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.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.