Category Archives: Soccer

No Sweat

For the many fans of first year team Atlanta United the news that came down today was quite upsetting. Star striker Josef Martinez will miss the next 4-6 weeks through an injured left quad sustained on international duty for Venezuela. Now for most teams this would be quite worrisome, but for Atlanta United this should not be nearly as big an issue. Now you might think, “Alex, how does losing the golden boot leader for the next month or so not qualify as a major issue?” The following are a few reasons why this will not be as major as it could be.

The first reason this injury is not as crucial as it would appear is the presence of Kenwyne Jones. While he brings a different style of attacking play to the field, the Trinidad and Tobago international has proven to be a goal scorer throughout his career. With Martinez preferring the ball be played into space for him to run onto it will be a bit of an adjustment for the rest of the Atlanta United attacking group to play with Jones who is more of a target forward who is good in the air. While this could be an issue, I doubt it will be as Jones was in camp and thought to be the number 1 option until Martinez was brought in. This means there should already be some familiarity with his play style within the group.

Another reason Atlanta United fans should not worry is the addition of 22 year old striker Bryan Rochez. He was acquired off waivers from Orlando City FC before the international break and has spent the break in training with the majority of the squad. If called upon, the Honduran should be able to provide a solid presence up from having scored 31 goals in his first 73 senior club appearances. This nose for goal could present Atlanta United with another option in the absence of Josef Martinez.

Another reason that fans should not be afraid of Josef Martinez missing time through injury is the quality of young players on the roster. Brandon Vazquez and Andrew Carleton could be given an opportunity to prove themselves in games if their performance in training sessions is deemed up to par by coach Tata Martino. We are seeing it in Germany right now where 18 year old Christian Pulisic is getting an opportunity to play at Borussia Dortmund despite his age. When it comes to young players we as Americans tend to be afraid of ruining a young player like what happened with Freddy Adu, but at some point we have to look at the younger generation and see if they are good enough to compete for games with established players. Maybe this is the time for both of these young American youth products to prove themselves to this team.

No matter what option Tata Martino decides to go with the decision will be boosted by the play of Yamil Asad, Miguel Almiron and Tito Villalba. With those three continuing to play at the same level there could be no striker on the field and the ball could still find its way into the back of opponents net.

Kicking Off A New Era

March 5th, 2017 will be a day that is remembered in Atlanta for years to come. At just past 7:40 pm Atlanta United made history by taking the opening kick of their Inaugural MLS season. This may have been the start of the game, but the party had been going on for the majority of the afternoon already. All over Georgia Tech’s campus there were people tailgating, in Atlantic Station at the team store there was a line that required almost a 45 minute wait just to get into the store! All this buzz that this team was causing the city on this, the first match-day, was incredible, but it had nothing on the feeling inside Bobby Dodd Stadium when the players came out of the locker rooms.

Walking to the stadium was insane. So many people in Atlanta for the same purpose and watching the Falcons, Alabama Football, or protesting was not the purpose of this gathering. The main road was filled with so many people you could hardly walk down it and once inside Bobby Dodd it became even more cramped. Despite all this the excitement that was in the air was enough to make it seem all worth it.

I arrived at my seat with nearly 70 minutes until first kick even

My view when I first arrived at my seat!

began and there were already people chanting! The stadium was

already beginning to fill up at that point, and by the time the players came onto the field for warmups the atmosphere was already electric! I did not sit with anyone that I knew and it was still a blast. I got to meet a fellow Chelsea fan and there were kits from a wide variety of European, South American, Mexican and International teams. It was obvious that the majority of the crowd knew what they were watching!

When the first kick finally happened the atmosphere was bonkers! The team looked a bit shaky for the first 20 or so minutes, but they eventually settled in and were able to get good ball movement

particularly on the right side of the pitch. That would be the key side on Atlanta United’s first ever goal as Tyrone Mears was able to whip a cross in from the right and Yamil Asad was there at the back post to poke it through Luis Robles’ legs! You want to talk about jubilation? Having over 55,000 people going absolutely crazy is an incredible feeling! Throughout the rest of the half there were many ‘A-T-L’ chants and even more patches where the boo birds were out in full force directed at referee Mark Geiger.

 

By halftime it seemed almost inevitable that Atlanta United was going to score again. The entire stadium felt like it was coming, and when Miguel Almiron got in on the break everyone readied for another celebration. It was not to be though as Almiron tried to chip the keeper instead of sliding it by him, although it would have been immensely more helpful if Josef Martinez had been onside as they could have used the 2 v 1 against Robles. Still the crowd was behind this team, our team.

