Really cool scenes from Turkish Club Besiktas as stuffed toys for earthquake victims are thrown on the field. Messi won his 2nd FIFA Men’s best Men’s prize after his World Cup victory, Alex Morgan finished 2nd to Alexia Putellas.Amazing the disrespect for US Women as only Alex Morgan made the women’s top 11. Odd for the #1 ranked team in the World. Emiliano Martinez won the FIFA Best Goalkeeper Award, while England’s Mary Earps was the women’s. (see great saves below). Fantasic goal by Amputee Marcin Olesky wins Goal of the year. One of the GREAT Stories of this Europa League season has been Ukraine’s Shaktar Donetsk who haven’t played in their home country since the war broke out – in fact they haven’t played in their home stadium since Apr 2014 because of Russia – still these nomads of Europe find a way to keep winning –they play Thurs 3 pm on Paramount + vs Feyenoord. Not sure how many saw this last week from the NBA dunk contest but this Mac Mclung kid can fly.
MLS Starts with a Bang – and Its Free to Watch some of the Games on Apple TV
Ok so I was wrong – and many of the MLS games were indeed FREE to watch on Apple TV this past weekend – I took in my Seattle Sounders 4-0 win over Colorado along with the Fox Network games. The season started with a bang that included 2 games with close 70K in the stands. That and the camera angles on the Apple TV broadcasts were outstanding. LAFC hosting Portland is the Fox Game on Saturday at 4 pm, while Apple TV will feature a couple of free games – 7:30 Sat Columbus vs DC United, Red Bulls vs Nashville, Miami vs Philly and 8:30 pm Chicago hosting NYCFC.
Indy 11 open Mar 11 @ Tampa Bay on ESPN+,
With the season just two weeks away I am hearing good things about our Indy 11 on the national soccer shows I pay attention to – word is we will be one of the most improved teams in the Eastern Conference and that our Manager Mark Lowry is really good. (He really impressed when he ran a session for us Carmel FC coaches last week in our Indoor Facility. I am hopeful our 11 can turn it around this season. Big preseason win this week and good news that Indy Acquires Adrian Diz Pe via Tranfer from FC Tulsa. That and of course our USL Women’s team now has the 2023 Schedule. Season tickets are still on sale and give you the leg up when the new stadium arrives. Full Schedule Promotions Roster
Big Games to Watch
Sat Leeds United and our 3 American’s travel to Chelsea at 10 am on USA. Fresh off the win over Southampton last weekend and the loss to Fulham in the FA Cup. Man City hosts 5th place New Castle at 7:30 am on USA, while Southampton vs Leicester is this week’s CRAP NBC game. Sunday EPL has the huge Liverpool hosting Man United in a top 4 battle royale (especially coming off Man U’s Carabo Cup win last weekend) at 11:30 am on USA or Peacock, and Roma hosting Juve on Paramount plus at 2:45 pm. Of course Champions League is back Tues/Wed with Chelsea hosting Dortmund at 3 pm on CBS Tues followed by PSG traveling to Bayern Munich down 1 goal Wed at 3 pm.
GAMES ON TV
(American’s names in Parenthesis)
2:30 pm ESPN+ Dortmund (Reyna) vs RB Leipzig
2:$5 pm CBS SN Napoli vs Lazio
Sat, Mar 4
7:30 am USA Man City vs New Castle United
9:30 am ESPN+ Union Berlin (Pfuk) vs Koln
10 am USA Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Leeds United (Adams, Mckinney, Aaronson)
10 am Peacock Wolverhampton vs Tottenham
12:30 pm NBC South Hampton vs Leicester City
12:30 pm ESPN+ Stutgart vs Bayern Munich
2:45 pm Para+ Fiorentina vs Milan
3 pm beIN Sport PSG vs Nantes
3 pm ESPN+ Atletico Madrid vs Sevilla
4:30 pm Fox LAFC vs Portland Timbers MLS
7:30 pm Apple+ Columbus vs DC United
7:30 pm Apple TV Miami vs Philly
7:30 pm Apptle TV NY Red Bulls vs Nashville
8:30 pm Apple TV Chicago vs NYCFC
9 am USA Nottingham Forest vs Everton
10:15 am ESPN+ Barcelona vs Valencia (Musah)
11:30 am USA? Liverpool vs Man United
2:45 pm Para+ Roma vs Juventus
3 pm ESPND + Real Bettis vs Real Madrid
3 pm USA Brentford vs Fulham (Ream, Jedi)
Tues,Mar 7 Champions League + CCL
3 pm Para+ Club Brugge vs Benifica
3 pm CBS Chelsea (Pulisc) vs Dortmund (Reyna)
6 pm FS1 Violette vs Austin FC CCL
8 pm FS1 Alianza vs Philly Union
10 pm FS2 Tigres vs Orlando City
Weds,Mar 8 Champions League + CCL
3 pm Para+ Tottenham vs Milan
3 pm CBS Bayern Munich vs PSG (Messi)
10 pm FS2 Vancouver vs Real Espana CCL
Thurs, Mar 9 Europa League + CCL
1230 pm CBS SN Europa League Wrap-Around
12:30 pm Para+ Sporting CP vs Arsenal (Turner)
12:30 pm Para+ Union Berlin (Pfuk) vs Saint-Gilloise
12:45 pm Para+ Larnaca vs West Ham United
3 pm Para+ Roma vs Real Socidad
3 pm Para+ Man United vs Real Betis
3 pm Para+ Juventus vs Freiburg
3 pm Para+ Shakhtar Donestsk vs Feyenoord
8 pm FS2 Motagua vs Pachuca CCL
10 pm FS2 Alajuelense vs LAFC
Sat, Mar 11
7:30 am USA Bournemouth vs Liverpool
9:30 am ESPN+ RB Leipzig vs Mgladbach (Scaly)
9:30 am ESPN+ Bayern Munich vs Ausburg
10 am USA Leeds United (Adams, Mckinney, Aaronson) vs Brighton
10 am Peacock Leicester City vs Chelsea
10 am Peacock Man United vs Southampton
12 pm Fox Charlotte vs Atlanta United MLS
12:30 pm NBC Crystal Palace vs Man City
12:30 pm ESPN+ Schalke vs Dortmund
3 pm ESPN+ Atletico Madrid vs Sevilla
7:30 pm ESPN+ Tampa Bay Rowdies vs INDY 11
7:30 pm Apple+ Cincy vs Seattle MSL
9:30 pm Apple TV Portland vs St Louis
10 am USA Fulham (Ream, Jedi) vs Arsenal
10 am USA? West Ham vs Aston Villa
12 N PEacock New Castle vs Wolverhampton
3:45 pm Para+ Juventus vs Sampdoria
4 pm ESPND + Athletic Club vs Barcelona
9 pm FS2 Santos Laguna vs Tiajuana
10:30 pm Apple LAFC vvs New England
Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw
10 things we learned in the Premier League: Week 25
Arsenal grind out win, Bayern back on track, Messi milestone: Weekend Review ESPN
Top PL goals and saves from Matchweek 25
Leeds boss Gracia desperate to relive 2019 FA Cup run
Manchester United’s ‘over-celebrations’ were far from embarrassing
Man Utd win League Cup to end six-year trophy drought
‘Whiners to winners’: Ten Hag vows to add more trophies after Wembley glory
FA Cup schedule: Fifth round draw, how to watch, predictions
Harry Kane strikes again, Tottenham piles misery on Chelsea
Graham Potter faces ‘make or break’ games despite backing from Chelsea owners
Man City can’t afford to drop points in title race: Guardiola
Confusion of Graham Potter’s tactics deepens as Chelsea malaise exposed by Spurs
25 high profile strikers who flopped miserably in the Premier League
Wrexham fall short in thrilling FA Cup, but promotion the bigger prize in sight
Codswallop! Fish mascot banned from FA Cup tie
Lionel Messi wins FIFA’s best men’s player award; USWNT’s Alex Morgan finishes second to Alexia Putellas
Fans of Turkish soccer club Beşiktaş J.K. toss stuffed toys onto pitch for children affected by earthquakes
Wounded Barca face Madrid in Copa Clasico semi at critical moment
Lewandowski may miss Copa del Rey Clasico with hamstring strain
Madrid snatch derby draw, struggling Valencia beat Real Sociedad
Madrid’s teen striker Rodriguez rescues derby draw against Atletico
Mbappe reaches 200 PSG goals in win over Marseille
Argentina’s World Cup-winning coach Scaloni to stay till 2026
Milan up to third with Atalanta win, Inter fall further off title pace
‘What it means to play for Bayern’: Nagelsmann reveals team talk
US women’s soccer coach paid 27% as much as men’s coach
What we learned about all 32 World Cup teams in the February window ESPNFC Sophie Lawson
USMNT upcoming schedule – Nations League, friendlies, Gold Cup
Jurgen Klinsmann, former German soccer star, U.S. coach takes job with South Korea
Sources: Mexico coach contacts U.S.’ Zendejas ESPNFC Cesar Hernandez
Liverpool’s Figueroa excited for the U.S. U-17 team’s future, happy to represent the USA
Brendan Aaronson Gets Praise from New Leed’s Boss
Nations League Changes means USMNT Can play friendlies in Sept/Oct windows
Eastern Conference Preview: Philly Love, Strong in New York, Orlando improved
Western Conference Preview & Predictions: LAFC & Dallas rank high
McGlynn, Tolkin, & Wiley top list of 20 Young Americans to watch in 2023 MLS season
MLS American Youth Report: Buck, Wolff, & Ku-DiPietro stand out in opening weekend
MLS Winners & Losers Opening Weekend
Argentina’s Almada strikes late twice as Atlanta win on MLS opening day
How Carolyn Kindle went from soccer novice to the face of historic MLS ownership group
Goal of the Week Champions League
Saves of the Week Champions League
Indy Acquires Adrian Diz Pe via Tranfer from FC Tulsa
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USL W League Announces 2023 Schedule
All USL Championship Matches Available Live on ESPN Platforms
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Indy 11 W League Joins new League
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checkout the Footwork by Colorado GK
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Premier League run-in: Plotlines and predictions for the final months of 2022-23
The Athletic UK Staff Mar 3, 2023 88
Listen closely and that faint rumbling sound you may just be able to hear is the Premier League lurching into the final three months of the 2022-23 season.Arsenal and Manchester City (and maybe even Manchester United?) are in the title race, Fulham, Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion are mixing it with Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Liverpool in the battle for European places, and a raft of teams — from 13th-placed Nottingham Forest to bottom-of-the-pile Southampton — are likely to be sweating over their top-flight status right until we close the book on May 28.Here, The Athletic’s Premier League writers round up your team’s prospects ahead of the final third or so of the season and put their necks on the line by predicting where they think your side will finish.
Arsenal emerge from a sticky patch looking as strong as ever. They failed to win in three league games against Everton, Brentford and title rivals Manchester City, but have bounced back with a trio of consecutive victories. Wednesday’s 4-0 win over the same Everton side they succumbed to a few weeks ago was symbolic of their recovery and leaves them five points clear at the top of the table.The January signings of Leandro Trossard and Jorginho have added depth and variety to Mikel Arteta’s options. There’s also the tantalising prospect of Gabriel Jesus’ return. If he can avoid setbacks and play at anything like the level he produced in the first half of the season, it will be a huge shot in the arm.There is, however, a four-week period between April 9 and May 6 in which Arsenal face Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Newcastle — three of those games taking place away from home. Arsenal could also be looking at a two-legged Europa League quarter-final in the same month. That period will probably decide the destiny of the Premier League trophy.
Season prediction: Arsenal can win this title. But looking at the respective fixture lists, I’m going to be conservative and say Manchester City will finish first, Arsenal second. However, it’s almost impossible to call: we are in uncharted territory for this team.
Topsy-turvy Aston Villa are brilliant on the road but dreadful at home. Four away wins out of five under Unai Emery has got supporters believing again. This feels like the best chance in over a decade to finally finish in the top half — if only their form at Villa Park would pick up…Emery has remained consistent with his message: his players need to find a way to connect better with fans on their own patch and then they can put the years of bottom-half finishes behind them.Perhaps, though, Villa are as boring as it sounds — still a middle-ranking team and that’s what happens when you fit into such a category. You win some, you lose some.The form of Ollie Watkins, who has five goals in as many games, remains key. Getting a tune out of Leon Bailey, Emiliano Buendia and Philippe Coutinho when he returns from injury will also help.Season prediction: Villa will just do it and finish ninth. They have found a way to see off the lower sides without hitting top speed and that will be the difference in the final 14 games.
Bournemouth sit 19th but with just seven points separating the bottom eight teams, their relegation fight is by no means over.
The big issue is creativity. Bournemouth have consistently ranked bottom for chances created and expected goals (xG) this season, despite being very efficient with the few shots they generate.
Their players are starting to acclimatise to head coach Gary O’Neil’s rope-a-dope playing style, with January signing Dango Ouattara a shining light in transition. But when opponents score first, Bournemouth rarely find a way back into the game — they have won just twice from losing positions this campaign. If they are to survive the drop, they must rescue more points.
