1b

  • France: around 5/1
  • Netherlands: between 5/1 and 6/1
  • Germany: between 6/1 and 7/1
  • Sweden: between 6/1 and 7/1

Tier 2

  • Norway: around 14/1
  • Denmark: around 25/1
  • Italy: around 25/1

Tier 3

  • Switzerland: around 50/1
  • Austria: around 60/1
  • Belgium: around 75/1

Tier 4

  • Portugal: around 90/1
  • Iceland: around 90/1
  • Finland: around 200/1
  • Northern Ireland: around 250/1

Like the men in 2010, though, Spain will also have to navigate through a tricky group. Group B is the only of the four groups to feature three teams ranked in FIFA’s top 15, and two of them — eight-time champion Germany and 2017 runner-up Denmark — have seen far more Euro success than they have. If Spain are to live up to their favorite status, club continuity and Champions League experience will have to play major roles.


The five biggest matches of the group stage

Once again using FIFA rankings, the distribution of the groups is about as even as you could hope — of the top eight teams in the field, two reside in each group. Based on factors such as rankings, betting odds and star players, then, it’s pretty easy to get a read on which group-stage matches will be the most high-profile. They might not determine who advances to the knockout stages — Group B aside, the favorites are clear — but they will boast particularly high quality and will go a long way toward determining who wins each group.

Germany vs. Denmark (Group B, Friday, July 8). Euro 2017 fell into chaos when Denmark upset Germany, the six-time defending champs, in the quarterfinals. Down a goal almost immediately, the Danes scored twice in the second half to pull the upset. This is the first huge match of the tournament, and Germany will be favored again. If the match produces a winner, it will go a long way toward establishing how the Group of Death will shake out.

Netherlands vs. Sweden (Group C, Saturday, July 9). The defending Euro champs vs. the reigning Olympic silver medalists and, per FIFA, the No. 1 team on the continent. These teams will both likely advance no matter who wins, as they’re both much stronger than fellow Group C members Switzerland and Portugal. But the winner — and, therefore, likely group winner — could avoid likely Group D winner France in the quarterfinals.

France vs. Italy (Group D, Sunday, July 10). France are indeed well-situated to win Group D, the only one featuring just one team with better than 15/1 odds to win the tournament. But Italy still boast Barbara Bonansea and eight teammates from a Juventus squad that both won their fifth straight Serie A title this season and thrived in the Champions League, topping Chelsea and giving Lyon hell in an aggregate 4-3 quarterfinal loss.

England vs. Norway (Group A, Monday, July 11). If Spain aren’t the favorite, a loaded English squad probably are. The Lionesses are unbeaten in their past 13 matches, and while there have been plenty of romps over minnows in that stretch, there have also been impressive wins over Netherlands (5-1 in a recent friendly) and Germany (3-1 in February’s Arnold Clark Cup) and draws against both Spain and Olympic gold medalist Canada.

Their biggest Group A test will come from a Norway squad that might not have the depth it once had but still boasts two of the world’s 10 best players (per ESPN’s list): Barcelona midfielder Caroline Graham Hansen and storied Lyon forward Ada Hegerberg, who is back in the fold with the national team. This is a heavyweight battle.

Germany vs. Spain (Group B, Tuesday, July 12). The last of the top 10 vs. top 10 battles, this one will have a very different feel if Germany slip up against Denmark. (Spain will face Denmark on July 16.) Assuming Spain handle Finland in the opener, this will be the first significant test for the betting favorites.


Group D, France and the value of elite opponents

It’s hard to find a sleeper for this tournament, if only because Groups A (England and Norway) and C (Netherlands and Sweden) each have two teams heavily favored to advance and Group B has two solid favorites (Spain and Germany) plus a clear deputy (Denmark).

While France are the clear favorite in Group D, however, second place might be up for grabs. Italy have the best odds of advancing, but while they are 14th in the current FIFA rankings, Iceland and Belgium are 17th and 19th, respectively. Iceland boast stalwart defenders in Bayern Munich’s do-everything Glodis Perla Viggosdottir and Rosengard’s Gudrun Arnardottir, and Belgium have a trio of major-club veteran forwards in Janice CaymanTine De Caigny and Tessa Wullaert; the trio have combined for more than 300 caps and nearly 150 career national-team goals, and Wullaert has been torrid in Belgium’s eight World Cup qualification matches, posting 15 goals and 10 assists.

Of the longer long shots in the tournament, Iceland and Belgium have the clearest path to the knockout rounds, and every match in Group D could therefore carry interesting stakes.

We also might not know everything we need to know about France until the knockout rounds.

France has a lot of attacking potential, including the likes of PSG’s Marie-Antoinette Katoto. But is this squad really ready to compete given an easy path to the tournament? Aurelien Meunier –

It’s difficult to glean any sort of information on a team’s form at the international level. Qualifying for the Euros ended nearly two years ago, and while most teams in the Euro field have played around 12-13 matches in the past year, a lot of those came against low-level teams in World Cup qualification, and the players a country will be counting on in the Euros perhaps weren’t asked to contribute all that much. England beat Latvia 20-0 in November, for example, and put up double-digit goals on North Macedonia and Luxembourg (plus Latvia again). Impressive? Certainly, but Latvia ranks 115th in FIFA’s rankings, Luxembourg ranks 113th and North Macedonia ranks 133rd.

We can learn at least a few things by looking solely at like-versus-like matchups:

  • The Netherlands are battle-tested, having played five top-10 (per FIFA) opponents over the past year. But they’ve pulled just three points and a minus-6 goal differential from said matches. They drew with the United States at the Olympics (losing in a shootout), drew twice with Brazil and lost to England and France by a combined 8-2.
  • Teams to average at least 2.0 points per game against top-10 opponents over the past year: England (eight points from four matches), Sweden (seven from three) and France (six from two).
  • Expanding the range to top-25 opponents, France (still six points from two matches), England (14 from six), Sweden (26 from 10), Spain (15 from seven), Iceland (15 from seven), Italy (10 from five) and Norway (six from three) all clear the two-points-per-game bar.

France beat both Brazil and Netherlands in February’s Tournoi de France. But while they’ve got a perfect record over the past year (12 matches, 12 wins), those are the only two matches they’ve played against opponents ranked higher than 29th. Among the six betting favorites, Germany (four) are the only other team to have played fewer than six matches against the top 25.