When a shot slipped through Alec Kann’s hands and out for a corner there was an anxious feeling in the air as we were struggling to clear the ball giving up plenty of scoring chances. After Red Bulls tied it up the stadium again erupted A-T-L, A-T-L letting our boys know we were still behind them. The crowd stayed behind our team despite another goal finding its way into Kann’s net before all was said and done.

This game showed what I think many people knew for a while before, soccer belongs in Atlanta! We have an owner that wants to bring championships to the city and is willing to bring in world class players and managers to do so! We have a fan base that is young and will be around for a while. To have 55,272 people show up to the first match is incredible, but if you look at attendance numbers from the rest of the world only three games had more fans in attendance than the Atlanta United game! Those games featured Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, and Manchester United. The second highest attended game in the MLS was the Orlando City-NYCFC game which drew a shade over 25,500 spectators to see Orlando City’s new stadium.

Here’s to the beginning of a great season! Our team is fast and skilled and proved yesterday that they can compete with the best our conference has to offer. We Are Atlanta United!

 

Revised Premier League Predictions

A few match weeks have commenced since the end of the January transfer window and there are quite a few surprises on the table right now. This season has taken a few unexpected turns for quite a few teams. Starting from the bottom of the table I will run through my prediction on the final table for the 2016-17 season. Parenthesis are around current place on table.


Relegation

20. Sunderland (20)

Poor side with another horrid transfer window. Before the season I thought highly enough of David Moyes to be able to pull out another season of Premier League football. Unfortunately he spent the winter window bringing in even mre of his former players, many of which haven’t been starters since they last played under him. Due to the lack of quality players I believe they will be going down and may not be coming back up for a while.

19. Leicester City (17)

What a difference a year makes. They only lost one of their key players from last season’s title run, however N’Golo Kante’s presence is missed greatly. On top of that they also have to deal with at least two more fixtures in the Champions League which will put even more strain on the players in the coming weeks. With a center back partnership that are showing their age and no cover in front of them this will be a costly and historic relegation for sure. Only the Manchester City has been relegated the year after winning the top flight title and that happened way back in 1937 when they finished 21st in a 22 team league.

18. Hull City (18)

This is a team that is much better suited for the quality of play found in the Championship. Even with some solid signings during January they will still be going back to the second tier. Still a better finish than I had anticipated before the season had begun.


Safe

17. Crystal Palace (19)

Can Sam Allardyce pull this side together in time to save the season? He certainly has the talent at his disposal as well as the experience with successful relegation battles. I think his experience will see the South London club maintain their top flight status for another season.

16. Swansea City (15)

What Paul Clement has been able to do since coming on as manager has been nothing short of incredible. While the Welsh club were unable to significantly upgrade their defense during January, they now have a manager who has the tam playing with some confidence which can go a long way staving off relegation for another year.

15. Middlesbrough (16)

Aitor Karanka has his side sliding down the table, however with the quality of players he has at his disposal he should be able to right the ship before the end of the season.


Mid-Table

14. Watford (13)

Watford have spent the season as a fairly quiet mid-table club. They should see this continue the rest of the way and earn their third consecutive top flight season.

13. Bournemouth (14)

There have been periods this season and there have been poor periods, but that is the life of a mid-table team. Still Eddie Howe has a team that can still be successful even without the help of star striker Callum Wilson who will again miss the rest of the season after injuring his knee.

12. Burnley (12)

Sean Dyche is doing a masterful job of proving that defensive football can not only win games, but be overall successful in the Premier League. Burnley stuck by their manager after they were relegated two seasons ago and he responded by bringing them back up in the first time. This year’s team has been strengthened during January and they look poised to be on a top half hunt for next season.

11. Stoke City (9)

A solid team under Mark Hughes will just miss out on a top ten finish even with the goal-scoring efforts of Peter Crouch. The team will compete, but this team is not one that appears able to win enough points to stay in the top 10.

10. West Ham (10)

With their early season struggles behind them they appear poised to finish inside the top 10. The sale of disgruntled midfielder Dimitri Payet will only assist with the congealing of the dressing room for the battle that will be the rest of the season for Wes Ham.

9. Southampton (11)

Good club that will miss the influence of center back  Virgil Van Dijk who will miss the rest of the season through injury. Still a solid team, however the points gap between them and West Brom may be too much to overcome in the last 13 games of the season.


Upper Half

8. West Bromwich Albion (8)

On of the biggest positive surprises of the season has been the play of West Brom. At the start of the season I thought that Tony Pulis’ side were to be relegated, however they are over-achieving this season and could realistically finish a place higher if Everton falters even a little.

