USMNT GM Earnie Stewart on Search for a New Coach
USMNT GM Earnie Stewart on Search for a New Coach avatar

East Rutherford, N.J. – Earnie Stewart wanted to clear something up. “I do want to comment: have I interviewed people? No, I haven’t interviewed people. Have I spoken to people? Absolutely.”

Speaking to a group of a dozen or so reporters during a roundtable discussion at MetLife Stadium Stadium on Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Men’s National Team General Manager was keen to make that distinction to the press and perhaps more importantly, to an American soccer fan base that has still not quite gotten over missing out on the 2018 World Cup.

Earnie Stewart on his way out to training practice for the USMNT preparation for their match against Brazil. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

In his new role Stewart is charged with finding a coach that can get the USMNT back on track by qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and he let it be known that he has spoken to people in and around U.S. Soccer in order to help build a profile of the kind of person he wants for the job.

That process, Stewart said, is now complete and while the GM admitted, “the interview process has not begun,” when asked when that next phase would kick off, replied simply, “not too long,” later adding that he expected a coach to be named before the end of the year.

Stewart also said that he has spoken to agents that called to gauge interest, and “six or seven coaches” that picked up the phone and called him. And while he remained mostly tight-lipped when it came to precisely what he is looking for in this important hire, Stewart did let a few nuggets slip.

Characteristics of the “set profile” as Stewart said, “start with the values of the American player and what U.S. Soccer is about because, “it’s not about Earnie’s coach or anything like that, it’s about having a coach that’s good for U.S. Soccer and where we stand right now and where we are going to go to.”

And while the GM mentioned finding a style of play, Stewart stressed that it is more about defining “principles of play. It’s an overarching view of what soccer and the values that we have in the United States, how we want to identify with our team that you see on the field.”

The next manager will not have the same responsibility that Klinsmann had. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

“There are a couple of things that are very important,” Stewart began. “It has to be someone that has a we mentality, someone who wants to work together.” In an apparent corrective to the Jurgen Klinsmann era, which saw Klinsmann consolidate power as both Coach and Technical Director, Stewart added, “I think that’s important because in this day and age I don’t think one person can do the whole job, especially in a country as big as this.”

The former USMNT World Cup player added that the next coach should be “a people manager, and then you have all the technical and tactical things that come with that.”

As part of the “profile” Stewart called some characteristics “requirements and other things are desires.” Understanding the intricacies of the Concacaf region is one that Stewart filed in the desires category.

Speaking English was labeled “ a requirement,” by Stewart, potentially bad news for the potential candidacy of Atlanta United, and former Argentina and Barcelona coach Tata Martino, who speaks limited English.

Although Stewart was loath to mention specific names of coaches under consideration the GM gave an interesting answer when asked about Columbus Crew boss Gregg Berhalter.

“It was brought to my attention that he (Berhalter) was going to get the job because he’s a friend of mine,” Stewart began. “That’s the part I don’t understand,” Stewart said before going on to note that they really aren’t that close.

Gregg Berhalter (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

“We played together and we’ve communicated with each other, but friends is a little overboard, I want to say.”

Stewart called their relationship “professional.”

Stewart, as well as U.S. Soccer officials on hand, also noted that Jay Berhalter, Gregg’s brother, and U.S. Soccer C.O.O. would not be involved in hiring the coach, although he was involved in the hiring process that resulted in Stewart being named as General Manager.

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Is Zack Steffen the Next Number 1?
Is Zack Steffen the Next Number 1? avatar

Whippany, N.J. – The last time the USMNT gathered at the New York Red Bulls Training Center was ahead of what would be a disastrous 2-0 World Cup Qualifier loss to Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena, last September 1, a loss that would play its part in seeing the United States miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Dave Strachan looked to the youngsters for his future team. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

That failure led to a shakeup that saw coach Bruce Arena follow the man he replaced, Jurgen Klinsmann, out the door followed soon enough by U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. It also signaled the end of the international career of at least one icon, with Clint Dempsey’s recent retirement and the ushering in of a youth movement led by interim coach Dave Sarachan.

With an average age of 23 years 241 days, this is a young group. It is also a new group, with just three of the squad that succumbed so meekly to the Ticos last September returning to the Garden State for Friday night’s friendly versus Brazil at MetLife Stadium.

Of the three, only Paul Arriola saw action, entering the fray in the 87th minute. Eric Lichaj and Kellyn Acosta did not see any action last September versus Costa Rica.

Steffen in 2016 training alongside Howard and Guzan. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Tim Howard was in goal that night and neither Howard nor fellow veteran and former USMNT number one Brad Guzan was called into this squad, prompting me to ask presumptive topman Zack Steffen if those absences surprised him.

Standing outside of the practice field at the Red Bulls’ facility, the 23-year-old Columbus Crew keeper paused a moment before admitting, “I was a little surprised Brad wasn’t, for some experience, maybe.”

Steffen continued by noting the transitional nature of the National Team at this juncture. “At the same time it’s a fresh start and everybody has a chance to step in and play their game and showcase their skills.”
Steffen has been showcasing his considerable skills since the Americans returned to the field of play in a series of friendlies following a prolonged period of wound licking and soul-searching.

In seven friendlies since the awful night in Trinidad and Tobago that saw the Americans miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1986 Steffen has emerged as the most likely heir to the USMNT goalkeeper legacy that runs from Tony Meola to Kasey Keller, to Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, and Brad Guzan, although Guzan may be back in the picture when U.S. Soccer General Manager Earnie Stewart selects a permanent coach.

Steffen should start for the U.S. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Steffen figures to see the bulk of the time in this two-game set against Brazil on Friday and Mexico in Nashville next Tuesday, having outperformed Ethan Horvath, Alex Bono, and Bill Hamid in club and international competition in recent months.

Steffen was particularly impressive in a 1-1 draw versus a full strength French team back in June, shortly before Les Bleus went on to win the World Cup in Russia.

Performances like that, as well as his consistent fine play with the Crew, were bound to attract interest and Steffen came close to a return to Europe with English Championship side Bristol City earlier this summer, having begun his professional career with German club Freiburg.

How close? I asked the former Maryland Terrapin. “It was possible it was going to happen,” Steffen said, adding opaquely, “for certain reasons it didn’t happen.”

The clamor did not seem to phase the keeper. “No, not at all,” Steffen told GotSoccer. “I think the right thing will come and it will all fall into place how it should be.”

For now, the right thing for the USMNT seems to be Zack Steffen between the posts, especially without a veteran in camp. I asked Steffen if the absence of Guzan and/or Howard gave him a boost.

Steffen is enjoying being part of such a good group of young players. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

“Yeah, I mean it’s obviously in the back of my head but I’m happy to be here with the group, to be here with such a good group.”

Steffen sounded intent on holding on to that number one job, and expressed confidence in the team’s current direction, adding “we’re really young, so it’s fun,” and Steffen said confidently, “it feels like our team.”

