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.


Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

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

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


Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

USWNT Beat Mexico in a Sloppy Thriller
USWNT Beat Mexico in a Sloppy Thriller avatar

After last week’s facile 4-1 victory over Mexico in Jacksonville, Florida more of the same was expected when the USWNT faced off against the same opponent Sunday afternoon in Houston.

Pugh scored the opener. (ISI Photos/ Wilf Thorne)

That prediction seemed right on the mark when Cecilia Santiago denied Carli Lloyd her 100th U.S. goal in the opening minute of the match and we certainly seemed headed for a U.S. rout two minutes later when Mallory Pugh effortlessly rounded Santiago after receiving a pinpoint pass from Megan Rapinoe to give the home side an early lead.

But despite the eventual 6-2 USWNT win this was far from easy, so let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Sunday’s USWNT performance.

The Good

Carli Lloyd eventually did score her 100th career international goal, just the sixth U.S. player to reach the century mark. Congratulations.

Morgan scored her second brace in a row. (ISI Photos/Roy K. Miller)

Alex Morgan scored her second consecutive brace against Mexico, and also chipped in with an assist, 19-year-old Mal Pugh scored her fifth goal of 2018, joint leader with Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe scored one goal and assisted on four. Impressive.

The U.S. also showed composure to come back from a rare deficit when they fell behind Mexico 2-1 in the 24th minute. A loaded attack featuring Morgan, Pugh, Rapinoe, Lloyd, and Lindsey Horan will scare any country the U.S. faces but the brings us to …

The Bad

Campbell looked vulnerable in goal at times. (ISI Photos/Wilf Thorne)

There have been calls from many quarters, this one included, for coach Jill Ellis to open up the goalkeeping competition, so on Sunday Ellis handed Houston Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell her first international start. It did not go well…

The Ugly

With the Americans leading 1-0 Monica Ocampo leveled the match when she scored directly from a corner kick, a rare Olimpico. Stationed at the near post Crystal Dunn fanned on Ocampo’s swerving inswinger and with Campbell inexplicably standing a step or two behind her own goal line the ball skipped into the U.S. goal for the Mexican equalizer.

One could put that goal down to bad luck, except that it happened again. No, not another Olimpico but a second goal from a corner kick that featured shoddy defense and less than dominant goalkeeping.

Kiana Palacios celebrating her goal against the U.S. (ISI Photos/Wilf Thorne)

Mexico went ahead of the U.S. 2-1 in the 24th minute when Ocampo swung another dangerous ball into the U.S. goalmouth. Campbell was unable to fight through the crowd between her and the ball, ending up on the ground as Kiana Palacios slipped in between Becky Sauerbrunn and Morgan Brian to head home untouched from approximately one yard.

Campbell is a good keeper and may well bounce back from this, and set pieces can be fixed through repetition but as for the goalkeeper competition, it should be the turn of Adrianna Franch to challenge Alyssa Naeher.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

NWSL Roundup
NWSL Roundup avatar

Do you like goals? Yes? Well then, this past weekend was not the one for you in NWSL action. On the other hand, if you are from the defense win championships school you will have been thrilled with a slate of games featuring three shutouts from four matches.

As always home teams first.

Houston Dash 0-0 vs Utah Royals

In a sign of things to come Houston hosted Utah on Friday night to kick off the NWSL weekend with a match that left the scoreboard operators entirely untroubled. With five saves Dash keeper Jane Campbell had a little something to do with that while the visiting Royals never managed a shot on April Smith’s goal.

Jane Campbell kept a clean sheet for her team. (ISI Photos/Wilf Thorne)

The tie was the second in as many games for each of the teams leaving the clubs level with two points apiece in fifth and sixth place in the league standings.

North Carolina Courage 1-0 vs Sky Blue

Despite an overwhelming 23 to 3 advantage in shots taken the North Carolina Courage had to wait for a 92nd minute tally from substitute Jessica McDonald to claim a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Sky Blue FC.

McDonald got the game winner. (ISI Photos/Grant Halverson)

McDonald ran onto an exquisite through ball from Jaelene Hinkle to beat the Sky Blue defense before using the cool that has earned her 36 career NWSL goals to round Kailen Sheridan to set up a composed finish.

The game was the first of the season for Sky Blue as well as the NWSL coaching debut for the New Jersey outfit’s new boss Denise Reddy. Reddy will have been pleased with the play of another Sky Blue debutante, Carli Lloyd, with the USWNT superstar giving a good account of herself at the first time of the asking for her home state club.

The Courage move to 2-0-0 in the early days of the 2018 season, notching a second consecutive clean sheet in the process.

Washington Spirit 2-0 vs Orlando Pride

It took a while but the Washington Spirit eventually located their shooting boots as a pair of late goals from Mal Pugh (80’) and Ashley Hatch (88’) proved too much for the depleted Orlando Pride Saturday in Orlando.

Pugh scored the opener and winner. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

The Pride was minus its dynamic duo with both Marta (international duty) and Alex Morgan (concussion protocol) missing out and those losses would unsurprising prove to be too much for Tom Sermanni’s side to overcome.

The win is the first of the young season for the Spirit, who move to 1-1-0 while the Pride remains winless after a draw in the season opener.

Chicago Red Stars 2 -3 vs Portland Thorns

With several players missing for both teams and with the Thorns minus suspended coach Mark Parsons, Portland edged Chicago in the second game of a Toyota Park doubleheader that saw the MLS representatives of the same cities draw 2-2 in the opener.

Sinclair was once again involved in her teams victory. (ISI Photos/Robin Alam)

In what proved a lively finish to the NWSL weekend a brace by Canadian superstar Christine Sinclair was matched by one from the Red Stars Alyssa Mautz with the difference in this match turning out to be a ninth-minute strike from Portland’s USWNT star Lindsey Horan.

The five goals in the match were two more than the rest of the league combined.

Parsons was suspended by the league for two games for confronting an official following the team’s opening 1-0 loss to North Carolina. It means that, pending appeal, the coach will miss out on Portland’s home opener April 15 versus Orlando.

Chicago travels to Utah for an April 14 matchup with the Utah Royals, the NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime.

The NWSL is on international break until April 14.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

USWNT Cruise to Win Over Mexico
USWNT Cruise to Win Over Mexico avatar

It was all too easy for the USWNT Thursday night in Jacksonville, Florida in a facile 4-1 win over Mexico, a match that served primarily to highlight the vast drop in quality between the Americans CONCACAF opposition and the tougher foes the defending World Cup champions can expect to face next year in France 2019.

Morgan scored a brace. (ISI Photos/Roy K. Miller)

The Americans came out of the blocks quickly at EverBank Field pressuring Mexico into an early mistake that led to a U.S. goal in the sixth minute. 19-year-old center back Tierna Davidson, still playing for Stanford University, started the play when she intercepted an errant pass and quickly found Alex Morgan. Morgan’s through ball to Megan Rapinoe was centered to Mallory Pugh for the easy tap-in and the Americans were on their way.

Despite U.S. domination, Mexico kept the score to 1-0 at the half but there was no holding the home team on the resumption. Alex Morgan kicked off the rout when she earned and then converted a penalty kick in the 51st minute. Morgan added another just two minutes later to claim seventh place on the USA’s all-time goal-scoring list. Tonight’s goals were numbers nine and 10 for Morgan in her last 12 national team games.

Coach Jill Ellis continued the Crystal Dunn at left back experiment while continuing to slot Davidson in alongside Abby Dahlkemper at center back in place of team co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn who made her long-awaited return in the 77th minute in place of Mal Pugh.

These two sides meet again Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium, in Houston, Texas.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 3 4
DEN 0 1 1

USA – Mallory Pugh (Megan Rapinoe) 6th minute
USA – Alex Morgan (penalty kick) 51
USA – Alex Morgan (Lindsey Horan) 53
USA – Carli Lloyd (Lindsey Horan) 54
MEX – Katie Johnson (Ariana Calderón) 64

USA: 1-Alyssa Naeher; 16-Emily Sonnett, 7-Abby Dahlkemper, 17-Tierna Davidson, 19-Crystal Dunn; 3-Andi Sullivan (10-Carli Lloyd, 53), 6-Morgan Brian (20-Allie Long, 71), 9-Lindsey Horan; 11-Mallory Pugh (4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 77), 13-Alex Morgan (capt.) (22-Ashley Hatch, 80), 15-Megan Rapinoe (21-Savannah McCaskill, 71)
Substitutes: 18-Jane Campbell, 25-Hailie Mace
Head coach: Jill Ellis