Season prediction: Barring more injuries to important players, Bournemouth will have enough to very narrowly avoid relegation and finish 17th — potentially on goal difference. Just as long as goalline technology is working correctly this time…
It is ridiculous Brentford have (essentially) secured safety with such a large chunk of the season still remaining.Thomas Frank’s side are ninth with 35 points after 23 matches, which means they have made a mockery of suggestions they would struggle in their second season in the Premier League, especially after losing Christian Eriksen last summer.They are four points behind sixth-place Liverpool but have a game in hand and host seventh-place Fulham on Monday night. A top-half finish would be a remarkable achievement but do not rule out Brentford sneakily qualifying for Europe.The only negative point this season has been the FA’s investigation into alleged gambling activity by the club’s star player, Ivan Toney.
Season prediction: Toney has admitted to some of the FA’s charges but is contesting others. If he gets banned, Brentford will suffer a dip in form. They still have to travel to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Anfield before the end of the season, too, so they will end up 10th, which would still be incredible.
Brighton & Hove Albion
If Brighton end up where they are now, eighth place, it would be their highest finish, one spot better than last season.That would be remarkable considering the upheaval of losing head coach Graham Potter and most of his backroom staff to Chelsea in September.Roberto De Zerbi has improved the team to the extent that qualifying for Europe for the first time in the club’s history, either via the league or by winning the FA Cup, are realistic goals.A congested fixture list is good preparation for extra matches in Europe. It will test a squad with plenty of youthful quality in depth.They could lose Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister from midfield to bigger clubs in the summer, but it would be foolish to think Brighton wouldn’t cope considering how good they are at succession planning.
Season prediction: Seventh — and the chance of a European adventure…
If there was a trophy for the biggest underachievers or disappointments in the Premier League this season, surely it would already have Chelsea’s name on it and be sitting in the cabinet.
What could go wrong has gone wrong. The terrible run of results — out of both domestic cup competitions in the third round and on a run of two wins in 15 league games — is bad enough. But the lack of entertainment has added insult to injury.
Kai Havertz has been one of many Chelsea players to struggle this season (Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Chelsea’s football is boring to watch, with goals few and far between. Joao Felix was the only one to find the net in February, sparking plenty of wry jokes about how he had literally scored the club’s goal of the month.If they can somehow beat Leeds United on Saturday and Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 of the Champions League, it would lift some of the gloom. Fail, and the toxicity aimed towards head coach Graham Potter will get a lot worse. Either way, the end of the campaign cannot come soon enough for Chelsea.
Season prediction: 11th. A combination of the laws of probabilities and talent in the Chelsea dressing room means they must surely start winning more games soon. But the upturn will not be enough to save them from finishing in their lowest position this century (10th in 2015-16).
Palace will be content they are 12th — one point and one place above where they were after 24 games last season.There may be frustration at missed opportunities, particularly with a late equaliser conceded against Brentford and a failure to make the most of superiority against Liverpool in the last two games. Their major issue is a lack of goals due to not creating sufficient opportunities. Rectifying that would secure their current position and set their sights on a strong finish to the season.Palace’s final 10 games of the season are significantly less challenging on paper than their run since the World Cup. Relegation should not be a concern and the most likely outcome is a finish between 12th and 16th.
Season prediction: 12th — because that is where they have always been and always will be.
There is a feeling among Everton fans that their club is close to being locked in a negative momentum with only one outcome — relegation.Sean Dyche’s arrival as the latest new face in the dugout initially improved form, which had completely flatlined under Frank Lampard. Wins over Arsenal in his first game as manager, followed by Leeds, provided a much-needed shot in the arm.But ensuing losses to Villa and Arsenal, with a Merseyside derby defeat also thrown in the mix, have dampened any optimism that Everton could quickly dispel fears of the drop.The problem is a long-term and increasingly damaging lack of goals. With Dominic Calvert-Lewin still injured and Neal Maupay struggling to fill his boots, there appears to be no imminent resolution.If Calvert-Lewin can get fit and play for eight to 10 games at top form, then Dyche can use him to scrape over the line.
Season prediction: 17th.
Fulham are not going to be relegated from the Premier League this year. That, in itself, is a massive achievement, but Marco Silva and his motley crew of talented players are thinking bigger. With Fulham in seventh, Europe is no longer unthinkable.This season has surpassed all expectations. Fulham have entertained while showing they can be resilient, too. They have recruited brilliantly, adding Joao Palhinha, Bernd Leno and Willian for trivial fees. Long-standing servants, such as Tim Ream and Aleksandar Mitrovic, have improved no end under Silva’s watch. This is a team transformed.
When ‘little old Fulham’ almost shocked Europe – told by those who lived it
No one expects European qualification, but their consistency this year means you can’t rule it out. They have played more games than their rivals, but a pressure-free environment might give them the edge. Whatever happens, this has been a season to savour at Craven Cottage.
Season prediction: Seventh. Fulham will go close to their record points tally of 53 but with Brighton, Brentford, Liverpool and Chelsea all in the mix, and with games in hand, European qualification will be tight. Their fixtures after March, though, are favourable. Either way, a top-half finish would be outstanding.
Javi Gracia is a week into the job at Leeds, so for now, we can only really go on gut feeling.
Here are the good aspects of the two games under him: the defensive shape has been neat and tidy, limiting clear opposition chances, and Leeds have created enough themselves without finishing clinically (see Fulham on Tuesday night). It’s a promising sign that ideas are taking hold in so little time.
But to assume the club are on the straight and narrow would be to ignore the difficulties they have had this season. They probably need another four or five victories to stay up and to achieve that, they need Gracia’s strategy to take hold.
Former Watford boss Javi Gracia doesn’t have time on his side as he bids to steer Leeds United clear of danger (Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)
What you have to hope is that Southampton last weekend was a demonstration of his ability to effectively handle the games Leeds should be winning or have to win. That result was delivered under a lot of pressure — again, a promising sign. If big players step up for the run-in, Leeds have the quality to survive. But it’s likely to be very tight unless Gracia lights a fire under them.
Season prediction: It never goes well when I make predictions but such is life. I’m banking on Gracia being a safe pair of hands and having the nous and the nerve to see this battle through. So Leeds will finish 16th or 17th and stay up by a narrow margin.
This isn’t where Leicester expected to be, despite manager Brendan Rodgers’ warnings in pre-season that this could be a season of pain.A lack of summer signings meant a club that has always prided itself on the ability to disrupt the established elite of the Premier League has regressed back to a side that is now fighting for its Premier League status.They can score goals still but defensive fragility and terrible home form have been anchors keeping them from escaping the bottom half of the table. Now they need to show character to survive so the squad can undergo a big refresh this summer.
Season prediction: 13th but it will be heart-in-mouth at times for Leicester fans.
Following the near-quadruple efforts of their previous campaign, Liverpool were expecting to be title challengers again. A 2021-22 hangover, along with injuries and dramatic drops in form, have left Jurgen Klopp’s side stumbling and looking like a shadow of their former selves.
They are playing catch-up to salvage the season by securing a top-four spot. Four consecutive league clean sheets suggest their defensive issues are on the mend, but the big concern remains Liverpool’s midfield, which has been cut apart far too often.
Liverpool’s 2021-22 accounts analysed: Record revenues, steady debt, spiralling wages
The saving grace is that key players are returning from injury and Liverpool are starting to look like a cohesive unit.Two seasons ago, they managed to steady the ship after an awful run of form to finish the season in the top four. There is confidence they can do it again.
Season prediction: Let’s be positive, eh? Fourth. Liverpool are trending in the right direction and had to do this chase two seasons ago. Although ask me how I feel again on Sunday evening…
Things certainly look rosier now than they did a month ago. Somehow, City are top of the form table (the last six games, at least) and that is a funny one as they do not feel like a side that are inevitably sweeping all before them.Manchester City are currently five points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal, who they face again in April (Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)It feels like the football public have been waiting all season for that surge from City and it has not yet come — and there is no guarantee it will — but they have been a bit more in the groove of late and they should not be too far off top come the end of the season.
Season prediction: First. This prediction changes game by game and if they do not beat Newcastle on Saturday, I would probably say second, but it is hard to write them off.
At the end of the 2021-22 season, Manchester United looked like a mess of a football team that would need several years, several hundreds of millions and several mighty strokes of luck to make good again.Several months later — and with the help of £250million ($300m) — Erik ten Hag looks like a miracle worker, having ended United’s six-year trophy drought and defeated Barcelona in the Europa League’s knockout play-off round.
Man United’s schedule is brutal, but they are thriving and fighting on all fronts
Things are good at Old Trafford and Carrington at the moment. Fans and players have full confidence in their manager and there’s a good match-playing spine to the side.United have scored the fifth-most goals per game (1.7) and conceded the sixth-fewest goals per game (1.2), so talk of a possible title race is a little fanciful — yet United fans believe a title might happen sooner rather than later.
Season prediction: Third and a deep run in the Europa League to go with their League Cup triumph.
In the immediate aftermath of their Carabao Cup final heartache, it may feel difficult for some Newcastle fans to emotionally disassociate that from the season as a whole right now.However, the mere fact the club were in their first final since 1999 and sit fifth in the Premier League, little more than a year after languishing in the relegation zone, only confirms the dramatic progress that has been made.Yet Eddie Howe’s men have been unable to continue their magnificent 2022 form into 2023 and, post-World Cup, they have won just twice in the league and have scored only six goals in eight games.European football still appears likely but the dream of Champions League qualification will only remain alive if Callum Wilson, Alexander Isak et al start finding the back of the net regularly again.This campaign will be memorable regardless but Howe and his players do not want it to fizzle out. They want to end with a final surge into the higher European positions.
Season prediction: Fifth. Newcastle will wrestle back positive momentum during the run-in but Champions League qualification might be just beyond them. Regardless, European football would still be a major achievement.
Nottingham Forest’s 22-player £150million summer recruitment drive was a statement of intent, but though it was felt a mid-table finish was not beyond reach, the priority is to simply avoid the drop.It would be a huge help if Steve Cooper’s side could address their torrid away form, which has seen them collect only one win, with a paltry three goals in 12 matches contributing to six points from 12 games.At home, Forest are conceding goals at the same rate as Manchester City (1.08 per game), collecting 19 points along the way. Forest do have enough about them to stay out of the bottom three — another 11 or 12 points would probably be enough — but they might have to rely on their form at the City Ground, where fans create an electric, partisan atmosphere.
Season prediction: The City Ground will witness a few more rounds of trademark celebratory Cooper fist-pumps and Forest will secure enough points to finish 15th or 16th.
A club renowned for its investment in youth, Southampton’s reputation has been taken to its extreme. Their reliance on players either in their first season in the Premier League or professional football altogether has significantly contributed to their troubles. Southampton were the first team to have given 5,000 on-pitch minutes to players under the age 21 this season, with eight different under-21s featuring.They are rooted to the bottom of the table, having essentially wasted two pre-seasons with two managers that were not the right fit for this squad.Ralph Hasenhuttl should have departed in the summer while Nathan Jones appeared out of his depth.Ruben Selles (second from right) will be in charge of relegation-threatened Southampton until the end of the season (Photo: George Wood/Getty Images)Those successive errors compounded an already precarious season. It has reached a point where Ruben Selles, for all his best efforts, may be entering unsalvageable territory.
Season prediction: 19th.
Considering the issues they’ve had with injuries, their best players struggling for form (Richarlison hasn’t scored since September 7 and Son Heung-min is miles off his golden boot form of last year) and their head coach enduring an extremely difficult few months off the pitch (three of his friends have passed away and he’s currently enduring a period of convalescence after major surgery), fourth is pretty good for Spurs right now.If Liverpool and Chelsea got their acts together, it might be a different story but yeah, fourth is fine. However, as this week’s diabolical FA Cup exit to Sheffield United has brought into focus, things are all just a bit “meh” for Spurs this season.
Ranked: Tottenham’s 15 most shambolic cup exists of the last 15 trophyless years
Season prediction: Fourth — if Harry Kane continues his incredibly impressive (and sort of unnoticed) scoring rate, he’ll reach 25 goals and that should be enough for Spurs to finish in the top four again if their recent defensive improvements continue. He may need a bit more help from those around him, though, if Liverpool or Newcastle put together a run.
West Ham United
West Ham United manager David Moyes envisioned competing higher up the table, given West Ham’s £160million summer expenditure. But with the club in a precarious league position, the priority now is to avoid relegation.
Danny Ings scored twice on his first start in the 4-0 victory against Nottingham Forest last time out. His arrival from Aston Villa will help West Ham offensively. Aside from their firepower, Moyes also needs to address the away form.
West Ham’s last league win on the road was the 1-0 win against Aston Villa in August.
Season prediction: 16th — West Ham produced a spirited performance against Forest. They also went toe-to-toe with Manchester United in their fifth-round FA Cup loss before making costly individual errors. Moyes will hope his team builds on those promising displays so that they show they can secure their Premier League status for another season.