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USMNT Great Dempsey Hangs up his Boots
USMNT Great Dempsey Hangs up his Boots avatar

“He tries shit.”

That is what former USMNT coach Bruce Arena once famously said of Clint Dempsey, who announced his retirement today, and it is stands today as a fitting epitaph for a player who rose seemingly from nowhere to the pinnacle of American soccer.

USA’s head coach Bruce Arena watches as Costa Rica’s Danny Fonseca attempts a tackle on Clint Dempsey in 2005. (ISI Photos/Howard C. Smith)

Because with Dempsey it has never been just about the numbers. Oh, the numbers are there for the son of Nacogdoches, Texas. 57 goals for the United States Men’s National Team, tied with Landon Donovan for first all-time on the men’s side of the ledger.

And his 57 goals are the most ever by an American in the English Premier League, his four career World Cup goals second in the modern era to his teammate and rival Landon Donovan, and with goals in the 2006, 2010, and 2014 Cups’, Dempsey is the first and so far, only American to score in three consecutive Mundials.

But Arena was on to something, Dempsey, or Deuce is about much more than numbers. Drafted eighth by the New England Revolution out of Furman College in his native Texas, the box to box midfielder won MLS Rookie of the Year and quickly showed the flair and goalscoring nous that would lead Dempsey on a tour of the pitch from midfield to winger to second forward right on up to striker and just as quickly across the Atlantic to Fulham of the Premier League, and from the fringes of the national team to World Cup captain.

Dempsey celebrating one of his many goals.  (ISI Photos/John Todd)

Dempsey seemed to achieve all of this with a combination of swagger unseen in most American players, and effort that said this ball is mine while occasionally blurring the line between hard and dirty.

Every year it seemed that Fulham would bring in a new coach and that Dempsey, relegated to the bench, would have to regain his place in the Cottagers lineup.

It was a challenge that Deuce was always up for and Fulham fans noticed and appreciated the American’s drive, twice honoring Dempsey as the club’s Player of the Year.

Dempsey displayed a gift for coming up with big goals, too. His first goal for Fulham saved the Thamesmen from relegation, and Dempsey’s long-range blast versus Juventus in the Europa League has been called the biggest goal in Fulham history.

After a short stint with Tottenham Hotspur, Dempsey came home to MLS, signing a huge contract with the Seattle Sounders off of a $9 million transfer.

Although slowed by injuries Deuce won an MLS Cup with the Sounders and his time playing with Obafemi Martins was a spectacle to behold.

Latterly Dempsey was unable to impact games like he has in the past. (ISI Photos/Andy Mead)

Dempsey’s final season with both Seattle and the USMNT sputtered to something of an anticlimactic end but Dempsey leaves the stage with his place in American soccer secure.

Was Dempsey the best American player ever, or does the nod go to Donovan? The two were so different yet they are hard to separate.

On Dempsey’s side of the ledger is his success outside of the cozy confines of Major League Soccer. While Donovan was tarred, unfairly I believe, with the nickname Landycakes as a slur on his toughness, no one ever questioned Dempsey on that score.

Dempsey lacked Donovan’s flat-out speed and while Donovan was more of a playmaker than Dempsey the two shared a flair for the dramatic.

But today is about Clint Dempsey, a humble, quiet, swaggering, rapping Texan, a homebody who proved his mettle on the pitches of England and on the World Cup stage.

Never the golden boy, never the chosen one but also never afraid, no, USMNT legend Clint Dempsey was never afraid “to try shit.”

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All State All Stars Coming in 2019
All State All Stars Coming in 2019 avatar

Insurance company Allstate has recently introduced its first ever All America program intended to honor the best male and female High School soccer players in the United States.

Working with MaxPreps, described in Allstate’s press release as America’s source for High School sports, Allstate will identify the nation’s top high school soccer players in their junior year and award the “Allstate All-American” title to an elite group of 125 male and 125 female players. From the total 250 high school players, 40 males and 40 females wll be selected to compete in the inaugural Allstate All-America Cup at the 2019 MLS All-Star game next summer in Orlando.

Four celebrity head coaches will be named to lead the Allstate All-American Roster Selections who will be divided across two male teams and two female teams. The matches will be televised on ESPNU during 2019 MLS All-Star Week. Additionally, the Allstate All-American Roster Selections will be feted on the field during halftime of the 2019 MLS All-Star Game.

This will open up the opportunities for many more players. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

It should be quite an honor for the teens, while also giving needed exposure to the High School athletes who may have been overlooked because of USSF rules that forbid players from playing High School soccer if they wish to participate in the organizations higher profile Development Academy.

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It’s France!
It’s France! avatar

In a fitting end to a thrilling World Cup France defeated Croatia 4-2 Sunday night in Moscow in the highest scoring final since Brazil topped West Germany 3-2 all the way back in 1986.

The scoreline wasn’t a fair reflection of the game. (ISI Photos/ © France V Croatia/Hollandse-Hoogte via ZUMA Press)

But don’t let the two-goal victory fool you, as good as France was on Sunday, Croatia did not make it easy. Nothing was easy against Croatia at Russia ‘18. After cruising through group play with three wins from three matches and a 7-1 goal difference, Croatia battled through the K.O. rounds in extraordinary fashion advancing twice on penalty kicks before defeating England in Extra Time to set up Sunday’s showdown with the young French team.

No, it wouldn’t be easy for France, one of the pre-tournament favorites, but Les Bleus did get a couple of big calls in the first half that would shape this final. The first came when Antoine Griezmann hit the deck just outside the French penalty area to earn a highly disputed free kick. Griezmann then rubbed salt in the Croatian wound when he delivered a dangerous free kick that skipped off the head of Mario Mandzukic and past a stranded Danijel Subasic to put Croatia in a 1-0 hole in the 18th minute.

It was a tough break for the underdogs, who had been taking the game to the fancied French but true to form Croatia refused to sulk and were back on level terms within 10 minutes.

Ivan Perisic (R) soon got Croatia back level. (Credit Image: © Imago via ZUMA Press)

Ivan Perisic, the hero of Croatia’s 2-1 semi-final victory over England with a goal and an assist, was on target again when he fired a deflection aided blast past Hugo Lloris to equalize.

But Croatian resilience would be tested once again just 10 minutes later with France awarded a penalty via VAR for a handball on Perisic. Argentine referee Nestor Pitana did not call the infraction initially but was swayed by the replay.

Although Perisic clearly handled the ball reaction was divided with many loudly disputing the penalty decision. That VAR was involved only heightened the controversy but even without the technological aspect, the incident highlights the difficulty all officials face when calling a handball for a penalty.

Perisic’s hand was away from his body and moved toward the ball. Still, there is the question of intent.

Griezmann was cool and made it 2-1 for his team. (Credit Image: © Ulrik Pedersen/Cal Sport Media)

In any event, Griezmann cooly beat Subasic to send France to the locker room with a 2-1 lead.

Again Croatia responded well to adversity coming out on the restart determined to restore parity and dominating the opening exchanges before Paul Pogba struck for France against the run of play in the 59th minute.