7. Everton (7)

Top 10 is almost guaranteed for the toffees as they continue to impress under Ronald Koeman. There is not much more room for improvement despite the scoring heroics of Romelu Lukaku the depth at midfield of trusted players is just not there. Added the fact that Everton currently have a seven point gap between them and sixth place Manchester United and it seems seventh is the highest they can climb this year.


European Qualifiers

6. Liverpool (4)

January has seen them go from top title contenders to  a side that should be hopeful to see the Europa League next season without a playoff match. With their title challenge all but over, Liverpool’s sights should be set on securing a top 4 finish so they can use the allure of Champions league football to bring in a top striker and center back.

5. Manchester United (6)

After finally finding form for top players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan Jose Mourinho’s side just miss out on Champions League yet again as too many questions remain about defensive quality and consistency among the attackers.

4. Arsenal (3)

This position should feel familiar for Gunnars fans. In what almost seems to be his swan song, Arsene Wenger seems to be guiding his team to the Champions League, but too far from the title race for the fans liking.

3. Tottenham (2)

The attacking quality is there, but if they have an off night like they did against Liverpool the defense has to step up. With injuries to Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld that seem to pop up at the worst times it seems their title race is all but run. Qualifying for Champions League again will be a good consolation with sights on performing better than this year.

2. Manchester City (5)

The addition of young Gabriel Jesus, a summer signing from Brazilian side Palmieras who finished the Brazilian season with the club, has gone a long way with his goals being instrumental in securing points for a side that is currently fifth. They play their 25th game Monday and a win would see them jump up to second. The way they have played recently the Citizens could easily maintain this position the rest of the way.


Champions

1. Chelsea (1)
The turning point of the season would be the 3-0 defeat away to Arsenal. After which the club has gone on a tear that has seen them climb from mid-table to having a 10 point cushion, with Manchester City still to play it could go to 8. The incredible play of N’Golo Kante in the midfield has gone a long way to bringing the title back to London.

Atlanta is United!

It’s finally here! The opening game of the Atlanta United FC preseason schedule. Taking on 4th division side Chattanooga FC away gives the AUFC players a chance to play on turf for the first time which is important as that is the surface they will play on in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium when it opens in July.

First ever Atlanta United starting 11The fans did not have to wait very long to see the first goal in Atlanta United history! Six minutes in Hector ‘Tito’ Villalba finished off a fast break after striker Kenwyne Jones successfully defended a corner from CFC.

After the first half of play there were a few things that were plain to see. The first is that Chris McCann is going to have a key role in the heart of the Atlanta United midfield this season. The Irishman was the key facilitator to playing the ball from the back line up to the attacking players as well as being a solid force when possession is given up. The other thing that is good to see is the play of young winger Yamil Asad. The young Argentine was able to score the second goal of the half by curling the ball into the upper right corner from outside the box at the end of an impressive passage of play by Atlanta United.

Throughout the first half Chris McCann has played an instrumental role in Atlanta United’s 2-0 halftime lead to be the player of the half for the first half.

The start of the second half sees Atlanta United make wholesale changes with only 33′ substitutions Josef Martinez and Carlos Carmona being the only holdovers from the first half. Included in these changes is the kit that Atlanta United has been wearing as they come out in their white tops and red bottoms after wearing their primary kits for the first half.

Draft picks Miles Robinson and Julian Gressel were among the halftime subs along with 16 year old homegrown midfield talent Andrew Carleton and young Tottenham defender Anton Walkes.

Carmona comes off for Harrison Heath in the 64′ minute after a fairly quiet half an hour for the Chilean international who was  signed less than a week ago.

The 68′ goal by Josef Martinez off a quick corner seemed to have caught CFC unaware as Andrew Carlton played the ball short to Julian Gressel who whipped a ball into the 6 yard box where Martinez was completely unmarked. Lead up to this goal was a long period of possession by Atlanta United.

Andrew Carleton gets his first Atlanta United goal in the 74′ off a rebound! Well deserved goal for the youngster as he has been playing very well on the right side of the midfield for the opening part of this half.

Post goal sees Josef Martinez taken off for 18 year old US Youth International Brandon Vasquez and Chris Goslin coming on for halftime sub Kevin Kratz.

While not playing in the middle of the field as McCann did during the first half,  young Andrew Carleton has been the main facilitator for Atlanta United in the second half. He spent the entire second half causing a considerable amount of stress for the CFC left back. He has definitely had a half worthy of being the player of the second half for Atlanta United.