After becoming used to top-half Premier League finishes, Wolves fans remain deeply unhappy to find their side in a battle to avoid relegation.
There is a sense that much of the good work done at the start of Fosun’s transformative ownership and under Nuno Espirito Santo has been wasted, with a reset now underway under Julen Lopetegui and new sporting director Matt Hobbs.
But most fans would undoubtedly have taken the position they find themselves in now — outside the bottom three — at Christmas, when Lopetegui took over a side bottom of the table.
Scoring goals remains a major issue, though.
Season prediction: 16th — Lopetegui has improved Wolves enough to be hopeful of avoiding relegation but a lack of goals means survival is unlikely to be delivered by a big margin.
Grimsby Town: How community spirit (and blow-up haddocks) created an FA Cup fairytale
Nancy Frostick Mar 2, 2023
Paul Hurst has got his priorities right. After his Grimsby Town team stunned Southampton to book an FA Cup quarter-final against Brighton & Hove Albion, he was apologising to the town’s school teachers who may have had sparse classrooms on Wednesday — and bleary-eyed pupils today.“I’m in shock,” Hurst said. “I’m delighted for the players and owners but the supporters mainly. That’s an evening and result that will be remembered and made taking time off work, possibly more time off now, worth “I hope the teachers are lenient with the kids who have taken a day off school to travel here and see that. I’m so proud of everyone involved with the club.“I was giving it to the players that it could be 10-0 and I may have to watch behind a blindfold. If a Premier League team turns up and is at it, they blow you away, but we dug in.”
𝐓𝐇𝐈𝐒 𝐓𝐄𝐀𝐌 𝐍𝐄𝐕𝐄𝐑 𝐆𝐈𝐕𝐄𝐒 𝐔𝐏 pic.twitter.com/OaYvKPjWxD
— Grimsby Town F.C. (@officialgtfc) March 1, 2023
There are managers and clubs who click — Hurst, in his second spell in charge at Blundell Park, and Grimsby do.“Everyone would say their football club is important to the area but I genuinely think it matters even more to a place like Grimsby,” Hurst tells The Athletic on a crisp Monday morning in his office at Cheapside, Grimsby Town’s training ground.“You can drive through the town any day of the week and you’ll see people in Grimsby Town kits and some of that is probably due to the type of area that it is, there are some deprived areas and some people will struggle.“It’s an expensive time and we’ll have some families that are really struggling more than some other areas. But they’re so proud and desperate to talk about the football club.”The start of the week is a chance for everyone at Grimsby to catch their breath after an entertaining 2-2 draw with League Two leaders Leyton Orient at the weekend. The smell of bacon lingers in the air as players park up outside and head to the communal dining room for breakfast before training begins. In the kitchen, long-serving employee Di, described to The Athletic as the mother figure of the training ground — “If you need something, Di will know where it is” — is taking orders and making cups of tea and coffee.On the pitches, Hurst’s assistant, Chris Doig,sets out the cones and hurdles for the day’s sessions, while in the manager’s office, crowded tactics boards and strewn data sheets point to the quick turnaround before their next match.
Wednesday night brings the trip to Premier League Southampton in the fifth round of the FA Cup. The hard work and planning was worth it as Hurst’s team gave more than 4,500 travelling fans a night to remember with a 2-1 win, thanks to two Gavan Holohan penalties.
Surpassing expectations and proving people wrong is second nature to the people of this coastal town in north east Lincolnshire,and any length of time spent talking to co-owner Jason Stockwood is proof enough. The 53-year-old Grimsby-born technology entrepreneur bought the club in May 2021 with property investor and fellow fan Andrew Pettit, bringing an end to the unpopular tenure of John Fenty and providing the club and town with renewed positivity.Season ticket sales are at an all-time high, with 5,700 sold for 2022-23, while Grimsby appointed their first-ever female CEO and board member in Debbie Cook shortly after Stockwood and Pettit’s takeover.The thrilling finish to last season, which Stockwood calls “the best sequence of games that I can remember in my lifetime”, was defined by Grimsby’s dogged determination not to accept defeat as they secured promotion to the Football League via the play-offs.Late goals against all three play-off opponents saw them beat Notts County, Hollywood-inspired Wrexham in a play-off classic and an in-form Solihull Moors to leave the National League behind them at the first time of asking following relegation in 2020-21.After a three-week turnaround before starting pre-season training for their League Two return, things this season have been more challenging, with Grimsby sitting 16th in the table. This week’s games against league leaders Orient, Premier League Southampton and third-place Carlisle United present a challenging trio of fixtures. One down and one point taken is not a bad return as Hurst ponders Wednesday night.“You always want longer in terms of being able to set up against the opposition, especially if you think you know what they are going to do,” he says. “Southampton have had a new manager come in, he changed his system at half-time on Saturday and we’re not quite sure what team he’s going to play because the reward of staying in the Premier League far outweighs beating Grimsby.“There was an indication that we were doing well at the weekend because Orient are very good at what they do and Richie Wellens changed his system. He said to me that he was worried about matching us up.”A look at the demeanour of the two managers in their technical areas on Saturday tells the story of a good point for Grimsby and a frustrating afternoon for League Two title-winners-elect Orient, as Wellens is animated and vocal while Hurst is pensive. Orient edge a flat first half and take the lead through Charlie Kelman. However, Town then fly out of the blocks in the second half with two quick-fire goals from George Lloyd and star man John McAtee — the older brother of Manchester City’s James — who was sold to Luton Town in August but loaned back for the season. George Moncur then levels things up.
Conditions are challenging at Blundell Park, with a downpour before kick-off combining with an icy wind rolling in from the North Seajust a few hundred metres behind the stadium. Grimsby’s home falls comfortably into ‘proper football ground’ territory, with turnstiles backing onto tightly packed streets of terraced housing and the tread of generations wearing a slight bow into the wooden steps of the Main Stand, one of the oldest in the country.
It is the type of stadium that holds a mirror up to the town surrounding it and owners Stockwood and Pettit have no immediate ambition to tear it down and replace it. Instead, the plan since their takeover has consisted of two aims — improving the football and using the club to lift and inspire the town.It is an ethos best reflected in their decision to remove a sign in the upper tier of the Young’s Stand marking executive and hospitality seating and instead replacing it with one reading: ‘Made Great in Grimsby’.“The seats we sit in now as directors are only six seats away from where I’ve been sitting for the past 20 years, so it’s really no different in terms of where I sit in the stand,” says Stockwood.“We always sat in the upper part of the main stand and there are no really exclusive regions of the ground because it’s a working-class town with a working-class football club. It’s a place that doesn’t allow people to feel that they are any better than anyone else and I like that about it, it’s a good lesson for life. The football club is a utilitarian place.“Andrew and I bought season tickets since we bought the club, we pay for our seats. We don’t want anyone to ever think we’re using the club for a free ride because we’re still fans. So we pay for every game, every meal, every drink, every shirt we get out of the shop. We get a staff discount in the shop I must admit but that seems fair. It was really important to us that when we leave, we can look people in the eye and say we paid for every game.“Football is one of the few places where people come together in solidarity and if we can make it about that ostensibly, can we use the football club for changing the narrative on the town? That’s the philosophical way of looking at it, but we’re fans, we have made a few quid and we care about the town, the people and the place.”
Grimsby owners Pettit, left, and Stockwood, right, after the National League play-off final win over Solihull (Photo: Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images)
Alongside the club’s community programme, Stockwood is the link between Grimsby Town and charities Onside Youth Zone and OurFuture, which are working in the local community under his guidance to support youth and social enterprise projects.
A new front-of-shirt sponsorship deal for the club in the 2022-23 season saw them switch from Young’s to MyEnergi and reflects the transition from the dominant industry of the past to the promise of the future.“The story of Grimsby’s post-industrial decline of the fishing industry from the 1970s is well known and what we’re trying to do is make sure that we are respecting the past and our heritage but tilting it to a more hopeful future,” Stockwood says.“That’s about renewable energy and social enterprises and the other things we are building away from the football club. There’s a real opportunity for us to hold the past lightly to allow it to inform what we want to do in the future rather than disregarding it completely, which is easy to do.“But we understand that our licence to talk about the social impact and civic pride which really matters to us is given to us by improving the football. We realise the football has to be our first, second and third before we do a lot of the other stuff.”The football has been first on everyone in Grimsby’s mind for some time, as coach upon coach delivers the travelling fans on their 460-mile midweek round trip to St Mary’s on Wednesday night. In the away end, their trademark inflatable fish, ‘Harry Haddocks’, make an appearance after they were first banned, then allowed into the ground after a swift u-turn from the hosts.
In breamland: Niall Maher celebrates Holohan’s second penalty with a flying haddock (Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Though they are playing on a big stage, Hurst and his players’ routine remains familiar as they first run through set plays, the team and individual roles and responsibilities in the dressing room before kick-off.Captain Luke Waterfall draws on his experience beating Burnley at this stage of the competition when he was part of the Lincoln City team that reached the quarter-finals in 2016-17 and is always “pretty vocal” before kick-off as he gees up his team-mates.“It’s good to get these sorts of games like this,” he says. “They come once in a blue moon so it’s brilliant for the fans. I was here through the dark times of getting relegated and the club being in a bad sort of way, so it’s nice for it to turn on its head and have this nice day.“I know how much it hurt everybody around the town when we got relegated. With it being such a working-class town like it is, and there are football clubs in a similar situation across the country, it impacts people’s day-to-day lives and we do really get that. We have a couple of local lads like Harry Clifton who are real Grimsby boys, so they feel it even deeper.”Waterfall points to Lincoln’s cup run providing the source of funding for their new training ground and Grimsby have similar ambitions to build a facility in the near future. A win against Southampton should bring prize money to more than £500,000 alone before considering gate and TV revenue — a significant amount for a club in the fourth tier.With two promotions from the National League in two spells as Grimsby manager on his CV, Hurst now has a quarter-final to add to his legacy, with the determination to make up for the four–year slump between his stints at the club. Though unlikely this season, reaching League One remains an “achievable and realistic” goal.“It’s not just me that gets a club promoted, but I did feel like I was a man on a mission in terms of I was desperate to be that person who was part of the club getting back into the League when I came back (in 2020),” he says.“I was annoyed at what I was watching from afar. To know how hard it was to get out of the National League and then to go back there, I took that on my shoulders again. It’s not where I want to be or where the club wants to be, but we knew we had to get out of it even though it would be extremely difficult. “There’s definitely a change in feeling around the club and the town now. It’s very different. The ownership change helped that and the fans, they were ready for the change and they won the lottery in getting two people from the area who might not live here any more but are still really attached and want the best for the club and the area.”
🗣️ “I think the world has got to 𝐰𝐚𝐭𝐜𝐡 𝐨𝐮𝐭. Grimsby is going to make a mark for itself as it has done historically again and I think the future is looking 𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲 𝐛𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭.”#GTFC pic.twitter.com/luhEFhwXwe
— Grimsby Town F.C. (@officialgtfc) March 1, 2023
Nearly two years since Stockwood and Pettit’s takeover, there is plenty of reason for pride in this cup run — Grimsby’s best since 1936, when they reached the semi-finals — with both a town and football club changing the narrative on the future.“I had no ambition to own a football club,” says Stockwood. “As a professional investor, it’s a terrible decision financially, but it depends what the balance sheet of your life is measured in.“If it’s just money then that’s one thing. But if it’s in the potential to be useful and trying to change the dynamic of a town that you love, then that is an incredible opportunity.”Grimsby’s class of 2023, with Wembley just 90 minutes away, know all about opportunity. Brighton should brace themselves for Hurst’s band of unlikely heroes — and their haddocks.
Reviewing Season Pass’ debut on Apple TV; Thiago Almada’s stunners: MLS Weekly
The Athletic Soccer staff
Feb 27, 2023
Welcome to our new column collecting news, insights, and highlights from the world of Major League Soccer. This will be a team effort from all of our staff writers covering the league, but we’ll start this first edition with one of our newest additions: Elias Burke, who will be reporting on American soccer from Los Angeles after covering West Brom and Derby County for our UK operation.
