We’ll be back next week with another exciting version of “Overlooked and Underloved,” but there’s only one MLS game this weekend, so it’s rather pointless. Watch New England-D.C. United. And done.
Now, let’s talk the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and those losses by MLS teams. Personally, I think it’s super fun. Scrappy underdogs battling the pros of Major League Soccer. It’s the Super Bowl for the little guys and not particularly important for MLS clubs. So when eight teams lose, I get excited. There’s nothing more dull than favorites winning all the time.
But I’m already an MLS convert. The problem here is that the upsets leads to posts like this one on Awful Announcing that includes the following sentence: “It’s one of those things in sports when there’s no explanation for what you’re watching. Imagine a D-III or NAIA team go on the road and win a college basketball game at Arizona or Florida or Louisville. It’s insane.”
You and I know that, for a variety of reasons, that’s not entirely true. It’s not flat-out wrong, either, but comparing Bates College defeating Louisville to the Michigan Bucks besting the Chicago Fire or the San Antonio Scorpions beating the Houston Dynamo is not accurate. NASL and PDL squads are much closer in talent — especially when MLS teams rest their best players — than any D-1 basketball team is to a D-III outfit or a NAIA team.
Those are facts, but ones that will be lost on the Awful Announcing audience who will see the comparison and think, “Wow, that’s embarrassing for MLS. It must be a terrible league.” And I don’t mean to pick on the guys at AA, who do a great job. It’s simply a matter of reality. The American sporting public — unfamiliar with MLS’ rules, salary cap structure, etc. and the relative importance of the Open Cup — sees half of the teams in the best division lose to squads in lower tiers and immediately thinks of a college basketball comparison, an MLB comparsion (the Yankees falling to the Staten Island Yankees), an NBA comparison (the Boston Celtics losing to the D-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants), or something else that is both unfavorable and not entirely true. It’s all about perception, folks.
As a soccer fan, I love what’s happening in the USOC. As someone who wants to see MLS gain respect around the country, however, it’s concerning.
The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).
The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.
[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]
Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.
Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.
Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.
As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.
Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?
The game in 100 words (or less): Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.
Three moments that mattered
6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.
36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.
38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.
Man of the Match: Piatti.
Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.
The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.
The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.
The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.
For the report and full explanation, head here.
The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.
Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.
Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.
[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]
As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:
“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”
Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.
[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]
Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.
Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.
Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.
UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday