Crew Stadium

Crew Stadium: a Spartan place, but one with enormous significance in American soccer

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I know that beating up on Crew Stadium, easily the most plain Jane facility among 14 constructed expressly for MLS clubs, is something of a pastime for domestic soccer supporters.

It’s an easy target. I get it.

But today is a great time to put Crew Stadium and its critical place in domestic soccer into proper perspective. Because one could easily make this case: Considering soccer’s history here, it might just be the United States’ most important professional soccer stadium.

It was the country’s first major soccer stadium, the tip of the spear of what is, was and always will be the most critical early initiative in professional soccer’s latter day growth here. Simply put, in terms of making MLS facility headway, nothing else happens without the lightly adorned Crew Stadium’s development. None of it.

Not Home Depot Center. Not Red Bull Arena. Not PPL Park. Not Livestrong Park, etc.

Heck, probably no Seattle Sounders or Portland Timbers – those very organizations, that is.

Crew Stadium is Spartan, no doubt. It is essentially four sets of stands erected around a pitch, with some build-out in the concession areas and some bare-bones suites attached. Built on fair grounds leased from the Ohio Expositions Commission, the surrounding area is nothing to shout about.

That said, none of it matters a bit. This stadium was never about aesthetics or fancy-schmancy. And it wasn’t about location; we were all still years from figuring out marketing models that made more sense with venues closer to urban cores.

This park was about symbolism and economic empowerment.  And about faith.

In fact, it was probably the demonstration of faithful conviction that makes Crew Stadium place so important. Specifically, it was a leap of faith from Lamar Hunt, who had taken them before in professional soccer and landed well short his mark, suffering the financial bruising to prove it.

But trustingly into the breach he went once more. The final Crew Stadium cost of $28.5 million will buy roughly one-sixth of a stadium today, give or take. But, you know, it’s still $28.5 million. Who wants to toss that into the ol’ yellow dumpster?

The Crew home ground went up in 1999 when MLS was still just a wobbly legged pony – and nobody was sure if that little guy would ever trot even one full lap around the track, much less zoom around it spectacularly at full, beautiful gallop.

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Only after the facility went up did everyone fully understand what it meant, the full promise economic sustainability that would never, ever, ever happen as renters. And only then did fans, officials and (probably later) media fully embrace the symbolic value of clubs having homes to call their own. Their house – in the middle of the (soccer) street!

I don’t think anyone every put it better than Dwayne De Rosario, who said not too long back “People take you seriously when you get your own stadium.”

There is also soccer history to talk about with Crew Stadium. We’ll get to that later. It’s the Lamar Hunt’s trust in the game and his wonderful, enduring faith that we should spend a minute celebrating today and tomorrow ahead of Tuesday’s huge World Cup qualifier.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.