3/27/23 US wins 7-1 plays El Salvador Mon 7:30 TNT, Indy 11 home opener Sat vs Vegas 7 pm @ the Mike, Follow the OBC in England

USA vs El Salvador Mon 7 pm TNT, HBO Max, Peacock

So the US dominated Grenada as expected with a goal in the first 4 minutes and a 7-1 victory, McKinney and Pepi both had Braces along with complete domination with 3 assist, and a goal in a Man of the Match performance by Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic.  Highlights – highlight in proper Spanish See lots of Stories below. Coverage on TNT and HBO max & Peacock should start by 7 pm at the latest in the this game the US must tie at least to advance to the finals of the Nation’s League this summer to defend their title.

Who Shane Stars Mon

Pulisic //Dike //Zendejas

Aaronson//McKennie//Musah

Jedi///Ream, Miles Robinson/Dest

Steffan

The 24-man roster for the USMNT:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough), Matt Turner (Arsenal)

DEFENDERS (8): Sergiño Dest (AC Milan), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Tim Ream (Fulham FC), Bryan Reynolds (Westerlo), Antonee Robinson (Fulham FC), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Auston Trusty (Birmingham City)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Leeds United), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Alan Soñora (Juárez)

FORWARDS (7): Taylor Booth (Utrecht), Daryl Dike (West Bromwich Albion), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea FC), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Alex Zendejas (Club América)

Indy 11 beat Detroit City 1-0 / Season Opener Sat April 1 7 pm @ the Mike

Indy Eleven will kick off the home portion of its USL Championship campaign on Saturday, April 1, when the Boys in Blue welcome Las Vegas Lights FC for a 7:00 p.m. ET kickoff in the Circle City  The 11 used a 41st minute goal as they bested the frigid conditions and an overmatched new comer Detroit 1-0 on Saturday. Rebellon’s answer off a free kick came six minutes into the second half, with his goal straight through traffic settling inside the right corner of the net. See Full Highlights .Single-game tickets for all home games at IUPUI Carroll Stadium along with 17-game Season Ticket Memberships, specially-priced group tickets, and an increased portfolio of hospitality options are available for purchase now via indyeleven.com/tickets or by calling 317-685-1100   Full Schedule   Promotions 

So we got a chance to Tour former American Goalkeeper Timmy Howard’s Everton’s Goodison Park before they move next year to the beautiful waterfront grounds. Repping our Indy 11 !! Follow the adventures of The Ole Ballcoach in England as he prepares for Carmel FC’s first overseas trip starting this weekend.

GAMES ON TV

(American’s names in Parenthesis)

Sun, Mar 26

1 pm FS1                             Denmark vs Kahastahn  

3 pm FS2                             England vs Ukraine ?   

4 pm Para+                 Washington Spirit vs Seattle Reign

5 pm Para_                         Portland Thorns (Rapino) vs Orlando Pride

7 pm Para+                         Houston Dash vs Racing Louisville

9 pm Para+                         Angel City vs NY Gothem FC

Mon, Mar 27

2:45 pm FS +                      Netherlands vs Gibralter

3 pm FS1                             Ireland vs France  

7:30 pm HBO Max, Peacock   USA Men vs El Salvador

Tues, Mar 28

12 noon FS2                       Georgia vs Norway

2:45 pm FS1                       Turkey vs Croatia  

8 pm Para+                         Canada vs Honduras

10 pm pm Para+                Costa Rica vs Panama

April 1 Sat

CBS, 12:30 p.m.         Kansas City Current vs. Portland Thorns — NWSL

7 pm My Indy TV       Indy 11 vs Las Vegas Lights @ the Mike

Indy 11 Schedule

NWSL Schedule

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

USA 


McKennie, Pepi double as US thrash Grenada 7-1

Folarin Balogun to USMNT? Discussions with US Soccer confirmed

Player ratings: USMNT thumps Grenada in Nations League

How Balogun would fit into USMNT if he switched

U.S. had talks with Balogun over switch – Hudson 2dKyle Bonagura

How the USMNT can join FIFA’s elite tier: lessons from Belgium, Chile and others who’ve done it 2 dBill Connelly

World


Bayern Munich make Tuchel new coach after Nagelsmann firing

Mbappe and France crush Netherlands, Lukaku hits Belgium hat-trick

Gareth Southgate has solved two thirds of England’s perennial midfield problem

Harry Maguire: England not winning Euro 2024 would be failure

Can Harry Kane beat Cristiano Ronaldo’s goalscoring record? Absolutely

Harry Kane breaks Wayne Rooney’s England national team scoring record

Italy vs England player ratings: Maguire mishap, Shaw’s mad minute

Ronaldo breaks men’s international caps record, scores double

England’s James out of Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine

NWSL


This isn’t your old NWSL. As league begins 11th season, it’s poised to take off

For America Ferrera, Angel City fandom and ownership go beyond the pitch

Indy 11

Indy 11  1-0 over Detroit

Recap – TBR 1:1 IND

Oettl Named to USLC Team of the Week

 Indy Eleven to Host Open Cup Debut vs. Michigan Stars on April 5

·        USL Championship Power Rankings – Week 1

·        USL Championship Team of the Week – Week 1

·        USL Championship Fans’ Choice Save of the Week – Week 1

Season tickets

Full Schedule   Promotions 

new stadium

Indy 11 Win 1-0 in the Cold of Newcomer Detroit

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. (Saturday, March 25, 2023) – The match-up between growing USL Championship rivals Indy Eleven at Detroit City FC proved to be as rowdy as expected at historic Keyworth Stadium. Bryam Rebellón will come home the a hero after his shot from outside the six-yard box resulted in the game’s lone, securing the a 1-0 victory over Le Rouge that marked the first win of the 2023 campaign for Indiana’s Team. On an intensely windy day (30 mph, gusting to 40), it was difficult early-on for both teams to learn how to keep the ball on course. A patient, composed start set the tone early, and it was the visitors who seemed to deal better with keeping possession in the conditions. Eleven goalkeeper Yannik Oettl gained his first stop at 10 minutes as he got down low to smother a cross from DCFC’s first venture into the box. Connor Rutz for Detroit sent a shot-on-target through the net in the 12th minute but received a whistle offside to nullify the chance.The first of many yellow cards for both teams was booked on Indy’s Younes Boudadi at 14 minutes after a diving attempt to beat Detroit to the ball got messy. This seemed to set the tone for the rest of the half, as just two minutes later, Le Rouge received their first yellow when Richard Ballard challenged Cam Lindley a little too late, sending him down. Then Solomon Asante went in the book at 21 minutes with a high boot in a 50-50 challenge with Matt Lewis. Adjusting, the Eleven attempted to switch up their angle of attack, venturing more towards the right-side to adapt to both the wind conditions and DCFC’s defense.At 28 minutes, Detroit City goalkeeper Nate Steinwascher dove and made a low snare on a strong attempt by Aodhan Quinn. Shortly after was Douglas Martinez’s first yellow card for Indy after he walked away with the ball after a stoppage. The yellow haze didn’t let up as Detroit’s Yazeed Matthews sent Martinez down hard at 38 minutes, counting five yellow cards in the books in the first 40 minutes of the match, intensifying the tension at Keyworth. A strong attempt from DCFC’s Connor Rutz finished off the first half at 48 minutes, with a poke that bounced off the post and translated into a rebound shot, both deflected by Oettl, to keep the score at 0-0 heading into halftime.

Le Rouge entered back from half with another yellow booking this time on Reese Williams, much to captain Steve Carroll’s dismay. At 49 minutes, Quinn sent it dangerously close to the box on a beautiful service to midfielder Jack Blake, who sent a right-footed shot closely saved by Steinwascher. The Eleven were hungry for a goal after that close attempt, and Rebellon’s answer off a free kick came six minutes into the second half, with his goal straight through traffic settling inside the right corner of the net.

Douglas Martinez was increasingly aggressive this second half, stirring up quite a few fouls for the Le Rouge, not earning him any credit with the rowdy Detroit crowd. At 74 minutes, DCFC’s Matthews earned his consequential red card for his second yellow after a two-footed challenge on again, Martinez. Juan Tejada replaced Martinez later in the half and created a brilliant ball at 95 minutes on a counter where he sprung Asante, who drew a yellow card on Steve Carroll on the attack. The push for a goal continued to intensify for DCFC as time ran out, but once again Oettl pulled through for the Eleven with a last-minute tip save that allowed Indy to hand on to the victory.Next up, Indy Eleven will kick off the home portion of its USL Championship campaign with its Carroll Stadium opener next Saturday, April 1. The Boys in Blue will welcome Las Vegas Lights FC for a 7:00 p.m. ET kickoff in the Circle City.Single-game tickets for all home games at IUPUI Carroll Stadium along with 17-game Season Ticket Memberships, specially-priced group tickets, and an increased portfolio of hospitality options are available for purchase now via indyeleven.com/tickets or by calling 317-685-1100 during regular business hours (Mon.-Fri., 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.)

USL Championship Regular Season
Detroit City FC  0: 1 Indy Eleven
Saturday, March 25, 2023
Keyworth Stadium – Hamtramck, Mich.

Indy Eleven: 1W-0L-1D, 4 pts.
Detroit City FC: 1W-2L-0D, 3 pts.

Scoring Summary:
IND – Bryam Rebellón (unassisted) 62’

Discipline Summary:
IND – Younes Boudadi (caution) 14’
DET – Richard Ballard (caution) 16’
IND – Soloman Asante (caution) 21’
IND – Douglas Martinez (caution) 33’
DET – Yazeed Matthews (caution) 39’
DET – Rhys Williams (caution) 48’, (red card) 74’

Indy Eleven line-up (3-4-3): Yannik Oettl; Bryam Rebellón, Jesus Vazquez, Adrian Diz Pe, Younes Boudadi; Cam Lindley, Aodhan Quinn (Harrison Robledo 87’), Jack Blake; Solomon Asante (Mechack Jerome 98’), Douglas Martinez (Juan Tejada 80’), Sebastian Guenzatti

Detroit City FC line-up (4-4-2): Nate Steinwascher; Stephen Carroll, Matt Lewis, Jalen Robinson (Abdoulaye Diop 76’), Michael Bryant; Maxi Rodriguez, Tommy McCabe, Connor Rutz, Richard Ballard (Skage Simonson 67’), Rhys Williams; Yazeed Matthews

USMNT had no trouble in 7-1 rout over Grenada but the big winners were Reyna, Pulisic, MLS

2:50 AM CETKyle BonaguraESPN Staff Writer

While the United States‘ game at Grenada on Friday represented the team’s return to competitive soccer for the first time since the World Cup, the match — as expected — was anything but.Ricardo Pepi scored twice — including an early goal in the fourth minute — opening the floodgates in a 7-1 win in CONCACAF Nations League play.Weston McKennie also had two goals while Christian Pulisic played a major role with a score and a pair of assists. Brenden Aaronson and Alejandro Zendejas — making his first appearance since committing to the U.S. over Mexico — scored the other goals for a U.S. side under the charge of interim coach Anthony Hudson.Myles Hippolyte’s goal was the only consolation for the hosts.


Rapid reaction

1. Importance of MLS on display in rout

For the first time since MLS launched in 1996, an active player in the league did not feature in a USMNT game (Atlanta United‘s Miles Robinson is on the roster but was a healthy scratch). On the surface, that could come off as a negative for the league, but it’s really not.It speaks more to how the talent level is improving — a development that MLS has played a major role in. Of the 11 starters, nine came through MLS academies and only two of those players — Giovanni Reyna (NYCFC) and Weston McKennie (FC Dallas) — opted to sign their first professional contracts abroad.This cycle will continue. MLS will continue to do the lion’s share of the player development in the country, those players will move on and the national team will benefit.

2. Reyna’s midfield role a good sign

The idea of Reyna playing centrally has always been appealing. But with the trio of Yunus MusahTyler Adams and McKennie having worked so well together, Reyna in the midfield never happened. Part of that was former coach Gregg Berhalter’s preference, of course, but with Adams out of the squad due to injury, it provided an opportunity to experiment.

EDITOR’S PICKS

Reyna started as part of the midfield three in this match — along with Luca de la Torre and McKennie — and while he didn’t impact the game on the scoresheet, it was an important exercise. He dropped deep to collect the ball at times and pushed forward to play more as a No. 10.

Perhaps more important than the tactical aspect of Reyna’s game was that the game marked an important step forward from all the off-the-field noise that he’s been attached to for the last few months.

3. Capping off win with several cap-ties

After committing his international future to the United States, Alejandro Zendejas is now officially cap-tied and marked the occasion with a beautiful goal to round out the scoring after he came on as a second-half substitute. Zendejas, who made his USMNT debut in a friendly against Serbia in January, was electric against Grenada and has the potential to be a major contributor.

Midfielder Johnny Cardoso was also cap-tied when he entered in the second half, though his impact on the game wasn’t as pronounced. Auston Trusty, who has impressed with Birmingham City this season, also made his USMNT debut, partnering with his former Philadelphia Union teammate Mark McKenzie (whose now at Genk). Attacker Taylor Booth also received his debut and is cap-tied, as he was eligible to play for Italy.


Best and worst performers

Best: Christian Pulisic, FW, USA.
Pulisic was, by far, the best player on the field. Grenada was completely overmatched all over the field, but it was especially noticeable when the ball was at the captain’s feet. He had two official assists, a (soft) goal and delivered another ball in that led to a goal in an easy night at the office.

Best: Ricardo Pepi, FW, USA.
After not being selected to the World Cup roster, Pepi’s return to the team showcased why his future remains so bright. He scored a pair of goals and appears to be back on the right track.

Best: Weston McKennie, MF, USA.
McKennie in the box remains one of the team’s best weapons. He also scored two goals.

Worst: Benjamin Ettienne, DF, Grenada.
Had a tough time with the U.S. playing down the left.

Worst: Jason Belfon, GK, Grenada.
Seven goals is seven goals. The one he conceded to Pulisic was particularly bad.

Worst: Kwazim Theodore, MF, Grenada.
It’s a bit harsh to single out Grenada players here, but Theordore had a rough go.


Highlights and notable moments

Plenty of goals to choose from this lopsided scoreline, but Weston McKennie’s first on the night was a nice display of athleticism.Christian Pulisic was a force in the first half, wrecking havoc on the wing which led to two assists. He finally got on the scoreboard soon after the break. With 23 international goals, he is one shy of tying Joe-Max Moore for sixth most on the USMNT all-time scorers list.Alejandro Zendejas, who was the subject of a recruiting battle between the USMNT and Mexico, scored his first of his international career and the last on the evening of the visitors.


After the match: What the players/managers said

USA interim coach Anthony Hudson, on the win: “A performance and a result like this can be — you don’t want to get carried away. The importance for us is just to make sure that we do all the right things between now and the next game and we finish the job off. But the actual performance, I thought it was the result of just a really, really good week.

“With the utmost respect to our opposition, we just felt that the defining factor was gonna be focus and mentality. And I think that part of it we were pleased with.”

Hudson, on Christian Pulisic’s performance: “I just can’t speak highly enough of the character of this person who not only is a talented player, but someone that I can assure you, he just absolutely loves playing for his country. He is inspiring to the rest of the group.”

Pulisic, on the victory: “We knew that they weren’t just gonna lay down and let us beat them. That’s why the early goal was important. We came out really strong with a lot of energy and just kind of put with them right away. So I think they were kind of surprised by that. Took our goals well and just a great all around performance. Definitely gives us confidence. And now we want to go and win this next one against El Salvador.”


Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

– With Atlanta’s Miles Robinson a healthy scratch, it was the USMNT’s first competitive match without using a single MLS player since the league began in 1996.

– The USMNT’s win makes it five in as many games vs. Grenada, which breaks a tie with Barbados for most games played with a 100% record.

– It was the fifth time the USMNT had scored seven in a game — the most they have ever scored was eight (vs. Cayman Islands in 1993 and vs. Barbados in 2008).


Up next

Grenada: This was their only game of the international window and their Nations League group stage campaign is complete. They’ll finish last behind El Salvador and the United States, and will next be in action for the Gold Cup qualifiers in July.

United States: Taking on El Salvador in Orlando on Monday to see who’ll win Group A and book a spot in the Nations League semifinals in Las Vegas in June. Friday’s win also secured the USMNT an automatic place for the Gold Cup.

USMNT analysis

ASN Thoughts: USMNT routs Grenada 7-1 in Nations League

The USMNT pounded Grenada 7-1 in the Nations League and ASN’s Brian Sciaretta jots down a few thoughts. 

BY BRIAN SCIARETTAPOSTED MARCH 25, 20232:05 AM

THE UNITED STATES is one step closer to clinching an expected spot back in the Nations League semifinal following Friday’s 7-1 pounding of a mostly semipro/amateur Granada team. Now all the U.S. team needs is a draw against El Salvador on Monday to clinch advancement.There isn’t much to take away from this game. Granada clearly doesn’t have the ability to play with a World Cup caliber opponent and this game was like last year’s 5-0 win in Austin. It was never in doubt and trying to draw conclusions from this game is misleading.But here are some big pictures thoughts on the game.

WINNING EARLY

The best way for heavily favored teams to avoid a stressful game is just to go out and score early to eliminate the other team’s hope. That’s exactly what happened here. Four minutes in, Christian Pulisic crosses to Ricardo Pepi for a goal. From there, Grenada had to take risks and that gave the U.S. team more openings.

PULISIC MOTM

 

Christian Pulisic came out and owned the game from the opening minutes. He continues to be such a consistent performer for the U.S. team. No matter the opponent, or the tournament, Pulisic delivers on the international stage.Inside of the first 31 minutes, Pulisic assisted on Pepi’s goal, scored, and then sent in a free kick that eventually resulted in a Weston McKennie goal. Then in the 34th, he sent in another free kick that found Auston Trusty who then headed to McKennie for a 4-1 lead.Everything dangerous early in the game, when it mattered most, came from Pulisic.

THE TRAILING RUNNER

 

Grenada scored an unexpected goal in the 31st minute when Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong moved the ball down the right side of the box and found a trailing runner in Myles Hippolyte who then beat Matt Turner. Goals like this happen but it was eerily a reminder of the goal Dutch attacker Memphis Depay scored against the United States at the World Cup in the round of 16 knockout. In that goal, Tyler Adams failed to pick up Depay on the run.Obviously, Adams wasn’t in this game but this one should have been picked up by Luca de la Torre or Weston McKennie. But for the United States, this is something that is a little bit of a concern right now in picking up trialing runners.

CAP-TYING & NEWCOMERS

 

By virtue of playing in this game, three dual nationals were cap-tied to the U.S. national team. Johnny Cardoso (Brazil), Taylor Booth (Italy), and Alejandro Zendejas (Mexico) were cap-tied. All three came off the bench and for Cardoso and Booth, it was an uneventful game. Zendejas scored the team’s final goal in the 73rd minute.s for newcomers, it was the first cap for Booth and central defender Auston Trusty who wasn’t tested defensively in the game.

ALL ABROAD

One talking point was that this was the first game the U.S. national team played without any MLS players since the league started. As was noted when the roster came out, with MLS playing through this window, U.S. interim manager Anthony Hudson opted to let most MLS-based players remain with their clubs and instead use them next month for the Mexico friendly.That being said, seven of the team’s 11 players were former MLS homegrown players. Another two, Gio Reyna and Weston McKennie, spent substantial time in MLS academies. In total, nine players who played form the USMNT against Grenada played in MLS and have been sold collectively in their career for nearly $100 million. When the league took a more selling approach, this was always the goal – big value and players who would move on to keep pushing up.But more young players will continue to emerge from within the league – which is critical.

USMNT player ratings: Pulisic dominates in Grenada rout

Jason Anderson  follow March 24, 2023 10:41 pm ET

The U.S. men’s national team was supposed to handle Grenada with ease, and it turns out that’s exactly what they did.Returning to CONCACAF Nations League play for the first time since June 2022, the USMNT steamrolled the Spice Boys, scoring early and often in a 7-1 victory.Just knowing the scoreline, even a person that didn’t see the game could probably divine some of the ratings here. Christian Pulisic was dominant from kickoff, Weston McKennie conjured up two goals, and Alex Zendejas marked his becoming cap-tied to the team with a goal. If you’re a USMNT fan, it was a fun Friday night.With that in mind, our ratings for a game that was never particularly close:

GK: Matt Turner – 7

You saw the score, so you know Turner wasn’t that busy on the night. Still, he had one key stop: a top-drawer seventh minute save to deny Jacob Agyepong. It might not seem like much, but the score at the time was 1-0, and an early goal might have bolstered Grenada and made this more difficult than it needed to be.

The Arsenal ‘keeper couldn’t do much about Myles Hippolyte’s goal, which came from an open shot struck venomously through traffic, and beyond that was sure and steady on some long-range shots and in possession.

RB: Bryan Reynolds – 6.5

The Westerlo defender’s first cap since December 2021, and his first-ever USMNT start, was a bit of a mixed bag. He was beaten on the move that that ended with that aforementioned Turner save, and he had a few first-half moments where his positioning wasn’t what it needed to be.

However, he improved in the second half, getting into more promising attacking positions and allowing the USMNT to threaten from both flanks more than they did in the first half (scroll down for Joe Scally’s rating to see how comically left-sided the U.S. was in the first half).

Reynolds wasn’t able to provide a killer final ball from those promising spots, but he was getting into them, and had arguably his best moment of the game undone by a narrow offside call near the Grenada endline later in the match.

RCB: Mark McKenzie – 7

Reunited with former Union academy teammate Auston Trusty, McKenzie looked at ease in a game that was, frankly, easy for the center backs.

Neither the goal nor the Agyepong chance had anything to do with him, and as the more experienced center back, he kept things stable and straightforward. Job done.

LCB: Auston Trusty – 7

Trusty’s first senior cap saw him set McKennie up with a cushioned header as the score ballooned to 4-1 in the 34th minute. He might take some heat for not closing the cutback from Romar Frank on Hippolyte’s goal, but the error on that play came further up the field. Trusty was trying to put out a fire that he hadn’t started, but was left with too much ground to make up.The Birmingham City man, like McKenzie, just took care of business in a game where mistake avoidance and moving the ball along quickly were what mattered.

LB: Joe Scally – 7.5

Scally was so, so, so involved in the first half. Some of that was obvious, as he repeatedly connected with Pulisic, but he was clearly a hub for the entire USMNT in possession.The USMNT managed to share the ball more evenly between the flanks as the game wore on, but Scally’s first half was the platform for a lot of what Pulisic did to utterly dominate this game.It wasn’t flashy, but it was really high-level work for the Borussia Mönchengladbach defender.

RCM: Weston McKennie – 8

Starting alongside Luca de la Torre in a 4-2-3-1, McKennie was solid and stable for the first half hour, then delivered his typical dominance on set pieces with a three-minute braceFirst, he didn’t quite win the header, but did superbly to land from his jump and use his athleticism to uncork an audacious volley home in the 31st minute. Then, just after Grenada had scored a goal of their own, McKennie showed more resourcefulness to poke the ball past Jason Belfon after Trusty’s knockdown header at the far post.From there, McKennie kept possession ticking over as is needed against lower-level opposition before being replaced by Yunus Musah in the 57th minute. Not bad at all.

LCM: Luca de la Torre – 6.5

The Celta Vigo midfielder had a up-and-down showing. On the positive side, his disguised pass in the 49th minute teed Pulisic up to make it 5-1, and his through ball for Pepi to make it 6-1 was pure class. That vision and ability to weigh his passes makes him an excellent No. 8, and served as a reminder of what he can do in the positions he normally occupies.

On the other hand, he lost Frank in what was the key USMNT mistake on Hippolyte’s goal, and it highlighted the problem of asking a natural No. 8 to function as a No. 6. De la Torre’s defensive reactions are just a split-second slow, because he’s not used to the order of his priorities in this role. The awareness of runners needed is not quite as crucial in his actual position, and that showed in this game.

But is that his fault? This was something we pretty much already knew, and while the stakes weren’t exactly high in this game, de la Torre’s momentary letdowns were hardly a shock. The assists were great, but the defensive recognition shown in this one removes de la Torre as an option at this position against stronger opposition.

RW: Brenden Aaronson – 7.5

Aaronson started as the team’s nominal right winger, though he and Gio Reyna showed lots of comfort swapping spots on the fly.

That helped Aaronson get his goal, as he drifted all the way to the left half-space to receive the ball from Pulisic, then burst into the box to fire home the second USMNT goal.

In the second half, Aaronson spent some time as the No. 10 after Reyna was substituted, and was more regularly influential. His hard work, even with a five-goal lead, turned essentially nothing into a sixth goal as he teed Alex Zendejas up for a goal.

Shortly thereafter, Aaronson nearly repeated that trick in a flowing transition move, but Belfon did well to stop Zendejas’ low effort after the Leeds midfielder’s cutback.

AM: Gio Reyna – 6.5

After the many controversies, most of which didn’t even directly involve Reyna, the Dortmund man was deployed in the No. 10 role. If you believe certain corners of USMNT Twitter, this was the formation that Gregg Berhalter should have deployed against every opponent at the World Cup. The idea was to build the team around Reyna, choosing individual talent over how well the pieces fit together.

On the night, at least, Reyna produced a bit of a lukewarm performance. It’s not that he was poor, and obviously the team won 7-1. It’s just that Reyna showed flashes of danger without actually coming up with the final ball, shot, or dribble.

While it’s not apples to apples to compare how he did to how Aaronson fared in the same position later in the match — Aaronson certainly benefitted from an exhausted, demoralized opponent in a way that Reyna didn’t — it must be noted that the USMNT were more goal-dangerous with the Leeds man in this space.

Still, Reyna can and will play better than this, and on a night where the gameplan was all about feeding Pulisic, some of the issue at play here was just the ball being moved away from him and towards someone else. Reyna worked hard, was brave enough to welcome the ball even in tight spaces, and did contribute.

LW: Christian Pulisic – 9

Captaining the team in Tyler Adams’ absence, Pulisic made sure this game never turned into a tricky contest. He picked up two early assists, setting Ricardo Pepi up for a point-blank header in the fourth minute and then feeding Brenden Aaronson in the 21st.

It could have been more: his best pass of the early stages of the game saw him float a lob over the Grenada back four to find Pepi, who likely should have buried the 13th minute chance. Later, while he couldn’t claim an assist on either goal in McKennie’s quick-fire brace, his well-placed free kick service created both chances.

Pulisic got lucky to get on the scoresheet, as his 49th minute shot somehow squirmed away from Belfon before bobbling over the line. Still, he had done well to angle his run perfectly, making this a classic “make your own luck” goal.

Anthony Hudson took some mercy on Grenada and withdrew Pulisic just beyond the hour mark, or we could have had our first-ever 10 rating in Pro Soccer Wire history.

ST: Ricardo Pepi – 7.5

Pepi’s excellent form at Groningen continued as he snapped a header from point-blank range to score in the fourth minute.

While he did less well with his next look, firing right at Belfon in the 13th minute after a beautiful ball from Pulisic, he made up for it with a well-timed run that turned de la Torre’s wonderful pass into a sixth goal in the second half.

For spells, the USMNT was so heavily looking to Pulisic and Scally that Pepi’s job was to occupy defenders rather than be the main threat, which he did well. A showing to build on, particularly as he was clinical early in both halves.

Coach: Anthony Hudson – 7.5

Is it harsh, after a 7-1 win, to not go higher here? Especially after the USMNT rotated heavily — only three World Cup starters were in the eleven tonight — Hudson will probably wonder what he has to do to get a higher rating.In any case, the choice to rotate for this game and prioritize El Salvador (the better opponent, and also the only must-not-lose match in this window) was correct, and the team that took the field justified the interim boss’ faith by eviscerating the Spice Boys. They were engaged from the jump, and made sure this game didn’t devolve into an ugly, CONCACAF-style grind.Furthermore, the left-side tilt felt intentional, and allowed Pulisic to thoroughly dominate the game. Setting up a plan that lets your best player be his best is pretty much what coaches are supposed to do, and Hudson did it well.That said, playing de la Torre in a defensive role did not work particularly well, which can’t be seen as much of a surprise. Though there will be arguments that the experiment was worth a try, asking him to play as a No. 6 seems like a misdiagnosis of his skill-set.

Sub: Yunus Musah – 6.5

Musah came into a game that was essentially over in the 57th minute, replacing McKennie. His job was to basically just manage this game and see it out without drama, and he quietly did exactly that. Musah smartly managed to get the ball off his feet without getting caught by any late tackles, and helped the USMNT spend long spells camped out in Grenada’s half.

Sub: Daryl Dike – 6

Dike replaced Pepi in the 57th, and while he worked hard, he wasn’t quite able to get involved in the game. He did offer some typical industry to make room for others, mainly Alex Zendejas, but the sacrificial role wasn’t all that difficult due to Grenada’s inability to deny the USMNT space between the lines.

Sub: Alex Zendejas – 7.5

The Club América man replaced Pulisic in the 64th minute and became cap-tied to the USMNT, which means the team finalized a recruitment victory over their biggest rival while also thrashing Grenada.He then showed why both U.S. Soccer and Mexico were pursuing him, producing a surgical 23-yard shot to make it 7-1 after Aaronson’s hustle kept an attack going.Zendejas had two more dangerous shots after that, but on both occasions Belfon came up with excellent saves to deny him. The hype turned out to be the reality for Zendejas, who seems ready to be a factor no matter how close to full strength the U.S. squad is.

Sub: Taylor Booth – 6.5

Booth made his USMNT debut replacing Reyna in the 64th minute, playing wide right while Aaronson moved inside. He took up some smart positions to connect passes and help the USMNT manage the game, but we didn’t get to see that many of the things that have brought him attention with FC Utrecht.Given the circumstances, and the fact that the USMNT’s left-sided players were able to find far more space to operate in, Booth had to simply help the group out, keep possession flowing, and avoid mistakes. He delivered on that front, and will probably show more against a foe that isn’t so obviously lacking on the opposite flank.

Sub: Johnny Cardoso – No rating

Like Zendejas, Cardoso’s entry as a substitute cap-tied the Brazilian-American. He replaced de la Torre in central midfield in the 75th minute, but really didn’t have much to do in a game that was completely wrapped up by the time he came in.

2023 CONCACAF Nations League; USA v Grenada: What We Learned

The USMNT got back into the 2023 CONCACAF Nations League with a commanding 7-1 win over Grenada. Here’s What We Learned.

By Adnan Ilyas@Adnan7631  Mar 26, 2023, 12:26pm PDT  

United States v Grenada: Group D - CONCACAF Nations League

The United States Men’s National Team went down to St. George’s in Grenada for the team’s third match for this edition of the CONCACAF Nation’s League group stage and walked away with a dominant 7-1 result. The goals came early and quickly. Ricard Pepi headed home a cross from Christian Pulisic in the 4th minute to grab the lead. Goals from Brendan Aaronson and Weston McKennie brought the score to three, before Grenada took advantage of a switched-off US side to grab a goal and bring the side to 3-1. However, the goal ultimately merely served as a footnote as the Americans continued to score. McKennie scored a second to close out the half. After the break, goals from Christian Pulisic, Pepi (his second), and substitute Alejandro Zendejas brought the game to 7-1. It was a dominant and confident showing for the USMNT. They will close out the Nations League group stage on Monday, March 27, for a home match v. El Salvador. So long as the team can manage a draw, they will advance to the Nations League finals over the summer.

Going into the new World Cup cycle, the single major question hanging over the USMNT program is over who the new management will be. The absences of a sporting director and a permanent manager unfortunately give every game a kind of asterisk as things will necessarily change once the positions are filled.

However, there are still a few positional needs that clearly need to be addressed:

  • Identify positions where players may need to be phased in/out
  • Clarify the depth at Left Back
  • Fill out the midfield depth chart
  • Identify a starter at striker

Did we learn anything about any of these issues? Well, despite the low level of opposition and the flux at the management level, we kind of got some data points about at least some of these points. Let’s get into it.

New Blood

A new World Cup Cycle means, of course, transitioning players in and transitioning players out. Players get older. For younger players, the passage of time brings the potential for maturation and sophistication. But for older players, it means a potential decline. Every national team program needs to manage this transition. And failure to do so can create significant problems (an aging squad was part of the problem in the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup).


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With that said, the following players from the 2022 World Cup will be over 30 by the tournament 2026:

Tim Ream (Will be 39 by June 11, 2026)
Sean Johnson (38)
Walker Zimmerman (34)
Aaron Long (34)
DeAndre Yedlin (33)
Matt Turner (32)
Cristian Roldan (32)
Jordan Morris (32)
Kellyn Acosta (31)

We might as well add the following two players who played during qualifying:

Paul Arriola (32)
Jordan Pefok (31)


Now, not all of these players will need to be phased out. Depending on position and play style, individual players may maintain a high level of ability as they age, even into their late 30’s. For instance, at 35, Tim Ream managed to not only go to his first ever World Cup with the US, but he proved to be one of the team’s most consistent and influential players at the tournament. In particular, I expect Matt Turner will remain an influential figure through this cycle.

With that said, some of these players will decline, while young players will improve and being to more seriously compete for spots. A transition does still need to be made, and this game served to start some of that. Yes, the competition is not good. But this does give a chance for players to get familiar with the program and develop chemistry.

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Auston Trusty and Taylor Booth each received their first caps, while a further 4 players with under 5 caps played. Those spots were concentrated in defense, with Trusty, Bryan Reynolds, and Joe Scally playing. Which makes sense given that defense is where players aging out is the biggest issue. On the other hand, this gave Scally room to grow into a potential Left back role that I mentioned earlier. All told, I would say it was a good-fine performance for everyone, though, given the competition, I don’t really have anything of note to say about them in particular.

Reyna at Midfield

I do have something to say about Gio Reyna, however.

The kid has come under the microscope with his parent’s meddling causing and then becoming the subject of a USSF investigation, even as young Gio has seen his minutes limited with his club, Burussia Dortmund. As for his status with the national team is concerned, I think the best approach is to defer to the coaching staff. Ultimately, what is best for the team is to manage the locker room and young Reyna’s relationship with the team and the other players. And the staff are by far the best ones to make that call.

Now, as for how Reyna played…

This game marked the start of Reyna’s career as a Center Attacking Mid, at least with the USMNT. Many have long called for Reyna to be fielded in this position given his play-style and his occasional* appearances at the spot with his club. And having Reyna as an option at midfield is useful as that gives the team a potential different look and fills out the depth chart at a spot of need. However, I have long been a skeptic of this potential position swap for several reasons.

*WhoScored lists Reyna as having played as a left or right sided attacking midfielder this season, never as a central player. I don’t know what to tell you.

Now, how did this positional wrinkle play out?

Well, he definitely was in attacking spots on the field and not on the wings. I’ll say that much.

Passing position for the USMNT, retrieved from MLSsocer.com. Gio Reyna is #7, Aaronson 11, Pepi 9, Pulisic 10, McKennie 8, de la Torre 14.

This pass map isn’t bad, per se. Rather, it hints at limitations of what Reyna brought to the role. To back up for a second, the important context here is that this was a one-sided rout. All the starting attacking players got goals or assists.

Ricardo Pepi scored twice.
Christian Pulisic got a goal and 2 assists (3 if you want to include McKennie’s first goal) and set up another 2 with set piece delivery
Brendan Aaronson scored once
Weston McKennie got two goals off of set pieces
Luca de la Torre got 2 assists
Alex Zendejas scored once as a substitute

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That is every single starting attacking or midfield player (plus a substitute) on the score sheet … except Reyna.

Indeed, Reyna registered no shots, nor did he have any tackles. For me, Center Attacking Midfielders are all about registering assists and goals. They are there to be a direct or indirect goal threat. And Reyna just wasn’t, even though everyone around him was. While Reyna combined fine with the players around him, he didn’t advance play towards goal. He didn’t really set his teammates up into space. And he didn’t use his own personal skill to create chances.

Actually, the goal by Brenan Aaronson really stood out to me for this.

Aaronson received the ball in the middle of the field, exactly where Reyna ought to be. Aaronson found a pocket of space with a bit of skill and then rifled home a shot… which is basically exactly what Reyna’s skill set is. I would comfortably say that Reyna is better at this exact kind of play. Yet it’s Aaronson finding the space and linking up and scoring, not Reyna.

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The way that Reyna plays in general with the national team is that he generally floats around, position-less. It doesn’t really matter to him where he’s actually supposed to be, the position are more like suggestions to him. In general, he moves towards the ball and asks to have it on his feet.

When Reyna plays as a winger, usually on the right for the US, this means he comes inside. This naturally transforms the team’s midfield trio into a quartet, giving more options in the middle of the field to hold possession and build towards goal. But when Reyna is already in the midfield, you don’t get that extra player pinching in to create a numbers advantage. In this game, Reyna’s penchant to try and get on the ball actually created something of a problem as you can see on the pass map. Instead of being actually in the middle, he’s pinched towards Christian Pulisic on the left. In turn, Aaronson is coming way into the middle of the field, essentially covering Reyna’s spot. In this game, this doesn’t matter as Grenada is not able to do much of anything to even block the US from going up the field. But against a better team, with only the right back left to provide width, that kind of narrowness will make it easier for the opposition to block the USMNT.

Yeah, ok, Reyna didn’t have the best attacking performance and it didn’t show up on the score sheet. So what?

Well, that is only one problem. Reyna is also not a great link-up player. At center midfield, you want players who can connect the midfield lines with the attacking ones. And the problem here is that the other players are consistently bypassing Reyna to get to Pulisic. Both McKennie and de la Torre have more passes to Pulisic than to Reyna, and frankly, it’s not particularly close. What you want is for your attacking midfielder to serve as a platform that allows the attacking players to get on the ball inside the final third. But here, Pulisic is doing that, not Reyna. And that begs the question, what is Reyna doing on that spot of the field? What is the point of playing him there if he is not generating attacking momentum, if he’s not serving as a connector between the midfield and attack, and he’s not aggressively pressing and defending?

It bears repeating, this is but one game, against one well-overmatched opponent. This is a data point, not a conclusion. Maybe Reyna will be an excellent midfield player in the future. But this game was evidence that suggests otherwise.

Closing Thoughts

This game marked a triumphant return for Luca de la Torre. de la Torre didn’t play at all in the World Cup despite making the squad, presumably due to an injury he was recovering from. However, this game was a welcome display of talent. This team needs more dependable options at midfield, and seeing de la Torre succeed again is a welcome sight indeed.

Man, does Alejandro Zendejas look fun. This game officially cap-tied the player to the US. Zendejas was heavily pursued by Mexico, who even fielded him for two senior team friendlies, breaking FIFA rules in the process. Zendejas was rewarded for his choice with the first goal of his international career. Winger is the USMNT’s deepest position, with Pulisic, Reyna, Aaronson, and the injured Tim Weah all competing for just two spots. But at 25, Zendejas fits right into that age-profile with Pulisic, Adams, and McKennie. With Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola, and Cristian Roldan all entering their 30’s before the next World Cup, this might be Zendejas’ opportunity to take one of their spots.

Ricardo Pepi got back into scoring form with 2 in this game. These were his first goals since scoring two against Jamaica all the way back in October 2021. Striker remains the biggest question mark out of all the positions and I would personally love to see a rejuvenated Pepi make that spot his own. That said…

The US and Anthony are apparently going recruiting…

Folarin Balogun, striker for French club Reims on loan from Arsenal, would instantly be a candidate for USMNT striker. I, of course, plead caution — and respect — when it comes to dual nationals. But there seems to be a lot of smoke and it’s kinda getting a bit warm here.

Even as this camp is underway, MLS is still playing and American players are putting up performances. This camp clearly served as a chance for foreign-based players to get a look in what otherwise are not the biggest of tests. Only Miles Robinson, who did not play v. Grenada, was called up from MLS. At the same time, you have players in MLS performing well. Brandon Vazquez scored his first goal, while Jordan Morris scored 4 (!!!!) times. We presumably will get another look at some of these players when the US plays a friendly v. Mexico for a non-FIFA date in April.

Congratulations go to Anthony Hudson for marking his first win as Head Coach of the USMNT, and in a competitive match, too. That must be a big honor for the English American coach, never mind the interim tag.

The USMNT returns for a match v. El Salvador on Monday, A win or a draw would be enough to make a return to the Nations League knockout rounds.

Christian Pulisic, USMNT dominant in 7-1 win over Grenada: What’s next?

Nov 21, 2022; Al Rayyan, Qatar; United States of America forward Christian Pulisic (10) looks on against Wales during the second half during a group stage match during the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

By Paul Tenorio Mar 24, 2023


Star winger Christian Pulisic was involved in five of the U.S. men’s national team’s seven goals as it left little doubt in a dominant 7-1 win over Grenada on Friday night in the CONCACAF Nations League.

It will be difficult to read too much into the result for the U.S. The highest club level in Grenada’s starting lineup was winger Regan Charles-Cook, who plays in the Belgian first division. Other teammates play in England’s League Two, the third division, and others play at a semi-professional level. They proved no match for a U.S. team that started several of its biggest stars, including Premier League players Weston McKennieBrenden Aaronson and Pulisic, all of whom scored, and a striker who was sold for $20 million, Ricardo Pepi, who netted twice.

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It was the first time in program history that the U.S. scored seven goals in a game away from home, according to Opta.

The U.S. defeated this Grenada side 5-0 at home last June, and Friday’s game was similarly out of reach. The U.S. had the ball for long stretches of the game and Pulisic caused havoc on his side of the field. He assisted Pepi for the game’s opening goal on a cross in the fourth minute, found Aaronson for the second goal in the 20th, drew a free kick and provided the service for McKennie’s first goal in the 31st and then sent in another set piece in the 34th minute that led to McKennie’s second and a 4-1 lead for the U.S. at the half.

Pulisic scored four minutes into the second half to cap his dominant performance and Pepi made it 6-1 four minutes later. Pulisic exited a few minutes after the hour mark. Alejandro Zendejas netted his first goal for the U.S. in the 73rd minute to put an exclamation mark on the night, curling a shot from outside the box to complete the scoring.

With the result, the U.S. needs only a home draw against El Salvador on Monday to advance to the Nations League semifinals in June.

How did Gio Reyna play?

Reyna got the start against Grenada, his first with the U.S. since Sept. 27, 2022, against Saudi Arabia.

Reyna was immediately inserted into the first XI by interim manager Anthony Hudson in the first official international window since the World Cup. Reyna was nearly sent home by the sporting staff in Qatar due to his approach to training ahead of the team’s first match, but eventually ended up playing a substitute role against England and the Netherlands in Qatar.

Since the World Cup, Reyna and his family have been at the center of a major controversy involving former U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter. Reyna has not yet spoken to the media this week, but Hudson and U.S. teammates said the 20-year-old has reintegrated smoothly into the team during training in Orlando.

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“I think the biggest thing for us as a leadership and all the guys in camp is to see that he’s working hard, training hard, that he’s wanting to be here,” veteran center back Tim Ream said. “And up to this point it’s been nothing but positive.”

Reyna started in a central role for the U.S. against Grenada and played 64 minutes before being subbed out for Taylor Booth. The Dortmund midfielder didn’t get much of the game against Grenada, with much of the action found in space out on the wings as Grenada sat deep and tried to absorb pressure.

There was excitement, though, for Reyna simply to get a run in a central role after playing as a winger in the previous cycle.

“We wanted to give (Gio) a little bit more freedom,” Hudson said. “I think when you see Gio receiving the ball in between the midfield and the defensive line facing forward, (he’s an) amazing, incredibly dangerous player. … I thought he played really well tonight.”

What’s next?

The U.S. will face El Salvador on Monday in Orlando in the deciding game of the Nations League group. The U.S. has never lost or tied at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium and will look to get a result against Los Cuscatlecos to secure its spot in the semifinals.

The U.S. will likely look a bit different in Monday’s game. Hudson opted for a younger back line against Grenada, likely expecting to face very little pressure. Joe ScallyMark McKenzieAuston Trusty and Bryan Reynolds started on Friday, and it’s likely veterans like Antonee Robinson, Tim Ream, Miles Robinson and Sergiño Dest will get starts against El Salvador.

The U.S. got a 1-1 draw on the road in El Salvador in a Nations League game in June and has lost just once to them in competition — a 2-0 friendly defeat in 1992.

A result will allow the U.S. to continue the defense of the inaugural Nations League title it won last year with a thrilling 3-2 win over Mexico. The semifinals and finals will be held in Las Vegas on June 15 and June 18, respectively.

Required reading

When it comes to the USMNT coach, it really doesn’t matter who takes the gig

Mar 24, 2023

  • Ryan O’HanlonESPN.com writer

In the eyes of many a United States Men’s National Team fan, the ideal future looks something like this:

The United States Soccer Federation finally learns the right lesson from the Jurgen Klinsmann era. Rather than retreat inward and fill the USMNT apparatus with former USMNT-ers who’ve never achieved the success that the fans want this team to achieve, they give the keys to an outsider — just, you know, an outsider who isn’t completely clueless and actively destructive in the same way that Klinsmann was. They hire, say, someone like Carlo Ancellotti or perhaps Mauricio Pochettino or maybe Jose Mourinho or, I don’t know, if you want to get wild, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp.

The specific name is less important than the archetype: a well-respected, supremely successful manager with a European background. With someone who has succeeded in a Big Five European league and won games in the Champions League, the most talented generation of American soccer players would be trained and then arranged on the field in a way that would finally allow these precocious stars to compete with the Frances and Brazils of the world. Throw in some home-field advantage in 2026, and hey: Why can’t they win the whole thing?

While the 2026 World Cup will be the USMNT’s best-ever chance at making a deep run in the tournament, it won’t be because they hire a big-name manager. Of course, they need to hire someone: Anthony Hudson, a Gregg Berhalter assistant and former Colorado Rapids manager, is the interim coach for these CONCACAF Nations League games against Grenada and El Salvador, and who knows beyond that.

But given the recent history among the top national teams in the world, a star coach isn’t realistic. It also probably wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Who manages the major national teams?

To briefly defend the completely unrealistic expectations among a large part of the USMNT fanbase, the USSF does have a lot of money. The USMNT managerial gig could be one of the highest-paid coaching positions in international soccer — if the federation wants it to be. Money might not be the main driver for every coach, but it’s typically one of the major factors in determining who gets to hire whom.

Given that, I’d say there are nine jobs that are clearly more prestigious/better than the USMNT coaching job. Let’s run through each one and look at who the current coach is and the two guys who came before him. (We’re including only current coaches and then two prior coaches who managed at least 15 matches.) This should give us a better sense of what a realistic hire for the USMNT would be.

Brazil (no. 1 in FIFA rankings)

– Manager: Ramon Menezes (interim, hired in 2023)
– Preceded by: Tite (2016-22), Dunga (2014-16)

“Brazil manager” is the job that the most delusional USMNT supporters think the U.S. job is and, well, Brazil is the team that most resembles what the USMNT might be had this country really played soccer for the past 100-plus years. It’s a massive, soccer-obsessed country with more talent than anywhere else in the world. And yet, Brazil has never had a foreign-born manager.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLigaBundesliga, more (U.S.)

Rumors of Pep Guardiola taking over some day continue to persist, and Brazil would fit the mold of all the other teams Guardiola has coached: uber-talented sides that he took from one of the best to the best. That said, it’s not like Brazil have been turning away superstar coaches left and right.

The current manager is former U20 coach Ramon Menezes, who took over for Tite. The latter became Brazil manager after a nomadic career that included multiple stints in the United Arab Emirates and a Copa Libertadores title with Corinthians. Before Tite came Dunga, who was fired after the 2010 World Cup and then rehired after the 2014 World Cup. Outside of his two stints with the national team, he has one other season of professional managerial experience.

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Argentina (no. 2)

– Manager: Lionel Scaloni (hired in 2018)
– Preceded by: Jorge Sampaoli (2017-18), Edgardo Bauza (2016-17)

Guess how many professional games Scaloni coached before taking over Argentina and ultimately leading them to a Copa America and then a World Cup victory? That’s right: Zero.

Scaloni was an assistant under Sampaoli at Sevilla and then followed him to Argentina when they left the Spanish club after one season. Before Sevilla, Sampaoli managed Chile, whom he led to their first-ever Copa America title in 2015. Other than his run with Chile, he has never lasted anywhere else for more than two seasons. He was just fired — again — by Sevilla, who are two points clear of the relegation zone in Spain.

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Before Sampaoli, Bauza lasted for a year with Argentina as the team nearly missed out on qualification for the 2018 World Cup under his watch. He also spent time in the UAE before taking over the Albiceleste. He won the Copa Libertadores with Argentine club San Lorenzo in 2014 and Ecuadorian club Liga de Quito in 2008. Both were club-firsts.

France (no. 3)

– Manager: Didier Deschamps (hired in 2012)
– Preceded by: Laurent Blanc (2010-12), Raymond Domenech (2004-10)

It feels like Deschamps has been France manager forever and in coaching years, that’s basically true. Before taking over Les Bleus in 2012, he won Ligue 11 with Marseille, spent a year with Juventus in Serie B after the club was relegated, and brought Monaco to the Champions League semifinals.