Croatia was still reeling from Pogba’s strike when Kylian Mbappe made it 4-1 to France in the 65th minute. The goal by the precocious 19-year-old was the first by a teenager in a World Cup Final since the legendary Pele scored two versus Sweden in 1958, and a fitting capper to a brilliant World Cup by the rising star.

Hugo Lloris opened the door a crack when he inexplicably dawdled on the ball and allowed Mandzukic to halve the deficit but this hill was too big for even Croatia to climb.

For all the controversy, France were worthy winners. Manager Didier Deschamps captained France to its only other World Cup title in 1998 and he molded this young team into a disciplined unit without quenching the offensive threat of players like Mbappe, Griezmann, and Pogba.

France’s future is looking bright.(Credit Image: © Ulrik Pedersen/Cal Sport Media)

As Germany, Spain, and a few others can attest, nothing is guaranteed in soccer but with an average age of 25 years and nine months France is the second youngest team to have won a World Cup, (via ESPN FC) just one month older than Brazil 1970, so for now at least, the future of the world’s game looks bleu.

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It’s France Versus Croatia for the World Cup!
It’s France Versus Croatia for the World Cup! avatar

France defeated Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday night in a match that failed to consistently scale the hoped-for heights while Croatia bounced back after conceding a fifth-minute goal to top England 2-1 in Extra Time, the third consecutive match to go beyond the normally alloted 90 minutes for the indefatigable Croats.

France 1-0 vs. Belgium

France and Belgium emerged from the tougher side of the draw with the Belgians Golden Generation riding high following a defend a counter master class against Brazil in the quarterfinal.

France handled Uruguay 2-0, and the sense was that Les Blues had yet to scale the heights that they are capable of.

Mbappe tormented the Belgian defense. (ISI Photos/ © Imago via ZUMA Press)

That France punched its ticket to the World Cup Final with this feeling still in the air gives an indication of just how talented a group manager Didier Deschamps, who captained France to the 1998 World Cup title, has at his disposal.

Not to say that France did not play well on the day, they did with 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe tormenting the Belgian defense all match.

For Belgian boss Roberto Martinez some of the magic of his Brazil game plan seemed stale against France. Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli failed to replicate big performances as subs in the epic comeback versus Japan and as starters against Brazil. For Fellaini that can be taken quite literally given that the big Manchester United man was beaten by Samuel Umtiti for the game-winning header.

Chadli had a nightmare, with even a decent corner kick too much to ask- why did he continue to take them?- while Moussa Dembele was a turnover machine in the center of the pitch for Belgium.

Of course, France deserves huge credit for forcing this lesser effort from Belgium. With talents like Mbappe augmenting speed with vision and trickery, see those sublime backheels, N’Golo Kante disrupting play after play, and players like Antoine Griezmann, and Paul Pogba, this France side is loaded and go into Sunday’s final as firm favorites.

Croatia 2 England 1

While France are deserved favorites, Deschamps men would do well to avoid overconfidence against Croatia, whose 2-1 victory over England was a testament to the skill, the fitness, and the mentality of Sunday’s underdogs.

All of those traits were put to the test when England jumped out to an early lead via a fine free-kick from Kieran Trippier. England would dominate much of the first half but were unable to add that crucial second goal, with Harry Kane somehow missing on a glorious double effort from Danijel Subasic’s doorstep.

Modric’s creativity in the middle constantly challenged England.(ISI Photos/©Hoogte via ZUMA Press)

Having survived the opening 45′ Croatia took the game to England on the resumption. Croatia’s vaunted midfield, Luca Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and in particular Man of the Match Ivan Perisic, led the way.

It was Perisic that knotted the score in the 68th minute, getting his foot to a dangerous cross from fullback Sime Vrsaljko. With over 20 minutes to play Croatia seemed the likelier of the two sides to find a winner inside the 90 scheduled minutes but it was not to be, and extra time loomed.

Much pregame chatter had focused on England’s supposed fitness advantage, given the demands made on Croatia’s stamina by consecutive penalty kick “wins.” Instead, it was Croatia that found a winner with Mario Mandzukic finishing after ghosting in behind statuesque England defender John Stones to finish from Perisic’s flicked header in the 109th minute.

After the victory, Croatia’s captain Luca Modric called out the English media for doubting his team’s ability to last the pace, saying “All these words from them we take, we were reading and we were saying ‘OK, today we will see who will be tired.’ As I said, they should be more humble, and respect opponents more. That’s it.”

Favored or not, France would do well to heed Modric’s words.

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And Then There Were Four
And Then There Were Four avatar

After another thrilling set of matches Russia 2018 rolls on into the penultimate round with France, Belgium, England, and Croatia still standing.

France and England had the easiest time of it with Les Bleus topping a Uruguay side that dearly missed red-hot striker Edinson Cavani, while England swept aside toothless Sweden.

Fellaini was a force against Brazil. (Credit Image: © Imago via ZUMA Press)

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez sent his side out against Brazil in a new four back formation and handed starts to Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli after the pair’s heroics off the bench against Japan and it worked a charm in a 2-1 Belgium win.

And then there is Croatia versus Russia. The only one of the Quarterfinals matchups to go to penalty kicks saw the gifted Croatian side outlast the host nation in what became a match of attrition.

Russia jumped into a 1-0 lead just past the half-hour mark with a wonder strike from Denis Cheryshev, a man who began the World Cup on the bench and finished with four goals, level with Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku, and behind just Harry Kane, the English marksman whose total has benefitted from three penalties.

Croatia answered quickly, equalizing in the 39th minute as Andrej Kramaric headed home a perfect Mario Mandzukic cross.

Neither side could add to its tally inside 90 minutes but Russia looked to have gained a potential edge when Croatia’s talented and somehow underrated goalkeeper Danijel Subasic went down in pain with minutes remaining in regulation time and Croatia with no subs left to play until the one extra allowed in extra time.

Croatia won back to back penalty shootouts. (© Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press)

Subasic played on, looking laborious at times, but battling until his leg seemed to come around. Penalties are always a tough way to decide a team’s fate and so it was when Barcelona man Ivan Rakitic buried a no doubt peno leaving Russia broken hearted and Croatia exultant and one match from the nations first World Cup Final appearance.

England awaits in the semifinal, and it is an England team bent on banishing ghosts of World Cups past, a penalty kick success and a place in the semis for the first time since 1990 are signs that manager Gareth Southgate and his squad are doing just that.

English supporters were thrilled to see Croatia forced into extra time and penalty kicks in consecutive games and the sight of Subasic and Mandusic struggling with potential injuries versus Russia can only be interpreted as good news for England.

So too the fact that Croatia struggled versus Denmark and Russia, teams that this Croatia side should have handled with less drama.

Then again, Croatia became the first team to advance on back to back penalty shootouts, a sign that the star-studded Croats will not shrink from the big occasion.

