Permit me to step away from the news for a second. A friend sent me this picture yesterday of himself and his baby boy at a Seattle Sounders game. It got me thinking about the future of American soccer. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re in good hands.
My friend never went to a soccer game before moving to Seattle. Now, he talks about the Sounders nonstop. He even started bringing his child — earphones and all — to matches. You better believe that boy will grow up a fan of the beautiful game.
Drew Carey and the gang did something important in Seattle: They built an environment that works for all kinds of diehards. This isn’t new news, but the ramifications are perhaps overlooked. We can talk all we want about the need for soccer-specific stadiums (and I totally agree), but what we really mean is we need incredible soccer environments. Seattle has one. Montreal has one. Portland has one. Etc. Etc. Now Houston has one with the opening of BBVA Compass Stadium, making 6 soccer-specifics in 2 years. They are spreading around MLS.
One big advantage of MLS is the price. It’s significantly cheaper than other sporting events, both for individuals and for families. The key is getting people to go once, then return again.
The point here is the future of the game in the United States is tied to the future of the country as a whole: The Kids. The sport needs to win them over early and that happens on an individual experience level. Last weekend’s fantastic EPL finish was great for the game in the US, but that excitement only lasts so long (and comes once every, well, basically never). Going to a game with an incredible atmosphere will keep kids and their families coming back, even if they were not soccer fans initially.
Just ask my buddy’s kid. You know, as soon as he learns to talk.
Surprises, disappointments halfway through Champions League group stage
Some of the strugglers, like 0-1-2 Maribor and 0-1-2 APOEL, are not surprises. And it’s no shock to see Manchester United at perfect 3-0 given its draw.
Others? Well, that’s not the case.
While Manchester United is a perfect 3-0 in Group A, raise your hand if you figured Benfica would have just one goal and zero points through three matches. Benfica’s also played two of its three home ties, making the knockout rounds a dream.
Atletico Madrid has found the UEFA Champions League Final in two of the last four seasons, but finds itself with work to do moving forward. Atleti’s Wednesday draw at Qarabag leaves it three points behind Roma and five back of leaders Chelsea. Diego Simeone’s men still host Roma and Qarabag, so points are out there.
Serie A play has been gorgeous for Napoli, who has failed to bring that momentum to Group F. It’s worth noting that a missed penalty by red-hot Dries Mertens could’ve earned the Neapolitans a point at Man City on Tuesday, but as it stands Napoli is three points back of Shakhtar and could be six back before the Ukrainians visit on Nov. 21.
It turns out you can’t sell everyone and expect the youth to come through shining. Monaco is at the bottom of a very winnable group, having lost at home to Porto and Besiktas. Still just three points behind RB Leipzig, they’ll need to win at Monaco and/or Besiktas to have any hope of the knockout rounds.
Borussia Dortmund got a rough deal from officials when it visited Wembley Stadium, but losses to Spurs and Real Madrid can happen in a group stage. Tuesday’s draw at APOEL Nicosia, however, is close to a backbreaker.
Spurs draw at Real Madrid may have been aided by a huge performance from Hugo Lloris, but goalkeepers — as you know — are actual components of a team. This is in fact a group of death, but the North Londoners are holding a scythe. If Mauricio Pochettino can lead a home win over Real Madrid at a raucous Wembley on All Saints Day, well, look out!
Cenk Tosun has gone from sleepy transfer target to the tip of many gossipers’ tongues, as Besiktas is a perfect 3-0 including wins at Monaco and Porto. Anderson Talisca and… wait for it… Ryan Babel (!!) have also starred for the Turkish powers who will almost certainly see the knockout rounds.
Pep Guardiola‘s done this Champions League dance, you know, and Manchester City has weathered all storms. That includes conceded two penalties — one was saved by Ederson — as a down performance versus Napoli still ended with a home win. If City can win at the Stadio San Paolo on Nov. 1, Pep can sleepwalk into the final two matches (though that’s not his style).
Roma has a classy draw at Chelsea and has gathered five points including four away from home. Mimic that mark and i Lupi will be a challenge in the knockout rounds.
Neymar was best pals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez last season at Barcelona, but having a less-than-perfect relationship with Edinson Cavani hasn’t hurt a thing in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain is for real, scoring 12 times and yet to concede in wins over Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht.
Liverpool leads its group and advancing is really the only goal, but there’s something off-putting about the home draw against Sevilla. The 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow looks better now that the Russians hammered Sevilla 5-1, but a return visit from Maribor next should help the Reds buttress their stock.
Be careful how finely you analyze a club as accomplished as two-time reigning champs Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s men don’t look so hot. Still well-positioned to move on, keep a close eye on how they look at Wembley in a few weeks.
Chelsea‘s 3-3 draw versus Roma today was its first real stumble of the UCL, but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells considering their injury problems and Roma’s desperation. Consider their status even, especially given their clever win at Atletico Madrid.
Jose Mourinho is doing a fine job with Manchester United, but it’s really hard to praise the club too much for doing what’s expected in a glorified Europa League group. Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in the icing some of the draw balls again…
The perfect road match, more or less, though United scored its lone goal thanks to goalkeeper error. Marcus Rashford took the free kick that was carried across the goal line, and United completed more than 500 passes to double Benfica’s output at the Estadio da Luz.
Barcelona 3-1 Olympiacos
It’s not much of a surprise to see Barca triumph at home over Greek opposition. An own goal joined Lucas Digne and this historic Lionel Messi marker to build a 3-0 lead at the Camp Nou.
That paid off when Svilar carried Marcus Rashford‘s free kick into the goal, the lone marker of a 1-0 loss that keeps United atop Group A and Benfica three points behind second- and third place.
“I knew how good the goalkeeper was, I told the players that. We had a little bit of a strategy, especially on set-pieces to make him uncomfortable. We put men around him on corners so he cannot come out. He risks a lot, but only top keepers do that. He was unlucky for the goal,” Mourinho said.
Svilar looked dejected after the game, apologizing to fans at the Estadio da Luz and getting consolation from a fellow Belgian in Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.
“The manager said to us to try and shoot and get some crosses towards their goalkeeper because he is young and playing in his first game. This is football and I know he is a great goalkeeper and I wish him well for the future.
“We had control, some difficulties in the first 30 minuets but then we controlled the pitch. We used our experience. We could not find the second goal but did not make any mistakes at the back.”
Rashford limped out of the game, and Mourinho says he initially thought it was cramps. Instead, it’s a problem with his left knee. Simon Peach of the Press Association quotes Mourinho as hoping the injury is not bad.
United completed more than 500 passes, doubling Benfica’s production. Some have been critical of Mourinho’s penchant to play it safe, and he winked at them after the match in calling his tactics “a crime.”
“We were in control, David De Gea did not have one save to make. I never felt we could concede a goal and were solid defensively. Sometime I feel being good defensively is a crime, but that is a way of getting results.”