It’s hard to guarantee that this matters, but France also aren’t relying particularly heavily on league heavyweights Lyon and PSG, either. The French squad have five players from each club, but also have four who play for Bordeaux, two who play in Spain, two in England and one in Italy. This team could have used some chemistry-building challenges more than others.

Granted, one can only worry so much about a team that uses key pieces of Lyon’s midfield (Delphine Cascarino), PSG’s front line (forwards Kadidiatou Diani and Marie-Antoinette Katoto) and one of the most intimidating defenders in the world (Lyon’s Wendie Renard).

The top teams are pretty hard to separate. Maybe chemistry holds France back a touch?


The Dutch were superior in the last Euros, but will they fend off the likes of Spain and England this summer for the title? DeFodi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Club form and the case for the Netherlands

Looking solely at recent results, it’s difficult to love the Netherlands’ chances. In terms of points per game, the defending Euro champions (and World Cup runners-up) are in second place in their World Cup qualifying group, behind Iceland, thanks to a pair of draws against the Czech Republic. And in their two 2022 matchups against fellow top teams, they couldn’t keep up against France and England.

Their 5-1 loss to England — now coached by former Dutch manager Sarina Wiegman — last week in Leeds was particularly galling. Lieke Martens gave them an early lead, but Bronze tied the match 10 minutes later and the Dutch completely lost their composure after halftime, suffering a comedy of errors in defense and giving up four goals in the final 40 minutes.

Still, if you look at what Dutch players are accomplishing on the club level, you can talk yourself into their chances in England this summer. They still boast some of the most high-end talent on the planet in Arsenal forward Vivianne Miedema (No. 3 on ESPN’s top 50 list), Barca-turned-PSG forward Lieke Martens (No. 15) and Wolfsburg midfielder Jill Roord (No. 50). But their roster also features players who found strong form in the Vrouwen Eredivisie. Forward Romee Leuchter (Ajax) scored 25 goals with five assists, midfielder Victoria Pelova (Ajax) had six and nine, respectively, and midfielder Marisa Olislagers (Twente) had four and 10.

Granted, they aren’t nearly as proven in defense, which was painfully obvious against England, but they have as much offensive firepower as anyone in the field.


Club form and the case for Germany

Without doubt, Germany was an early adopter in women’s soccer as well as at both the club and international levels. From 2002 to ’15, German teams won nine of the first 14 UEFA Women’s Cups (soon to become the Champions League), with four other finals appearances. Meanwhile, the national team reached the finals of the 1995 World Cup, won the 2003 and 2007 World Cups and the 2016 Olympics and won an incredible eight of nine Euros between 1989 and 2013.

Since Lyon took over women’s club soccer in 2016, German clubs have had to settle for only a trio of Champions League finals losses for Wolfsburg, and the national team lost in both the Euro quarterfinals in 2017 and the World Cup quarterfinals in 2019. More recently, Germany took just one point from three matches in February’s Arnold Clark Cup — they drew with Spain and lost to Canada and England — and suffered a World Cup qualification upset loss at Serbia in April. Like the Netherlands, they haven’t established a convincing level of late.

Also like the Netherlands: Their club-level success suggests elite talent. They boast eight players from Champions League semifinalist Wolfsburg — one of only two clubs to beat Barcelona this season (in the second leg of the semis) — and another seven from quarterfinalist Bayern Munich. Bayern forward Lea Schuller and Wolfsburg forward Tabea Wassmuth combined for 29 goals and 10 assists in the Frauen-Bundesliga, Frankfurt’s Laura Freigang scored 12 goals in 23 matches, and Wolfsburg’s Svenja Huth distributed 12 more league assists. Throw in Lyon-via-PSG midfielder Sara Dabritz, and you’ve got a formidable attack. (Another Netherlands similarity: Their defense is much less proven.)

They mauled Switzerland 7-0 in a June 24 tune-up, getting a hat trick from Bayern’s Klara Buhl in the process. They have the toughest opening match of any of the Tier 1 favorites, but if they are confident, a ninth Euro title isn’t completely out of the question.


What Sweden did so well at the Olympics

It feels a little odd seeing Sweden as either the fifth or sixth betting favorite (depending on the sportsbook). They have one of the most feared defenders in the world (Chelsea’s Magdalena Eriksson), top-class attackers (Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius, Juventus’ Lina Hurtig) and one of the most feared attacking defenders (Barcelona’s Fridolina Rolfo). They also have a track record.

Sweden pummeled the U.S. on the way to the Olympic finals last summer (their second straight silver medal), and they beat Canada, Germany and England on the way to third place at the 2019 World Cup. They have reached at least the semis in four of the last six Euros. They’re second in the world in the FIFA rankings, and their only loss over the past year or so has come via shootout in the Olympic gold-medal match.

– Lawson: Is this finally Sweden’s year to win?

They attack as well as defend at this point, something that set them apart in the Olympics. They created opportunities from a high press and generated scoring chances for not only Blackstenius and Hurtig but also Rosengard’s Olivia Schough; meanwhile, they offered opponents almost no high-quality shots in exchange.

This team has seen as much proof of concept as any over the past year, and if Sweden can get past the Netherlands in the group stage, they would potentially face the weakest team in the quarterfinals (Group D’s runner-up). The stars have aligned pretty well, betting favorites or no.

Friday Newsletter: LAFC Makes a Statement with Gareth Bale Signing, Carlos Vela Extension

Plus more fallout from FIFA’s World Cup 2026 host cities reveal, and I answer your Mailbag questions

   Grant Wahl  Jun 25   

IF LAFC ENDS UP WINNING THE MLS CUP IN 2022, the turning-point day in realizing those goals will have been today, June 25. That’s the day that Tom Bogert tweeted LAFC was set to sign Gareth Bale on a non-Designated Player deal and Taylor Twellman tweeted LAFC had re-signed star Carlos Vela to a new contract.

LAFC, which already leads the league in points (30), also recently signed Italian centerback Giorgio Chiellini to a non-DP deal and still has one more DP spot to fill. What are my thoughts on all that? Let’s break it down:

Los Angeles and Miami were up in the air as [World Cup 2026] host cities until the final day. FIFA very much wanted both L.A. and Miami to be in the final group, and the cities knew that, which is why there was plenty of pushback in the final stages after FIFA tried to strong-arm the cities with a late addendum to wrest more concessions from the candidate host cities.