An incredible 12,494 packed into Fort Finlay Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee to watch Atlanta United collect a 4-0 win in their first preseason match of 2017! A good showing by the club as they try to find their legs for the first match of the MLS season that is coming up in less than a month!

 

Sacking Time

klinsmann

In 2011, Jürgen Klinsmann was announced as the newest head coach of the USMNT. This move was met with great optimism as Klinsmann had previously coached at world power Germany. He brought along promises to bring the United States to the next level.

Well it has now been five years and I think we can all see how that has turned out. The Americans now sit dead last in the World Cup qualifying Hexagonal after losses to both Mexico and Costa Rica. My big question is: When did losing to Costa Rica become the next level? While Los Ticos are an improving side, they are still a team that we should be able to beat, or at least lose a close game with. They certainly should not be 4-0 better than us.

During Jürgen Klinsmann’s time in charge of the USMNT there has only been 1 success, a Gold Cup win in 2013. Since then the state of the National Team has gone downhill quickly.

A round of 16 appearance in the 2014 World Cup easily overshadowed the fact that the team should have lost almost every game they played in. While they did take Belgium to extra time in that round of 16, it was most due to the superhuman effort put forth from Goalkeeper Tim Howard who managed to save 16 shots. At this point Klinsmann could still get the benefit of the doubt as it was the first major tournament disappointment that he had led the Americans into.

A summer later the US attempted to defend their Gold Cup title as the host nation. Throughout the earlier rounds the Americans did not seem like a team that wanted to be playing. The loss in the semi-finals to Jamaica should not have happened, however it still put Klinsmann’s side in the 3rd place game which would have qualified them for the Confederations Cup in 2017. They blew this chance by losing to Panama in penalties. This was the point where Klinsmann would have been fired by any other country that has a well established soccer program, like the USA is trying to pretend they have.

Then there was the Copa America tournament, also hosted by the United States. After having an easier path to the semi-finals, the Americans faced off with Lionel Messi and Argentina. When Klinsmann was hired it was so that we could compete with teams of this caliber, well we didn’t. Right from the get go it was obvious that Argentina had the advantage, however they also outhustled n American side that was once known for their scrappy ability to stay in games. By the time the official graciously blew the final whistle it was 4-0 to Argentina. Again, with his body of work Klinsmann would have been fired at many other countries as he had not, yet again, been able to make a final of a major tournament.

One big reason that the team is not successful in these big tournaments is the lack of consistency in formation. This leads to issues in remembering assignments which can lead to goals. Some of the formations that have been played by Klinsmann’s squad include the 4-4-2, the 4-3-3 and the recently added 3-5-2. Out of all these formations the system has the player for one of them, the 4-3-3. However it is the one that Klinsmann has done whatever he can not to play. His latest craze is the 3-5-2, which involves three good defenders who have familiarity with one another to play in unison. Without Geoff Cameron in the lineup there is only one other top level defender, John Anthony Brooks, on the roster. This hasn’t worked out well and has led to some ugly goals. One would think that after five years on the job Klinsmann would have figured out a formation by now.

With World Cup Qualifying taking place during tis international break, it was the perfect chance to seize control of the Hex with a home win against Mexico. This did not occur as the team came out in a disorganized 3-5-2 formation. The switch to a back 4 helped stabilize the team, however it did not come until after Mexico had scored the opening goal of the match. They found the equalizer in the second half, but it was not enough. In the 89th minute Mexico found the winner off a corner kick when Rafa Marquez was left open at the near post and guided the ball through Brad Guzan and into the goal. A loss that again could have gotten other coaches fired in serious soccer nations.

The losses continue to pile up as the Americans traveled to Costa Rica to play their second game in the Hex. Right from the opening kick the team looked overmatched and again unorganized in the back three formation. Then came the four Costa Rican goals. Really, a 4-0 defeat to Costa Rica. Jürgen Klinsmann should not have left the stadium with  job after that embarrassing display from his team. It doesn’t matter how much he accepts the blame, it is obvious that things are not gong to change.

At this point it is a decent time to look for a new coach for the national team as they have until March to figure out who to call up for the next round of matches in the Hex. If the team does qualify then it still gives a new manager a year and a half to figure out what players are worth taking to Russia. After the recent results it should be, but isn’t, painfully obvious that Jürgen Klinsmann is no longer the right person to lead the USMNT into the future.

2016-17 Premier League Predictions

premier league logo

The day is August 12th, the year 2016. The year of the fairytale has come to an end and in just one day’s time the roller coaster ride that is the Premier League season will be underway. For many fans this is an exciting time of year that is full of promise especially after last year’s success for Leicester City which proved that anyone has a shot at lifting the trophy if they make pull the right strings. Will anyone there be another shock at the end of the season or will one of the perennial powers walk away with another trophy?

Starting from the bottom of the table these are my picks for the 2016-2017 Premier League season.


Relegated

20- Hull City

With only a few weeks left before the season started Manager Steve Bruce resigned after being overlooked for the England Managerial position which left the team in a bit of a bind. Not only did the team lose it’s manager, but it has yet to make a significant signing which will make it hard for the club to stay up this season.

19- Burnley

Last season’s second tier Champions will struggle to replicate the same success this year as they have yet to make a top midfield signing to replace their leader Joey Barton who left the club for Celtic. The team under Sean Dyche plays very defensively which is the same way it favored during the 2014-15 season which saw the club relegated back to the second tier. Even with the goal scoring prowess of Andre Gray, this season will end the same way that year did with Burnley unlikely to avoid a quick return  trip to the Championship.

18-West Bromwich Albion

Last season ended with the Baggies stumbling across the finish line with three losses and two draws in their final five matches. As of right now the team has held on to promising young striker Saido Berahino and he will be the team’s key player as they look to avoid the drop. However with the lack of signings the club will find themselves on the wrong side of the relegation dogfight at the end of the season and back in the Football League Championship for the first time since the 2009-10 season.


Safe From Relegation

17- Swansea City

This season will be a struggle for the Welsh club as they look to avoid taking the plunge back to the second division in English Football. After selling two of their better players from last season in Centre back Ashley Williams and forward Andre Ayew the club is turning the team over to some younger players like Mike van der Hoorn and Borja Baston who were brought in to help usher the team to higher levels. In the end these players will take some time to adapt to the style of play in the Premier League, but they will figure it out in enough time to save the season and live to fight for at least one more season in the English top flight.

16- Sunderland

This season will be an adventure for the Black Cats as they have another new manager this season after Sam Allardyce left to take charge of the English national team. Replacing Big Sam at the Stadium of Light is veteran Premier League manager David Moyes. He has experience at Everton and Manchester United and will give the team strong leadership that will see them stay up. Since being announced only a couple of weeks ago the team has solidified their defense with the signings of Papy Djilobodji from Chelsea and Paddy McNair from Manchester United. He also landed left midfield player Adnan Januzaj who excelled when Moyes was in charge at United but has struggled to find playing time since. With all this Sunderland will still be involved in the relegation dogfight, but not as much as in previous seasons.

15- Crystal Palace

This season will likely be similar to last year as the North London club has made one key signing in winger Andros Townsend, but are in need of a new defender and striker before they can challenge for a top ten finish. After spending most of the summer linked to Liverpool striker Christian Benteke there is still no deal in place, however if they can land the Belgian their season could finish better than this. For now it appears they should be solidly safe as a mid-table club.

14- Middlesbrough

The final of the newly promoted sides has had a much better summer than their counterparts Burnley and Hull. Signing veteran striker Negredo on loan and promising forward Viktor Fischer will help lead the line for the team, while signing former Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes and American Brad Guzan to lead from the back the team looks to have made the right moves to make their stay in the top flight last longer than one season.

13- AFC Bournemouth

After finishing the season in poor form, the team has a healthy Callum Wilson at striker and last season’s record signing Max Gradel on the wing so they can almost be counted as new signings from last year. They added winger Jordan Ibe from Liverpool to help complete their front three while bringing Leeds youngster Lewis Cook in to bring some depth to the midfield. This along with the continuity among the staff will help the club achieve a better finish this year.

12- Southampton

One team that will be a disappointment this year is Southampton. After finishing 6th last season the Saints let three of their top players leave this summer and they will all be missed this season. However they may be in better shape for the future as they spent the money on some top young players this season. They still have a solid team, but with a new manager they will struggle to make the top ten this season and ultimately fail and finish 12th.

11- Stoke City

A 9th place finish season last year was a good result for a team that works hard for manager Mark Hughes. Hughes solidified the midfield by bringing in Welsh star Joe Allen to fight for a position in the side. A similar season appears on the cards for the Potters as they really have not improved in any position from last year.

10- Watford

One of last year’s newcomers Watford avoided the drop with a 13th place finish. Their acquisition of young attackers Isaac Success and Jerome Sinclair will allow them to rest stars Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney in some of the cup competitions which will leave them fresher for league games. This will help propel the team to their first ever top ten finish in the Premier League.