MEX: 1-Bianca Henninger; 2-Kenti Robles, 13-Annia Mejía (23-Christina Murillo, 57), 3-Bianca Sierra, 5-Mónica Flores (22-Greta Espinoza, 46); 7-Cristina Ferral (8-Ariana Calderón, 46), 6-Karla Nieto (4-Vanessa Flores, 78), 19-Katie Johnson (21-Renae Cuéllar,76); 11-Mónica Ocampo (capt.) (17-María Sánchez, 76), 10-Stephany Mayor, 18-Kiana Palacios
Substitutes: 9-Anisa Guajardo, 12-Cecilia Santiago,14-Jocelyn Orejel, 16-Marcela Valera
Head coach: Roberto Medina

Stats Summary: USA / MEX
Shots: 20 / 9
Shots on Goal: 6 / 1
Saves: 1 / 4
Corner Kicks: 3 / 4
Fouls: 7 / 10
Offside: 4 / 0

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

CCL Fever – Catch It! Toronto Win – Red Bulls Lose
CCL Fever – Catch It! Toronto Win – Red Bulls Lose avatar

Major League Soccer went one for two in the first leg of this week’s CONCACAF Champion League (CCL) semifinals with Toronto FC topping Club America 3-1 in a battle of league champions Tuesday night in Canada before the New York Red Bulls fell 1-0 on the road Wednesday evening to Chivas de Guadalajara.

Neither result guarantees anything; even Toronto’s two-goal lead may not be enough when they kick off at fortress Estadio Azteca in round two while the Red Bulls may rue their inability to score at least one away goal when they host The Goats in the first game of next Tuesday’s CCL program.

Chris Mavinga was missing from squad. (ISI Photos/Andy Mead)

Toronto showed impressive resolve and depth in defeating Club America despite playing without regulars Victor Vasquez, Chris Mavinga, and Justin Morrow. Depth has long been cited as a reason that MLS clubs are unable to compete successfully with Liga MX sides in this competition, so Toronto rightly earned many plaudits for Tuesday’s win.

TFC opened the scoring when Sebastian Giovinco earned and then converted a penalty kick in the ninth minute. Andres Ibarguen leveled at the 21-minute mark but Jozy Altidore (44’) and Ashtone Morgan (58’) padded the TFC lead to secure a first leg victory, unfortunately an incident in the increasingly notorious BMO Field Tunnel and Club America coach Miguel Herrera’s reaction to that incident has cast a shadow over the match.

In a wild post-game press conference televised live on Univision Deportes “Pojo” accused members of the Toronto Police Department of physically attacking three of his players.

Here is a sample of the remarks from the controversial former Mexican national team coach.

“In my opinion, if the police are going to be in the tunnel area it should be to separate players, not to hit them. A CONCACAF staffer was present there and saw everything so I hope they report it.”

Toronto coach Greg Vanney saw things differently, telling “One of their coaches took exception to, I think, the PK, was having a go at Sebastian, and Sebastian kept walking and Johnny [Osorio] stepped in between the assistant coach and Sebastian. I told the coach and the head coach that his coach shouldn’t be talking to our players, he needs to keep moving. And the next thing was an elbow from said coach – [the] assistant coach who was talking – into Johnny’s nose. And if you want to see Johnny’s nose, you can take a picture of it if you want. And then it escalated from there.”

Osorio confirmed Vanney’s version of events to the Toronto Sun:

So, it should be more than a little interesting in Mexico City next Tuesday.

The Red Bulls 1-0 loss to Chivas de Guadalajara wasn’t quite as crazy, but hey, this is Concacaf, so there was still a little bit of madness to it.

How was this game crazy? Let us count the ways.

1)The Red Bulls conceded in the 26th minute on a turnover from 19-year-old rising club and USMNT star Tyler Adams.

2) RBNY goal-scoring ace Bradley Wright-Phillips, on fire this year in the CCL and MLS, missed a breakaway chance in the 79th minute.

3) New York played a man down from the 73rd minute when veteran defender Aurelien Collin foolishly left his leg in despite playing with an earlier caution.

4) The referee missed a blatant handball in the 60th minute when Chivas’ Carlos Cisneros handled in the box with his arm extended well away from his body.