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• It sends a message to the rest of MLS. What’s your team doing to keep up? Unless you’re the Seattle Sounders, which are already the CONCACAF champions and have put together a marvelous team, or maybe Toronto with the incoming Lorenzo Insigne, your team isn’t doing what LAFC is.

Let’s be clear: If Bale and Chiellini had been DP signings, I doubt I’d be feeling positive about that. But they’re not DP signings, so for me it’s a no-brainer to add them. I feel like MLS teams signing European stars in their 30s is fine these days as long as most of them are on TAM deals, but if you’re going to devote a DP slot to a player you’re better off getting someone in their 20s or teens. I’m very curious to see who LAFC lands with its DP slot. If it’s an attacker with a big upside, look out.

• I have one concern for LAFC. It’s an age-old rule: You’re going to have problems in the locker room if your best players aren’t your highest earners. If Bale lights up MLS and provides more to the team than LAFC’s DP earners, including Vela, that could become an issue.

• D.C. keeps getting kicked in the teeth soccer-wise. The nation’s capital is having a rough stretch when it comes to soccer. Bale had been in talks with D.C. United, which failed, only for Bale to take a non-DP deal with LAFC. This comes a week after D.C./Baltimore was passed up as a host city for World Cup ‘26. And D.C. United just isn’t moving the needle these days as a team on the move in MLS. 

As the Washington Post’s Steven Goff wrote this week, “Because United has struggled to keep up since it won four titles in the league’s first nine seasons, hosting the [MLS Cup final] these days is pure fantasy.”

At least D.C. was awarded the hosting rights for the 2023 MLS All-Star Game, for what that’s worth.

FALLOUT FROM THE WORLD CUP 2026 HOST CITIES ANNOUNCEMENT

As you might expect, there were plenty of stories being told about how the sausage got made in the wake of FIFA’s announcement last week of the 16 host cities for World Cup 2026. And there was a lot of sausage being made in the very last moments before the official announcement on global TV. To wit:

• Los Angeles and Miami were up in the air as host cities until the final day. FIFA very much wanted both L.A. and Miami to be in the final group, and the cities knew that, which is why there was plenty of pushback in the final stages after FIFA tried to strong-arm the cities with a late addendum to wrest more concessions from the candidate host cities.

“There was a call on the morning of [the announcement] with L.A. [and FIFA],” a person with direct knowledge of the Los Angeles bid told me. “It came down to a game of chicken and who blinked. FIFA ended up blinking, but L.A. still needs more private funding.”

“It wasn’t until the last day with Miami,” another person with direct knowledge of the Miami talks told me. “There were multiple open items that weren’t sorted out until the end. FIFA is used to strong-arming cities/venus and making it seem like a ‘favor.’ Miami wasn’t going to roll over to their demands (some unreasonable). So that delayed the process. At the end they compromised on certain things and made it work. FIFA is not used to getting pushback.”

One other tidbit: The L.A. bidders were not expecting to see the Rose Bowl ruled out when FIFA announced the L.A. games would solely be at SoFi Stadium. That was a complete surprise on the broadcast.

• The World Cup 2026 International Broadcast Center is likely going to be in Atlanta or Dallas. Those are the two main candidates right now, with Dallas (the 1994 World Cup IBC location) being the more likely destination. 

• The rift between FIFA and U.S. Soccer/MLS continues. I have reported previously on what happened behind the scenes when U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone won re-election earlier this year by defeating Carlos Cordeiro, who was being actively supported by FIFA president Gianni Infantino and CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani. 

MLS commissioner Don Garber, who influences USSF votes on the Pro Council, refused pressure from Infantino and Montagliani to support Cordeiro. So it was no surprise that Garber, who’s based in New York City, was nowhere to be found around FIFA’s announcement proceedings, and Parlow Cone did only one photo appearance.

FIFA has acted like an occupying force when it comes to organizing World Cup 2026 so far, ending the run of Local Organizing Committees, and it remains to be seen how much (if at all) U.S. Soccer and MLS will be involved in helping to organize World Cup ‘26 despite having plenty of experience with logistics and major soccer events in this part of the world.

OPENING THE MAILBAG

The Apple-MLS media deal sounds great for current fans. But what mechanisms will exist to attract new fans to the league? Sounds like Apple TV+ subscribers who aren’t otherwise MLS subscribers will have access to a limited menu of games. That’s fine, but there’s got to be more than “build it and they will come,” I hope? Winning over new MLS fans from the Apple demographic is clearly the goal. How will this deal accomplish that?

Josh Lane

When you’re talking about attracting new fans to MLS, look for deals to be announced in which linear TV like ESPN, Univision and perhaps Fox Sports will broadcast MLS games that you can also find on Apple. That makes sense to me. And I like the fact as a cord-cutter that I can get every MLS game via streaming on Apple, though the price point is going to be important. I will say that it drives me nuts that if I want to watch every Premier League game I have to pay for multiple platforms, cable and streaming. That’s poor from NBC.

What the hell is the deal with Christen Press NOT making the squad, even before she was hurt?

Julie DiCaro

Yeah, that’s a strange one for me from Vlatko Andonovski. On her podcast, Lori Lindsey referred to some things Press was involved with behind the scenes at the Olympics that may have rubbed Andonovski the wrong way. I’ll poke around and see what’s up with that possibility.

Do you think Berhalter stays as USMNT coach after the World Cup if we don’t get out of the group stage? And who might take over if that happens?

Doug Steiger

I think it would be unlikely for Berhalter to stick around if the U.S. doesn’t get out of the group stage, which would be extremely disappointing. The obvious replacement would be Jesse Marsch, but I don’t know if Marsch would be willing to give up his job at Leeds United to do that.

When you are deciding to write a story that some may view as controversial or may cast a negative light on a certain portion of the U.S. soccer community (i.e., USSF, MLS, coaches, players, etc.), what is the calculus involved by you in determining whether or not the story is worth running if it will lead to the possible loss of inside sources or cooperation from one of the governing bodies? For example, when Brian Straus wrote his piece about the national team under Klinsmann, did he face huge blowback from the USSF?