France and Belgium face off in the other semifinal, although it makes little sense to attach the appellation “other” to a match between two of the most highly rated sides in the tournament, also the survivors of the much tougher side of the World Cup draw.

Griezmann was outstanding against Uruguay. (© Adam Davy/PA Wire via ZUMA Press)

France seems to be peaking, a scary proposition for not just Belgium but for any potential opponent in the Sunday’s World Cup Final. Against Uruguay, a difficult team to break down, France got on the board through a Raphael Varane header from an Antoine Griezman set-up.

Greizman added a second goal for Les Bleus when Fernando Muslera fumbled his shot over the line. A tremendous save by Hugo Lloris was required to keep the clean sheet, a reminder that France has appeared vulnerable defensively, at times throughout this World Cup.

But with weapons like Griezman, Kylian Mbappe, and Paul Pogba, Uruguay never looked liked advancing.

The stage is set, so who will advance to the World Cup Final?

The pick here is a Belgium vs Croatia World Cup Final.

Croatia’s midfield featuring Luca Modric and Ivan Rakitic backed by a solid defense, an outstanding goalkeeper in Subasic, assuming he is healthy, and led by forwards Mandzukic and Kramaric should just about shade it over England.

England were jubilant after their victory over Sweden. (© Ulrik Pedersen/Cal Sport Media)

This England team has received good performances from John Stones and Harry McGuire in front of keeper Jordan Pickford, who is doing his reputation no harm in this Cup. But Stones and Pickford seem less like sure things than their Croatian counterparts and Jordan Henderson figures to have trouble containing Croatia’s Modric led midfield, especially in England’s system which leaves the Liverpool man somewhat isolated in the center of the park.

Harry Kane can score at any time, of course, but Raheem Sterling’s scoring drought continues, so Croatia gets the nod.

France vs. Belgium is the Heavyweight title bout of the semis and the very difficult choice here is for Belgium’s Golden Generation to move on while the young French side marinates for another four years.

Belgium has shown tremendous heart to come back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Japan and unexpected versatility when Martinez scrapped the three back set that had served Belgium so well to frustrate and send home Neymar and Brazil.

Who do you think will make it to the final? (ISI Photos/Ben Queenborough)

France could make this prediction look silly if firing on all cylinders and the defense has more than enough talent to stifle Belgium but a pick must be made and the occasional French defensive frailty is the hook that I am hanging this pick on.

 

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After Sweet 16 It’s on to the Quarterfinals in Russia
After Sweet 16 It’s on to the Quarterfinals in Russia avatar

It was a Round of 16 that saw the World Cup leave the two greatest players of a generation behind as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo failed to lead Argentina and Portugal to the promised land in what may be a final chance for each.

Russian Keeper Igor Akinfeev was a man mountain against Spain(Credit Image: © Tereshchenko Mikhail/TASS via ZUMA Press)

Spain would soon follow after failing to fire in a somnambulant performance that led to a penalty kicks “loss” to Russia with the hosts thrilling a nation with a composed defensive performance and holding its nerve in the penalty kick phase.

Brazil dispatched Mexico 2-0, with El Tri bowing out at the Round of 16 for the seventh time in a row. A remarkable record of consistency that won’t cheer anyone involved with the sport in Mexico.

Brazil was led by a magnificent performance from its superstar Neymar, long expected to take over from Messi and Ronaldo at the very top of the game, although the PSG man’s penchant for embellishing contact has earned him as many detractors as admirers.

Croatia entered the KO round favored to go deep after impressing mightily in group play but found themselves trailing Denmark 1-0 in the game’s opening minute when Mathias Jorgensen scored off of a long throw.

Three minutes later Mario Mandzukic tied the game at one and neither side would register another score in the remaining 86 minutes of regular time and 30 minutes of extras. That seemed unlikely when Luka Modric stepped up the penalty spot with five minutes remaining in Extra Time but the Real Madrid star was denied for Croatia by Kasper Schmeichel, while his father Peter, AKA The Great Dane, exulted from the stands.

On to penalties then where Schmeichel the younger put on a show but in the end, it was Croatia’s number one Danijel Subasic who won the plaudits with the AS Monaco keeper propelling Croatia into the quarterfinals by saving Nicolai Jorgensen’s effort.

James’ injury kept him from playing against England. (Credit Image: © Columbia V England/Hollandse-Hoogte via ZUMA Press)

England survived a battering from a Colombia team that, minus its talisman James Rodriguez, offered little going forward relying on resolute defending to stay level until a 57th-minute penalty allowed Harry Kane to show off his proficiency from the spot yet again.

England looked as if they would advance to the quarters in regulation until goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was forced to concede a corner when he made an outstanding save on a thunderous long-range blast from Mateus Uribe.

When Yerry Mina rose to power home a header to tie the match it was as impressive as it was unsurprising, the goal being the third in three games for the Barcelona product.

In the run-up to this World Cup England coach Gareth Southgate has been pushing a “new” England narrative in an effort to liberate his squad from past failures. What better way then than for his charges to sever those ties to the bad old days but to prevail in penalty kicks, a longtime bugaboo for the English?

Jordan Pickford, deemed too short recently by Belgium and Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois, used his 6”1” frame to good effect in saving from Carlos Bacca after Uribe had rattled the crossbar setting the stage for Eric Dier to send England to a quarterfinal matchup with Sweden this Saturday.

With Edinson Cavani scoring twice and linking lethally up front with Luis Suarez Uruguay proved too much for Portugal, eliminating the Euro champions and ending what is likely Cristiano Ronaldo’s last chance at winning the sport’s greatest prize.

Uruguay thoroughly deserved their win. (Credit Image: © Imago via ZUMA Press)

Uruguayan hopes to build on this victory were, however, dealt a blow when Cavani limped off late in the match. As of now, the talented striker is uncertain for Saturday’ showdown with France.

And what of France? Les Bleus did what was necessary to advance out of group play without ever really taking flight. One goal wins over Australia and Peru plus a dull 0-0 draw versus Denmark did not deliver the dynamic play promised by the young French squad but fears that stage was too big for this collection of talent were allayed by a spectacular 4-3 win over Argentina and Lionel Messi.

19-year-old Kylian Mbappe left the veteran Argentine defense in tatters and his two goals only tell part of the story.

A 93rd-minute goal from Sergio Aguero made this match appear close. It wasn’t. France dominated but they will need to tighten up a bit at the back if this young generation is to fulfill its vast potential at this Mundial.

As good as France was though, the game of this World Cup came on Monday with red-hot favorites Belgium storming back to steal a 3-2 victory over everyone’s new World Cup darlings, Japan.

Japan outclassed Belgium for much of the game. (Credit Image: © Belgium V Japan/Hollandse-Hoogte via ZUMA Press)

The unfancied Japan side made Belgium’s Golden Generation look decidedly tarnished as they ran out to a 2-0 lead with a classy and brave performance. Japan’s refusal to bow to their so-called betters was rewarded in the 48th minute when lazy defending by Jan Vertongen was ruthlessly punished by Gene Haraguchi and followed quickly by a second Japan goal, this one by talented winger Tashi Inui, who tormented the Belgium defense all game.