5) After Adams was fouled a melee ensued during which Jair Pereira, henceforth known to be referred to as “the Chivas Strangler” grabbed Red Bulls midfielder Sean Davis firmly around the throat while already playing with a yellow card.

But for sheer gall, my favorite part of this incident was that when Pereira finally released Davis’ throat from his grip the Chivas man directed a schoolmarm like finger-wag at the referee or perhaps his opponents as if to say, “No, no! there is nothing to see here!”

Yep, Tuesday night should be fun in the Concacaf Champions League. CCL Fever – Catch it!

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

MLS – Big 5: Special All ZLATAN! Edition
MLS – Big 5: Special All ZLATAN! Edition avatar

Major League Soccer ran a full schedule of games this weekend beginning on Friday night with the defending champions Toronto winning its first league match of the season. Vancouver handed Columbus its first loss of the campaign, 10 man Atlanta won in frigid Minnesota, NYCFC won to go top of the East despite the late withdrawal of David Villa.

So, lots of good games and exciting moments but all pales in the wake of ZLATAN! And so, in a first for GotSoccer’s MLS Big – 5, this week’s edition is all devoted to one man, one lion, the one called ZLATAN!

1) Making Bragging Fun Again

“It Ain’t Braggin’ if you Can Do It.” Dizzy Dean, baseball Hall of Famer. “I am the Greatest.” Muhammed Ali. Reggie Jackson upon joining the New York Yankees in 1977. “I didn’t come to New York to be a star, I brought my star with me.”

“They chanted ‘We want Zlatan.’ So I gave them Zlatan,” ZLATAN! to Fox following his MLS debut.

On Saturday the man who announced his decision to leave Manchester United and join the Los Angeles Galaxy with an image of himself as Jesus arm wrestling the Devil and a full-page ad in the L.A. Times that said simply, “Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome” joined the pantheon of legendary U.S. Sports Braggarts when he scored two goals in his MLS debut to defeat LAFC in the first meeting between the neighboring teams.

2) The Man Knows How to Make an Entrance

ZLATAN! does not wait around, he does not settle in, he simply gets right down to it. Known for scoring on his debut at previous stops in his illustrious career, Saturday’s effort is part of a pattern that includes goals in his first game in the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Champions League.

So we shouldn’t really have been surprised that ZLATAN! suited up just nine days after signing with the Galaxy or that he scored just six minutes after entering the match on Saturday.

3) Audacious

It wouldn’t do for ZLATAN! to debut with a tap-in. No, the man who calls himself The Lion had to do something special for his introduction to Tinseltown, like maybe an almost 40-yard blast that leaves the keeper scrambling and clawing at the air helpless to keep the mighty strike from ZLATAN! out of his net?!

4) The Equalizer and then the Winner!

With ZLATAN! sitting on the bench the Galaxy trailed newcomers LAFC 3-0 and then 3-1 when Sebastian Lletget gave the Galaxy a glimmer of hope in the 61st minute. Chris Pontius made it 3-2 two minutes after ZLATAN! entered the fray.

Then ZLATAN! took over, scoring that stunning equalizer before rising majestically above the LAFC defense to power home the winning header in stoppage time, sending the StubHub crowd into a frenzy and damn near breaking American soccer twitter into the bargain.

5) Game Winner Looked Offside but…

As the hysteria surrounding ZLATAN’S! match winner subsided dissenting voice began to appear on Twitter noting that ZLATAN! looked to have been offside on the goal. Replays were produced which seemed to offer confirmation.

Then a different video emerged that seemed to show that the goal was good. Of course, it was. This was, after all, ZLATAN!

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

NWSL Roundup – Season Opening Edition
NWSL Roundup – Season Opening Edition avatar

A long, difficult off-season finally came to its natural conclusion this weekend as the NWSL regular season began with a full slate of just four games.

Forgotten for at least one day, perhaps, was a close season scarred by the dissolution of the Boston Breakers franchise with no new expansion franchises coming online to take Boston’s place.

Amanda Duffy still remains the face of the league.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The league still has not landed a commissioner, although General Manager Amanda Duffy remains the public face of the league in much the same way a commissioner would.

We also saw players orchestrating trades to their hometowns, Carli Lloyd, and for family reasons, Sydney Leroux. Hardly the sort of thing that screams big-time professional sports.

And then hanging over everything, unignorable even on opening day was the Christian Press mess. Traded from Chicago to Houston, Press said, um heck no, I won’t go, scotching what had been presented as a done deal.