Nicholas Concilio

That’s a really good question. From what I know, Straus (who’s terrific) didn’t have any issues from U.S. Soccer after writing that groundbreaking story. I do think there’s a misunderstanding in some quarters of the fanbase that U.S. Soccer is this over-the-top punitive force when it comes to dealing with journalists who report critical things, and that’s just not the case in my experience over 25 years. I’ve written plenty of critical stuff about the American soccer scene over the years, and I’ve never had my credentials pulled or anything like that. And I wrote an entire book of journalism about David Beckham and the LA Galaxy that never brought any blowback. 

Have a good weekend.

USWNT penalty takers: Where things stand following struggles against Colombia

By Meg Linehan  Jun 28, 2022


The U.S. women’s national team walked away with the 3-0 win in Commerce City, Colo. on Saturday night, but Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Pérez was one of the biggest stories of the game — saving not one, but two penalty kick attempts during the match.Lindsey Horan, Colorado native and the first to watch Pérez snag her attempt, cut into a question about the two saves in the mixed zone. “Yeah,” she said with a laugh, “that sucked, huh?”Unpleasantness in the moment aside, the timing may have been a little bit of a blessing in disguise. Two penalty kick saves in a friendly ahead of a major tournament where penalties could become a factor is certainly preferable to the alternative.“We’ve prepared so well for these kinds of moments,” Horan said. “Obviously, (Pérez) had two great saves. Rose and I both know that we need to be better in these moments. This stuff happens, and we move forward. Each one is a standalone moment. I had all the faith in the world in Rose at that moment, and then next one she gets, she’s going to score.”Ultimately, based on everyone’s comments about the team’s approach to penalty kicks, it sounds like nothing will change at all beyond some extra practice getting added into the mix. As Megan Rapinoe said in the mixed zone after the match, “That will be the rotation going forward: Lindsey is number one, Rose is number two.”On Monday, head coach Vlatko Andonovksi expanded on his decision-making role when it comes to choosing penalty kick takers for the team.“First and foremost is the data that we have — both Lindsey and Rose have been tremendous in taking penalties in training and in the league, or wherever the markets (are),” he said. Horan has not generally been a designated taker for her club teams, with Christine Sinclair the go-to in Portland and responsibilities split at Lyon between a number of players. Lavelle’s record at the club level this year is one-for-two with the Reign.

Lindsey Horan PK attempts 2021-2022

DATETEAMOPPONENTCONVERTED?NOTES
6/25/22USAColombiaNoSaved
11/26/21USAAustraliaYes
6/13/21USAJamaicaYes
5/8/21ThornsGotham FCYesChallenge Cup shootout

Rose Lavelle PK attempts 2021-2022

DATETEAMOPPONENTCONVERTED?NOTES
6/25/22USAColombiaNoSaved
5/4/22ReignSpiritYes
5/1/22ReignSpiritNoSaved
7/30/21USANetherlandsYesOlympic QF shootout
5/9/21Manchester CityWest HamNoSaved

And while Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are back on the roster, it sounds like Andonovski expects both of them to play more of a role off the bench. “We have to have someone that we believe is going to be a regular starter, game in and game out, to be designated as a penalty kick taker,” he said. “Even after the fact that they (Horan and Lavelle) both missed a penalty, I don’t think anything is going to change. We believe in their competency and ability to score penalty kicks.”That training data won’t ever be made publicly available, leaving those of us on the outside with only game data to work from. And there’s no hint yet at how the USWNT might approach a penalty shootout, whether one comes in the W Championship or the 2023 World Cup. In the Olympic quarterfinal win against the Netherlands last year, Lavelle, Morgan, Christen Press and Rapinoe all converted in the decisive shootout. Lavelle’s spot in the order might change, but she’s a lock. Morgan and Rapinoe are options this summer, as well. Starting or not, Andonovski would probably cause an international incident if he didn’t sub on Rapinoe for a shootout place. 

Megan Rapinoe PK attempts 2021-2022

DATETEAMOPPONENTCONVERTED?NOTES
10/13/21ReignThorns FCYes
8/29/21ReignThorns FCYes
8/21/21ReignGotham FCYes
8/21/21ReignGotham FCYes
7/30/21USANetherlandsYesOlympic QF shooutout
4/13/21USAFranceYes
4/10/21USASwedenYes
1/22/21USAColombiaYes

Morgan also has a solid case to be one of the five considering her NWSL form this year, with four penalties and a 100% conversion rate. 

Alex Morgan PK attempts 2021-2022

DATETEAMOPPONENTCONVERTED?NOTES
6/4/22Wave FCCurrentYes
5/15/22Wave FCRed StarsYes
5/7/22Wave FCGotham FCYes
5/7/22Wave FCGotham FCYes
7/30/21USANetherlandsYesOlympic QF shootout
10/13/21PrideRed StarsNoWide left
5/30/21PrideCurrentNoRight post

That’s four names for a hypothetical shootout this summer in Mexico. So who could take that final spot?There’s no other name available on the roster that’s taken a penalty for the USWNT: Carli Lloyd was in the mix before her retirement, Morgan Brian and Sam Mewis have each taken and converted their single attempt. Again, there’s no visibility to training data, but there may be a case for players based on their NWSL performances, which widens the field.Sophia Smith and Mal Push have both converted penalty kicks this season in the NWSL. With Smith and Pugh looking locked in as two thirds of the starting forward line, they may both be options (depending upon substitutions). Looking back at the 2021 season may provide one of the best candidates, though: defensive midfielder Andi Sullivan. She converted three penalties for the Washington Spirit in their run to the NWSL Championship and the victory in Louisville. She scored one against Kansas City in September, then against Racing in October, before capping it off with one in the championship match against Chicago for the equalizer. Considering her increased role as the No. 6 for the USWNT and Andonovski’s confidence in her play, she may also be one of the most likely players to still be on the field for a shootout.Two other potential names to consider based successful penalty kicks in the NWSL, though both have been fighting for substantial USWNT minutes: Ashley Hatch and Midge Purce.But for all the possibilities, Horan and Lavelle may be the only ones we see stepping to the spot for a while. “I think it’s important for them to see the belief we have in them,” Andonovski said on Monday, “and most importantly, that it’s supported by someone like Megan Rapinoe. She believes that they’re good and in what they’re doing, and she’s supporting them and also helping in any way she can from her own experience.”On Saturday night, Rapinoe acknowledged the frustration of the moment but said there will be long-term benefits if both Horan and Lavelle use it as a chance to revisit their own routine from the spot.“It’s good to miss, it’s good to have that experience and get it under your belt in a friendly and not in a big game,” she said. “Either way, no matter what, just step up there and take it. Do your routine, be confident, and the rest is it.”