9- Everton

Last season’s 11th place team has managed to hang on to star man Romelu Lukaku and brought in new manager Ronald Koeman who has had previous success with Southampton the last two years. Despite not bringing in a new keeper, Everton still has a solid back line and managed to replace John Stones, who had yet to break into the starting 11, with Swansea captain Ashley Williams to challenge for a spot in Koeman’s back four.

8- Leicester City

Last season’s fairytale champion’s will come to a crash landing this season as they add another competition to the schedule. The team lost the engine of their midfield when N’Golo Kante signed for Chelsea after the Euros. However the team has brought in  some solid payers, but the fact that the team is not deep enough means that a grueling schedule will leave the reigning champions with too much ground to make up in the latter stages of the season leaving them just outside of European competition for next year.

7- West Ham United

A very well balanced side that has improved in every way from last season except in their final placement on the table. Slaven Bilic’s side will challenge for an automatic Europe spot but ultimately fall short, although cup competition success could be a possibility for the Hammers. They will ultimately finish 7th again this season.

6- Liverpool

The first full season under Jurgen Klopp will feature a side with more confidence offensively especially with the signing of Georginio Wijanaldum joining with their creative players. The focus will be on defense which looks to feature newcomer Joel Matip in place of the departed Martin Skirtel, but new keeper Lorius Karius will miss the beginning of the season after breaking a hand which will place the success of the team in the unsure hands of Simon Mignolet. That will be enough to keep Liverpool out of the top five at the end of the year.


Automatic European Qualifiers

5- Tottenham

Last season’s third place finisher is due for a little drop this year as some of the top team’s are back with improved rosters, while Spurs only brought in a backup striker and a defensive minded midfielder who may not be able to break into the Mauricio Pochettino’s league starting 11. That along with having to add Champions League fixtures to the schedule will leave the North London just outside the top 4 when al is said and done.

4- Manchester United

He’s back! No I am not talking about Paul Pogba, I am referring to  Manager Jose Mourinho, who after a disastrous first half of last season at Chelsea is back in the Premier League with Manchester United. While he has spent a boatload of money on players, his preference to have a small squad will bite this team in the butt as he has quite a few players that find themselves injured just as much as they are healthy. This will leave the team in the top four which will qualify them for the playoff rounds of the 2017-18 Champions League.

3- Chelsea

After a disappointing season new manager Antonio Conte will look to change the formation of the team. He has brought in Leicester engine N’Golo Kante who looks to be a key piece in the middle of the Blues 4-2-4 formation. New signing Michy Batshuayi should push striker Diego Costa and fill in nicely when the Spaniard is unavailable through injury or suspension. This should see Chelsea return to the Champions League after a season without European competition.

2- Arsenal

This season should see Arsenal finish in a very familiar position after failing to bring in a striker for yet another season. They did address the issue at holding midfield by signing Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach. They will start the season with Calum Chambers and Rob Holding as their only centre backs, however if they can weather the storm then they will finish near the top in what could be Arsene Wenger’s final campaign with the Gunners.


Champions

1- Manchester City

At the end of the season there is one team that has improved even more than the rest of the competition and that is Manchester City. They replaced solid manager Manuel Pellegrini with world class manager Pep Guardiola. A flurry of top signings will see the Citizens celebrating another title as they have a manager and the depth to be successful in all the competitions they will be participating in.

 

 

Going For Gold

USWNT Olympics

The site of the final group match for the USWNT took place in the Brazilian city of Manaus. After their 1-0 victory over France in Belo Horizonte on Saturday the team was assured of a place in the quarterfinals of the Olympic soccer tournament. Needing only a draw to win the group, manager Jill Ellis had ability to rest some of her more important players to ensure they were as fresh as possible for the next round.

The match against Columbia took place without five of the usual starters. Defenders Julie Johnston, and  Meghan Klingenberg, midfielders Tobin Heath, Allie Long, and forward Alex Morgan were all rested for parts of the match, although Long and Morgan made appearances in the second half. In their place were Whitney Engen, Ali Krieger, Lindsey Horan, Megan Rapinoe, and Christen Press.

The early part of the game was spent in the Columbian’s defensive half until a rash challenge by Megan Rapinoe brought a free kick just outside the American 18 yard box. Columbia capitalized on this opportunity by putting the ball between Hope Solo’s legs and into the back of the net to give Columbia their first ever goal in the Olympics as well as their first goal against the United States.