Deschamps replaced Laurent Blanc, who took over the France job after three years with Bordeaux, where he, in consecutive seasons: 1) finished second, 2) won Ligue 1, and 3) made the Champions League quarterfinals. Before Blanc’s two years in charge, the Zodiac-curious Raymond Domenech lasted for six years as France manager. Previously, he’d spent 11 years as France’s U21 manager.

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England (no. 5)

– Manager: Gareth Southgate (hired in 2016)
– Preceded by: Roy Hodgson (2012-16), Fabio Capello (2008-12)

England have run through pretty much all the national-team-manager archetypes here: you’ve got an inexperienced interim-turned-full-time coach in Southgate. Hodgson is the unspectacular, but successful, native lifer. And then there’s Capello, the foreigner who’d won just about everything.

Southgate was managing the England U21s before he became England manager. The year before taking over England, Hodgson led West Bromwich Albion to a club-best 10th-place finish in the Premier League. Two years before, he’d flamed out at Liverpool in barely half of a season. Capello, meanwhile, had just won LaLiga with Real Madrid.

Netherlands (no. 6)

– Manager: Ronald Koeman (hired in 2023, second stint)
– Preceded by: Louis van Gaal (2021-22, third stint), Frank de Boer (2020-21)

Before taking over the Netherlands, Koeman was somewhere between a disaster and a fall guy at Barcelona. He was the Netherlands’ manager for two years before that and struggled at Everton for a year-and-change before that.

Van Gaal is a legend in the game, but he hadn’t coached for five years before coming out of retirement to take over the national team for the third time at the 2022 World Cup. In his 20 games in charge, they didn’t lose a single game. (Shootouts don’t count.) Before van Gaal, de Boer had taken over after managing Atlanta United for two seasons. What was he doing in MLS? He was fired by Crystal Palace after just five matches in charge — after being fired by Inter Milan after 14 games in charge.

Italy (no. 8)

– Manager: Roberto Mancini (hired in 2018)
– Preceded by: Gian Piero Ventura (2016-17), Antonio Conte (2014-16)

Although Mancini had previous success with both Inter Milan and Manchester City, he wasn’t some hot coaching candidate when he became Italy manager. Instead, he’d spent the previous year finishing fifth in the Russian Premier League with Zenit St. Petersburg. Mancini replaced Ventura after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup and the best way to describe Ventura is, well, as the Roy Hodgson of Italy.

Current contretemps at Spurs aside, Conte is truly one of the best managers in world soccer, and he took over Italy at the peak of his powers — between a run of Serie A titles with Juventus and a Premier League trophy with Chelsea. However, this was something of a marriage of convenience: Italy needed a new coach after the 2014 World Cup, while Conte was out of a job and only really looking for something short-term. He was named Chelsea manager months before Euro 2016 while he was still managing Italy.

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Christian Pulisic has his say on the controversy between former USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and the Reyna family.

Portugal (no. 9)

– Manager: Roberto Martinez (hired in 2023)
– Preceded by: Fernando Santos (2014-22), Paulo Bento (2010-14)

Martinez hasn’t coached in club soccer since 2016, when he was fired by Everton. He spent the past six years with Belgium as they rose all the way up to no. 1 in the FIFA rankings. If you want to credit him for that, then this might seem like a good hire that the U.S. missed out on. If you want to credit that to the development of an all-time-great golden generation of players, then Martinez is merely another unspectacular club coach who had to make his way to the international game in search of success.

Before Martinez, there was Fernando Santos, who had spent most of his managerial career in Greece — both with the national team and various domestic clubs. Santos replaced Bento, who helped establish Sporting Lison as a consistent Champions League qualifier in his four years with the club prior to signing up with the national team.

Spain (no. 10)

– Manager: Luis de la Fuente (hired in 2022)
– Preceded by: Luis Enrique (2019-22), Julen Lopetegui (2016-18)

Luis Enrique resigned soon after Spain were eliminated from the round of 16 at the 2022 World Cup, and he was replaced, essentially, with his polar opposite. After a brief stint with Alaves, de la Fuente has spent the past decade coaching Spain at various youth levels.

Enrique, of course, managed one of the greatest soccer teams of all time: the Lionel MessiLuis SuarezNeymar edition of Barcelona. He won every possible trophy across his three seasons at the Camp Nou and then spent the past four years as Spain manager. At some point soon, it seems likely he’ll be coaching one of Europe’s biggest clubs once again.

Before Enrique, Lopetegui came from a similar-ish mold to de la Fuente. He’d managed various Spanish youth national teams for four years before an ill-fated stint at Porto that somehow brought him to the Spain job. In Portugal, he didn’t win a single trophy and was fired halfway through his second season with the club.

Gomez: USMNT have the upper hand in Balogun pursuit

Herculez Gomez speaks about why Folarin Balogun is in Florida during the international break.

Germany (no. 14)

– Manager: Hansi Flick (hired in 2021)
– Preceded by: Jogi Low (2006-21), Jurgen Klinsmann (2004-06)

It’s easier to start backward here. A German legend, Klinsmann was given the job in 2004 despite no previous managerial experience, and he oversaw a somewhat unexpected deep run to the semifinals in 2006 at a tournament the Germans hosted. However, it soon became pretty clear that his No. 2 and eventual replacement, Jogi Low, was the brains behind the operation as Klinsmann has been a disaster at every job he has taken since. Good luck, South Korea.

Before becoming Klinsmann’s assistant, Low managed a bunch of random European clubs to not much notoriety but then lasted for 15 years as Germany manager, leading the country to its fourth World Cup title. In 2006, Low had hired Flick as an assistant. He spent 11 years working in various roles for the national team before leaving for Bayern Munich: first as Niko Kovac’s assistant, then as his replacement. With Bayern, Flick won the Champions League in 2020, along with every other possible trophy. He then left Munich after the 2020-21 season to take over for Low.

Who the USMNT could hire — and why it won’t matter as much as you think

As mentioned, there are roughly three kinds of coaches in there: unspectacular journeymen, former national team players with little to no managerial experience, and elite coaches. It’s just that, well, the latter category is the smallest one. Three of them — Flick, Conte, and Enrique — left the club game only because they had the opportunity to coach their native countries. One of them, van Gaal, came out of retirement only because of the opportunity to coach his native country. And the fifth and final guy, Capello, was on his last legs.

More importantly, none of them were all that successful at the World Cup. Flick went home in the group stages in Qatar while Enrique lost in the round of 16, just like Capello did in 2010. Conte didn’t coach a World Cup, and while the general impression is that his side did overachieve at Euro 2016, they still only made it to the quarterfinals — the same round the U.S. went out in Qatar.

Pulisic backs Berhalter return for USMNT, but Herc Gomez disagrees

Herculez Gomez thinks bringing Gregg Berhalter back as head coach of the USMNT would be a terrible idea.

Most of the time, the world’s richest and most prestigious national federations are not even hiring from the top of the managerial heap. You’re usually looking at a moderately successful domestic coach, or taking a flier on a former youth-team coach. Any foreign coaches available are not likely to be the kinds of in-demand managers who you can be confident will actually improve your team’s results far beyond its talent level.

Given all of that, it seems like the options for the U.S. will be something like running it back with Berhalter, scooping up an accomplished-but-out-of-a-job American in Europe like Jesse Marsch, or taking a shot on a big name with little-to-no impressive managerial experience (see: Henry, Thierry).

OK, so perhaps that’s not an inspiring list, but just look at those 27 names we went over. It’s also not an inspiring list!

The best coaches still want to coach club teams because of the (largely) better pay and because it gives you an opportunity to actually coach: to develop players, to train every day, to cultivate relationships between your players. For national-team coaches, the gig is mainly about managing egos, selecting the right players, trying to convince the odd dual-national to play for you, and then selecting the right game-to-game strategy.

Most research that has attempted to quantify the importance of managers has come to the same conclusion.

“The vast majority of papers out there say coaches don’t matter,” Luke Bornn, now a co-owner of both Toulouse and AC Milan, told me. “I’m oversimplifying, but that’s basically it.”

There are some clearly terrible coaches, some clearly great ones and then most of the coaches are essentially indistinguishable from each other in how they affect a team’s long-term performance. Almost all of the coaches who you can confidently say will make any collection of players better as soon as they arrive — Guardiola, Klopp and a couple of others — are not going to be coaching national teams.

Instead, what really matters is the players.

Italy won the World Cup right at the tail end of Serie A’s dominance over Europe. Spain won the World Cup as Barcelona and Real Madrid were reestablishing themselves as the two biggest clubs in the world. Germany did the same while Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were frequently making deep runs in the Champions League. France took it home in 2018 because Paul PogbaN’Golo KanteKylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann all played for the same team. And Argentina did it in 2022 because the greatest soccer player of all time, Lionel Messi, was born in Argentina.

Will Christian Pulisic stay healthy? Can Gio Reyna ever get healthy? Will Sergino Dest find a club team that wants him? Can Brenden Aaronson develop any skills beyond “runs around a lot”? Will Folarin Balogun decide to play for the USMNT? Can Yunus Musah become a true star? What’s next for Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie? Might some of the prospects dotted across the academies of the best clubs in Europe make the leap over the next four years? Center backs and center midfielders, anyone?

“Who will be the next USMNT coach?” is an important question, but not nearly as much as any of those.

USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen finally finds peace after pain of missing World Cup

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA - MARCH 30: Zack Steffen of United States warms up before a Concacaf 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier between Costa Rica and USMNT at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica on March 30, 2022 in San Jose, Costa Rica. (Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

By Paul Tenoriob Mar 24, 2023


More than four months ago, Zack Steffen woke up from a nap to text messages from then-U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter asking if they could talk. He hasn’t fully shaken off the memory of the ensuing call — when he was told he would not be on the U.S. World Cup team.“I think about it every day,” Steffen said this week. “It definitely hurt. It definitely took a chunk of armor, for sure.”Steffen is back with the U.S. team for the first time since that fateful day, and he arrived in camp in top form from Middlesbrough. It was evident during his half-hour sit down with The Athletic in the lobby of a hotel in Central Florida that Steffen is in a good place, but it has not been an easy road to get to this point.The 27-year-old goalkeeper went home to Pennsylvania during the World Cup in which he thought he would be playing. There, his absence from the roster was an unavoidable topic with friends, family and acquaintances. He watched U.S. games with his family — “It was hard,” he said — and then finally returned to his club determined to find a path back to peace.Steffen said that a deeper connection to his faith has been crucial in finding his way out of disappointment.“It took a good couple of months to kind of remove that salt and bitterness in my mouth,” Steffen said. “But I fully believe that we all have our own paths. And there are some downs and challenges, and we all have these expectations and desires for our lives, and God has different plans for us on different paths. He has helped me get through this more than anything. And I’m thankful for Him, to have that type of faith. Because without that, it would have been a lot harder to kind of maneuver those deep waters.”Steffen’s exclusion from the World Cup roster came as a shock to many who had charted his path to the national team.The former University of Maryland goalkeeper played for Berhalter with the Columbus Crew from 2017-19 before being sold to Manchester City for a fee of up to $10 million. Steffen started 17 games for the U.S. from 2019-21. He entered the first World Cup qualifying camp in Sept. 2021 as the expected starter in goal but woke up with back spasms the day before the opening game against El Salvador and Matt Turner stepped into the starting role.Still, Steffen seemed to be the preferred goalkeeper for Berhalter. He returned to the starting lineup for the home qualifier against Costa Rica in October, then started against Mexico at home in November. He was also the starter in net in San Jose, Costa Rica when the U.S. qualified for the World Cup in March 2022.

But when the U.S. gathered for games last June, their penultimate camp before the World Cup, Steffen pulled out of contention. At the time, it was announced he was out due to “family reasons.” Steffen said this week that he called out at the last minute due to his mental health at the time. 

“The most I’ll say is I was just not in a good headspace, I was not loving myself,” Steffen said. “I was not doing the things that I needed to do in order to really be on the field and stay on the field, and just not treating my body the way I should have been. And I needed to just be with family and take the time to get home.“We all know life is hard. We all have our trauma. I have trauma from growing up that was coming up and surfacing and that I needed to address and that I’m still addressing. And it was a very hard decision, it was a late decision to not go out to camp, but I knew that in order to have a successful and a healthy season this season, I knew that I needed to address those traumas. So that’s why I pulled out of camp, in order to kind of sacrifice for the future.”

The decision to not go to camp may have contributed to Berhalter’s decision to leave Steffen out of the team going to Qatar. Steffen told the Philadelphia Inquirer his decision to miss that summer camp was “a shock” to Berhalter.At the end of the summer, Steffen left Manchester City in search of more playing time. He landed at ‘Boro on loan, and the hope was that consistent minutes would keep him firmly in the picture for the U.S. But he missed the September friendlies, as well, in the months leading up to the World Cup. Steffen returned from an injury just days before that camp to play for Middlesbrough but did not get the call-up for games against Japan and Saudi Arabia. 

Photo by Alex Dodd via Getty Images

Two months later, on the day of a Middlesbrough game on the road against Blackpool on Nov. 8, Steffen woke up and saw the texts from Berhalter. The coach had opted for three goalkeepers who had been consistently in the picture for the U.S. during the cycle — Turner, Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson. Stunned by the decision, Steffen said he leaned heavily into his faith over the last year and a half, and that it was crucial for his ability to recover.“My faith has been a very big part of me this season, and growing in my faith, I focus on that,” Steffen said. “So that definitely helped me navigate this challenge. I’ve been trying to use the whole World Cup, not going, just as motivation.”Steffen seems to have found a balance. He has helped Middlesbrough push up the Championship standings into third place and is in a good position to fight for promotion to the Premier League. They sit just three points behind Sheffield United for automatic promotion, though with one more game played. For Steffen, getting promoted with ‘Boro has become his main focus. It’s driven him to become a better goalkeeper, he said. It has also been a huge part of his development in what is still a key growth stage for a goalkeeper. Steffen got limited minutes at Man City and every performance — good or bad — was under a microscope. He said he learned under manager Pep Guardiola not to let either type of energy or outing sway him too much. “I feel like I’m very much at peace with all the negativity,” he said. “I finally feel like this year I’m at peace with whatever happens and it’s part of my path. I don’t need outsiders to like me. I know myself and my game and my goalkeeping and I’m gonna use my staff and my coaches and our players to kind of push me through to get better.”

His goals, he said, are simple: Get promoted with Middlesbrough, be a starter in the Premier League and win trophies. He told the Inquirer it’s unlikely he’ll go back to Manchester City because he wants to keep getting games.He also noted that a big part of his goal setting is to be back in the national team consistently — and as a starter. The U.S. has several upcoming camps this summer, with both Nations League and Gold Cup, and Steffen said he wants to be a part of all of the games. He knows he’s in competition with Turner for the starting job, but that, unlike the last cycle, he’s coming into these camps as the No. 2 trying to unseat the starter.Steffen said the camaraderie between goalkeepers in the camp is strong, but after missing out on Qatar, he is intent on being in the squad for 2026.“I’m 100% committed to this team,” Steffen said. “I was thinking on the way from the airport to the hotel about when I would go to camp from Columbus, like, ‘Wow, that was forever ago.’ Time flies. And so now I’m really, really focused on just living in the moment, enjoying the time and just making sure I put in all the work that I can to stay healthy and to be at my best so that I can keep coming back. “I’m not gonna be able to play the sport forever, to dive around the goal and all that forever. So really just try and enjoy it and take it all in and play as much as I can before I gotta hang up the boots on the wall.”

Yunus Musah is excelling for USMNT but is he coming to a crossroads at Valencia?

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 03:  Tunus Musah of United States of America during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Netherlands and USA at Khalifa International Stadium on December 3, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)

By Dermot Corrigan and Thom Harrisar 24, 2023


After some personal and collective highs with the USA at last year’s World CupYunus Musah returned to find his club Valencia were going through yet another of their dramatic transitional seasons.

Valencia actually started 2022-23 very positively — in early September, then U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter came to Mestalla to see Musah provide two assists in a 5-1 win. It was his standout performance of the season, and maybe of his entire Valencia html

During the first months of Gattuso’s reign at Valencia, there was lots of energy and optimism around the club. But after the World Cup break, reality caught up with the youngest squad in the Primera Division, and a coach whose tactical approach did not suit many of his players.

Musah was arguably one of these. Gattuso wanted him to come deep and get involved in building intricate moves from his own half, whereas many at Valencia believe his biggest strengths are his physique and ability to carry the ball through the lines.

Gattuso’s replacement Ruben Baraja has brought a much more pragmatic (or basic) tactical approach. The team are now defending a lot deeper, taking fewer risks with the ball in their own half, and looking to play more on the counter-attack.

https://theathletic.com/report/podcast-clip/?clip_id=7267

Of course, numbers from Valencia’s 26 La Liga games so far in 2022-23 are skewed towards the 21 matches Gattuso was in charge of. This season, Musah is averaging just 0.37 carries into the penalty area per 90, as opposed to 1.4 the season before when the super-pragmatic Jose Bordalas was on the bench.

Musah’s carries into the final third have also increased slightly, suggesting that these bursting, powerful runs that US fans will be familiar with are mainly to progress his team into opposition territory, not to break dangerously into the opposition penalty box.

His 2022-23 carry map below measures carries of more than 20 yards – it shows how often he’s taking the ball over large distances, but how they’re largely ending in wide areas or distant central areas. Given how productive he can be for the USMNT team when driving forward in possession, this is arguably down to a general lack of direction in Valencia’s playing style, rather than any individual failing on the player’s part.

In less than three seasons in the Valencia senior side, Musah has already had five different coaches. So many changes in tactics, team shapes and the position he plays (holding midfield, attacking midfield, winger), will not have helped his development.

It should be a benefit that former midfielder Baraja has chosen a 4-3-3 quite similar to what Musah is used to with the USMNT, and is using him in the ‘interior’ or number 8 role he also fills for his national side. He still often drifts out to the right side, as shown by his touch map below, while pretty much covering every blade of grass on the pitch.



The lack of a fixed position could be argued to be affecting Musah’s productivity – his only assists in La Liga this season were the two against Getafe back in September. He has yet to score for his club this term, despite 17 shots, 10 of which came from outside the penalty area.A look at the smarterscout data profile below shows where his strengths and weaknesses lie, and also suggests that the recent change of coach at club level should benefit him.

His numbers for progressive passing and ball retention do not suggest a good fit with Gattuso’s desire for midfielders to build moves from deep to move the team up the pitch, though his defending impact (83 out of 99) does illustrate his use in the counter-pressing system that the Italian favoured.The graphic shows that Musah is an excellent ball carrier, who thrives on the transition with space to run into. He combines speed, athleticism and dynamic movement to be a box-to-box midfielder affecting both ends of the pitch; he arrives and receives in the box (96 out of 99) and has an above-average defending intensity (64 out of 99).

This all looks ideal for Baraja’s counter-attacking plan, and, in theory, more goals and assists should come soon.


Musah was an Arsenal academy product before moving to Spain in the summer of 2019. Within 18 months of arrival, his progress was rewarded with a new long-term contract tying him to Valencia until 2026.

Nevertheless, the club’s owners have made no secret of a policy of developing young players for profitable sales in the market, whether Musah, Portuguese midfielder Andre Almeida or Georgian goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili. Indeed, Musah’s name popped up in potential alternatives that Liverpool might consider should they miss out on Jude Bellingham this summer. Reports in Italy have also claimed that Serie A clubs including Inter Milan have been watching him too.

Unlike in previous years when Valencia had to sell players from David Silva through Andre Gomes to Goncalo Guedes, this summer they should not need to raise significant money in the transfer market to stay within their La Liga salary budget. However, there will be some comings and goings this summer, as usual.

Musah’s contract has a release clause of €100 million, which no other club is realistically going to pay. A bid of around €40 million, if one were to arrive, would be difficult for Valencia to turn down. But their preferred option, given he only recently turned 20, is for him to continue to progress and potentially be sold for a lot more in two or three years’ time.

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Meanwhile, Musah is seen as a “very strategic asset” for Valencia’s marketing and commercial activities, as growing their international fanbase and sponsorship revenues is a key objective for Lim and his board. When US broadcaster ESPN asked their audience which La Liga player they most wanted to follow after the World Cup, Musah gathered almost 50 per cent of the votes, well clear of second-placed Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski and third-placed Vinicius Junior of Real Madrid.

Valencia and La Liga themselves have looked to use that startling popularity, co-producing a documentary about his younger days and development.

On the pitch, Musah has become a vital member of the team over the last two years, whoever is coach. Only two outfielders — winger Samuel Lino and club captain Jose Gaya – have played more minutes for Valencia in La Liga so far in 2022-23 — impressive for a youngster at a foreign club, where turmoil is seemingly constant.

Baraja’s appointment has lifted the side, and they have won both home games under their new coach. Still, the 3-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid last weekend pushed Los Che back into the relegation zone.

The six La Liga games after the international break are against teams who are either out of form or also within the relegation struggle. This is either an opportunity for Musah and his side to climb clear of the bottom three, or could see them slip down into real danger of a first relegation since 1986.

The expectation at the club is that Baraja can bring the organisation and motivation required to achieve safety, and that his more direct and pragmatic tactics will be a positive for Musah. Those who know him at Valencia say he needs to play in a stable team, with confidence, and in the same position. And he should get that opportunity now.

But, longer term, this being Peter Lim’s Valencia, nothing can – or should – be ruled out.

Is Berhalter back in the mix for the USMNT? It’s complicated

Seth Vertelney 

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March 21, 2023 10:36 am ET

Last week couldn’t have gone much better for Gregg Berhalter.

The now-former-and-maybe-future U.S. men’s national team head coach got quite the one-two punch of good news: First U.S. Soccer’s independent investigation found that Berhalter and his wife Rosalind were forthcoming about the details of a 1992 domestic violence incident, and there was no reason to believe any further instances had occurred.

U.S. Soccer concluded that Berhalter “remains a candidate to serve as head coach of the men’s national team.”

But there can be a big gulf between “remains a candidate” and “actually has a shot.” That gap, though, was significantly shortened after an interview Christian Pulisic gave to ESPN.

After calling the affair involving Claudio and Danielle Reyna “childish,” Pulisic was asked if he’d be comfortable with Berhalter getting his old job back.

“Yeah, no doubt, no doubt about it,” he said. “I think the strides that we’ve taken in recent years with him in charge, have been evident. I think it’s quite clear.”

Being cleared by an investigation is one thing, but seeing your normally reticent star give such a clear and public backing will give U.S. Soccer something to chew on.

But there are still quite a few steps before Berhalter gets his old job back. First and foremost, the person who will hire the new (or old) USMNT coach isn’t even in place yet.

U.S. Soccer has said interviews for its sporting director position are underway, with the hope that Earnie Stewart’s replacement is in place before the World Cup kicks off in July.

That would put U.S. Soccer right on its previously stated timeline of hiring a new USMNT coach by summer’s end. That is roughly as far from now as the USMNT’s pre-World Cup friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia. In other words: a while!

And much could happen in that span of time, most plausibly Berhalter being offered a different job.

Berhalter’s resume could make him intriguing to clubs in Europe: a lengthy playing career in the Netherlands and Germany as well as experience coaching in Europe with Hammarby. He would also, of course, be an appealing candidate for an ambitious MLS club.

As Berhalter himself said: “There are options.”

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Assuming Berhalter isn’t spoken for by the time U.S. Soccer actually gets around to choosing a coach, there are still potential pitfalls to a theoretical reappointment.

One: Do any core players have lingering problems with Berhalter’s now-infamous HOW Institute speech?

Pulisic seems to be fine with it but others, most notably ex-USMNT star DaMarcus Beasley, have pointed to that speech as the moment Berhalter lost the locker room.

Beasley, of course, isn’t in that locker room anymore, but he may talk to people that are. In any case, U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said this weekend that USMNT players will be consulted on the hire. One wonders if Gio Reyna would be one of them.

The second issue is even more substantial, and will demand serious introspection from all parties. Yes, it’s about that 1992 incident.

U.S. Soccer’s independent investigation “cleared” Berhalter as much as it could have, but it’s hard to really declare victory when the underlying issue involves a confirmed case of domestic violence.

Should Berhalter emerge as a serious candidate by the summer, U.S. Soccer will have to ask itself an extremely thorny question: Does it want the leader of its national team on the biggest stage possible, a home World Cup, to have anything but a spotless record?

Yes, it was a drunken argument between teenagers, and Berhalter’s behavior since that moment appears to have been exemplary. But: it happened.

Excluding Berhalter on the basis of that moment feels unsettling, in part because it would give Claudio and Danielle Reyna what they wanted. But it would be pretty much the definition of Pyrrhic victory.

Berhalter certainly has options now. But, despite his very good week, there is a long way before coaching the USMNT again is one of them.

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The Ole Ballcoach in England

So I am in England with my wife Karen — for a wonderful 8 day vacation before I meet our soccer Club Carmel FC for a fabulous 9 day adventure of training with London clubs QPR, Tottenham, Fulham and more. Here’s the Carmel FC Itinerary. We have tickets for Chelsea vs Aston Villa, Fulham vs West Ham and maybe Arsenal vs Leeds United. Along with the England Women vs Brazil game Thur night.

Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are traditionally London’s most successful teams. Between them, they have won a total of 103 titles and trophies. Wembley Stadium, England’s national stadium, is in London – many of us have tickets to the Women’s England vs Brazil game there on Thursday night I believe.  A nice chance to see perhaps the top team expected to rival the US in the Women’s World Cup in July Down Under is Euro Champ England. 

Fulham Football Club is London’s oldest professional football club, having been established in 1879. The Chelsea/Fulham area where we are staying is one of the richest neighborhoods in London with lots of shops, restaurants and famous celebrities like Hugh Grant, Andy Hamilton, Chef Philip Harben and footballer Frank Lampard.  Things to do in Fulham.  Funny fact so we are staying right next to Chelsea’s Stadium Stamford Bridge (Est 1905) which is in Fulham. Craven Cottage (1879) Fulham’s home stadium just a few miles away is in Chelsea. 

Fulham has been deemed Fulham America by US Soccer Supporters as they have traditionally had the most American players since 1999 in the EPL from GK Marcus Hahnemann to Kasey Keller, Brian Mcbride, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey to current American Centerback Tim Ream is the team’s Captain and at 35 is having the season of his life. American Antonee (Jedi) Robinson also plays for the Cottagers. They are currently in the top 10 after just joining the league again this season.

3.24.23 – 3.25.23

So we landed in Liverpool Friday and headed to Wrexham FC to see the stadium made famous by Ryan Reynold’s & Rob McCallaney We are Wrexham TV show on FX. They were in town but we didn’t see them and unfortunately couldn’t get seats for the game on Saturday as they were overcapacity 10K plus sellout for the win. We did meet Wayne Jones the Owner of the Turf Pub – great guy – great little pub !! We visited the Stadium Shop and bought a Jersey for just $35.

Just outside Gate 8 — over by the Pub Pics from Wrexham FC in Wrexham, Wales

Shane holding Everton’s Only European Champion Trophy from back in 1986. Repping the Indy 11 and CFC.
Shane screaming from the Coaches box at Everton. Come on Timmy Howard – make the save!!
Look at the pitch and the grading on the grass — you can barely see the other side from the benches – as the crown is too high. Goodison Park at Everton Football Club. One of the original 8 clubs to start the English Soccer League and the first club to put #s on their jersey’s in 1932. Everton is less than 1/2 mile from Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium. The site where Everton moved from over 70 years ago. Pics from Everton’s Goodison Park in Liverpool

Just a Half Mile Walk from Goodison Park to Anfield Stadium

Pics from Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium

Karen and Shane at Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium – we hoped to tour the grounds but their was an oldtimer’s game going on with Celtic FC so we went to Everton’s tour instead. :(.

Just a few more trophies on the Wall at Anfield.

Gerrard Bench at Anfield

3/27/23 US Wins 7-1 Pulisic stars, US vs El Salvador Mon 7:30 pm TNT, Indy 11 (1-0-1) Opens season Sat 7 pm @ the Mike,

USA vs El Salvador Mon 7 pm TNT, HBO Max, Peacock

So the US dominated Grenada as expected with a goal in the first 4 minutes and a 7-1 victory, McKinney and Pepi both had Braces along with complete domination with 3 assist, and a goal in a Man of the Match performance by Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic.  Highlights – highlight in proper Spanish See lots of Stories below. Coverage on TNT and HBO max should start by 7 pm at the latest in the this game the US must tie at least to advance to the finals of the Nation’s League this summer to defend their title.

Who Shane Stars Mon

Pulisic //Dike //Zendejas

Aaronson//McKennie//Musah

Jedi///Ream, Miles Robinson/Dest

Steffan

The 24-man roster for the USMNT:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough), Matt Turner (Arsenal)

DEFENDERS (8): Sergiño Dest (AC Milan), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Tim Ream (Fulham FC), Bryan Reynolds (Westerlo), Antonee Robinson (Fulham FC), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Auston Trusty (Birmingham City)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Leeds United), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Alan Soñora (Juárez)

FORWARDS (7): Taylor Booth (Utrecht), Daryl Dike (West Bromwich Albion), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea FC), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Alex Zendejas (Club América)

Indy 11 beat Detroit City 1-0 / Season Opener Sat April 1 7 pm @ the Mike

Indy Eleven will kick off the home portion of its USL Championship campaign on Saturday, April 1, when the Boys in Blue welcome Las Vegas Lights FC for a 7:00 p.m. ET kickoff in the Circle City  The 11 used a 41st minute goal as they bested the frigid conditions and an overmatched new comer Detroit 1-0 on Saturday. Rebellon’s answer off a free kick came six minutes into the second half, with his goal straight through traffic settling inside the right corner of the net. See Full Highlights .Single-game tickets for all home games at IUPUI Carroll Stadium along with 17-game Season Ticket Memberships, specially-priced group tickets, and an increased portfolio of hospitality options are available for purchase now via indyeleven.com/tickets or by calling 317-685-1100   Full Schedule   Promotions 

So we got a chance to Tour former American Goalkeeper Timmy Howard’s Everton’s Goodison Park before they move next year to the beautiful waterfront grounds. Repping our Indy 11 !! Follow the adventures of The Ole Ballcoach in England as he prepares for Carmel FC’s first overseas trip.

GAMES ON TV

(American’s names in Parenthesis)

Sun, Mar 26

1 pm FS1                             Denmark vs Kahastahn  

3 pm FS2                             England vs Ukraine ?   

4 pm Para+                 Washington Spirit vs Seattle Reign

5 pm Para_                         Portland Thorns (Rapino) vs Orlando Pride

7 pm Para+                         Houston Dash vs Racing Louisville

9 pm Para+                         Angel City vs NY Gothem FC

Mon, Mar 27

2:45 pm FS +                      Netherlands vs Gibralter

3 pm FS1                             Ireland vs France  

7:30 pm HBO Max, Peacock   USA Men vs El Salvador

Tues, Mar 28

12 noon FS2                       Georgia vs Norway

2:45 pm FS1                       Turkey vs Croatia  

8 pm Para+                         Canada vs Honduras

10 pm pm Para+                Costa Rica vs Panama

April 1 Sat

CBS, 12:30 p.m.         Kansas City Current vs. Portland Thorns — NWSL

7 pm My Indy TV       Indy 11 vs Las Vegas Lights @ the Mike

Indy 11 Schedule

NWSL Schedule

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

USA 


McKennie, Pepi double as US thrash Grenada 7-1

Folarin Balogun to USMNT? Discussions with US Soccer confirmed

Player ratings: USMNT thumps Grenada in Nations League

How Balogun would fit into USMNT if he switched

U.S. had talks with Balogun over switch – Hudson 2dKyle Bonagura

How the USMNT can join FIFA’s elite tier: lessons from Belgium, Chile and others who’ve done it 2 dBill Connelly

World


Bayern Munich make Tuchel new coach after Nagelsmann firing

Mbappe and France crush Netherlands, Lukaku hits Belgium hat-trick

Gareth Southgate has solved two thirds of England’s perennial midfield problem

Harry Maguire: England not winning Euro 2024 would be failure

Can Harry Kane beat Cristiano Ronaldo’s goalscoring record? Absolutely

Harry Kane breaks Wayne Rooney’s England national team scoring record

Italy vs England player ratings: Maguire mishap, Shaw’s mad minute

Ronaldo breaks men’s international caps record, scores double

England’s James out of Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine

NWSL


This isn’t your old NWSL. As league begins 11th season, it’s poised to take off

For America Ferrera, Angel City fandom and ownership go beyond the pitch

Indy 11

Indy 11  1-0 over Detroit

Recap – TBR 1:1 IND

Oettl Named to USLC Team of the Week

 Indy Eleven to Host Open Cup Debut vs. Michigan Stars on April 5

·        USL Championship Power Rankings – Week 1

·        USL Championship Team of the Week – Week 1

·        USL Championship Fans’ Choice Save of the Week – Week 1

Season tickets

Full Schedule   Promotions 

new stadium

Indy 11 Win 1-0 in the Cold of Newcomer Detroit

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. (Saturday, March 25, 2023) – The match-up between growing USL Championship rivals Indy Eleven at Detroit City FC proved to be as rowdy as expected at historic Keyworth Stadium. Bryam Rebellón will come home the a hero after his shot from outside the six-yard box resulted in the game’s lone, securing the a 1-0 victory over Le Rouge that marked the first win of the 2023 campaign for Indiana’s Team. On an intensely windy day (30 mph, gusting to 40), it was difficult early-on for both teams to learn how to keep the ball on course. A patient, composed start set the tone early, and it was the visitors who seemed to deal better with keeping possession in the conditions. Eleven goalkeeper Yannik Oettl gained his first stop at 10 minutes as he got down low to smother a cross from DCFC’s first venture into the box. Connor Rutz for Detroit sent a shot-on-target through the net in the 12th minute but received a whistle offside to nullify the chance.The first of many yellow cards for both teams was booked on Indy’s Younes Boudadi at 14 minutes after a diving attempt to beat Detroit to the ball got messy. This seemed to set the tone for the rest of the half, as just two minutes later, Le Rouge received their first yellow when Richard Ballard challenged Cam Lindley a little too late, sending him down. Then Solomon Asante went in the book at 21 minutes with a high boot in a 50-50 challenge with Matt Lewis. Adjusting, the Eleven attempted to switch up their angle of attack, venturing more towards the right-side to adapt to both the wind conditions and DCFC’s defense.At 28 minutes, Detroit City goalkeeper Nate Steinwascher dove and made a low snare on a strong attempt by Aodhan Quinn. Shortly after was Douglas Martinez’s first yellow card for Indy after he walked away with the ball after a stoppage. The yellow haze didn’t let up as Detroit’s Yazeed Matthews sent Martinez down hard at 38 minutes, counting five yellow cards in the books in the first 40 minutes of the match, intensifying the tension at Keyworth. A strong attempt from DCFC’s Connor Rutz finished off the first half at 48 minutes, with a poke that bounced off the post and translated into a rebound shot, both deflected by Oettl, to keep the score at 0-0 heading into halftime.

Le Rouge entered back from half with another yellow booking this time on Reese Williams, much to captain Steve Carroll’s dismay. At 49 minutes, Quinn sent it dangerously close to the box on a beautiful service to midfielder Jack Blake, who sent a right-footed shot closely saved by Steinwascher. The Eleven were hungry for a goal after that close attempt, and Rebellon’s answer off a free kick came six minutes into the second half, with his goal straight through traffic settling inside the right corner of the net.

Douglas Martinez was increasingly aggressive this second half, stirring up quite a few fouls for the Le Rouge, not earning him any credit with the rowdy Detroit crowd. At 74 minutes, DCFC’s Matthews earned his consequential red card for his second yellow after a two-footed challenge on again, Martinez. Juan Tejada replaced Martinez later in the half and created a brilliant ball at 95 minutes on a counter where he sprung Asante, who drew a yellow card on Steve Carroll on the attack. The push for a goal continued to intensify for DCFC as time ran out, but once again Oettl pulled through for the Eleven with a last-minute tip save that allowed Indy to hand on to the victory.Next up, Indy Eleven will kick off the home portion of its USL Championship campaign with its Carroll Stadium opener next Saturday, April 1. The Boys in Blue will welcome Las Vegas Lights FC for a 7:00 p.m. ET kickoff in the Circle City.Single-game tickets for all home games at IUPUI Carroll Stadium along with 17-game Season Ticket Memberships, specially-priced group tickets, and an increased portfolio of hospitality options are available for purchase now via indyeleven.com/tickets or by calling 317-685-1100 during regular business hours (Mon.-Fri., 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.)

USL Championship Regular Season
Detroit City FC  0: 1 Indy Eleven
Saturday, March 25, 2023
Keyworth Stadium – Hamtramck, Mich.

Indy Eleven: 1W-0L-1D, 4 pts.
Detroit City FC: 1W-2L-0D, 3 pts.

Scoring Summary:
IND – Bryam Rebellón (unassisted) 62’

Discipline Summary:
IND – Younes Boudadi (caution) 14’
DET – Richard Ballard (caution) 16’
IND – Soloman Asante (caution) 21’
IND – Douglas Martinez (caution) 33’
DET – Yazeed Matthews (caution) 39’
DET – Rhys Williams (caution) 48’, (red card) 74’

Indy Eleven line-up (3-4-3): Yannik Oettl; Bryam Rebellón, Jesus Vazquez, Adrian Diz Pe, Younes Boudadi; Cam Lindley, Aodhan Quinn (Harrison Robledo 87’), Jack Blake; Solomon Asante (Mechack Jerome 98’), Douglas Martinez (Juan Tejada 80’), Sebastian Guenzatti

Detroit City FC line-up (4-4-2): Nate Steinwascher; Stephen Carroll, Matt Lewis, Jalen Robinson (Abdoulaye Diop 76’), Michael Bryant; Maxi Rodriguez, Tommy McCabe, Connor Rutz, Richard Ballard (Skage Simonson 67’), Rhys Williams; Yazeed Matthews

USMNT had no trouble in 7-1 rout over Grenada but the big winners were Reyna, Pulisic, MLS

2:50 AM CETKyle BonaguraESPN Staff Writer

While the United States‘ game at Grenada on Friday represented the team’s return to competitive soccer for the first time since the World Cup, the match — as expected — was anything but.Ricardo Pepi scored twice — including an early goal in the fourth minute — opening the floodgates in a 7-1 win in CONCACAF Nations League play.Weston McKennie also had two goals while Christian Pulisic played a major role with a score and a pair of assists. Brenden Aaronson and Alejandro Zendejas — making his first appearance since committing to the U.S. over Mexico — scored the other goals for a U.S. side under the charge of interim coach Anthony Hudson.Myles Hippolyte’s goal was the only consolation for the hosts.


Rapid reaction

1. Importance of MLS on display in rout

For the first time since MLS launched in 1996, an active player in the league did not feature in a USMNT game (Atlanta United‘s Miles Robinson is on the roster but was a healthy scratch). On the surface, that could come off as a negative for the league, but it’s really not.It speaks more to how the talent level is improving — a development that MLS has played a major role in. Of the 11 starters, nine came through MLS academies and only two of those players — Giovanni Reyna (NYCFC) and Weston McKennie (FC Dallas) — opted to sign their first professional contracts abroad.This cycle will continue. MLS will continue to do the lion’s share of the player development in the country, those players will move on and the national team will benefit.

2. Reyna’s midfield role a good sign

The idea of Reyna playing centrally has always been appealing. But with the trio of Yunus MusahTyler Adams and McKennie having worked so well together, Reyna in the midfield never happened. Part of that was former coach Gregg Berhalter’s preference, of course, but with Adams out of the squad due to injury, it provided an opportunity to experiment.

EDITOR’S PICKS

Reyna started as part of the midfield three in this match — along with Luca de la Torre and McKennie — and while he didn’t impact the game on the scoresheet, it was an important exercise. He dropped deep to collect the ball at times and pushed forward to play more as a No. 10.

Perhaps more important than the tactical aspect of Reyna’s game was that the game marked an important step forward from all the off-the-field noise that he’s been attached to for the last few months.

3. Capping off win with several cap-ties

After committing his international future to the United States, Alejandro Zendejas is now officially cap-tied and marked the occasion with a beautiful goal to round out the scoring after he came on as a second-half substitute. Zendejas, who made his USMNT debut in a friendly against Serbia in January, was electric against Grenada and has the potential to be a major contributor.

Midfielder Johnny Cardoso was also cap-tied when he entered in the second half, though his impact on the game wasn’t as pronounced. Auston Trusty, who has impressed with Birmingham City this season, also made his USMNT debut, partnering with his former Philadelphia Union teammate Mark McKenzie (whose now at Genk). Attacker Taylor Booth also received his debut and is cap-tied, as he was eligible to play for Italy.


Best and worst performers

Best: Christian Pulisic, FW, USA.
Pulisic was, by far, the best player on the field. Grenada was completely overmatched all over the field, but it was especially noticeable when the ball was at the captain’s feet. He had two official assists, a (soft) goal and delivered another ball in that led to a goal in an easy night at the office.

Best: Ricardo Pepi, FW, USA.
After not being selected to the World Cup roster, Pepi’s return to the team showcased why his future remains so bright. He scored a pair of goals and appears to be back on the right track.

Best: Weston McKennie, MF, USA.
McKennie in the box remains one of the team’s best weapons. He also scored two goals.

Worst: Benjamin Ettienne, DF, Grenada.
Had a tough time with the U.S. playing down the left.

Worst: Jason Belfon, GK, Grenada.
Seven goals is seven goals. The one he conceded to Pulisic was particularly bad.

Worst: Kwazim Theodore, MF, Grenada.
It’s a bit harsh to single out Grenada players here, but Theordore had a rough go.


Highlights and notable moments

Plenty of goals to choose from this lopsided scoreline, but Weston McKennie’s first on the night was a nice display of athleticism.Christian Pulisic was a force in the first half, wrecking havoc on the wing which led to two assists. He finally got on the scoreboard soon after the break. With 23 international goals, he is one shy of tying Joe-Max Moore for sixth most on the USMNT all-time scorers list.Alejandro Zendejas, who was the subject of a recruiting battle between the USMNT and Mexico, scored his first of his international career and the last on the evening of the visitors.


After the match: What the players/managers said

USA interim coach Anthony Hudson, on the win: “A performance and a result like this can be — you don’t want to get carried away. The importance for us is just to make sure that we do all the right things between now and the next game and we finish the job off. But the actual performance, I thought it was the result of just a really, really good week.

“With the utmost respect to our opposition, we just felt that the defining factor was gonna be focus and mentality. And I think that part of it we were pleased with.”

Hudson, on Christian Pulisic’s performance: “I just can’t speak highly enough of the character of this person who not only is a talented player, but someone that I can assure you, he just absolutely loves playing for his country. He is inspiring to the rest of the group.”

Pulisic, on the victory: “We knew that they weren’t just gonna lay down and let us beat them. That’s why the early goal was important. We came out really strong with a lot of energy and just kind of put with them right away. So I think they were kind of surprised by that. Took our goals well and just a great all around performance. Definitely gives us confidence. And now we want to go and win this next one against El Salvador.”


Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

– With Atlanta’s Miles Robinson a healthy scratch, it was the USMNT’s first competitive match without using a single MLS player since the league began in 1996.

– The USMNT’s win makes it five in as many games vs. Grenada, which breaks a tie with Barbados for most games played with a 100% record.

– It was the fifth time the USMNT had scored seven in a game — the most they have ever scored was eight (vs. Cayman Islands in 1993 and vs. Barbados in 2008).


Up next

Grenada: This was their only game of the international window and their Nations League group stage campaign is complete. They’ll finish last behind El Salvador and the United States, and will next be in action for the Gold Cup qualifiers in July.

United States: Taking on El Salvador in Orlando on Monday to see who’ll win Group A and book a spot in the Nations League semifinals in Las Vegas in June. Friday’s win also secured the USMNT an automatic place for the Gold Cup.

USMNT analysis

ASN Thoughts: USMNT routs Grenada 7-1 in Nations League

The USMNT pounded Grenada 7-1 in the Nations League and ASN’s Brian Sciaretta jots down a few thoughts. 

BY BRIAN SCIARETTAPOSTED MARCH 25, 20232:05 AM

THE UNITED STATES is one step closer to clinching an expected spot back in the Nations League semifinal following Friday’s 7-1 pounding of a mostly semipro/amateur Granada team. Now all the U.S. team needs is a draw against El Salvador on Monday to clinch advancement.There isn’t much to take away from this game. Granada clearly doesn’t have the ability to play with a World Cup caliber opponent and this game was like last year’s 5-0 win in Austin. It was never in doubt and trying to draw conclusions from this game is misleading.But here are some big pictures thoughts on the game.

WINNING EARLY

The best way for heavily favored teams to avoid a stressful game is just to go out and score early to eliminate the other team’s hope. That’s exactly what happened here. Four minutes in, Christian Pulisic crosses to Ricardo Pepi for a goal. From there, Grenada had to take risks and that gave the U.S. team more openings.

PULISIC MOTM

 

Christian Pulisic came out and owned the game from the opening minutes. He continues to be such a consistent performer for the U.S. team. No matter the opponent, or the tournament, Pulisic delivers on the international stage.Inside of the first 31 minutes, Pulisic assisted on Pepi’s goal, scored, and then sent in a free kick that eventually resulted in a Weston McKennie goal. Then in the 34th, he sent in another free kick that found Auston Trusty who then headed to McKennie for a 4-1 lead.Everything dangerous early in the game, when it mattered most, came from Pulisic.

THE TRAILING RUNNER

 

Grenada scored an unexpected goal in the 31st minute when Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong moved the ball down the right side of the box and found a trailing runner in Myles Hippolyte who then beat Matt Turner. Goals like this happen but it was eerily a reminder of the goal Dutch attacker Memphis Depay scored against the United States at the World Cup in the round of 16 knockout. In that goal, Tyler Adams failed to pick up Depay on the run.Obviously, Adams wasn’t in this game but this one should have been picked up by Luca de la Torre or Weston McKennie. But for the United States, this is something that is a little bit of a concern right now in picking up trialing runners.

CAP-TYING & NEWCOMERS

 

By virtue of playing in this game, three dual nationals were cap-tied to the U.S. national team. Johnny Cardoso (Brazil), Taylor Booth (Italy), and Alejandro Zendejas (Mexico) were cap-tied. All three came off the bench and for Cardoso and Booth, it was an uneventful game. Zendejas scored the team’s final goal in the 73rd minute.s for newcomers, it was the first cap for Booth and central defender Auston Trusty who wasn’t tested defensively in the game.

ALL ABROAD

One talking point was that this was the first game the U.S. national team played without any MLS players since the league started. As was noted when the roster came out, with MLS playing through this window, U.S. interim manager Anthony Hudson opted to let most MLS-based players remain with their clubs and instead use them next month for the Mexico friendly.That being said, seven of the team’s 11 players were former MLS homegrown players. Another two, Gio Reyna and Weston McKennie, spent substantial time in MLS academies. In total, nine players who played form the USMNT against Grenada played in MLS and have been sold collectively in their career for nearly $100 million. When the league took a more selling approach, this was always the goal – big value and players who would move on to keep pushing up.But more young players will continue to emerge from within the league – which is critical.

USMNT player ratings: Pulisic dominates in Grenada rout

Jason Anderson  follow March 24, 2023 10:41 pm ET

The U.S. men’s national team was supposed to handle Grenada with ease, and it turns out that’s exactly what they did.Returning to CONCACAF Nations League play for the first time since June 2022, the USMNT steamrolled the Spice Boys, scoring early and often in a 7-1 victory.Just knowing the scoreline, even a person that didn’t see the game could probably divine some of the ratings here. Christian Pulisic was dominant from kickoff, Weston McKennie conjured up two goals, and Alex Zendejas marked his becoming cap-tied to the team with a goal. If you’re a USMNT fan, it was a fun Friday night.With that in mind, our ratings for a game that was never particularly close:

GK: Matt Turner – 7

You saw the score, so you know Turner wasn’t that busy on the night. Still, he had one key stop: a top-drawer seventh minute save to deny Jacob Agyepong. It might not seem like much, but the score at the time was 1-0, and an early goal might have bolstered Grenada and made this more difficult than it needed to be.

The Arsenal ‘keeper couldn’t do much about Myles Hippolyte’s goal, which came from an open shot struck venomously through traffic, and beyond that was sure and steady on some long-range shots and in possession.

RB: Bryan Reynolds – 6.5

The Westerlo defender’s first cap since December 2021, and his first-ever USMNT start, was a bit of a mixed bag. He was beaten on the move that that ended with that aforementioned Turner save, and he had a few first-half moments where his positioning wasn’t what it needed to be.