Meg Linehan is a senior writer for The Athletic who covers the U.S. women’s national team, the National Women’s Soccer League and more. She also hosts the weekly podcast “Full Time with Meg Linehan.” Follow Meg on Twitter @itsmeglinehan

The Interview: John Harkes

The Hall of Famer on being the Greenville Triumph’s head coach and sporting director, the USMNT, being the first USMNT Premier League player, the successful Harkes children and much more

   Grant Wahl Jun 28 

Several years had passed since my last interview with Hall of Famer John Harkes, so it was great to catch up recently with the head coach and sporting director of the Greenville Triumph. We addressed a lot of topics in this interview, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.The entirety of the written interview below is reserved for paid subscribers. As always, you can still get the entire free audio version of my podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you like to go for your pods.

Grant Wahl:

Our guest now is John Harkes, the National Soccer Hall of Famer who played in two World Cups. He was the first American to play in the English Premier League and won two MLS Cup titles with D.C. United. He’s now the head coach and sporting director of the Greenville Triumph. John, It’s great to see you. Thanks so much for coming on the show.

John Harkes:

My pleasure, Grant. It’s great to see you as well. It’s been a while, so I’m glad that we can find some time to reconnect.

Grant Wahl:

Yeah, me too. I was thinking back to our first interviews in the ‘90s, I think …

John Harkes:

Right. When you were 13. I was 12.

Grant Wahl:

Exactly.

John Harkes:

That’s right.

Grant Wahl:

I want to start by getting your take on the U.S. men’s national team, which has qualified for the World Cup. How are you feeling about the team these days?

“Qualifying for the ’90 World Cup, playing in the World Cup, was fantastic, but going to Sheffield Wednesday on a trial basis and explaining to them that I already played in the World Cup before I was a pro. And they were looking at me like, he’s crazy.” — John Harkes

John Harkes:

I feel great, actually. I think just such a great feeling to know that we’re going back to the World Cup, where there was an absence, and that’s the number one thing. I think sometimes, whether it be media or fans or even other coaches, get caught up with critiquing too much instead of an understanding that it’s a big challenge through the World Cup qualifying process and the rotation of players, players coming in from different countries, different styles of play.

And you’re expecting them all to come together and everyone snaps your finger and it’s perfect. It never works like that. So I’m really excited that they’ve qualified. At the end of the day, as you support them, we keep pushing forward and let’s hope that they go into the World Cup with positive attitudes and a lot of confidence.

Grant Wahl:

As someone who’s been through World Cups. Would you have any advice for Gregg Berhalter as he manages things over the next five months to the World Cup?


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John Harkes:

I mean, look, I think everybody wants to do that Monday morning quarterbacking. Everybody wants to have their opinions in the game, and I’ve spoken to Gregg numerous times about players and personnel and style of play and things like that. I think Gregg does a great job. I think the coaching staff does a good job. 

Any advice? Probably not. Just stay even-keeled through the whole process, because there’s so many emotions that go up and down and the players, a lot of them are young and they’re looking to the manager to see how he responds in really stressful situations. So if he can keep himself even-keeled throughout the process, that’s more than half the battle right there.

Grant Wahl:

You’re obviously a coach and sporting director these days. You’re not calling U.S. games on television right now, though you did in the past. Do you ever miss doing the U.S. games on TV?

John Harkes:

I do. I’ve had some great experiences and learned a lot through that process, whether I be with Ian Darke, Martin Tyler, JP Dellacamera, Dave Johnson at D.C. United as well. Some quality guys that I’ve worked with. And it’s great to see their process and the way that they approach the games and the research they do. 

Being prepared is number one, and that’s the number one thing. So from my perspective, it was like, how do we get to a point where these guys are … not only are you loving the game, but you want to call the game. But at the same time, you also want to be able to represent the team well, and it’s not about you. It’s the same with coaching. It’s as soon as you remove the ego, you start to discover your purpose in the right way.

And so for me, I miss calling the games, and it was fun. And I learned a lot. It’s the closest sometimes that you can get to the pitch when you’re not a player or a coach. But I do love coaching. I really do. I’m not afraid to have a side-hustle doing some games here and there. I’ll say that. I’ll just put that out there. But I do love the opportunity to teach, and seeing the growth in the players, the way that they respond to different adversities well, the way they get challenged and the way they come together and collaborate as a team is the best feeling in the world for a coach. So I love that side of the game. I really do.

Grant Wahl:

You’re in your fourth season as the Greenville coach and sporting director. You’ve been to the league final three times, won it once. What’s it been like there? How would you describe the experience?

John Harkes:

It’s been a tremendous experience, actually. A lot of growth, and you get thrown into being a manager and you take on the responsibility as a sporting director as well. So I’ll explain a little bit the way we approach that when you’re building a club from scratch. The coaching part and the relationships I’ve built and the trust with different players and coaches and leagues, and I’m a soccer junkie. So I watch all soccer, and discovery of players coming out of college that don’t make the MLS draft. That’s what happens for the division three, for the USL League One. But taking pride and taking on a challenge and building something from scratch is excellent. It really does. And it teaches you a lot about yourself and the way that you handle that through the process.

So sporting director, what does year one look like? What does year two, year three look like? What does year four look like? Where do we need to be with our brand? Where do we need to be in terms of building a stadium? Where do we need to be in terms of representing the local community and doing it the right way with partnerships? And so from that perspective, it’s been fun to learn both. And I love it. It’s been a lot of success early.

We’ve done a lot in a short period of time. I have a tremendous staff that’s with me. You’re only as good as the people around you. And we want to push for more. We want to win as many titles as we can, but we also want to coexist with development and pushing players up to the top levels. And through that process, you start to really enjoy it. The connection to the players is fantastic. Being able to manage the front office and manage up with the president and the league, our club owner has been great. Good relationships there, and yeah, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a good journey so far. I’m not sure where it’s going to take me, but it’s been a great journey.