Less than 10 minutes later Rapinoe was taken off in a pre-planned substitution and 18-year-old Mallory Pugh was put into the match. With her ability to play both wings, Pugh was able to interchange with Chrystal Dunn to cause some extra confusion for the Columbian defense. This confusion led to Dunn’s goal where she was left unmarked on the back post after a shot by Carli Lloyd ricochet into the 6-yard box. The American’s found this equalizer mere minutes before halftime to give some hope to the team going into the break.

Out of the locker-room Jill Ellis made her second of three subs by taking captain Carli Lloyd off in favor of forward Alex Morgan. This helped the team pile on the pressure which was eventually capped off when Dunn sent in a cross from the left side. First half sub Mallory Pugh found herself on the ball before she cut along the top of the 6-yard box and fired home the go-ahead goal. With that goal she became the youngest player in USWNT history to score at the Olympics.

The rest of the game featured mostly possession by the Americans, with a few counter-attacking opportunities for the Columbians. In the 90th minute Kelley O’Hara made a reckless tackle deep in the defensive half which led to another dangerous free kick opportunity for Columbia. When the ball was struck, Solo appeared to be cheating towards a cross rather than a shot and that led to her being out of position as she watched the ball sail into the net for a late equalizer.

Despite Hope Solo’s shocking struggles, missed opportunities were the biggest story of the game as the Americans had countless chances in the offensive zone that resulted in goal kicks and one could wonder how different the outcome would have been if some of those chances had been put home. In the end it did not matter as the Americans are through to the Quarterfinals as the champions of their group.

USWNT Trounces Columbia 4/6/16

USWNT crest

The scene is a brisk spring evening in East Hartford, Connecticut’s Whitney Stadium. Temperature at game time was 41 degrees and the stadium crew had to spend the majority of Tuesday clearing the field of the snow that is covering the North East. Coming into the game Columbia has not played since the summer. The Americans had one player making her debut, Allie Long.

The first half starts out with some shaky play by the Americans but as the game continued they grew into the game. The exception to the shaky play was Tobin Heath who in the 4th minute showed her excellent skill on the ball to get to the end line and send a pass to Crystal Dunn inside the 6 yard box. Dunn sent her shot right into a Columbian defender and the ball was cleared. By the 12th minute the offense was on the same page and Allie Long got a fantastic long shot that rang off the cross bar. It took until the 27th minute before Carli Lloyd assisted Dunn’s twisting goal, her eighth goal on the calendar year. Columbia got a good opportunity in the 28th minute when Ospina took a long shot that was saved easily by Hope Solo. A minute later the US has a chance of their own saved by Columbian goalie Perez. In the 32 minute off a free kick Lloyd found Heath, who in turn found Lindsey Horan on the left wing and delivered a cross to the incoming Allie Long who scored a wonderful header on her debut. A minute later on a great offensive play Lloyd delivered a pass to 17 year old Mallory Pugh and she made no mistake in placing the ball over the goalies leg and into the goal. In minute 39 Pugh returned the favor by delivering an assist to Lloyd for a tap in goal.

Overall in the first half the team showed confidence on the attack and also in the defensive side of the field. The forwards showed great movement off the ball and good finishing. In particular Mal Pugh was great on the ball always having her head up and able to get around defenders when needed. Allie Long played very well in possession but also in defense in her deeper midfield role.

To start the second half Jill Ellis made two of her six changes bringing in Samantha Mewis and Christen Press for Mallory Pugh and Lindsey Horan

In the 53 minute Dunn fired wide after Allie Long sent her a wonderful pass into the box. A few minutes later a defensive mistake saw a Columbian forward in alone on Solo who makes a good save. In the 59th minute Allie Long got another great shot from outside the box. Columbia has another chance thwarted by Solo in the 61 minute. On the other end of the pitch a minute later Heath receives a great cross from Press and she volleyed it home for a 5-0. Goal six comes off a good corner that is not cleared by Columbia and Julie Johnston heads the ball across goal to Allie Long with her second goal of the game.

The 66th minute sees Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn come off for Emily Sonnett and Whitney Engen.

The 69th minute sees Kelly O’Hara come off for Heather O’Reilly. Megan Kingenberg’s day also ends with Ali Krieger coming on.

They are the final subs of the game for manager Jill Ellis.

The 71 minute Heath showed her dazzling skills yet again going around two defenders and passing to Long. She tried to back heel back to Heath but she did not continue her run and the ball is turned over. In the 74th minute off a good restart Crystal Dunn finds Press and she bends the ball around Perez to make it a 7-0 game.

That 7-0 score was how the game ended after the Columbian team made a bunch of subs that helped solidify the team some. With these subs the team was able to withstand wave after wave of attacks from the American women.

