MLS ‘rivalries:’ Real acrimony, or just ginned-up sales jobs?

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I’ve watched the game grow steadily for 20 years. We’ve passed the mile markers steadily.

Sometimes we hit sticking points, plateaus on player development, marketing strategies or referees, etc. We’ll eventually move off  them, but sometimes need a nudge to regain lost momentum.

So, allow me to nudge a nook that I know well: soccer in the media.

Fellow writers, anchors, analysts, bloggers, poison pensmen and general members of the chattering class, I beseech thee: stop writing and talking about MLS “rivalries” that do not exist.

Just because someone screams “Rivalry!” that doesn’t make it so. History makes rivalries, and nothing else.

If the marketing mavens and ticket salesman want to fly the flag of acrimonious strife, that’s their business. They are selling a product. I get it.

But I will not write about the heat factor in drummed-up, tricked-up alleged rivalries that, in the end, are indistinguishable from pretty much any mid-week MLS meeting.

Bruce Arena, a man of candor, addressed this recently, when he chided reporters for asking questions about fakey “rivalries” that existed only in their notepads.

“I think every game we play in the league is a rivalry game …,” Arena said. “What are you going to ask me Thursday: ‘Is [the next opponent] a rival?’ ”

“I don’t buy into any of it,” he said, allowing that Chivas USA is an actual rival. “All the others? They’re all to different degrees rivalries. I think every club in the league, it’s a rival.”

Exactly.

Not to pick on any team or match or media brother, but today I read about Columbus and Seattle and the indignation and irritation factor attached to tonight’s meeting.

“Rivalry,” huh? I say, not so much.

Yes, Sounders manager Sigi Schmid once left Columbus in a huff. So he may gain some extra Sigi smidge of satisfaction by sticking it to his former bosses. But Schmid’s move to Seattle has worked out beautifully, and he knows so. I doubt he spends much time gritting his teeth over the whole thing. And Seattle’s players? C’mon. They want the points. They want to protect CenturyLink Field. They want to win for themselves and for the supporters. And that’s about it.

A few rivalries may carry some extra portions of umbrage. New York and D.C. United, a series with actual history (as opposed to drummed-up history)? Yeah, there’s something there. Portland-Seattle-Vancouver? Yeah, of course.

Los Angeles and Chivas USA? Yes, but even that one is on a serious fade. The Galaxy has dominated, and thousands of empty seats at last week’s latest meeting hardly said “Clasico.”

I might even allow the “rivalry” stamp on a couple of others, but that’s about it.

So, let’s allow these things to develop on their own, which they will.

The salesmen and marketeers can do as they please. But let’s not all naively buy into it, eh?

Off to slow start, Morris, Seattle know “things can change quickly”

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Both Jordan Morris and the Seattle Sounders are off to a rough start in defense of their MLS Cup title last Fall, and the USMNT’s star striker admits to recalling last season’s wild turnaround as an inspiration.

“After the game last week we mentioned that we have a lot of the nucleus from last year and we all know that things can change quickly,” Morris said to ProSoccerTalk this week.

Seattle won just seven games before Matchday 22 last season, rebounding with a burst after coach Sigi Schmid was replaced by assistant Brian Schmetzer. The Sounders went 8-2-2 down the stretch en route to an MLS Cup win over Toronto FC.

While he hasn’t scored in five matches and only has two markers in 12 games, he feels success is coming for the 3W-5L-4T Sounders. Morris said the club knows the results aren’t there, but also that they are producing chances.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

“It’s been okay,” Morris said. “Definitely not the start I would’ve wanted. It’s not an excuse but we’ve hit a lot of posts and had other near misses.”

Seattle has a huge opportunity to flip the script on its season when Cascadia Cup rivals Portland visit on Saturday. The free-scoring Timbers are dangerous in attack, but have been opened up 20 times this season. Only two teams have conceded more goals than Portland (which has played the most matches in the league, it must be said).

And it may or may not surprise fans that Morris’ focus has been one of his strengths: the final product.