Grant Wahl:

I guess that was a question, because you’ve built this from scratch. And so, I don’t want to just assume that there’s something else you want to go and do, but do you have any interest in potentially coaching in MLS at some point?

John Harkes:

Of course. Yeah. I mean, to not be ambitious and not to want to challenge yourself is … what’s the purpose of living? You’ve got to be able to take risks, and you’ve got to be able to put yourself in the framework to say, can I get challenged right here? And yeah, I feel like I’m up for that, to be honest with you. This has been a great learning curve for me and a good platform to kind of find my way as a coach. And you bring the leadership part of it, the teaching part of it, the aspect, the authentic kind of everyday caring atmosphere for the players, and then they feel safe, and they give you the best. So that emotional kind of, I guess, investment in the guys and in the club itself has been great.

But look, if there’s an opportunity that I can go to MLS, or even if we can get our club to the Championship level and coach at that next level, it would be fantastic too. And those stepping stone processes along the way. I’m not opposed to going overseas and coaching. You see a lot of great coaches like Jesse Marsch doing well, taking risks at different clubs and different leagues around the world. I’m really proud of him and the work that he did at Leeds going there under a lot of stressful situations there and expectations, and he’s done well. So the more that the American coaches are having success overseas in those leagues as well, it creates an opportunity for us to be looked at, I think. So why not take a challenge if you get one?

Grant Wahl:

What should we know about John Harkes, the coach, that maybe we didn’t know about since we focused on John Harkes, the player, over the years?

John Harkes: 

I mean, I think it’s understanding your core values for the team. Setting out a plan. What’s that structure look like on an everyday basis? Develop a philosophy in the game for your coaching style. I play with possession and build out of the back with a purpose. Our teams do have the ability to switch style of play during the game because we train that way as well.

So whether we come out in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 or even playing three in the back with a 3-4-3, we train on it. So to me it’s about doing the work. Communication is key. Being able to be up-front and communicating exactly what the plan is for the guys, but then leaving enough creativity and room for them to just show you who they are, to go out and enjoy themselves and take some risks as well.

So you’ve got to find that balance as a coach and still win the game, which is hard. But I love that. I love the challenges that you face during that process. It’s great. Because you never fail. If you’re trying things, you’re not failing. If you’re not trying, then you’re failing in life. And so I always tell the guys like, “Hey look, we put ourselves out there and maybe the result didn’t work for us, but what did we learn about ourselves? And let’s find solutions here to go forward.” 

And that’s the number one thing. As long as the guys are okay, you learn and you reflect on what you didn’t do well, but let’s see if we can kind of move forward. What are the new objectives in our team now? So that’s kind of me in a nutshell.

Grant Wahl:

I know your children, Ian and Lauren, are both in soccer as well, as our listeners may know too. For those who don’t know, could you explain what they’re doing?

John Harkes:

Yeah, sure. Cindi and I are very fortunate, and we’re very proud of our kids, and we raised them with tough love, and we also know as parents that they’re just passing through you. It’s not like you’re … you’re not raising them to be like you. You want them to be able to make decisions on their own and be independent. So Ian’s been over in Scotland at Dundee United for three years now.

He is currently out of contract and they want re-sign him. He’s getting some interest from other clubs in England as well. A couple in Belgium and one in Germany. So he is getting some options, which are great. And he’s in a tough place right now where he’s got to make some decisions. Dundee United has been fantastic for him. It’s been a great club. And through that journey, I’ve watched him grow as a player. He’s become more aggressive and more assertive.

He’s definitely going forward a lot more. And he became player of the year for their club this year, which was great. Great achievement for him. And just seeing that he’s showing up against Celtic and Rangers, the big clubs, scoring goals and scoring goals in the derby and everything shows how much he’s enjoying it and the growth, but he’s put a lot of work in there.

Lauren, our middle child, is playing in Denmark as a pro as well with Aalborg. It’s her first year as a pro. So she’s learned a lot, and she’s enjoyed that as well. The culture there has been fantastic for her and the process of being in a kind of new environment, a new club, on the women’s side and growing that from scratch and making it more professional has been interesting, too. So she’s taken on a leadership role as a foreign player, and it’s been good for her.

So wishing her all the best, and not sure where she’s going to take that. She’s been offered to stay there, but she’s actually getting some offers too in Scotland, which is interesting because not only is Ian there, but Ian’s wife, Sarah, plays for Celtic women as a pro. And so it could be all reunited there in Scotland. We’ll see.

John Harkes:

And then Lily’s our youngest, who just graduated Elon University in Burlington, North Carolina, last week and a political science major. She has two minors and she’s been accepted to Oxford next year.

Grant Wahl:

Wow.

John Harkes:

So yeah. She’s academically off the charts and a really smart kid, and we’re just proud of her. And she played soccer all four years at Elon and enjoyed that and had a great balance there. And I think she still wants to play soccer at Oxford if she gets a club team over there, but all three of our kids might be in Europe within three, four months. And so Cindi and I are like, what are we doing? What’s happening? But again, we wish them all the best. We’re very proud of them, and there’s still going to be a lot of challenges ahead of them. So as they grow as individuals, we’re just here to support them and guide them when we can.

Grant Wahl:

Well, congrats to you and your family on all of that, and my apologies to Lilly for not including her in my original question. So good to get an update.

John Harkes:

No, she’s good. She’s good. She’s the blonde one. She’s the third child. She’s got that third-child approach to life. She’s good. She’s good.

Grant Wahl:

I want to pull back a little bit because one thing that’s fascinating to me these days is that so many new U.S. national team fans have been created over the past 10 years that a lot of them weren’t following when you were doing big things starting in the 1990s in your career. And you and your contemporaries obviously created a lot of new fans yourselves in the ‘90s, but do you run into that at all? Where you meet soccer fans here who aren’t really aware of what you achieved in your career?

John Harkes:

Yeah, I think you do. But I think that’s also part of the challenge in the game. I mean, you’ve covered the game for a long time, Grant, at the highest level. But you’ve also gone into the lower levels of the history of the game. And I think it’s important that people continue to take accountability at all levels in the game of growing the game. It’s a big responsibility, and that’s the fan base too. Now you’re starting to see the market now, the way the game is getting exposed is tremendous. Like you know, we all talk about, wow, the game’s so small. Well, it is small. People are connected everywhere to the game.