However, he improved in the second half, getting into more promising attacking positions and allowing the USMNT to threaten from both flanks more than they did in the first half (scroll down for Joe Scally’s rating to see how comically left-sided the U.S. was in the first half).

Reynolds wasn’t able to provide a killer final ball from those promising spots, but he was getting into them, and had arguably his best moment of the game undone by a narrow offside call near the Grenada endline later in the match.

RCB: Mark McKenzie – 7

Reunited with former Union academy teammate Auston Trusty, McKenzie looked at ease in a game that was, frankly, easy for the center backs.

Neither the goal nor the Agyepong chance had anything to do with him, and as the more experienced center back, he kept things stable and straightforward. Job done.

LCB: Auston Trusty – 7

Trusty’s first senior cap saw him set McKennie up with a cushioned header as the score ballooned to 4-1 in the 34th minute. He might take some heat for not closing the cutback from Romar Frank on Hippolyte’s goal, but the error on that play came further up the field. Trusty was trying to put out a fire that he hadn’t started, but was left with too much ground to make up.The Birmingham City man, like McKenzie, just took care of business in a game where mistake avoidance and moving the ball along quickly were what mattered.

LB: Joe Scally – 7.5

Scally was so, so, so involved in the first half. Some of that was obvious, as he repeatedly connected with Pulisic, but he was clearly a hub for the entire USMNT in possession.The USMNT managed to share the ball more evenly between the flanks as the game wore on, but Scally’s first half was the platform for a lot of what Pulisic did to utterly dominate this game.It wasn’t flashy, but it was really high-level work for the Borussia Mönchengladbach defender.

RCM: Weston McKennie – 8

Starting alongside Luca de la Torre in a 4-2-3-1, McKennie was solid and stable for the first half hour, then delivered his typical dominance on set pieces with a three-minute braceFirst, he didn’t quite win the header, but did superbly to land from his jump and use his athleticism to uncork an audacious volley home in the 31st minute. Then, just after Grenada had scored a goal of their own, McKennie showed more resourcefulness to poke the ball past Jason Belfon after Trusty’s knockdown header at the far post.From there, McKennie kept possession ticking over as is needed against lower-level opposition before being replaced by Yunus Musah in the 57th minute. Not bad at all.

LCM: Luca de la Torre – 6.5

The Celta Vigo midfielder had a up-and-down showing. On the positive side, his disguised pass in the 49th minute teed Pulisic up to make it 5-1, and his through ball for Pepi to make it 6-1 was pure class. That vision and ability to weigh his passes makes him an excellent No. 8, and served as a reminder of what he can do in the positions he normally occupies.

On the other hand, he lost Frank in what was the key USMNT mistake on Hippolyte’s goal, and it highlighted the problem of asking a natural No. 8 to function as a No. 6. De la Torre’s defensive reactions are just a split-second slow, because he’s not used to the order of his priorities in this role. The awareness of runners needed is not quite as crucial in his actual position, and that showed in this game.

But is that his fault? This was something we pretty much already knew, and while the stakes weren’t exactly high in this game, de la Torre’s momentary letdowns were hardly a shock. The assists were great, but the defensive recognition shown in this one removes de la Torre as an option at this position against stronger opposition.

RW: Brenden Aaronson – 7.5

Aaronson started as the team’s nominal right winger, though he and Gio Reyna showed lots of comfort swapping spots on the fly.

That helped Aaronson get his goal, as he drifted all the way to the left half-space to receive the ball from Pulisic, then burst into the box to fire home the second USMNT goal.

In the second half, Aaronson spent some time as the No. 10 after Reyna was substituted, and was more regularly influential. His hard work, even with a five-goal lead, turned essentially nothing into a sixth goal as he teed Alex Zendejas up for a goal.

Shortly thereafter, Aaronson nearly repeated that trick in a flowing transition move, but Belfon did well to stop Zendejas’ low effort after the Leeds midfielder’s cutback.

AM: Gio Reyna – 6.5

After the many controversies, most of which didn’t even directly involve Reyna, the Dortmund man was deployed in the No. 10 role. If you believe certain corners of USMNT Twitter, this was the formation that Gregg Berhalter should have deployed against every opponent at the World Cup. The idea was to build the team around Reyna, choosing individual talent over how well the pieces fit together.

On the night, at least, Reyna produced a bit of a lukewarm performance. It’s not that he was poor, and obviously the team won 7-1. It’s just that Reyna showed flashes of danger without actually coming up with the final ball, shot, or dribble.

While it’s not apples to apples to compare how he did to how Aaronson fared in the same position later in the match — Aaronson certainly benefitted from an exhausted, demoralized opponent in a way that Reyna didn’t — it must be noted that the USMNT were more goal-dangerous with the Leeds man in this space.

Still, Reyna can and will play better than this, and on a night where the gameplan was all about feeding Pulisic, some of the issue at play here was just the ball being moved away from him and towards someone else. Reyna worked hard, was brave enough to welcome the ball even in tight spaces, and did contribute.

LW: Christian Pulisic – 9

Captaining the team in Tyler Adams’ absence, Pulisic made sure this game never turned into a tricky contest. He picked up two early assists, setting Ricardo Pepi up for a point-blank header in the fourth minute and then feeding Brenden Aaronson in the 21st.

It could have been more: his best pass of the early stages of the game saw him float a lob over the Grenada back four to find Pepi, who likely should have buried the 13th minute chance. Later, while he couldn’t claim an assist on either goal in McKennie’s quick-fire brace, his well-placed free kick service created both chances.

Pulisic got lucky to get on the scoresheet, as his 49th minute shot somehow squirmed away from Belfon before bobbling over the line. Still, he had done well to angle his run perfectly, making this a classic “make your own luck” goal.

Anthony Hudson took some mercy on Grenada and withdrew Pulisic just beyond the hour mark, or we could have had our first-ever 10 rating in Pro Soccer Wire history.

ST: Ricardo Pepi – 7.5

Pepi’s excellent form at Groningen continued as he snapped a header from point-blank range to score in the fourth minute.

While he did less well with his next look, firing right at Belfon in the 13th minute after a beautiful ball from Pulisic, he made up for it with a well-timed run that turned de la Torre’s wonderful pass into a sixth goal in the second half.

For spells, the USMNT was so heavily looking to Pulisic and Scally that Pepi’s job was to occupy defenders rather than be the main threat, which he did well. A showing to build on, particularly as he was clinical early in both halves.

Coach: Anthony Hudson – 7.5

Is it harsh, after a 7-1 win, to not go higher here? Especially after the USMNT rotated heavily — only three World Cup starters were in the eleven tonight — Hudson will probably wonder what he has to do to get a higher rating.In any case, the choice to rotate for this game and prioritize El Salvador (the better opponent, and also the only must-not-lose match in this window) was correct, and the team that took the field justified the interim boss’ faith by eviscerating the Spice Boys. They were engaged from the jump, and made sure this game didn’t devolve into an ugly, CONCACAF-style grind.Furthermore, the left-side tilt felt intentional, and allowed Pulisic to thoroughly dominate the game. Setting up a plan that lets your best player be his best is pretty much what coaches are supposed to do, and Hudson did it well.That said, playing de la Torre in a defensive role did not work particularly well, which can’t be seen as much of a surprise. Though there will be arguments that the experiment was worth a try, asking him to play as a No. 6 seems like a misdiagnosis of his skill-set.

Sub: Yunus Musah – 6.5

Musah came into a game that was essentially over in the 57th minute, replacing McKennie. His job was to basically just manage this game and see it out without drama, and he quietly did exactly that. Musah smartly managed to get the ball off his feet without getting caught by any late tackles, and helped the USMNT spend long spells camped out in Grenada’s half.

Sub: Daryl Dike – 6

Dike replaced Pepi in the 57th, and while he worked hard, he wasn’t quite able to get involved in the game. He did offer some typical industry to make room for others, mainly Alex Zendejas, but the sacrificial role wasn’t all that difficult due to Grenada’s inability to deny the USMNT space between the lines.

Sub: Alex Zendejas – 7.5

The Club América man replaced Pulisic in the 64th minute and became cap-tied to the USMNT, which means the team finalized a recruitment victory over their biggest rival while also thrashing Grenada.He then showed why both U.S. Soccer and Mexico were pursuing him, producing a surgical 23-yard shot to make it 7-1 after Aaronson’s hustle kept an attack going.Zendejas had two more dangerous shots after that, but on both occasions Belfon came up with excellent saves to deny him. The hype turned out to be the reality for Zendejas, who seems ready to be a factor no matter how close to full strength the U.S. squad is.

Sub: Taylor Booth – 6.5

Booth made his USMNT debut replacing Reyna in the 64th minute, playing wide right while Aaronson moved inside. He took up some smart positions to connect passes and help the USMNT manage the game, but we didn’t get to see that many of the things that have brought him attention with FC Utrecht.Given the circumstances, and the fact that the USMNT’s left-sided players were able to find far more space to operate in, Booth had to simply help the group out, keep possession flowing, and avoid mistakes. He delivered on that front, and will probably show more against a foe that isn’t so obviously lacking on the opposite flank.

Sub: Johnny Cardoso – No rating

Like Zendejas, Cardoso’s entry as a substitute cap-tied the Brazilian-American. He replaced de la Torre in central midfield in the 75th minute, but really didn’t have much to do in a game that was completely wrapped up by the time he came in.

2023 CONCACAF Nations League; USA v Grenada: What We Learned

The USMNT got back into the 2023 CONCACAF Nations League with a commanding 7-1 win over Grenada. Here’s What We Learned.

By Adnan Ilyas@Adnan7631  Mar 26, 2023, 12:26pm PDT  

United States v Grenada: Group D - CONCACAF Nations League

The United States Men’s National Team went down to St. George’s in Grenada for the team’s third match for this edition of the CONCACAF Nation’s League group stage and walked away with a dominant 7-1 result. The goals came early and quickly. Ricard Pepi headed home a cross from Christian Pulisic in the 4th minute to grab the lead. Goals from Brendan Aaronson and Weston McKennie brought the score to three, before Grenada took advantage of a switched-off US side to grab a goal and bring the side to 3-1. However, the goal ultimately merely served as a footnote as the Americans continued to score. McKennie scored a second to close out the half. After the break, goals from Christian Pulisic, Pepi (his second), and substitute Alejandro Zendejas brought the game to 7-1. It was a dominant and confident showing for the USMNT. They will close out the Nations League group stage on Monday, March 27, for a home match v. El Salvador. So long as the team can manage a draw, they will advance to the Nations League finals over the summer.

Going into the new World Cup cycle, the single major question hanging over the USMNT program is over who the new management will be. The absences of a sporting director and a permanent manager unfortunately give every game a kind of asterisk as things will necessarily change once the positions are filled.

However, there are still a few positional needs that clearly need to be addressed:

  • Identify positions where players may need to be phased in/out
  • Clarify the depth at Left Back
  • Fill out the midfield depth chart
  • Identify a starter at striker

Did we learn anything about any of these issues? Well, despite the low level of opposition and the flux at the management level, we kind of got some data points about at least some of these points. Let’s get into it.

New Blood

A new World Cup Cycle means, of course, transitioning players in and transitioning players out. Players get older. For younger players, the passage of time brings the potential for maturation and sophistication. But for older players, it means a potential decline. Every national team program needs to manage this transition. And failure to do so can create significant problems (an aging squad was part of the problem in the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup).


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With that said, the following players from the 2022 World Cup will be over 30 by the tournament 2026:

Tim Ream (Will be 39 by June 11, 2026)
Sean Johnson (38)
Walker Zimmerman (34)
Aaron Long (34)
DeAndre Yedlin (33)
Matt Turner (32)
Cristian Roldan (32)
Jordan Morris (32)
Kellyn Acosta (31)

We might as well add the following two players who played during qualifying:

Paul Arriola (32)
Jordan Pefok (31)


Now, not all of these players will need to be phased out. Depending on position and play style, individual players may maintain a high level of ability as they age, even into their late 30’s. For instance, at 35, Tim Ream managed to not only go to his first ever World Cup with the US, but he proved to be one of the team’s most consistent and influential players at the tournament. In particular, I expect Matt Turner will remain an influential figure through this cycle.

With that said, some of these players will decline, while young players will improve and being to more seriously compete for spots. A transition does still need to be made, and this game served to start some of that. Yes, the competition is not good. But this does give a chance for players to get familiar with the program and develop chemistry.

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Auston Trusty and Taylor Booth each received their first caps, while a further 4 players with under 5 caps played. Those spots were concentrated in defense, with Trusty, Bryan Reynolds, and Joe Scally playing. Which makes sense given that defense is where players aging out is the biggest issue. On the other hand, this gave Scally room to grow into a potential Left back role that I mentioned earlier. All told, I would say it was a good-fine performance for everyone, though, given the competition, I don’t really have anything of note to say about them in particular.

Reyna at Midfield

I do have something to say about Gio Reyna, however.

The kid has come under the microscope with his parent’s meddling causing and then becoming the subject of a USSF investigation, even as young Gio has seen his minutes limited with his club, Burussia Dortmund. As for his status with the national team is concerned, I think the best approach is to defer to the coaching staff. Ultimately, what is best for the team is to manage the locker room and young Reyna’s relationship with the team and the other players. And the staff are by far the best ones to make that call.

Now, as for how Reyna played…

This game marked the start of Reyna’s career as a Center Attacking Mid, at least with the USMNT. Many have long called for Reyna to be fielded in this position given his play-style and his occasional* appearances at the spot with his club. And having Reyna as an option at midfield is useful as that gives the team a potential different look and fills out the depth chart at a spot of need. However, I have long been a skeptic of this potential position swap for several reasons.

*WhoScored lists Reyna as having played as a left or right sided attacking midfielder this season, never as a central player. I don’t know what to tell you.

Now, how did this positional wrinkle play out?

Well, he definitely was in attacking spots on the field and not on the wings. I’ll say that much.

Passing position for the USMNT, retrieved from MLSsocer.com. Gio Reyna is #7, Aaronson 11, Pepi 9, Pulisic 10, McKennie 8, de la Torre 14.

This pass map isn’t bad, per se. Rather, it hints at limitations of what Reyna brought to the role. To back up for a second, the important context here is that this was a one-sided rout. All the starting attacking players got goals or assists.

Ricardo Pepi scored twice.
Christian Pulisic got a goal and 2 assists (3 if you want to include McKennie’s first goal) and set up another 2 with set piece delivery
Brendan Aaronson scored once
Weston McKennie got two goals off of set pieces
Luca de la Torre got 2 assists
Alex Zendejas scored once as a substitute

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That is every single starting attacking or midfield player (plus a substitute) on the score sheet … except Reyna.

Indeed, Reyna registered no shots, nor did he have any tackles. For me, Center Attacking Midfielders are all about registering assists and goals. They are there to be a direct or indirect goal threat. And Reyna just wasn’t, even though everyone around him was. While Reyna combined fine with the players around him, he didn’t advance play towards goal. He didn’t really set his teammates up into space. And he didn’t use his own personal skill to create chances.

Actually, the goal by Brenan Aaronson really stood out to me for this.

Aaronson received the ball in the middle of the field, exactly where Reyna ought to be. Aaronson found a pocket of space with a bit of skill and then rifled home a shot… which is basically exactly what Reyna’s skill set is. I would comfortably say that Reyna is better at this exact kind of play. Yet it’s Aaronson finding the space and linking up and scoring, not Reyna.

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The way that Reyna plays in general with the national team is that he generally floats around, position-less. It doesn’t really matter to him where he’s actually supposed to be, the position are more like suggestions to him. In general, he moves towards the ball and asks to have it on his feet.

When Reyna plays as a winger, usually on the right for the US, this means he comes inside. This naturally transforms the team’s midfield trio into a quartet, giving more options in the middle of the field to hold possession and build towards goal. But when Reyna is already in the midfield, you don’t get that extra player pinching in to create a numbers advantage. In this game, Reyna’s penchant to try and get on the ball actually created something of a problem as you can see on the pass map. Instead of being actually in the middle, he’s pinched towards Christian Pulisic on the left. In turn, Aaronson is coming way into the middle of the field, essentially covering Reyna’s spot. In this game, this doesn’t matter as Grenada is not able to do much of anything to even block the US from going up the field. But against a better team, with only the right back left to provide width, that kind of narrowness will make it easier for the opposition to block the USMNT.

Yeah, ok, Reyna didn’t have the best attacking performance and it didn’t show up on the score sheet. So what?

Well, that is only one problem. Reyna is also not a great link-up player. At center midfield, you want players who can connect the midfield lines with the attacking ones. And the problem here is that the other players are consistently bypassing Reyna to get to Pulisic. Both McKennie and de la Torre have more passes to Pulisic than to Reyna, and frankly, it’s not particularly close. What you want is for your attacking midfielder to serve as a platform that allows the attacking players to get on the ball inside the final third. But here, Pulisic is doing that, not Reyna. And that begs the question, what is Reyna doing on that spot of the field? What is the point of playing him there if he is not generating attacking momentum, if he’s not serving as a connector between the midfield and attack, and he’s not aggressively pressing and defending?

It bears repeating, this is but one game, against one well-overmatched opponent. This is a data point, not a conclusion. Maybe Reyna will be an excellent midfield player in the future. But this game was evidence that suggests otherwise.

Closing Thoughts

This game marked a triumphant return for Luca de la Torre. de la Torre didn’t play at all in the World Cup despite making the squad, presumably due to an injury he was recovering from. However, this game was a welcome display of talent. This team needs more dependable options at midfield, and seeing de la Torre succeed again is a welcome sight indeed.

Man, does Alejandro Zendejas look fun. This game officially cap-tied the player to the US. Zendejas was heavily pursued by Mexico, who even fielded him for two senior team friendlies, breaking FIFA rules in the process. Zendejas was rewarded for his choice with the first goal of his international career. Winger is the USMNT’s deepest position, with Pulisic, Reyna, Aaronson, and the injured Tim Weah all competing for just two spots. But at 25, Zendejas fits right into that age-profile with Pulisic, Adams, and McKennie. With Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola, and Cristian Roldan all entering their 30’s before the next World Cup, this might be Zendejas’ opportunity to take one of their spots.

Ricardo Pepi got back into scoring form with 2 in this game. These were his first goals since scoring two against Jamaica all the way back in October 2021. Striker remains the biggest question mark out of all the positions and I would personally love to see a rejuvenated Pepi make that spot his own. That said…

The US and Anthony are apparently going recruiting…

Folarin Balogun, striker for French club Reims on loan from Arsenal, would instantly be a candidate for USMNT striker. I, of course, plead caution — and respect — when it comes to dual nationals. But there seems to be a lot of smoke and it’s kinda getting a bit warm here.

Even as this camp is underway, MLS is still playing and American players are putting up performances. This camp clearly served as a chance for foreign-based players to get a look in what otherwise are not the biggest of tests. Only Miles Robinson, who did not play v. Grenada, was called up from MLS. At the same time, you have players in MLS performing well. Brandon Vazquez scored his first goal, while Jordan Morris scored 4 (!!!!) times. We presumably will get another look at some of these players when the US plays a friendly v. Mexico for a non-FIFA date in April.

Congratulations go to Anthony Hudson for marking his first win as Head Coach of the USMNT, and in a competitive match, too. That must be a big honor for the English American coach, never mind the interim tag.

The USMNT returns for a match v. El Salvador on Monday, A win or a draw would be enough to make a return to the Nations League knockout rounds.

Christian Pulisic, USMNT dominant in 7-1 win over Grenada: What’s next?

Nov 21, 2022; Al Rayyan, Qatar; United States of America forward Christian Pulisic (10) looks on against Wales during the second half during a group stage match during the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

By Paul Tenorio Mar 24, 2023


Star winger Christian Pulisic was involved in five of the U.S. men’s national team’s seven goals as it left little doubt in a dominant 7-1 win over Grenada on Friday night in the CONCACAF Nations League.

It will be difficult to read too much into the result for the U.S. The highest club level in Grenada’s starting lineup was winger Regan Charles-Cook, who plays in the Belgian first division. Other teammates play in England’s League Two, the third division, and others play at a semi-professional level. They proved no match for a U.S. team that started several of its biggest stars, including Premier League players Weston McKennieBrenden Aaronson and Pulisic, all of whom scored, and a striker who was sold for $20 million, Ricardo Pepi, who netted twice.

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It was the first time in program history that the U.S. scored seven goals in a game away from home, according to Opta.

The U.S. defeated this Grenada side 5-0 at home last June, and Friday’s game was similarly out of reach. The U.S. had the ball for long stretches of the game and Pulisic caused havoc on his side of the field. He assisted Pepi for the game’s opening goal on a cross in the fourth minute, found Aaronson for the second goal in the 20th, drew a free kick and provided the service for McKennie’s first goal in the 31st and then sent in another set piece in the 34th minute that led to McKennie’s second and a 4-1 lead for the U.S. at the half.

Pulisic scored four minutes into the second half to cap his dominant performance and Pepi made it 6-1 four minutes later. Pulisic exited a few minutes after the hour mark. Alejandro Zendejas netted his first goal for the U.S. in the 73rd minute to put an exclamation mark on the night, curling a shot from outside the box to complete the scoring.

With the result, the U.S. needs only a home draw against El Salvador on Monday to advance to the Nations League semifinals in June.

How did Gio Reyna play?

Reyna got the start against Grenada, his first with the U.S. since Sept. 27, 2022, against Saudi Arabia.

Reyna was immediately inserted into the first XI by interim manager Anthony Hudson in the first official international window since the World Cup. Reyna was nearly sent home by the sporting staff in Qatar due to his approach to training ahead of the team’s first match, but eventually ended up playing a substitute role against England and the Netherlands in Qatar.

Since the World Cup, Reyna and his family have been at the center of a major controversy involving former U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter. Reyna has not yet spoken to the media this week, but Hudson and U.S. teammates said the 20-year-old has reintegrated smoothly into the team during training in Orlando.

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“I think the biggest thing for us as a leadership and all the guys in camp is to see that he’s working hard, training hard, that he’s wanting to be here,” veteran center back Tim Ream said. “And up to this point it’s been nothing but positive.”

Reyna started in a central role for the U.S. against Grenada and played 64 minutes before being subbed out for Taylor Booth. The Dortmund midfielder didn’t get much of the game against Grenada, with much of the action found in space out on the wings as Grenada sat deep and tried to absorb pressure.

There was excitement, though, for Reyna simply to get a run in a central role after playing as a winger in the previous cycle.

“We wanted to give (Gio) a little bit more freedom,” Hudson said. “I think when you see Gio receiving the ball in between the midfield and the defensive line facing forward, (he’s an) amazing, incredibly dangerous player. … I thought he played really well tonight.”

What’s next?

The U.S. will face El Salvador on Monday in Orlando in the deciding game of the Nations League group. The U.S. has never lost or tied at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium and will look to get a result against Los Cuscatlecos to secure its spot in the semifinals.

The U.S. will likely look a bit different in Monday’s game. Hudson opted for a younger back line against Grenada, likely expecting to face very little pressure. Joe ScallyMark McKenzieAuston Trusty and Bryan Reynolds started on Friday, and it’s likely veterans like Antonee Robinson, Tim Ream, Miles Robinson and Sergiño Dest will get starts against El Salvador.

The U.S. got a 1-1 draw on the road in El Salvador in a Nations League game in June and has lost just once to them in competition — a 2-0 friendly defeat in 1992.

A result will allow the U.S. to continue the defense of the inaugural Nations League title it won last year with a thrilling 3-2 win over Mexico. The semifinals and finals will be held in Las Vegas on June 15 and June 18, respectively.

Required reading

When it comes to the USMNT coach, it really doesn’t matter who takes the gig

Mar 24, 2023

  • Ryan O’HanlonESPN.com writer

In the eyes of many a United States Men’s National Team fan, the ideal future looks something like this:

The United States Soccer Federation finally learns the right lesson from the Jurgen Klinsmann era. Rather than retreat inward and fill the USMNT apparatus with former USMNT-ers who’ve never achieved the success that the fans want this team to achieve, they give the keys to an outsider — just, you know, an outsider who isn’t completely clueless and actively destructive in the same way that Klinsmann was. They hire, say, someone like Carlo Ancellotti or perhaps Mauricio Pochettino or maybe Jose Mourinho or, I don’t know, if you want to get wild, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp.

The specific name is less important than the archetype: a well-respected, supremely successful manager with a European background. With someone who has succeeded in a Big Five European league and won games in the Champions League, the most talented generation of American soccer players would be trained and then arranged on the field in a way that would finally allow these precocious stars to compete with the Frances and Brazils of the world. Throw in some home-field advantage in 2026, and hey: Why can’t they win the whole thing?

While the 2026 World Cup will be the USMNT’s best-ever chance at making a deep run in the tournament, it won’t be because they hire a big-name manager. Of course, they need to hire someone: Anthony Hudson, a Gregg Berhalter assistant and former Colorado Rapids manager, is the interim coach for these CONCACAF Nations League games against Grenada and El Salvador, and who knows beyond that.

But given the recent history among the top national teams in the world, a star coach isn’t realistic. It also probably wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Who manages the major national teams?

To briefly defend the completely unrealistic expectations among a large part of the USMNT fanbase, the USSF does have a lot of money. The USMNT managerial gig could be one of the highest-paid coaching positions in international soccer — if the federation wants it to be. Money might not be the main driver for every coach, but it’s typically one of the major factors in determining who gets to hire whom.

Given that, I’d say there are nine jobs that are clearly more prestigious/better than the USMNT coaching job. Let’s run through each one and look at who the current coach is and the two guys who came before him. (We’re including only current coaches and then two prior coaches who managed at least 15 matches.) This should give us a better sense of what a realistic hire for the USMNT would be.

Brazil (no. 1 in FIFA rankings)

– Manager: Ramon Menezes (interim, hired in 2023)
– Preceded by: Tite (2016-22), Dunga (2014-16)

“Brazil manager” is the job that the most delusional USMNT supporters think the U.S. job is and, well, Brazil is the team that most resembles what the USMNT might be had this country really played soccer for the past 100-plus years. It’s a massive, soccer-obsessed country with more talent than anywhere else in the world. And yet, Brazil has never had a foreign-born manager.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLigaBundesliga, more (U.S.)

Rumors of Pep Guardiola taking over some day continue to persist, and Brazil would fit the mold of all the other teams Guardiola has coached: uber-talented sides that he took from one of the best to the best. That said, it’s not like Brazil have been turning away superstar coaches left and right.

The current manager is former U20 coach Ramon Menezes, who took over for Tite. The latter became Brazil manager after a nomadic career that included multiple stints in the United Arab Emirates and a Copa Libertadores title with Corinthians. Before Tite came Dunga, who was fired after the 2010 World Cup and then rehired after the 2014 World Cup. Outside of his two stints with the national team, he has one other season of professional managerial experience.

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Argentina (no. 2)

– Manager: Lionel Scaloni (hired in 2018)
– Preceded by: Jorge Sampaoli (2017-18), Edgardo Bauza (2016-17)

Guess how many professional games Scaloni coached before taking over Argentina and ultimately leading them to a Copa America and then a World Cup victory? That’s right: Zero.

Scaloni was an assistant under Sampaoli at Sevilla and then followed him to Argentina when they left the Spanish club after one season. Before Sevilla, Sampaoli managed Chile, whom he led to their first-ever Copa America title in 2015. Other than his run with Chile, he has never lasted anywhere else for more than two seasons. He was just fired — again — by Sevilla, who are two points clear of the relegation zone in Spain.

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Before Sampaoli, Bauza lasted for a year with Argentina as the team nearly missed out on qualification for the 2018 World Cup under his watch. He also spent time in the UAE before taking over the Albiceleste. He won the Copa Libertadores with Argentine club San Lorenzo in 2014 and Ecuadorian club Liga de Quito in 2008. Both were club-firsts.

France (no. 3)

– Manager: Didier Deschamps (hired in 2012)
– Preceded by: Laurent Blanc (2010-12), Raymond Domenech (2004-10)

It feels like Deschamps has been France manager forever and in coaching years, that’s basically true. Before taking over Les Bleus in 2012, he won Ligue 11 with Marseille, spent a year with Juventus in Serie B after the club was relegated, and brought Monaco to the Champions League semifinals.

Deschamps replaced Laurent Blanc, who took over the France job after three years with Bordeaux, where he, in consecutive seasons: 1) finished second, 2) won Ligue 1, and 3) made the Champions League quarterfinals. Before Blanc’s two years in charge, the Zodiac-curious Raymond Domenech lasted for six years as France manager. Previously, he’d spent 11 years as France’s U21 manager.

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England (no. 5)

– Manager: Gareth Southgate (hired in 2016)
– Preceded by: Roy Hodgson (2012-16), Fabio Capello (2008-12)

England have run through pretty much all the national-team-manager archetypes here: you’ve got an inexperienced interim-turned-full-time coach in Southgate. Hodgson is the unspectacular, but successful, native lifer. And then there’s Capello, the foreigner who’d won just about everything.

Southgate was managing the England U21s before he became England manager. The year before taking over England, Hodgson led West Bromwich Albion to a club-best 10th-place finish in the Premier League. Two years before, he’d flamed out at Liverpool in barely half of a season. Capello, meanwhile, had just won LaLiga with Real Madrid.

Netherlands (no. 6)

– Manager: Ronald Koeman (hired in 2023, second stint)
– Preceded by: Louis van Gaal (2021-22, third stint), Frank de Boer (2020-21)

Before taking over the Netherlands, Koeman was somewhere between a disaster and a fall guy at Barcelona. He was the Netherlands’ manager for two years before that and struggled at Everton for a year-and-change before that.

Van Gaal is a legend in the game, but he hadn’t coached for five years before coming out of retirement to take over the national team for the third time at the 2022 World Cup. In his 20 games in charge, they didn’t lose a single game. (Shootouts don’t count.) Before van Gaal, de Boer had taken over after managing Atlanta United for two seasons. What was he doing in MLS? He was fired by Crystal Palace after just five matches in charge — after being fired by Inter Milan after 14 games in charge.

Italy (no. 8)

– Manager: Roberto Mancini (hired in 2018)
– Preceded by: Gian Piero Ventura (2016-17), Antonio Conte (2014-16)

Although Mancini had previous success with both Inter Milan and Manchester City, he wasn’t some hot coaching candidate when he became Italy manager. Instead, he’d spent the previous year finishing fifth in the Russian Premier League with Zenit St. Petersburg. Mancini replaced Ventura after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup and the best way to describe Ventura is, well, as the Roy Hodgson of Italy.

Current contretemps at Spurs aside, Conte is truly one of the best managers in world soccer, and he took over Italy at the peak of his powers — between a run of Serie A titles with Juventus and a Premier League trophy with Chelsea. However, this was something of a marriage of convenience: Italy needed a new coach after the 2014 World Cup, while Conte was out of a job and only really looking for something short-term. He was named Chelsea manager months before Euro 2016 while he was still managing Italy.

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Christian Pulisic has his say on the controversy between former USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and the Reyna family.

Portugal (no. 9)

– Manager: Roberto Martinez (hired in 2023)
– Preceded by: Fernando Santos (2014-22), Paulo Bento (2010-14)

Martinez hasn’t coached in club soccer since 2016, when he was fired by Everton. He spent the past six years with Belgium as they rose all the way up to no. 1 in the FIFA rankings. If you want to credit him for that, then this might seem like a good hire that the U.S. missed out on. If you want to credit that to the development of an all-time-great golden generation of players, then Martinez is merely another unspectacular club coach who had to make his way to the international game in search of success.

Before Martinez, there was Fernando Santos, who had spent most of his managerial career in Greece — both with the national team and various domestic clubs. Santos replaced Bento, who helped establish Sporting Lison as a consistent Champions League qualifier in his four years with the club prior to signing up with the national team.

Spain (no. 10)

– Manager: Luis de la Fuente (hired in 2022)
– Preceded by: Luis Enrique (2019-22), Julen Lopetegui (2016-18)

Luis Enrique resigned soon after Spain were eliminated from the round of 16 at the 2022 World Cup, and he was replaced, essentially, with his polar opposite. After a brief stint with Alaves, de la Fuente has spent the past decade coaching Spain at various youth levels.

Enrique, of course, managed one of the greatest soccer teams of all time: the Lionel MessiLuis SuarezNeymar edition of Barcelona. He won every possible trophy across his three seasons at the Camp Nou and then spent the past four years as Spain manager. At some point soon, it seems likely he’ll be coaching one of Europe’s biggest clubs once again.

Before Enrique, Lopetegui came from a similar-ish mold to de la Fuente. He’d managed various Spanish youth national teams for four years before an ill-fated stint at Porto that somehow brought him to the Spain job. In Portugal, he didn’t win a single trophy and was fired halfway through his second season with the club.

Gomez: USMNT have the upper hand in Balogun pursuit

Herculez Gomez speaks about why Folarin Balogun is in Florida during the international break.

Germany (no. 14)

– Manager: Hansi Flick (hired in 2021)
– Preceded by: Jogi Low (2006-21), Jurgen Klinsmann (2004-06)

It’s easier to start backward here. A German legend, Klinsmann was given the job in 2004 despite no previous managerial experience, and he oversaw a somewhat unexpected deep run to the semifinals in 2006 at a tournament the Germans hosted. However, it soon became pretty clear that his No. 2 and eventual replacement, Jogi Low, was the brains behind the operation as Klinsmann has been a disaster at every job he has taken since. Good luck, South Korea.

Before becoming Klinsmann’s assistant, Low managed a bunch of random European clubs to not much notoriety but then lasted for 15 years as Germany manager, leading the country to its fourth World Cup title. In 2006, Low had hired Flick as an assistant. He spent 11 years working in various roles for the national team before leaving for Bayern Munich: first as Niko Kovac’s assistant, then as his replacement. With Bayern, Flick won the Champions League in 2020, along with every other possible trophy. He then left Munich after the 2020-21 season to take over for Low.

Who the USMNT could hire — and why it won’t matter as much as you think

As mentioned, there are roughly three kinds of coaches in there: unspectacular journeymen, former national team players with little to no managerial experience, and elite coaches. It’s just that, well, the latter category is the smallest one. Three of them — Flick, Conte, and Enrique — left the club game only because they had the opportunity to coach their native countries. One of them, van Gaal, came out of retirement only because of the opportunity to coach his native country. And the fifth and final guy, Capello, was on his last legs.

More importantly, none of them were all that successful at the World Cup. Flick went home in the group stages in Qatar while Enrique lost in the round of 16, just like Capello did in 2010. Conte didn’t coach a World Cup, and while the general impression is that his side did overachieve at Euro 2016, they still only made it to the quarterfinals — the same round the U.S. went out in Qatar.

Pulisic backs Berhalter return for USMNT, but Herc Gomez disagrees

Herculez Gomez thinks bringing Gregg Berhalter back as head coach of the USMNT would be a terrible idea.

Most of the time, the world’s richest and most prestigious national federations are not even hiring from the top of the managerial heap. You’re usually looking at a moderately successful domestic coach, or taking a flier on a former youth-team coach. Any foreign coaches available are not likely to be the kinds of in-demand managers who you can be confident will actually improve your team’s results far beyond its talent level.

Given all of that, it seems like the options for the U.S. will be something like running it back with Berhalter, scooping up an accomplished-but-out-of-a-job American in Europe like Jesse Marsch, or taking a shot on a big name with little-to-no impressive managerial experience (see: Henry, Thierry).

OK, so perhaps that’s not an inspiring list, but just look at those 27 names we went over. It’s also not an inspiring list!

The best coaches still want to coach club teams because of the (largely) better pay and because it gives you an opportunity to actually coach: to develop players, to train every day, to cultivate relationships between your players. For national-team coaches, the gig is mainly about managing egos, selecting the right players, trying to convince the odd dual-national to play for you, and then selecting the right game-to-game strategy.

Most research that has attempted to quantify the importance of managers has come to the same conclusion.

“The vast majority of papers out there say coaches don’t matter,” Luke Bornn, now a co-owner of both Toulouse and AC Milan, told me. “I’m oversimplifying, but that’s basically it.”

There are some clearly terrible coaches, some clearly great ones and then most of the coaches are essentially indistinguishable from each other in how they affect a team’s long-term performance. Almost all of the coaches who you can confidently say will make any collection of players better as soon as they arrive — Guardiola, Klopp and a couple of others — are not going to be coaching national teams.

Instead, what really matters is the players.

Italy won the World Cup right at the tail end of Serie A’s dominance over Europe. Spain won the World Cup as Barcelona and Real Madrid were reestablishing themselves as the two biggest clubs in the world. Germany did the same while Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were frequently making deep runs in the Champions League. France took it home in 2018 because Paul PogbaN’Golo KanteKylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann all played for the same team. And Argentina did it in 2022 because the greatest soccer player of all time, Lionel Messi, was born in Argentina.

Will Christian Pulisic stay healthy? Can Gio Reyna ever get healthy? Will Sergino Dest find a club team that wants him? Can Brenden Aaronson develop any skills beyond “runs around a lot”? Will Folarin Balogun decide to play for the USMNT? Can Yunus Musah become a true star? What’s next for Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie? Might some of the prospects dotted across the academies of the best clubs in Europe make the leap over the next four years? Center backs and center midfielders, anyone?

“Who will be the next USMNT coach?” is an important question, but not nearly as much as any of those.

USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen finally finds peace after pain of missing World Cup

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA - MARCH 30: Zack Steffen of United States warms up before a Concacaf 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier between Costa Rica and USMNT at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica on March 30, 2022 in San Jose, Costa Rica. (Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

By Paul Tenoriob Mar 24, 2023


More than four months ago, Zack Steffen woke up from a nap to text messages from then-U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter asking if they could talk. He hasn’t fully shaken off the memory of the ensuing call — when he was told he would not be on the U.S. World Cup team.“I think about it every day,” Steffen said this week. “It definitely hurt. It definitely took a chunk of armor, for sure.”Steffen is back with the U.S. team for the first time since that fateful day, and he arrived in camp in top form from Middlesbrough. It was evident during his half-hour sit down with The Athletic in the lobby of a hotel in Central Florida that Steffen is in a good place, but it has not been an easy road to get to this point.The 27-year-old goalkeeper went home to Pennsylvania during the World Cup in which he thought he would be playing. There, his absence from the roster was an unavoidable topic with friends, family and acquaintances. He watched U.S. games with his family — “It was hard,” he said — and then finally returned to his club determined to find a path back to peace.Steffen said that a deeper connection to his faith has been crucial in finding his way out of disappointment.“It took a good couple of months to kind of remove that salt and bitterness in my mouth,” Steffen said. “But I fully believe that we all have our own paths. And there are some downs and challenges, and we all have these expectations and desires for our lives, and God has different plans for us on different paths. He has helped me get through this more than anything. And I’m thankful for Him, to have that type of faith. Because without that, it would have been a lot harder to kind of maneuver those deep waters.”Steffen’s exclusion from the World Cup roster came as a shock to many who had charted his path to the national team.The former University of Maryland goalkeeper played for Berhalter with the Columbus Crew from 2017-19 before being sold to Manchester City for a fee of up to $10 million. Steffen started 17 games for the U.S. from 2019-21. He entered the first World Cup qualifying camp in Sept. 2021 as the expected starter in goal but woke up with back spasms the day before the opening game against El Salvador and Matt Turner stepped into the starting role.Still, Steffen seemed to be the preferred goalkeeper for Berhalter. He returned to the starting lineup for the home qualifier against Costa Rica in October, then started against Mexico at home in November. He was also the starter in net in San Jose, Costa Rica when the U.S. qualified for the World Cup in March 2022.

But when the U.S. gathered for games last June, their penultimate camp before the World Cup, Steffen pulled out of contention. At the time, it was announced he was out due to “family reasons.” Steffen said this week that he called out at the last minute due to his mental health at the time. 

“The most I’ll say is I was just not in a good headspace, I was not loving myself,” Steffen said. “I was not doing the things that I needed to do in order to really be on the field and stay on the field, and just not treating my body the way I should have been. And I needed to just be with family and take the time to get home.“We all know life is hard. We all have our trauma. I have trauma from growing up that was coming up and surfacing and that I needed to address and that I’m still addressing. And it was a very hard decision, it was a late decision to not go out to camp, but I knew that in order to have a successful and a healthy season this season, I knew that I needed to address those traumas. So that’s why I pulled out of camp, in order to kind of sacrifice for the future.”

The decision to not go to camp may have contributed to Berhalter’s decision to leave Steffen out of the team going to Qatar. Steffen told the Philadelphia Inquirer his decision to miss that summer camp was “a shock” to Berhalter.At the end of the summer, Steffen left Manchester City in search of more playing time. He landed at ‘Boro on loan, and the hope was that consistent minutes would keep him firmly in the picture for the U.S. But he missed the September friendlies, as well, in the months leading up to the World Cup. Steffen returned from an injury just days before that camp to play for Middlesbrough but did not get the call-up for games against Japan and Saudi Arabia. 

Photo by Alex Dodd via Getty Images

Two months later, on the day of a Middlesbrough game on the road against Blackpool on Nov. 8, Steffen woke up and saw the texts from Berhalter. The coach had opted for three goalkeepers who had been consistently in the picture for the U.S. during the cycle — Turner, Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson. Stunned by the decision, Steffen said he leaned heavily into his faith over the last year and a half, and that it was crucial for his ability to recover.“My faith has been a very big part of me this season, and growing in my faith, I focus on that,” Steffen said. “So that definitely helped me navigate this challenge. I’ve been trying to use the whole World Cup, not going, just as motivation.”Steffen seems to have found a balance. He has helped Middlesbrough push up the Championship standings into third place and is in a good position to fight for promotion to the Premier League. They sit just three points behind Sheffield United for automatic promotion, though with one more game played. For Steffen, getting promoted with ‘Boro has become his main focus. It’s driven him to become a better goalkeeper, he said. It has also been a huge part of his development in what is still a key growth stage for a goalkeeper. Steffen got limited minutes at Man City and every performance — good or bad — was under a microscope. He said he learned under manager Pep Guardiola not to let either type of energy or outing sway him too much. “I feel like I’m very much at peace with all the negativity,” he said. “I finally feel like this year I’m at peace with whatever happens and it’s part of my path. I don’t need outsiders to like me. I know myself and my game and my goalkeeping and I’m gonna use my staff and my coaches and our players to kind of push me through to get better.”

His goals, he said, are simple: Get promoted with Middlesbrough, be a starter in the Premier League and win trophies. He told the Inquirer it’s unlikely he’ll go back to Manchester City because he wants to keep getting games.He also noted that a big part of his goal setting is to be back in the national team consistently — and as a starter. The U.S. has several upcoming camps this summer, with both Nations League and Gold Cup, and Steffen said he wants to be a part of all of the games. He knows he’s in competition with Turner for the starting job, but that, unlike the last cycle, he’s coming into these camps as the No. 2 trying to unseat the starter.Steffen said the camaraderie between goalkeepers in the camp is strong, but after missing out on Qatar, he is intent on being in the squad for 2026.“I’m 100% committed to this team,” Steffen said. “I was thinking on the way from the airport to the hotel about when I would go to camp from Columbus, like, ‘Wow, that was forever ago.’ Time flies. And so now I’m really, really focused on just living in the moment, enjoying the time and just making sure I put in all the work that I can to stay healthy and to be at my best so that I can keep coming back. “I’m not gonna be able to play the sport forever, to dive around the goal and all that forever. So really just try and enjoy it and take it all in and play as much as I can before I gotta hang up the boots on the wall.”

Yunus Musah is excelling for USMNT but is he coming to a crossroads at Valencia?

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 03:  Tunus Musah of United States of America during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Netherlands and USA at Khalifa International Stadium on December 3, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)

By Dermot Corrigan and Thom Harrisar 24, 2023


After some personal and collective highs with the USA at last year’s World CupYunus Musah returned to find his club Valencia were going through yet another of their dramatic transitional seasons.

Valencia actually started 2022-23 very positively — in early September, then U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter came to Mestalla to see Musah provide two assists in a 5-1 win. It was his standout performance of the season, and maybe of his entire Valencia html

During the first months of Gattuso’s reign at Valencia, there was lots of energy and optimism around the club. But after the World Cup break, reality caught up with the youngest squad in the Primera Division, and a coach whose tactical approach did not suit many of his players.

Musah was arguably one of these. Gattuso wanted him to come deep and get involved in building intricate moves from his own half, whereas many at Valencia believe his biggest strengths are his physique and ability to carry the ball through the lines.

Gattuso’s replacement Ruben Baraja has brought a much more pragmatic (or basic) tactical approach. The team are now defending a lot deeper, taking fewer risks with the ball in their own half, and looking to play more on the counter-attack.

https://theathletic.com/report/podcast-clip/?clip_id=7267

Of course, numbers from Valencia’s 26 La Liga games so far in 2022-23 are skewed towards the 21 matches Gattuso was in charge of. This season, Musah is averaging just 0.37 carries into the penalty area per 90, as opposed to 1.4 the season before when the super-pragmatic Jose Bordalas was on the bench.

Musah’s carries into the final third have also increased slightly, suggesting that these bursting, powerful runs that US fans will be familiar with are mainly to progress his team into opposition territory, not to break dangerously into the opposition penalty box.

His 2022-23 carry map below measures carries of more than 20 yards – it shows how often he’s taking the ball over large distances, but how they’re largely ending in wide areas or distant central areas. Given how productive he can be for the USMNT team when driving forward in possession, this is arguably down to a general lack of direction in Valencia’s playing style, rather than any individual failing on the player’s part.

In less than three seasons in the Valencia senior side, Musah has already had five different coaches. So many changes in tactics, team shapes and the position he plays (holding midfield, attacking midfield, winger), will not have helped his development.

It should be a benefit that former midfielder Baraja has chosen a 4-3-3 quite similar to what Musah is used to with the USMNT, and is using him in the ‘interior’ or number 8 role he also fills for his national side. He still often drifts out to the right side, as shown by his touch map below, while pretty much covering every blade of grass on the pitch.



The lack of a fixed position could be argued to be affecting Musah’s productivity – his only assists in La Liga this season were the two against Getafe back in September. He has yet to score for his club this term, despite 17 shots, 10 of which came from outside the penalty area.A look at the smarterscout data profile below shows where his strengths and weaknesses lie, and also suggests that the recent change of coach at club level should benefit him.

His numbers for progressive passing and ball retention do not suggest a good fit with Gattuso’s desire for midfielders to build moves from deep to move the team up the pitch, though his defending impact (83 out of 99) does illustrate his use in the counter-pressing system that the Italian favoured.The graphic shows that Musah is an excellent ball carrier, who thrives on the transition with space to run into. He combines speed, athleticism and dynamic movement to be a box-to-box midfielder affecting both ends of the pitch; he arrives and receives in the box (96 out of 99) and has an above-average defending intensity (64 out of 99).

This all looks ideal for Baraja’s counter-attacking plan, and, in theory, more goals and assists should come soon.


Musah was an Arsenal academy product before moving to Spain in the summer of 2019. Within 18 months of arrival, his progress was rewarded with a new long-term contract tying him to Valencia until 2026.

Nevertheless, the club’s owners have made no secret of a policy of developing young players for profitable sales in the market, whether Musah, Portuguese midfielder Andre Almeida or Georgian goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili. Indeed, Musah’s name popped up in potential alternatives that Liverpool might consider should they miss out on Jude Bellingham this summer. Reports in Italy have also claimed that Serie A clubs including Inter Milan have been watching him too.

Unlike in previous years when Valencia had to sell players from David Silva through Andre Gomes to Goncalo Guedes, this summer they should not need to raise significant money in the transfer market to stay within their La Liga salary budget. However, there will be some comings and goings this summer, as usual.

Musah’s contract has a release clause of €100 million, which no other club is realistically going to pay. A bid of around €40 million, if one were to arrive, would be difficult for Valencia to turn down. But their preferred option, given he only recently turned 20, is for him to continue to progress and potentially be sold for a lot more in two or three years’ time.

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Meanwhile, Musah is seen as a “very strategic asset” for Valencia’s marketing and commercial activities, as growing their international fanbase and sponsorship revenues is a key objective for Lim and his board. When US broadcaster ESPN asked their audience which La Liga player they most wanted to follow after the World Cup, Musah gathered almost 50 per cent of the votes, well clear of second-placed Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski and third-placed Vinicius Junior of Real Madrid.

Valencia and La Liga themselves have looked to use that startling popularity, co-producing a documentary about his younger days and development.

On the pitch, Musah has become a vital member of the team over the last two years, whoever is coach. Only two outfielders — winger Samuel Lino and club captain Jose Gaya – have played more minutes for Valencia in La Liga so far in 2022-23 — impressive for a youngster at a foreign club, where turmoil is seemingly constant.

Baraja’s appointment has lifted the side, and they have won both home games under their new coach. Still, the 3-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid last weekend pushed Los Che back into the relegation zone.