With his back to the wall, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez turned to his bench and sprung Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli? It would be an understatement to say that Martinez’ moves were meant with less than unanimous support.

Twitter might not have approved but the comeback was soon on, sparked by a headed cross? shot? from Vertongen that landed in Japan’s goal in the 69th minute bringing with it a measure of redemption for Tottenham defender.

Fellaini, the oft-criticized Manchester United man, powered home a header five minutes later to level and set up a dramatic 94th-minute winner from fellow substitute Chadli.

It was breathtaking stuff and if it was a bit unfair on Japan it must be said that Japan showed some inexperience in sending so many players up for a corner kick that was caught by Courtois and turned into an exquisite counter-attacking winner for Belgium.

You’ve likely seen Courtois’ rolled pass to Kevin DeBruyne, the Manchester City man’s deftly played pass to Thomas Meunier, and Meunier’s crossed pass along the ground that led to the greatest dummy in soccer/football history, as Romelu Lukaku allowed the ball to continue into Chadli’s path, with the much-maligned Chadli finishing coolly.

If you haven’t, do it. If you have, give it another look.

For U.S. fans, certainly, the goal was reminiscent of Landon Donovan’s dramatic goal versus Algeria.

Belgian fans will be hoping that their golden generation will prove to be just that.(Credit Image: © Imago via ZUMA Press)

For Belgium, it is on to face Brazil. There has been much focus on Martinez’ three-back set and the trouble Japan’s speedy wingers caused that defense. Neymar and Willian are likely licking their lips at the thought.

Will Martinez tweak his trusted lineup to deal with the threat? We will find out on Saturday and I for one can’t wait.

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The World Cup Rolls on Without U.S.
The World Cup Rolls on Without U.S. avatar

Group play has concluded in Russia with 16 nations advancing to the World Cup Round of 16, which means, of course, that 16 more are going home.

The world cup (ISI Photos/Ben Queenborough)

We were all shocked, shocked! to see Germany leading the group that was sent packing after the opening round, despite the fact the two previous winners, Spain 2010, Italy, 2006, were eliminated at the same point as they attempted to defend their titles, while France, the 1998 winners also flopped in 2002.

10 of the 16 nations to advance come from Europe, four made their way to Russia from South America (CONMEBOL), and just 1 CONCACAF nation (Mexico) and one Asian country (Japan) emerged from group play, with Africa failing to advance a team to the knockout rounds for the first time since 1982.

VAR has been in the headlines with both the haters and proponents having multiple chances to say, aha! I was right. From my viewpoint, the system has worked well, with any problems coming from human error in implementing the technology.

The host nation, Russia started well, stumbled but advanced, Mexico did the same, though El Tri needed a San Zusi like moment with South Korea beating Germany to play the role of Graham Zusi, whose goal in 2013 sent Mexico to the World Cup the following year.

Which brings us around to the question of how American fans are taking this World Cup without our beloved USMNT?

Mexico were outstanding against Germany. (ISI Photos/Image: © Imago via ZUMA Press)

With Costa Rica eliminated and Panama humiliated, only Mexico moved onto the Round of 16, a far cry from Brazil ‘14 when the U.S. Mexico, and Costa Rica all advanced, with only Honduras failing to carry the CONCACAF banner into the KO rounds.

The USMNT and Mexico went no further but at least in Brazil, American fans could take a measure of regional pride in the Ticos exploits in reaching the quarterfinals, knowing that our boys had repped the red, white, and blue in decent fashion while taking comfort in the knowledge that the hated rivals to our south had gone no deeper in the tournament that had the U.S.

No such comfort exists for USMNT supporters at Russia ‘18, despite retired U.S. great turned corporate endorser Landon Donovan’s embrace of Mexico. No, if USMNT supporters were to adopt a chant for this World Cup, “I Believe That I Can’t Take It!” might replace 2014’s ubiquitous “I Believe That We Will Win!”

And any thought that the positive vibes emanating from the USMNT youth movement in a series of pre-World Cup friendlies would help heal the still fresh wound of the October Surprise versus Trinidad and Tobago were dashed as we watched Costa Rica, a team that beat the Americans by a combined score of 6-0 in the final round of World Cup Qualifiers, eliminated after failing to score even one goal in its first two matches., before ending its World Cup on something of a positive note with a 2-2 draw versus Switzerland.

England brushed Panama aside with a 6-1 thrashing. (ISI Photos/Imago via ZUMA Press)

And then there is Panama, the side that finished 32nd out 32 teams in Russia. Regardless of whether Jurgen Klinsmann or Bruce Arena was at the helm, U.S. fans must be feeling that the Americans should have found a way to finish above Panama in the Hexagonal.

And if we are tempted to give the World Cup debutante Canaleros at least a bit of a pass due to their tough opening schedule of Belgium followed by England, we should remember that four years back in Brazil the Yanks were just a Chris Wondolowski moon shot away from defeating Belgium and advancing to the quarters, while one Mundial previous in South Africa, the Americans drew with England, while topping the group.

But no, we know all too well that Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and even Honduras, who lost to Australia in a playoff that saw the Aussies qualify for this World Cup, all finished above the U.S. in World Cup Qualifiers, with Mexico undefeated and Costa Rica collecting just a single mark in the L column during the 10 match HEX.

So, if the swift elimination of two of our CONCACAF betters is a bitter pill, it must also serve as a harsh reminder to newly appointed General Manager Earnie Stewart and his as yet unnamed coach that there is yeoman’s work to be done to get the USMNT up to an acceptable standard, a standard that ensures that American soccer fans, and American soccer, is not on the outside looking in when the World Cup rolls onto Qatar in 2022.

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USMNT in Shock Draw vs. World Cup Faves France
USMNT in Shock Draw vs. World Cup Faves France avatar

When is a friendly more than just a friendly? Does USA 1- France 1 qualify? Does it help that the match was the final game for Les Bleus before the World Cup, a tournament that many are picking the French to win?

Dave Sarachan congratulates Julian Green the scorer of the opening goal. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Does it help that interim manager Dave Sarachan sent out a starting 11 that averaged 7.6 caps, including the France match, and that the group had an average age of 22 years, 183 days? Should we care that this was the second-youngest USMNT starting lineup in the modern era (1990-present), coming in behind the team that began the 3-0 win against Bolivia on May 28 in Philadelphia (22 years, 160 days)?*

Throw in the fact that this callow squad ruined France’s expected feel-good sendoff by refusing to play the role of sacrificial lambs in front of front of a boisterous crowd of 58,241 at Groupama Stadium in Lyon, France and yes, it feels like we must lend this result at least a little bit more credence than the usual friendly.

How much more, then? Dave Sarachan has finished his tenure as caretaker boss, and credit is due Bruce Arena’s longtime right-hand man for playing the youth when the safer option might have been to chase results with vets. Which is to say that these players have impressed a coach who will be gone and the new guy might bring in a whole new crop.

