Referee Mark Clattenburg speaks with Chelsea's John Obi Mikel and  Manchester United's Patrice Evra after sending off Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic during their English Premier League soccer match in London

Clattenburg, Chelsea, and English soccer’s weekly dalliance with race

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It’s easy to make light of another race controversy in English soccer, but you can only laugh at the same joke for so long. To the extent soccer is a reflection of a nation’s broader culture, soccer is showing the boomerang effects of England’s zero tolerance, no room for discussion approach. Racism is unacceptable, but how do you enforce any standard when you can’t agree what racism is? Luis Suárez’s (albeit malicious and excessive) use of a term accepted in South America? John Terry’s terrible context for the adjective ‘black’? Or whatever Mark Clattenburg is accused of saying to John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata on Sunday? England’s need to stop and recalibrate on a case-by-case basis shows both a lack of confidence and certainty. That Jason Roberts and Rio Ferdinand’s attempts to further the dialog were met with derision shows the ignorant externalities that have developed. No wonder this keeps happening.

England’s latest controversy centers on Clattenburg, arbiter of Sunday’s Chelsea-Manchester United affair. Chelsea have accused the match official of using “inappropriate language” toward two of their players, widely thought to be Mikel and Mata. What did he say? Who knows, but it’s assumed to be racial in nature, and despite publicly offering their full support of Clattenburg, the Professional Game Match Officials have withheld him from the upcoming weekend’s assignments. England’s Football Association has opened an investigation, and at least one opportunistically-adorned pundit has speculated Clattenburg may have called his last game.

We shouldn’t assume Clattenburg’s done, but we can consider the more general scenario. What would it mean if a referee racially abused a player? Obviously, the official should lose their job, having shown a type of deep-seated bias that would make it impossible to trust his more superficial in-game judgments. But that’s the least interesting of the implications. More importantly, such an incident would dispel the notion that this type of ignorance is a exclusively symptomatic of a player class characterized as insular, arrogant, uneducated, and entitled. Those qualities were supposed to be precipitants to player (and, in many cultures, fan) transgressions, but if officials are also capable of these mistakes, you can’t write them off to player arrogance.

Gerneralizing beyond individuals’ stupid decisions, there seem three possibilities regarding underlying causes. First, the competitive nature of high-level soccer compels people to fall back on their most base instincts – feelings shame and neglect leave unrefined by the light of fame and fortune. The Suárez and Clattenburg instances both came in highly-charged rivalry matches after provocation (Suárez in an altercation with Patrice Evra, Clattenburg in confrontations with Chelsea players). Just as alcohol tends to being out what lies beneath, perhaps competitive intensity does the same. When my emotions are high, I’ll resort to what I perceive to be my big, must hurtful guns.

There’s also the possibility that we’re just seeing a reflection of a soccer culture that’s always existed. This is almost certainly the case. With every iteration of this controversy we’re told this happens all the time, and we’d be shocked to know all the trash that’s thrown during a 90-minute match. It’s only the attention that’s paid to the modern game that brings these incidents to the forefront, we’re told, a contention that’s impossible to deny.

It would be a mistake, however, to consider this selective enforcement. Just because we didn’t hear about these incidents in the past doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have cared. And even if we didn’t, times chance. There’s clearly no current tolerance for this type of idiocy.

The final possibility is one England needs to come to grips with before these problems go away. While, as soccer fans, we’re used to the face to English soccer being the type of liberal erudition posted by the Guardian or inferred from a commentator’s posh tones, this is only one part of the English landscape. The broader section of English life is more likely to note these controversies and move on, if not (in the case of Terry) actually forgive him. Regardless, there is no discussion. There is no attempt to find a bridge between these views. There’s no national dialog (let alone identity) attached to this issue. it’s almost trite to note, butEngland has always had trouble coming to grips with the legacy of its empire. Soccer’s oblivious response to deeper-resting race issues is a symptom of England’s problematic psychology.

Every nation deals with issues of race, and while soccer brings England’s to the forefront, it’s a mistake to assume the nation’s approach is worse than other countries’. What makes the soccer problem so interesting is the inherent hypocrisy of England’s self-appointed role as the game’s moral authority. When Luis Súarez committed an intentional handball on the goal line against Ghana in World Cup 2010, it was England that led a disproportionately large and ridiculous response. On issues of diving, it’s England’s culture that appeals to a higher, inherent morality that should be imbued in each player. The nation has only two black coaches in its top four tiers and recently had a prominent coach equate the Rooney Rule with racism. That England can’t form a coherent, progressive approach to race but seeks to serve as a moral compass is ludicrous. They know we can see them, right?

The shock, awe and bewilderment we see from England whenever race meets sport reflects a society that hasn’t come to grips with something deeper. That Jason Roberts and Rio Ferdinand get derided for reminding people that a stance is nothing without action serves as a perfect reflection of their state of affairs. If Roberts and Ferdinand’s stances can cause controversy, England is still too far away from conveying the day-to-day, implicit messages that will curtail these problems.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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