It was a tale of two halves in Lagos, appropriate given who was on the opposing bench. Under Pia Sundhage, the U.S. Women’s National Team garnered a reputation for late match theatrics, and while the same level of drama wasn’t required in Monday, the U.S. were still forced to come from behind against their former coach.
Pulling back a fourth minute goal from Sweden’s Lisa Dahlkvist, Alex Morgan secured the U.S.’s spot in the Algarve Cup final, heading home a 56th minute corner kick from Megan Rapinoe. The 1-1 draw gave the U.S. first place in Group B and a spot in Wednesday’s tournament final against Germany.
That’s the good news. A more critical eye would point to the first blemishes of the U.S.’s tournament. Dahlkvist’s score was the States’ first goal allowed in three games, an ignominious start to goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’s senior team career. Though the Washington Spirit keeper did well to come out and thwart Swedish star Lotta Schelin, her goal was left unattended as Dahlkvist one-timed the opener from near the center circle.
With the lead, the Swedes frustrated the Americans through halftime, their physical play perhaps leveraging knowledge Sunhage accumulated during five years on the U.S. bench. Against a Swedish side that had drew earlier in the tournament with China (a team the U.S. defeated 5-0 on Friday), it was a disappointing start for the world’s No. 1 team.
But the U.S. recovered in the second half. Morgan’s equalizer gave the States over half an hour to chase a second goal, with Rapinoe coming close to a second in the 88th minute.
Ultimately, the U.S. outshot their former coach’s team 18-5 and put six shots on goal to Sweden’s two. True, they’re the type of numbers you’d expect when an underdog takes an early lead against a favorite, but they’re also indicators that if this match were played again, the U.S. might get a better result.
That doesn’t mean the draw wasn’t discouraging. The U.S. stumbled, and they did so in way that feeds into common complaints. Whether criticism that chasing matches will eventually catch up to the U.S. is well-grounded or not, their recent history of falling behind in games and relying on comebacks leads some to ask when the U.S.’s luck will run out.
But Monday’s wasn’t a big game. It was a group stage match at a low point in the game’s four-year cycle. With the stakes so low, there’s little evidence to bolster any criticisms, and with the World Cup more than two years away, there are only so games where the U.S.’s results will lead to solid conclusions.
Wednesday’s may be one of those games, with the States facing world No. 2 Germany in the tournament final. It’s the first of two games between the rivals in less than a month, with the teams set to meet in Offenbach on April 5.
Currently the game’s best international soccer rivalry, a U.S.-Germany match for the Algarve Cup title should provide the stakes today’s match lacked. While the teams have played recently, drawing two U.S.-based friendlies in October, Wednesday match will likely feature a level of intensity last fall’s matches lacked.
If the U.S.’s problems resurface against Germany, then it’s time to talk. But against a team whose coach has an intimate knowledges of the U.S.’s strengths and weaknesses, a draw with Sundhage’s Sweden can be written off.
UCL AT HALF: Man City, Celtic in thriller; Walcott driving Arsenal
The Scots have opened up a pair of leads through Moussa Dembele‘s third-minute redirection of a Erik Sviatchenko attempt and a Raheem Sterling own goal, but Fernandinho has one for City and Sterling made amends with a goal of his own to level things in a thriller at Celtic Park.
Arsenal 2-0 Basel
A Theo Walcott brace has the Gunners rolling at the Emirates in a match which pits Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka against older brother Taulant Xhaka.
Elsewhere Ludogorets Razgrad 1-1 PSG — Matuidi nabs equalizer
Napoli 1-0 Benfica — Hamsik scores for hosts
Besiktas 1-0 Dynamo Kyiv — Quaresma the scorer
FC Rostov 2-2 PSV Eindhoven — Two for Dmitri Poloz
Manchester City head to Celtic and Pep Guardiola‘s boy can expect a cauldron of noise at Celtic Park, while Arsenal host Basel at the Emirates. Elsewhere a mouthwatering clashing takes place in the Spanish capital where Atletico Madrid host German giants Bayern Munich.
City will be hoping to avoid an upset ahead of their next two UCL games against Pep’s old side, Barcelona, while Arsene Wenger will look to build on Arsenal’s solid draw away at PSG in their Group A opener two weeks ago.
All matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, and you can follow all the action live as it happens by clicking on the link above.
Wednesday UCL schedule
Celtic vs. Manchester City
Arsenal vs. Basel
Atletico Madrid vs. Bayern Munich
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Barcelona
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Napoli vs. Benfica
Besiktas vs. Dynamo Kyiv
FC Rostov vs. PSV Eindhoven
Born in Dakar, Senegal, Vieira explores New York in his spare time and often visits Harlem to eat in authentic African restaurants as he enjoys the rich cultural offerings of the Big Apple.
In his debut season as a head coach at the senior level, Vieria, 40, has already enjoyed plenty of success, leading New York City FC to the playoffs in Major League Soccer in just their second season as a franchise. His star is rising as a coach.
With impressive performances on the pitch from star names Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo, plus youngsters Jack Harrison, Khiry Shelton and Steven Mendoza emerging, all is well at Yankee Stadium as Vieira and NYCFC prepare for the postseason.
Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk from a community event to promote healthy eating among children in Harlem, which Vieira attended alongside NYCFC’s Sporting Director Claudio Reyna, defender Jason Hernandez and Lampard, the former French national team captain revealed just how much importance he places on his team being an integral part of the NYC community.
“It is really important for us because we have some responsibility in the community as well,” Vieira said. “These kids are New York City FC fans and to get the chance to meet some of the players, to come to this event, it is really important and we know that New York is a big city with the five boroughs so it is important for the supporters to be involved in all of the five boroughs.”
As a second-year team, NYCFC has continued its impressive attendance records in MLS with an average crowd of over 26,000 in the Bronx making them the fourth best supported team in the league. They are always trying to find new ways to connect with the vibrant community they’ve only recently become a huge part of.
Speaking passionately about how he wants his team to not only win games but represent NYC in an authentic manner through their play on the pitch, it is clear Vieira feels at home in the hustle and bustle of the USA’s largest city.
“That is the aim. That is what we try to do, to represent New York City. I strongly believe that the city is really dynamic city, 24 hours a day there is something to do and this is how we want to represent the city,” Vieira said. “We want to be really offensive, really dynamic and play with a lot of energy. Of course it is not going to be easy but we need to find a way to do it because we want to represent the city.”
But how exactly does that mantra manifest itself on the pitch in their style of play?
“It is about attacking football, an attacking way of playing, it is scoring goals and I think at times we have done it quite while,” Vieira admitted. “It is also to play with a lot of energy, passion and for the players to give 100 percent. You can win the game, you can lose the game… but what is important is that when the players are on the field, they give everything.”
The pace and passion with which Vieira talks represents the city too. It is full of life and fast.
Vieira was speaking from Ginny’s Supper Club, located in Harlem, as esteemed chef Marcus Samuelsson hosted a “Healthy Hat Trick Cooking Class” for kids from East Harlem’s Lexington Academy. The aim of the event was to teach the children how to cook healthy meals for themselves and Vieira was enthused to connect with a future generation of NYCFC supporters.
“I believe we are in one of the most important places in New York, in Harlem. It is a really authentic place with authentic restaurants and authentic chef, one of the biggest chefs in the world. When you know his story to get to where he is now, for myself and the football club to be here is really important,” Vieira said. “When you look at the kids who are here, they love the game, of course, but I think it is important to explain to them that it is not only football. You can be a chef like Marcus who has been really successful and the interaction between the players, Marcus and the kids has been really good.”
Of course, the main reason Vieira is in New York is to continue his coaching education after excelling as a the leading man for Manchester City’s development squad from 2011-15. The former Arsenal, Juventus, Inter Milan and Man City midfielder who won the World Cup and European Championships with France is quietly going about his job and is not losing any focus on why he’s taken on a completely new challenge in MLS.
With a steely focus, he is eager to continue to get better each and every day.
“I’m visiting different places [in NYC] but I am here because of my job,” Vieira said. “My number one priority is to do well with the team and to be a better coach every single day. When I have a day off there is a few places I go to visit and of course Harlem is one of them. But I know why I am in New York. It is my priority to be a better coach.”
From the coaching side of things, his opening season in MLS couldn’t have been much better. Sure there’s been some speed bumps along the way but despite making the playoffs by beating the Chicago Fire last Friday in front of their home fans at Yankee Stadium and currently tied for first place in the Eastern Conference, Vieira wants more. Much more.
“We are in a really good period. We had some ups and downs during the season but to qualify for the playoffs was just a small step to what we want to do as a football club. We want to be successful. We want to win silverware. Of course being in the playoffs is a step up but it is just a small one compared to what we want to achieve.”
With New York City FC the top goalscorers in MLS with 55 through 31 regular season games, going into the pivotal final few matches of the regular season with the Conference title on the line, plus with the playoffs lurking, Vieira wants his side to stay true to their playing style despite some criticism about their defensive play this season.
Will the pressure situation of playoff soccer impact that outlook at all?
“What is important is to believe in ourselves. We managed to play some games really well to get to the playoffs but the playoffs is of course, win and you keep going, lose and you’re out. I want us to really focus on what we’ve been doing since the beginning of the season,” Vieira said. “I think we’ve had a clear philosophy of how we want to play and we have to stick to that philosophy and not try to do something that we didn’t try already and which didn’t work. I think our togetherness has helped us to be there and we just have to believe in that.”
Veterans Lampard, Villa and Pirlo will play a key role in the postseason and Vieira is counting on them to led the team.
“They have a lot of experience on the field and off the field, so that’s why they will help and be really important in the playoff time,” Vieira added. “I am really quite pleased because I have a really good mix between young players and experienced players and I think if we manage that well, we will give ourselves some more chances.”
In his debut season in MLS, there’s been widespread chatter about how impressive Vieira has seamlessly handled the challenge of moving to a new country, plus coaching in a new league while he is still developing himself as a coach.
When it comes to what Vieira expected of MLS, he has been pleasant surprised be all that he’s experienced in NYC, so far.
“I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived but I am happily surprised because there are a lot of good players, it is really competitive and the atmosphere in the stadiums is really good. I have really enjoyed my experiences, so far.”