Still, this fresh-faced U.S. team can only benefit from this experience and while we will have to wait and see how many of this group can establish themselves in the national team, several made a case that General Manager Earnie Stewart’s selection for USMNT manager will at least have to consider.

Paul Pogba was almost on the scoring sheet. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

As to the match itself that next American coach will need to work on sharpening up his team’s passing. An early Julian Green giveaway nearly resulted in a Paul Pogba goal, and France dominated possession, leaving the U.S. gasping for air at the final whistle, and needing a pair of great, late saves by Zack Steffan to secure the draw.

Sarchan sent the team out in a five back set with Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and first-time starter Tim Parker as the center backs, and Antonee Robinson and another debuting starter Shaq Moore, as the wingbacks.

All five defended for their lives, though not without some shaky moments. The wingbacks used their individual speed to get forward on occasion and if Moore, in particular, lost his mark once or twice, the three middlemen covered ably, as did Erik Palmer-Brown when called on to replace a bloodied Miazga.

New York Red Bulls defender Parker showed an excellent ability to read the game and should have earned future national team looks.

Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, and Wil Trapp had a huge task against the talented French midfield and mostly stood up well to the challenge. McKennie is making it clear that he backs down to no one, Adams continues to cover acres of ground, this time in direct competition with N’Golo Kante, the Chelsea star Adams admits to patterning his game on, and Trapp worked hard in providing an outlet for his overworked defense.

With the possession arrow pointed firmly in France’s direction, nominal attackers Julian Green and Bobby Wood spent much time helping out in their own end, although Green took his goal chance well, capitalizing on a defensive error and a poor effort from Hugo Lorris in the French goal.

Wood and Moore set up the opportunity, although Wood finds his international and club career at crossroads as he works out whether to drop to the 2 Bundesliga with Hamburg or to move on.

Zack Steffen had a standout performance. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Finally, a word on the Man of the Match, U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffan. And that may be a phrase we all need to get used to. The Columbus Crew number one has always possessed the tools to follow in the tradition of Meola, Keller, Freidel, Howard, and Guzan, and when we look back on Saturday’s performance we may remember it as the day that Steffan officially joined that august fraternity.

So, more than a friendly? Yes. How much more? That will depend on how high the numbers inside the parentheses next to the players below can climb.

*Cap numbers of USMNT starting 11 vs France: Bobby Wood (39), Julian Green (10), Matt Miazga (7), Tyler Adams (6), Wil Trapp (5), Cameron Carter-Vickers (5), Weston McKennie (4), Zack Steffen (3), Shaq Moore (2), Tim Parker (2), Antonee Robinson (2)

*via US Soccer

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 0 1
FRA 0 1 1

USA – Julian Green 44th minute
FRA – Kylian Mbappé (Benjamin Pavard) 78

Lineups:
USA: 12-Zack Steffen; 18-Shaq Moore (2-DeAndre Yedlin, 74), 5-Cameron Carter-Vickers, 3-Matt Miazga (14-Erik Palmer-Brown, 57), 21-Tim Parker, 17-Antonee Robinson (19-Jorge Villafaña, 82); 4-Tyler Adams, 20-Wil Trapp (capt.), 6-Weston McKennie; 16-Julian Green (8-Joe Corona, 70), 7-Bobby Wood (13-Josh Sargent, 74)
Substitutes: 1-Bill Hamid, 11-Tim Weah, 15-Eric Lichaj, 23-Rubio Rubin
Head coach: Dave Sarachan

FRA: 1-Hugo Lloris (capt.); 22-Benjamin Mendy (21-Lucas Hernández, 66), 19-Djibril Sidibé (2-Benjamin Pavard, 74), 5-Samuel Umtiti, 4-Raphaël Varane; 13-N’Golo Kante, 14-Blaise Matuidi (12-Corentin Tolisso,58), 6-Paul Pogba; 9-Olivier Giroud (11-Ousmane Dembélé, 58), 7-Antoine Griezmann (18-Nabil Fekir, 69), 10-Kylian Mbappé (8-Thomas Lemar, 87)
Substitutes: 23-Alphonse Areola, 16-Steve Mandanda, 3-Presnel Kimpembe, 15-Steve Nzozi, 17-Adil Rami, 20-Florian Thauvin
Head coach: Didier Deschamps

Stats Summary: USA / FRA
Shots: 2 / 19
Shots on Goal: 1 / 8
Saves: 7 / 0
Corner Kicks: 9 / 2
Fouls: 4 / 14
Offside: 0 / 4

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Shaq Moore (caution) 68th minute
USA – Weston McKennie (caution) 79

 

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NWSL Roundup
NWSL Roundup avatar

This week’s NWSL Roundup brings us from last Friday, through the weekend and all the way around to a pair of Wednesday night games.

Three teams played twice during this extended window, with the North Carolina Courage continuing it’s perfect run with a pair of victories while the Chicago Red Stars kept pace with two wins of their own and the Seattle Reign split a pair, including a 1-0 midweek loss to the Courage.

But even with all of that happening the biggest news of this edition of the NWSL Roundup may have taken place Friday night in Utah where the Royals drew a sellout crowd of 19,203 to Rio Tinto Stadium for the club’s first ever home match in Sandy, Utah.

Utah Royals 0-1 vs Chicago Red Stars

Chicago won the match on a superb long-range blast from Danielle Colaprico but the story of the day, the story of the week, was the crowd, a crowd that outdrew MLS matches hosted by Philadelphia, New York Red Bulls, Colorado Rapids, DC United, New England Revolution, San Jose Earthquakes, and Sporting Kansas City.

Danielle Colaprico scored the winner. (ISI Photos/Daniel Bartel)

Congratulations to the Utah Royals, now we have to see how close the Royals supporters can come to maintaining that level of interest.

Washington Spirit 2-4 vs North Carolina Courage
North Carolina Courage 1-0 vs Seattle Reign

The North Carolina Courage to continued to roll right through its NWSL opposition with a high scoring away win over the Spirit on Saturday before returning to Cary to grind out a nail-biter over the Reign Wednesday evening.

McCall Zerboni celebrating her goal with her teammates. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Jessica McDonald tallied the lone goal of the match in the 70th minute and it would be enough to keep the Courage perfect at 5-0-0. It was a far more freewheeling affair when the Courage visited the Spirit, where backed by a pair of goals from McCall Zerboni and one each from Crystal Dunn and Lynn Williams, the Courage bested the Spirit despite strikes from Mallory Pugh and Francisca Ordega.

Sky Blue FC 0-1 vs Seattle Reign

The week began on an up note for the Reign with a 1-0 road win over New Jersey, secured by a penalty kick goal from Megan Rapinoe. Pinoe stuck early when a fifth-minute handball gave Seattle an early break on a wet and windy day in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Rapinoe scored from the spot. (ISI Photos/Howard C. Smith)

The goal would hold up for Seattle but the victory would come at a price when Rapinoe left the pitch in the 57th minute with a hamstring strain that forced the USWNT star to missed Wednesday’s showdown versus league-leading North Carolina.

