Tottenham Hotspur v  New York Red Bulls

The tales are tumbling out of Red Bull Arena now


At some point last year a few soccer journos were sitting around, talking over a soda pop or two. It’s what we do best; you gotta play to your strengths.

The subject wheel finally landed on the New York Red Bulls and someone (sorry I can’t remember who … proper credit and all) said, “Oh, the stories are there, and they’ll all start coming out soon enough.”

That day has apparently arrived.

During Red Bulls media day Monday in Harrison, former manager Hans Backe and (more than likely) Rafa Marquez became the favorite punching bags as guys like Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill (pictured) and Heath Pearce began pulling back the curtain on why such a fabulously talented team never found its potential, hovering habitually between “average” and “just above average.”

Backe was, let’s say, a “less respected” figure inside the locker room. (In fairness, it is impossible to know who was making some of the high-profile decisions, Backe or someone above him.)

Said defender Heath Pearce, who was advocating new manager Mike Petke, but saying a lot in his comparison:

If guys can jog around training and get away with it, then what’s going to happen in the games where you need guys in the 90th minute to make plays? From the ground level up, accountability is going to be a major factor for us. Them enabling us to hold each other to that level, with (the coaching staff’s) support, is going to be a big thing for us.”

Advocacy for Petke was a big theme. The players love his dedication the job and the organization. Again, you wonder is that’s more about Petke or more about the previous regime?

And then this: Credit to Cahill, who hasn’t been in the United States for a full year, for already figuring out what inexplicably escapes so very many men in MLS corner offices: that American coaches have a better opportunity to grasp the peculiarities and vagaries unique to MLS. I’ve been banging that drum for years.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what happened last season. It seemed very open and messy. There was no stability, whereas now there’s stability. There’s Petke.”

Said Cahill of the search that wandered first in Europe – and where serendipity may have ultimately intervened, saving the Red Bulls from themselves when the chosen coaching accent couldn’t come to terms or couldn’t get a visa or whatever:

I just kept hearing names about European coaches. It’s hard to bring in European coaches that understand the league and the structure … what’s going to be best to build a team.”

There’s even more in the piece from Brian Straus linked above, including some shots at Dwayne De Rosario, who was even more to the point in assessing his brief run at Red Bull Arena.

Chelsea: Conte expects warm reception for Mourinho; Terry is fit

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  A fan wears a Chelsea scarf with the image of the club's former manager, Jose Mourinho before the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Watford at Stamford Bridge on December 26, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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The managers are meeting the media ahead of this week’s Premier League matches, and many eyes are trained on one specific match-up.

Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Sunday, the first time Jose Mourinho will manage against his old side since his unceremonious exit last winger.

[ USWNT: Holiday has tumor removed ]

Mourinho, of course, led Chelsea to the 2014-15 title only to see a miserable start to the following campaign. He was hired at Manchester United this summer, but Conte thinks Mourinho’s Chelsea laurels have earned him some love from Stamford Bridge.

“I have great respect for Mourinho. He deserves a good reception. He was an important man for Chelsea and wrote part of the club’s story.”

Conte also touched on Paul Pogba‘s decision to head back to Old Trafford. The manager guided the French midfielder during their time at Juventus.

“It was Paul Pogba’s dream was to return to Manchester United. I wish him well, but only after this game.”

Conte said John Terry is available to return for Chelsea, and that could be invaluable against a big, strong forward like United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With the Red Devils having played Thursday, Conte will like his chances a bit more than usual.

Canada vs. U.S. among top-notch CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 20:  Gershon Koffie #28 of the Vancouver Whitecaps brings the ball up field against Dax McCarty #11 of the New York Red Bulls at B.C. Place on June 20, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images)
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The bracket is set for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and ensures that at least one MLS vs. Liga MX semifinal will happen next Spring.

No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls will cross the continent to meet No. 8 Vancouver Whitecaps, with the winner moving on to face the victor of Mexico’s Tigres UANL vs. Pumas UNAM.

[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]

The possibility of an all-Liga MX or all-MLS final still exists, with Pachuca and FC Dallas on opposite sides of the bracket. Arabe Unido gives Panama hope for its first CCL semifinalist, while Saprissa can be Costa Rica’s first semifinalist since 2011.

Of the remaining teams, only Pachuca has won a title in the CCL era (2008-present). Tigres lost in the 2016 final, the only other team to make it that far.

Full schedule
New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8)
Tigres UANL (4) vs. Pumas UNAM (5)
Arabe Unido (2) vs. FC Dallas (7)
Pachuca (3) vs. Saprissa (4)

The first legs will be played in late February, and the bright side to the intra-league quarters will be one MLS side waiting a round before facing a more in-form club playing a traditional season schedule (though that’s an overblown excuse at this point).

Some fans don’t care much for the tournament, while others — myself included — are extremely keen to see an MLS team win the CCL and represent North America in the Club World Cup, where it can get a high profile litmus test in a serious competition (Real Madrid beat Cruz Azul 4-0 in a 2014 semifinal).

Report: USWNT star Holiday has brain tumor removed

Costa Rica v United Staes: Final - 2014 CONCACAF Women's Championship
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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World Cup champion Lauren Holiday has had a brain tumor removed, one month after giving birth.

Holiday’s husband, Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans, announced that his pregnant wife was diagnosed with an operable tumor in September, and Lauren Holiday has publicly thanked fans for support while requesting prayers.

[ MORE: UCL Final in United States? ]

The Holidays welcomed their first child earlier this month, and Jrue left the Pelicans preseason to help his wife.

The BBC added this tidbit:

Unbelievably as a three-year-old, she had open-heart surgery to repair a defect and went on to become one of the world’s most respected football players.

Get well soon, Lauren.

WATCH: FC Dallas rocket goal sends Guatemalan rainwater flying off net

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Carlos Lizarazo #22 of FC Dallas looks on during the second half of an MLS soccer game against Toronto FC at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Carlos Lizarazo’s ridiculous rocket shook rain off the net in an aesthetically pleasing CONCACAF Champions League goal on Thursday.

The Cruz Azul loanee struck a vicious shot for FC Dallas’ fifth goal, which boosted out of the No. 8 seed for the quarterfinals after a 5-2 win at Suchitepéquez in Guatemala.

[ MORE: PST talks with FCD’s Hedges, Zimmerman ]

Lizarazo, 25, had two goals in 10 appearances for FCD heading into the game, with both coming in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.