The six La Liga games after the international break are against teams who are either out of form or also within the relegation struggle. This is either an opportunity for Musah and his side to climb clear of the bottom three, or could see them slip down into real danger of a first relegation since 1986.

The expectation at the club is that Baraja can bring the organisation and motivation required to achieve safety, and that his more direct and pragmatic tactics will be a positive for Musah. Those who know him at Valencia say he needs to play in a stable team, with confidence, and in the same position. And he should get that opportunity now.

But, longer term, this being Peter Lim’s Valencia, nothing can – or should – be ruled out.

Is Berhalter back in the mix for the USMNT? It’s complicated

Seth Vertelney 

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March 21, 2023 10:36 am ET

Last week couldn’t have gone much better for Gregg Berhalter.

The now-former-and-maybe-future U.S. men’s national team head coach got quite the one-two punch of good news: First U.S. Soccer’s independent investigation found that Berhalter and his wife Rosalind were forthcoming about the details of a 1992 domestic violence incident, and there was no reason to believe any further instances had occurred.

U.S. Soccer concluded that Berhalter “remains a candidate to serve as head coach of the men’s national team.”

But there can be a big gulf between “remains a candidate” and “actually has a shot.” That gap, though, was significantly shortened after an interview Christian Pulisic gave to ESPN.

After calling the affair involving Claudio and Danielle Reyna “childish,” Pulisic was asked if he’d be comfortable with Berhalter getting his old job back.

“Yeah, no doubt, no doubt about it,” he said. “I think the strides that we’ve taken in recent years with him in charge, have been evident. I think it’s quite clear.”

Being cleared by an investigation is one thing, but seeing your normally reticent star give such a clear and public backing will give U.S. Soccer something to chew on.

But there are still quite a few steps before Berhalter gets his old job back. First and foremost, the person who will hire the new (or old) USMNT coach isn’t even in place yet.

U.S. Soccer has said interviews for its sporting director position are underway, with the hope that Earnie Stewart’s replacement is in place before the World Cup kicks off in July.

That would put U.S. Soccer right on its previously stated timeline of hiring a new USMNT coach by summer’s end. That is roughly as far from now as the USMNT’s pre-World Cup friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia. In other words: a while!

And much could happen in that span of time, most plausibly Berhalter being offered a different job.

Berhalter’s resume could make him intriguing to clubs in Europe: a lengthy playing career in the Netherlands and Germany as well as experience coaching in Europe with Hammarby. He would also, of course, be an appealing candidate for an ambitious MLS club.

As Berhalter himself said: “There are options.”

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Assuming Berhalter isn’t spoken for by the time U.S. Soccer actually gets around to choosing a coach, there are still potential pitfalls to a theoretical reappointment.

One: Do any core players have lingering problems with Berhalter’s now-infamous HOW Institute speech?

Pulisic seems to be fine with it but others, most notably ex-USMNT star DaMarcus Beasley, have pointed to that speech as the moment Berhalter lost the locker room.

Beasley, of course, isn’t in that locker room anymore, but he may talk to people that are. In any case, U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said this weekend that USMNT players will be consulted on the hire. One wonders if Gio Reyna would be one of them.

The second issue is even more substantial, and will demand serious introspection from all parties. Yes, it’s about that 1992 incident.

U.S. Soccer’s independent investigation “cleared” Berhalter as much as it could have, but it’s hard to really declare victory when the underlying issue involves a confirmed case of domestic violence.

Should Berhalter emerge as a serious candidate by the summer, U.S. Soccer will have to ask itself an extremely thorny question: Does it want the leader of its national team on the biggest stage possible, a home World Cup, to have anything but a spotless record?

Yes, it was a drunken argument between teenagers, and Berhalter’s behavior since that moment appears to have been exemplary. But: it happened.

Excluding Berhalter on the basis of that moment feels unsettling, in part because it would give Claudio and Danielle Reyna what they wanted. But it would be pretty much the definition of Pyrrhic victory.

Berhalter certainly has options now. But, despite his very good week, there is a long way before coaching the USMNT again is one of them.

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3/22/23 US vs Grenada Sat 8 pm HBO Max, 11th NWSL season starts Sat, Euro Qualifying on FS1 &2, Indy 11 home opener next Sat 7 pm,

So this is officially the first Ole Ballcoach coming from overseas as I am in France today before heading to London next week with my wife – before I meet the Carmel FC contingent next Friday for 10 glorious days of soccer training and game in and around London.  First stop will be Liverpool and Everton on Friday followed by Wrexum and Wales on Saturday before heading to London.  No games – (international break-read all about the games below) just stadium visits as I look forward to taking my lovely wife to the loveliest Cottage on the Teims and London’s oldest football club Fulham on Tues night for England U21 match action.  Full updates will be on this link if you would like to follow along. 

USA vs Grenada Sat 8 pm HBO Max & Peacock

The full USMNT has reconvened this week for a pair of Nations League games that should assure us moving into the Finals this summer in Vegas.  The first is Saturday’s home match with Grenada at 8 pm Sat on HBO Max and Peacock (Spanish).  Pregame starts at 7 pm with post game after.  The biggest news involves controversial winger Gio Reyna returning to the fold (after his parents fiasco in getting Berthalter booted from the US Top job) along with Centerback Miles Robinson returning after his injury last year kept him from this winters World Cup.  Also back is Zack Steffan in goal along with West Broms hot forward Daryl Dike and Ricardo Pepi up front.  The US will have a chance to cap tie winger Alex Zendejas who has declared for the US over Mexico,while Alan Sonora of Juarez could do the same.  Definitely worth the watch Sat as we see who might make important statements they should be included in this summer’s Nations League title defense – assuming we win the next two @ Grenada Sat and home in Orlando Tues 8:30 pm vs El Salvador. 

Who Shane Starts Sat

Pulisic //Dike //Zendejas

Aasronson//McKennie//Musah

Jedi///Ream, Robinson/Dest

Matt Turner  

NWSL Season Starts this Saturday on Para + & CBS Sports Network

the NWSL kicks off its 11th season with optimism after an offseason of controversy involving coaching harassment and ownership issues at certain clubs has been mostly resolved.  The season will feature a Women’s World Cup down-under in July (yey my Daughter Courtney is going – so jealous) as well as a host of US Women’s National Team players vying to show they should be chosen to help defend their World Cup title.  Here’s a quick glace ahead at the season and predictions.  Full Season Previews are below.  The opening weekend features 7 games on Paramount plus Sunday along with a Sat 2 pm on Para+ and 10 pm Sat on CBS Sports Network featuring the San Diego Wave (Alex Morgan, Taylor Kornieck, Naomi Girma) and the Chicago Red Stars (Swanson, Davidson, Naeher).   Megan Rapino voted Women of Year by Time

Indy 11@ Detroit City Sat 4 pm ESPN+ / Season Opener April 1 7 pm

Following a second away affair to start the season at Detroit City FC this Saturday, March 25 (4:00 p.m., live on ESPN+), Indy Eleven will kick off the home portion of its USL Championship campaign on Saturday, April 1, when the Boys in Blue welcome Las Vegas Lights FC for a 7:00 p.m. ET kickoff in the Circle City. Indy Eleven midfielder Aodhan Quinn’s 96th minute penalty kick conversion helped Indiana’s Team claim a hard-earned point via a 1-1 draw with the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium in week 1 – new Goalkeeper Oettl was Named to USLC Team of the Week just edging out reigning GK of the year and former Carmel FC and Indy 11 GK Jordan Farr for week 1 honors.Single-game tickets for all home games at IUPUI Carroll Stadium along with 17-game Season Ticket Memberships, specially-priced group tickets, and an increased portfolio of hospitality options are available for purchase now via indyeleven.com/tickets or by calling 317-685-1100   Full Schedule   Promotions 

The 24-man roster for the USMNT:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough), Matt Turner (Arsenal)

DEFENDERS (8): Sergiño Dest (AC Milan), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Tim Ream (Fulham FC), Bryan Reynolds (Westerlo), Antonee Robinson (Fulham FC), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Auston Trusty (Birmingham City)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Leeds United), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Alan Soñora (Juárez)

FORWARDS (7): Taylor Booth (Utrecht), Daryl Dike (West Bromwich Albion), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea FC), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Tim Weah (Lille), Alex Zendejas (Club América)

GAMES ON TV

(American’s names in Parenthesis)

Thurs, Mar 23

3:45 pm Fox Sport 1        Italy vs England  

Fri, Mar 24

3:45 pm                              France vs Netherlands

3:45 pm Fox Sports 1       Sweden vs Belgium

Sat, Mar 25                        NWSL Starts

1 pm FS2                             Belarus vs Switzerland

2 pm Para+                         NC Courage vs KC Current NWSL

3:45 pm FS2                       Spain vs Norway

4 pm ESPN+                Detroit City vs Indy 11

4:30 pm Fox                       Portland vs LA Galaxy  MLS

8 pm HBO Max, Peacock    Grenada vs USA Men

8:30 pm Apple+                Nashville vs Cincy MSL

830 pm Apple TV               Sporting KC vs Seattle MLS

10 pm CBS SN                    San Diego Wave (Morgan ) vs Chicago Red Stars (Sophia Smith)

1:30 pm Apple TV             LAFC vs Dallas

 Sun, Mar 26

1 pm FS1                             Denmark vs Kahastahn  

3 pm FS2                             England vs Ukraine ?   

4 pm Para+                 Washington Spirit vs Seattle Reign

5 pm Para_                         Portland Thorns (Rapino) vs Orlando Pride

7 pm Para+                         Houston Dash vs Racing Louisville

9 pm Para+                         Angel City vs NY Gothem FC

Apple +                                Nashville vs Cincy MLS

Tues, Mar 28

12 noon FS2                       Georgia vs Norway

3:45 pm                              Turkey vs Croatia  

8:30 pm HBO Max, Peacock   USA Men vs El Salvador

April 1: Kansas City Current vs. Portland Thorns — CBS, 12:30 p.m.

Indy 11 Schedule

NWSL Schedule

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

Christian Pulisic’s comments on Gregg Berhalter show a new willingness to be vocal

AL KHOR, QATAR - NOVEMBER 25: Gregg Berhalter, Head Coach of United States, speaks with Christian Pulisic after the 0-0 draw during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between England and USA at Al Bayt Stadium on November 25, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

By Paul Tenorio

Mar 17, 2023

104


U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic gave a strong endorsement of former U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter in a wide-ranging interview with ESPN.

Pulisic noted that he was “not here to appoint the next manager” and “whoever it is, I’m gonna play and give 100 percent,” but when asked if he would be “reasonably content” if Berhalter returned as coach, Pulisic made his thoughts clear.

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“Yeah, no doubt about it,” Pulisic said. “The strides we have taken in recent years with him appointed I think has been evident. I think it’s quite clear.”

The initial clip published by ESPN on Thursday included Pulisic commenting on the investigation and drama that surrounded Berhalter and Pulisic’s World Cup teammate, Gio Reyna, after the World Cup, calling it “childish” and “youth soccer” to see “people complaining about playing time” and saying “Gregg has been extremely unfortunate to get into the position he is now.”  Pulisic also pushed U.S. Soccer to not meander or delay in appointing a sporting director and coach so that the U.S. team could move forward into the next cycle.

“I think we want to continue as soon as we can and build from this World Cup,” he said. U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone has said her hope is a manager is appointed by the end of the summer, which could mean the U.S. goes eight months without a permanent coach.

But the full interview dropped on Friday revealed much more from Pulisic, including 10 minutes speaking specifically about Berhalter and his work as national team manager.

The comments from Pulisic are notable because few players from the World Cup team had stepped up to speak publicly about the investigation or Berhalter — Pulisic’s comments are the strongest of any player so far. The interview seemed to signal Pulisic’s intent to be a public voice for the U.S. team moving forward, something he had yet to do over the past six years, even as the USMNT’s biggest star.

It was undoubtedly the most revealing interview Pulisic has given, with real depth as to his experiences and feelings around the last cycle — which wasn’t an easy four years for the star winger.

At one point, Pulisic was dropped from the starting lineup during World Cup qualifying, coming off the bench to score a goal against Honduras in February 2022. Pulisic recalled that benching under Berhalter, saying he “wanted to kill the guy” when he was dropped, but that his understanding of Berhalter’s decision evolved over time. Pulisic said Berhalter “has grown on me a lot over the years.”

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“There were moments when he benched me and I wanted to kill the guy — I hated him, I was so angry — but then the next game comes along, and then I find myself in a better place,” he said. “The way he handled a lot of situations, I have to give him a lot of credit.”

Pulisic may not have worn the captain’s armband in Qatar, but his influence on the team is very real. He’s the most impactful attacking player on the team, as his performances at the World Cup showed, and his accomplishments on the club level have made him the focal point of the U.S. team almost since his debut in the failed 2018 World Cup cycle.

There have been questions about Pulisic’s relationship with Berhalter, in part because of public moments between the star and the coach. Notably, Pulisic was subbed off during a 2-0 loss to Canada in the Nations League in 2019 and the winger was in tears on the bench after the decision. His departure from a friendly against Japan in September 2022 — he sprinted off the field and past Berhalter — also raised eyebrows.

But Pulisic made clear in the interview with ESPN that he developed an understanding for Berhalter’s way of communication from his first camp under the coach. In that camp, Pulisic scored against Chile, but suffered a slight injury. After getting a scan on the injury, Pulisic told ESPN he returned to the team hotel and was summoned by Berhalter for a meeting. The coach suggested that the injuries may have been happening because Pulisic wasn’t training with the intensity at which he played in games. Pulisic was taken aback at first, he said, but eventually he took in the advice and “it changed the way I look at training, even today.”

“Listen, it wasn’t easy, and it took me a little while, but I said ‘Let me take this onboard,’ and since then I’ve been in a much better place,” Pulisic told ESPN. “It’s things like that. The way that he deals with players, you can tell he is passionate, and he cares about his players. He’s not going to tell you it easy, or what you want to hear, he is going to tell you what he feels is going to improve you.”

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Pulisic also spoke about the way the U.S. team played at the World Cup and multiple times confirmed the strength of the team culture — something multiple players noted during the course of qualifying and at the World Cup tournament.

“I think he did a good job of showing the team and helping everyone to understand, ‘Look, this is how we’re gonna play in a short period of time,’” Pulisic said.

The interview also included several other answers from Pulisic about scoring at the World Cup, the bond within the team during and after the tournament and learning to deal with disappointments and injuries in his career.

The takeaway, though, seemed to be Pulisic’s willingness to open up — about Berhalter, about the coaching search and about his own experiences in Qatar. It was a notable change for a player whose introverted personality has often prompted him to shy away from a bigger media presence.

After starring in Qatar, it could signal a shift in the 24-year-old’s approach as a more willing vocal leader, both within the team and, potentially, in the public eye.

“I’m not a man of many words,” Pulisic said. “I like to be very particular in what I do say, but I do hope to improve on that as I get older, and I think I have already in recent years.”

Champions League quarterfinal reaction: Predictions, lines, stats, more

ar 17, 2023 Mark Ogden Julien Laurens

Now that the quarterfinal matchups for the UEFA Champions League are set, ESPN’s Mark Ogden and Julien Laurens look at how each team fared in the draw, the players who could decide each tie and which teams are the safest bets to advance.

– Full UCL quarterfinal draw: Man City vs. Bayern, more

The quarterfinal first legs will take place April 11-12, with the return legs held April 18-19. The semifinals will be staged May 9-10 and May 16-17.This year’s final will be held at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey on June 10.


 logo logoReal Madrid vs. Chelsea

How these two sides match up

This is a rematch of last season’s incredible quarterfinal. Karim Benzema scored a hat-trick and Real Madrid won 3-1 at Stamford Bridge before Chelsea shocked the Bernabeu in the second leg by leading 3-0 with a dominant performance, until Rodrygo and then Benzema again, in extra time, led Madrid to victory and knocked the Londoners out.

This time around, Real Madrid are even more favoured compared to a year ago. The European champions are not firing in all cylinders in LaLiga, where they trail Barcelona by nine points, but when it comes to the Champions League, they have this remarkable savoir faire and experience; they rarely panic and always keep control of their destiny. The way they won at Anfield against Liverpool (5-2) in the last round reminded everybody of their strength.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)
– Read on ESPN+: Data picks the world’s best male player

Chelsea, on the other hand, are not the team they were a year ago — far from it. Despite three wins in a row, including a victory in their last-16 second leg against Borussia Dortmund, Graham Potter is still looking for consistency and momentum. The Blues will have to be an improved team in a month’s time when they travel to Madrid if they want to cause problems. Time could play in their favour in this case.

The key player who could decide it for each team

REAL MADRID: Karim Benzema. Despite an up-and-down season because of injuries at age 35, Karim Benzema is still the most important player in this Real Madrid side. Of course, ViniciusLuka ModricAntonio Rudiger or Thibaut Courtois are massively important but the 2022 Ballon d’Or is the X factor, the leader, the soul, the scorer and the guide of the team.

Since the restart, he has been in great scoring form when he plays and his record in knockout rounds of the Champions League since last season is unreal: 13 goals in his past eight matches beyond the group stage. His consistency — 89 Champions League goals now in his career, the only player along with Lionel Messi to have scored in 18 European campaigns in a row — is outstanding and he is clutch by definition. A man for the biggest occasions.

Pulisic’s Champions League warning: I wouldn’t want to play Chelsea

Christian Pulisic has high hopes for Chelsea in the Champions League, with Graham Potter’s side starting to click.

CHELSEA: Wesley Fofana. If Chelsea are currently doing better, it’s mostly because of the defender’s form. Since coming back from injury and settling into the Blues’ back three, the former Leicester defender has made this team much more solid, and even scored the winner against Leeds in the Premier League. His partnership with Kalidou Koulibaly is excellent and whoever is named as the third man in the defense — Marc CucurellaBenoit BadiashileThiago Silva — will fit in nicely.

His duel with Benzema, if both of them are fit to play, will be the biggest key in this game. At 22, Fofana is learning quickly about the demands of the top level and this could prove his biggest test yet. Didier Deschamps even called him up for France for the first time on Thursday, which will boost his confidence before what will be a huge end of the season for him.

Who advances?

Real Madrid. I don’t think this will be an easy tie at all for the European champions. I expect Chelsea to be better by the time the first leg comes and to make this competitive. Yet the experience and recent success of Real Madrid in this competition make them favourites. — Laurens


Inter Milan logo logoInter Milan vs. Benfica

How these two sides match up

A very long time ago, they faced each other in the European Cup final and neither of them would have started this current Champions League campaign back in September thinking they could meet again in the quarterfinals this time. But here they are, enjoying two very different styles and seasons.

SATURDAY, MARCH 25 (all times ET)
• Barnsley vs. Ipswich Town (11 a.m.)
• Detroit City vs. Indy Eleven (4 p.m.)
• Sac Republic vs. SD Loyal (10 p.m.)
• Oakland Roots vs. Memphis 901 (10 p.m.)
• Orange County SC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC (10 p.m.)

Benfica are one of the best teams in Europe right now, with Roger Schmidt’s team only losing one game all season. They play great football with intensity, movement and intelligence. Even the departure of Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea at the end of January doesn’t seem to have hurt them.

They will face an Inter Milan side who have struggled at times. It’s not the nice ball-playing team of last season, but rather more pragmatic, having defended for its life against Porto in the last-16 second leg and managing to keep its 1-0 advantage from the first leg. They are capable of good football but we have not seen it enough this season. They still beat Napoli in Serie A, which says a lot about their ability on their day.

The key player who could decide it for each team

INTER MILAN: Andre Onana. It’s incredible to think that manager Simone Inzaghi took so long to give him the starting spot ahead of Samir Handanovic, but since he did, the Cameroon international has been great — particularly in Europe. He was incredible against Porto in the two games: his incredible double save in the first leg was one of Inter’s most important moments this season.

Onana’s perfect distribution helps the team when under pressure and on his line, he is capable of miracles, even if sometimes there is still a mistake or two in him. For a back-to-back trip to Portugal, he will probably have even more work to do against the formidable Benfica attack than he did against Porto. And he will have to be ready.

BENFICA: Goncalo Ramos. Darwin Nunez left Benfica last summer for Liverpool, but Goncalo Ramos has made Benfica a better team than when Nunez was there! The 21-year-old Portuguese striker, who scored a hat-trick at the World Cup against Switzerland, has been on fire all season: In 12 Champions League games so far, he has seven goals and three assists, with 15 goals and one assist in 20 league matches.

He is not just a great finisher; Ramos is already a complete forward with quick feet and great awareness. He has been a handful for every opponent this season, even when he has not been scoring. Inter’s back three will have to find a way to keep him quiet.

Who advances?

Benfica. I think the Portuguese side will have too much for Inter. Roger Schmidt and his players have been unplayable at times this season, and their intensity will be a problem. Inzaghi will have a plan and this Inter side can defend well, but they also have too many weaknesses to beat Benfica over two games. — Laurens


Man City logo logoMan City vs. Bayern Munich

How these two sides match up

This fixture could have been a sensational final between two Champions League heavyweights, but despite both sides having ambitions to win this season’s competition, neither has reached their usual high standards during this campaign. Bayern have won all eight Champions League games this season — City have won five and drawn three — but they have been inconsistent in the Bundesliga. City have been similarly unconvincing in the Premier League.

EDITOR’S PICKS

But while there is a sense that each team enjoyed its peak maybe two or three years ago, both are capable of producing a big performance to win this tie. Bayern overcame Paris Saint-Germain in the last round with a blend of youth and experience — the precocious talent of Jamal Musiala, the Champions League pedigree of Kingsley ComanSerge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka, plus the ageless Thomas Muller.

City displayed their ruthless side by beating RB Leipzig 7-0 in the second leg, with Erling Haaland scoring five goals, and that display was a warning to all of their Champions League rivals. But Kevin De Bruyne and goalkeeper Ederson are struggling for form, just as Bayern have had to overcome the injury that ruled keeper Manuel Neuer out for the season.

Both these teams have weaknesses, even coaches Julian Nagelsmann (no European success) and Pep Guardiola (too prone to erratic tactics at this stage of the competition), so neither can claim to be the favourite. It may all come down to Haaland and whether he is unstoppable again or contained by Bayern.

The key player who could decide it for each team

MAN CITY: Rodri. This game will be won in midfield and City need to control Bayern much better than PSG were able to in the last round. If Rodri is at his best, City should dictate the tempo of the game and that will be decisive. But if Goretzka and Muller run the show, as they did against PSG, it will give Bayern the edge. Guardiola may need to deploy Ilkay Gundogan alongside Rodri in order to tilt the tie in City’s favour.

BAYERN MUNICH: Jamal Musiala. Bayern might seem like a team in transition right now, with the team still adjusting to last summer’s loss of Robert Lewandowski, but Musiala is their shining light and the 20-year-old surely causes Pep Guardiola the greatest concern. The Germany attacker can run at defenders, pick a pass and score goals — in many ways he fits the profile of a perfect Guardiola player — so he will be a major problem for City and Bayern’s best hope.

Who advances?

Bayern Munich. This tie is so tough to call, but Bayern have the edge due to playing the second leg at home. Clubs such as Bayern — you can compare them to Real Madrid and Liverpool in this sense — possess an X factor in European games because of their history and the belief that it gives to players and supporters.

City only have the pressure to deliver after consistent Champions League failure, and I expect that to work against them again. — Mark Ogden


 logoNapoli logoAC Milan vs. Napoli

How these two sides match up

On paper, this tie looks like a mismatch, with Napoli 20 points clear of Milan in Serie A and on course to win a first Scudetto since 1990. Luciano Spalletti’s side beat Milan 2-1 at San Siro in September and they are the top scorers in the Champions League with 25 goals this season. But Milan are the reigning Italian champions and despite enduring a difficult recent period, they remain a European giant, with only Real Madrid (14) winning more Champions Leagues than the Rossoneri (7).

If this tie goes to form, however, Napoli will reach the semifinals for the first time. They have arguably been the most impressive team in this season’s competition because of the performances of Victor Osimhen, Kim Min-jae, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and so many others. They’re not just a formidable force going forward, either: they have the best defensive record in Serie A and have conceded just six goals in eight Champions League ties this season.

Even as overwhelming favourites, Napoli will have to cope with the pressure of expectancy against a domestic rival and Champions League history is littered with examples of upsets in ties between teams from the same country. Milan simply have to find a way of stopping Napoli’s formidable forwards, though it seems an impossible task.

The key player who could decide it for each team

AC MILAN: Fikayo Tomori. If Milan are to pull off a shock in this tie, they simply have to stop Napoli forward Victor Osimhen. And having kept Harry Kane quiet during the round-of-16 tie against Tottenham, England defender Tomori is likely to be tasked with doing the same job here. Of course, Napoli have threats in all areas of the pitch, but Milan will look to stifle the game in order to remain in the tie when the play the second leg in Naples. Their defenders have huge responsibility on their shoulders and Tomori will carry most of it.

NAPOLI: Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The Georgia international has been the breakout star of this season’s Champions League. He tore Liverpool apart in the first group game back in September and he has continued in a similar vein throughout the campaign. His stats of two goals and four assists in the competition so far do not do justice to the impact he has had for Napoli, where he has been nicknamed Kvaradona, after club legend Diego Maradona, because of his game-changing ability.

Who advances?

Napoli. Milan have the pedigree and that always counts for something in the Champions League, but Napoli are so superior to Stefano Pioli’s team that the ghosts of Milan’s glorious past won’t be able to knock them off their stride. Napoli can go all the way this season; don’t expect Milan to stop them. — Ogden


Who will reach the final based on the full draw?

Real Madrid and Napoli: Bayern have a great record against Real over the years, but Carlo Ancelotti’s team are too strong to falter against the Germans again this time around and they will also be too good for Manchester City. Napoli are the outstanding team in the other half of the bracket: it’s tough to see Inter or Benfica beating them over two games in the semis if they get beyond Milan. — Ogden

Manchester City and Napoli: Napoli are the outstanding favourites in the side of the draw and unless something crazy happens to their star players, they are way too good for Inter, Benfica or Milan. The road to the final for City is much harder but Pep Guardiola and his players have learned from their mistakes and disappointments of the past. This could be their year and beating Bayern Munich and Real Madrid or Chelsea will make them stronger. — Laurens

MLS Power Rankings: Atlanta, St. Louis climb into top five as LAFC cement status at the top

11:07 PM CET Ryan Rosenblatt

Are we finally getting an idea for how the field of MLS teams stack up? It sure feels like it as sides find their footing, offseason signings have mostly all found the field and new managers’ philosophies take hold.Then again, we have D.C. United adding Lewis O’Brien, Minnesota United bringing in Jeong Sang-bin, the LA Galaxy signing Julian Aude and the Houston Dynamo acquiring Erik Sviatchenko. Those are just a few of the new signings being finalized, plus the many more certain to come with the close of the transfer window still weeks away.As per usual, you think you have a handle on the league, but do you ever really?

Let’s rank these ever-changing teams.

1. LAFC

Previous ranking: 1

The Black and Gold played to their first scoreless draw in more than 100 matches over the weekend, but it was indicative of how much the team has grown in the past couple of years that it could play that type of match against an excellent Seattle team and not look out of sorts. This team is comfortable in so many styles of play now.

2. Seattle Sounders

Previous ranking: 3

What was so telling about the Sounders’ draw with LAFC is not just how good both teams are, being able to match each other at such a high level, but how, despite playing in very different ways, they both have the capability to be malleable and meet the style and quality of the opposition. It’s a versatility that you don’t usually see teams be capable of, especially so early in the season.

3. Atlanta United FC

Previous ranking: 5

Imagine being a defender and having Atlanta United running at you. You have to pick up the numbers coming at you, track their smart runs, be aware of their array of clever passes and scramble in front of any shots. Most of all, you cannot foul them because if you do, Thiago Almada is just going to add to his free kick highlight reel like he did in Atlanta’s 5-1 shellacking of Portland. Good luck!

4. FC Cincinnati

Previous ranking: 2

Should Cincy need Luciano Acosta to come off the bench and rescue a draw against Chicago? Probably not, but no team is going to apologize for having a guy who can turn a match on a dime.

5. St. Louis City SC

Previous ranking: 11

A comprehensive win over San Jose and the complete list of expansion teams to win their first four games in the history of MLS is as follows: St. Louis City.

6. Philadelphia Union

Previous ranking: 4

Jim Curtin called their loss to Montreal “a s—show.” This may have been the worst example of Philly failing to control games this season, but it’s not the only one, which is astounding considering how supremely good at it the Union were a year ago. And somehow, this still feels like a blip and not a serious flaw in the team.

7. Nashville SC

Previous ranking: 7

There’s no reason to question Nashville’s ability to play when things go its way, but can it chase a game? Nashville couldn’t against the Revs when it conceded its first goal of the season and thus took its first loss of the season. Whether it can play from behind may dictate how far this team goes in 2023.

NWSL TV schedule 2023: Broadcast and streaming on CBS networks

Pro Soccer Wire Staff  March 16, 2023 1:20 pm ET

The NWSL has announced its broadcast schedule for the 2023 season, with all 176 matches available either on TV or streaming.CBS Sports will carry all of the leagues matches, which will be split between the CBS broadcast channel, CBS Sports Network (CBSSN), and the Paramount+ streaming platform.The CBS broadcast channel will carry six games, with CBSSN carrying 23 and the rest all streaming on Paramount+.“In this ever-changing media landscape, multi-platform coverage is key to ensuring the NWSL’s sustained growth and exposure in the U.S. and abroad. We are proud to once again make all 176 matches available to our global audience through a variety of viewership platforms,” said NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman.“We have also made a number of enhancements to our broadcast production, from headcount to equipment to on-air talent, and we are excited to provide an improved viewing experience that matches the quality of play on the pitch this season.”Below are all of the games available on television in 2023, with the matches not listed available on Paramount+. Games in italics are part of the Challenge Cup.

2023 NWSL TV schedule (all times ET)

March 25: San Diego Wave vs. Chicago Red Stars — CBSSN, 10 p.m.

April 1: Kansas City Current vs. Portland Thorns — CBS, 12:30 p.m.

April 14: Portland Thorns vs. Houston Dash — CBSSN, 10:30 p.m.

April 15: Angel City FC vs. Racing Louisville — CBSSN, 10 p.m.

April 19: Houston Dash vs. Kansas City Current — CBSSN, 7:30 p.m.

April 19: Angel City FC vs. OL Reign — CBSSN, 10 p.m.

April 29: San Diego Wave vs. Orlando Pride — CBSSN, 10 p.m.

May 6: Washington Spirit vs. San Diego Wave — CBS, 1 p.m.

May 10: Washington Spirit vs. Orlando Pride — CBSSN, 7:30 p.m.

May 27: Racing Louisville vs. North Carolina Courage — CBSSN, 8 p.m.

June 3: OL Reign vs. Portland Thorns — CBSSN, 8 p.m.

June 7: NJ/NY Gotham FC vs. Orlando Pride — CBSSN, 7:30 p.m.

June 11: Orlando Pride vs. Portland Thorns — CBSSN, 7 p.m.

June 17: San Diego Wave vs. Angel City FC — CBS, 4 p.m.

June 18: Racing Louisville vs. NJ/NY Gotham FC — CBS, 4 p.m.

June 28: Angel City FC vs. San Diego Wave — CBSSN, 10:30 p.m.

July 1: Portland Thorns vs. Kansas City Current — CBSSN, 10 p.m.

September 3: Washington Spirit vs. Chicago Red Stars — CBSSN, 5 p.m.

September 6: Challenge Cup semifinal — CBSSN, 7:30 p.m.

September 6: Challenge Cup semifinal — CBSSN, 10 p.m.

September 9: Challenge Cup final — CBS, 12:30 p.m.

September 17: Chicago Red Stars vs. Angel City FC — CBSSN, 6 p.m.

September 21: Angel City FC vs. Orlando Pride — CBSSN, 10 p.m.

October 1: NJ/NY Gotham FC vs. Houston Dash — CBSSN, 6:30 p.m.

October 8: Houston Dash vs. Angel City FC — CBSSN, 7 p.m.

October 22: NWSL quarterfinal — CBSSN, 5 p.m.

November 5: NWSL semifinal — CBSSN, 7 p.m.

November 5: NWSL semifinal — CBSSN, 9:30 p.m.

November 11: NWSL championship — CBS, 8 p.m.

NWSL reference guide 2023: Everything you need to know for the upcoming season

Jason Anderson  March 21, 2023 4:57 pm ET

The 11th NWSL season kicks off this Saturday, and it feels like a pivotal one for the league.For one, it’s a World Cup year, and the NWSL has always looked to the world’s biggest tournament as an accelerant when it comes to driving interest. With nearly the entire U.S. women’s national team playing for NWSL clubs, and dozens of other players for other nations doing the same, it’s not hard to see why.Just as significantly, the league has come through two extremely fraught years off the field. A first-ever Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NWSL Players’ Association and the league is in effect, instituting some badly needed standards when it comes to player safety, resources, and salary. Teams that badly needed to clean house have done so, while the league headquarters has grown in terms of staff, experience, and capabilities.All of that change means some longstanding NWSL basics have been altered. That brings us to this piece, a quick reference guide for some important NWSL regulations, including competition formats and rosters.

Regular season format

The 2023 regular season will begin March 25, with the North Carolina Courage and Kansas City Current’s 2:00pm Eastern kickoff officially getting things under way.Each team will play 22 regular season games, with a balanced schedule involving two games (one at home, and one away) against the other 11 teams in the league. The regular season runs until October 15, which will see all 12 teams play games scheduled for 5:00pm Eastern in what is the league’s first “Decision Day.”The NWSL will only have one mid-week regular season game out of 132, a major improvement over years past that players, fans, teams, and league officials all agreed was a must going forward.The top six teams in the regular season standings will advance to the playoffs, which are set to begin “in late October.” As was the case in 2022, the third- and fourth-placed teams will host first-round games, with the winners advancing to play road semifinals against the winners of the 2023 NWSL Shield (given to the top regular season team) and the regular season runners-up.The NWSL’s semifinals are set for November 4, while the final will be played at a to-be-announced venue on November 11.

Is there a break for the World Cup?

Yes, but only for the regular season. NWSL will pause its regular season after the July 7-9 round of fixtures, and will not resume until the weekend of August 18-20.The Challenge Cup, however, will play nearly half of its group-stage games during that span.The 2023 World Cup begins on July 20, and will run until August 20. While it’s not entirely clear how long U.S. women’s national team players will be gone (for major tournaments, U.S. Soccer generally manages to convince clubs to release players before FIFA-mandated deadlines), it is likely that a USWNT run to the final will result in many players missing at least three rounds of regular season fixtures.

Oh right, the Challenge Cup. What’s happening there?

The Challenge Cup is back, but after intense criticism over a frankly unworkable and borderline dangerous schedule, it has been changed significantly.Some things are still the same: the four-team groups based on geography from last season are still in place.

  • East: NJ/NY Gotham FC, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Washington Spirit
  • Central: Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, Kansas City Current, Racing Louisville
  • West: Angel City FC, OL Reign, Portland Thorns, San Diego Wave

The competition format is also identical. Each team will play home and away games against the others in their group, for a total of six matches. Each group winner, and the group runner-up with the best record, will advance to single-game semifinals hosted by the team with the superior record on September 6.The final, hosted by the team with the best record between the two finalists, will take place just three days later on September 9.

The major change is to the tournament’s calendar. Rather than last year’s needlessly tight timeframe — the group stage lasted just 37 days, with the semifinal and final forcing multiple regular season games to be rescheduled — the Challenge Cup will be sprinkled throughout the spring and summer.NWSL got out of the business of mid-week regular season games, but the Challenge Cup will see plenty of Wednesday night action. The first 20 of the 36 group stage fixtures will be on Wednesdays scattered through April, May, and June.However, once NWSL begins a 39-day break from regular season play for the World Cup, the Challenge Cup will become a weekend event. The final 16 group stage games will be played exclusively on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.In announcing this shift in timing, the NWSL said that the Challenge Cup will “be the first-ever women’s professional soccer tournament to achieve pay equity with its U.S. peers in the men’s game.” In that case, the closest analogue is the U.S. Open Cup, which doles out $300,000 to its winner and another $100,000 to the losing finalist.

Roster size changes

The 2023 season is the first that will operate under the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NWSL Players’ Association and the league, and that includes roster sizes.In 2023, NWSL teams are required to have 22 players on their senior roster at a bare minimum, and can carry up to 26 players.Furthermore, a team has flexibility with spots 23-26. Teams are free to use these spots for more senior players, or for supplemental contracts. Team A could sign 26 players to senior contracts, while Team B could have 22 senior contracts and then four more players on supplemental deals, and so on.That’s a pretty nuanced change. On a surface level, it looks like two jobs lost per team, but it’s not that simple. In 2022, teams were required to have just 18 players on senior contracts, with a maximum of 24. Teams could then carry up to four players on supplemental contracts, meaning a hypothetical team in 2022 could carry a total of 28 active players.In 2023, the raise in minimum requirements means that the new CBA has locked in four more senior contracts per team, or 48 in total. The new rules also expand the maximum number of possible senior contracts, which has gone from 288 (24 per team) to 312 (26 per team).What’s the difference between a senior contract and a supplemental contract? Here are the relevant passages from this year’s competition manual:

1.1.2.SENIOR ROSTER PLAYERS
Senior Roster Players are eligible for any compensation, including bonuses, as allowed by NWSL policies. Salaries of Senior Players count against the Salary Cap, except as otherwise noted.

1.1.3.SUPPLEMENTAL ROSTER PLAYERS
Supplemental Roster Players are Domestic Players who sign a Semi-Guaranteed SPA for the League Minimum Salary and the only bonus they are eligible for is the League-provided Post-Season and Award Bonuses. Salaries of Supplemental Roster Players on the Roster do not count against the Salary Cap.

Salary cap is up

The 2023 NWSL salary cap is $1,375,000, a jump of $275,000 (or a raise of 25% from 2022’s cap of $1.1 million). Allocation money, meanwhile, remains capped at $600,000, and teams still only get to use it if their ownership group puts the money up first.

The NWSL minimum salary for 2023 is $36,400, while the maximum cap charge per player is $200,000.

Why “cap charge” and not “salary?” Let’s consult the NWSL competition  manual on what the former term means:

At last, NWSL players hopefully have a season in which they can focus on soccer, not scandal

4:46 PM CET ESPN Jeff Carlisle U.S. soccer correspondent ESPNFC

The run-up to the start of the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League season is a time for the organization, its teams and its players to take a deep breath. The marathon — and one that’s being sandwiched around the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup — is about to begin. The preseason preparations have been completed, and the time is now to see the extent to which those will pay off for each of the NWSL’s 12 teams.

But the upcoming campaign is also a chance for the players to exhale. Over the course of the past two seasons, the NWSL has been rocked by multiple player abuse scandals that were investigated in excruciating and traumatizing detail. One investigation was conducted on behalf of the U.S. Soccer Federation, and another by the league and the NWSL Players Association. Coaches and/or executives from nine of the league’s 12 teams lost their jobs for charges ranging from verbal and emotional abuse to sexual coercion. Two teams — the Portland Thorns and the Chicago Red Stars — are now for sale. Yet the tremor-like effects on the players are still being felt.

“I personally have had two coaches who have been exposed through the reports and the investigations,” midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard told ESPN in an exclusive interview. Howard was previously with the Washington Spirit and Orlando Pride, prior to joining the San Diego Wave ahead of this season. “So within my time in the league, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had a season when I’ve been able to fully focus on soccer without, unfortunately, things going on in the background.”While reforms are ongoing, others — like mechanisms to report instances of abuse and ensuring teams have fully staffed human resources departments — have been put in place. That has created a different climate for players, one where the focus is shifting back to the on-field product.”My feeling coming into [San Diego] was that it was somewhere that really wanted to be professional, top to bottom, and create a culture that was one where players were safe and players were put first, and that would allow having a successful product on the field,” Howard said. “And I think that’s something I haven’t been in before.”Now the heaviness players were collectively feeling has begun to ease, and there’s a chance to maximize the momentum that has been generated on a wide range of topics.San Diego Wave teammate and U.S. national team forward Alex Morgan told ESPN: “I think that this league is really hopeful in showcasing our quality on the field and our growth in the NWSL in general. I think that it’s going to be a groundbreaking year for the NWSL because the fans are only continuing to tune in.”

There certainly are some compelling aspects of the NWSL as it heads into the 2023 campaign. Commissioner Jessica Berman said on a conference call with reporters that season ticket sales leaguewide are up 20% from where they finished last year. Tickets sold for this weekend have matched last year with several days to go. Investment in infrastructure is continuing, with the Kansas City Current‘s stadium set to be completed in March 2024.

The appetite for expansion teams shows no signs of letting up, with the return of the Utah Royals already announced last week. New teams in the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston are expected to come on board soon as well.

The fact that this is a World Cup year doesn’t hurt, either. The tournament, be it the men’s or women’s version, has in the past driven up interest in the sport in the U.S. and Canada, and with the U.S. women’s national team aiming for a third consecutive title, that figures to continue. The NWSL figures to play a prominent role as well, with Berman estimating that between 25% to 30% of the league’s players will take part.

“We know that the World Cup invites tailwinds into this league historically and as recently as 2019,” Berman said, “and we’re going to be really intentional in our partnership with U.S. Soccer to invite those tailwinds in.”Not that Berman is content to simply ride momentum. She indicated that the NWSL plans to leverage the World Cup as much as possible, and will have “boots on the ground” — herself included — in Australia and New Zealand.”I have made an intentional effort to spend time overseas with some of the key stakeholders and influencers as we think about some of the nuts and bolts that will position the league for success, including the schedule footprint and how we think about interweaving the priorities of the pro game with the national team activities,” she said. “And that’s an area that we’re going to be doing more intentional strategy work and beginning to get ahead of the planning cycle so that we’re planning one, two, three years ahead.”Gomez can’t believe FIFA overlooked Girma in NWSL best XI

Herculez Gomez questions the FIFA 23 NWSL best XI as the #1 pick of the 2022 draft Naomi Girma is left out.

The league will release World Cup-bound players on June 26 and while no coach wants to be without top performers, OL Reign manager Laura Harvey noted that she views the schedule as being “the best schedule we’ve ever had” in terms of time missed. She recalls that players missed 10 games in 2015, and between eight and 10 in 2019. This time around only six games will be missed, with the league introducing two weeklong breaks during the tournament, three of which will be in the NWSL Challenge Cup, the league’s cup competition. The ramp-up time is also longer than in the past.

“Normally, it’s like three games and then they’re gone,” Harvey said of players’ limited availability before departing for the World Cup. “I think they might be available for 12, which is nuts.” (It’s actually 13 regular-season games and three Challenge Cup games that players could appear in before leaving for Australia and New Zealand.)But the proximity of the World Cup can play tricks on the psyche of players. Delivering the level of performances needed to get selected to a World Cup roster butts up against the understandable desire to not get injured. For the moment, the first aspect is occupying more of the players’ thoughts.”I think if I don’t do my job here, then there is no World Cup to think about,” said OL Reign defender Alana Cook. “So as much as that is the goal and the childhood dream, I think my focus is here and my focus on getting better every day for this team. I think if I do that, then the rest takes care of itself.”That is something that San Diego Wave manager Casey Stone is keenly aware of and to which she is committed.”Having played in World Cups myself — I’ve been at three — I understand the mentality around it,” she told ESPN. “I also understand you want to go in a place where you’re performing at your peak, so for us it’s about preparing players to perform at their peak for us as a club, but also send them there fit, healthy, in form, at their peak, and then to do that and they need to play games. So I don’t think there’ll be any distractions.”The good news is that there is more emotional bandwidth to focus on such things, and there’s a bit more trust in the league that it will follow through and enforce the reforms that have been put in place.

Berman said, “I think it’s [the players’] hope that we at the league, and through ownership and management, can really take on the burden and work behind the scenes to offer the playing environment that meets the standard that certainly I’ve committed to, which is a place that makes the players proud to play.”

2023 NWSL season will have VAR, a World Cup, new contenders and a chance to move past abuse headlines

Mar 21, 2023 Sophie Lawson and Caitlin Murray ESPNFC

As the National Women’s Soccer League embarks on its 11th season, it’ll hardly be business as usual.With the abuse allegations and fallout now in the rearview, the league is ready to move on, and part of that will be showing that the problems of the past are being addressed and the league’s culture has evolved to be safer for players. But the other part of moving on is being able to focus primarily on the soccer.To that end, the stakes have been raised in 2023 for the topflight women’s league in the U.S., with the debut of VAR, a Women’s World Cup happening in midseason, new coaches and the potential for new dominant teams raising the stakes on the soccer side for the NWSL in 2023. There are no new expansion teams this year — two teams are expected to be added next season — but there’s been enough shuffling of players and a dizzying coach carousel to make many teams feel new.The NWSL’s 2023 season opens Saturday, March 25, when the North Carolina Courage host the Kansas City Current, and all of the league’s 12 teams will be in action this weekend. Here are the key talking points ahead of the new season.


Moving on from abuse headlines as World Cup looms large

Hanging over the entirely of last season were allegations of abuse by coaches that emerged toward the end of 2021, which prompted investigations from U.S. Soccer and the league itself. Those investigations both came out last year, revealing a culture where team owners and executives knew about inappropriate behavior and enabled it.

Multiple coaches have been barred from coaching. The owners of the Portland Thorns (Merritt Paulson) and the Chicago Red Stars (Arnim Whisler), who both were identified in investigations as knowingly allowing abuse, have vowed to sell their teams. A number of new policies and safeguards have been put in place or are in the process of being implemented with the help of the NWSL Players Association.

And now, everyone hopes, the league can fully move on from this difficult chapter and get back to the soccer.

EDITOR’S PICKS

The league might get some help in the form of the Women’s World Cup this summer in Australia and New Zealand. The World Cup tends to be a disruption — national team players will leave their NWSL clubs as early as June 26 for the tournament, which starts on July 21, and the league will take almost six weeks off while the tournament goes on.

But the post-World Cup “bump” for the NWSL in terms of new fans, bigger attendances and more attention has been undeniable after the previous two World Cups. That influx of new fans and fresh eyes could be just what the NWSL needs to turn the page. — Murray

Will the managerial carousel finally stop spinning?

Owing in a large part to the aforementioned allegations of abuse, 2022 was a season of great upheaval and multiple managerial changes over the course of the season. Coming into 2023, there are again a number of new and returning managerial appointments. In fact, one-third of NWSL teams are heading into unknown territory, from Laura Harvey’s former assistant Sam Laity taking charge of the Houston Dash to Juan Carlos Amorós’ move to NJ/NY Gotham FC, Mike Norris’ promotion to head coach at the Thorns and Mark Parsons’ return to the Washington Spirit, as well as Seb Hines taking charge of the Orlando Pride on a full-time basis.

But at a time when coaches are given shorter and shorter spells before being ousted when results aren’t favorable, how much time is too much time before teams are willing to shuffle the deck yet again? The upheaval and fallout off the pitch last year from the abuse allegations had a sizable impact, but now there will be the added challenge of World Cup disruptions and expected player turnover to contend with as well.

Give all that, those in positions of power need to be mindful of not coming across as hasty in rushing to judgment. Because of the large-scale team rebuilds and/or roster reboots needed in some cases, this is a season where teams might benefit from resisting the urge to take another spin on the managerial carousel without reasonable cause. In this league, and this season, stability could be a real asset. — Lawson

The NWSL will debut VAR in 2023, but will it fix referee problems?

The NWSL will become the first professional women’s soccer league in the world to introduce video assist refereeing, or VAR, in the hopes of alleviating years-long complaints about the quality of the refereeing in the league. The firm hired by the NWSL, Hawk-Eye Innovations, already works in some NWSL stadiums with Major League Soccer teams, and the company has also worked with the Premier League and FIFA, the governing body of soccer. So, if VAR can fix the NWSL’s refereeing woes, then this season’s implementation should be successful.

The question, though, is whether this will end the complaints about refereeing or merely change them. The NWSL has been stuck with a pool of referees who are less experienced than those in the pool for MLS, its top counterpart in the U.S., and while the league has vowed to increase its investment in developing referees, it might be a long process. It’s unclear just how well those efforts have gone in the short term since they were announced in the offseason, or how long it might take.

After all, reviewing video footage after the fact is undoubtedly helpful for referees, but as we’ve seen in other leagues with VAR, wrong calls still happen, and the training and experience for VAR officials will be the key. — Murray

Cascadia’s dominance could be poised for an end

With longtime powerhouse the North Carolina Courage going through their own rebuild last season in the fallout of the abuse investigations, the Portland Thorns and OL Reign in Seattle continued their run of bringing either the Shield or Championship back to the Pacific Northwest. The only seasons without either trophy landing in the Cascadia region were when the Courage managed the double in 2018 and 2019.

