Kicking the can on Osvaldo Alonso in England

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Right now, we have no reason to believe Osvaldo Alonso is going to be anywhere but Seattle come March.

That said, there’s a high profile team with decent resources who will get a good look at him over the next few days – a team that recently lost one of their best deep-lying midfielders to injury. And as most people in and around Seattle know, it’s difficult to get a long look at the Sounders’ destroyer and conclude something other than “this guy can help our team.” Perhaps he wouldn’t help West Ham United as much as Seattle, but he’d still help.

But such effects are zero sum games in the soccer world. There aren’t two Ozzie Alonsos, so if he were somewhere other than Seattle, the Sounders would have a significant hole to fill.

That might be an understatement. Think through Major League Soccer’s players and how they’re deployed by their teams and you won’t come up with a more important player that Osvaldo Alonso. That doesn’t necessarily make him the best player in the league or a person who’d be as important for other franchises. But for Seattle, he’s beyond significant. He’s vital.

Were he to leave, Seattle would have to find a new way to protect their defense. The team allowed the second-fewest goals in Major League Soccer last season, yet their best defender was Jeff Parke. How does that happen? Part of it was strong play from Michael Gspurning, but a lot of teams with good goalkeepers and still concede in bunches (as Dan Kennedy’s PTSD can attest). When you see the work Alonso does keeping action from hitting Seattle’s decent-if-average back liners, who realize he’s the big reason why one of the league’s better defenses doesn’t need standout defenders.

Alonso plays an important if less vital role in attack, one that was highlighted as Designated Player Christian Tiffert struggled through his first months in Major League Soccer. As the German import adapted to his new, more physical competition, Alonso persisted as the man that managed Seattle’s play in the middle third. When Brad Evans moved to central midfield at the end of the season, Seattle’s dependence on Ozzie persisted. Even if the 27-year-old is still more land mine than delivery man, he’s developed into a key component of Seattle’s transition.

If Seattle lost him, Tiffert would have to become the player they thought they were getting from Kaiserslautern. That’s likely to happen. What’s unlikely to happen is getting one player who can replace Alonso’s defensive contributions. With Parke now in Philadelphia, that becomes a particularly pressing concern.

Would that mean changing to two deep midfielders? Players attempting to do a job Alonso previously did on his own? Maybe the formation stays the same but the tactics change, head coach Sigi Schmid becoming more conscious about providing help to whomever steps into Alonso’s boots?

Or maybe it’s not something Seattle has to worry about at all. Even as he enjoys London’s days of proposed industrial action, Alonso’s still highly unlikely to move.

At least, he’s highly unlikely to move right now.

Referee leaders want on-field official to see video replays

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LONDON (AP) Antoine Griezmann headed the ball into the net and was in full celebration mode with his France teammates when referee Felix Swayer pinned a finger into his left ear to block out the stadium noise.

[ VIDEO: VAR system used correctly

An assistant in front of a bank of monitors was assessing replays and had some bad news for Griezmann. Swayer was told through his earpiece that a player was offside in the buildup.

The goal was then ruled out, without Swayer seeing a replay. But that won’t necessarily be the case by the time video replays are fully approved to be rolled out across soccer.

For now, the experimental phase is still in full flow but if refereeing leaders get their way officials should always have access to the footage themselves around the field.

“The subjective decisions should be made by the on-field referee because they have got the feel for the game,” Mike Riley, general manager of English refereeing organization, told The Associated Press. “They can put it in the context of everything else. So as part of the process we have got to work out how we can do that as effectively as possible … without interrupting the flow of the game.”

The International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmaking body, is in its second year of trials with various versions of video assistant referees (VAR). Some games, like the France-Spain friendly, do not allow the referee to evaluate incidents and instead by rely on the VAR.

But VAR could end up only ruling on what Riley describes as “decisions of fact,” such as whether a ball was inside or outside the penalty area.

Ultimately, if you are appointing one of the top referees to preside over a major game, that person is seen as ideal for making the big calls, according to IFAB.

“Fundamentally we are told very much by players and coaches they want the referee to be making the most important decisions,” IFAB technical director David Elleray said, referencing England’s top referee. “They don’t know who is in a van out in the car park or 300 miles away in a match center.”

Soccer’s lawmakers only envisage video replays being used to correct game-changing decisions involving four situations: penalties being awarded, red cards, cases of mistaken identity and goals being scored.

That situation arose twice in the Stade de France on Tuesday as France lost 2-0 to Spain. After Griezmann’s goal was disallowed, video replays worked against France again but in Spain’s favor when an incorrect offside call against Gerard Deulofeu was overturned and his goal stood.

Swayer again relied on the information from a colleague benefiting from replays.

“Nicola Rizzoli was appointed to referee the last World Cup final because he is the best referee,” Elleray said. “But if actually the two most important decisions in the match are made by somebody watching a TV screen … the most important person is the man you put behind the TV screen not the man on the field.”

The challenges are how referees are able to view replays without lengthening the delay. For now the technology isn’t satisfactory for officials to use wearable devices and receive footage in real time. That means going to the side of the field to watch incidents with the eyes of thousands of fans in the stands on them. The screens are likely to be on the opposite side to the technical area to avoid coaches being able to surround and harangue the referee.

“Some of our stadiums don’t lend themselves to monitors by the side of the pitch because they are really tight,” said Riley, a former Premier League referee who is now in charge of appointments for games in the world’s richest soccer competition. “Is it right for referees to have to run 30 yards to go and look? Can you get the footage to the referee on the field somehow? All these things have to be explored through the experiment and come out with a solution that works for football.”

Live experiments are taking place in about 20 competitions this year, including the Confederations Cup in Russia in June and July that will serves as a World Cup test event.

Once IFAB adds video replays to the laws of the game, any competition meeting the requirements will be able to use them.

For Riley, permitting replays is “the most significant change in refereeing in the game for generations,” far more significant than the 2012 decision to allow technology that simply determines whether the ball crossed the goal line.

“If you are making such a significant change,” Riley said, “you need to really explore and understand all the potential implications.”

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Amid fanfare, Bastian Schweinsteiger arrives in Chicago

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Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, it is clear Bastian Schweinsteiger is kind of a big deal…

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Posing for photos with fans as he stepped off the flight with his wife, former Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic, the former Bayern Munich midfielder was mobbed by Chicago Fire fans who are delighted he has arrived in Major League Soccer as the newest Designated Player.

The German legend has completed his move from Manchester United to the Fire and will be officially unveiled to the media on Wednesday after signing a one-year deal.

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Schweinsteiger, 32, has already had a training session in the books and the World Cup winner is expected to make his debut in Chicago’s home clash with the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Below is a video of Schweinsteiger’s arrival in Chicago, his first training session and a collection of photos he took with ecstatic Fire fans.


Liverpool’s Emre Can scores stunning goal in training

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Emre Can, take a bow.

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Alongside Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, the German international stole the show as BT Sport rocked up for an episode of “Goals Recreated” at Melwood.

The premise is simple: can current day PL players recreate sensational goals of the past?

On this occasion each player had four attempts to mirror Papiss Cisse‘s stunning goal for Newcastle United against Chelsea, and although Mane came close Can was the man of the moment.

Click play on the video below to see the stunning effort.


Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.