“I’m working on the final third, whether it’s shooting or finding the open guy,” Morris said. “It’s a big deal for us to finish our chances. Scoring or the final pass in that final third.”

Despite his relatively cold start, it would be surprising if Bruce Arena didn’t tab Morris in his crop for next month’s World Cup qualifiers. The 22-year-old also seems relatively certain to be a part of the Gold Cup plans.

“I’m excited and hopefully I get called up,” he said. “These World Cup qualifiers are obviously a very big deal and Bruce has done a really good job of getting us on the same page.”

Morris is also participating in a unique promotional activity with Delta Air Lines for Sounders fans, as he and Cristian Roldan are among Seattle teams picking fans for “positions” in a Fan XI. Once assembled, they’ll travel to L.A. for a Sounders road match and even sign one-day contracts. Morris was happy to get on board with it.

“It’s for our fans, who are amazing,” he said. “Delta’s idea to make a Fan XI gives the fansa chance to have the behind the scenes experience of being part of a team put together by having different skills. We love rewarding our fans.”

Day Seven: All the action from the U20 World Cup (video)

Kim In-chul/Yonhap via AP
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Mexico has automatically qualified for the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup despite falling to Venezuela.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Germany dropped below Mexico in goal differential after allowing a 3-0 lead to sink to one, though El Tri still likely would’ve advanced to the next phase despite Germany’s result.

Mexico 0-1 Venezuela

Caracas 19-year-old striker Sergio Cordova scored for the third-straight match in what is sure to make him a hot summer commodity as Venezuela clinched Group B with a perfect 3-0 record.

Germany 3-2 Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s potential name of the tournament Bong Kalo scored twice in the second half to sink Germany below Mexico on goal difference.

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

A brace from Lautaro Martínez gives Argentina hope of the knockout rounds with a third-place finish.

England 1-0 South Korea

Everton’s Kieran Dowell scored the lone goal of the match to give England the Group A crown.

Zabaleta staying in Premier League with West Ham move

@WHUFC
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A week after bidding Manchester City an emotional goodbye, Pablo Zabaleta has announced he’ll be staying in England.

The 32-year-old right back is moving to London, where he’ll join West Ham United on a two-year deal beginning July 1.

[ MORE: Three key battles in FA Cup Final ]

The San Lorenzo youth product went to Espanyol in 2005 to begin his European adventure, joining Man City in 2008. He won two PL titles, two League Cups, and an FA Cup, and was named the club’s player of the season in 2012-13.

From WHUFC.com:

“Manchester City gave me the opportunity to come to this wonderful league, the Premier League, something I’ve been enjoying a lot as a player and of course for me it was probably the right time to move on.

“Also, as a player, I thought I wanted to keep playing in the Premier League. For me, after being in this country for so long, this is a new challenge for me in the Premier League and I’m ready for it and looking forward to it.”

Maybe he just wanted 3G.

Young Sam Byram can learn plenty from Zabaleta, and the signing means that star right-sided man Michail Antonio likely won’t have to be wasted at right back in emergency situations. Good risk by the Hammers.

Valencia extends Man Utd deal to great Mourinho praise

Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho has made no secret of his Antonio Valencia appreciation, and the Manchester United manager has rewarded his fullback with a new deal.

Valencia is nine appearances away from 300 in a Manchester United kit, with 22 goals and 61 assists as a Red Devil.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

Valencia said United has “been my life” since arriving from Wigan Athletic in 2009, while Mourinho heaped praise on the Ecuadorian captain’s character with glowing praise.

“It is no secret that I had been an admirer of Antonio’s long before I joined the club. I knew what a fantastic player he was and he has not disappointed me on that front. However, what I could never have imagined was what a great person he is. I know I have said this before but I truly believe it is a real privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man. I am delighted he has extended his contract.”

Only Ander Herrera and Eric Bailly recorded better tackle rates at Old Trafford last season, and Valencia was credited with a team-best 1.5 crosses per game.