Duffy had stated that the league was working on finding a landing spot within the league for Press but today the USWNT attacker ended that prospect, for now, with a tweet.

On to the games then, with Lloyd’s new team, Sky Blue FC sitting out this week.
Home teams listed first.

North Carolina Courage 1-0 vs Portland Thorns

It won’t take away the still lingering disappointment of last October’s Championship match loss to this same opponent but it was still a nice way for the NC Courage to open the new campaign after such a long off-season.

The home team may have been advantaged by the fact that the Thorns were missing six players, including U.S. international Tobin Heath but the Courage made the most of Portland’s misfortune despite doing without their own USWNT star Sam Mewis.

Denise O’Sullivan assisted on the winner for her team. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

North Carolina dominated possession in front of 4,210 fans at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Park but was only able to put one shot past Adrianna Franch, the 2017 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year who somehow continues to be left out by USWNT coach Jill Ellis.

The lone goal of the match came in the 70th minute and it was an absolute beaut off the boot of Debinha on an assist from Denise O’Sullivan.

The match also was an NWSL homecoming for Crystal Dunn. Dunn spent last season with Chelsea before returning to the league with North Carolina after her rights were traded from the Washington Spirit.

Orlando Pride 1-1 vs Utah Royals

It didn’t take long for Gunnhildur Yrsa Jónsdóttir to put her name in the NWSL history books as the scorer of the first goal in the history of the Utah Royals, just three minutes in fact.

Jónsdóttir slipped behind an Orlando defense that was a bit slow to realize that the season had begun and expertly applied the finish to Diana Matheson’s inch-perfect long ball to give the new* club its first lead.

Marta scored from the penalty spot. (ISI Photos/Jeremy Reper)

The lead did not last all that long with Orlando equalizing in a controversial manner through a Marta penalty kick after Becky Sauerbrunn had been called for a deliberate handball and issued a yellow card in addition to surrendering the pk.

The game was the first for Sydney Leroux with Orlando and coach Tom Sermanni wasted no time in fitting the sometime U.S. international into the lineup alongside Orlando’s twin superstar strikers, Brazil’s Marta and USWNT’s Alex Morgan.

The trio didn’t light up the scoreboard in the opener but keeping the lid on the Orlando attack should cause many a sleepless night for opposing NWSL coaches and defenders alike in the coming weeks and months.
*FC Kansas City folded and the rights to those players went to the new franchise in Utah.

Seattle Reign 2-1 vs Washington Spirit

It was the Megan Rapinoe Show at UW Medicine Park at Memorial Stadium on Saturday when the USWNT star scored one goal for the Reign and set up Jodie Taylor for the second as Seattle treated the home fans to an opening match victory.

Rapinoe was once again at the heart of everything. (ISI Photos/Stephen Brashear)

Pinoe was all over the stat sheet taking 11 shots, with six on goal and creating 2 chances with 85 total touches. Statistics can, of course, tell many stories and sometimes none at all but this was not the case Saturday in Seattle when the numbers and the eye test told a similar tale.

Trailing 2-0 at the half Washington made a game of it when Joanna Lohman scored in the 68th minute in her first action since she tore her ACL on day one of the 2017 campaign.

Washington fans had their first chance to see the 2018 NWSL College Draft overall number one pick in action as USWNT midfielder Andi Sullivan went the full 90 in her NWSL debut.

Houston Dash 1-1 vs Chicago Red Stars

In an interesting scheduling quirk, the Chicago Red Stars visited the Houston Dash to kick off the 2018 season. Yes, the two clubs involved in the embarrassing Christen Press deal were matched up on opening day with Press nowhere in sight.

Press wasn’t the only prominent player MIA on Saturday, with Chicago hard hit by the injury bug to the tune of being forced to manage without six key players.

Keever (R) scored the opening goal for Houston. (ISI Photos/ Trask Smith)

2017 NWSL MVP Sam Kerr, who arrived from Sky Blue in exchange for Carli Lloyd, is on international duty for Australia while five more players, including 2017 U.S Soccer Female Player of the Year Julie Ertz, were unavailable through injury.

With all that to consider Houston’s new coach Vera Pauw will count herself a bit unlucky to have come away with just one point, especially given that the Red Stars goal came in stoppage time.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment