Drilling down on, US Open Cup: Seattle 1, at San Jose 0

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SAN FRANCISCO

Man of the Match: When a game’s being played at an 87-year-old municipal venue, you don’t always get the luxury of instant replays. So even after Cordell Cato had given Seattle the lead, it was unclear how he’d done it. Did the ball, shot from a very sharp angle to the right of goal, go through the goalkeeper’s legs? Or did the goalkeeper really give some room between himself and the goal line? When the ball hit the side netting, there was too much surprise to recount the minutia. By the time the crowd had collected itself, San Jose was kicking off after the game’s only goal.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • The U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal gave San Jose a rare opportunity to play in San Francisco. Old Kezar Stadium, located in Golden Gate Park, used to be he home of John Brodie’s San Francisco 49ers and (for one year) the Oakland Raiders. Now, it’s better known as a running track and the site of occasional high profile high school football games.
  • The game also gave San Francisco, a traditionally strong television market for major soccer events, a chance to take in some Major League Soccer action. San Jose and Seattle was the only all-MLS match of the day, and although the Earthquakes’ supporters were expected to travel well, there was going to be enough tickets for curious San Franciscans to see two of the Western Conference’s better teams.
  • In the hours before the game, it looked like San Francisco might have had better things to do. There was no fan presence outside the stadium, and the bars around the grounds were relatively empty. As kickoff approached, Earthquakes fans arrived and filled the saloons, but at kickoff, one official placed the crowd at an estimated 3500-4000 people.
  • Thankfully, that number rose dramatically after kick off. Twenty-five minutes into the game, the crowd appeared to have doubled.
  • By that time, San Jose had an ineffective control on the match. They were playing a side of regulars while Seattle, arriving on one day’s rest, played a second-choice team.
  • Cato’s goal gave Seattle a halftime lead, after which San Jose really took control. Continuously pumping balls into the area, the Earthquakes were able to create a number of scares for goalkeeper Andrew Weber, though he was never called upon to make a huge save.
  • Except for the goal, same could be said for David Bingham. Seattle played well at the back, but going forward, all they had waas Cato on the right, meaning a lot of work for Ike Opara and Justin Morrow. Opara still looks shaky – nowhere near his rookie self. Against an attack he could have handled, he was inconsistent.
  • After Frank Yallop brought on Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart, Seattle went into survival mode. They mounted some good counters but had little sustained possession. Most of their efforts were spent clearing crosses.
  • Three points of officiating controversy had San Jose fans shaking their heads as they left the stadium:
    • Tressor Moreno, who overall had a very bad game (giving the ball away ahead of the only goal), was taking down two yards into the area in the second half. Referee Yader Reyes awarded the foul but outside the area, and while this kind of ham-handed solution is becoming more common, this was a particularly egregious abuse.
    • A late volley off an attempted clearance of a corner seemed to hit a Seattle player’s arm, but Reyes demurred. He was immediately surrounded by four San Jose players pleading the team’s case.
    • After a number of ugly confrontations between the teams, including one that saw Alan Gordon red carded, six minutes of extra time was supposed to be played. Watches and clocks within the press box said the whistle blew less than five minutes into added time.
  • The confrontations got uglier after the final whistle, with Sounder Eddie Johnson having to be restrained while the San Jose players responded to Jason Hernandez Jed Zayner (who did not play) lying on his back, kicking his left leg as if in pain. The teams reacted as if there’d been a physical altercation. The officials were escorted from the field by security, and Seattle stayed on the pitch until all of the San Jose players had gone down the tunnel.
  • The ugliness wasn’t restricted to the field. There was an uncommon amount of profanity-laced chants, particularly from the San Jose supporters’ section. Perhaps this was a show of frustration at the score. Perhaps it was in response to a small but vocal group of Sounder fans who (also periodically engaging in crude chants) regularly out-yelled their more numerous adversaries.
    • I’m not oblivious to the fact that supporters sections regularly show poor judgment with their chants, but Tuesday night’s game was not at Buck Shaw Stadium, where perhaps the citizenry of San Jose may know what to expect in showing up. It was at an alterate venue and was likely to attract a number of semi-neutrals – people likely to have young children. And just like any other major sporting event, the stands feature a number of kids so young that it’s best to assume their parents would want to be able to exercise discretion over the language to which they’re exposed.
    • You can argue that people should know that profanity is going to be chanted at a soccer game, but they don’t. Most people we (as a community) want coming to MLS games are naive to what’s going on. That’s what being a growing league’s about.
    • This is a difficult subject for me because I happen to be very pro-profanity; however, you don’t see me using it in these posts. It’s a matter of respecting the likely views of my readers. There’s a time and place, and while I would like those times and places to be more frequent, I know that ProSoccerTalk isn’t the venue. I also know most adults don’t want me yelling profane words near their children, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t want me and 999 of my friends chanting them.
    • Major League Soccer fans are more emotionally tied to their league’s success than any other U.S. sports fan, and as such, they’ve become an extension of the product. That product is not represented well when, during one of the league’s rare appearances in a place like San Francisco, fans are undermining the idea MLS is a family product.
    • Right now, the league and its teams look the other way at this kind of behavior. I presume they don’t want to temper the enthusiasm of their most loyal clients; however, this kind of behavior is not acceptable. Teams should be more proactive about working with the leadership of supporters’ groups to educate membership about acceptable behavior.
  • Despite all the night’s negatives, it was a huge win for Seattle. Winless in seven, the Sounders’ reserves came up bit, keeping Seattle in line for a fourth-straight U.S. Open Cup.
  • They move on to face Chivas USA while Philadelphia will play Sporting KC, with all lower division clubs seen out of the competition on Tuesday.

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
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Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

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The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.