The opening weekend of the 2023 MLS season was… interesting. From the comfort of my sofa, after having El Trafico postponed due to heavy rain, I ingested MLS on American soil for the first time as the league and Apple TV kicked off the season with an 11-game slate running from 1:30 to 9 p.m. Pacific. It was a long day.The action on the field was largely solid. Thiago Almada stole the show with two stunning goals late to ensure Atlanta United fans left Mercedes-Benz Stadium delighted. Watching Wayne Rooney’s D.C. United turn over the fancied Toronto FC was pleasing also — not so much because of any allegiance to the Black and Reds, but because Theodore Ku-DiPietro, the scorer of the winning goal in the 3-2 victory, has the coolest name in football.While I sympathize with the effort of putting together 11 games in one day for the first time, the Apple TV experience was not without its hitches. But overall, it was an exciting insight into a league like no other. I can’t wait to do it again. – Elias Burke
Season Pass is here
• If there was any room for immediate improvement under the new deal, it was on enhancing the quality of the match feed. With cameras and angles largely determined by each team’s local broadcast partner, jumping from one MLS match to another on ESPN could cause major whiplash with the broad array of picture qualities and sight lines.Well, one thing is undeniable after Season Pass’ debut: the picture quality is much, much better across the board. Last week, an article on the league website promised “more camera angles, 1080p video, Dolby 5.1 audio, and enhanced data and graphics in live match coverage.” The jump to 1080p was evident and a sight for sore eyes, making it easier to discern players from one another, to track the ball on the far end of the pitch and enhance the overall experience.There were some issues, of course. At one point during Inter Miami’s opener against CF Montreal, there was a one-to-two-second delay between the match feed and the audio. Other matches experienced brief blips of darkness as a feed was momentarily cut, or strange errors with sound mixing or mismatched audio and video.
Still, the overall quality of the opening weekend’s feeds was far closer to that seen in Premier League broadcasts than MLS’s past baseline. That alone counts as a victory for Week 1. – Jeff Rueter• Among MLS’s promises for Season Pass was that the broadcasts would do more to showcase things that make MLS special. To that end, I enjoyed a lot of little touches the broadcasts found time for throughout the weekend, especially when it came to fan entrances and pregame ceremonies, in particular Charlotte’s remembrance of club captain Anton Walkes, who died tragically this past offseason.
There’s certainly room to grow in this regard, but for a first effort prepared on a condensed timeline, it was nice to see. – Alexander Abnos
Major League Sales pitch
If there was one major complaint from the first weekend of MLS Season Pass, it’s that it felt at times a bit too much like an MLS infomercial. The opening game of the weekend, NYCFC’s visit to Nashville, was probably the best example in part because it was simulcast by Apple and on Fox as part of the latter’s English-language linear TV deal.On Apple, the commentators pushed Nashville’s new Johnny Cash-themed jerseys constantly on the audience, even going so far as to say where they were for sale online. There was also discussion about the new MLS playoff format which included the assertion that it makes the regular season more important. That is undoubtedly up for debate, especially considering the fact that 63% of the league now makes the playoffs. While seeding matters in the playoff for home-field advantage, that was true under the last format, too.
It sounded like the goal was to get a national broadcast feel, but going to league talking points just makes this an MLS “homer” broadcast much in the same way local broadcasts felt for specific teams. It is understandable that MLS was celebrating the launch of this new broadcast “network,” but if the homer feel continues into the regular season it’s going to be tougher to stomach. – Paul Tenorio
Wait til they hear about Hot G. Right
While it’s impossible to ensure a 100% level of accuracy with match subtitles, there were some glaring issues that will hopefully resolve as the season goes on. At one point during FC Dallas’ match against Minnesota United, commentators were allegedly discussing United States international striker J. Zeus For Era. Apple users can attest to autocorrect’s ability to quickly learn a phone handler’s specific lingo; hopefully, something similar will happen here. – Jeff Rueter
Fox’s barebones operation
• The league should be furious at Fox’s lack of investment in its English linear deal. The network isn’t sending talent to games, instead flying them to broadcast out of the Vista facilities in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The halftime DoorDash-sponsored “set” behind Stu Holden and John Strong was evidence of the level of resources dedicated to this deal.This isn’t anything new from Fox. They’ve done multiple MLS games remotely in the past few years. A Washington Post report last year indicated Fox was prepared to “use mostly remote production and send a minimal contingent of staffers” to the 2022 World Cup before Qatar Airways sponsored the broadcast.Still, considering that MLS decided to seek a linear partner for this season, it has to be disappointed with such a low level of investment. For a large portion of fans, the games on the Fox networks, especially those on over-the-air Fox like Saturday’s opener, will be their only exposure to MLS. A minor-league-looking set doesn’t communicate what the league and Apple are trying to project. – Paul Tenorio
• Say what you want about Fox’s janky halftime set, at least they weren’t trying to sell me a jersey every five minutes and reminding me how awesome and cool and revolutionary MLS is every 10 minutes. Strong and Holden’s commentary probably wasn’t as good as it would have been if they were there in-person, but it certainly wasn’t bad, and I appreciated being able to watch a game without quite so much forced salesmanship. If Fox can figure out a way to make its on-camera setup even slightly less embarrassing, then I don’t think the linear deal is all that bad. But there has to be a happy medium somewhere between their abdication and MLS’s indoctrination. I wonder who will find it first. – Alexander Abnos
A weird whiparound
There is real potential for the whiparound show, MLS 360, but some kinks clearly need to be worked out. Early in the day, studio shots had the four co-hosts standing with their back to the camera, looking up at a giant screen. It was awkward and uncomfortable for the viewers — and probably for the talent, too. They finally introduced chairs to the set and that made things much better.It’s also hard to fathom the sheer amount of commercials that appeared on the whiparound show. One thing that stands out about the format’s gold standard – NFL RedZone – is the lack of commercials, especially considering ad breaks make up a huge part of the normal football-on-TV experience. Here, MLS is asking you to turn off a sport that is commercial-free in order to watch a show that is filled with commercial breaks. And late in the night as there were fewer games being played, the commercial breaks ended up coinciding with goals several times. Not ideal.One other weak point that will improve with repetition: learning when to lay out and just let the game and the broadcast tell the story. Thiago Almada’s dramatic game-winning stoppage-time free kick goal for Atlanta United is a great example. The crew started speaking immediately as the goal was scored, robbing the MLS 360 audience of the reaction from a crowd of 67,538 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. One of the selling points of this league is the atmosphere in the stadium. Atlanta is one of the absolute shining examples for this league of the growth and popularity in local markets. Save the analysis for the replays. Let the environment tell the story that MLS needs to sell. – Paul Tenorio
A jarring transition
No doubt, MLS and Apple are trying to create a distinct look for these broadcasts. However, the pivot from live action to a replay was jarring after just ten or fifteen minutes. The screen went all-black save for an MLS logo in the middle — nothing too bizarre for an American sports broadcast. But the accompanying sound is an off-putting tone akin to pushing the wrong key on an old PC. If that continues to be the signifier for an instant replay, this viewer might prefer to save the highlights for after the final whistle. – Jeff Rueter
On the Spanish-language side, in-game analysis throughout the night was informed and astute. In Nashville-NYCFC Jorge Perez Navarro’s boisterous play-by-play contrasted nicely with Marcelo Balboa’s measured analytical tone and occasional bits of Spanglish.The in-studio product later on Saturday night featured a mix of experienced voices and up-and-coming talent. Veteran host Tony Cherchi was paired with analysts Melissa Ortiz and former Portland Timbers superstar Diego Valeri. The nerves were evident at times, but Cherchi did well to keep the conversations flowing.Valeri, who retired last summer while playing with his boyhood Club Lanús, was especially impressive. He was composed and personable on camera and he displayed a deep knowledge of MLS teams and current players. Ortiz, who also does English-language sideline reporting for U.S. men’s and women’s national team games on HBO Max, did well in her second language. That’s not an easy task.However, there was a notable lack of Latinos on the English-language side of the broadcasts. That’s a surprise considering the sport that’s being showcased and the coveted young bicultural Latino demographic that MLS wants to appeal to. There’s plenty of bilingual talent on staff so it could be simply a matter of mixing some of the studio pairings in the future.The visual presentation and storytelling of the Spanish telecast mirrored the English feed. The look and feel, as well as the big picture storylines, were virtually identical. That was expected, but to start on Saturday, during the 4:30 pm ET slot, the studio and in-game graphics were in English on the Spanish feed. That later changed for the primetime matches.Videos, like an excerpt of Don Garber’s interview with Maurice Edu, were presented without subtitles. That could be an intentional strategy to appeal to bicultural English-dominant Latinos or a sign that Apple and MLS don’t have the resources to provide that level of transcreation. – Felipe Cardenas
On the field
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
Spirit of the Rams
As currently constructed, D.C. United bears some resemblance to manager Wayne Rooney’s Derby County side of 2021-22. That was one of the most remarkable teams in the English Championship that season, despite suffering relegation.After being handed a 21-point deduction by the English Football League for entering administration and breaching the league’s profitability and sustainability rules – akin to UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules – Rooney’s Derby side of academy graduates and free agents collected a series of upsets that drew plaudits across the country. These underdog wins earned him a reputation as a coach who can motivate young and inexperienced teams to beat highly-fancied opposition.D.C. United showed the spirit of that Derby team against a Federico Bernardeschi-led Toronto side, after Italy international Lorenzo Insigne departed in the 31st minute with an apparent leg injury. Outside of a clumsy challenge to gift Toronto a penalty, 16-year-old Matai Akinmboni repaid Rooney’s faith by delivering a performance that belied his years in central defense, and 21-year-old Theodore Ku-DiPietro came off the bench to score the winner in the eighth minute of injury time to round off a spectacular comeback.While Saturday’s win was a positive start to the season, D.C.’s pass map from the game’s first 68 minutes highlights the work still to be done to make D.C. a coherent outfit from back to front.
Of their 14 league wins that season, a significant portion came by way of late winners at home, where the defiant Pride Park support willed their team to victory. If D.C. United is going to improve significantly from last season, they must take the fighting attitude they displayed against Toronto, stabilize the defense and find ways to progress the ball more consistently. – Elias Burke
Jim Curtin reads The Athletic
Or, at the very least, he saw the money quote from our annual MLS executives survey, in which one executive said that Curtin’s Philadelphia Union team, who are widely predicted to do very well this season and have been among the league’s best in recent years, are “not even that f—ing good.”The Union played like they had a point to prove to whoever said that (and perhaps some other people) in a dominant 4-1 win over the Columbus Crew. And then, this:
Thiago Almada can really strike a ball. The 21-year-old from the Fuerte Apache neighborhood of Buenos Aires saved Atlanta United in week one with two highlight-reel goals from outside the penalty area. Both strikes came in stoppage time, erasing San Jose’s one-goal lead that had held firm for over 80 minutes.A disciplined San Jose side had done well to frustrate Atlanta United’s attacking intent for the majority of the match. But big-money players are supposed to be big-time difference makers, and Atlanta United has a special player in Almada, whom the club paid a reported $16 million to acquire one year and one World Cup win ago.“Thiago with the first goal from outside the box, and then that amazing golazo to win the game… It was special for us and I hope the fans are happy with it,” said Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda after the match.Almada’s talent has never been in question. He adapted to MLS right away in 2022 through consistent performances and game-changing goals. His late inclusion to Argentina’s World Cup roster, and the subsequent 30 days he spent training with the world champion Albiceleste in Qatar, has given him more confidence and sharpened his game before the 2023 MLS season.Atlanta United always needs a showman. The soft-spoken Almada promises to entertain for as long as he’s in black and red. – Felipe Cardenas
Austin FC will want to forget Saturday night’s humbling home loss to newcomers St. Louis City…with the exception of Sebastian Driussi’s ridiculous lob over St. Louis goalkeeper Roman Bürki. The goal tied the game in first-half stoppage time and reminded audiences around the world of how good a player Driussi truly is.
It all happened pretty fast, but there’s a lot of planning that occurs inside a player’s head before he tries to chip a goalkeeper. Driussi either noticed Bürki was off his line as he made his deep-lying run or he caught a glimpse of the ‘keeper’s bright yellow kit before he deftly controlled Leo Väisänen’s long ball. The end result was a masterclass in composure and opportunism from Driussi, with his weak foot. – Felipe Cardenas
How does this happen?
Austin FC defender Kipp Keller’s giveaway to St. Louis’ Jared Stroud seemed inexplicable at the time. Subsequent video review has revealed one possible explanation: That Stroud, who was Keller’s teammate in Austin last year, called for the ball as if he was still wearing green and black.That would help explain Keller’s brain fart. But is that what happened? We might never know for certain, in part because this is the only video we have of the incident that’s legally shareable outside the Apple ecosystem:
For his part, Stroud told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “maybe he recognized me,” in reference to Keller, who he called a “good friend of mine.”Personally, I find it hard to believe anyone would be quite so devious to someone they call a friend. – Alexander Abnos
• A genuine congratulations and “nice job” to Minnesota United for getting an away win without talismanic playmaker Emanuel Reynoso to open the season. That’s an objectively great result. Still, feels like Game 1 of 34 might be slightly early for a “tough day for the experts” tweet. I’m sure the experts would all be totally ok with having their tough day at a later date, when the season is a bit more complete. – Alexander Abnos
• Serhiy Kryvtsov played 12 years for Shakhtar Donetsk in his native Ukraine before moving to Inter Miami this past offseason. Due to the ongoing conflict in the region, the defender hasn’t played in front of a packed, lively crowd in a while. His goal wasn’t exactly attractive, but it clearly meant a lot, both for him and an Inter Miami team that went on to win 2-0 at home over Montreal.
What we’re hearing
Chicago Fire sign U-22 striker
(This item also appears in David Ornstein’s weekly column)
The Chicago Fire have finalized a transfer for PAOK forward Georgios Koutsias, a source with knowledge of the deal confirmed to The Athletic.
Koutsias, 19, is currently on loan to Volos NPS. The Fire will pay a transfer fee of $2.5 million for the young striker, who has two goals and one assist this season. Koutsias is seen as a replacement for Jhon Durán, who was sold to Aston Villa for $18 million in the January window. Like Durán, Koutsias will take up an Under-22 Initiative slot for the Fire. The Under-22 Initiative incentivizes MLS teams to buy players under the age of 22 to develop with an eye toward selling them.
The deal is expected to be announced in the coming days.
The Fire are also continuing to pursue a designated player at the No. 9 position. An earlier chase for Nottingham’s South Korean forward Hwang Ui-jo fizzled out, but the Fire remain in the market for a top-level forward.
Chicago also recently traded for former Sierra Leone and Middlesbrough striker Kei Kamara. The Fire will be the 10th MLS team for Kamara, 38, who has scored 139 goals in 16 seasons in the league. Polish striker Kacper Przybyłko is also on the roster, but failed to impress last season with just five goals after moving from Philadelphia. – Paul Tenorio
Preseason St. Louis concerns from a pair of MLS insiders
St. Louis City looked streetwise and opportunistic in its surprise win against Austin, making the Texans pay for shambolic defending. Before the season, though, multiple coaches and sporting executives expressed concern about the club’s roster, a decent chunk of which is made up by former MLS Next Pro players.“I think they’re underestimating the league a little bit,” said one source, a sporting executive at an MLS club. “I know Transfermarkt isn’t everything, but if you go through the values of the players on the team, Atlanta is at the top of the heap with ($56 million) and St Louis spends a third of that. A lot of those guys are MLS2 guys from last year — they had success there, but sometimes that’s a curse. I know they want to be loyal to those guys, they took them to a championship. They have some decent role players but they took almost 10 guys and brought them to the first team. It’s going to be a long year.”“It will be a miracle if they finish anywhere other than last place,” added another source. “The league has grown a ton in recent years and you’d think they’d have learned from clubs like Cincinnati. You can’t roll out a USL lineup and succeed in this league, even if you play physical, direct football.”For what it’s worth, St. Louis’ best player on Saturday might have played in MLS Next Pro, but he’s also 26 years old with a few seasons in the German Bundesliga on his résumé.
Eduard Löwen ran the show for STL, assisting on Tim Parker’s opener and setting the table for Nico Gioacchini, who fed Klauss for the winner.
Head coach Bradley Carnell has to be happy with that. – Pablo Maurer
Hudson was set to join Houston
Current U.S. men’s national team interim coach Anthony Hudson was very close to joining Ben Olsen’s staff at the Houston Dynamo, multiple sources told The Athletic over the past few weeks. Hudson interviewed for a place on Olsen’s staff and seemed set to join the club before he realized he’d be needed to shepherd the USMNT in Gregg Berhalter’s absence. As of now, Olsen is complemented by ex-MLS player Aurélien Collin, former Crew and Dynamo assistant Tim Hanley and former Dynamo U-17 head coach Adin Osmanbasic. – Pablo Maurer
A coach at Coachella
In October, Chris Wilder’s stint as manager of Middlesbrough came to an abrupt end. Despite the club’s aspirations to push for automatic promotion, the manager was sacked after 11 games with the club having won just two of those. Since then, the man who led Sheffield United to the brink of Europa League in 2019-2020 has been out of a job. Perhaps his next role will take him far from a Premier League push altogether.
In February, Wilder spent weeks around the Coachella Valley Invitational, per sources speaking anonymously to The Athletic to avoid linking him to any single club. Wilder, who has friends on participating teams’ coaching staffs, was enjoying the matches and sunny weather in a break from the English winter. The sources did not link him to having tangible interest in an MLS role in the short-term, but did relay that he enjoyed the league’s level of play even in tune-up scrimmages.
One can’t rule out that seeds have been sewn, however. In December 2019, I was at the USL Summer Meetings and noticed that Anthony Hudson was catching up with folks in the lobby between sessions. The following month, he was announced as head coach of the United States U-20 program — and, three years later, is the senior team’s interim boss. In short, this game has a funny way about it at times. – Jeff Rueter
Bernardeschi in preseason (Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports)
A word with Federico Bernardeschi
In mid-February, The Athletic caught up with Toronto FC’s Federico Bernardeschi during Toronto FC’s preseason preparations in California. There’s more to come this week from him, Lorenzo Insigne, Bob Bradley and new goalkeeper Sean Johnson on Toronto FC’s aims to swiftly return to the East’s elite.
For now, here are the Euro champion’s thoughts on what’s been a tumultuous series of events for ex-team Juventus and Serie A as a whole. – Jeff Rueter
Are you surprised by what has come out regarding Juventus, with the points deduction and (Chairman) Andrea Agnelli and the board resigning?
No surprise, no. I (feel bad for) my ex-teammates, because for me, this situation is bad for them, and for the fans. But I think that Juventus is a big, big team in Italy, in Europe. Juventus has a great, great history behind it. For me, the next two, three years, (they) will go on to win. They’re gonna win. They’re gonna win.
In his press conference, Agnelli said that England is overtaking the sport and that Italy isn’t able to compete. Did you feel that Serie A was not as competitive as it was by the time you left?
No, it’s just people talking. Serie A is a great, great league. Inside the league of Serie A, there are many, many champions and great teams with great history. Now, for sure, the Premier League is the (best) league in the world. For sure. In the years of the 80’s, 90’s, 2000s’, it was Serie A (at the top). For me now, it’s a little process of change for the league of Serie A, but I think it’s great.
Beyond the field
FC Dallas fan Erik Tillisch was in the stands when his team advanced on penalty kicks against Minnesota United in the 2022 MLS Cup playoffs. He made sure of it, moving his first chemotherapy appointment to treat recently-discovered breast cancer to ensure he was at the soldout Toyota Stadium in Frisco.
During the match, Tillisch – an FC Dallas season ticket holder since 2008 with his wife, Leslie – held a white sign that said, “Hi Paul, I start chemo Wednesday. Can I have your cancer shirt?”
It was a reference to the “F**K Cancer” undershirt Dallas midfielder Paul Arriola wore last season to honor his mother-in-law who continues to undergo treatment for stage 4 lung cancer.
Arriola saw the sign, and enthusiastically obliged.
Tillisch brought Arriola’s shirt with him to chemotherapy. He had it with him when he rang the bell, signaling his final day of treatment in December. And, officially in remission, Tillisch returned the shirt to Arriola Tuesday before the start of the MLS Season.
“I hope that, by giving the shirt back, the next person who receives it will find the same inspiration to fight that I did,” Tillisch told The Athletic. “It got me through the lowest times of my treatment. It reminded me that there were others out there who were here to support me during that fight.”
Tillisch added his own message to the back of the shirt before returning it, “Be sad for a moment, be inspired, and fight for a lifetime.”
“I didn’t ever expect anything like this to come from me wearing the shirt,” Arriola told The Athletic. “What was the most special to me is just the inspiration that he has and the motivation that he has to also inspire others.”
Arriola, who got married in the offseason and watched his mother-in-law walk his wife, Akela, down the aisle, doesn’t have a specific plan for the shirt now, but he’s staying active in cancer organizations this season, specifically, Family Reach and Stand Up To Cancer.
“Last year really opened our eyes,” Arriola said. “We were able to see firsthand the impact that we can make on other people’s lives.” – Emily Olsen
Who will win MLS Cup? Our staff predictions for league winner, MVP, coach of the year and more
The Athletic Soccer staffFeb 24, 202345
The 2023 season should be a year of new beginnings for MLS.
Though the first games kick off on Saturday, it already feels like the league will have more firsts this year than any time in recent history. It will be the first for well-supported expansion team St. Louis City SC, the first for the expanded Leagues Cup (that will span a full month and feature every team from MLS and Liga MX) and, perhaps most importantly, the first of the league’s unprecedented broadcast agreement with Apple.
Our North American soccer staff has followed along closely with all of those developments, as well as a series of notable moves that took place this winter. And we’ll continue to do so all season long.
Before diving in, we wanted to offer up a full slate of preseason picks. We’ve predicted where each team will finish, who will win MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield, MVP, the Golden Boot and much, much more.
The panel: Alexander Abnos, Elias Burke, Felipe Cardenas, Pablo Maurer, Emily Olsen, Jeff Rueter, Sam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio.
Get your laminators ready, MLS teams. Your motivation lies below.
- MLS executives make picks for MLS Cup winner and offer Leagues Cup, playoff format thoughts
- MLS hopes to announce 30th team by end of 2023
- MLS has a new playoff format: Our writers offer their thoughts
- Phil Neville Q&A: The Inter Miami manager talks Josef Martinez, Lionel Messi and more
- How Nashville’s new Johnny Cash kit came to be
- Austin FC ace Sebastian Driussi ready to embrace ‘great moment’ with new contract
- Riqui Puig brings FC Barcelona style from ‘years ago’ to Galaxy
- Toronto FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson looks forward to fresh start
- After big sales and few additions, Chicago Fire enters 2023 with little room for optimism
Allocation Disorder — MLS preview:
The Athletic Soccer Show — MLS coaches of interest:
Eastern Conference standings
Stejskal: There was a large part of me that didn’t want to put Philadelphia atop this list. I think they’ll make a deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League, which traditionally means bad things for an MLS team’s regular season form. The Union, though, didn’t just keep the team that finished atop the East in 2022 intact for this season — they added pieces. I like the moves they made this winter, I like their depth, I like that they have a clear way of playing and, regardless of CCL, I like them to finish first in the East.
Rueter: It took making this table for me to realize just how much stronger the East looks on paper than the West. Philadelphia should be challenged by Cincinnati, New York and (if the main men stay healthy) Toronto for regular season supremacy. There’s a whole slew of clubs from spots 4-10 that I could be just as convinced will miss the playoffs as challenging for a top-four finish. It’s a deep, deep conference this year. Even with nine teams qualifying for the wild card at minimum, there could be one or two truly competitive teams that miss out this year.
Maurer: On paper, some things seem pretty obvious to me. Philly looked good in preseason and, well, all of the things that have made them contenders in the past few years — their identity, their head coach and their style of play — are just as true in 2023 as they were in any other year. Cincinnati looks good too, and if they can make even a marginal improvement defensively (and if Brandon Vasquez, Luciano Acosta and Brenner all remain healthy and available) they could be an actual contender this year. I also fully expect Brenner to depart this summer if he manages to sustain overseas interest. So, how they navigate that change will also play into their end position.
But who are we kidding here? MLS predictions have long been a fruitless exercise.
Abnos: Like Sam, there was a large part of me that didn’t want to put Philadelphia atop this list. Unlike Sam, I went with my gut. Philly boasts an extremely good squad, but I’ve just seen too many MLS teams falter in focus and confidence after a CCL run to not feel like it might happen this time around. In their place is Cincinnati – they were incredible in attack and awful in defense last year, so I’m assuming that both sides of the ball will regress/progress to the mean, which means they’ll be just plain very good. And Orlando? I dunno. I can’t quit them. They’ve added a lot of great pieces and trimmed the squad in ways that make sense. They have an experienced head coach in Oscar Pareja and, when the team is good, one of the best home environments in the league.
Tenorio: It’s no easy task to keep a squad together in MLS, and Philly largely did that. The X-factor here is the CONCACAF Champions League, but I think Leagues Cup may change the dynamic depending on how much CCL impacts regular season performance. The East is fairly deep top to low-middle, but I still think Philly finds a way to get results because I actually like the top four to five teams in the West more and think more damage will be done to Supporters’ Shield hopes over there.
Cardenas: I feel like we may have jinxed the Union. That’s a lot of predicted praise from the group, and honestly, we’re hardly ever right! I like Alex’s Cincy pick but with Brenner’s situation up in the air, I’m not sure that they can replicate their success in the attack in 2023. Toronto is due for the kind of season that we’d expect from a Bob Bradley-coached team that has some real ballers in Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi.
To Paul’s point, the Eastern Conference looks stronger than in previous years. Atlanta United, a club that has disappointed over the last three seasons, has a chance to surprise and climb the table if they win at home and fix the defensive frailties.
Western Conference standings
Stejskal: I had the same CCL-related train of thought with LAFC that I did with Philly, but their overall level of talent and depth won me over. On paper, no one else in the West can match them. I think Austin will fall back to earth a bit this year. The underlying numbers didn’t like them all that much in 2022. They finished second in the West, but their expected goal difference was -1.7. That’s worse than the numbers posted last year by Atlanta, Colorado and Chicago. That’s not great company.
Rueter: Austin was a thorn in LAFC’s side in the regular season, winning both at home and away. I could see them storming to a conference title (and, minor spoiler, the league table) to make up for near-misses in the conference final and, individually for Sebastian Driussi, the MVP race. Beyond them, there are a lot of questions. Does Riqui Puig continue to lift the Galaxy up across a full 34 games? How high can fallen powerhouses Seattle and Kansas City bounce back? Will anyone from the mid-table pack (let’s say 6-13) stand out beyond being tough to beat? There are a ton of imperfect teams in the West.
Maurer: LAFC and Austin are obvious picks here. I am completely baffled by the number of colleagues pegging the Galaxy as top-3 contenders here. The West, though, is an absolute crapshoot. I only truly feel confident in one of my picks; There’s no way St. Louis City manages anything other than a bottom-three finish with what amounts to an MLS Next Pro roster.
Abnos: I wholeheartedly agree with Pablo’s observation about the West being wide open. I put Austin on top because I think Driussi is going to have another great season, as will Brad Stuver, and I don’t foresee LAFC repeating their exploits of last season. In truth, I could see any of my chosen top six winning the West, so I’m not really confident in this ranking at all.
Tenorio: Selling Chicho Arango is a move I think LAFC will end up regretting this season. It’s hard to find goals and a solid No. 9. LAFC had that. Now they don’t. TBD on if they can replace it. I actually like what the Galaxy is doing under Greg Vanney and think it has the flexibility and core to be a much better squad than people realize this season. This is Year 3 of the Vanney project and I think we see a big step up.
Cardenas: Peter Vermes FC is going to bounce back in 2023. Prepare the gif machine because Vermes, with a new contract in hand, will once again prove that he’s among the top coaches in MLS with Sporting KC. I’m picking St. Louis to have a three to four-win season in year one. This will be a rough launch for them. And like Sam said, LAFC is far and away the most talented team in the West — even without a killer striker like Chicho Arango. Coach Steve Cherundolo will find a way to score loads of goals. If he stays healthy, winger Denis Bouanga can absolutely light up the league.
I’m going to put some pressure on Austin. It’s year three under coach Josh Wolff. They lost in the conference final last season. It’s time to put away the laminated lists of MLS expert picks and play like an established club. Wolff told Pablo and I in Fort Lauderdale recently that he has incorporated new ideas throughout this preseason, hoping the team can be more flexible tactically. Is that over-coaching? We’ll find out. I think they’ll hit some early potholes in 2023.
Who will win MLS Cup?
Stejskal: I’ll probably end up hilariously wrong here, but I feel good about where Toronto is headed this year. And I feel really good about a team with Insigne and Bernardeschi (and 2021 MLS Cup hero Sean Johnson) in a knockout tournament.
Maurer: Philly is so close to its first MLS Cup it can taste it. As stated above, they are institutionally and technically sound at most every level. They look motivated this preseason. In a recent conversation, Union head coach Jim Curtin told Felipe Cardenas and I that he still hasn’t rewatched the 2022 MLS Cup Final. It hurts too much. That’s the sort of fuel that can drive a championship team.
Tenorio: Picking an MLS Cup winner is a crapshoot. I used my predicted standings to play out each respective playoff and ended up with the Galaxy. No chance it’s right.
Cardenas: The very successful Jim Curtin project in Philadelphia, I feel, is at a crossroads. Last season was a historically great year, despite a crushing loss to LAFC in the MLS Cup Final. But it’s really difficult in this league to have back-to-back seasons at the top. I wonder if Curtin believes that he’s done as much as he can in Philly or if sporting director Ernst Tanner is looking for a change on the touchline. What’s my point? The Union should be the most motivated team in MLS this season. They’ll get it done.
Who will win the Supporters’ Shield?
Stejskal: I agree the East is more competitive top to bottom than the West, but I still think Philadelphia has the motivation and horses to pull this off. I think LAFC will have a bit of a dip thanks to what I project will be a longer run in CCL (more on that later), which will give the Union enough of a cushion to win the Shield.
Rueter: Since joining MLS, Austin’s biggest weakness has been at striker. Gyasi Zardes may not be a headline-grabber, but he’s played for a Josh Wolff team before and is a perfect fit to get on the end of service from Driussi and Emi Rigoni. The real tiebreaker for a Supporters’ Shield is more often decided by the teams at the bottom of each conference. Given how competitive I expect the East to be all around and how top-heavy the West looks, that gives Austin an edge over Philadelphia for league-wide regular-season supremacy.
Abnos: I’ve written myself into a corner here. The seeming depth of the East and an unbalanced schedule means I can’t bring myself to pick whoever tops that conference. Austin was my choice for the West, so they’re my choice here. My picks have unintentionally turned into the wild card of the bunch. Laminate THAT.
Tenorio: I think Philly is built to win a Shield. I think you’ll see them go young in Leagues Cup and lock down the MLS regular season and the higher seeding in the MLS playoffs.
Will Austin, LAFC, Orlando, Philadelphia or Vancouver win CONCACAF Champions League?
Stejskal: I think we’ll see a repeat of MLS Cup in the CCL semifinals, where LAFC will once again beat the Union. It’ll be another rematch for the Black and Gold in the final, where I see them beating Tigres to avenge their defeat in the 2020 CCL title match.
Abnos: I also think the Union will face LAFC in the semifinals, but it comes so soon after MLS Cup I have to believe Curtin’s side will be extra motivated – and this time, there’s no Gareth Bale to pull off a miracle. I don’t have the Union beating whichever Liga MX team inevitably comes out of the other side of the bracket (probably Tigres).
Tenorio: The Arango sale hurts LAFC early in the season. I think that boosts Liga MX’s chances to win it this year.
Cardenas: LAFC can manage without Arango in MLS but will really miss his goals in CCL against better opponents. I also think that collectively, Liga MX teams will wake up and realize that their pride is at stake. Tigres reloaded and Pachuca have a coach in Guillermo Almada who knows how to win in a tournament setting.
Will an MLS team win Leagues Cup?
Stejskal: On a broad level, I think MLS will do pretty well in the competition. All the games being held at home will be a huge boost. MLS teams will also enter the tournament in midseason, while Liga MX sides will need a bit of time to get up to speed. I don’t think, though, that will carry through to the final. I think a Mexican club will win the inaugural edition of the tournament.
Maurer: Let’s put this out there: It would be embarrassing if an MLS team didn’ win. Liga MX is obviously still a fearsome-enough force but hosting every match in the United States creates a comically large advantage for MLS sides. Combine that with the fact that MLS clubs will be playing in-form, and you have a pretty solid recipe for American success. Or an embarrassing failure, I guess, which is always an option, too.
Stejskal (again): I disagree with that. Home or away, there’s no shame in an MLS team losing a one-off match to one of the bigger Mexican teams.
Abnos: Can I agree with both of you? I don’t think it’ll be a good look for all the reasons Pablo mentioned, but ultimately I just don’t like any MLS side’s chances in a one-off against whichever Liga MX power thrives most in this weird format.
Tenorio: The advantages are here for MLS to win this thing. MLS teams will do better than expected because of that. The question is whether the teams in good position in the regular season — read: the good teams — will rotate their squads in order to maximize their chances of home field advantage in the rebuilt MLS postseason. Ultimately, I think at least one or two teams are going to chase this trophy and get it this year. My prediction: Seattle or Atlanta.
Cardenas: MLS isn’t at a point where losing to a Liga MX side is considered a bad look. One CCL title for MLS doesn’t erase Mexico’s dominance over MLS. I’m with Sam. The first-ever Leagues Cup will go to a Liga MX side. But will anyone in Mexico care?
Individual awards picks
Stejskal: It wasn’t an altogether pleasant introduction to MLS for Lorenzo Insigne, who struggled with some injuries as Toronto limped to a brutal finish. I think both player and club bounce back in a huge way this year though. Whispers out of preseason have been positive about Insigne and Bernardeschi, but I think Insigne will finish with better counting stats and become the second diminutive Italian to win an MLS MVP while in Toronto.
Rueter: I mean, it isn’t often that a player says he was especially gutted to finish second in MLS MVP voting. Driussi is back with a fresh contract, better goalscoring options around him and a team with more big-game experience to its name. Most years, 22 goals and 7 assists for one of the league’s breakout teams is enough to win MVP. I’d suspect that if he can come close to that output, he’ll get the honor. Plus, I would guess Insigne and Bernardeschi will cannibalize each other’s candidacies.
Abnos: I don’t know how you can watch Puig do what he did in his relatively short time on the field last season and not think that his first full year in MLS won’t be a huge hit. MVP awards aren’t traditionally given out for defending, and that’s a good thing because Puig does very little of that. His comfort on the ball, vision, and technique set him apart from most players in the league, and I’m excited to see what he can do over the course of 34 games (and then some).
Tenorio: Insigne Is probably the most talented player in MLS and now he’s had a full offseason – and has a better Toronto team around him. I think he’s going to get his goals and assists and play a big part in a resurgent year for TFC.
Cardenas: Jeff’s point about Driussi feeling snubbed is reason enough to believe that the prolific Argentine will want his revenge in 2023. Nevertheless, Insigne will be this season’s MVP. Paul said it: The Italian is the league’s top player and he’ll be around the ball a lot this year.
Abnos: Like Puig, Cucho Hernandez is a midseason acquisition from 2022 that made a great early impression, with nine goals and two assists in 16 appearances (14 starts). He has one of the best playmakers in MLS in Lucas Zelarayan alongside him, and players in midfield who have proven adept at ball progression. All of this seems to fit in nicely on paper with what new head coach Wilfried Nancy did last year in Montreal.
Stejskal: Love the Cucho pick, but that MVP award I gave to Insigne means goals. Lots of them.
Tenorio: I’m on the same page as Sam.
Cardenas: Driussi will miss out on the MVP award, but wins the Golden Boot, which honestly, is a must-have for a goalscorer.
Rueter: While Brenner has one eye on a move abroad, Vazquez is in a much clearer club situation. Yes, he too could be a summer target if he can keep up his scoring rate and build a greater role with the United States. I still think he’s less likely to drop off from last year’s goal-scoring total and should be an ideal focal point for Cincinnati once again.
Goalkeeper of the Year
Stejskal: Blake will be great, but he’ll suffer from voter fatigue. Djordje Petrovic will also be great, and he’ll get a boost from being the hot new thing on the scene. Not a ton of people noticed because the Revs weren’t good in 2022, but they didn’t lose anything in goal after Matt Turner left for Arsenal last summer. Petrovic is the real deal — and a real candidate to get sold for a big fee down the line.
Maurer: I’m basing my pick on voters being in a bit of a vacuum and not suffering from the fatigue that Sam just mentioned. Blake will be the best keeper in the league again, and he’ll win the award again.
Abnos: My pick goes hand-in-hand with my Shield pick. Austin will need Stuver to be great, but he’s been good enough over two seasons to think he can make another leap in Year 3.
Tenorio: I thought about Petrovic, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up being sold this summer. I know he just signed a new deal, but I could still see it happening. GMs around the league love the SeanJohn to TFC move, so I was influenced heavily by that.
Newcomer of the Year
Stejskal: I really like the attention for Evander, who, according to what I’ve heard, has hit the ground running in Portland this preseason, playing well and elevating the game of his teammates. I think Gioakoumakis will beat him out for this honor, though. Atlanta’s new DP No. 9 has a strong career strike rate and should get plenty of opportunities playing in front of Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo. I think he’ll finish with 15+ goals in a bounceback year for Atlanta.
Cardenas: I’m with Sam. Giakoumakis is going to score goals in ATL. I don’t anticipate any growing pains for him. He’ll adapt quickly and benefit from Almada’s playmaking – and, hopefully for Atlanta fans, a more composed Luiz Araujo.
Tenorio: Like Sam, I’ve heard really good things about Evander, and he’s the type of player who can pile up stats to win awards in MLS.
Rueter: Evander looked good against Toronto in the Coachella Valley Invitational. So, too, did the New York Red Bulls, who even appeared to string together more than two consecutive passes from time to time! With Lewis Morgan and John Tolkin offering MLS’s best port sided attack, Vanzeir should have ample room to operate in the final third. In a year without a true headline-stealing winter signing across the league, he’s positioned well for this award.
Young Player of the Year
Stejskal: Thiago Almada is going to be doing a lot of setting up for Giakoumakis. He’ll return from his World Cup-winning winter with confidence and added ambition. I think he’ll level up in a big way.
Tenorio: Not trying to overthink this one. World Cup winner riding the high of being a part of that team has to be coming into this season with a goal of getting sold. That is going to lead to some top performances.
Cardenas: Is Almada going to be in MLS beyond the summer? I’m going to guess no. If he stays an entire season, Almada will be an MVP candidate. Talles Magno will take this award.
Rueter: Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, it’s Talles Magno time! Now in his third season, he’s well acclimated to both NYCFC coach Nick Cushing’s system and MLS as a whole. With Taty Castellanos and Héber leaving a goalscoring vacuum, and Maxi Moralez’s departure opening playmaking duties, I’d expect to see far more of Magno in the final third. Defenses be warned.