Player of the game in my opinion would be Tobin Heath. She was great in possession and going forward she made the right cuts. Heath made many fantastic passes and got a great goal in the 61st minute. She also showed her leadership and inspired players like Allie Long to play with confidence.

Another player with a fantastic game was Allie Long who had two goals and quite a few chances to score a few more. She played well in a deep midfield role in the first half and she played just as good in a more attacking role in the midfield for the second half of the game. She did all of this in her debut in hopes of forcing her way into the team for the Olympics.

In this game both Carli Lloyd and Crystal Dunn joined Alex Morgan, who did not play, in the team lead for goals with 8 each.

Sunday is a rematch between these two teams in Chester, Pennsylvania.

 

 

MLS 20th Anniversary

mls

April 6, 1996. This is a day few remember and many are thankful for. This is the day that the MLS kicked off its inaugural season with its first game. I consider myself a fairly big soccer fan but I do not have the ability to remember this game because as the MLS was beginning I still had a shade over two months before I was even born.

This first matchup contained two teams that had never played together before with players that had come from all over the world and from many different levels of leagues. The game featured the San Jose Clash, who are no longer a club in the MLS, and the famous DC United. The game took place at Spartan Stadium which belongs to San Jose State University. The game was closely contested and it was not until a late goal by Eric Wynalda that the deadlock was broken. Wynalda’s winner for the San Jose Clash went on to win the goal of the year for the MLS in its first season.

The MLS was not the first attempt to have a true professional to play in the United States but it has been the most successful. The MLS is the product of FIFA mandating the US have a league of their own after being awarded the 1994 World Cup. Despite the World Cup being a huge success, it took two years before the MLS played its first game. The next few years the league just held on and hoped that the next year would being some more supporters. Finally the past decade the league has been getting a foot hold in US sports media and in the past few seasons there have been games every week that are aired on ESPN2 and Fox Sports 1. At this point there is n worries about the survival of the league, but rather how big the league can expand to before it reaches capacity.

Time For A Change

US soccer crest

In the hours after the USMNT’s loss to Guatemala on Friday night there were the familiar grumbles that Jürgen Klinsmann should be fired. This was followed by a statement from former US star Landon Donovan calling for Klinsmann to be fired. The only real saving grace for Klinsmann was that the U 23 squad still had a chance to qualify for the final spot in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. If they could qualify it would show that the Americans had started to make some progress after missing out on the 2012 Olympics in London.

Tuesday was a day that Klinsmann needed to have good showings from the senior side and from the U 23 side. The first game was the Senior team and they definitely responded to the loss on Friday to Guatemala by making the same opponents look like the weaker side that they should be. The game Friday was a complete embarrassment and a total step in the wrong direction for a country that should be easily qualifying for the World Cup. On Tuesday the team looked much better and controlled the game from start to finish. The 4-0 victory had a little more significance for one young American. Seventeen year old Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulisic came on late in the encounter as a substitution and while he did not make much of an impact he is now cap tied to the USMNT. This is significant due to the fact that his father is Croatian so he could be eligible to play for them and because he actually gets playing time with the Dortmund first team and that should allow him to progress well in the years to come.

After the joy of victory that came from Columbus the scene shifted to Frisco, Texas for the second leg of the U 23 Olympic Qualifying Playoff. In the first leg the Americans escaped Columbia with an important away goal and a 1-1 draw. They looked like a team with confidence at the back and had the ability to maintain possession in the midfield. On Tuesday a completely different US side showed up. The team was shaky at the back and could not complete a pass to save their lives. Columbia scored early and the Americans looked very dispirited. They did not have an actual shot on goal until late in the game but were aided by a Columbian own goal to level the score. then the wheel fell off and the team had a massive defensive lapse which allowed Columbia to take a 2-1 lead and a 3-2 aggregate and the lead on away goals. The US would have to score 2 goals but had not yet even taken a shot. Manager Andi Herzog switched to a 3 back set and brought in Luis Gil who within 10 minutes of being brought on was sitting in the dressing room after picking up two yellows. Then the poor defending continued to show and in the 89th minute Matt Miazga hauled down the Columbian defender and received a straight red card. The team was outmatched the entire game.

Without their loss to Honduras back in November, the U 23 team would not have had to be in this situation and now Sunil Gulati should be wondering whether or not the US Soccer Federation has the right man in charge of the program to lead US Soccer into the realm of the England’s and the France’s or are they going to continue losing to weak CONCACAF opponents. If the federation does not see any improvement in the level of play over the past few years the Klinsmann should be replaced.