Yet, strong debut seasons last year from Angel City FC and the San Diego Wave, and the Kansas City Current‘s impressive roster building in this offseason suggest that the league is only getting tougher with more competition for spots at the top. For the California expansion teams, that extra year of experience in the league could be the difference, while Kansas City has signed the likes of Swedish wing-back Hanna Glas, Brazilian star Debinha and No. 2 overall college draft pick Michelle Cooper.

North Carolina looks unlikely to surge to its former glory now that Debinha and stars Diana OrdonezAbby Erceg and Carson Pickett all departed in this offseason, so the Courage might not be the ones who can get in Cascadia’s way this season. It’s unlikely that the Reign or the Thorns will simply drop off in 2023, but they’ll be facing trickier opposition from coast to coast this season. — Lawson

Longtime basement dwellers are due for a boost

From Racing Louisville, who have had back-to-back ninth place finishes in their first two years, to the Orlando Pride, who’ve finished above seventh only once in their six NWSL seasons, there are a number of teams that have repeatedly struggled to lead with their best foot.

Although the Washington Spirit will be hoping their 11th-place finish last season is the outlier after winning the NWSL Championship in 2021, there are deeper questions around teams like Orlando and NJ/NY Gotham.

Formerly known as Sky Blue FC, Gotham are a team that has rebranded but not successfully rebuilt itself yet, though there should be plenty of positivity around the club following the hire of former Houston Dash interim manager Juan Carlos Amorós. Similarly for the Pride, it’s about the rebuild that Hines will oversee as coach in a bid to correct the fortunes of a team that has consistently struggled for collective performances.

The job for Laity in Houston is a slightly different one, as the team was righted last season by Amorós, but for a coach stepping into his first head coaching role, he has plenty to prove. At Racing, it’s about the caliber of player Kim Björkegren has brought in to address the failings of the team during his first season in charge.

When looking at every team’s roster, and with the caveat of the incoming World Cup, there’s no reason why any team should struggle to compete with the players available to its managers. As a result, we might finally see teams like Gotham and the Pride race up the table and cement themselves higher up. — Lawson

Gomez can’t believe FIFA overlooked Girma in NWSL best XI

Herculez Gomez questions the FIFA 23 NWSL best XI as the #1 pick of the 2022 draft Naomi Girma is left out.

NWSL Challenge Cup drama returns but evolves again

The NWSL Challenge Cup, an annual stand-alone competition for all teams, started in 2020 as a pandemic-prompted replacement for a normal regular season. By the time it became feasible to have NWSL teams traveling for a regular season again, no one wanted to say goodbye to the Challenge Cup, which was fun and unpredictable, so the league brought it back as a preseason tournament in 2021 and 2022. Now, this league-wide tournament is evolving again for 2023.

Instead of being played as a condensed, one-month tournament before the start of the season, the Challenge Cup will run concurrently with the regular season over six weeks from April through September, with a winner being decided in the final on Sept. 9.

What is the point of the Challenge Cup, then? Why is there a separate trophy available to NWSL teams beyond those awarded to the best team in the regular season (NWSL Shield) and the overall playoff winner (NWSL Championship)? Well, it’s fun, for a start, and it’s another chance for teams to win hardware in a women’s soccer landscape that lacks a domestic cup, like a U.S. Open Cup equivalent or a CONCACAF Champions League. With prize money of $300,000 for the winner funded by a sponsorship with UKG, expect the players to compete like it matters. — Murray

Press confirms third knee surgery as World Cup doubts grow

Jason Anderson 

Christen Press’ path to another World Cup is more difficult than anyone imagined.The star U.S. women’s national team forward tore her ACL back in June 2022 during an NWSL match with Angel City FC, and has yet to return to full training. With the injury timeline for a torn ACL generally running between six months and a full year, many fans and observers were hopeful that the veteran goalscorer would be in action sooner rather than later.Press posted an update to her Instagram account Wednesday, with photos of herself off and on crutches, and in one case a photo as she prepared to undergo surgery. Nine months is often a common time for players to return to training, but it doesn’t sound like that’s in the cards for Press at the moment.It is not exactly news that Press might be on a longer return-to-play timeline than normal. Back in October 2022, USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski said the forward had “a slight setback” that would put her recovery timeline slightly behind that of Catarina Macario, whose own torn ACL happened 10 days before Press.At that time, Andonovski said Macario could be doing at least some training by the end of February, a timeline that was shortened by a couple of weeks when the USWNT manager gave another update on February 1.However, that doesn’t appear to be the case with Press. With the World Cup roster selection looming — the Washington Post reported on Tuesday that NWSL players will report to USWNT camp after the league’s slate of matches from June 23-25 — the timeline for Press to be in the conversation for a roster spot appears to be very short indeed.

Press also vital for Angel City

Angel City, meanwhile, will face a double-edged sword: a situation where Press isn’t quite ready for the World Cup, but does return to play while the tournament is going on, would undoubtedly boost her club team’s fortunes. With most of the league’s very best players on the other side of the world, there would be an opening for Press to go on a tear akin to Crystal Dunn’s MVP season with the Washington Spirit in 2015.On the other hand, it’s currently unclear how long Press will be out. Pro Soccer Wire reached out to Angel City concerning the date of Press’ third surgical procedure, but had not received comment at the time of publication.

In a February conference call with reporters, Angel City coach Freya Coombe was asked about the timeline for Press to make her return to training. Her answer was largely positive, but notably did not commit to any sort of timeline:

“With Christen we’re really, really pleased with her progress and the way that she has been developing,” said Coombe. “We’ll continue to support her along the way. It’s about being there and celebrating her milestones as she achieves them and as part of her return-to-play [protocol]. But you know, everyone’s journey is unique, and we’ll just continue to support hers.”

If Press were to remain in the return-to-play protocol through the preseason, her return could be delayed even longer. Once a season begins, most of the team will have travel days for games, regeneration days, and other training occasions where a large enough squad for a “normal” session won’t be possible. Fewer sessions means a slower path when it comes to taking the step from being cleared to train to suiting up on gameday.

In the meantime, Angel City’s front line will largely consist of Simone Charley, Claire Emslie, and Sydney Leroux. That also comes with some injury-related concern: Charley spent much of last season working around knocks that limited her minutes. Leroux — whose 2022 was ended by injury — recently posted an update saying that she had been cleared to resume working with a ball, which is both a positive step and an indicator that she may not be 100% for the early days of the season.

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3/10/23 Indy 11 Season opens at Tampa Bay Sat 7:30 pm ESPN+, MLS wins CCL games Wk 3, Carmel FC Welcomes new Senior Team Director, Champ League continues Tues/Wed 4 pm CBS 

Happy Birthday yesterday to USMNT All-Time Leading Scorer & former Fulham star Clint Dempsey who turned 40.  Here are all his US Goals , some Fulham Goals,  Also GK Timmy Howard’s birthday was earlier in the week – see his great saves below in the GK section. 

Indy 11 open Mar 11 @ Tampa Bay 7:30 pm ESPN plus

With the season starting next Saturday I am excited for our Indy 11– word is we will be one of the most improved teams in the Eastern Conference that should make a top 5 in the East run this year. Saturday offers a stiff first test for its new-look side against one of the Eastern Conference’s most steady and successful sides in recent years in Tampa Bay. While Head Coach Mark Lowry has preached during preseason that Week 1 will not look like a finished product, the insertion of veterans (Carmel’s own) Cam Lindley, Aodhan Quinn and Jack Blake in the midfield; one of the leading scorers in USL history Sebastian Guenzatti at forward; Adrian Diz Pe, Gustavo Rissi, and Younes Boudadi on the backline; and Yannik Oettl between the posts gives the Boys in Blue tons of added Championship experience Roster.  Full season previews are below but here is the preseason power rankings,   Season tickets are still on sale and give you the leg up when the new stadium arrives.  Full Schedule   Promotions 

Champions League Tues/Wed 3 pm CBS 

So Bayern send PSG home before the round of 8 and Chelsea made their way past Dortmund at home with Reyna getting 80 minutes due to an injury and even Pulisic returned albeit just ok for about 20 minutes at the end.  This week Real Madrid should finish off Liverpool up 5-2 heading home to Madrid on Wed at 3 pm on CBS while Tuesday will most likely give US Man City sending RB Leipzig home while Porto has a 2-0 lead hosting Inter Milan. 

Tues,Mar 14       Champions League  + CCL

3 PM CBS                          Man City vs RB Leipzig   

3 pm Para+                         Porto vs Inter Milan      

Weds,Mar 15    

3 pm CBS                             Real Madrid 5 vs Liverpool 2

3 pm Para+                         Napoli vs Frankfurt  

MLS Wk 3 & Concacaf Champions League Tues/Wed/Thurs FS1 + FS2

MLS Week 3 features 2 of the top fan bases in Soccer as Charlotte looks to have over 78K in the house vs rivals Atlanta United at 12 noon on Fox and Apple TV.  Free Apple TV will have my Seattle Sounders coming to Cincy – dang I can’t go – why so early in the year? At 7:30 pm, while Portland hosting undefeated expansion team St. Louis is at 10:30. Our MLS teams dominated the road phase of CONCACAF Champions League Sweet 16 play this week as Philly Union and Orlando City come home with 0-0 ties, while LAFC returns after a 3-0 blasting and Vancouver put 5-0 up on Real Espana they all return home Tuesday night at 6 pm, 8 pm and 10 pm on Fox Sports 1 & 2 with only Austin down 2-0 not in control. Wed Night its Orlando City at home needing just a win to advance while Vancouver travels to Real Espana at 10 pm on FS2. Of course my Seattle Sounders became the 1st MLS team to win the CCL last season. (see schedule below).

Carmel FC Welcomes Jude Johannson as Club Administrator and Senior Team Director

Carmel FC is excited to welcome our new full-time staff member, Jude Johannson, as he takes on the role of Club Administrator and Senior Team Director. In his role as Club Administrator Jude will be supporting our team managers and the club in general with all administrative activities. As Senior Team Director Jude will be working with our 15u and above age groups and coaches in all areas of operations. Jude comes to Carmel FC with significant coaching experience in a variety of roles. Most recently he was an assistant coach for Taylor University Men’s Soccer. He coached club at Westside United for a number of years in the girls’ program. He also has coached high school and as a private trainer. Jude’s playing background includes playing at the University of Memphis (Division 1) and at Indiana Wesleyan University (NAIA). Johannson played semi-professional soccer with the USL A-League team, the Indianapolis Blast while also playing for the Indiana State Olympic Development Program team from 2004 through 2006.  Johannson served as the assistant coach and junior varsity head coach at both Southport and Avon High Schools.  His educational background includes a B.S. in Kinesiology and a Master’s in Clinical Exercise Science. He is currently finishing up course work to be Registered Dietician too. 

General Manager, Jeremy Slivinski, shared this about Jude’s hire, “Carmel FC continues to evolve as a community club that rosters teams at almost every level of competitive play. Jude brings an experience we believe that will help support our senior teams and players. His role as Club Administrator also helps us fill a need as Ada Stumpf winds down her role with the club. We are really excited to have him on board.”  Director of Soccer Operations, Juergen Sommer agreed. “Having Jude join our team will provide the additional support our teams currently need but also opens new opportunities for our senior teams moving forward. He has experience that can support our players looking at college playing opportunities.”  Jude’s official start date is March 13th but he is already getting caught up to speed and visiting winter training activities.

INDY 11

preseason power rankings

Indy’s Sebastian Guenzatti set for Tampa Bay return | Week 1 News & Notes

11 Newcomers to Watch in the USL Championship this season

11 Midfielders to Watch in the USL Championship this season

How the USL Championship gave Aaron Long the platform to reach the World Cup

Season tickets

Full Schedule   Promotions 

new stadium

Champions League & Europa

AC Milan return to UCL quarterfinals as Spurs’ struggles continues
‘He rescued us’: Bayern’s Nagelsmann lauds defender De Ligt

Choupo-Moting helps Bayern past PSG, into Champions League last eight

PSG shows limits in yet another early Champions League exit

Losing culture? Mbappe’s PSG reflect on latest Champions League failure

Milan hold off toothless Tottenham to reach Champions League quarters

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte set to leave, with shortlist drawn up to replace him: report

Richarlison takes swipe at Antonio Conte’s tactics after admitting it has been a ‘s— season’

Countdown to Harry Kane’s Tottenham exit begins after Champions League damp squib

‘That’s our maximum’, admits Mbappe after latest PSG exit

Arsenal struggle without their spine but salvage draw against Sporting CP

Arsenal fights back to claim 2-2 first leg draw at Sporting Lisbon

EPL

Premier League top-four race: Current form, key fixtures, odds, predictions
Arsenal face Fulham test, Liverpool target top four

Determined Bruno Fernandes shows Manchester United’s character

Don’t do it, Poch! A Spurs comeback could end in tears

Manchester United’s hard reset after Liverpool horror: How did they look?

Daniel Levy has lost the Tottenham fans – he is under more pressure than ever before

Next Tottenham manager: the men who could replace Antonio Conte

Manchester United to offer £115m for Real Madrid wonderkid: report

Premier League sack race odds: Antonio Conte favourite to leave his post next

MLS

Whitecaps thrash Espana in CONCACAF Champions League
Chiellini on target for LAFC, Miami stun Philly, St.Louis triumph

Goalkeeping

David de Gea’s dodgy kicking shows why Manchester United are in the market for a goalkeeper

Saves of the Week Champions League

MLS Week Saves

Reffing


Pierluigi Collina criticises referee for ‘common sense’ in Liverpool’s 7-0 win over Manchester United

The VAR Review: Arsenal handball claims, Fernandes penalty, McTominay red
Dale Johnson
Nottingham Forest to make official complaint about standard of referees

Become a Licensed High School Ref

Goalkeeping

Timmy Scores a Goal at Everton

Timmy Howard at Everton

Timmy Howard Saves in MLS

INDY 11 Tenth Season Kicks Off with Marquee Matchup in the Sunshine State

#TBRvIND Preview Indy Eleven at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Saturday, March 11, 2023 – 7:30 p.m. ETAl Lang Stadium  – St. Petersburg, Fla.

FOLLOW LIVE
Local TV: n/a
Streaming Video: ESPN+ (click to subscribe) 
Radio: n/a
In-game updates: @IndyElevenLive Twitter feed
Live Opta stats: #TBRvIND MatchCenter at USLChampionship.com

WATCH PARTIES
Indy Eleven Watch Party at The AMP at 16 Tech
Brickyard Battalion Watch Party at Union Jack Pub – Broad Ripple

RSVP Here for Chance to Win a 2023 Away Jersey!

2022 USL CHAMPIONSHIP REGULAR SEASON RECORDS
Indy Eleven: 12W-17L-5D (-15 GD), 41 pts.; 9th in Eastern Conference 
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 20W-7L-7D (+40 GD), 67 pts.; 3rd in Eastern Conference 

Last Sunday, the IndyCar circuit began its 2023 campaign by driving around Al Lang Stadium on the streets of St. Petersburg. Six days later, Indy Eleven will rev up its own 2023 season inside the venerable venue against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in one of the marquee match-ups of a crowded USL Championship opening night slate. For Indy Eleven, Saturday offers a stiff first test for its new-look side against one of the Eastern Conference’s most steady and successful sides in recent years. While Head Coach Mark Lowry has preached during preseason that Week One will not look like a finished product, the insertion of veterans Cam Lindley, Aodhan Quinn and Jack Blake in the midfield; Sebastian Guenzatti at forward; Adrian Diz Pe, Gustavo Rissi, and Younes Boudadi on the backline; and Yannik Oettl between the posts gives the Boys in Blue tons of added Championship experience and poise up and down the pitch – and the ability to take three points out of any contest, regardless of how it may look aesthetically for the time being. That’s not to discount the offerings of several key returnees, including a loaded corps of attacking players in MVP Solomon Asante, Jonas Fjeldberg (back from his loan with Rio Grande Valley FC), and Juan Tejada. Defenders Jesus Vazquez, Robby Dambrot (ruled out due to injury for the opener), and Mechack Jerome and goalkeeper Tim Trilk also provide experience in Lowry’s system, with all starting at least 11 contests during their debut seasons in the Circle City last year. Additionally, the return of Eleven Academy product Alann Torres from a season-long loan with USL League One’s Forward Madison FC and loan acquisition of Harrison Robledo from FC Cincinnati gives Lowry some young and versatile options to throw into the mix.If the preseason is any indication, the Boys in Blue will need fresh legs off the bench thanks to a defensive mentality to turn the ball over as high up the field as possible through swarming pressure that starts with the forward line. While Lowry admits the approach may concede space to the opposition at times, it’s a trade-off he’s willing to make since it should also result in an increased number of attacking chances for the Eleven. That will come as a welcome sign for a club that struggled to produce goals and shots a year ago – and bringing on board last season’s top-two chance creators across the Championship in Lindley (99) and Quinn (83) will go a long way on that front as well. For the Rowdies, Saturday will provide the first chance to overcome some early adversity caused by a preseason Achilles injury to forward Leo Fernandes that will sideline the reigning USL Championship MVP for the entirety of the 2023 season. However, Tampa Bay has plenty of pivotal new pieces of their own to incorporate into their squad, and three of those – Cal Jennings (11g/5a with Las Vegas in 2022), JJ Williams (12g/1a with Tulsa) and Ariel Martinez (9g/1a with Hartford) – with be tasked with picking up the considerable slack left by the absence of Fernandes’ 19g/9a output last year.

On the backline Tampa Bay welcomes a new/familiar face in Forrest Lasso, who rejoins the squad he suited up for in 2020 & ’21 after a stint with Swedish First Division side GIF Sundsvall last year. The two-time USL Championship Defender of the Year joins an already sturdy backline that included 2022 USL All-First Team performer Aaron Guillen and former Boy in Blue Connor Antley. Goalkeeper may be the most up for grabs position on the Rowdies roster, with former Miami FC backstop Connor Sparrow set to battle it out with Phil Breno, who parlayed a season-and-a-half stint with Forward Madison in USL League One into a loan with Tampa Bay for the second half of last year and a permanent contract over the offseason.

To say the Rowdies’ midfield is experienced would be an understatement, as Lewis Hilton, Yann Ekra, and Sebastian Dalgaard, have racked up 57 goals, 60 assists and over 600 appearances across a combined 25 seasons in the USL Championship. The 2023 campaign will mark their fourth season together in Tampa, while more recent additions Jake Areman, who joined the Rowdies last season, and Zach Herivaux, who alternated stints with San Antonio (2017, 2020) and Birmingham Legion (2019, 2021-22) before coming on board this offseason, will provide added veteran heft to that rock-steady troika.

SERIES VS. TAMPA BAY ROWDIES:
All meetings (2014-22): 3W-4L-8D (18 GF/20 GF)
at TBR: 1W-2L-4D (8 GF/11 GA)

USLC regular season (2018-22): 1W-3L-2D (5 GF/9 GA)
at TBR: 0W-2L-1D (2 GF/6 GA)

NASL regular season (2014-16): 2W-1L-6D (13 GF/11 GA)
at TBR: 1W-0L-3D (6 GF/5 GA)

Tampa Bay represents one of the Eleven’s most well-known foes, the squads meeting 15 times since Indy Eleven debuted back in the NASL in 2014; only Louisville City FC (19) and the Carolina Railhawks/North Carolina FC (16) have squared off more times against the Boys in Blue during their previous nine seasons on play.The Rowdies broke the stalemate in the all-time series in the previous outing last July 30 at Carroll Stadium courtesy of a 3-1 win. Raul Aguilera’s 24th minute opener pushed Indy into the lead, but that was offset by Steevan Dos Santos (32’) and Leo Fernandes (96+’) penalty conversions and a Jordan Scarlett backbreaker just before halftime in between.Their last meeting at Al Lang Stadium was another early-season affair last March 19, a 2-0 Rowdies victory that saw current Eleven striker Juan Tejada score inside the first minute and assist on Jake LaCava’s 51st insurance goal.

#INDvTBR FAMILIAR FACES:

The Eleven’s Sebastian Guenzatti, Juan Tejada, and Jack Blake have all suited up for Tampa Bay to varying degrees over the years.

The most notable homecoming will be for Guenzatti, who became the Rowdies’ career leading scorer with 65 goals (59 regular season, 6 postseason) from 2017-22, during which he also contributed 19 assists in 160 matches in official competitions. The forward led Tampa Bay in scoring in four straight seasons from 2018-21 and played a vital role in the Rowdies’ success in recent years, which included USL Championship Eastern Conference titles in 2020 and 2021, another Conference Championship game appearance in 2022, and the league’s top regular season mark in 2021.Tejada is no stranger to Al Lang Stadium either, as the Panamanian striker spent three-and-a-half seasons with Tampa Bay prior to his trade to Indy for Nicky Law last July. Tejada tallied 13 goals and 5 assists in 68 USL Championship regular season appearances for Tampa Bay from 2019-22 and also played in five postseason contests.Blake began his tenure in the USL Championship by originally heading on loan from Lowry’s Jacksonville Armada FC side prior to the 2018 season, a deal that ultimately saw Blake sign a permanent contract with the Rowdies at the start of the season. However, a midseason trade to Real Monarchs SLC saw his time on the Gulf Cost cut short, ending with a goal and two assists in seven appearances for the Nottingham native.On the flip side, Tampa Bay technically has two former Boys in Blue on their 2023 roster, although only one ever saw the field for Indiana’s Team. That would be defender Connor Antley, who suited up for the Boys in Blue 12 times during the squad’s COVID-shortened 16-game season in 2020. Meanwhile, the Cal Jennings era in the Circle City never got off the ground, as the forward signed with the squad in December 2020 but was turned around via transfer to Major League Soccer’s Los Angles FC in early March 2021.  

ELEVEN PLAYER TO WATCH: FW SEBASTIAN GUENZATTI

We could have been nuanced and subtle here, but let’s not overthink things out of the gate. The Uruguayan striker is the obvious choice, and you can’t help but think our friends USL HQ pounced on the chance for an early storyline by sending the Rowdies’ career leading scorer back to Al Lang Stadium for his Eleven debut (which, by all means, we’re here for!).

We’ve already listed Guenzatti’s impressive stats and contributions to Tampa Bay’s success above, so no need to rehash those here (although we failed to mention he enters 2023 tied for 10th place on the league’s career regular season scoring chart with 59 goals, alongside Birmingham’s Enzo Martinez and the retired Cameron Iwasa). The big thing to watch for on Saturday will be to see how quickly he has gelled with his new Eleven running mates … while the preseason offered glimpses, things are just different when you have to kick an opponent in anger for real and three points are on the line. Guenzatti always paired well with whatever firepower was stocked around him during his six seasons in Tampa, and one look at the Indy roster suggests that should be much the same.

USL Championship Power Rankings – Preseason

By NICHOLAS MURRAY – nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 03/09/23, 2:00PM EST


SAN ANTONIO STARTS THE SEASON ON TOP, WHILE PHOENIX AND INDY SIT IN TOP 10 AFTER OFFSEASON RETOOLS

Ah, the start of a new season.Optimism abounds.I’m reliably informed that Las Vegas Lights FC’s coaching staff is delighting in all our views on their playoff potential, so confident are they that this will be the year the club secures its first postseason trip.And who can blame them?

The slate is wiped clean. Everyone is 0-0-0 with everything to play for.We think we know things – the inevitability that has been Louisville City FC’s eight consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Final will do that for you.At the same time, this is the moment where everything is up for grabs.So, what if it isn’t LouCity or San Antonio FC’s year?What if it is Indy Eleven’s, a club that hasn’t been in the postseason since 2019? Or Lights FC, for that matter?We’re ready for the chaos – or not. How about you?

RANK TEAMSUMMARY
1San Antonio FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: v. OAK
SAFC’s title defense begins on Saturday night, and Toyota Field should be rocking as numerous familiar faces take to the field for the first time since last November against a playoff foe in Oakland Roots SC.
2Louisville City FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: @ OC
The numbers at fivethirtyeight.com say LouCity’s the favorite to win the league title right now. If they do, they’ll become the first three-time title winner in the Championship’s history.
3Sacramento Republic FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: @ ELP
Russell Cicerone bagging two goals in the final game of preseason was exactly the sort of thing you’d like to see as a Republic FC supporter. Let’s see how he fares on Saturday night in El Paso.
4Tampa Bay Rowdies
(0-0-0)
Week 1: v. IND
It’s going to be awfully strange to see Sebastian Guenzatti at Al Lang Stadium in another team’s colors on Saturday. High stakes for maybe the marquee game of opening weekend.
5Birmingham Legion FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: v. PIT
Legion FC’s attack looks explosive on paper. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s return after last year’s playoff classic to open the season should be a good test for the hosts
6San Diego Loyal SC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: v. DET
All the vibes feel right for SD Loyal going into Head Coach Nate Miller’s first season. Can they live up to the expectation against a solid Detroit City FC defense?
7Miami FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: v. TUL
Miami FC’s big challenge was picking up wins at home a season ago. Head Coach Anthony Pulis’ side will want to get out on the right foot against FC Tulsa on Saturday evening.
8Phoenix Rising FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: @ CHS
Is there a risk in putting Rising FC this high in the rankings this early? Sure. But it’s one we’re confident in, at least for the moment.
9Memphis 901 FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: v. LDN
901 FC was the revelation of the 2022 season, earning its first playoff win before an agonizing end against Tampa Bay. They’ll be eager to get out on the right foot under new Head Coach Stephen Glass.
10Indy Eleven
(0-0-0)
Week 1: @ TBR
It’s still wild that we haven’t seen Indy Eleven in the postseason since 2019. Saturday’s visit to Tampa Bay is going to be a great test of Head Coach Mark Lowry’s new-look lineup.
11New Mexico United
(0-0-0)
Week 1: —
It can be risky to read too much into preseason results. That said, New Mexico going undefeated is solid and bodes well for a positive start when they kick off next week.
12Rio Grande Valley FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: v. LV
The Toros have made the playoffs the past two seasons, but last season no-one notched more than seven goals for the side. Who’s going to be the breakthrough finisher this campaign?
13Monterey Bay F.C.
(0-0-0)
Week 1: v. HFD
Monterey Bay kept hold of all its essential parts from 2022 and added some strong experience at the back in Alex Lara and up front in Alex Dixon. Saturday’s visit from Hartford Athletic could be sneaky-entertaining.
14Orange County SC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: v. LOU
As many changes as Orange County has seen this offseason, getting Louisville City FC to open the season is a big challenge. Still, watch out for the kids – Korede Osundina and Bryce Jamison are ballers.
15Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: @ BHM
The Hounds only allowed one goal in five preseason games. That sort of steely defense should help keep things moving while the attack finds its feet at Highmark Stadium.
16Charleston Battery
(0-0-0)
Week 1: v. PHX
The Battery have the reigning Championship Coach of the Year at the helm in Ben Pirmann, and a squad that feels in a good place. Saturday’s visit from Phoenix Rising FC looks high in entertainment potential.
17Hartford Athletic
(0-0-0)
Week 1: @ MB
Hartford went out and made some big upgrades to its attack this offseason with Antoine Hoppenot and Elvis Amoh’s arrivals. If they live up to billing, Head Coach Tab Ramos’ side could quickly rise from this ranking.
18Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: —
The Switchbacks got so much recruitment done right after the season ended, it’s easy to focus on the departures. We’ll see how the new boys do next week in El Paso
19Oakland Roots SC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: @ SA
There are some nice additions to Oakland’s roster, but we just can’t quite trust the attacking third yet. San Antonio’s defense is going to offer a stern opening test for Anuar Pelaez and co.
20Detroit City FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: @ SD
Le Rouge look solid again, especially defensively with Nathan Steinwascher, Stephen Carroll and Devon Amoo-Mensah all back. Can the attack provide enough punch in San Diego?
21FC Tulsa
(0-0-0)
Week 1:@ MIA
Head Coach Blair Gavin gets a trip to Miami for his first game at the helm in Tulsa. This squad feels solid, but did it get better in the way Charleston, Hartford and Indy seemed to? We’ll see.
22El Paso Locomotive FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: v. SAC
There’s players with nothing to prove in this league at Locomotive FC, led by Luis Solignac. This overall group, though? They need to show us something Saturday against Sacramento.
23Las Vegas Lights FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: @ RGV
Erick “Cubo” Torres’ arrival to be the headline act in Las Vegas was one rabbit out of the hat for Lights FC. Six road games to start the Championship season – broke up by one home Open Cup game – is going to be a challenge.
24Loudoun United FC
(0-0-0)
Week 1: @ MEM
It’s a new era for Loudoun United FC and Head Coach Ryan Martin. There were flashes last year, but not enough consistency. Can they change that this campaign?

Indy’s Sebastian Guenzatti set for Tampa Bay return | Week 1 News & Notes

By NICHOLAS MURRAY – nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 03/09/23, 11:00AM EST

PLAYMAKERS TEAM UP FOR HARTFORD, INDY; WEST HELD UPPER HAND IN 2022, WILL THAT CONTINUE?

The 2023 USL Championship season kicks off this Saturday, featuring marquee contests and compelling storylines across the 11-game slate of action which will air on ESPN+. Here our first edition of the weekly News & Notes column, where we take a look at notable storylines and the numbers you need to know going into the action. On top of that, we’ve got our regular upcoming milestones for players in the USL Championship, and the Week 1 Discipline Report. Let’s dig in.

NEWS AND NOTES

INDY’S SEBASTIAN GUENZATTI MAKES EARLY RETURN TO TAMPA BAY
After being the centerpiece of one of the major moves of the USL Championship offseason, new Indy Eleven forward Sebastian Guenzatti will face former club the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium this Saturday night in the opening game of the campaign for both clubs (7:30 p.m. ET | ESPN+).

A two-time Championship All-League selection for the Rowdies in 2019 and 2021, Guenzatti departed the club as its all-time goalscoring leader. The 31-year-old recorded 65 goals in 161 appearances across all competitions for Tampa Bay, also placing him second in club history in games played.

Of Guenzatti’s goals for the Rowdies, 59 came in the USL Championship regular season. That ranks him second in Championship history to only Cameron Lancaster, who has recorded 69 regular season goals for Louisville City FC in his career.

Most regular season goals for one club in USL Championship history
1. Cameron Lancaster, Louisville City FC – 69*
2. Sebastian Guenzatti, Tampa Bay Rowdies – 59
3. Cameron Iwasa, Sacramento Republic FC – 57
4. Solomon Asante, Phoenix Rising FC – 49
5. Enzo Martinez, Charlotte Independence – 44
* – Current Club

WEST WAS BEST IN 2022, HOW ABOUT THIS YEAR?

Former INDY 11 GK and Carmel FC GK coach Jordan Farr and his San Antonio won the Championship last season. He and his wife welcomed a beautiful little girl during the off season.

San Antonio FC won eight of its nine regular season contests against Eastern Conference opponents in 2022 as well as the Championship Final. | Photo courtesy Davis Kuhn / San Antonio FC

The Western Conference held the edge in the interconference regular season games against its Eastern Conference counterparts in the 2022 USL Championship season, posting a 53-36-23 record in the 112 games contested across conference lines.

Among the standouts in interconference play, unsurprisingly, was defending Championship title holder San Antonio FC, which posted an 8-1-0 record against the Eastern Conference. Its lone defeat was to Indy Eleven, which marked SAFC’s only defeat in its final 14 games across the regular season and playoffs on the way to its first title.

Memphis 901 FC also shone, going undefeated with a 6-0-2 record against the Western Conference on its way to the best regular season in club history. That also made Memphis the lone club to post an undefeated record in interconference play over the course of the season.

Opening weekend features four interconference contests, led by former title-winners Orange County SC and Louisville City FC squaring off at Championship Soccer Stadium. Elsewhere, the Charleston Battery play host to Phoenix Rising FC at Patriots Point, Monterey Bay F.C. welcomes Hartford Athletic to Cardinale Stadium, and Detroit City FC heading west to take on San Diego Loyal SC at Torero Stadium. We could get an early indicator of where the strength may lie this season.

PLAYMAKERS TEAM UP IN HARTFORD, INDY

2022 Championship Assists Champion Antoine Hoppenot has arrived at Hartford Athletic this season, where he’ll team up with fellow playmaker Danny Barrera under the mentorship of Head Coach Tab Ramos. | Photo courtesy Hartford Athletic

Four of the top five assist-men in USL Championship regular season will be teammates this season, with Hartford Athletic boasting Danny Barrera and Antoine Hoppenot in their ranks while Indy Eleven brings together Aodhan Quinn and Solomon Asante for their second stint as teammates in the Circle City.

With both closing in on 50 regular season assists for their careers, Quinn (48) and Asante (47) sit on 95 combined assists going into the new season for Indy with Barrera (50) and Hoppenot (44) sitting on 94 combined assists in their careers. With Hoppenot coming off a season in which he claimed the Championship’s Assists Champion award at Detroit City FC, both duos could lead potent attacks this campaign.

Asante and Quinn have both previously been part of the duos that have combined for the most assists in a Championship regular season. Asante’s league-record campaign of 17 assists for Phoenix Rising FC in 2019 also saw Junior Flemmings and Jose Aguinaga record seven assists apieces for a combined total of 24. The prior year, Quinn and former Orange County SC teammate Thomas Enevoldsen had combined to record 23 assists in the season they were both nominated for the Championship’s MVP award.

Most Combined Assists by teammates in a Championship regular season
24
 – Solomon Asante (17) and multiple teammates (7), Phoenix Rising FC (2019)
23 – Aodhan Quinn (14) and Thomas Enevoldsen (9), Orange County SC (2018)
20 – Emmanuel Ledesma (16) and multiple teammates (4), FC Cincinnati (2018)
20 – Kyle Bekker (13) and Steven Miller (7), North Carolina FC (2018)
20 – Rodrigo da Costa (13) and Christhian Altamirano (7), FC Tulsa (2019)
20 – Oscar Jimenez (10) and Ilija Ilic (10), Louisville City FC (2018)

MEMPHIS, LOUDOUN, MIAMI, TULSA VIE FOR FIRST GOAL OF 2023

With 5 p.m. ET kickoffs on the opening day of the 2023 USL Championship regular season, players in the contests between Memphis 901 FC and Loudoun United, and Miami FC and FC Tulsa will get the first crack at becoming the first goalscorer of the new season.

Last year, Loudoun United FC’s Kimarni Smith claimed the first goal of the season in his side’s 1-0 victory against Indy Eleven at Segra Field.

USL Championship – First Goal of the Regular Season
2011
 – Stanley Nyazamba, Richmond Kickers
2012 – Mike Seth, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
2013 – George Davis IV, Orange County SC
2014 – Jose Cuevas, Charleston Battery
2015 – Jordan Hamilton, Toronto FC II
2016 – Fabian Herbers, Philadelphia Union II
2017 – Florian Valot, New York Red Bulls II
2018 – Pablo Aguilar, Rio Grande Valley FC
2019 – Alec Diaz, Tacoma Defiance
2020 – Chris Hegardt, Tacoma Defiance
2021 – Paolo DelPiccolo, Louisville City FC
2022 – Kimarni Smith, Loudoun United FC

UPCOMING PLAYER MILESTONES

Louisville City FC’s Cameron Lancaster will become the third player to record 75 regular season goals in the Championship for his career when he opens his account for the 2023 campaign. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Appearances
Approaching 150 regular-season appearances

Joaquin Rivas (MIA) – 148
Sebastian Guenzatti (IND) – 145

Approaching 100 regular-season appearances
Adrian Diz Pe (IND) – 99
Sebastian Velasquez (MEM) – 99
Jake Areman (TBR) – 98
Joe Kuzminsky (COS) – 97
Luis Felipe Fernandes (SAC) – 97 regular

Minutes
Approaching 15,000 regular-season minutes

Speedy Williams (COS) – 14,674
Alex Tambakis (NM) – 14,657
James Musa (COS) – 14,639

Approaching 10,000 regular-season minutes
Marcus Epps (TUL) – 9,935
Joaquin Rivas (MIA) – 9,884
Malik Johnson (COS) – 9,777

Goals
Approaching 75 regular season goals
Cameron Lancaster (LOU) – 74

Approaching 50 regular season goals
Chris Wehan (NM) – 49
Lucky Mkosana (TBR) – 48
Alex Dixon (MB) – 48

Assists
Approaching 50 regular season assists

Aodhan Quinn (IND) – 48
Solomon Asante (IND) – 47

Approaching 40 regular season assists
Enzo Martinez (BHM) – 38

Approaching 30 regular season assists
Oscar Jimenez (LOU) – 29
Lewis Hilton (TBR) – 29
Justin Portillo (NM) – 28
Niall McCabe (LOU) – 27

Saves
Approaching 250 regular season saves

Trey Muse (CHS) – 241

Shutouts
Approaching 40 regular-season shutouts
Matt VanOekel (BHM) – 38

Approaching 30 regular-season shutouts
Joe Kuzminsky (COS) – 29

DISCIPLINE REPORT – WEEK 1

TAMPA, Fla. – The following is the USL Championship’s discipline report for Week 1 of the 2023 USL Championship season:

Miami FC’s Bolu Akinyode has been suspended for one game following the review of an incident in his side’s contest against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2022 USL Championship Playoffs by the Independent Discipline Panel. Akinyode will be unavailable for selection in Miami’s contest against FC Tulsa on Saturday night.

Oakland Roots SC’s Neveal Hackshaw has been suspended for one game following his red card incurred while playing for Indy Eleven against Birmingham Legion FC during their regular season contest on Oct. 12. Hackshaw will be unavailable for selection in Oakland’s contest against San Antonio FC on Saturday night.

Orange County SC’s Thomas Amang has been suspended for one game following his red card incurred while playing for San Diego Loyal SC against Oakland Roots SC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2022 USL Championship Playoffs for two cautionable offenses. Amang will be unavailable for Orange County’s contest against Louisville City FC on Saturday night.

San Diego Loyal SC’s Alejandro Guido and Grant Stoneman have each been suspended for one game following their red cards for two cautionable offenses against Oakland Roots SC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2022 USL Championship Playoffs. Guido and Stoneman will be unavailable for selection in San Diego’s contest against Detroit City FC on Saturday night.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC’s Steven Echevarria has been suspended for one game following his red card for abusive language during his side’s contest against San Antonio FC in the Western Conference Final of the 2022 USL Championship Playoffs. Echevarria will be unavailable for selection in Colorado Springs’ contest against El Paso Locomotive FC on Wednesday, March 15.

Will Lionel Messi come to MLS? In Miami, everyone has an opinion

Will Lionel Messi come to MLS? In Miami, everyone has an opinion

Felipe Cardenas and Pablo MaurerMar 8, 2023

The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida looks like it was designed by an eight-year-old on the back of a napkin. The locals here call the building the “guitar hotel,” and it’s easy to understand why – it is shaped, quite simply, like a massive electric guitar.Wander through the place on a Saturday night and you’ll hit sensory overload in a matter of minutes. There is a cacophony of noise: crying children, yapping adults and the continuous drone of a thousand slot machines.We haven’t come to the guitar hotel to bathe in second-hand smoke and lose our life savings. We’ve come here in search of something even worse for our health: the Messi burger.Several months before the 2022 World Cup, Lionel Messi partnered with the Hard Rock Cafe to produce a line of merchandise and a hamburger that would appear on Hard Rock menus everywhere. The deal was only supposed to be a limited engagement. Then Messi won his first World Cup and became immortalized as perhaps soccer’s greatest-ever player. The partnership was extended, and the food item enhanced.There’s no need to dive into the specifics of the sandwich, but it is about what you’d expect out of a $20 hamburger at a multinational concept restaurant: somehow filling and unsatisfying all at once.Nevertheless, our server informs us that the Messi burger is the restaurant’s most popular item. A quick scan of the dining room tells us that’s more than a sales pitch — Messi burgers are being eaten in every corner of the place. A few tables over, we see a party of five, and every single patron has a Messi burger in front of them.Since almost the moment the team’s founding was announced, MLS side Inter Miami has been linked to Messi. Everyone at the table of Messi burgers is keenly aware of this. The five are part of Miami’s sizable contingent of Argentine immigrants, and all have their own opinions about the players’ future.One of those diners is Germán, a 52-year-old who made the trip to Qatar this past winter to see Messi play in the World Cup final. His excitement is palpable. He has a friend close to Messi’s camp, he says, who tells him the club and player are close to an agreement. It’s the sort of statement that hardly seems believable, but here at this table, in this rapid-fire conversation over a half-dozen Messi burgers, it feels right.If you speak to the people who are actually close to Messi, or to sources close to Inter Miami itself, you’ll get wildly different viewpoints spoken with equal amounts of passion. One source, who was granted anonymity to protect his relationships with Inter Miami, told The Athletic last week that a deal with Miami was all but done, with Messi being promised a small ownership stake in the MLS club. Another bristled at the idea that Messi would ever come to the United States, suggesting he still wants to play at the highest level.In the end, the decision lies with Messi.It is not an easy one. Does he remain at PSG, at the highest possible level? Does he choose to return to Argentina, to a glorious homecoming at his hometown Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario? Does he imitate his generational rival Cristiano Ronaldo and take a Middle Eastern payday?Or, does he come to the U.S. in search of adventure?


Inter Miami head coach Phil Neville delivers a team talk (Photo: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)

Inter Miami head coach Phil Neville has dealt with his share of superstars as an assistant coach at Manchester United and as head coach of the English national women’s team. Even at Miami, an MLS club still in its infancy, Neville was handed a squad that included former Real Madrid great Gonzalo Higuain and France World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi.But Messi? In a way, managing the Argentine great and the circus that would surround him would be Neville’s greatest-ever challenge. Inter Miami’s reality would change entirely.“Things will be different,” Neville says. “The trees might have to be bigger (around the training ground). The security might have to be tighter. The walk the players have today over to that stadium, that might have to be different. The travel might be different. The hotels we stay in might have to be different. But really that might be what we’re aspiring to be like anyway. It’s exciting, but I think it’d be a massive challenge.”Neville is sitting at his desk on the upper floor of Inter Miami’s training ground, located just to the north of DRV PNK stadium, Inter Miami’s temporary home. The facility isn’t located in Miami proper, but rather in a somewhat unglamorous stretch of nearby Fort Lauderdale, surrounded by tire shops, a roofing supply company and a used car dealership. But even here, the wealth that defines so much of the Miami area is inescapable. Look out the large, glass windows of Neville’s office and you’ll see the other thing that borders the training facility: the local executive airport, where the city’s wealthiest residents park their private jets.More than any other city in the United States, Miami has become a destination for global footballers, particularly South Americans. Messi himself owns property in the city and has visited frequently. Argentina’s federation is building a training facility in the area. Owners and administrators at Inter Miami are very aware of all of this, and feel the city is a very strong recruiting tool.“When (players) land in Ft. Lauderdale,” says Neville, “or Miami, there’s places we can take them that will probably guarantee that they or their family will want to come to Miami. Whether they’ve got a wife and kids or whether they’re single. So that’s our biggest selling point.”Neville is thoughtful and careful when he talks about the club’s links to Messi. You get the feeling that many at the club would rather not discuss the potential deal at all, but not speaking about this particular player is simply not an option. On the very day David Beckham announced the franchise, Messi reached out on social media to congratulate him and stoked the flames of a potential move. “Maybe in a few years,” Messi said, “you can give me a call.”At the time, Messi was a Barcelona player and it seemed as though he’d retire as one. But after an acrimonious breakup, he left for Paris Saint-Germain.Beckham himself was dealing with his own struggles at the time, navigating the harsh realities of trying to get a stadium deal done amidst widespread backlash from locals. Even after getting that deal over the line (Miami is expected to move into a new, downtown stadium in 2025), the waters have remained rough for Inter Miami. They were penalized by MLS for flagrantly violating MLS’ roster rules and struggled to compete in their opening two seasons. The club was always intended to be one of MLS’ few truly glamorous clubs, but it has lacked some of that luster playing in a temporary stadium outside of Miami proper. In 2022 Inter Miami ranked last in the 28-team league in attendance.Those are all short-term problems that would be solved by a better venue and a more competitive roster (though the club did make the playoffs in 2022). At its core, Miami still feels like one of Major League Soccer’s most promising franchises. The club is owned by a pair of billionaires (Jorge and Jose Mas) and Beckham, maybe the biggest celebrity footballer in the history of the game. The ceiling for Inter Miami is higher than it is for clubs in smaller markets.

Beckham knows a thing or two about the effects a single star player can have on MLS. When he arrived at the LA Galaxy in 2007, the league was growing but still struggling for relevance. More than any other player in the league’s history, Beckham changed the profile of MLS and how it does business. He ushered in the era of the designated player – an MLS roster classification that allowed its teams to spend over their allotted salary budget on up to three high-profile stars.The league has added 16 franchises since Beckham’s arrival and continues to add rules that increase overall spending on players. However, it has not yet earned the global respect it so badly wants and needs. Messi would certainly push things in that direction.Yet in a vacuum, the idea of Messi playing for an MLS club feels farcical. The league has hosted its share of superstars — Beckham, Zlatan, Drogba and the like. But Messi? Just months removed from World Cup glory? Playing in Inter Miami’s stopgap stadium, in Fort Lauderdale? As big as those other players were, Messi’s signing would dwarf all of them, and be far more surprising.“I think this would be probably the biggest signing in history,” says Neville. “I can’t think of another star of that magnitude to come from a major footballing country to this place. This is maybe similar (to Beckham’s arrival), but maybe even bigger. I think you’re talking about one of the greatest footballers of all time. When you talk about Miami, we have to be in for players like that, you know?”Down the hall from Neville, Inter Miami sporting director Chris Henderson is similarly bullish. Henderson represented the U.S. at a World Cup and had a distinguished playing career in MLS. By the time he arrived in Miami in early 2021, he’d carved out his place as one of the more respected front-office figures in the league, a capable navigator of MLS’ web of roster rules. He speaks of Messi’s potential signing in the same business speak he’d use to talk about a college draft pick: Does the player fit the way Miami plays? What about the club’s philosophy?But even Henderson understands the realities of incorporating Messi into Miami’s roster. Unlike other destinations, Miami would need to maneuver around a soft salary budget in order to add Messi. Just last week MLS commissioner Don Garber was surprisingly candid about the pursuit, suggesting the league and Inter Miami would have to “think outside the box” to craft a deal for him. Some say Messi will be offered a piece of Inter Miami itself, while others say Miami could cut him in on some of the real estate surrounding their new stadium.“What’s the knock-on effect on the rest of our roster?” Henderson asks, hypothetically. “What moves do we have to make? I mean, you really have to look two windows ahead in all of this. And as you’re signing players, you’re still signing players thinking, ‘Okay, what if this happens? What if these two come? What if?’”

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One thing that feels beyond question to Henderson is Messi’s potential impact.

“He would change sports here,” said Henderson. “Every stadium we went to, it would just be the biggest thing in the city at that time. It would just be amazing for our league. It would be like Michael Jordan, just would be the biggest thing imaginable.”

MLS has to make its own considerations. Like Beckham before him, Messi’s deal might change the calculus of every big-name signing from here on out. If Messi gets 5% of Inter Miami, a team that could potentially be worth over $1 billion when it moves into its new stadium, you’d have to think that other players who approach his profile will want a similar deal if and when they come to MLS.

There’s no precedent for any of this, but then again, MLS has always been fairly good at making it up as time moves along.


Newell’s Old Boys, Messi’s first club, plays at the Estadio Marcelo Bielsa (LUIS ROBAYO/AFP via Getty Images)

In the early morning hours of March 2, shortly before 3 a.m., two armed men on a motorcycle stopped in front of a supermarket in Rosario, Argentina and opened fire. It was the latest instance of organized crime and gangland violence, which has led to over 50 homicides in the city this year. Rosario, the birthplace of Messi and where his parents and in-laws still reside, is currently Argentina’s most violent city. According to Clarín in Argentina, there were over 270 homicides in Rosario in 2022, a new record.

For locals, the news about fourteen bullets ripping through an empty supermarket in Rosario wasn’t a random shooting. The shooters’ target, Supermercado Único, is owned and operated by the family of Antonela Roccuzzo, Messi’s wife.

The Associated Press reported that the gunman left a sinister note which read “Messi, we’re waiting for you. Javkin is also a drug trafficker, he won’t protect you.”

That last line was a reference to Pablo Javkin, Rosario’s mayor, who immediately condemned the attack and said that Rosario is “a laboratory” for criminal activity. He also pointed the finger at local law enforcement for failing to protect the city.

“It’s clear that causing harm in Rosario is easy to do and that Rosario doesn’t have any damn help at all,” Javkin said after the incident.

The shooting quickly became world news while simultaneously causing a political controversy in Argentina. When the nation’s defense minister Aníbal Fernández told reporters after the shooting that “the narcos have won,” it painted a ugly picture of the instability in one of Argentina’s most fabled football cities.

Rosario is home to Newell’s Old Boys and Rosario Central — two fierce rivals with rich histories who divide the city’s football loyalties. Newell’s home ground is named after legendary coach Marcelo Bielsa, with an upper tier of the stadium dedicated to Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino, who starred as a player for the club and led Newell’s to a league championship as a manager in 2013. Rosario Central can claim World Cup winners Mario Alberto Kempes and Ángel Di Maria as club legends, among others.

Messi, however, is far and away Rosario’s most famous son. He joined Newell’s as a six-year-old in 1994, dazzling local crowds with hundreds of goals and silky dribbling until he departed for Barcelona five years later. Messi has never shied from talking about a romantic return to his boyhood club.

“Even as time has passed, my desire to (play for Newell’s) remains intact,” Messi told Argentina’s Sportia shortly before the 2018 World Cup in Russia. “I’ve always said that I’d love to play for Newell’s. It’s something that I still have left to do.”

During a recent interview with Brazilian outlet UOL, Messi’s former international teammate and close friend Sergio “Kun” Aguero swung the pendulum in Newell’s favor.

“He’s seriously considering the possibility of playing for Newell’s,” Aguero revealed. Maxi Rodríguez, a former Argentina World Cup hero who retired with Newell’s in 2021, was on hand for the interview and quickly intervened.

“Kun can’t stay quiet,” Rodríguez said. “We’ll see. It’s difficult to talk about this because it turns into a giant rumor. Let’s wait and see what happens.”

Before the supermarket shooting, Messi’s Newell’s return wasn’t entirely implausible. After leading Argentina to a Copa América title in 2021, Messi was finally hailed as a hero after years of disappointment with the national team. Argentina’s dramatic triumph at the World Cup in Qatar further elevated Messi to legend status. He had finally connected with the people of Argentina. So why wouldn’t Messi want to finish his career in his country?

This latest act of violence, however, may have prevented that from happening.

“This doesn’t only affect Leo’s return. It affects everyone,” said Newell’s manager Gabriel Heinze after the shooting. “There’s no doubt that this distances Leo (from Newell’s) and anyone else.”


Inter Miami’s DRV PNK stadium (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

Ray Hudson is no stranger to the area around Inter Miami’s DRV PNK stadium, which sits about a mile or so from his home in Fort Lauderdale. In the 1970s, Hudson patrolled the midfield at Lockhart Stadium, the venue that was bulldozed to make way for Inter Miami’s current home. He had a front-row seat to American soccer’s biggest-ever boom, the delirium surrounding the arrival of Pelé to the North American Soccer League in the mid-70s. He witnessed the flood of other luminaries that Pelé attracted stateside: Johan CruyffGeorge BestGerd Müller and more.

Hudson is also closely tied to Messi in his current career as a broadcaster. In the U.S., so many of Messi’s goals were accompanied by Hudson’s trademark commentary, that rapid-fire banter laced with similes and metaphors. Say the word “magisterial” in the U.S. and even many non-soccer fans know exactly who and what you’re talking about.

While it’s tempting to compare Messi’s potential arrival to that of Pelé’s, the Brazilian’s impact on club soccer in America was seismic mostly in the short term. His presence on the New York Cosmos for three years pushed the sport of soccer into the mainstream in the United States at a time when few gave it any thought, but a few years after his departure the entire NASL collapsed.

To Hudson, Messi’s potential arrival would be the biggest event in the history of the American game, and far more lasting.

“This would be the biggest bang of football in this country, ever,” says Hudson. “The business element of what David Beckham did was enormous. That was a quantum leap for the league. We all recognize that. But this is a footballer’s footballer, you know? This isn’t just Gareth Bale, (Steven) Gerrard, Lampard. Even when genuine geniuses have come here, like Thierry Henry and Zlatan, it really hasn’t taken that massive leap. This will be the quantum leap in all shapes and forms for anybody that’s followed the game.”

This does not mean Hudson shares Inter Miami’s confidence that they’ll land Messi’s signature.

“Within the last year he won the World Cup at 35 years old, and he’s going to come here?” Hudson asks. “It’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ stuff. It would be like the Mozart of our game. The Shakespeare of the arts arriving in Major League Soccer, and at his absolute peak as well. At his absolute peak … How could this possibly come about? What attraction is there for him? There are very, very good players playing within the league, but he’s playing with Mbappé now. He’s playing with f—ing Mbappé and Sergio Ramos.”

Historically, famous footballers have come to the United States in large part to escape the spotlight. Best cruised around Los Angeles and Florida in an open-topped Jeep and was barely recognized. Cruyff rode his bicycle from Georgetown in D.C. to RFK Stadium, a nice escape from his life in Barcelona. Even Henry took the train to Red Bull Arena for a game at least once.

That’s not an option for Messi, who at this point is one of the most recognizable humans on earth. During a recent Miami visit, every movement he made in the city was tracked by international media, and a massive crowd swarmed him at every opportunity. Hudson describes it as Beatlemania all over again,” but in reality, Messi’s permanent arrival would be even bigger.

For now, Hudson will continue to try and find new ways to describe Messi’s brilliance remotely. He’ll be on the call in the U.S. for PSG’s Champions League appearance this week against Bayern Munich, as Messi seeks to engineer a little more magic.

“I’m going to be looking at Messi on the ball and thinking ‘There’s no f—ing way that he would be (in MLS),’” he says.


Argentina fans celebrate winning the 2022 World Cup at a party in Miami Beach (Photo: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Miami Beach. The brunch crowd has descended upon the trendier eateries around town, but the Buenos Aires Bakery & Cafe has plenty of tables open. We’re in Little Buenos Aires, where an ever-growing community of Argentine expats have made Miami home for over 20 years.

The locals here are enjoying Argentine delicacies like empanadas, facturas (an Argentine pastry), and a wide array of sandwiches and pizzas while they watch PSG defeat Lille 4-3. Messi’s clever free kick in stoppage time proves to be the decisive moment of the match.

On the outdoor patio, five grizzled old Argentine men quietly sip their lattes. Alberto, Diego, Jorge and two gentlemen named Cristián are deep in conversation when we approach their table and ask them where Messi’s career will take him next.

“He’ll stay at PSG,” Alberto says, repeatedly.

“I’ll bet you $5,000 that he’ll play one season with Newell’s,” belts out one of the Cristiáns, a burly fellow with tanned skin and thinning hair.

“The rumors are saying that he’s coming here,” says Jorge, who will later reveal his allegiance to Rosario Central, which skewed his opinions. “Leo is from Newell’s. So he’d be abandoning them if he doesn’t go there. I want you to put that in the story!”

The debate rages on. For Diego, a move to Inter Miami would jeopardize Messi’s preparation for the 2024 Copa América, because “he won’t take (MLS) seriously.” Argentina will defend its title when the tournament comes to the U.S. next summer.

“They don’t have passion here,” Diego continues. “The players in the U.S. lose a final and they go home like nothing happened. You can’t grow if you don’t feel football in that way. In Argentina a player loses a game and they’re sad for a week. Here they lose a game and it doesn’t matter. They go out and party.”

The other Cristián, the group’s voice of reason, chimes in.

“Messi has accomplished everything that he wanted to accomplish…How will he end his career? In peace and while he thinks about all of the incredible investment opportunities that he’ll have,” he says. “That’s where I think his decision is headed. I believe he’s thinking about where to end his career. And in the U.S. the investment outlook is impressive.”

What about Qatar or Saudi Arabia?

“Those are very good options in terms of financials,” Diego says. “I’d sign that deal today. Where do I sign?”


While the U.S. market is one Messi hasn’t played in, his brand stateside has arguably never been stronger. Argentina will be the top draw when the Copa América comes to the U.S. next summer, and he’s the big reason why. Unlike Pele, Messi doesn’t have to wear an Inter Miami uniform in order to be known and adored by the American public.

Still, it is not hard to imagine why Messi would be seduced by the idea of coming to the U.S. The same romanticism which could drive him to Newell’s may well bring him to Miami. The idea that he could come to a still-developing soccer nation and play his part in mainstreaming a sport that still sometimes feels like it operates on the fringes. Pelé tried to do it. Beckham tried to do it.

Messi may just make his own attempt.

ST. LOUIS MLS STADIUM BRINGS NEXT-GEN TECH TO SCALED-DOWN SOFI

Jacob Hester Sportico

CityPark in St. Louis
The most impressive parts of Citypark are the things fans won’t see.PHOTO BY BILL BARRETT/ISI PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES

When fans walk into Citypark on Saturday for St. Louis City SC’s home MLS debut, few will likely draw comparisons to SoFi Stadium, where the onetime St. Louis Rams now play.

SoFi Stadium, in Inglewood, Calif., cost more than $5 billion to build; Citypark came in under $500 million. SoFi can expand to seat 100,000; Citypark hosts just over 20,000. SoFi has regularly been referred to as an interplanetary vehicle; Citypark was designed to fit into a midwestern city’s Downtown West neighborhood.

But!, inside those two venues—deep inside—there are more similarities than fans might expect, according to AmpThink founder Bill Anderson. He would know, given his company helped each team integrate key tech functions, from stadium Wi-Fi to concourse TVs to scoreboard controls. 

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“When we finished SoFi, every conversation that I had afterwards was, ‘Yeah, that’s really cool, man. If I had five-and-a-half billion dollars, I would do the same thing,’” Anderson said. “What’s neat about St. Louis is it’s not a five-and-a-half-billion-dollar project. And we did exactly the same thing.”

Besides tech infrastructure designs, SoFi and Citypark share another similarity: a purpose, which is getting people back to the stands after a pandemic.

Citypark is open in all four corners, and the pitch sits 40 feet below ground level, giving passersby a view from the street. The venue is accessible from all four sides as well, after architects worked to hide the staging area for security, broadcast and food-related equipment. Much of that was even moved into an underground tunnel.

“We didn’t want to create a backdoor,” Snow Kreilich Architects cofounder Julie Snow said. “It’s just like a dead corner of a stadium.”

At the gate, fans will present their phones rather than paper. Leaning into trends accelerated by COVID-19, Citypark is ticketless and cashless. The team has spent the run-up to its debut educating fans about the tech, hoping to hit 100% mobile app adoption for its season ticket holders. 

The goal is to create a seamless experience from sidewalk to concourse, from concourse to seat, from seat to bathroom and back again (with key fan data being collected along the way). 

“Youth has never been less interested in live sporting events,” City SC chief experience officer Matt Sebek said. “It’s up to venues and up to teams to create memorable and impactful ones.” He added that it was critical those in-person experiences be comprehensive—enjoyable from end to end.

Snow and Sebek are among the many involved in Citypark who previously spent time outside the confines of sports business. (Sebek spent much of his career working with fast casual restaurants, while Snow has designed rail stations, museums and hotels). Chris DeVolder and Eli Hoisington from global design firm HOK also played key roles in laying out the grounds.

Over the last three years, Sebek’s team visited other stadiums, but they also studied Panera and Papa John’s. Today’s stadiums are not just theaters for athletic competition, after all. They are also food halls, shopping malls, offices and wedding venues. 

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“A lot of our front office, this is their first gig in sports,” Sebek said. “We’ve always borrowed a lot of those cues from consumer industries.”

With days to go before the debut, the team is busy. Are there enough TVs in the press area? Are local restaurant partners happy with their setups?

But just getting to kickoff won’t be enough on Saturday. The real test starts at halftime.Soccer is particularly tough on venue designers, given the supply and demand dilemmas presented by a single 15-minute stoppage. To keep things moving, City SC has added MLS’s first checkout-free stores, this time taking inspiration from Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium and working with cashierless store developer Zippin. The grab-and-go markets use tracking technology to automatically charge customers and cut down fan visits to as short as 10 seconds. “We’re really taking physical spaces and turning them into computers,” Zippin co-founder Krishna Motukuri said. “The whole purpose of technology is to disappear into the background.”Elsewhere, St. Louis has broken down traditional concession stands into roughly 50 stations powered by remote kitchens. Fans can order from kiosks, though Sebek is hopeful that mobile ordering adoption will eventually render those unnecessary, too. Through a combination of order tracking and personalized recommendations via the team app, City SC hopes to make the halftime experience even more efficient week-over-week. “We are trying our damnedest to really spread the lines out,” Sebek said.Touching ticketing, food, wayfinding and merchandise, the team’s app is nearly a venue unto itself, another piece of invisible infrastructure built in parallel with the real-world sportsplex.“One of the things that I think is so extraordinary about sports venues is how much of the stadium the spectator doesn’t see,” Snow said. “And if that isn’t working smoothly, then they’ll begin to see it.”Snow was on hand for the stadium’s soft launch in November for a friendly against Bayer Leverkusen. The game was fun, but she also remembers the thrill of leaving. She felt surrounded by people, though never crowded. “It was kind of a revelation,” she said.Now, the hope is fans departing Saturday will have a similar reaction and decide to come back soon. “This is an MLS stadium, and it’s one of the most tech-savvy, tech-advanced stadiums in the world,” says Ken Martin, Cisco’s sports and entertainment solutions group general manager. “St. Louis is a great example of how you can take a world-class architecture and deploy it into a smaller venue.”

Spurs make shortlist to replace Antonio Conte – with Luis Enrique a lead contender

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Antonio Conte, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur, reacts during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 leg two match between Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on March 08, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

By Jack Pitt-Brooke Mar 9, 2023


Tottenham Hotspur have compiled a shortlist of candidates to replace Antonio Conte as their next permanent head coach.Chairman Daniel Levy has tasked Fabio Paratici, his under-fire managing director of football, with the job of producing a list of suitable possibilities for the role when Conte leaves, as now seems inevitable.At the top is likely to be Luis Enrique, the former Barcelona and Spain manager, whom Paratici has long admired. The plan is that Paratici will work on the list for Levy this month.Tottenham are very keen to get their succession planning right and avoid a repeat of the embarrassing summer of 2021.After sacking Jose Mourinho in the April, they took 10 weeks to find his replacement, failing to land Hansi Flick, their former manager Mauricio Pochettino or Conte and eventually having to appoint Nuno Espirito Santo on a two-year deal just before the players returned for pre-season. Nuno lasted 10 league games before Conte was finally persuaded to replace him.

The difference between then and now is that Tottenham do still have a head coach in place.Conte cut a miserable figure after Wednesday night’s Champions League last-16 elimination by AC Milan, though, and even admitted in an interview with an Italian broadcaster that Spurs “could get rid” of him before the end of the season. His contract expires on June 30, talks over an extension are dead and so he has at most 12 games left before he leaves the north London club.

Even though many Spurs fans audibly turned against Conte’s decisions during Wednesday’s game, he remains in charge for now. The 11 players who started against Milan came in today for recovery work, while the rest of the first-team squad had a normal training session.Conte is due to be at his press conference on Friday lunchtime before Saturday’s home league game against Nottingham Forest. If Spurs lose that, and Liverpool win away to bottom of the table Bournemouth in Saturday’s early kick-off, Jurgen Klopp’s men will overtake them in fourth place.

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Richarlison: ‘This season has been shit’

Luis Enrique is greatly admired by Fabio Paratici (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

But even if these are the final days of Conte’s tenure, the club are determined that they are going to have a plan in place for what comes next. Levy wants Paratici to oversee the process of finding Conte’s replacement, just as he did with the appointment of Nuno. (Conte’s hiring was driven by Levy himself rather than Paratici.)

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This represents a show of support from the chairman for Paratici, whose position has come under intense scrutiny in recent months. Paratici was given a 30-month ban from Italian football in January following an investigation into accounting practices at former club Juventus while he was employed there, which Paratici has appealed against. But the 50-year-old is still highly rated at Spurs and is popular with staff and players.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Paratici’s ‘black book’, Chiellini’s WhatsApps, Ronaldo’s wages: Inside Juve’s crisis

Top of Paratici’s list is likely to be Luis Enrique, a coach he has admired greatly for years. The Spaniard is most famous for his three seasons in charge of Barcelona, from 2014 to 2017. He built a team with Lionel MessiLuis Suarez and Neymar as the front three that swept all before them, winning the treble in his first season — the last time Barcelona lifted the Champions League. They also won the European Super Cup and Club World Cup, and retained the La Liga title the following year.

Luis Enrique then took over Spain’s national team, guiding them to the European Championship semi-finals in 2021, where they were knocked out on penalties, before going out on penalties again in the round of 16 at last year’s World Cup, to Morocco. He stepped down from the job after that defeat.

Paratici’s list is also likely to include Oliver Glasner, the Austrian who won the 2021-22 Europa League with Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt. Paratici is also a big admirer of the work of Ruben Amorim, the Sporting Lisbon coach who won that club’s first Portuguese league title in 19 years two seasons ago, and of Luciano Spalletti, who is on the brink of guiding Napoli to their first Serie A title in 33 years.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

‘He will be an unavoidable name in European football’ – Ruben Amorim, Europe’s next supercoach?

Oliver Glasner, head coach of Eintracht Frankfurt, is admired at Tottenham (Photo: Cathrin Mueller/Getty Images)

Of course there is no guarantee that the job will end up going to someone on their initial list, as Spurs found out when they tried to replace Mourinho two years ago. Their early contenders then included Flick, Erik ten Hag, Graham Potter, Roberto Martinez and Ralf Rangnick.

Many fans will wonder where former boss Pochettino, currently clubless after being sacked by Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season, is in Spurs’ thinking.

He is unlikely to be one of Paratici’s preferred choices for the role, for the reasons outlined by The Athletic earlier this week.

There has been no approach from Tottenham about the upcoming vacancy, but it was the Argentinian’s name that some fans were singing as they left the stadium in the rain last night after seeing their team limply exit the Champions League.

AC Milan have won back dignity – place in Champions League last eight is seismic

AC-MILAN-CELEBRATE-

By James HorncastleMar 9, 202340


Under shafts of bone-chilling rain, the Milan ultras turned their backs on the game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, pulling off their black T-shirts to reveal red, goose-pimpled torsos against a pitch-black sky. “Bandiiiiiitoooos!” they sang, adapting the Muchachos song that was the soundtrack of Argentina’s barras bravas at the World Cup. “Una vita accanto il diavolooooo.” Bandits! A life by the devil’s side.In good and in bad.“Reaching the last eight would be an incredible result,” Milan’s technical director Paolo Maldini told Sky Italia moments before kick-off in north London, which remains a strange thing to hear a five-time winner of this competition say. Incredible, it wasn’t in one sense at least. For a start, it did not have to be against an insipid Tottenham team who, to borrow a phrase from the lore of Italian football, gave a performance evocative of a ‘coniglio bagnato’, a wet rabbit.Maldini’s comment instead alluded to the journey this Milan team has been on since his return to the club as an executive. Specifically, a night in Athens in the Europa League comes to mind when his former team-mate Leonardo, Milan’s then-sporting director, blamed elimination against Olympiacos in 2018 on the noise in the stadium. “I don’t know if it was a flute, a machine, or a claxon. Every time we attacked, all half,” he said. “There’s a rule forbidding noise that can be off-putting.”

It was a low point, a moment of genuine despair when going far in the Champions League as Milan used to in Maldini’s playing days felt further away than ever. “It’s worth remembering where we started out,” Maldini said on Wednesday. Not the seven Champions League trophies in the Casa Milan museum. But the seven years spent outside the competition. Lest we forget, Milan made it back to the Champions League only last season and finished bottom of their group. Out of Europe altogether, they focused on the league and won it for the first time since 2011. That achievement came ahead of schedule and if the scudetto came too soon, winning the Champions League does not figure as a realistic short-term objective. But Milan wanted to make progress and honour the history of the club in this competition with greater ication.“We have to take our chance,” Maldini said.As champions of Italy, Milan made the most of being top seeds in their group and reached the knockout stages, something they had not done since Massimiliano Allegri was in charge. Some will turn up their noses at the football they played against Tottenham but Milan are under no illusion as to who they are at the moment. The revenue generated by reaching the quarters is huge for the club.Anyone who looks down on this team and compares it with the last Champions League-winning vintage from 2007 need only survey their surroundings at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. If Milan are to take another step towards a definitive reawakening, the club needs a ground like the one Spurs call home to bring in the transformative money San Siro, unfortunately, does not. It’s why Milan spent Tuesday showing the Italian press corp around Tottenham’s avant-garde home to make it clear what the club’s future could look like.In the meantime, Milan have to grind and edge ties like this last-16 encounter. “It’s a big deal,” Olivier Giroud said, soon after scrunching up his shirt and tossing it into the out-stretched arms of the away support.

STEFANO-PIOLI-AC-MILAN-Pioli celebrates progression to the quarter-finals (Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

“I told the lads we deserved it. We wanted to go on a good run in the Champions League this year.” And here Milan are in the quarter-finals for the first time in 11 years. The concern about the team’s recent form on the road (which flared up in Florence at the weekend), the anticipation Tottenham would suddenly turn it on like other Premier League sides have done against Milan and the question marks over Fikayo Tomori (who gave away another penalty on Saturday) washed away like the London rain.

It was an indictment on Tottenham that Milan did not even have to be that good on the night. Giroud and Rafa Leao did not click. Junior Messias’ crossing was wayward and his shooting worse, underlining Milan’s need for an upgrade on the right side.

A poor victor for this stage of the Champions League, this young Milan team were at least mature. Leao and Giroud did not score but still managed to get Cristian Romero and Clement Lenglet booked early. Milan’s flawless back-three frustrated Tottenham enough for the crowd to boo the home side off at half-time. 

After marking Dejan Kulusevski out of the first leg, Malick Thiaw moved from left centre-back to the middle and did the same job on Harry Kane. When Kane out-leapt Rade Krunic in stoppage time to belatedly record only Tottenham’s second shot on target, the returning Mike Maignan made a clutch save. Theo Hernandez’s afterburners led to Romero’s reckless red. “The lads didn’t surprise me,” a soaked Pioli said. “They’ve got quality. We played with character and showed we were the better team and deserved to go through.” After all, Messias skewed a well-worked free kick wide, Thiaw put Leao through on goal, Divock Origi hit the post. Add in Thiaw and Charles De Ketelaere’s misses at San Siro and there can be little doubt Milan merit their place in the quarters.Afterwards, Antonio Conte played the football heritage card, arguing the difference between Tottenham and “champions of Italy” AC Milan with their seven Champions League titles, is ‘abissale’, so deep it’s like staring into an abyss. A cultural mismatch. But when you consider Pioli makes a third of what Conte does, San Siro turns over €70million (£62.4m, $74m) less than the Tottenham stadium and Milan’s gross summer transfer spend as “champions of Italy” was less than what Spurs paid for a substitute like Richarlison then Maldini is right to call it “incredible”.Bandiiiiiiito. Una vita accanto al diavolooooooooooooo.

Alyssa Thompson sparkles in Angel City debut
COURTESY OF ANGEL CITY FOOTBALL CLUBNo. 1 draft pick Alyssa Thompson wasted no time making her mark on Angel City’s preseason.She scored her first goal for the L.A. club on Wednesday, just five minutes into a friendly against Club América.Still a high school senior, Thompson went through her normal school day before scoring in front of over 15,000 fans.“I went to school, had English, then I went back home and I was getting more nervous and as time progressed, I was trying to not think about it that much,” she said.The 18-year-old has already appeared with the USWNT first team, earning her first cap in October 2022.“Her goal she took so coolly, like she had played in a hundred games in this stadium,” Angel City coach Freya Coombe said.Bottom line: Angel City went on to win 3-0, building momentum and getting their young star acclimated before the NWSL regular season begins on March 25.
France coach Diacre fired after player revolt
FRANCK FIFE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Corinne Diacre has officially been ousted as head coach of the France women’s national team after six years at the helm.Her firing comes after three prominent players, led by captain Wendie Renard, said they would not play in the 2023 World Cup under “the current system.”The “very significant divide” within the team “has reached a point of no return,” the French Football Federation said. B ackground: Renard publicly resigned from the national team in February, citing the need to protect her mental health.She was followed in quick succession by Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani, who said they would not return unless changes were made. Diacre refused to voluntarily resign despite public pressure, calling herself the victim of a “smear campaign.”“My detractors have not hesitated to attack my personal and professional integrity without bothering with the truth,” she said in a statement this week. Bottom line: France now only has months left to prepare for the World Cup, a tournament they have never won.The FFF has given the team a short runway to solve internal issues, but moving forward without Diacre should bring their starters back into the fold.

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3/6/23 Neymar is out, Champs League Tu 3 pm CBS Chelsea/Dortmund, Wed Bayern/PSG 3 pm CBS, MLS CC UCL Tue/Wed FS 1

Champions League Tues/Wed 3 pm CBS  

So we have arrived at the 2nd leg of the Round 16 in the Best Club competition in the World UEFA Champions League – these are the best players and the best teams in the World of Football. (Cool Lays Commercial).  CBS will kick off coverage at 2 pm with Pregame – on both Tues/Wed with Chelsea traveling to Dortmund down 1-0, while Wed features Bayern hosting PSG up 1-0. Mbappe missed the first 65 minutes of the first round before coming on and terrorizing Bayern for the last 20 minutes.  Can PSG turn the tide in Germany?  Can Chelsea and new coach Graham Potter save his job and his team’s season with a win at Dortmund (a team who has not lost a game in 2023)?   I have admit I don’t see Chelsea making it past the Big Yellow wall at Dortmund I see another 1-0 win for Dortmund and more misery for the biggest spending team in the world- Chelsea and their new idiotic American owners. On the other side I would love to see PSG make a run I have this feeling that a healthy Mbappe can help them carry a 3-1 victory with Messi driving the boat (Neymar is out for the season) at Bayern which would see them thru.  Must See TV for sure the big games on CBS and the others on Paramount plus including split screen coverage and post game coverage. Also Europa League on Thurs on Paramount plus.

Concacaf Champions League Tues/Wed/Thurs FS1 + FS2

Our MLS teams will head into CONCACAF Champions League Sweet 16 play this week as Austin FC, Philly Union and Orlando City will all travel to foreign countries Tuesday night at 6 pm, 8 pm and 10 pm on Fox Sports 1. Wed Night its Vancouver hosting Real Espana at 10 pm on FS2 and Thur gives us MLS Cup Winners LAFC traveling to Alajuelense at 10 pm on FS2. Of course my Seattle Sounders became the 1st MLS team to win the CCL last season. (see schedule below)

Indy 11 open Mar 11 @ Tampa Bay on ESPN+,

With the season starting this weekend – 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.  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

World

Wow Liverpool just whooped Man United on Sunday the 7-0 win the largest in the history of the series. Tons of EPL stories below. Oh and happy Birthday to Timmy Howard – perhaps the best US Goalkeeper ever. (See great saves below)

GAMES ON TV

(American’s names in Parenthesis)

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                           Chalotte 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

Sun,Mar 12                        

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 Barceloa

9 pm FS2                              Santos Laguna vs Tiajuana

10:30 pm Apple                 LAFC vvs New England

Indy 11 Schedule

https://www.cbssports.com/soccer/nwsl/schedule

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

Champions League 

UCL Power Rankings: Real Madrid on top

UCL bold predictions: Joao Felix to the rescue
Bellingham the key for high-flying Dortmund at Chelsea

Chelsea’s expensive recruits face Champions League moment of truth

Chelsea’s options to replace Thiago Silva

Real Madrid’s three biggest problems

Messi and Mbappe could be PSG’s UCL blueprint

Neymar to miss remainder of Ligue 1 season with ankle injury
Joao Felix admits Champions League will sway Chelsea future decision as new players risk pay hit

Chelsea vs Borussia Dortmund: How to watch live, team news, 

Carragher: Liverpool defense in ‘shambles’

The Song

MLS


MLS clubs spread their wings in Champions League action

Which MLS Teams Could Win CC Champions League

What to Watch 4  CC Champions League
Chiellini on target for LAFC, Miami stun Philly, St.Louis triumph

MLS Panic Meter: Dishing out readings after Matchday 2

EPL 


The worst performance I’ve seen on English football’s biggest stage

10 things we learned in the Premier League: Week 26

Liverpool’s new-look front three put Man Utd to the sword

7-0: Liverpool pummels mistake-riddled Manchester United

Liverpool condemn Manchester United to joint-heaviest defeat in their history

Ten Hag slams ‘unprofessional’ Man Utd after Liverpool humiliation

Liverpool vs Manchester United player ratings: Bruno Fernandes shows no leadership in defeat

Patrick Vieira wants Crystal Palace fans to trust the process – but what is it?

Arteta-time: How Arsenal became masters of late drama

How Liverpool 7-0 Man United ranks among biggest thrashings in Europe’s major rivalries
8hChris Wright

Liverpool crush Man United with historic 7-0 win that puts them on course for top-four finish

Reffing


The VAR Review: Arsenal handball claims, Fernandes penalty, McTominay red
Dale Johnson
Nottingham Forest to make official complaint about standard of referees

Become a Licensed High School Ref

Goalkeeping

Timmy Scores a Goal at Everton

Timmy Howard at Everton

Timmy Howard Saves in MLS

Indy 11

Indy Acquires Adrian Diz Pe via Tranfer from FC Tulsa

Preseason Recap | IND 5 : 1 CF2

USL W League Announces 2023 Schedule

 All USL Championship Matches Available Live on ESPN Platforms

Indy 11 Learns US Open Cup Draw April 4-6 

Indy 11 Win over IWU 5-1

Indy 11 beats Butler 3-1

Indy 11 Recap Video

Indy 11 Schedule

Indy 11 Park

Indy 11 Promos 

Indy 11 Roster

Indy 11 W League Joins new League

Indy 11 Away Games can be enjoyed at Union Jack in Broad Ripple. Join the BYB for games.

  • Champions League: Chelsea 0 vs. Dortmund 1, Tuesday, 3 p.m. 
    💰 THE PICK: Chelsea to quality-  Chelsea’s numbers have been better than their results recently, and that tension can only hold for so long. And on top of that, this is the last competition that really matters for Chelsea. If they can keep themselves alive for a deep run in the Champions League, it’ll erase a lot of other sins.
  • Champions League: Benfica 2 vs. Brugge 0, Tuesday, 3 p.m.
    💰 THE PICK: Benfica – This tie is effectively over. Benfica are the better team and come home with a two-goal cushion. So let’s bet on them to blow the doors off this one. They didn’t play especially well in the first leg and still scored two goals away from home. Not very hard to imagine things getting out of hand here when they face Belgium’s fourth-best side.

UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 UEFA Champions League round of 16 continues with the second legs of four matchups taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The remaining four matchups will finish up next week, after which time the quarterfinals draw will take place.

With all that in mind, let’s get to this week’s games.


Tuesday

Benfica vs  Club Brugge 

If Benfica (currently up 2-0 on aggregate) do manage to finish off Club Brugge, do they have any realistic chance of advancing further?

Paul Carr: Benfica will likely be in the weird spot of being the club everyone wants to draw in the quarterfinals, while still having as much of a chance as any of the bottom four teams in the quarters. The Portuguese league leaders have won eight consecutive games by multiple goals and, while they obviously don’t need to do that here, the price is too tempting to pass up against the weakest remaining team. Benfica dominated the first leg, outshooting Brugge 14-4 with 2.9 expected goals to Brugge’s 0.4. I’ll take Benfica -1.5 in the second leg at +120.

Dan Thomas: Benfica were so dominant in the first leg and I can see this being one-way traffic once again in Portugal. I think Paul has this spot-on. Benfica -1.5 +120

Chelsea Vs Borussia Dortmund 

If Chelsea lose this game against Dortmund, is Graham Potter out? If Dortmund (up 1-0 on aggregate) get past Chelsea should they be favorites to win the Champions League?

Carr: If Chelsea go out versus Dortmund, there’s not much reason to fire Potter now, given that Chelsea will be out of all three cup competitions and sitting 10th in the EPL. However, we all know that logic isn’t exactly running rampant in many front offices.

Anyway, Dortmund are running a little hot, as any club on a 10-match win streak does, but still have at least 1.5 expected goals in eight of those 10 games. Dortmund could easily get a goal here, and then Chelsea would need two, something the Blues haven’t done in any of their last 12 games, winning only twice in that span. I can’t imagine trusting Chelsea here, even at Stamford Bridge. Give me Dortmund on the double chance (-111).

Thomas: I think the fact they beat Leeds United gives Potter a little more breathing room. As always, their issues are going to be goals. Dortmund very much held on against RB Leipzig, despite the one-man advantage on Friday. This is really difficult to call. I’m going to go Chelsea under 1.5 goals (-115).

Wednesday

Tottenham Hotspur vs  AC Milan 

Milan won the first leg 1-0. Who currently has the worst form between these two sides?

Carr: The first leg was a pretty good microcosm of the recent form for both teams. Tottenham had 11 shots worth 0.4 expected goals, with only one shot of above-average quality. Milan was a little better, with nine shots and 1.9 expected goals, although most of that value was on the goal and a couple of late chances. Tottenham of course needs a goal but has only topped 1.5 expected goals in a match once since the World Cup. This should be a tight game with both teams happy to play for one goal. I’m taking under 2.5 goals at -115.

Thomas: Both teams are on a miserable run at the moment. I don’t think this game will be one for the purists. I’ll also take under 2.5 goals at -115.

Bayern Munich vs  Paris Saint-Germain 

With Neymar injured, how will it impact the game, and do you believe this is Lionel Messi‘s last chance to win a championship? Has João Cancelo made Bayern favorites to win it all?

Carr: In the first leg (won by Bayern 1-0) PSG presented almost no threat until Kylian Mbappe entered for the final half hour. Mbappe will be healthy for this second leg, but Neymar is out, and Bayern’s Sadio Mane will be available to run at what should be a stretched PSG back line. Bayern are still rolling, winning seven of their last eight and with the underlying numbers to match. The exception was a loss to Borussia Monchengladbach when Bayern got an early red card. Give me Bayern to win this game at -125, a price that would be closer to -150 were this not a second leg.

Thomas: Here we go then. I’m very much looking forward to this one. Mbappe is healthy and hungry for goals going into this match and what a price this is to go with Mbappe scoring two or more goals (+1000).

Champions League picks, predictions, odds: Experts split on Chelsea; PSG to get eliminated by Bayern Munich

Champions League returns to action and experts are split on some of the week’s biggest matchups

By Roger Gonzalez5 hrs ago•8 min readGetty Images

The journey towards European supremacy rages on with UEFA Champions League round of 16 second legs beginning this week. Tuesday will see Chelsea look to turn things around against Borussia Dortmund while Benfica aim to slam the door shut against struggling Club Brugge. On Wednesday, PSG and Bayern Munich face off on as Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and company have their backs against the wall, looking to overcome a 1-0 deficit in Bavaria, while Tottenham welcome AC Milan to London.

As always, CBS Sports and Paramount+ will be your home for all things UCL.

Here’s our predictions for each match and more:

Tuesday’s broadcast schedule

(All times U.S./Eastern)

  • UEFA Champions League Today, 2 p.m., CBS and Paramount+
  • Chelsea vs. Borussia Dortmund, 3 p.m., CBS and Paramount+
  • Benfica vs. Club Brugge 3 p.m., Paramount+
  • UEFA Champions League Post-Match Show, 5 p.m., CBS Sports Network and Paramount+

Wednesday’s broadcast schedule

(All times U.S./Eastern)

Coverage starts each day at 2 pm. with Champions League Today on CBS and Paramount+. Paramount+ will offer a multicast feature allowing subscribers to watch two matches simultaneously in a split-screen view. You can try one month free by using the code: ADVANCE.

Match picks

player headshotJames Bengeplayer headshotChuck Boothplayer headshotRoger Gonzalezplayer headshotJonathan Johnsonplayer headshotFrancesco Porzio
CFC-BVB3-1 (AET)0-21-11-11-2
BEN-CBG1-02-02-01-03-1
FCB-PSG2-22-12-21-3 (AET)2-1
TOT-MIL1-0 (Milan on PKs)2-0 (AET)1-11-12-2

Chelsea vs. Borussia Dortmund

Featured Game|Chelsea vs. Borussia Dortmund

One matchup to watch: At the time of writing Chelsea are hopeful that Reece James will be back in time to take the field at Stamford Bridge but Graham Potter will need his most important defender to be at something approaching full steam if he is to match the in-form Marco Reus, assuming the German occupies the left wing as he did in Dortmund’s win over RB Leipzig. Reus’ own fitness is often fleeting but when he is available he tends to be worth the wait and has provided two goals and three assists. Equally if James can get motoring up the pitch, whether as a wing-back or full-back, he could force Reus into more defensive work than Edin Terzic might like.

Most likely to score a goal: Even if Chelsea as a team are starting to build greater attacking threat it is hard to find one particular name in their squad who is looking convincing in front of goal. The likes of Kai Havertz and Raheem Sterling can often seem like they are searching for newer and more imaginative ways to miss, whilst the goals might eventually come it would be a mad man who predicted their source. Dortmund tend to share the goals around, their scorer could be anyone but with four in his last five Bundesliga games Julian Brandt seems a tempting choice.

Man of the Match pick: With the excellent goalkeeper Gregor Kobel expected to miss out, Dortmund’s defense will need to play well to protect Alexander Meyer even if the backup did make some smart saves against RB Leipzig. Perhaps the best performer in that game was Nico Schlotterbeck, whose sterling form has been crucial in Dortmund’s rise up the Bundesliga table.

Match prediction: Chelsea seem likely to dominate possession and territory and this could just open up the door for Borussia Dortmund to make them pay on counterattacks, even without Karim Adeyemi. But the subzero Blues have to heat up sooner or later in front of goal, why not when Graham Potter needs it most? It might go all the way to extra time but I have a feeling Chelsea could get a 3-1 win to advance.

James Benge

Club Brugge vs. Benfica

Featured Game|Benfica vs. Club Brugge

One matchup to watch: The midfield battle. With Benfica already ahead 2-0 heading into the deciding leg of the game at home, Florentino Luis and Fredrik Aursnes will have a lot of the ball during the tie. If they can pick apart Brugge with a patient attack, it’ll be an easy win for Benfica but if Kamal Sowah and the Brugge midfield can unsettle things, Benficia’s slower central pairing can be exploited. It’s certinaly a tall task for a Brugge team that is overmatched and away from home but winning the midfield battle is the only way to victory for Brugge even if they end up with a man advantage.

Most likely to score a goal: Goncalo Ramos. Benfica has a balanced attack but everything leads to Ramos at point of it. With 21 goals in all competiions, including five in Champions League play, Ramos has been someone that Benfica can count on. Even when he isn’t scoring, Ramos is able to influence a match by keeping pressure on the defense, but he’ll have a good chance to beat Simon Mignolet in the tie.

Man of the Match pick: Simon Mignolet. With Brugge under pressure during the match, Mignolet will do what he does best in keeping a match close that shouldn’t be. Only facing four shots on target during the opening leg in Belgium, he’ll have more to do during an away trip in Libson. 

Match prediction: Already having the lead coming into the second leg, Benfica will be able to take things at their pace passing their way to another 2-0 victory to echo the opening leg. While Brugge will crash out of Champions League in their inagural apparance in the knockout stage, it will be agianst a worthy opponent as Benfica are quickly rising to the tier of being one of the top clubs in the world. 

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-Chuck Booth

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bayern Munich

One matchup to watch: Dayot Upamecano vs. Kylian Mbappe — The two France international teammates are likely to see a lot of each other come Wednesday. Although Matthijs de Ligt might also be brough more central given Benjamin Pavard’s suspension, Mbappe will likely favor going up against Upamecano where possible given his knowledge of his fellow Frenchman. The first leg was all about Mbappe and he only came on as a second half substitute before ripping into Bayern with the help of Nuno Mendes. Expect 90 minutes of PSG trying to do just that again here.

Most likely to score a goal: Mbappe — The opening leg only really came to life when Mbappe came on and his introduction transformed PSG. With the French champions’ season effectively on the line here, expect Mbappe to at least have some say as Christophe Galtier’s men attempt to score their way to qualification. Given what we have seen from Les Parisiens against Lille and Marseille domestically, no Neymar in Bavaria could actually benefit PSG as it simplifies things in attack and maximizes the impact of Mbappe’s searing pace.

Man of the Match pick: Nuno Mendes — The Portugal international was sensational in the second half of the first leg and Galtier will try to replicate that showing as PSG really tested Yann Sommer in the Bayern goal. Whether it will be enough depends on how clinical Mbappe and Lionel Messi can be, but the LOSC and OM showings have been promising as far as goals are concerned. The only concern over Mendes might be his ability to go the full 90 and potentially beyond given his recent knock against Lille.

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Match prediction: Bayern 1-3 PSG (after extra time) — Such a result would put the Ligue 1 leaders through and the Bundesliga giants out. Julian Nagelsmann’s men really should have buried Galtier’s side in Paris when they had the chance. Counterattacking suits this PSG side and Mbappe in particular who has already shown his ability to deliver at Allianz Arena in recent years. Gianluigi Donnarumma could be the difference in whether or not this one goes beyond 90 minutes, but do not be surprised if PSG fly out of the traps looking to erase Bayern’s first-leg advantage as soon as possible.

-Jonathan Johnson

Tottenham vs. AC Milan

Featured Game|Tottenham Hotspur vs. AC Milan

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One matchup to watch: Harry Kane vs. Fikayo Tomori – Tottenham will definitely need to score soon during the match if they want to have chances to make it to the quarter finals of this season. Harry Kane will play against Fikayo Tomori in what it’s going to be one of the most interesting duels of the game. Tomori is not playing particularly well this season and comes from a big mistake that led to the penalty scored by Nico Gonzalez against Fiorentina last Saturday. 

Most likely to score a goal: Harry Kane – I expect Kane to score at least one goal against AC Milan. This is going to be a big chance for him and Spurs will rely a lot on their club’s top scorer against the Italian side. Antonio Conte’s side are coming from a heavy defeat away against Wolves and need to react in the Champions League’s second leg this Wednesday. 

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Man of the Match pick: Rafael Leao – There are a lot of rumors about his potential Premier League move in the future and this is a great opportunity for him to shine on such a big stage. The Rossoneri need Leao to be at the center of their project in the coming years, and are already talking to extend his deal, with the current one expiring in the summer 2024. 

Match prediction: Tottenham 2, AC Milan 2. I expect this one to be a more exciting game compared to the first leg when AC Milan won thanks to an early goal scored by Brahim Diaz. Antonio Conte’s side need to score if they want to have chances to go to the next round but will also likely expose themselves defensively. I expect the Italian side to go through. 

Champions League last-16 second legs preview: Where each tie will be won and lost

Champions League last-16 second legs preview: Where each tie will be won and lost

Thom Harris Mar 6, 2023 The Athletic

The narratives have changed since eight of Europe’s top sides went toe-to-toe just under three weeks ago.This week’s four Champions League ties now look very different than before those opening legs.The Athletic’s Thom Harris takes a deep dive into the last-16 fixtures coming up this Tuesday and Wednesday…


Benfica vs Club Bruges

(First leg result: Club Bruges 0-2 Benfica)

Benfica

Things couldn’t be going much better for Lisbon giants Benfica right now.Eight points clear at the top of the Primeira Liga, and firmly in control of their European fate, perhaps the only blot on their copybook has been their penalty shootout heartache against Braga last month in the Portuguese version of the FA Cup, which was one of just two competitive defeats for them all season (Braga also beat them 3-0 in the league in the first game back after the World Cup break).Having dried their eyes with £106million of Chelsea’s finest banknotes after selling Enzo Fernandez, manager Roger Schmidt’s side have won three domestic games on the bounce since that cup exit and also looked impressive as they cruised to first-leg victory in Belgium against Club Bruges, a huge step towards securing a second consecutive Champions League quarter-final.

Bringing a 2-0 lead back to their Estadio da Luz, where they haven’t been beaten in 10 months, should leave Benfica confident in their abilities to see this one through.While Goncalo Ramos and Joao Mario continue to write the attacking headlines, Benfica’s ferocious full-backs are giving them a forward thrust in wide areas.Particularly out on the left, where Alejandro Grimaldo — Alex to his friends — has been one of their finest creators, making more passes into the opposition penalty area than any other player in the Portuguese top flight, while contributing two goals and a league-high seven assists. And this is a full-back, remember.Having also received 272 progressive passes throughout the domestic league season — 66 more than any other player in the division — the flying Spaniard also represents a crucial outlet for his side, allowing Benfica to build up and establish themselves in opposition territory with a ball out to the left.The 27-year-old has been just as influential in Europe, notably sliding a pass through to allow Rafa Silva to sentence Juventus to a shock group-stage exit from the Champions League.

With two assists and two long-range screamers scored already in this season’s competition, don’t be surprised to see Grimaldo chomping at the bit for more tomorrow night.

Club Bruges

Bruges emerged battered and bruised from that first leg, and the data doesn’t look good for Scott Parker’s chances of masterminding a miracle in Lisbon.Only able to generate a 0.3 expected goals (xG) figure while conceding a massive 2.9 one at the other end, the Belgians now travel to a stadium that has seen Benfica accumulate over 2.0 xG in all but two of their 16 matches there this season.As if that wasn’t enough, of the 45 sides to have lost the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie by two or more goals in front of their own fans, only one has managed to progress to the next round — Manchester United, when they came back to beat Paris Saint-Germain at this stage four years ago on the now-defunct away goals rule.A worrying feature of former Fulham and Bournemouth manager Parker’s so-far troublesome Belgian adventure has been his misfiring strikers, with some of Bruges’ standout players in earlier rounds struggling to find the net since his appointment in late December.Bruges are without an open-play goal from a recognised centre-forward since October 29 — 19 games ago — when Ferran Jutgla volleyed home against struggling Ostend.The goalscoring burden has fallen to midfielders Casper Nielsen and Hans Vanaken, while wingers Andreas Skov Olsen, who hasn’t played since January due to injury, and Noa Lang have been the primary sources of inspiration.Lang was one of the few bright sparks in that 2-0 first-leg defeat, as he attempted 15 carries and won 18 ground duels in a spirited individual performance. However, he did not manage a single touch in the Benfica penalty area as he was marshalled safely into wide areas, unable to single-handedly provide the penetration he so often has, and that his side will so desperately need in Lisbon.

The Belgians have already won, heavily, on Portuguese soil this year — a 4-0 thumping of Porto in the group stage — but that was back in September and given their current struggles, they are probably odds-against repeating that feat down in the capital.

Chelsea vs Borussia Dortmund

(First leg result: Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Chelsea)

Chelsea

Sometimes, for all the data analysis in the world, the most valuable conclusions are the most obvious.In that regard, The Athletic brings you an exclusive: If Chelsea are going to make the last eight, they’re going to need to score here.Graham Potter’s team nervously edged themselves to a 1-0 win against Leeds at the weekend but they still didn’t look as fluent as their manager would like.And with just five goals from 149 attempts since the start of the calendar year, representing an expected goals underperformance of 10.1, their shocking finishing run is surely due a turn in the road.

If anything, then, the key to a Chelsea comeback could lie amid the intangibles.Graham Potter’s side had eight shots on target in that 1-0 defeat in Germany on February 15 — their most without scoring ever in a Champions League match — showing that they clearly know the way through this Dortmund defence.Joao Felix skied two glorious chances in Germany, while Kai Havertz attempted four penalty-box shots to no avail, now 12 attempts and 583 minutes without a goal. Particularly for the high-volume shot-takers, plummeting confidence and belief could make all the difference.Breaking the duck may just be a case of sheer force of will. In front of a packed, supportive Stamford Bridge, with no option but to attack to save their Champions League lives, Chelsea certainly aren’t out of this tie.

Borussia Dortmund

Dortmund, on the other hand, took another big step in their title tussle with Bayern Munich, winning their 10th game in succession across all competitions against RB Leipzig on Friday. The sides are level with 49 points each at the top of the Bundesliga table, though Bayern’s goal difference is way better.Scoring 27 times and conceding just eight in that remarkable run, they head to London with sky-high confidence, even though they are without a win on English soil in the Champions League since 2013 — the year they reached the final.

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While Chelsea were caught out by the searing pace of Karim Adeyemi for the only goal of the first leg, it’s the form of Julian Brandt that has arguably been the biggest boost for head coach Edin Terzic this season, with the 26-year-old already just one goal away from matching his best goalscoring season in the Bundesliga.Also an inspired creator, averaging 4.9 shot-creating passes per 90 minutes in the domestic league, Brandt showed glimpses of his exceptional technical quality in that first leg. Silky-smooth as he relentlessly received the ball between the lines, he also tested Kepa Arrizabalaga with a low drive, and created four opportunities for his team-mates.In front of goal, only Erling Haaland of Manchester City and Leicester’s James Maddison are over-performing their expected goals numbers by a larger margin in Europe’s big five leagues, with Brandt finding the net eight times from an xG figure of 3.1. Such stats point to a clinical finisher in fine form, with his confidence reflected by a streak of 17 consecutive games in which the German has taken on a strike.

A side averaging over 2.5 goals per game in 2023 travelling to take on one averaging 0.42 means there shouldn’t be any reason for Terzic’s side to feel overawed. Looking to pounce on any confidence-related mistakes will surely be the Germans’ best route to their 10th appearance in the European Cup/Champions League quarter-finals.

Tottenham Hotspur vs AC Milan

(First leg result: AC Milan 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur)

Tottenham Hotspur

It’s been a typically up and down few weeks since Tottenham were defeated at San Siro, briefly recharging their top-four hopes with big wins over London rivals West Ham and Chelsea, but then being dumped from the FA Cup by second-tier Sheffield United and defeated 1-0 at Wolves on Saturday.Home comforts have certainly helped Antonio Conte’s side push on since derby-day defeat to visitors Arsenal in January, winning their last three games on their own patch (champions Manchester City were their other victims) with five goals scored and zero conceded, renewing hopes of a second-leg comeback against the Serie A champions.If Tottenham are to progress, they’ll need a plan B against Stefano Pioli’s aggressive back five, who aren’t afraid to hound and harry high up the pitch to close down the space for balls through to Conte’s forward-running wingers Dejan Kulusevski and Son Heung-min.

In particular, Simon Kjaer stuck to Harry Kane like glue in that first leg. Even if it did mean occasionally stepping onto the wrong side of the law, the Denmark international did not allow the England captain any time on the ball to turn and find his team-mates.

With fellow central defenders Malick Thiaw and Pierre Kalulu able to track those runs, and wing-backs on hand if they tried to go wider, Spurs consistently ran into a five-man red-and-black wall.

Fouled six times on the night, Kane consequently recorded his lowest passing accuracy in the opposition half all season, seeing just 46.2 per cent of his 27 passes find their target.

Spurs will be expecting to have more of the ball on Wednesday as Milan look to protect their lead, so we’re likely to see more time in the middle third for Kane, and less space in behind for his forward runners.Without an early home goal, this has the potential to be a frustrating evening for Tottenham. Maybe Oliver Skipp has another thunderbolt up his sleeve after that goal against Chelsea last weekend?

AC Milan

After a mini-collapse following the World Cup break saw them concede three, four and five in successive outings during a run of seven winless games, solidity looks to have been restored across the AC Milan back line — even taking into account their narrow defeat at Fiorentina on Saturday.Serie A’s reigning champions may find themselves 18 points behind a rampant Napoli but the faint whiff of a first Champions League quarter-final in 11 years saw belief come flooding back to San Siro on an electric European night against Spurs.After keeping Kane quiet, Pioli’s men were almost faultless in a 2-0 win over Atalanta last weekend, conceding just three shots to Italy’s third-top scorers, allowing just 0.1 xG and zero shots on target. It’s the first time in seven years, and 318 competitive games, that Gian Piero Gasperini’s famous free-scorers from Bergamo have had so few goal attempts in a match.Behind this remarkable turnaround has been not only the switch to a trio of centre-backs, but the sudden emergence of a particularly promising one, in the form of Thiaw.Signed from Schalke at the start of the season having helped them win promotion from the German second division, the 21-year-old had only managed 232 minutes for his new club before being thrown in at the Champions League deep end against Spurs. In an unerring European debut, however, he made the most tackles by any player across the round of 16 to that point, winning the ball back seven times for his team.

Being hypercritical, the Germany Under-21 centre-back probably should have put the tie to bed too, but he headed a chance wide from six yards.

Bayern Munich vs Paris Saint-Germain

(First leg result: Paris Saint-Germain 0-1 Bayern Munich)

Bayern Munich

Speaking of Germans and missed opportunities, perennial Bundesliga champions Bayern may be slightly dissatisfied with the slender advantage they take into the home second leg of their glitz-and-glamour tie with Pars Saint-Germain.Although Julian Nagelsmann’s side couldn’t carve out too many clear-cut opportunities, they were able to completely dominate the midfield battle, as Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka strode across the French turf without too much resistance from PSG’s flat 4-4-2.Kimmich in particular, attempting four shots on goal, switching the play 10 times, and creating four opportunities for his team-mates, conducted the passing procession with his usual elegance and precision.The Germans’ experienced No 6 hasn’t ever found his team-mates in the final third as often in a single Champions League game, with those 23 passes demonstrating the ease with which he was able to progress the ball through a passive home midfield and into his more-advanced attacking colleagues.

All in all, it was a composed, controlled performance by the visitors, although a terrifying late cameo from Kylian Mbappe, who didn’t start as he was coming back from injury, made it very clear Bayern might live to regret not killing this tie off while they had the chance.

Paris Saint-Germain

For Christophe Galtier’s side, the three weeks between the two legs against Bayern have been transformative.That 1-0 defeat extended an unprecedented three-game losing streak for the French champions, but they now head into the decider against the German champions off the back of three consecutive wins, taking a huge stride to what would be a record 11th Ligue 1 title with a 3-0 away victory over closest challengers Marseille last weekend.Mbappe’s return to full fitness — and to devastating form — has clearly been the catalyst, scoring four of their seven goals in seismic domestic wins over Lille and Marseille, including that thumping volley at the Stade Velodrome. He then scored an injury-time goal against Nantes on Saturday which took him to 201 for PSG, more than any other player in the club’s history.Also netting twice in 33 minutes off the bench in the first leg, before seeing both disallowed for marginal offsides, the France striker has emphatically underlined his intentions to blow this tie open.

One man who will be particularly pleased with the return of the 24-year-old will be Lionel Messi, having provided both assists for Mbappe in that destruction of Marseille while scoring the other himself.Almost the opposite of Kimmich, Messi sorely missed his partner’s verticality at home to Bayern, only able to move the ball into the final third nine times — the second-lowest tally of any Champions League match in his illustrious career.

It’s not often that one player can turn such a high-profile game completely on its head, but we’ve all seen Mbappe do exactly that before.The first leg might not have quite lived up to the billing, but don’t give up on this heavyweight clash just yet.

(Top image: designed by Samuel Richardson; Joao Felix by Stuart Franklin; Harry Kane by Matthias Hangst; Lionel Messi by Frank Fife/AFP; all via Getty Images)

Join the BYB for the opening game watch party this weekend https://www.brickyardbattalion.com

Jack Blake Tally Makes the Difference in Eleven’s Preseason Finale at Grand Park

Indy Eleven closed the 2023 preseason training slate with its first clean sheet of the five-game slate, allowing midfielder Jack Blake’s 10th minute blast to make the difference in a 1-0 victory over USL League One side Forward Madison FC this afternoon at the Grand Park Events Center.

The result gave the Boys in Blue a 3W-2L-0D record in spring exhibition play, all of which served as preparation for their 2023 USL Championship season opener next Saturday, March 11, at the Tampa Bay Rowdies (7:30 p.m. kickoff, live on ESPN+).

“Today the effort was fantastic, especially in the first half. The first 45 minutes is how it needs to look; the only critique I have was that it could have been 2-0 or 3-0 because we had the chances,” explained Indy Eleven Head Coach Mark Lowry. “We had some great crosses and put ourselves in great situations attacking wise because we were really in control. All in all, a really good way to end the preseason with a clean sheet and a victory.”

Through long diagonal balls, Indy Eleven found early joy in the wide areas of their final third, with a few attacks resulting in corner kicks. The squad’s third corner of the opening 10 minutes helped Indiana’s Team find paydirt, as a clearance attempt went only as far as Blake, who gathered with a touch from 30 yards out and fired a sidewinding blast that found the upper right corner to put Indy in front.

Madison’s best looks of the half were bunched together around the quarter-hour mark, but Jayden Onen’s shot from just inside the area was blocked out for a corner, while Derek Gebhard pushed a 20-yard effort just wide right of frame. Madison appealed for a point to the penalty spot in the 26th minute when newly acquired Indy center back Adrian Diz Pe shouldered Onen off his run inside the area, but the challenge by the Cuban defender was deemed fair.  

Indy forward Jonas Fjeldberg was at the heart of a trio of quality chances in the last third of the half, starting with a finish of a Blake cross to the doorstep that was nullified when the offside flag was raised. The Norwegian saw his shot from 15 yards saved in the 39th minute, and he played provider three minutes later with a dangerous back post cross that just eluded forward Sebastian Guenzatti’s sliding attempt to redirect.

The second half sprang to life in the 50th minute when Eleven defender Jesus Vazquez tried to get his head to an in-swinging free kick by Aodhan Quinn, only to see a Forward defender step in front to get to the back post ball first. Just before the hour was crossed Gebhard nearly equalized after his run created a corner kick, the Madison attacker sending a low shot off the ensuing set piece off the base of the left post to keep the Flamingos off the board. Two minutes later it was Diz Pe nearly making his presence felt on the offensive side of the ball, but his header of a set piece service to the six was pushed high by mere inches.

Indy was content to control possession and kill off the game over the final half hour, which presented few looks of real quality for either side, a low effort from distance by the visitors in the 68th minute that sliced wide right marking the most dangerous chance. Indy’s stout defensive effort resulted in their first shutout of the preseason, a good sign of things to come as the Eleven get ready to see the results count for real beginning next weekend in the Sunshine State.

Following road matches at Tampa Bay and Detroit City FC (Saturday, March 25, at 4:00 p.m.; live on ESPN+), Indy Eleven will kick off the home portion of its USL Championship campaign on Saturday, April 1, when the Boys in Blue welcome Las Vegas Lights FC for a 7:00 p.m. ET kickoff in the Circle City.

Single-game tickets for all home games at IUPUI Carroll Stadium along with 17-game Season Ticket Memberships, specially-priced group tickets, and an increased portfolio of hospitality options are available for purchase now via indyeleven.com/tickets or by calling 317-685-1100 during regular business hours (Mon.-Fri., 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.)

2023 Spring Preseason Exhibition
Indy Eleven  1 : 0  Forward Madison FC (USL League One)
Friday, March 3, 2023
Grand Park Events Center – Westfield, Ind.

Scoring Summary:
IND – Jack Blake (unassisted) 10’

Indy Eleven line-up: Yannik Oettl; Gustavo Rissi (Bryam Rebellon 77’), Jesus Vazquez, Adrian Diz Pe (Mechack Jerome 70’), Younes Boudadi; Aodhan Quinn (^Guest Amboy 77’), Cam Lindley (Alann Torres 77’), Jack Blake (Diego Sanchez 77’); Jonas Fjeldberg (Juan Tejada 83’), Sebastian Guenzatti (Harrison Robledo 77’), Solomon Asante

^ guest player (aliases)

Forward Madison line-up (1’-60’): Nazeem Bartman, Christian Chaney, Mauro Cichero, Eric Conerty, Jacob Crull, Derek Gebhard, Timmy Mehl, Aiden Mesias, Jayden Oden, Mitch Osmond, Stephen Payne

Indy Eleven 2023 Preseason Exhibition Schedule
Friday, Feb. 10                Indy Eleven  1 : 3  Butler University
Tuesday, Feb. 14            Indy Eleven  5 : 1  Indiana Wesleyan University
Sunday, Feb. 19              Indy Eleven  5 : 1  Chicago Fire 2 (MLS NEXT Pro)
Saturday, Feb. 25           Chicago Fire (MLS) 3 : 0  Indy Eleven
Friday, March 3               Indy Eleven  1 : 0  Forward Madison FC (USL League One)

2023 USL Championship Eastern Conference Season Preview

By NICHOLAS MURRAY – nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 03/03/23, 5:00PM EST

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HERE ARE THE PLAYERS TO WATCH, TACTICAL INSIGHTS, THEME SONGS, AND PROJECTED FINISHES FOR EVERY TEAM

Louisville City FC claimed the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference title a season ago, and are the projected favorite to win it all this year according to fivethirtyeight.com. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

The 2023 USL Championship season is here.

The stage is set for a new era for the clubs and players across the league.

Returning talent, new faces, rising youngsters, bright coaches?

They’re all here aiming to make an impact.

In advance of the big kickoff on Saturday, March 11, the USL’s Nicholas Murray and Backheeld’s John Morrisey have everything you need to know.

Here’s a look at every team in the Eastern Conference. You can find the capsules for the Western Conference’s clubs here.

Once you’re done, you can also take your chance to tell us how you think the standings will look at the end of the regular season here.

Now, dig in. The season’s arrived.

Birmingham Legion FCBIRMINGHAM LEGION FC

Head Coach: Tom Soehn
Venue: Protective Stadium
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 85%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: 5% 

2023 Theme TuneMr. Highway’s Thinking About the End – A Day to Remember (@MCBrigade14)

What’s Happened This Offseason?

After last postseason’s dramatic elimination in a penalty shootout in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Birmingham Legion FC reloaded its attack to make it potentially one of the most potent in the league. Between 2022 returnees Enzo Martinez, Juan Agudelo and Prosper Kasim, new arrival Tyler Pasher and the return of a familiar face in Neco Brett – still the club’s all-time goalscoring leader after his one-year spell in New Mexico – Legion FC is looking for its attack to power an assault on breaking Louisville City FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ hold on conference supremacy.

Key Returnee – Enzo Martinez, midfielder: The quickest way to win over the fans who considered you Public Enemy No. 1 previously? Put together an all-time best season in your first year at the club. Martinez’s combined 23 goals and assists in the regular season were the most a Legion FC player has recorded in its short history, and he’ll be looking for more of the same this year.

Key Arrival – Tyler Pasher, forward: The former Indy Eleven man signed this offseason with Birmingham and figures to slot into the left side of the 4-3-3 formation the club has favored of late. The speed the Canadian brings fits right into the direct build-up favored by Head Coach Tom Soehn and could prove devastating for opposing defenses.

Key Number – 23: Enzo Martinez’s 23 combined goals and assists (15 goals, 8 assists) was the most in a single regular season in Legion FC’s history, and the highest individual single-season total in Martinez’s Championship career.

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: Birmingham might have the most star-studded attack in the USL Championship, but there’s a question of fit. Legion FC’s best moments in 2022 came from a spirited 4-2-4 high press which can’t accommodate this roster. Head Coach Tommy Soehn and assistant Khano Smith will find the balance, but a lot of pressure is going to fall on Anderson Asiedu to clean up in the midfield.

Projected Starting XI (4-3-3): GK – Matt VanOekel; D – Gabriel Alves, Alex Crognale, Phanuel Kavita, Mikey Lopez; M – Anderson Asiedu, Enzo Martinez, Prosper Kasim; F – Tyler Pasher, Juan Agudelo, Neco Brett

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 3rd, Eastern Conference

Charleston BatteryCHARLESTON BATTERY

Head Coach: Ben Pirmann
Venue: Patriots Point
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 51%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: <1%

2023 Theme Tune: Mr. Brightside – The Killers

What’s Happened This Offseason?

After suffering the worst season of their 30-year history, the Battery set out on a mission. They began by hiring the 2022 USL Championship Coach of the Year, Ben Pirmann, who over the past two-plus seasons engineered the sort of turnaround the Battery are looking for. Then they added free agents including goalkeeper Trey Muse, defenders Deklan Wynne and Juan Sebastian Palma, midfielders Chris Allan and Emilio Ycaza, and forwards Tristan Trager and Handwalla Bwana. The Battery might be back, and quicker than you’d think.

Key Returnee – Augustine Williams, forward: The Sierra Leone international was voted to the Championship’s All-League Team for a second time in his career with 16 goals amid the club’s overall struggles. If Williams maintains that level with a better supporting cast, he could be a Golden Boot candidate this season.

Key Arrival – Deklan Wynne, defender: The 27-year-old played his way back into the squad for his native New Zealand with eye-catching performances for Detroit City FC a season ago, notching eight assists from then left flank. That sort of service and two-way play should be a great addition for a Battery side looking for upgrades at multiple positions.

Key Number – 6: The Charleston Battery recorded only six victories in the 2022 regular season, the club’s lowest total in a season in its history, dating back to the 1993 campaign.

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: Ben Pirmann teams press hard and dominate possession, and the new Battery manager has built a deep roster to do just that in Charleston. The defensive group and attacking options have taken a huge leap in terms of skill and versatility, but I have questions about central creation. Still, if Emilio Ycaza or Aidan Apodaca steps up, the Battery doesn’t have any real holes.

Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): GK – Trey Muse; D – Deklan Wynne, AJ Cochran, Leland Archer, Derek Dodson; DM – Robbie Crawford, Emilio Ycaza; AM – Fidel Barajas, Aidan Apodaca, Tristan Trager; F – Augustine Williams

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 8th, Eastern Conference

Detroit City FCDETROIT CITY FC

Head Coach: Trevor James
Venue: Keyworth Stadium
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 55%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: <1%

2023 Theme Tune: Knockin’ Em Down (In the City) – Iggy Pop (@SpartanDE)

What’s Happened This Offseason?

First and foremost, Le Rouge retained a lot of the key defensive and midfield parts that helped it earn a playoff berth at the first attempt in the Championship in 2022. Goalkeeper Nathan Steinwascher is back after a tremendous campaign, as are stalwarts like Stephen Carroll, Maxi Rodriguez, Connor Rutz and Devon Amoo-Mensah. There were departures as well, though, and with Antoine Hoppenot, Pato Botello Faz and Deklan Wynne all joining new clubs the big question for Head Coach Trevor James is where the attacking firepower might come from to book another playoff berth.

Key Returnee – Nathan Steinwascher, goalkeeper: The local standout quickly grabbed a place as one of the Championship’s top shot-stoppers in his first season in the league. According to American Soccer Analysis, Steinwascher led the league in prevented goals with a -6.27 G-minus-xG mark. The 29-year-old could be a contender for All-League honors this year.

Key Arrival – Skage Simonsen, forward: The Norwegian headed to Detroit this offseason after notching two goals and seven assists for Loudoun United FC this past campaign. At 6-foot-3 it feels as though the 24-year-old is going to get deployed a little further up the field this season than the midfield role he took last year, which means he’ll be needed to deliver in the final third.

Key Number – 67: Detroit City FC received the fewest yellow cards in the Championship during the 2022 season. It was also one of two clubs alongside Miami FC to not receive a red card during the campaign and suffered no player suspensions for the duration of the campaign.

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: Detroit took a step back in attack, and there’s no two ways around it. Still, Trevor James’ team burst onto the scene last season on the back of a brilliant five-man defensive line and the heady play of midfielders like Maxi Rodriguez and Laye Diop in the pivot. Even if the goals are less plentiful in 2023, Le Rouge are going to be brutally difficult to break down, especially at Keyworth Stadium.

Projected Starting XI (3-4-3): GK – Nathan Steinwascher; D – Devon Amoo-Mensah, Stephen Carroll, Jalen Robinson; M – Richie Ballard, Maxi Rodriguez, Adrian Billhardt, Rhys Williams; F – Skage Simonsen, Ben Morris, Connor Rutz

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 10th, Eastern Conference

Hartford AthleticHARTFORD ATHLETIC

Head Coach: Tab Ramos
Venue: Trinity Health Stadium
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 57%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: 1%

2023 Theme Tune: Brass Bonanza – Jack Say (@HAGreenMonster)

What’s Happened This Offseason?

After Athletic Head Coach Tab Ramos’ sojourn as an analyst for Telemundo during the World Cup, Hartford got to work aiming to build on the momentum it had built under the U.S Soccer Hall of Fame member late last season. To that end, in came 2022 Championship Assists Champion and longstanding attacking standout Antoine Hoppenot and forward Elvis Amoh as two major pieces for the club’s attack. There are other new arrivals, and that could result an opening day lineup that includes plenty of new faces.

Key Returnee – Danny Barrera, midfielder: As exciting as some of the new faces are, the fact that Danny Barrera is back at Trinity Health Stadium for a fourth season is just as important. Now sitting second in the Championship’s all-time regular season assists list, the 33-year-old still has magic in his feet going into the new season.

Key Arrival – Elvis Amoh, forward: The Ghanaian striker gives Hartford the one thing it hasn’t truly had in its history – a consistent threat for double-digit goals. Amoh has scored 26 goals across the regular season and playoffs the past two years at Rio Grande Valley FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – putting him in the Top 10 in the league in goals over that span – and he’ll be expected to deliver with Barrera and Hoppenot providing the service.

Key Number – 3: Hartford Athletic gained only three points from losing positions in the 2022 USL Championship season, tied for fewest in the league with Loudoun United FC, and failed to win a game in which it conceded the opening goal (0-13-3).

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: Tab Ramos struck gold in 2022 by using Andre Lewis and Danny Barrera as dual No. 10s, but Hartford lacked defensive quality and a goalscoring forward to help them out. With Elvis Amoh up top and a reshaped back line, the club may have solved those problems. Hartford’s defense is a step slow to run Ramos’ press, but they’ve made a big leap over the winter.

Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): GK – Richard Sanchez; D – Triston Hodge, Tulu, Niall Logue, Matt Sheldon; DM – Beverly Makangila, Andre Lewis; AM – Antoine Hoppenot, Danny Barrera, Prince Saydee; F – Elvis Amoh

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 9th, Eastern Conference

Indy ElevenINDY ELEVEN

Head Coach: Mark Lowry
Venue: Michael A. Carroll Stadium
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 50%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: <1%

2023 Theme Tune: I’m Still Standing – Elton John (@SoccerWithBrian)

What’s Happened This Offseason?

After a late-season run of six wins in the last nine games – including one against eventual title winner San Antonio FC – provided some hope for the future in Head Coach Mark Lowry’s first season, Indy flexed its muscles this offseason and added some big names to its roster, both in free agency and the transfer market. Forward Sebastian Guenzatti and the midfield trio of Cam Lindley, Aodhan Quinn and Jack Blake are all Boys in Blue now. On paper that means the minimum expectation is for a first postseason trip since 2019, and the sights will be set much higher internally and externally.

Key Returnee – Solomon Asante, forward: The two-time Championship Most Valuable Player produced his lowest numbers in the league since his arrival in Phoenix in 2018 – yes, even in the shortened 2020 season he had eight goals and nine assists in 17 games. The spotlight will be firmly fixed on the Ghanaian as he aims to deliver the sort of performances we’ve seen in the past alongside his new teammates.

Key Arrival – Cam Lindley, midfielder: The Carmel, Ind. native will return home after being acquired from Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC via transfer for a second stint in Indy’s colors. Lindley was superb in leading the Switchbacks to a Western Conference Final last season, leading the Championship with 99 chances created across the regular season and playoffs, and his two-way play will be crucial in Lowry’s system.

Key Number – 155: Solomon Asante and Sebastian Guenzatti have recorded 80 and 75 combined goals and assists across the regular season and playoffs since the start of the 2019 season, making them the top two players in that category in the league over that span.

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: Indy’s lineup is stacked from top to bottom, and it’s skillful enough to execute the Mark Lowry system with aplomb. Lowry presses with a front three and breaks you down with a diamond-shaped midfield flanked by aggressive fullbacks. The Eleven are built for that style. Age is the only question in a young and fast USL Championship, but this Indy team is here to play ball.

Projected Starting XI (4-3-3): GK – Yannick Oettl; D – Younes Boudadi, Adrian Diz Pe, Jesus Vazquez, Robby Dambrot; M – Jack Blake, Cam Lindley, Aodhan Quinn; F – Solomon Asante, Sebastian Guenzatti, Jonas Fjeldberg

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 6th, Eastern Conference

Loudoun United FCLOUDOUN UNITED FC

Head Coach: Ryan Martin
Venue: Segra Field
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 26%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: <1%

2023 Theme Tune: Changes – David Bowie

What’s Happened This Offseason?

The biggest offseason news for Loudoun United came off the field with the club’s acquisition by Attain Sports and Entertainment. Hello to independence, hello to a berth in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup this season, hello to the playoffs? That is going to be the goal for a retooled squad led by Ryan Martin that has added a lot of new faces to reach that goal. As Loudoun sets out on its new pathway, the climb to the playoffs might be too much to ask this year, but the foundation could well be set for where this team heads in the next five seasons.

Key Returnee – Houssou Landry, midfielder: You could flip a coin as to who this would be for United – 17-year-old Isaac Espinal is the only other returning player as of now from 2022 – but Landry could have a solid impact after making 30 appearances for the side a season ago. He ranked third in interceptions with 38, won 32 of 41 tackles and had an 81.3 percent passing accuracy rate, and figures to continue to contribute for United in the center of midfield.

Key Arrival – Tommy Williamson, forward: The biggest step forward Loudoun is going to need to show to become a playoff contender is in the final third. Williamson is going to need to be central to that after scoring 15 goals in his first two professional seasons. At a strike rate of a goal every 152 minutes, there’s the potential there, but the 23-year-old is going to be aiming for a breakout season.

Key Number – 38: Loudoun United FC conceded 38 goals in the final 30 minutes of games in the 2022 season, the most in the league, and more than the club conceded in the opening hour of contests (36).

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: Ryan Martin always runs an organized high press and oversees a positive offensive style whether or not the results come for Loudoun at the end of the day. This year’s team is built to do much the same. Koa Santos and Kwame Awuah are going to wreak havoc and drive counterattacks from the fullback spots, but there are too many questions about goalscoring and midfield steel to fully buy in on this Loudoun squad.

Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): GK – Hugo Fauroux; D – Kwame Awuah, Bryce Washington, Yanis Leerman, Koa Santos; DM – Cole Turner, Houssou Landry; AM – Kalil ElMedkhar, Panos Amenakas, Zach Ryan; F – Tommy Williamson

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 12th, Eastern Conference

Louisville City FCLOUISVILLE CITY FC

Head Coach: Danny Cruz
Venue: Lynn Family Stadium
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 99%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: 22%

2023 Theme Tune: Steady as She Goes – The Raconteurs

What’s Happened This Offseason?

After reaching the USL Championship Final for a fourth time in club history, LouCity went about securing almost all the players that got it there. Twenty-two players return, either previously under contract, having had options exercised, or on new deals, an unprecedented number in USL Championship history. Among the new deals was one handed to 2022 U.S. Soccer Young Male Player of the Year and 2022 USL Championship Young Player of the Year finalist Joshua Wynder, who may be following Jonathan Gomez to Europe sooner rather than later, but there are also a couple of new faces that can freshen up a deep squad.

Key Returnee – Joshua Wynder, defender: There’s no question whom the biggest spotlight will be on this season as LouCity’s season starts. The 17-year-old Wynder might be the most prodigious talent produced by a USL Academy program thus far, and the intrigue over a potential mid-season move after the FIFA U-20 World Cup in May is a storyline that will be followed closely. There are no sure things, but Wynder’s got the temperament and game to live up to the expectations being placed on him.

Key Arrival – Dylan Mares, midfielder: The former El Paso Locomotive FC playmaker is an example of the rich getting richer, if ever there was one. Mares has recorded 21 goals and 19 assists in the past four seasons and his passing accuracy rate (84.8%) and chances created per 90 rate (1.96) seem like another great cog to drop into Cruz’s passing heavy system.

Key Number – 22: Louisville City FC has retained 22 players from its Eastern Conference title-winning squad from a season ago, accounting for 30,471 minutes of action across the regular season and playoffs in 2022.

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: Danny Cruz compresses space with a high defensive line and sharp front-line press, pinning opponents back to keep Louisville on the front foot. That formula will continue to bear fruit in 2023, and Dylan Mares – a veteran of a similar style in El Paso – will supercharge its efficacy. Throw in growth from the Elijah and Joshua Wynder and healthy starts for Cameron Lancaster and Jorge Gonzalez, and you’ve got a terrifying Louisville team to contend with.

Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): GK – Kyle Morton; D – Amadou Dia, Joshua Wynder, Sean Totsch, Manny Perez; DM – Tyler Gibson, Niall McCabe; AM – Jorge Gonzalez, Dylan Mares, Brian Ownby; F – Wilson Harris

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 1st, Eastern Conference

Memphis 901 FCMEMPHIS 901 FC

Head Coach: Stephen Glass
Venue: AutoZone Park
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 84%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: 4% 2023

Theme Tune: Roll with it– Three6Mafia (@ChrisFilmTakes)

What’s Happened This Offseason?

The most successful season in 901 FC’s history brought accolades, and awards. What followed was an offseason that saw plenty of continuity on the field, but a major change on the sideline. The appointment of former Atlanta United FC and Aberdeen FC manager Stephen Glass to replace the departed Ben Pirmann – who claimed the Championship’s Coach of the Year award before heading to the Charleston Battery – was the biggest move of the offseason in Memphis, with Glass now tasked with keeping the club among the Eastern Conference’s elite.

Key Returnee – Aaron Molloy, midfielder: The 2022 Championship MVP finalist and All-League First Team selection is back for his second season and will be aiming to add to an already stellar resume that is almost certainly getting attention in bigger circles. Molloy’s all-around game made him central to Memphis’ success last season and he’ll retain that role this season in the heart of the club’s midfield.

Key Arrival – Bruno Lapa, midfielder: The Brazilian traversed the Southern Harm divide after his departure from Birmingham Legion FC and if at his best will add plenty to an already-strong 901 FC attacking contingent. Lapa has seen ups and downs since his brilliant first campaign in 2020, but he feels like a great fit for his new surroundings and will make one of the league’s best rivalries even more of a must-see.

Key Number – 17: Memphis 901 FC led the Championship with 17 headed goals in the 2022 season, four more than its closest rival, with returning leading scorer Phillip Goodrum leading the team with seven headed tallies among his 22 goals in the regular season and playoffs.

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: Stephen Glass has been a pragmatist at past coaching stops, but his Memphis lineup can beat you in a million ways. From Jeremy Kelly’s inverted dribbling to Aaron Molloy’s set pieces to Phillip Goodrum’s poaching, this offense is lethal. Replacing a few key names in the back line will be the difference-maker, and I do expect this team to play with more conservatism in the Glass era.

Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): GK – Drew Romig; D – Akeem Ward, Graham Smith, Jelani Peters, Rece Buckmaster; DM – Aaron Molloy, Leston Paul; AM – Laurent Kissiedou, Bruno Lapa, Nighte Pickering; F – Phillip Goodrum

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 5th, Eastern Conference

The Miami FCTHE MIAMI FC

Head Coach: Anthony Pulis
Venue: Riccardo Silva Stadium
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 83%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: 4%

2023 Theme Tune: Moving on Up – M People

What’s Happened This Offseason?

It was a pretty low-key offseason in Miami, with a lot of key faces from last year’s playoff team set to return for the new season. The side secured All-Championship selection Paco Craig to a new deal, and also brings back the likes of forward Kyle Murphy, attacking midfielder Florian Valot and midfielder Bolu Akinyode. There are gaps to be filled – goalkeeper Connor Sparrow departed to the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Jamaican international Speedy Williams to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – but Miami should be a solid playoff contender again and could take a big step forward if it can find the same consistency at home this season as it did on the road in 2022.

Key Returnee – Paco Craig, defender: One of the most-decorated defenders in the Championship’s history, Paco Craig signing a new multi-year deal to lead the club’s back line was important business for the club to get done. Craig helped marshal a defense that quietly matched the Championship’s single-season shutout record last season alongside San Antonio FC and will be key again as the side looks to take a step forward this season.

Key Arrival – Adrian Zendejas, goalkeeper: Losing a goalkeeper of Connor Sparrow’s quality hurt, more so when it was to your biggest rival in Tampa Bay. Getting a player with Adrian Zendejas’ pedigree – even if it’s on loan from Major League Soccer’s Charlotte FC – to fill that spot is certainly a good replacement. A former USL Championship Final starter from his days at Sporting Kansas City II, the veteran will look to fill some big gloves here.

Key Number – 10: Miami FC won 10 road games during the 2022 regular season, compared to five home victories. The club’s road success placed it tied for second in away wins in the Championship overall and tied for first with Memphis 901 FC in the Eastern Conference.

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: At times in 2022, Miami was caught between a slower, defense-first system defined by Speedy Williams and a rip-roaring offense built around Joaquin Rivas and Mark Segbers. This offseason moved Miami towards the latter style. Gabriel Cabral, signed after captaining a USL League One title-winning club at South Georgia Tormenta FC, adds tremendous skill in the midfield, and Michael Salazar’s movement will open up the attack. These improvements around the edges could let Anthony Pulis’ team make the leap.

Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): GK – Adrian Zendejas; D – Moises Hernandez, Paco Craig, Callum Chapman-Page, Mark Segbers; DM – Bolu Akinyode, Gabriel Cabral; AM – Joaquin Rivas, Florian Valot, Joshua Perez; F – Kyle Murphy

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 4th, Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SCPITTSBURGH RIVERHOUNDS SC

Head Coach: Bob Lilley
Venue: Highmark Stadium
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 67%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: 2%

2023 Theme Tune: Two Year Plan – Such Gold

What’s Happened This Offseason?

In what’s becoming somewhat familiar for Hounds fans, the two-year cycle of a standout forward departing for another club continued. Russell Cicerone – who scored 31 goals in 67 games across the regular season and playoffs – followed the path of the only player who’s scored more than him for Pittsburgh in the USL Championship era in Neco Brett and signed with Sacramento Republic FC. There is a solid core of returnees to build around, though, with all-time Championship assists leader Kenardo Forbes re-signed and forward Albert Dikwa coming off his best season in the league so far. There’s also, of course, Head Coach Bob Lilley, who always seems to find the right pieces to keep the Hounds in playoff contention.

Key Returnee – Robbie Mertz, midfielder: The Pittsburgh native returned to the Hounds after a season-and-a-half with Atlanta United 2 midway through the 2022 campaign and quickly slipped back into his midfield role. Mertz recorded five assists in 16 appearances while also notching one goal and will need to be at his best throughout the upcoming campaign to continue Pittsburgh’s postseason streak.

Key Arrival – Joe Farrell, defender: Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley is calling on a familiar face to help stiffen the spine of his team with Farrell arriving via transfer from Phoenix Rising FC this offseason. The veteran center back worked with Lilley at the start of his career with the Rochester Rhinos and will play an important role in front of emerging goalkeeper Jahmaili Waite this season.

Key Number – 36: Since the start of Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley’s tenure in 2018, the Hounds are tied for the league-lead with 36 road victories in the regular season alongside Louisville City FC.

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: Bob Lilley teams are always well-drilled in defense and patiently lethal with the ball. That ought to hold true in 2023, but the Riverhounds lost a lot of talent this winter. They lack a defensive midfielder that can serve as a linchpin, and they aren’t deep enough to accommodate Lilley’s trademark experimentation with formations. Pittsburgh isn’t bad, but they feel stagnant in an Eastern Conference that got a lot better in the offseason.

Projected Starting XI (4-3-3): GK – Jahmaili Waite; D – Dani Rovira, Joe Farrell, Arturo Ordonez, Nathan Dossantos; M – Marc Ybarra, Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz; F – Edward Kizza, Albert Dikwa, Tola Showunmi

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 7th, Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay RowdiesTAMPA BAY ROWDIES

Head Coach: Neill Collins
Venue: Al Lang Stadium
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 94%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: 10%

2023 Theme Tune: Going for Gold – Shed Seven

What’s Happened This Offseason?

It’s been an offseason of changes at Tampa Bay, with the potential that only five players who started the 2022 Eastern Conference Final against Louisville City FC could be in the starting lineup for its season-opener against Indy Eleven on March 11. The new arrivals include some familiar faces, however, with three-time Defender of the Year Forrest Lasso and midfielder Jordan Doherty back for second stints with the club. What may be most interesting to watch, however, is the new attacking group featuring Cal Jennings and JJ Williams, who will need to step up to the mark after the season-ending injury suffered by 2022 Championship Most Valuable Player Leo Fernandes this preseason, particularly after the departure of all-time leading goalscorer Sebastian Guenzatti to Indy.

Key Returnee – Lewis Hilton, midfielder: Since he came into the USL Championship in 2016, no-one has made more appearances across the regular season and playoffs than Lewis Hilton. Now entering his fourth season with the Rowdies, the midfield general has been a crucial player for the side in its run of three consecutive appearances in the Eastern Conference Final, both as a distributor in open play and one of the best dead ball takers in the league.

Key Arrival – Connor Sparrow, goalkeeper: After a rotating cast last season due to form and injury, the Rowdies napped Sparrow from Florida rival Miami FC to ostensibly serve as its new No. 1 this season. Sparrow brings plenty of experience with 30 shutouts in 94 appearances across the regular season and playoffs and at 28 years old could be entering his prime years in Rowdies colors.

Key Number – 3: Returning Tampa Bay Rowdies defender Forrest Lasso is the only player in Championship history to have won the league’s Defender of the Year award multiple times, claiming the honor in 2018, 2020 and 2021.

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: The Rowdies are known for a fiendishly strong back three, and that won’t change with Forrest Lasso returning at center back. Neill Collins’ offense is the real area to watch. At times, Tampa Bay was the Leo Fernandes or Jake LaCava show and lacked variety with the ball. With JJ Williams’ hold-up play, Cal Jennings guile in transition, and a miles-deep attacking midfield, this team can beat you in a million ways, even with Fernandes’ absence due to injury.

Projected Starting XI (3-4-3): GK – Connor Sparrow; D – Aaron Guillen, Forrest Lasso, Freddie Kleeman; M – Sebastian Dalgaard, Lewis Hilton, Charlie Dennis, Conner Antley; F – Dayonn Harris, JJ Williams, Cal Jennings

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 2nd, Eastern Conference

FC TulsaFC TULSA

Head Coach: Blair Gavin
Venue: ONEOK Field
FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Odds: 51%
FiveThirtyEight.com Title Odds: <1%

2023 Theme Tune: No Easy Way Out – Robert Tepper

What’s Happened This Offseason?

After concluding the season under interim Head Coach Donovan Ricketts, the Blair Gavin era officially arrived in Tulsa with the former Phoenix Rising FC and Columbus Crew SC assistant taking the reins. The second-youngest Head Coach in the league behind only Louisville City FC’s Danny Cruz, Gavin will take control of a side that has looked to reinforce at all levels, with experienced heads like defender Brett Levis and midfielder Collin Fernandez joining a solid core including Bradley Bourgeois, Rodrigo da Costa and Dario Suarez. After missing out on the playoffs last season, Tulsa will be hoping it’s enough for a turnaround this campaign.

Key Returnee – Rodrigo da Costa, midfielder: Coming into his fifth season in Tulsa, the Brazilian playmaker remains an essential piece for Tulsa in the attacking third. Now the club’s all-time leader in both goals (33) and assists (24) across the regular season and playoffs, da Costa is going to need to be at his best to help drive Tulsa back up the standings this season.

Key Arrival – Siad Haji, forward: There was plenty of expectation around Haji when he was selected by the San Jose Earthquakes with the No. 2 pick of the 2019 Major League Soccer SuperDraft. Four years and 14 top-flight appearances later, the 23-year-old gets a chance at a career reset in Tulsa. Haji should get plenty of opportunity to show why he was such a hyped prospect coming out of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Key Number – 19: FC Tulsa tied for the league-lead with 19 goals in the final 15 minutes of games in the 2022 season, accounting for 40 percent of their overall goals total, but didn’t score more than 10 goals in any of the other five 15-minute segments of games.

John Morrissey’s Tactics Corner: FC Tulsa has built Blair Gavin a young and hungry roster with pace and aggression for days on the flanks. This team will be pesky at a bare minimum, and they can challenge for the playoffs if Rodrigo Da Costa and Dario Suarez can convert in front of goal. Christopher Pearson is a potential breakout in the pivot, and he’ll be the backstop that allows for aggression in the press.

Projected Starting XI (4-3-3): GK – Austin Wormell; D – Brett Levis, Bradley Bourgeois, Ruxi, Justin Malou; M – Collin Fernandez, Christopher Pearson, Rodrigo da Costa; F – Dario Suarez, Moses Dyer, Siad Haji

USLChampionship.com Prediction: 11th, Eastern Conference

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3/2/23 Messi wins FIFA POY, UCL Tu 3 pm Chelsea/Dortmund, Wed Bayern/PSG CBS, Indy 11 start next Sat.

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 FeyenoordNot 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 ScheduleSeason 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. 

Indy 11 Coach Mark Lowery ran a training session for Carmel FC Coaches at the Badger Indoor Fieldhouse.  
It was Carmel FC Show your Pride by wearing your Jersey to School Day, Fri March 3rd. Thanks 2013 Girls!

GAMES ON TV

(American’s names in Parenthesis)

Fri Mar

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

Sun,Mar 5                          

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

Mon,Mar 6                        

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

Sun,Mar 12                        

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

Indy 11 Schedule

https://www.cbssports.com/soccer/nwsl/schedule

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

EPL 


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

WORLD


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

USA

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

MLS

 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

Champions League 

Commercial

Goal of the Week Champions League

Saves of the Week Champions League

Still love this classic

The Song

Indy 11

Indy Acquires Adrian Diz Pe via Tranfer from FC Tulsa

Preseason Recap | IND 5 : 1 CF2

USL W League Announces 2023 Schedule

 All USL Championship Matches Available Live on ESPN Platforms

Indy 11 Learns US Open Cup Draw April 4-6 

Indy 11 Win over IWU 5-1

Indy 11 beats Butler 3-1

Indy 11 Recap Video

Indy 11 Schedule

Indy 11 Park

Indy 11 Promos 

Indy 11 Roster

Indy 11 W League Joins new League

Indy 11 Away Games can be enjoyed at Union Jack in Broad Ripple. Join the BYB for games.

Goalkeeping

Emi Martinez Wins FIFA Best GK Award

Mbappe Stone Faced as Emi Wins GK Award

Saves of the Week Champions League

checkout the Footwork by Colorado GK

MLS Week Saves

What We can Learn from Emi Martinez Pentalty Mind Games

Some of Martinez Great Saves last year

Reffing

Back on the Fields baby – here’s Noah, Ethan and the ole Ballcoach Shane reffing some GLC games at Trinity last weekend.

The Var Review – Ziyech Red Card and More
Shocking scale of grassroots football referee abuse revealed

Penalty or no Penalty

Card or No Card?  

Become a Licensed High School Ref

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, FulhamBrentford and Brighton & Hove Albion are mixing it with Tottenham HotspurNewcastle 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

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.

James McNicholas


Aston Villa

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.

Gregg Evans


Bournemouth

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…

Ahmed Shooble


Brentford

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.

Jay Harris


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…

Andy Naylor


Chelsea

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.

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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).

Simon Johnson


Crystal Palace

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.

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Season prediction: 12th — because that is where they have always been and always will be. 

Matt Woosnam


Everton

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.

Greg O’Keeffe


Fulham

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.

Peter Rutzler


Leeds United

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.

Phil Hay


Leicester City

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.

Rob Tanner


Liverpool

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.

GO DEEPER

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…

Andy Jones


Manchester City

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.

 Sam Lee


Manchester United

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.

Carl Anka 


Newcastle United

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.

Chris Waugh


Nottingham Forest

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. 

Paul Taylor


Southampton

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.

Jacob Tanswell


Tottenham

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.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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.

Tim Spiers


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.

Roshane Thomas


Wolverhampton Wanderers

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

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.

GRIMSBY TRAINING GROUND

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.

GRIMSBY BANNER

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.

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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.

 NIALL-MAHER-HADDOCKIn 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 fouryear 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.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - FEBRUARY 25:  Thiago Almada #23 of Atlanta United reacts after scoring the go-ahead goal on a free kick in stoppage time against the San Jose Earthquakes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 25, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Reviewing Season Pass’ debut on Apple TV; Thiago Almada’s stunners: MLS Weekly

The Athletic Soccer staff

Feb 27, 2023

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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

The good

• 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.

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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.

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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

En Español

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:

Almada show

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

Driussi’s jaw-dropper

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

Other notes

• 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.

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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.

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“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

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.

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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.


Reads: 

Podcasts: 

Allocation Disorder — MLS preview: 

https://embed.podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/2023-mls-preview-predictions-allocation-disorder/id1586833046?i=1000601302710&itsct=podcast_box_player&itscg=30200&ls=1&theme=auto
The Athletic Soccer Show — MLS coaches of interest:

https://embed.podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/mls-coaches-of-interest/id1586833046?i=1000601177013


Predictions

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

TEAM
AbnosPhiladelphia Union
BurkeLA Galaxy
CardenasPhiladelphia Union
MaurerPhiladelphia Union
OlsenPhiladelphia Union
RueterPhiladelphia Union
StejskalToronto FC
TenorioLA Galaxy

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?

TEAM
AbnosAustin FC
BurkePhiladelphia Union
CardenasLAFC
MaurerPhiladelphia Union
OlsenLAFC
RueterAustin FC
StejskalPhiladelphia Union
TenorioPhiladelphia Union

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.

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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?

AbnosNo
BurkeYes
CardenasNo
MaurerYes; LAFC
OlsenNo
RueterNo
StejskalYes; LAFC
TenorioNo

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?

AbnosNo
BurkeYes
CardenasNo
MaurerYes
OlsenYes
RueterYes
StejskalNo
TenorioYes

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

MVP

PLAYER
AbnosRiqui Puig
BurkeLorenzo Insigne
CardenasLorenzo Insigne
MaurerLorenzo Insigne
OlsenSebastian Driussi
RueterSebastian Driussi
StejskalLorenzo Insigne
TenorioLorenzo Insigne

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.

Golden Boot

PLAYER
AbnosCucho Hernandez
BurkeSebastian Driussi
CardenasSebastian Driussi
MaurerHany Mukhtar
OlsenSebastian Driussi
RueterBrandon Vazquez
StejskalLorenzo Insigne
TenorioLorenzo Insigne

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

PLAYER
AbnosBrad Stuver
BurkeAndre Blake
CardenasDjordje Petrovic
MaurerAndre Blake
OlsenSean Johnson
RueterSean Johnson
StejskalDjordje Petrovic
TenorioSean Johnson

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

PLAYER
AbnosEvander
BurkeEvander
CardenasGiorgos Giakoumakis
MaurerEvander
OlsenEvander
RueterDante Vanzeir
StejskalGiorgos Giakoumakis
TenorioEvander

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

PLAYER
AbnosTalles Magno
BurkeJohn Tolkin
CardenasTalles Magno
MaurerThiago Almada
OlsenThiago Almada
RueterTalles Magno
StejskalThiago Almada
TenorioTalles Magno

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

COACH
AbnosPat Noonan
BurkeLuchi Gonzalez
CardenasPat Noonan
MaurerPat Noonan
OlsenJim Curtin
RueterPat Noonan
StejskalPat Noonan
TenorioGreg Vanney

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

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 28: United States interim head coach Anthony Hudson during a game between Colombia and USMNT at Dignity Health Sports Park on January 28, 2023 in Carson, California.

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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

FRISCO, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 22: Mallory Swanson #9 of the United States controls the ball against Brazil during the second half in the 2023 SheBelieves Cup match at Toyota Stadium on February 22, 2023 in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

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.
https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/12902348/embed
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.
https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/12902452/embed

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.

https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/12902501/embed

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.

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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)

https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/12902526/embed

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

PLAYERTEAMPSXGXGDIFFERENCE
Sophia SmithThorns17.5312.42(+5.11)
Ebony SalmonDash / Racing8.674.53(+4.14)
Mallory SwansonRed Stars12.768.84(+3.92)
KerolinCourage7.434.74(+2.7)
Trinity RodmanSpirit6.964.7(+2.26)

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!
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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. 
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The final game in the group stage of the CONCACAF Nations League, where we need to finish first in the group.
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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.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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.

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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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2/24/23 MLS Starts Sat most games on Apple+, Madrid Derby Sat 12:30 ESPN+, USWNT Wins Cup, FA Cup Tues/Wed, US U17s vs Mexico Final Sun 5 pm FS2

MLS Starts season Sat – on Apple TV Subscription

So the MLS season starts this Saturday and I should be excited but just 2 games are on network TV – and not the good ones.  Oh and if you have Apple TV already like me and was thinking cool I can watch. NOPE you have to buy the subscription.  So instead of talking all about how MLS is doing things right by giving us El Traffico in The ROSE BOWL for the first time ever – a sold out game with over 85K in attendance hopefully – I will tell you tough you can’t watch it.  Between US soccer putting most games on HBO Max and now MLS going to Apple TV Subscription only, along with Paramount+ for Champions League and Peacock for EPL, and ESPN+ for Bundesliga and Spain – this might just be the final straw for me.  Oh and they don’t have a new playoff format yet.  Mickey Mouse crap right there.  Sorry MLS I don’t care enough to pay to $80 a year to watch your semi-decent games.  Good luck!!  Oh there are 2 games on actual TV – Sat has Nashville and NYCFC Sat at 4 pm on FOX and Sunday has Seattle hosting Colorado on Fox Sports 1 at 8 pm.  I WON’T be Watching.  

 US Ladies Win She Believes Cup – -1 more set of Games in Apr before World Cup in July

Thanks to Mallory Swanson with a little help from Alex Morgan the US hoisted another She Believe’s Cup Trophy (their 6th straight) after beating Brazil 2-1 Wed night.  Lots of stories below some great saves by Nauer in Goal and full Highlights  and lots of stories below. More next week when I have time to digest. 

Big Games to Watch

The US U17 Boys play tonight on FS 1 in the Semi-Finals of the CONCACAF U17 Finals – they have already qualified for the :U17 World Cup in November.  Congrats boys and good luck this weekend – finals vs Mexico on Sun  5 pm FS2.  Sat Leeds United and our 3 American’s are in a HUGE relegation battle with Southampton at 10 am on USA – must win game.  Leads up to the 12:30 pm Madrid Derby between Atletico and Real Madrid on ESPN+.  Sun AM we get League Cup Championship between Man United and New Castle United on ESPN+ at 11:30 pm. Tues FA Cup action gives us the All-American showdown Fulham with defenders Captain Tim Ream and Jedi Robinson hosting Leeds United and American midfield Tyler Adams, Weston McKinney and Brendan Aaronson at 2:45 on ESPN+ (maybe ESPN will wake up and move this game to ESPN2 or ESPN News lets hope.

GAMES ON TV

(American’s names in Parenthesis)

Fri, Feb 24 

5pm FS2                               U17 Semis USA 2-Canada 0

8 pm FS2                              U17 Semis Mexico 5-Panama 0

8 pm FS2                              Juerez vs Leon

Sat, Feb 25

7:30 am USA                       Aston Villa vs Arsenal

9:30 am ESPN+                  Hoffenheim vs Dortmund (Reyna)

10 am USA                          Leeds United (Adams, Mckinney, Aaronson) vs Southampton

10  am Peacock                 Leicester City vs Aston Villa

12:30 pm ESPN+               Real Madrid vs Atletico  MADRID DERBY  

12:30 pm NBC                    Bournemouth vs Man City  

2:45 pm Peacock                 Crystal Palace vs Liverpool

4:30 pm Fox                        Nashville vs NYCFC  MLS

8 pm Univision                 Tigres vs Guadalajara

9:30 pm Apple TV            LA Galaxy vs LAFC (CANCELED)

10 pm Univision                Atlas vs America

Sun, Feb 26                        

8:30 am USA                       Tottenham vs Brentford

11:30 am ESPN+                Man United vs New Castle League Cup

11:30 am ESPN+                Union Berlin (Pfuk) vs Bayern Munich  

2:45 pm Para+                   Milan vs Atalanta

5 pm FS2                           U17 CC Final USA vs Mexico

8 pm Fox Sport 1              Seattle Sounders vs Colorado Rapids

10 pm FS2                            Tijuana vs Pachuca

Tues Feb 28   FA Cup

2:15 pm ESPN+                  Stoke City vs Brighton

2:45 pm ESPN+                  Fulham (Ream, Jedi) vs Leeds United (Adams, McKinney, Aaronson)

3 pm ESPN+                        Bristol City vs Man City

Weds Mar 1    FA Cup

2:15 pm ESPN_+               Southampton vs Grimsby Town

2:30 pm ESPN+                  Burnley vs Fleetwood Town  

2:45 pm ESPN+                  Man United vs West Ham  

2:45 pm USA                      Arsenal vs Everton

3 pm ESPN+                        Sheffield United vs Tottenham

3 pm Peacock                    Liverpool vs Wolverhampton

Thurs Mar 2    Copa Del Rey

3 pm ESPN+                        Real Madrid vs Barcelona

Fri Mar

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+                Orlando City vs Cincy

9:30 pm Apple TV            LA Galaxy vs LAFC

Sun,Mar 5                          

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

Mon,Mar 6                        

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                           Chalotte 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

Sun,Mar 12                        

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 Barceloa

9 pm FS2                              Santos Laguna vs Tiajuana

10:30 pm Apple                 LAFC vvs New England

Indy 11 Schedule

https://www.cbssports.com/soccer/nwsl/schedule

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

USWNT  


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Alex Morgan breaks USWNT record for most goals scored as a mom

Alex Morgan became the USWNT’s top scoring mom with a golazo  

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Portugal beat Cameroon to qualify for Women’s World Cup, join USWNT in Group E

Arsenal’s Foord on target as Australian women win Cup of Nations

World Cup 2023: Which teams have qualified?

What we learned about all 32 World Cup teams in the February window 7hSophie Lawson

US Men

Pulisic back in training, nearing return to sinking ship that is Chelsea

The Americans Abroad Five: Leeds is in big trouble

Friedel: If Turner can’t start at Arsenal, he’s got to go

Mexico has a new coach – Who is Diego Cocca? Should the USMNT be worried?

Champions League


Comeback kings Madrid in their element amid European chaos

Ancelotti: ‘No way’ Liverpool-Madrid tie is over
ESPNFC Mark Ogden

Vinicius vows more to come after Liverpool rout ESPNFC Adriana Garcia
Helpless Liverpool picked apart by five-star Real Madrid at Anfield

Liverpool Suffer Worse Ever Home Defeat in Europe
Jurgen Klopp calls Liverpool’s defending ‘slapstick’ after Real Madrid loss

Liverpool’s defence is a laughing stock – here is the proof

Liverpool face ‘almost impossible’ job in Madrid, admits Van Dijk

Liverpool rebuild begins now after Real Madrid humiliation


Osimhen sends Napoli to victory in Champions League last 16

Spalletti warns Napoli ‘it’s not done’ after Frankfurt first leg win

MLS

 The 10 biggest questions as the 2023 MLS season kicks off  
MLS opens 28th season, build up to World Cup starts now

MLS revamps playoffs with best-of-3 opening round

Is MLS truly a major league in the US? It depends where you are

Retirement? Giorgio Chiellini too busy living the good life with LAFC to quit

EPL

Leeds United appoint Javi Gracia and hope he take charge for Southampton game
Rashford hot streak sustains Man Utd’s quadruple dream

Jurgen Klopp’s first great Liverpool era is over – now he must build another one

Tracking English Premier League managers sacked in 2022-23

The Erik ten Hag masterstrokes that have thrust Manchester United into the title race

When is the Carabao Cup final 2023: Date, kick-off time and favourites to win

Eddie Howe backs Loris Karius to change story of his career in Carabao Cup final

The ace up Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s sleeve in Manchester United takeover battle with Qatar

World


If this is Simeone’s last Madrid derby, he’ll be remembered for reviving it
4hSid Lowe

Ten Hag: Utd can beat anyone after ousting Barca 15hRob Dawson

Indy 11

Indy 11 Learns US Open Cup Draw April 4-6  

Indy 11 Win over IWU 5-1

Indy 11 beats Butler 3-1

Indy 11 Recap Video

Indy 11 Schedule

Indy 11 Park

Indy 11 Promos  

Indy 11 Roster

Indy 11 W League Joins new League

USWNT struggles but the sky isn’t falling: Three thoughts on the SheBelieves Cup

Jason Anderson 

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February 23, 2023 4:46 pm ET

At the moment, the U.S. women’s national team is a cliché glass of water.

If you see a team that has now won six straight games and just beat three strong sides in Canada, Japan, and Brazil en route to yet another SheBelieves Cup title, you’re looking at a half-full glass. They have a key player in extraordinary form, injured regulars are approaching full fitness, and they gave up just one goal in what is effectively a preseason tournament while facing sides whose players are in many cases closer to 100%.

If you’re thinking that Canada was a shadow of itself due to off-field issues with its federation, or that Japan worried the USWNT throughout their match, or are picturing Brazil’s near-misses from Kerolin or Adriana, you’re Team Half-Empty. You saw the USWNT struggle with two very different pressing set-ups, and are expecting things to go awry in the first game where the U.S. doesn’t bury their first great look at goal.

Well friends, guess what? You’re both making great points. Let’s get into the positives and negatives of the USWNT’s showing at the SheBelieves Cup.

Swanson’s show

Mallory Swanson is unstoppable at the moment, scoring in all three SheBelieves Cup matches for the USWNT and in seven straight games overall. The list of attacking players anywhere sharing this sort of stratospheric form consists of maybe Sam Kerr, and that’s it.

Under Vlatko Andonovski, there was a Christen Press phase before the pandemic like this, and Catarina Macario and Sophia Smith have spent time as the seemingly inevitable source of goals and assists on this team. Swanson is indisputably having her time under the spotlight right now.

One remarkable thing about this run is that it’s not happening with a particularly stable attacking group around her. The following is a list of what other attacking players were on the field when Swanson scored on this run:

  • Morgan, Smith, Lavelle
  • Morgan, Rodman, Lavelle
  • Hatch, Rodman, Sanchez
  • Morgan, Williams, Sanchez
  • Morgan, Rodman, Sanchez
  • Morgan, Williams, Lavelle

With Smith absent for both camps this year due to a foot injury, and Rose Lavelle missing two SheBelieves Cup games for precautionary reasons, Vlatko Andonovski has toggled between plenty of groups on offense, and Swanson seems to work just as well alongside any of them. We also saw Swanson look very comfortable playing off of Macario in 2021 and the early part of 2022, leaving little worry if the USWNT ends up going back to more of a false No. 9 look come the World Cup.

What’s been very impressive from Swanson is that she’s using her off-ball movement to create the kinds of chances she thrives in: running a channel, receiving the ball just as she breaks in behind the defense. Teams know the USWNT is looking for it. Right-sided defensive players know that’s where she’s going to end up, and still — whether in counter-pressing moments, long balls from the back, passes from midfield, or combination play — they can’t stop her from getting there anyway.

In the months ahead, any team that’s serious about winning the World Cup or that finds itself in Group E is going to be intently studying how to either prevent Swanson from finding these openings, or to cut off her supply from the rest of the group.

It’s vital for the USWNT that they keep opponents guessing, because at the moment, this doesn’t seem like a team that is going to imperiously march through seven games to a trophy. Much like these last two games in particular, the USWNT is on course for some very tight knockout round games in which one player being decisive is the difference.

The good news? The roster is deep with that kind of player, and Swanson in particular is arguably the decisive player in women’s soccer right now. If the team can maintain that — and especially if they add to it — their chances of a third straight World Cup victory are stronger than people seem to think right now.

Pressing problems

That said, there is a reason your social media timeline of choice seems full of doubt. It boils down to some clear issues the USWNT has had facing a high press. To be fair, any organized high press attempted by fast players is by its nature difficult to play through. To their credit, the USWNT has used friendlies to actually work on this rather than simply playing it safe in hopes of an exhibition victory.

However, it’s fair to say this is very much a work in progress, and come the World Cup, we may see them have to adopt some safety-first tactics to get through the opening stages of games. Generally speaking, that’s how high-pressing teams operate: you press for 15-20 minutes trying to get a lead or at least throw your opponent into disarray, then spend some time defending out of a more defined block so you don’t have a team full of exhausted players.

The USWNT, after simply overwhelming a Canada side that had been through so much coming into game one, found themselves on the other side of the coin against both Japan and Brazil. These games weren’t equal — Japan’s press was more organized and dangerous, whereas a tired-looking U.S. gave Brazil an assist by offering up some uncharacteristically sloppy play — but the outcome was close enough to the same that it should be a concern.

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

We’ve seen some other top teams unsettle the USWNT like this over the past few years. Sweden did it at the Olympics, and both Germany and Spain showed that they were paying attention to the trend late in 2022.

As was already covered here, to some extent any press that is executed at a reasonable level is going to make the team in possession look uncomfortable. There seems to be an expectation among fans that can’t be reconciled: many teams are improving worldwide and deserve more respect, but also, the USWNT should be able to beat anyone anywhere with ease, so that discomfort must be an indicator that the team is falling off a cliff.

The sky is not falling for the USWNT, who as a reminder just beat three higher-end teams despite fielding a squad that is (Lindsey Horan aside) in preseason. But it is time for the fanbase to come to grips with a reality that, as high-pressing tactics have become more and more a regular thing in the women’s game, USWNT games might look a little rough around the edges.

It also must be said that the USWNT showed its preseason status in these two games. Some fundamental elements — first touch, body shape when receiving the ball, how often they checked their shoulders, and how early they made their move to be an option for the next pass — were lacking. By contrast, Japan and Brazil both seemed to be closer to top gear. That shouldn’t be the case at the World Cup.

However, here’s where the worried USWNT fan might want to start looking when they consider issues with the team: in this tournament, both Japan and Brazil pressed the way you’d expect them to. Japan’s 3-4-2-1 is not an unknown quantity, and Pia Sundhage’s 4-4-2 with Brazil is something everyone should be very familiar with by now.

Why, then, did these pressing structures seem to come as such a surprise? It’s one thing to enter a game knowing that it’ll be a bit scruffy because both teams are pressing. It’s another to see the USWNT seemingly not prepared to find the angles needed to play around those differing shapes. Every press gives up openings to gain certain things, but the U.S. had to find those spaces rather than knowing where they would be from the jump.

Japan and Brazil both seemed to catch the USWNT off guard, and while the players and coaching staff both did solid work sorting things out on the fly, it’s a bit alarming that they were having to find their way mid-game, and that’s not a completely new issue. Last year’s three-game losing streak saw a similar dynamic play out.

The pressure right now on the coaching staff should be on making sure more games resemble the Canada match rather than a worrisome scramble to get through the first 20 minutes without conceding. Higher-end teams are no longer going to hold off on taking the big tactical risk pressing is against the USWNT, and as we saw last year, there are teams out there good enough to turn a worrying phase for the USWNT into actual goals.

Pressing solutions

The flip side to the USWNT’s issues when facing a press is that they remain an absolute nightmare of a counter-pressing team. That’s down to both the work of the coaching staff — Andonovski’s teams, going back to FC Kansas City and the former Seattle Reign, have largely been counter-pressing experts — and the individual players.

Swanson’s goal came from counter-pressure that ended with Lynn Williams forcing a turnover and getting the ball to Lavelle in space. The USWNT counter-pressed Brazil into a giveaway on Alex Morgan’s goal that wasn’t (a shame, since Andi Sullivan’s first-time through ball was the best pass either team played on Wednesday), and seized on another chaotic situation when Morgan scored a goal that actually counted a few moments later.

Williams is comfortably the best counter-pressing forward on the planet, and last month we were talking about how strong her claim is for a World Cup roster spot despite losing 2022 to injury. This is ultimately why the talk about her not being the most clinical finisher has always missed the point: the USWNT will score more goals with her in games, because they’ll get more chances, because no team and no individual is better at counter-pressing.

It’s not just Williams, though. Anyone who has watched Trinity Rodman in NWSL has seen her — even in mid-block systems, which the Washington Spirit have largely played during her first two seasons — force turnovers by combining a clear understanding of when to jump on an opposing player with her obvious athletic gifts. Rodman’s ability on that front already seems top-tier, and we’ve only really seen the tip of the iceberg. In Mark Parsons’ system this year — expect more high pressure and more counter-pressing — she’s going to improve rapidly.

Swanson and Smith may not force as many turnovers, but they’re both vital cogs in this machine due to how quickly they choose and make the correct run after the turnover comes. Going back to Swanson always managing to get stereotypical Swanson chances even though every opponent wants to prevent them, this is often where they come from. She (and Smith) see the turnover coming, and make the most dangerous run early. The USWNT player picking up the loose ball doesn’t have to cycle through options or take an extra touch to wait for the opening. The ball pops loose, and the pass in behind to a world-class attacker is already on.

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Probably not a game that will be known for its attacking brilliance, but w/ USA only getting off 5 shots to Japan’s 15, the chances that USA had *on average* were far better than the opponent.

— Arielle Dror (@arielle_dror) February 19, 2023

The Japan game was a perfect example. Japan’s expected goals were higher, as even a casual viewer would have guessed. However, since they also out-shot the USWNT by nine, their xG per shot was quite low. The USWNT didn’t create a lot, but the chances they carved out were good ones, and with their forwards, the higher xG chances tend to become actual goals.

All of this is to say that counter-pressing, and the avenue towards higher-leverage openings, is how the USWNT has been winning games that seem more even on a surface level. They put teams into terrible positions just when they believe they’ve dealt with the threat and start to open up their shape, and they have a range of forwards and midfielders (it must be mentioned that Lavelle is more or less an ideal No. 10 to receive the ball in a counter-pressing situation) built to thrive in exactly these moments.

More than any other thing, this is the path towards a USWNT World Cup win this summer.

Related

USWNT to face Ireland in April friendlies

USWNT counter-presses their way to SheBelieves Cup win over Brazil

USWNT wins SheBelieves Cup for fourth straight year

USWNT mock roster 1.0: Who will go to the 2023 World Cup?

Claire WatkinsFebruary 22, 2023

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Alex Morgan and Mallory Swanson are both currently locks for the 2023 World Cup roster. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

With only a few games left before the U.S. women’s national team takes off for the 2023 World Cup in New Zealand, the final roster is slowly taking shape.The USWNT has been dealing with the absence of a number of key contributors due to injury, making it difficult to foresee exactly which players might be pushed to the roster bubble in the next few months. But the team’s approach to the SheBelieves Cup this past week has offered some insight into head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s thinking.If the U.S. were getting on the plane to New Zealand today, who would Andonovski select to the 23-player roster, tasked with defending the team’s 2019 World Cup win? Here is the first edition of our mock World Cup roster.

Goalkeepers

Locks: Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphy, Adrianna Franch

First players out: Aubrey Kingsbury, Jane Campbell, Bella Bixby

This position is fairly straightforward: Naeher and Murphy are the USWNT’s No. 1 and No. 2 goalkeepers, and Franch’s recent form should earn her the spot at No 3. NWSL action could sway that decision if Kingsbury, Campbell or Bixby start the season out strong, but Franch would have to slip in form to make room for any changes.img

Kelley O’Hara (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Defenders

Locks: Naomi Girma, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alana Cook, Sofia Huerta, Emily Sonnett, Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox

First players out: Tierna Davidson, Kelley O’Hara, Casey Krueger

The first players out in this scenario could absolutely make their way to the World Cup, but the lack of recent game tape from Davidson, O’Hara and Krueger makes it difficult to select them if the tournament started today.The player most vulnerable to being overtaken by someone coming back from injury is Emily Sonnett. The 29-year-old has played both center back and outside back for the U.S. in recent international windows, with Andonovski not committing her to either position. Davidson has similar versatility and might be considered a more stable presence on the backline.O’Hara and Krueger are experienced defenders who will have an opportunity to push for the spot currently held by Sofia Heurta at right back. If O’Hara is fit, she’ll be on the plane, but she simply needs to show she can handle the workload. Krueger is probably one step further out, but she could get a look at April camp.img

Catarina Macario (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Midfielders

Locks: Lindsey Horan, Andi Sullivan, Rose Lavelle, Catarina Macario, Kristie Mewis, Ashley Sanchez, Taylor Kornieck

First players out: Sam Coffey, Jaelin Howell, Morgan Gautrat

The U.S. midfield is a complicated project, with Andonovski packing the roster with players who fill similar roles for their club teams as Lindsey Horan, who has appeared undroppable from the starting lineup in recent games. Andi Sullivan will likely be relied upon heavily in the defensive midfield, aided by a combination of Horan, Kristie Mewis and Taylor Kornieck.Andonovski has said recently that he considers Catarina Macario to be an attacking midfielder, but the 23-year-old can also play at the point of the team’s new 4-2-3-1 formation. She’s the one player who has a seat on the plane to New Zealand regardless of fitness, though she’s very close to making her national team return after tearing her ACL last June.The three players just outside the roster bubble are all defensive midfielders, as Andonovski doesn’t appear to have a true backup No. 6 in his plans. Sam Coffey and Jaelin Howell are both up and coming at the position, perhaps tabbed for tournaments in the future. Morgan Gautrat is an experienced holding midfielder at both the club and international level, but she hasn’t gotten much time with the U.S. while coming back from injury in 2022.img

Christen Press (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Forwards

Locks: Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Lynn Williams, Sophia Smith, Mallory Swanson, Trinity Rodman

First players out: Midge Purce, Christen Press, Ashley Hatch, Alyssa Thompson

Whether Macario is listed as a midfielder or a center forward will influence how many players are taken at each position, but her presence will influence the frontline selections no matter how she is designated. Ashley Hatch has served as the backup to Alex Morgan in Macario’s absence but will likely be the odd player out when Morgan and Macario are healthy at the same time.Midge Purce and Christen Press both suffer from the USWNT’s incredible depth at the winger position. Purce hasn’t gotten significant time at the SheBelieves Cup, with Trinity Rodman and Lynn Williams getting starts at right wing. Rodman is an exciting connecting winger with a high ceiling, and Williams is arguably the player most integral to making Andonovski’s defensive press work.Press is simply in a race against time, as she works her way back from an ACL injury that cut her 2022 season short with Angel City. The two left wingers in front of her are Rapinoe and Swanson, though the starting job will almost certainly go to Swanson if she’s fit. If Press can hit the ground running in March, she deserves consideration to return to the team in April. But if she has any setbacks in her recovery, she might run out of opportunities to make it back to the international stage in 2023.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

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USWNT wins SheBelieves Cup with win over Brazil, but performances leave questions for World Cup

Feb 22, 2023 Caitlin MurrayESPNFC

The U.S. women’s national team claimed its sixth SheBelieves Cup trophy with a 2-1 win over Brazil on Wednesday.Goals from Alex Morgan and Mallory Swanson, who was named tournament MVP, put the Americans in control for much of the second half, but Brazil pulled one back in the 90th minute from forward Ludmila.The USWNT went undefeated in the SheBelieves Cup after beating Canada and Japan in earlier games. But now, the next tournament on the calendar is the Women’s World Cup, which kicks off for the Americans on July 22 in New Zealand.


Rapid reaction

1. USWNT wins SheBelieves Cup, but now the World Cup awaits

The U.S. women’s national team didn’t even need to win against Brazil to secure its sixth SheBelieves Cup trophy — a loss by one goal still would’ve been enough for the Americans to finish atop the standings, and the USWNT cleared that low bar and then some with a win over Brazil on Wednesday.Winning the SheBelieves Cup is nice, and the American players have earned a nice little bonus payment for it, but ultimately this tournament largely exists to prepare the USWNT for the World Cup. To that end, it might warrant a bit of worry that the Americans never quite put together a full 90-minute performance during the SheBelieves Cup, including against Brazil.As Crystal Dunn said before heading into the locker room for halftime: “It’s not our best half. We gave away some cheap balls, but it’s about resetting now.” The match result and the tournament are marked down as wins for the USWNT, but — as Dunn suggested — the performances were not as confidence-inspiring, and the USWNT’s slow start was palpable on Wednesday.That might be fine — winning ugly counts all the same as winning in style, and lifting a trophy at the end of the 2023 Women’s World Cup is all that matters. The USWNT would surely take its wins at the SheBelieves Cup over the worrying losses last fall to England, Spain and Germany. But the performances in this tournament do leave seeds of doubt, and the fact remains that the World Cup is a different beast than the SheBelieves Cup.

2. Brazil’s counterattack gives the USWNT a key test

Brazil certainly had its chances to score on the USWNT — almost all of them came from quick counterattacks, and usually with Kerolin slicing her way through the midfield.That led to some nervy moments when American center-backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Naomi Girma were caught alone trying to keep yellow shirts at bay as fellow defenders Dunn and Emily Fox were far flung upfield.This isn’t a new concern for the USWNT, and before the Americans won the World Cup 2019, it looked like the USWNT’s tendency to get caught overcommitting in the attack was its chief (and arguably only) vulnerability. No one made the Americans pay in France at that World Cup, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a risk that the Americans took. And that Brazil left the U.S. defense scrambling in transition the way they did gave the U.S. yet another good stress test after Canada and Japan presented different challenges in the first two games of the SheBelieves Cup.To be clear, Dunn and Fox, the two American full-backs, are doing exactly what U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski wants from them. The Americans get forward and they have a very attack-focused approach, even against top-ranked teams, but if Brazil and in particular Adriana had just finished their chances, this could be a different postgame conversation.

3. What’s the Plan B for the USWNT?

Andonovski has spoken openly about his desire to use this tournament to refine and ratchet up the intensity of the USWNT’s press and counter-press. Alex Morgan‘s goal in the third minute of first-half stoppage time gave a glimpse of why the USWNT’s press is so important: Off a Brazil turnover, the U.S. transitioned quickly, Mallory Swanson had a shot blocked, and Morgan picked up the rebound with a well-taken finish that took advantage of Brazilian goalkeeper Lorena being caught off her line. Swanson’s goal in the second half also came from a turnover.

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But in the moments the press hasn’t worked against teams like Brazil or, in the previous match again, Japan — when opponents have been able to settle into their shape and be patient — the Americans have run out of ideas quickly. When those spaces haven’t been pried open by catching a team in transition, the USWNT often resorts to playing direct over the top in a brute force attempt, which sometimes can create something out of nothing but more often is a good way to lose the ball.

The return of Rose Lavelle from a muscle strain injury could help. She found seams to move the ball into with varying success against Brazil, but often crumbled under pressure as Brazilian players converged on her. If she can be on her A-game in Australia/New Zealand this summer and the American midfield can click well enough to move the ball more quickly, that can help open things up for the USWNT. If not, the USWNT could find it will need more at the World Cup as teams shut down those spaces, particularly in the final third.

– USWNT vs. Canada: Swanson cements World Cup spot
– USWNT vs. Japan: Finishing good, but midfield a concern


Best and worst performers

Best: Alex Morgan, USWNT

No one on the USWNT can take a beating during a match like Alex Morgan can, and the USWNT relied on her to absorb much of the pressure from a physical Brazil side. Even before her well-taken goal from outside the box, she had a would-be goal waved off that might’ve stood if a VAR review were possible. She does a lot of work that isn’t lauded, but deservingly got a goal to her name.

Best: Mallory Swanson, USWNT

What more is there to say at this point? No one on the USWNT is finishing like she is these days and there’s a reason she was named the best player of the SheBelieves Cup. She has eight goals in her past six games now.

Best: Kerolin, Brazil

She gave the USWNT back line fits with her incisive dribbling and passing, and she was at the heart of all of Brazil’s promising attacks.

Worst: Debinha, Brazil

The bar is high for the Kansas City Current forward who has been one of the best players in the NWSL and for Brazil, but she couldn’t get into the game and was subbed off at halftime after touching the ball only 16 times.

Worst: Trinity Rodman, USWNT

A bubble player trying to secure a spot at the World Cup, Rodman wasn’t consistent enough to wrestle away the spot that opened up with fellow winger Sophia Smith missing this tournament’s roster for injury. Although Rodman’s defensive work rate was good, and she is still an up-and-coming player with a bright future ahead of her, on this night she often wasn’t able to link up with her teammates and ended promising attacks by losing possession.

Worst: Adriana, Brazil

She had the chances, but she just couldn’t finish them. Ultimately, that may have been the difference in this match. Swanson and Morgan are reliable finishers, and Brazil just didn’t have that when it needed it. That, of course, does not all fall on Adriana, but she did have the best chances on the night.


Highlights and notable moments

Alex Morgan scored the USWNT’s opener at the end of first-half stoppage time.The USWNT won the ball in the midfield and sprung into transition, with Mallory Swanson taking a shot that was blocked. Morgan collected the rebound just outside the box, swiveled around and struck for a splendid finish.Mallory Swanson doubled the USWNT’s lead in the 63rd minute.Again, the USWNT pressed and won the ball in the midfield and then transitioned toward Brazil’s goal. Rose Lavelle laid it off to Swanson, who placed it well.In the 90th minute, Brazil pulled a goal back.Bruninha lofted a long ball to the far post and Ludmila headed it past USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.


After the match: What the players and manager said

U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski on winning the SheBelieves Cup: “I don’t think we’re going to talk a lot about the title. We’re actually going to talk a lot about the play and the details and we’re going to use these games in preparation for the World Cup. That’s what’s good about this, not necessarily the title. We enjoy winning the title, but it’s the outcome of this game is what is more important for us. The whole time throughout the tournament while we’re in camp, we’re talking about how it’s not just about this tournament, it’s about preparation for the World Cup.”

Mallory Swanson on Brazil playing very physically and pressing: “Yeah, I just remember before the game, Vlatko said ‘Expect that it’s going to happen, expect that they’re going to come out hard.’ We did that and we weren’t on our heels. There were definitely times that they had transition and they were running at our goal, but I think that helped me going into the game expecting that and expecting it’ll be a dogfight, you could say.”

Swanson on winning the SheBelieves Cup and the experience for players: “The first game [against Canada], we started off really fast. Against Japan, we didn’t start off as fast but we still found a way, and today we just kind of controlled the game. Brazil is a great team and they have really crafty players. Overall, it’s just a really good experience for everyone, especially some of the younger girls who don’t have as much experience — they played a lot of minutes. Especially Foxy [Emily Fox], she played outstanding this tournament. Lindsey [Horan] played outstanding — she played almost three 90-minute games back-to-back-to-back. So, there are definitely some people who stepped up big-time and it’s going to take that.”

Swanson on knowing opponents raise their level to play the USWNT: “If you shift your mindset, that’s exciting. We’re going to get everyone’s best game, and if we go out and put our best performance out there — sometimes we’re not going to be able to, sometimes it’s going to like against Japan a grind — but it’s exciting that we’re going to get everyone’s best game and we can ultimately play our game and continue to work on us and the details and continue to grow.”


Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

  • Alex Morgan scored her first goal from outside the box for the U.S. since June 19, 2014, vs. France.
  • Morgan has scored or assisted in each of her four appearances for the U.S. in 2023.
  • Mallory Swanson’s six-game scoring streak is the longest by a USWNT player since Christen Press scored in six straight from November 2019 to February 2020.
  • Swanson has scored half (7/14) of the goals by the USWNT in 2023. Rose Lavelle and Alex Morgan are the only other players with multiple goals (two each).
  • Ludmila scored the first goal that the U.S. has conceded in five games in 2023 — the U.S. had won its first four games by a combined 12-0 before Wednesday’s match.

Up next

United States: The USWNT has one more international window left until the Women’s World Cup. The games in that window in April have not yet been announced by U.S. Soccer, but reports suggest it’ll be a pair of games against Ireland on April 8 in Austin, Texas, and April 11 in St. Louis, Missouri. The USWNT’s World Cup starts on July 22, when the Americans face Vietnam in their tournament opener in New Zealand.

Brazil: The Brazil WNT will face England in the Women’s Finalissima, which pits the Copa América Femenina winner (Brazil) against the winners of the Women’s Euro (England). That match will take place at Wembley on April 6. Then Brazil’s World Cup begins on July 24.

The Americans Abroad Five: Leeds is in big trouble

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Seth Vertelney 

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February 21, 2023 9:28 am ET

Saturday was the kind of game that Leeds should have been up for.

Facing relegation rival Everton at Goodison Park, Leeds needed to show some kind of sign it can turn around the ever-worsening tailspin this season is becoming.Instead, Leeds was lifeless. Everton wasn’t brilliant either, but it didn’t need to be. One gritty performance and one lighting-bolt of a goal from Seamus Coleman sealed a 1-0 win for the Toffees.Leeds is now 19th after a damaging weekend that also saw fellow strugglers Southampton and Bournemouth win. The club’s decision to sack Jesse Marsch a couple weeks ago wasn’t necessarily wrong, but doing so without having a potential replacement has been disastrous.After being turned down in embarrassing and repeated fashion, the club is still being led by the caretaker trio of Michael Skubala, Chris Armas and Paco Gallardo. The Everton performance has, apparently, made Leeds hierarchy reconsider the wisdom of letting that trio continue much longer.Leeds has become appointment viewing for American fans, but that may not last if things continue down this road.Let’s explore that and a few other pressing topics in this week’s Five.

Relegation could break up Leeds America

Within a year, Leeds went from having no Americans involved in the first-team setup to five. That number could quickly plummet though if the club is relegated.Marsch is already gone and it’s unclear how long Armas will stay, even though he just arrived. That leaves the three members of the playing squad, Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson and Weston McKennie.Adams has had such a strong debut season in the Premier League that he could leave Leeds at season’s end regardless of whether the club is relegated. McKennie has a reported €33 million purchase option on his Juventus loan, which would likely be too rich for a team heading down to the Championship.That leaves Aaronson, who has faded after a strong start to the campaign. A year or two in the notoriously physical Championship may not be a bad thing for a player who at times has been pushed around in the Premier League. But it would be a pride-swallowing moment for a player who cost €22m just last summer.

Clark making positive steps

Caden Clark took the long road to making his first matchday squad for RB Leipzig, which he did on Saturday against Wolfsburg.Clark originally signed for Leipzig in June 2021, but went on loan back to the New York Red Bulls on two separate occasions. The winger failed to really shine back in MLS though, as injuries and indifferent form limited him to just 16 games last year.That left the U.S. youth international facing some real uncertainty when he headed back to Leipzig at the end of the 2022 MLS season. There were some initial positive signs upon his arrival, but words are one thing and making a gameday squad is something different.It’s easy to forget that Clark is still just 19. He’s got a way to go, but there are now some real signs he’s heading in the right direction again.

Pepi keeps rolling

Just like he did last season, Ricardo Pepi plays for a bad team. But very much unlike last season, Pepi keeps finding a way to score goals with Groningen.Pepi notched his eighth league goal of the season on Saturday as Groningen could only draw 1-1 against its fellow relegation rival FC Emmen. Groningen only has 22 Eredivisie goals this season, of which Pepi has scored more than a third.The 20-year-old is doing what he needed to do in the Netherlands. Will it be enough for Augsburg to give him another shot when his loan expires at the end of the season? Perhaps, but it’s also hard not to wonder what the striker could do on a team that actually created a few chances.

Hoppe is on the board

May 15, 2021. That was the last time Matthew Hoppe scored a goal for a club team before this weekend. For someone who plays as a forward, that is not great!But Hoppe came on as a first-half sub for Hibernian on Saturday against Kilmarnock and found the net early in the second half, helping his team to a 2-0 win. After nearly two years and two scoreless clubs (Mallorca and Middlesbrough), this one was long overdue.It’s still looking like Hoppe’s big breakout at Schalke in 2020-21 was a bit of a fluke, but he’s still only 21 and some consistent playing time in Scotland could do a world of good for his confidence.

Hello Jaheim Headley

There is a seemingly endless reserve of under-the-radar talent in Europe that happens to have USMNT eligibility and this week we are officially adding another name to our list: Jaheim Headley.Headley, 21, had a breakout performance for Huddersfield in just his second start for the club, scoring a goal and adding an assist in a 2-1 win over Birmingham City.

That’s one way to win a game…#htafc pic.twitter.com/bgiuisxa8x— Huddersfield Town (@htafc) February 19, 2023

The London-born left back developed in Huddersfield’s academy before going on a series of loans to lower-tier English teams. Now back with his parent club, Headley appears to poised to earn a real run of games. That could eventually earn him international attention, as he’s eligible for England and Jamaica in addition to the U.S.

Friedel: If Turner can’t start at Arsenal, he’s got to go

Seth Vertelney 

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February 23, 2023 2:23 pm ET

Brad Friedel has told U.S. national team goalkeeper Matt Turner that if he can’t win the starting role at Arsenal, he has to leave the club.

Turner made the move to north London last summer from the New England Revolution, slotting in as Arsenal’s backup behind Aaron Ramsdale.

The 28-year-old has impressed when given the chance with Arsenal, but has made just six appearances and is still awaiting his Premier League debut.

Turner’s stock rose even higher after a strong World Cup with the USMNT, as he looks capable of starting for a number of clubs in Europe’s top five leagues.

Friedel, who coached Turner with the Revolution in 2018 and 2019, has encouraged the goalkeeper to seek out pastures new if he can’t overtake Ramsdale by next season.

“When I wasn’t playing consistently when I was at Liverpool I had to get out,” the former USMNT goalkeeper told sportingpost.com. “Even though I loved the club and it was the team I supported, I had to leave for my career. You have such a short career as a professional footballer and you need to play as many games as possible inside that time.

“Look at Matt’s competition for the national team spot. He was the number one then and he’s gone all this time without playing, but Zack Steffen, who wasn’t getting a game at Manchester City, is now playing well for Middlesbrough. They are possible promotion candidates and all of a sudden with Zack playing at a high level in the Championship and potentially in the Premier League and he’s playing every week whilst Matt is on the bench, then you’re looking at another change in who is the number one keeper for the U.S. national team.

“I think that Matt, no matter what, even though Arsenal are an incredible club, has to find consistent football somewhere. This season, fine, but if he’s not going to be the number one he has got to go. The only issue is that he’s on a long contract and if you’re Arsenal, why would you let him go? You’ve got an incredible goalkeeper, an incredible guy, a great worker, you have one of the best number twos on the planet.”

While Turner remains a backup, the next three keepers on the USMNT depth chart are all starters with their current clubs: Steffen (Middlesbrough) and Ethan Horvath (Luton Town) on loan in the Championship and Sean Johnson at his new club Toronto FC.

The 10 biggest questions as the 2023 MLS season kicks off

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Seth Vertelney 

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February 21, 2023 11:32 am ET

Major League Soccer is back for its 28th season, as the LA Galaxy and LAFC kick things off with a special edition of El Tráfico at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

There are plenty of major talking points to explore this season as MLS continues finding its place in the hierarchy of world leagues. Is it a selling league? A destination league? Or can it be both?

There are also new faces in the league, old faces in new places, a new team and, maybe most importantly for the long-term health of the league, a blockbuster and experimental media rights agreement with a technology giant.

Let’s explore the 10 biggest questions to ponder ahead of the new season.

Who is next to depart?

MLS has begun to embrace its status as a selling league. Five of the league’s top 10 outbound transfers have taken place in 2022 and 2023, and there should be more to come.

The next chance for European clubs to purchase players will come in the summer, and there are several MLS players who could be departing at midseason.

Among the top candidates to fetch major transfer fees are FC Cincinnati striker Brenner, New York Red Bulls left back John Tolkin, LAFC midfielder José Cifuentes and Atlanta United’s World Cup winner Thiago Almada.

It’s not ideal for teams to lose key players midseason, but that’s the reality MLS faces due to its schedule and its growing reputation as a league where players can develop and be sold on for profit.

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Who will be the top newcomers?

It’s not just about the players leaving though! MLS has become an appealing destination for players from across the globe as clubs start to slowly but surely open their wallets to bring in top-tier talent.

Some of the more notable players arriving in 2023 include Atlanta United forward Giorgos Giakoumakis, Red Bulls forward Dante Vanzeir, D.C. United midfielder Mateusz Klich, Orlando City forward Martín Ojeda, Portland Timbers midfielder Evander, LAFC forward Stipe Biuk and Charlotte FC forward Enzo Copetti.

Six of those seven commanded multi-million transfer fees and all are expected to immediately step in and play a major role for their clubs in 2023.

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How will St. Louis City do?

One of the most historic American soccer cities finally has an MLS team, as St. Louis City joins the league as its 29th team this season.

There should be plenty of excitement in St. Louis around the new team, which will play at brand-new Citypark in downtown. Will it be any good though? Who knows!

The roster is hardly filled with household names, as the club will rely on a core of MLS veterans and European players who are unproven in the league.

Perhaps the most recognizable name is Roman Bürki, the ex-Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper who will have to recapture his best form from Germany if the expansion club wants to surprise in year one.

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Will the Apple gamble pay off?

MLS has a lot on the line in its new media rights partnership with Apple.

Last summer, the league and Apple came to a landmark agreement in a deal worth $2.5 billion over 10 years, moving every MLS match in English and Spanish to a subscription service called MLS Season Pass.

The deal is the first of its kind for a sports league: every match will be available without blackouts or geo-restrictions through a single streaming service, providing a one-stop destination for fans.

Though some matches will be on TV, it’s also a risk: MLS is betting on getting enough subscribers and attention to counteract the fact it has made its product more difficult to consume.

Can Atlanta turn it around?

Atlanta United was a MLS flagship franchise in its first few seasons, winning trophies, developing talent and selling out a huge football stadium downtown.

But the club has fallen on some hard times, missing the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. Last year was a new low, underlined by club legend Josef Martínez calling out teammates and flipping over tables of chicken and rice.

Giakoumakis will be crucial for the Five Stripes this season, as should the return of Miles Robinson. But the focal point will likely be newly minted World Cup champion Almada. If the 21-year-old plays up to his potential, Atlanta should be back in the postseason. The problem for the Five Stripes, though, is that the better Almada plays, the less likely it is he stays for the entire season.

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Can LAFC pull an encore?

Steve Cherundolo’s debut season as LAFC head coach could not have gone any better.

The California club took home MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield to reestablish its place as one of the league’s elite teams. An encore in 2023 will be a daunting challenge.

For starters, LAFC will have to navigate an early-season schedule that will see them balance MLS play with CONCACAF Champions League matches. That struggle has seen a number of teams — like, for example, last year’s Seattle Sounders — fail to keep the pace in MLS amid a run in the CCL.

Cherundolo’s club will also have to replace the retired Gareth Bale and Chicho Arango, who left to join Pachuca. Bale struggled to stay on the field during his half-season in MLS, while Arango will be a bigger challenge to replace after he scored 30 goals in just two seasons with the club.

Is the Messi dream still alive?

Lionel Messi to Inter Miami is the rumor that simply won’t die.

Late last year it looked like the move was very much on but after Messi led Argentina to World Cup glory, several reports said he had agreed to sign a new contract with PSG.

But a couple months later, and that deal still has not been signed. A recent report from L’Equipe suggested that Messi once again is leaning toward a PSG exit.

Inter has been pushing to sign Messi for years. Should they land the iconic figure, it would be the biggest MLS signing since the club’s owner David Beckham landed with the LA Galaxy back in 2007.

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How will teams approach the Leagues Cup?

This season will see MLS pause for more than a month, as all of its teams join all of Liga MX’s teams for an expanded version of the Leagues Cup.

MLS will take a break between July 15 and August 20. It will be interesting to see how teams approach the competition and how it will impact the season.

There are spots in the CONCACAF Champions League available to to the top three finishers in the Leagues Cup, but will teams take an opportunity to rest players midseason and test out new faces? Or will the chance to get one over on Liga MX and earn a CCL spot mean MLS teams go all out to win?

The answer may very based on a team’s place in the table, as well as its injury and depth situations at the time the Leagues Cup kicks off.

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Who will be team 30?

In a story about MLS talking points, we would be remiss if we did not mention expansion, the story in this league that just keeps on giving.

With St. Louis joining as team 29, commissioner Don Garber has said the league plans to expand to 30 teams and then take a pause. We may find out this year which city will earn the league’s 30th franchise.

The race appears to be down to Sacramento, Phoenix, Las Vegas and San Diego. In a recent interview with Sports Business Journal, Garber said of San Diego: “I love the market, it is a gateway city to Mexico, and with our increased programming and increasingly closer relationship with Liga MX, San Diego is a priority market.”

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How will the new playoff format play out?

The league’s new playoff format will see 18 of its 29 teams (62%) reach the postseason, a change from last season’s 14 of 28 (50%).

The increase in teams runs the risk of further devaluing the regular season, especially as the top seed in each conference no longer receives a bye as they did last season. There is also the new wrinkle of a best-of-three series in the first round, which could dramatically increase the number of games in the postseason.

That is, of course, the point of all of this. More playoff games means more content for Apple to offer Season Pass subscribers, and more games for teams to host and bring in matchday revenue.

As the regular season winds down, only the very worst teams will be eliminated from postseason contention. That will give those teams plenty to play for, but what about the teams who already clinched? That will be a development to monitor as the season enters its final months.

2/21/22 USWNT vs Brazil 7 pm Wed, Champions League Tues Liverpool vs Real Madrid 3 pm CBS, MLS Starts Sat

US Women – She Believe’s Cup vs Brazil –Wed 7 pm  HBO Max  

Swanson scores her 6th in 4 games as Japan gave the US all it could handle on Sunday (highlights).  Japan is a very organized side and we shouldn’t have too much concern that they had as much possession as they had overall.  I thought GK Casey Murphy might have been player of the match with her clutch saves down the stretch preserving the clean sheet.  The defense looked stagared at times especially Alana Cook as once again she gave away the ball which lead to the best shot of the game for Japan – (she simply can not be a player in central defense if the US wants to win the World Cup this summer. Its Girma and Becky in the middle PERIOD!  I thought the midfield got overrun a little this game as Horan was horrific and Sanchez wasn’t much better.  I thought Mewis had some good moments and should get a look instead of Horan this next game.  I might even give Dunn a run at the #8 to see how she does after her complaints in GQ.  If Lavelle is still hurt – sit Horan and give Dunn a run at the #8 slot dropping in some with Sullivan in a double pivot.  Give Mewis a chance up top to create more maybe with Rodman along side?  I would love to have the “issues” coach A has in the midfield. Tons of talent here –needs to get them to work together right however.   Again you have to follow the USWNT on twitter Moms, Moms 2       

Shane’s Starters vs Brazil Wed 7 pm HBO Max

Rapino, Morgan, Swanson

Mewis, Rodman

Dunn, Sullivan

Fox, Sauerbrunn, Girma, Sonnet

Franch

 Champions League Tues/Wed 3 pm CBS

This week gives us Liverpool hosting Cup holders Real Madrid on Tuesday at 3 pm on CBS and Wednesday’s Man City vs RB Leipzig game on CBS Wed.  Again great to see these top games on network TV while the others are on Paramount + with a full 1/2 lead in show on CBS and post game coverage on Para+.  The 2-2 Barcelona vs Man United game was all you could want on Thursday setting up the return to Ole Trafford on Thursday at 3 pm on Paramount plus must watch TV – again CBSSN will have the wrap-around coverage starting at 12:30-5 pm. (lots of stories below)

MLS Starts season Sat – on Apple TV Subscription

So the MLS season starts this Saturday and I should be excited but just 2 games are on network TV – and not the good ones.  Oh and if you have Apple TV already like me and was thinking cool I can watch. NOPE you have to buy the subscription.  So instead of talking all about how MLS is doing things right by giving us El Traffico in The ROSE BOWL for the first time ever – a sold out game with over 85K in attendance hopefully – I will tell you tough you can’t watch it.  Between US soccer putting most games on HBO Max and now MLS going to Apple TV Subscription only, along with Paramount+ for Champions League and Peacock for EPL, and ESPN+ for Bundesliga and Spain – this might just be the final straw for me.  Oh and they don’t have a new playoff format yet.  Mickey Mouse crap right there.  Sorry MLS I don’t care enough to pay to $80 a year to watch your semi-decent games.  Good luck!!  Oh there are 2 games on actual TV – Sat has Nashville and NYCFC Sat at 4 pm on FOX and Sunday has Seattle hosting Colorado on Fox Sports 1.  I WON’T be Watching.  

GAMES ON TV

(American’s names in Parenthesis)

Tues, Feb 21       Champions League 

3 pm Para+                         Liverpool vs Real Madrid 

3 pm Para+                         Frankfurt vs Napoli  

5 pm FS2                              U17 Mexico vs El Salvador

8 pm FS2                              U17 Guautamala vs USA

Weds, Feb 22    Champions League 

3 pm Para+                         RB Leipzig vs Man City

3 pm Para+                         Inter Milan vs Porto 

4 pm FS2                              U17 Puerta Rico vs Canada

7 pm HBO Max                  USWMNT vs Brazil

8 pm FS2                              U17 Panama vs Honduras

Thurs, Feb 23     Europa  League 

12:30 pm Para+                 Sevilla vs PSV

12:30 Para+                         Nantes vs Juve

3 pm Para+                         Man U vs Barcelona

3 pm Para+                         Union Berlin (Pfuk) vs Ajax vs

3 pm Para+                         Salzburg vs Roma 

Fri, Feb 24 

2:30 pm ESPN+                  Mainz vs B Mgladbach (Scaly)

3 pm USA                            Fulham (Ream, Jedi) vs Wolverhampton

3 pm beIN Sport               Lille (Weah) vs Brest  

5pm FS2                               U17 Semis

8 pm FS2                              U17 Semis

8 pm FS2                              Juerez vs Leon

Sat, Feb 25

7:30 am USA                       Aston Villa vs Arsenal

9:30 am ESPN+                  Hoffenheim vs Dortmund (Reyna)

10 am USA                          Leeds United (Adams, Mckinney, Aaronson) vs Southampton

10  am Peacock                 Leicester City vs Aston Villa

12:30 pm ESPN+               Real Madrid vs Atletico  MADRID DERBY  

12:30 pm NBC                    Bournmouth vs Man City  

2:45 pm ?                             Crystal Palace vs Liverpool

4:30 pm Fox                        Nashville vs NYCFC  MLS

8 pm Univision                 Tigres vs Guadalajara

9:30 pm Apple TV            LA Galaxy vs LAFC

10 pm Univision                Atlas vs America

Sun, Feb 26                        

8:30 am USA                       Tottenham vs Brentford

11:30 am ESPN+                Man United vs New Castle League Cup

11:30 am ESPN+                Union Berlin (Pfuk) vs Bayern Munich  

2:45 pm Para+                   Milan vs Atalanta

5 pm FS2                              U17 CONCACAF FINALS

8 pm Fox Sport 1              Seattle Sounders vs Colorado Rapids

10 pm FS2                            Tijuana vs Pachuca

Tues, Feb 28       Champions League 

Weds, Mar 1      Champions League 

https://www.cbssports.com/soccer/nwsl/schedule

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

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