And a lot of it is like technology today. You can watch a game on your phone. You can watch a game on Apple+, ESPN+, Paramount, whatever it may be. Fox, it doesn’t matter. It’s everywhere. And so now it’s at a point where you’re making these choices what you’re going to watch on the day when you’ve got maybe 14 games to watch in one day. So I think it’s brilliant. It grows the game, and as you know, it goes up and then it comes back down and it goes back up again. So it’s cyclical.

And for the individuals, though, to take on the responsibility to grow the game in the right way, that means respect the game, respect your national teams, respect your club teams that are local for you. Go and support them. Don’t say you support Sheffield Wednesday or West Ham or anything overseas, or Liverpool, before you support your local community team. You should support them there. And I think that’s something that’s starting to change here and take off, especially with USL. USL, with the three divisions right now, is really growing faster than anything. And to have a foundation there, a strong foundation of growth, is fantastic. So the more people get involved with that, the better it’s going to be.

Grant Wahl:

You are from Kearny, New Jersey. There’s a really good documentary film that my friend Tom McCabe was part of about Kearny called Soccertown, USA, that people should see if you haven’t. How would you describe growing up in Kearny and that sort of soccer hotbed community there?

John Harkes:

Wow, I think it was probably a consistently challenging experience. I think you were always being tested in Kearny. If you were a soccer player at the age of four, you were being tested by the kids that were six and seven and eight. It was always who came before you. And the history of the game was certainly important to them back in the day. And whether they were hosting teams from Scotland or Hungary, the international inclusion that’s there and the social clubs that are there. You were raised as if you were in Europe, to be honest with you. And I love that. I love that. So it was more of a world kind of cerebral view of football, and also of life. It made you hungry to think what’s it like, not just in Kearny, like we thought soccer was played with passion as it is in Kearny. And Tom McCabe captured that beautifully, as you mentioned.

We thought it was like that everywhere. And then as we traveled, as we got older, 12, 13, 14, and then tryouts with the state team and regional team and national teams eventually, thank God. And we were fortunate enough to stay alive and survive tough areas, tough places to live, hardworking blue collar, but lucky enough that our parents gave us the love of the game, the freedom to discover who we were, and live off the streets at times and play soccer all day long in pickup games and kind of find our way. 

I thought it was amazing. You really reflect back on that time and you’re just like, wow. We’re fortunate because it was a tough area. You had to survive. There was also, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the drugs and alcohol that was there.

And then the gangs and the violence at times too. It was so close to Newark and Harrison, but I think it raised you tough, but it also raised you to be grateful for what you had. You didn’t need much, you know what I mean? You don’t need a lot. So I think I still carry that with me. I don’t need a lot. Let’s just keep going. So I’m very fortunate, and I was very fortunate to have so many great older players around me, including my brother, Jimmy, and so many other great players before me that we could actually study and say, hey, maybe we could be like them one day.

It helped having the New York Cosmos 20 minutes away where we could be a ballboy at times and where you can aspire to play there. And say, until they folded in ’84, that was devastating. It was my junior year of high school. I was like, oh my God, what am I going to do now? So it was just great to grow up in that hotbed of soccer in New Jersey. It really was.

Grant Wahl:

You were the first American, as I mentioned in the introduction, to play in the Premier League, when you joined Sheffield Wednesday. It’s so easy to watch the Premier League in the U.S. now. It wasn’t back then. What was your experience in the Premier League like in those days? In what ways was it similar to today, and in what ways was it different?

John Harkes:

It was a tremendous experience, and what an opportunity to get over there and to go on trial. I think the crazy thing was that I aspired to be a pro as we were qualifying for the ’90 World Cup. And we didn’t really have a top-level league at that time. We talk about the A league back in the day and the USL leagues. And I played for the Albany Capitals a few games here and there, and flying up on a Thursday to train on a Friday and play a game on a Saturday. And then back down to Tampa or Miami to train with the national team for a two-week camp. We were doing what we could to push ourselves. We didn’t need anybody to challenge us at all. That’s what I think made that generation of players really hungry, really hungry, was we wanted to be respected, but we also wanted to get back to that world stage.

And so qualifying for the ’90 World Cup, playing in the World Cup, was fantastic, but going to Sheffield Wednesday on a trial basis and explaining to them that I already played in the World Cup before I was a pro. And they were looking at me like, he’s crazy. But it was a great experience. Breaking down, I guess, the stereotypical barriers of an American trying to make it in the English leagues when there was only three foreigners per team at that time. And the old division one before it became the Premier League in ’92 was interesting. And Sheffield Wednesday, at a time where Ron Atkinson was a big manager. He was already at Manchester United. He came to Wednesday. They got relegated two years prior. And then when I came to them, they were in the old division two looking to get promoted back up.

And to go through that experience in seven months, to score a goal of the year in England, to get to Wembley and win against Manchester United in a League Cup final. If you told me that, I would say, that’s the worst Hollywood film I’ve ever seen. Not going to happen. Keep dreaming, son, but it did happen. And so I was very fortunate. Had great players, great coaches, a lot of support from my family and from Cindi at the time, because I remember calling her where I was upset. I was over there for a long period of time. They offered me a very low deal, very low deal. And I was upset and on the phone, and she was like stick it out. You can make it, you’ve got to keep going. And I did. And so I was very fortunate to have those people support me during that process.

And I loved it. And the Premier League now, it’s blown out of proportion. Grant, you know this. I mean, the game has grown tremendously. The players are strong. They’re fast. Has it changed in terms of mentality and intelligence level? Probably not. But everything’s just done a little bit quicker. A little bit faster, and I think that part of it is, there’s more resources there to help the players recover. There’s better scientific approach to the game in terms of recovery and looking after themselves more. And I love it. I love watching the games. It’s fantastic to relive and go back to the old clubs and West Ham and the Derby Counties and all of that time period was brilliant.

Grant Wahl:

So you had to count as a foreign player. I know you have sort of like Scottish roots, right? You weren’t able to get a passport and count as a domestic?