Coach of the Year
Rueter: It may surprise you that, in spite of turning a three-time defending Wooden Spoon winner into a team capable of winning an away playoff game, Pat Noonan wasn’t even a finalist for coach of the year in 2022. In some ways, picking him here feels like an honor earned for two seasons. That said, if Cincinnati makes a further leap to contend to win the East, it’ll further validate the work he and others have done to turn a one-time laughingstock into a sustainable contender.
Maurer: Noonan is widely-respected and has surrounded himself with a solid team of assistants: Kenny Arena, two-time MLS Cup winner Dom Kinnear and Ricardo Paez, who has proved to be the special sauce when it comes to connecting with Lucho Acosta and the club’s other Spanish speakers. Cincy made a run last year but it takes more than a one-off to shed the image a club sets for itself when it finishes last in the league three years in a row. If they stay healthy, I think Cincy contends in the east and Noonan will certainly be a viable choice for this award.
Cardenas: Noonan is going to have a successful coaching career beyond MLS. It’s a matter of time. As Pablo said, Cincy will be a contender in the East and Noonan’s ideas and management style will be a huge reason why.
Tenorio: I picked the Galaxy to win the West and win MLS Cup. Vanney has to be coach of the year if my other predictions hold.
USMNT interim manager Anthony Hudson is carving out his own path in America
By Paul Tenorio 4h ago2
Anthony Hudson reached his arms out to show how close the gray brick walls were, recalling the small window that was too high to look out of, and the steel bed with a dog kennel wedged into the corner of the room.
For nearly two decades, Hudson has been going into prisons to do work — first to speak and volunteer with support groups for those in alcohol or drug recovery, and now for his charity, the Forgotten Dogs Foundation, which partners with a local program in Chicago that pairs shelter dogs with inmates who train and groom the dogs. Hudson wasn’t sure what to expect when he first went to a prison program in Wilmington, N.C. in the mid-2000s.
“The biggest thing I felt, especially when I first went, was I’ve just never done anything as meaningful as this,” Hudson said. “Even if there’s one person in there that got something from us going in there, it was just, it was probably as helpful for me as anyone else.”
That work has only grown over the years. Hudson’s foundation works with a Cook County Sheriff’s Office program called Tails of Redemption that helps inmates learn how to train and groom dogs at Cook County prison, providing them a chance at a new profession while also helping rehome shelter dogs. Hudson’s foundation has raised money and donated grooming stations to the program and he is working on organizing a soccer camp for which all fees will be donated to the prison to build a bigger wing so that the program can take on more dogs. On one visit, prison guards let him see the cell of an inmate who had trained 11 dogs.
“I was speechless,” Hudson said. “I don’t know how anyone could do this.”
Across many years and multiple countries, the experiences inside the prison have stuck with Hudson after every visit. They have also helped shape his outlook on a career that has provided some stumbles of its own.
“It’s humbling,” Hudson said. “You leave there and you have a lot of gratitude for what you have.”
Three months after the World Cup, Hudson is in a position he never could have imagined: With former coach Gregg Berhalter’s contract expiring at the end of 2022, Hudson stepped into the interim role, guiding the U.S. men’s national team through an interim stage as they search for a new sporting director and possibly a new head coach. An investigation into Berhalter and sporting director Earnie Stewart’s decision to leave the federation to join PSV in Holland means the interim job will likely last longer than expected — perhaps even through this summer’s Gold Cup.
Hudson isn’t taking the opportunity for granted.
Hudson says in the midst of everything going on at the federation he sees his job as relatively narrowly-focused: get through the next international window.
After guiding the U.S. through a January camp where several new players debuted in a 2-1 loss to Serbia and 0-0 draw with Colombia, Hudson is now pivoting to a March window where he expects to call up a full-strength squad for CONCACAF Nations League games against Grenada and El Salvador.
Hudson has also been continuing important work behind the scenes, including recruitment of dual nationals — he declined to name any players other than to joke there might be “one well-known player over there” — and recently meeting with Gio Reyna in Germany.
“I think it was important for whoever is in this role, whether it’s me or someone else, the important thing now is to go and address the situation in Germany,” Hudson said. “It would be negligent of anyone who is in this role not to go and do that because he’s an important player and we need to find a solution. He is a talented, important player, a young player and it needed to be addressed.”
Hudson said the meeting with Reyna was positive.
“The way I look at it is, in (World Cup) camp, this happened. Us as a staff made a decision to take action and there was a response from the player — a positive response. The camp ended. Beyond that, I don’t see Gio’s involvement in anything. We have to look at that and go, right, that’s happened, we addressed it, there was a positive response. I have empathy for some of these younger players that are overseas and I can see the challenges in their own lives and the pressure they’re under, so I think the starting point was just to see how he was doing.
“I’m not condoning anything that’s happened, but it was more on a human level to go and see how he was, as a young kid who has been through a lot. … And then we spoke a little bit about his situation at the club, we spoke about what this next period looks like, and that was it. We didn’t want to put him under any pressure and just wanted to go and meet with him, see how he was doing and that was it. The meeting went well. The other stuff is separate from the kid, from the player.”
That Hudson is in this job at this time is a redemption story of its own.
Hudson never really considered it a choice to follow in his famous dad’s footsteps.
How could you, really, when a nightclub in Stoke has your surname on it and the likes of George Best and Alan Ball were hanging around? Or when you grow up feeling the energy of the Victoria Ground and hearing about the things your father did on the field?
“You just fall into that,” said Hudson, whose father, Alan, played more than 100 games with both Chelsea and Stoke and won a Cup Winners’ Cup with the former in 1971. “Then also coupled with that, everywhere I used to go as a kid I used to have grown men supporters come up to me in tears about what my dad did for the club and the way he played. Growing up in that, you can’t not want to be a player and want to just be in front of those fans. And so yeah, I was always obsessed growing up. My dad was my hero and I only ever wanted to be in soccer, football.”
There is an interesting dichotomy though, between the good and bad that comes with taking that family path. A last name can open doors. It can also become a burden. Hudson experienced it all. The failures to accomplish the same thing on the field as a player. The opportunities that came early in a coaching career. The whispers that you only got the job you did because of your last name.
It’s why Hudson hopped a flight to America to play in a lower-division league for the Wilmington Hammerheads. And why he felt so driven for the next job and the next job — constantly chasing the next chance to prove himself.
After working his way through the lower leagues in both the U.S. and England, Hudson eventually managed Bahrain’s under-23 team and then the Bahrain senior team before taking over the New Zealand senior team and leading them to a World Cup qualifying continental playoff in 2017, which they lost to Peru. The Seattle-born, England-raised coach then became the youngest coach in the history of the Colorado Rapids when he took that job in November 2017 at the age of 36.
Hudson’s tenure in Colorado did not go well. He finished with an 8-26-9 record and was fired after a postgame interview in 2019 in which he said his squad was “fighting at the bottom with a bottom group of players.”
Hudson looks back on his time in Colorado as maybe the most important in his career for what the failures and the mistakes taught him. From a soccer perspective, Hudson said he came in thinking he knew more about MLS than he did and that his rigid approach to how to play didn’t pay enough respect to the strengths of his roster. Mostly, his failures on the field and in front of a tape recorder taught him about how a coach’s motivations impact everything about how they manage a team.
“It was like a real kick to my ego and I think I needed it,” Hudson said. “The suffering that comes from getting fired in another country, it’s like, s—, where do you go from here now? You have to really look at yourself. I looked at the way I was, I think I was very ego driven, in the sense of I wanted to keep progressing, I was determined to do well, but it was all out of ego. And I think what that does is it affects how you coach.”
After being fired in Colorado in early 2019, Hudson got his first chance when U.S. Soccer hired him to coach the under-20 national team in January 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic completely altered that job, however, and his time working with Berhalter and the senior staff eventually led to an opportunity to work as an assistant with the senior team.
Being around the senior team and seeing Berhalter’s approach to coaching — specifically to culture — had a huge impact on Hudson.
“I’ve always been sort of a people person, I want to help players, but now it’s not about me,” Hudson said. “If I make it about me, I’m in trouble. … Now I have a better understanding of what, first of all the culture is like here (with the U.S. national team), and the mentality of players here, and you have to adapt (within a team). It was a big learning experience both for me as a person and as a coach.”
After chasing his place in the game for so long, Hudson relished the last couple years with the U.S. Before kickoffs of big games during World Cup qualifying or in Qatar, he’d nudge goalkeeper coach Aron Hyde and tell him to look around.
“How lucky are we?” he would ask.
Hudson said he couldn’t help but chuckle when his dad told him about going into a, “proper football pub” in Chelsea and making them put up American flags to support Anthony on the bench for the U.S. team at the World Cup. It felt full circle from those days growing up as Alan Hudson’s son.
“As a son, you hear all of that and you hear the excitement and it’s like, ‘Wow,’” Anthony Hudson said. “It’s amazing what this can do to people’s lives and families.”
Finding himself during this process felt like a milestone on what has been a long journey of chasing his own place in the game. Hudson clearly understands the “interim” tag in his job title, but he said he’s learned that embracing the work you have in front of you is the best way to get fulfillment in the long-term, too.
“Through all these experiences, and the Colorado one was especially significant, and as a result of that doing a lot of work on myself, I feel very fortunate, firstly to be asked to take the team right now,” he said. “I also just take things a day at a time. … I would say the me of five years ago would be like climbing and like, ‘I need to be here’ or ‘I need to use this to get there’ and banging on doors … Now I’m just a lot more calm. I’m just focused on doing a good job. … For me, it’s just trying to do the right thing and just work hard and not get carried away.”
Why Mallory Swanson is scoring so many goals for the USWNT and in NWSL
By Kimberly McCauleyMar 1, 202320
Two years ago, Mallory Swanson was left off the United States women’s national team squad for the Olympics. This year, she looks like a locked-in, first-choice starter for the USWNT for the upcoming World Cup. The Chicago Red Stars attacker has scored in every single one of her USWNT appearances this year and has eight goals in her last six national team games, including four in the SheBelieves Cup en route to a tournament MVP award.
It’s the latest development in Swanson’s roller coaster of a young career, having gone from top prospect, to dropped from the national team, to superstar by age 24.That said, it would be dishonest to not mention up front that Swanson is on the type of hot streak that no player can stay on for very long. Those eight international goals in six games have come from 3.44 expected goals (xG), which would be a pretty dramatic overperformance even for the world’s best finisher. But her 0.61 xG per 90 minutes over those games is very similar to what she put up in NWSL last season (0.58), which was well above average for an NWSL attacker (0.36).So yes, regression is incoming, but not the truly alarming kind. She really is getting world-class attacker-level chances, at a rate she didn’t for club and country in the preceding years.If you’re wondering what’s changed for Swanson recently, the answer is… a lot. Some of what she’s improved at is purely anecdotal, and some is observable, though not easily quantifiable. The thing she’s gotten a lot better at that we can actually measure is finishing quality. She’s making better runs, and she’s getting more shots, but the most dramatic difference in her game from 2021 to today is where she’s placing her shots.So briefly, the anecdotal: When Swanson was left off the Olympics roster in 2021, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski says he had a frank conversation with her about what she needed to work on, both on the field and in terms of her mentality.“That was a little bit of a wake-up call, a moment for her to decide the direction that she wanted to take,” Andonovski said after the United States’ win against Japan on Feb. 19. “I’m glad she took the direction that she did, she’s now in really good space.”HBO aired a piece during SheBelieves Cup where Swanson and her husband, Chicago Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson, talked about how she overcame that setback. Mallory gave Dansby a lot of credit for helping her to change her mental approach to becoming the best player she could be. The broadcast team and Andonovski proceeded to discuss this ad nauseam, so I apologize for bringing it up again, but if the player themselves puts a lot of weight behind the role their personal relationships played in the development of their career, it’s worth a mention.As for the observable: Swanson is demonstrably timing her runs better on counterattacks. Her goal against Japan was a great example of the difference just a half-second of superior anticipation can make.
VOLUME UP 🔊@MalPugh‘s 6th goal of 2023, as called by @AndresCantorGOL on @NBCUniverso / @peacock 🎙️ pic.twitter.com/InJtMGBTVq
— U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (@USWNT) February 20, 2023
Swanson has always had outstanding pace and dribbling ability, but two years ago, she doesn’t start sprinting that early, and not necessarily into the perfect space either. If the Mal Swanson of two years ago was on that pitch, Japan defender Shiori Miyake intercepts Alex Morgan’s pass.
Making better-timed and better-angled runs has resulted in Swanson getting more and higher quality shots off on a consistent basis in NWSL. In 2021, Swanson averaged 3.09 shots and 0.3 xG per 90 minutes for the Chicago Red Stars. In 2022, she had 4.28 shots and 0.58 xG per 90.
Swanson was actually a touch below league average in xG per 90 for forwards with more than 300 minutes played in 2021, but she jumped to 83rd percentile in 2022 — only Alex Morgan and Sophia Smith, her starting lineup mates on the USWNT, were better.