Actually, the Pinoe Effect was felt sooner than that by the Reign when Jodie Taylor’s pk was saved by Sky Blue keeper Kaelin Sheridan in the 86th minute, a peno that Rapinoe would no do doubt have taken if she were she still on the pitch.

Portland Thorns 2-1 vs Orlando Pride

It was homecoming day for the 2017 NWSL Champion Portland Thorns and the champs weren’t about to let a bit of rain ruin their day, sending the 16,466 fans that attended home happy after a 2-1 comeback victory over winless Orlando.

The Pride stuck first when Chioma Ubogagu finished superbly from a fine set up from Christine Nairn after Nairn intercepted a quickly taken Portland free kick in the 20th minute.

Sinclair continues to shine. (ISI Photos/Al Sermeno)

The lead would last just eight minutes, however, thanks to Lindsey Horan who started and finished a Thorns attack with a strong run at the Pride defense before kissing a long-range effort in off of the post on a final pass from Christine Sinclair.

The Portland stars reversed roles in the 39th minute when Horan teed up Sinclair for the Canadian legends league-leading third goal of the season, which was also the game-winner.

Chicago Red Stars 3-0 vs Houston Dash

Chicago opened the NWSL week with that 1-0 win in Utah and bookended that victory with a 3-0 triumph at home versus the Houston Dash.

The atmosphere at Toyota Park offered a stark contrast to the Red Stars win in Utah with this match played on a frigid, snowy night in Bridgeview, Illinois in front of just over 2,000 brave fans while over 19,000 supporters were on hand to mark the Royals debut in Utah.

Lauren Kaskie scored her first NWSL goal. (ISI Photos/Daniel Bartel)

As for the action, the Dash was in the hole early when an attempted clearance by Kristie Mewis ended up in the Houston goal just seven minutes into the match. Chicago extended that lead on a rebounded effort from Lauren Kaskie just four minutes later. Congratulations to Kaskie, the goal was the first of her NWSL for the second year player.

Those two early goals would be too much for the Dash to recover from and Sofia Huerta made sure of that with a headed goal 16 minutes from time.

The loss is the first for Houston, who opened the season with back to back draws, while the Red Stars improved to 2-1-1, good for second in the league at this early stage.

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

It was another big week in Major League Soccer with stadium news, CCL happenings, and oh, some league action, too.

1) Stadium News – Cincinnati FC

FC Cincinnati currently play at the Nippert Stadium. (ISI Photos/Garig Bertram)

FC Cincinnati is one step closer to reality now that the Cincinnati City Council has voted to approve a stadium for the club, which hopes to join Nashville as the newest MLS expansion teams.

2) Stadium News – NYCFC

Even stadium location rumors have been hard to come by for New York City FC but website YIMBY has created a stir with its report that the first place club has a lead on a South Bronx location not too far from the team’s current Yankee Stadium home.

NYC FC’s stadium news is hard to come by. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

The stadium would be built as part of a larger project that features affordable housing. No official word has come down from the city or the club so it is too soon to know just how real this is. But hey, we’re talking New York City real estate, how hard could it be?

3) Cascadia Rising?!

It has been a tough start to the season for the American members of the Cascadia MLS group but things are looking up for soccer-loving habitues of the Pacific Northwest with the Portland Timbers picking up its first win of the year, while the Seattle Sounders registered its first point.

Giovanni Bavarese will be pleased with his teams results. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Portland and new coach Giovanni Savarese will be happy to finally end the drought after topping Minnesota 3-2 at Providence Park. Seattle had to settle for a 2-2 draw after traveling to Kansas to face Sporting KC but the defeated 2017 MLS Cup Finalist will hope to build on this point after opening the season goalless through the first three matches before Sunday’s two-goal outburst.

4) Lineup Change Sparks Red Bulls

No doubt still smarting from last week’s CCL elimination at the hands of Tijuana the New York Red Bulls bounced back to topple the Montreal Impact by a 3-1 scoreline. Over 180 minutes of CCL semifinal play RBNY failed to score versus the Goats, going out of the regional Champions League 1-0.

Last week I wrote this regarding New York’s lack of attack and coach Jesse Marsch’s lineup choices: “Over 180 minutes versus Chivas the Red Bulls boss could find just 32 minutes for Alejandro Romero Gamarra, AKA Kaku.

Kaku was the difference.(ISI Photos/Howard Smith)

When the Red Bulls sent Sacha Kljestan packing to Orlando in the off-season the question became who would be New York’s playmaker. The answer looked to be Kaku but with Gamarra on the bench for most of this two-leg set the Red Bulls could merely huff and puff, they could not blow Rodolfo Cota’s door down.”

Marsch made just one change versus the Impact but that change got Kaku on the pitch and quickly paid dividends with the 23-year-old Argentine scoring his first MLS goal in a good Red Bulls performance in front of a concerningly small crowd at Red Bull Arena.

Afterward, Marsch indicated that the shackles were now off of Gamarra, a decision that may have come a week too late for the Red Bulls CCL dreams.

5) TFC Lose to Chivas – At Home!

Last Tuesday night, after the Red Bulls elimination by Tijuana, Toronto FC kept the MLS flag flying with a 1-1 draw that gave TFC a 4-2 aggregate win over Club America, the defending Mexican champions, and a place in the CCL Final.

Toronto’s defeat of America, considered a significantly better club than Tijuana, had Toronto and MLS hopes high, making Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Goats all the more disappointing for MLS boosters.

Jonathan Osorio scored an 19th minute equalizer. (ISI Photos/Andy Mead)

Toronto was stunned by a goal in the second minute from Rodolfo Pizarro but the MLS champs fought back when Jonathan Osorio added to his list of CCL heroics with a 19th-minute equalizer

But Toronto was victimized in the 72nd minute by either a brilliant free kick by Alan Pulido or a fortunate mishit by the Tijuana star. Either way, TFC is in trouble heading into the second and deciding leg of this tie Guadalajara next Wednesday in Guadalajara having surrendered two away goals.

Bonus – This Week in ZLATAN!

After a quiet second week in MLS, Zlatan Ibrahimovic bounced back with a week that returned the superstar to all caps, exclamation point status.

Here’s how ZLATAN! Did it.

In his first MLS start Zlatan! led the Galaxy to a 1-0 victory over Chicago in front of a full house at Toyota Park, not an everyday occurrence.

Then, just for fun ZLATAN! threatened to break google translate when he tweeted this:

Skyhöga apparently means sky high, which would seem to indicate a World Cup comeback for the retired Swede.

And then to cap things off ZLATAN! became a rare soccer star to crossover into the American mainstream with a charmingly egotistic appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

What did you do this week?

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

DC United – Don’t Use the “B” Word

It may be only half a BILLION, but still. The $500 million figure is the valuation said to be fixed on the MLS original franchise in the process that, according to a Bloomberg report, will see Erick Thohir sell his majority staked to partner Jason Levien with L.A. based billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong coming on board as a DC United investor.