John Harkes:

Well, so it’s funny. I was just telling that story today to one of the new players we have here on trial … that I had signed as a foreign player, yet when they found out all my Scottish background and everything, then we went through the process and I got my UK passport probably about five months later. And then they changed my, I guess, what I was at that point, my status, to the international side. So I became like a UK player there at that time. So I had dual citizenship.

Grant Wahl:

So you got the hard part done as being like the foreign player on the team with very few foreign slots at first. Interesting.

John Harkes:

Yeah. It was a challenge for sure.

Grant Wahl:

If I had told you back then in the early ‘90s, that soccer in the United States would be where it is today in 2022, and sort of described to you, ‘90s John Harkes, where we are now, would you have been what? Gratified, disappointed, something else?

John Harkes:

Motivated. I would’ve been inspired, because that was the goal, is to grow the game. We wanted to grow the game. We wanted respect for our country. We wanted respect for our leagues. Being part of Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas, Eric Wynalda, Balboa, all of those guys, Paul Caligiuri, Christopher Sullivan, the list goes on and on and on. To be part of that beginning stages of building your own league in 1996 is a big responsibility. So to see it come, God, to fruition now, where it is, it’s just incredible. I watch games now and I’m just like, wow. You look at a stadium like Austin. And you’re like, wow, what the heck is going on here? And even my experience that I had at FC Cincinnati for the first year in the USL, and we grew that fan base.

I remember one of our games was on a midweek rainy night and we had about 17 and a half thousand people there. And I turned to my staff at FC Cincinnati, where are we? What is going on here? And it was amazing to see that growth within that passion and that love from the fan base. And we had such a great year there. It was brilliant to finish third in the league. And so those things, the way you expand the game and the business side of it now, you know it’s mainstream, can you get the right ownership in there? You need money to grow.

And so now you’ve got some of the NFL ownership groups and other people of outside interest coming in and saying, wow, I really want an MLS team. Or, hey, I want a USL Championship team or a USL League One team in my community. And when you do that, now you go again, let’s see where we are in another 10 years, which you already know. And you’ve documented very well. The history of the game is growing tremendously. Let’s continue to keep that going at a fast rate.

Grant Wahl:

And I’m continuing to be surprised. I never even thought it was inevitable that soccer would get to where we are now. And so I’ve stopped making predictions about where soccer will get in America. And I’m just curious to see where the ride takes us, because I don’t know the answer.

John Harkes:

How does that feel from your end? I mean, as somebody that’s been at the highest level in the media and been able to kind of tell the stories the right way, whether it be from coaches, clubs, towns, players. How has it been for you to see the growth?

Grant Wahl:

It’s been amazing. It’s funny to me, because I only went full-time soccer in 2009. I started in ’96 and I did college basketball and then I did soccer. But after a few years, it’s not that I dislike basketball. I just was like, I want to be a full-time soccer writer. I like what’s happening. I like telling the stories. I like the sport, but I didn’t choose to go full-time soccer because I thought it would get to a certain level in the United States. I just liked it. I like the people. 

And so it’s been a nice thing, just personally, to see soccer grow maybe to in the U.S. beyond where I thought it would be now. And so I just feel like there’s maybe not even a ceiling at this point, and that’s exciting, and being able to continue telling that story has been a blast. So yeah, it’s pretty cool actually, when you compare where we are now to the ‘90s.

John Harkes:

Yeah, yeah. I always die with Martin Short. That one line. Welcome to the ‘90s. I’m always going back to the ‘90s and the old school stuff and I’m like, wow, I’m really old. When I coach some of these younger players, I’m like, nevermind, nevermind. But it’s great to see even some of our guys here, the younger players, are still researching and looking at the old school game and stuff like that. So it’s nice. And like you said, the growth has been tremendous, and you just want to keep that going. And the best thing you can do is to have, as you grow and get bigger, that’s where you get more humility and just let it grow. And just say like, it’s not about us. Just keep on growing. Let’s go. Let’s go. Do our job.

Grant Wahl:

No, definitely. Just to finish up here, I guess. You came from this hotbed town, Kearny, New Jersey, that produced several national team players, like Tab Ramos. And why am I blanking? Oh no.

John Harkes:

Tony Meola.

Grant Wahl:

Tony Meola was, yeah, Tony’s going to kill me now. But it was a definite hotbed, and I’m wondering, how do we manage this size of this country, the United States, when it comes to finding and developing soccer talent? Because I’ve had a couple instances in my career. I went to Iceland a few years ago when they were really good. And they actually talked about sort of the virtues of smallness that it allowed everyone to sort of be connected in a way that was tougher in a bigger country. And so when it comes to the United States and the sheer size of it, how do you deal with that?

John Harkes:

Yeah. It’s difficult to manage the size of something. The bigger it is, the harder it is to manage because you want to make sure that the communication, everybody’s getting the same kind of understanding of how we grow the game. And I was doing a podcast with Kevin Campbell from Arsenal the other day. And I was explaining to him like, well, Kevin, just take this for instance, in Colorado at the U-11 age group, they might be doing eight a side. Whereas in New Jersey, they’re doing 11 a side. And so he’s like, really, who doesn’t govern that? And I’m like, well again, you need leadership across a bigger country. It’s such a vast country. It’s hard to manage every little state department of what they’re doing in youth soccer. So that’s where I think the tricky part is, Grant.

I think getting momentum behind the game when you have the size of a country we have is better. That’s an advantage, because then you can grow it. But going back to Iceland and your comment there. When you’re in a smaller country that you can fit maybe inside of Alabama, it becomes much more manageable. And the communication is clear. We are going to do it this way, and everybody’s on the same page. So now you align with that. It’s just like certain managers overseas. They take on big clubs. Gasperini takes on Atalanta.

Well, he aligned himself with Bergamo, with the city, the community. How can I manage the toughness and the grittiness of this and what they went through in COVID. All the suffering in COVID, and now how can he come out and be like, we’re interchanging. We’re overlapping. We’re creative when we go forward. But everybody works together as a team. And that represents that community well. So those are the type of things you’ve got to have in terms of the behavior of your club. And I think that if you put it all together like that, eventually it’s all going to kind of come together if you can. And that collaboration takes place.

Grant Wahl:

John Harkes is a National Soccer Hall of Famer who is now the head coach and sporting director of the Greenville Triumph. John, thanks for coming on the show.

John Harkes:

My pleasure, Grant. Great to connect with you again. Thanks for having me.

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