But the really dramatic change in Swanson’s game has come from the quality of her shot placement, even more so than where she’s shooting from. There’s a pretty clear difference in just her basic stats: Swanson put 50.8% of her shots on target in 2022, compared to 40.8% in 2021.
But we can get an even better idea of how well Swanson is placing her shots from her post-shot expected goals (psxG) numbers, which have seen a truly dramatic shift.
Post-shot expected goals is a measure of how likely a shot is to go in based on its placement. A 0.01 xG chance can have a post-shot xG of 0.99 if it’s rocketed into the corner, and a 0.99 xG chance has a psxG of 0 if it’s skied over the crossbar.
Like regular xG, psxG models can vary based on the depth and quality of available data, but the basic idea is the same: Looking at thousands of historical shots, what are the chances that one placed in this spot will result in a goal? This makes psxG a decent way of measuring how well attackers are finishing (and conversely, an excellent way to measure goalkeeper shot-stopping ability)
In 2021, Swanson was actually a minus shooter, with 6.17 psxG from 6.85 xG. In 2022, she was one of the best shooters in the league, with an outstanding 12.76 psxG against 8.84 xG.
NWSL total psxG-xG leaders, 2022 season
|Ebony Salmon||Dash / Racing||8.67||4.53||(+4.14)|
|Mallory Swanson||Red Stars||12.76||8.84||(+3.92)|
The shots that she used to hit right at the keeper or wide of the goal started going in the corner. Her goal above against Japan is a great example: Opta gave it an xG value of 0.34, but a psxG value of 0.99. Yes, it was a big chance, but one that only gets scored a third of the time. She placed it in a spot that no goalkeeper could save.Swanson had a few more shots exactly like this in NWSL play. This one against OL Reign was a 0.32 xG shot that Swanson placed for 0.95 psxG.
This is just unreal, @MalPugh 😱@chicagoredstars | #MKOT pic.twitter.com/YWEBidBqaf
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) June 4, 2022
Here’s another against Orlando: 0.36 xG, 0.95 psxg.
Make that 2️⃣ on the night for @MalPugh! 👏
The forward tucks her effort into the far corner for her eighth goal of the season for @chicagoredstars.#LOUvCHI | #MKOT pic.twitter.com/yBlCNZf00J
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 28, 2022
Out of Swanson’s 10 chances with a value of 0.3 xG or higher, she scored three and put eight of them on target. Of those eight, only one had a psxG value lower than the initial xG value. She beat the keeper or forced her to make a difficult save on 70% of those high-value shots. In 2021, Swanson only had five chances with an xG value that high. She put three on target, and she only had a psxG value higher than the initial xG value on one of them. She scored none.
In one year, Swanson went from being a below-average shooter to one of the world’s best. If she can keep it up during the early part of the NWSL season, she’s going to comfortably hold off all of the challengers for a starting spot on the wing for the USWNT heading into the World Cup. (Photo: Sam Hodde/Getty Images)
|Our USWNT is right back at it after a SheBelieves title for a few friendlies to tune up and finalize who should be on the roster that heads to New Zealand in July for the Women’s World Cup!|
Don’t miss out on your chance to see the best team in the world at the new St. Louis stadium and an always rocking Q2 in Austin. Read on for ticket and hotel information!
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2 cities and chapters that help create unforgettable experiences the Night Before, at the Tailgate and especially in the stands!
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|AO SECTION TICKETS|
|USWNT in Austin, TXvs. Ireland|
Date: Saturday April 8th, 2023Location: Q2 Stadium, Austin, TXTime: 1:30 PM CTMember Price: $57Section: 103Seating: Assigned SeatingTicket type: ElectronicDeadline: First-come, first-servedBUY TICKETS
|USWNT in St. Louisvs. Ireland|
Date: Tuesday April 11th, 2023Location: CITYPARK, St. Louis, MOTime: 6:30 PM CTMember Price: $62Section: 119Seating: Assigned SeatingTicket type: ElectronicDeadline: First-come, first-servedBUY TICKETS
|CONCACAF NATION’S LEAGUE TICKETS|
|Watch the USMNT defend their title in the greatest tournament in the world!|
The CONCACAF Nations League is already underway and the USMNT has two more group games to qualify for both the Gold Cup and the Nations League Finals in June. With four points from two games, the United States will need positive results against El Salvador and Grenada to secure the top spot in the group but a point against the latter would secure qualification for the Gold Cup.
ALL WE SEE IS GOLD! KINGS OF CONCACAF
|USMNT @ GRENADAMarch 24, 2023St. George’s, Grenada|
If interested in attended this game in Grenada and need a ticket, email us and let us know.
We will keep you updated when our ticket allotment is available.
EMAIL US ABOUT TICKETSUSMNT vs El SalvadorMarch 27, 2023Orlando, FL
The final game in the group stage of the CONCACAF Nations League, where we need to finish first in the group.
Date: Monday, March 27th, 2023Location: Exploria Stadium, OrlandoTime: 7:30 PM ETMember Price: $51.50Section: 25Seating: AssignedTicket type: ElectronicDeadline: First-come, first-servedGET TICKETS
|WOMEN’S WORLD CUP TICKETS|
|If you are planning to attend the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia and are still in need of tickets and want to stand with other U.S. fans and American Outlaws, we are working on our allotment and availability of more tickets for our members. Group stage games available first|
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|AO Hotel & Event Info|
USMNT vs El Salvador – Orlando – 3/27Aloft Orlando DowntownDates of stay are 3/26-3/28Rate is $249.00Cutoff is Thursday, March 16thBook your group rate for American Outlaws -USMNT vs El Salvador
USWNT vs Ireland – Austin – 4/8Renaissance Austin HotelDates of stay are 4/7-4/9Rate is $199.00 Kings and $219 Queen/QueenCutoff is Friday, March 17th Book your group rate for USSF Women’s National Team Fan Block
USWNT vs Ireland – St. Louis – 4/11Fairfield Inn St. Louis DowntownDates of stay are 4/10-4/12Rate is $134.00 King and $144 Queen/QueensCutoff is Friday, March 24thBook your group rate for American Outlaws
Alisson and Thibaut Courtois mistakes analysed by a goalkeeper who knows the feeling
Matt Pyzdrowski Feb 22, 2023
It was the 14th minute of their Champions League last-16 match and Liverpool were leading 1-0 against Real Madrid. Following a loose ball in the midfield, Madrid’s right-back Dani Carvajal quickly sent a pass back to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo frantically chased him down. However, this was no ordinary backpass that he played to his keeper, but rather a high and wildly bouncing ball that was virtually impossible to clear first time.As Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah closed in, Courtois attempted to control the ball with his chest and play it away from danger but was unable to get the ball under control. The backwards spin caused the ball to slide down his chest and bounce off his leg directly into the path of Salah, who easily poked the ball past him to give Liverpool a 2-0 lead.Madrid would get themselves back into the game over the course of the next 20 minutes despite Courtois’ error, with two goals from Vinicius Junior, the second of which came from a similar calamity at the back. This time it was Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson’s turn.It all started with a harmless through ball by Madrid from inside their own half. After the pass was unable to find Vinicius Jr running in behind, Liverpool’s Joe Gomez was first to the ball and sent a pass backwards to relieve the pressure. Rather than clear long upfield, Alisson instead tried to play out and clip the ball over the onrushing Vinicius Jr. The ball never made it over his Brazil team-mate, but instead rebounded off his body, looped up and over Alisson into the back of the net to even the score at 2-2 before half-time.It was a stark contrast from last year’s meeting in the Champions League final when two of the world’s best goalkeepers were in great form — Courtois was even awarded man of the match in Paris after to his heroics.Both situations were the type of passes that goalkeepers receive countless times during a season, and one both Courtois and Alisson would have been expected to handle with relative ease, but this time both of them got it wrong and were left embarrassed.
Liverpool and Real Madrid met as equals last season – now there is a gulf between them
Every goalkeeper in the world has to deal with making mistakes and the fallout that may follow. What makes great goalkeepers great is their ability to digest what happened, learn from mistakes and put in a stronger performance immediately. This is hard enough to do after a mistake in a random league game with not much at stake, but much more difficult with the pressure of Champions League advancement on the line.The moment a mistake like this happens, there is an instant sense of shock as you wonder to yourself, “How the hell did that just happen?”You feel like you want to throw up. If Alisson or Courtois are anything like me, they would have wanted to crawl into bed, pull the sheets over their head and wish it never happened. Every keeper has been there. It’s one of the worst feelings anyone can experience on a football pitch: that of letting your entire team down.The seconds that follow after committing an error are your lowest moments as a goalkeeper — you feel completely helpless and lonely. I wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone.
Liverpool had never conceded five goals at home in the Champions League before Tuesday night (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
One moment that still stings for me to this day was the Swedish Cup quarter-final against Gothenburg in 2015 when I played for Helsingborgs. It was only 20 seconds into the game and we were confidently controlling possession right after kick-off when our central defender received a sloppy pass from one of our midfielders, putting him under pressure from Gothenburg’s attacker. I moved across to the right side of my goal and showed myself as an outlet and demanded the ball at my feet.However, rather than receive a friendly back pass, my central defender misfired and blindly rifled the ball back across the goal and to my weaker left foot.Looking back, I could have probably let the ball fly past me and out for a corner kick and lived to fight another day, but here, I panicked. As the ball swerved away from me, I jumped and lunged with my left foot in an attempt to control it, only to have the ball fly off my foot and perfectly into the stride of Gothenburg’s forward, who was closing me down. After controlling the ball he slotted it across the face of my goal to one of his team-mates for an easy tap-in. It took less than 30 seconds and we were already 1-0 down in a massive game.I remember as the ball hit the back of the net my head turned and I attempted to come to terms with what had just happened, sunk to my knees and curled up into a ballI’ll never forget the feeling as I was lying on the grass totally distraught and in complete shock. One or two of my team-mates came to my side to comfort me, but there was nothing they could do or say to take away the pain.Despite our best efforts to rebound and get ourselves back into the game, the early goal was a mental hurdle none of us could get over, and we went on to lose 2-0. Gothenburg would end up winning the Swedish Cup that year and earned an automatic spot in the Europa League.After the final whistle, I headed straight for the locker room.“Please wake up. This can’t possibly be happening,” I remember thinking.My team-mates walked in one after another, almost everyone avoiding eye contact with me. I felt like an outcast in my own locker room. It still seems surreal. To this day I still think about what could have been had things gone differently.Once the Liverpool vs Real Madrid game was over, both goalkeepers’ jobs is to forget everything that just happened. The worst thing you can do is dwell on it, let it affect your confidence and seep into the other areas of your game. Instead, you need to continue to play the way you usually would, with the same confidence as if the mistake never happened. It’s one of the hardest things for any goalkeeper to do.
Courtois made a big mistake against Liverpool on Tuesday night (Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)
It’s often said that goalkeepers “need to have a short memory”. While it’s a phrase I’ve espoused myself in the past, the older I get, and the more I reflect on my own career, I think it’s much more accurate to say that a goalkeeper needs to have acceptance. An acceptance you will concede goals and that sometimes it will be because of your own mistakes.
As soon as a mistake happens, you can’t change it — no matter how much you would like to rewind the clock and start over. Once you can let go of the error(s) and accept it happened, you will be in a much better place to help your team. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong in the game, the best thing Alisson and Courtois can do is say, “That sucked. I know I’m better than that.” Then move on.
Usually, after matches, we hear players and coaches talk endlessly about watching replays. Analysing clips can be a wonderful tool because it allows us to see the full picture of what happened (good, bad and indifferent). This is how we reflect, digest and get better. However, it can also have the opposite effect. If you watch mistakes over and over, they can become ingrained in your memory and hard to shake.
The next day at training, their focus has to shift. Everything that happened the day before is irrelevant. It’s important they keep their talk positive and use phrases like “I can”, “I am” and “I will”. This naturally pushes their thought process in a positive direction. An example may be, “I am one of the best goalkeepers in the world and I catch everything” or “I’m a beast in the air and will dominate my box”. In Alisson and Courtois’ case, it might be “I’m comfortable and secure with the ball at my feet”.
Sometimes you may see the camera pan to the goalkeeper and they will be talking to themselves during a match. It is in these exact moments that a keeper will be muttering these positive words to help pick themselves up and also stay focused on the task at hand. A goalkeeper’s self-talk/coaching is incredibly important.
As vital as your positive talk or the hard work you put in on the training pitch is, the best way to get over the type of performance they just had will be to put in a top performance in a game of a similar magnitude the next chance you get, so they’ll both have eyes firmly on the return leg in Madrid on March 15. It does wonders for your confidence and your play as a whole to get over that mental hurdle and firmly allows you to put your past scars and shortcomings behind you once and for all.
As a fellow goalkeeper and someone who knows what it’s like to be in their shoes, I’ll be rooting for Alisson and Courtois to learn from one of the more challenging games of their career and get things right the next chance they get.
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