Thohir and Levien. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

That number also includes a brand new soccer stadium in Washington D.C. and the number itself may not hold up to scrutiny, still, it is eye-catching.

Other investors may yet join the DC United group, Thohir may remain in some capacity, and details are scarce at this time, so we will keep an eye out on further developments in the coming days and weeks.

2) Josef Martinez: Goal Machine

Last year in his MLS debut season Martinez made a shambles of defenses across the league, scoring 19 goals in 20 games, making the now 24-year-old Venezuelan the easy pre-season consensus pick for MLS Golden Boot 2018; if he can stay healthy.

Josef Martinez has continued where he left off. (ISI Photos/Perry McIntyre)

Well, so far so good on both counts with a weekend brace giving the gifted poacher five goals to put Martinez atop the MLS Leader Board level with Felipe Gutierrez of Sporting KC and all alone in the MLS record books with a remarkable total of 24 goals from 25 games across his one season plus in Major League Soccer.

3) VAR – What is it good for?

Absolutely Nuthin, some would say. For others, the Video Assistant Referee can be a game saver. Once again this week in MLS VAR made itself known.

Here are a few examples. Winless Portland failed to pick up its first W of the season having traveled across the country to Orlando only to drop a 3-2 thriller in which VAR played a role in the outcome.

Is VAR good for the game? (ISI Photos/Bill Barrett)

On the plus side, VAR got it right correcting a no call by the referee and awarding Portland a pk after Sebastian Blanco was fouled in the 20th minute. Blanco had initially been given a second yellow card on the play, which was rescinded. So, Portland took a 1-0 lead and continued with a full complement of players.

VAR was not called on when a slight breeze knocked Dom Dwyer to the turf in the 82nd minute allowing referee Baldomero Toledo’s incorrect call to stand.

VAR also saw plenty of action in Atlanta’s 5-0 win over the LAFC, reversing a first-minute red card on Chris McCann for a hellacious, red card worthy, tackle on Benny Feilhaber.

But VAR got it right later in the match when the referee’s helper narced on Walker Zimmerman when the LA defender appeared to have escaped punishment for taking Miguel Almiron down in the penalty area.

4) zlatan

Last week it was all capitals and exclamation points, we even had an all ZLATAN! Big – 5 but today normal service is resumed and in the wake of the Galaxy’s 2-0 loss at Kansas City, Ibrahimovic and the L.A. Galaxy are merely item number four in GotSoccer’s weekly league-wide roundup.

Zlatan had a pretty quiet game and some credit should go to Kansas. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

First place Sporting KC get the credit for derailing the ZLATAN! Hype train after last week’s spectacular debut versus the Galaxy’s fellow Los Angelenos, LAFC.

Ibrahimovic had a few dangerous moments, including a couple of long-range bombs, once he entered the fray in the 62nd minute with LA trailing 2-0 but Tim Melia and the SKC defense stood strong to improve to 4-1-1.

5) CCL Fever

Tuesday night at 8:00 the New York Red Bulls host Chivas Guadalajara in Harrison, New Jersey trailing 1-0 after the first leg in Mexico. Then in the nightcap, Toronto will try to make a 3-1 lead over Club America stand up at Estadio Azteca.

It will be tense and there will be blood, meaning bad blood, not spilled blood.

MLS have high hopes of getting at least one team into the CCL Final, Liga MX would like to maintain its traditional dominance.

CCL Fever – Catch it!

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Toronto Advance to CCL Final as Red Bulls Fall
Toronto Advance to CCL Final as Red Bulls Fall avatar

Harrison, N.J. – For 23 years it has been the same old story for the New York Red Bulls and on Tuesday night that tale saw the Major League Soccer originals fall short of their goal yet again. This time that goal was a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League Final and following this latest disappointment team captain Luis Robles admitted that it is more than a little frustrating.

“It’s very old,” Robles told the post-game press throng. In his usual straightforward manner, the Red Bulls keeper took us into the locker room to relay a conversation with fellow veteran Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Robles is trying to figure out how to get over the hump. (ISI Photos/Howard Smith)

“Brad sits next to me, and he’s sat next to me since 2013, and tonight he just says, ‘hey we’ve got to stop having this feeling’. “We’re sitting here,” Robles continued, “trying to figure out how to get over the hump.”

MLS has had trouble getting over the CCL hump, never having won the competition since the format was changed 10 years ago.

Last night Toronto FC took a step toward getting over that hump, knocking off Club America by a 4-2 aggregate score after securing a 1-1 tie at the fabled Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

Toronto booked a date in the CCL Final despite losing striker Jozy Altidore to injury after just seven minutes on Tuesday night, with the U.S. international joining Victor Vasquez, Justin Morrow, and Chris Mavinga on Toronto’s already overflowing injured list.

TFC rode a 12th-minute goal from Jonathan Osorio, responding in the best possible fashion to losing their power forward. Led by a stellar performance by aspiring USMNT goalkeeper Alex Bono the Reds kept America off of the scoreboard until Andres Uribe converted a stoppage-time penalty kick for America.

But while Toronto moves on to the CCL Championship match New York is left to ponder how they could dominate Chivas to a tune of 20 shots to one without scoring even once. Tuesday’s 0-0 draw, when taken alongside along last weeks’ 1-0 loss, raises questions that found no answers in last night’s post-mortems.

Marsch’s selections leave some questions.  (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

One possibility? Coach Jesse Marsch’s lineup choices. Over 180 minutes versus Chivas the Red Bulls boss could find just 32 minutes for Alejandro Romero Gamarra, AKA Kaku.

When the Red Bulls sent Sacha Kljestan packing to Orlando in the off-season the question became who would be New York’s playmaker. The answer looked to be Kaku but with Gamarra on the bench for most of this two-leg set the Red Bulls could merely huff and puff, they could not blow Rodolfo Cota’s door down.

Meanwhile, Bradley Wright-Phillips was used in a new role, as yep, a playmaker. Marsch has made a point of noting more than once this season that BWP is more than just a goal scorer, saying this last night: “Yeah, we were playing him almost like either like an underneath striker or like a No. 10, and when they go man-to-man, you know, then when his back is to goal, it’s hard for him to get away and find space.

So by putting another striker up there and having him float a little bit more underneath, he can catch balls, be facing the goal a little bit more, helping to put combinations and plays together, and then you know, the goal was also to have him joining in late for crosses, for balls in the box.

So yeah, it was overall, Brad’s a much better footballer than most people will give him credit for. There will days where we can do that, where we can almost use him as a second striker or an underneath striker or a No. 10.”

It sounds good in theory but here is an alternate theory. When your team scores zero goals over 180 minutes, and when your team dominates like the Red Bulls dominated Chivas on Tuesday night, perhaps it might have been better to have played your club’s all-time leading goal scorer as close to your opponent’s goal as possible while leaving the playmaking duties to someone else.

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