Dominant Bayern Munich expose gap between themselves, Juventus

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Perhaps we got a little too caught up in the Juventus mystique. Or maybe as fans who are used to a strong Serie A, we’re still coming to grips with Italy’s regression. A closer examination of Juve’s fixture list would have told us the Bianconeri had yet to be tested by a true Champions League-contender, yet we convinced ourselves: This one was going to be close.

Then again, Tuesday could have just been a bad day. And this tie is far from over. Yet after 90 minutes in Germany we’re at a loss, left to brainstorm possible for explanations after the Old Lady’s performance in Munich, a 2-0 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich that could have been much worse.

If Gianluigi Buffon wasn’t good for seven saves and some key decisions to clean up balls sent into his area, this would have ugly. And if Bayern had been more clinical with their myriad chances, this tie would be over. But as it stands, Juventus are fortunate to be heading back to Italy with their European hopes on life support.

(MORE: Messi injury leaves PSG-Barca open to interpretation.)

Worst start possible

All our pre-match talk about Bayern needing to execute went out the window within a minute. That’s when a shot from 30-plus yards beat one of the world’s best keepers, leaving us to debate how much blame Buffon should shoulder.

On one hand, there’s almost never a reason to allow a goal from that distance, particularly when you’re not screened. If the ball isn’t some kind of Roberto Carlos rocket, you’re out of excuses. From half way between the center line and the edge of the area, world-class goalkeepers should adjust to all but the most aberrational scenarios.

Yet when you see replays from behind the goal, David Alaba’s shot looks like an aberration. Though it wasn’t well hit, the Bayern defender’s shot was hit strangely, the ball buckling in mid-air before diving toward the lower right hand corner. By then, Buffon had already committed to a shot that looked to be headed to his right. Caught off-balance as the ball broke, Buffon couldn’t get back across goal.

source: Getty ImagesAt best, Buffon’s footwork should have been better. He shouldn’t have had so much of his weight over his right foot with the ball still so far out.

At worst, it’s one of the bigger howlers of his career, the timing of which allowed Bayern to take early control of the match.

(MORE: Highlights of Bayern’s cruis past Juve.)

Pressure, counter, threaten

That control allowed Bayern to play without the ball, rely their high pressure to disrupt Juventus, and try to beat the Old Lady on the counter – a plan that worked exquisitely. Juventus conductor Andrea Pirlo lacked his usual influence, meaning Claudio Marchisio, Fabio Quagliarella, and Alessandro Matri were kept out of the match. Forced into turnovers, Juve promoted Bayern’s counters, with Arjen Robben and Frank Ríbery constantly able to threaten when they got the ball behind the 3-5-2’s wingbacks.

As the match went on, Juve’s possession advantage faded. In addition to hogging chances, Bayern was starting to hog the ball. They finished with 55 percent possession after the Old Lady’s number had been around 60 for most of the first half. Bayern also held a 22-8 edge in shots and a 9-2 advantage in chances on goal.

And Bayern were able to accomplish this without arguably their best player. Early in the first half, attacking mifielder Toni Kroos left the game with what was later reported as multiple muscle tears in his left thigh. The midfielder’s season may be over.

In his place, Jupp Heynckes brought on Arjen Robben and moved Thomas Müller into the playmaker’s role in his 4-2-3-1, a move that only made things worse for Juventus. Müller gave Bayern another player who could play closer to goal, while Robben gave FCB a second pacey attacker to exploit the spaces left by the three-man defense. With Bastian Schweinsteiger capable of distributing from deep midfield, Bayern was setup to probe the weaknesses of Juve’s setup.

(MORE: Three goals in 15 minutes close PSG-Barça – Highlights)

Changes pay off for second goal

The benefits of Bayern’s changes were evident on their second goal. In the 63rd minute, Robben was able to gain territory down the right before pulling back and playing to Luiz Gustavo 22 yards out. The midfielder’s shot on goal was pushed to Mario Mandzukic, who played back across the six-yard box for Müller. The open net gave Bayern their much-needed second goal.

source: ReutersIf Müller were still wide, he might not have headed for the byline, as Robben is apt to do. Müller tends to cross from deeper, when he crosses at all. If he’d pulled up farther from the byline, Gustavo may not have had room in front of a collapsed midfield. Even if Gustavo did get a shot off, who would have been there to provide an option for Mandzukic?

Down the road, however, Kroos’s loss is sure to prove costly. Among the many strong seasons Bayern’s received from their stars, Kroos’s may have been the strongest. Though Müller can play behind the striker, he lacks Kroos’s playmaking abilities. He’s also less apt to drop back and help link play when another man’s needed deeper.

With eyes toward Italy

Juventus were the underdogs coming into the tie, but nobody expected the gap to be this large. Bayern could have easily put three or four on the Italian champions. That they didn’t is the only reason this tie’s left in doubt, because there was nothing in Juve’s Tuesday form that suggests they’ll have success next week.

But in that terrible display lies a grain of ironic hope. Juventus are not this bad, which makes today’s performance seem like an outlier. Given time to see what went wrong in Munich, they’re unlikely to be as inept in leg two. Perhaps Antonio Conte won’t be so bold as to play his whole team this weekend (as he did on Saturday in Milan). And maybe having been humbled by Bayern, Conte will less be convinced Juve’s modus operandi is good enough.

Expect to see changes next Tuesday, but until we know what those changes are, it’s difficult to assess how likely Juventus is to come back. But no team’s had any real success against Bayern this year. For Juventus to go from terrible to terrific in eight days will require something unpredictable.

MLS attendance up, TV ratings lag as US mulls future

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer’s attendance is up and fan interest is booming, even if television broadcasts are far less popular and some young Americans would rather play in Europe.

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MLS averaged 22,000 in attendance for the first time in its history this season, ranked among the top seven leagues in the world. The league is set to add a second Los Angeles franchise next year, announce two expansion cities next month and at some point finalize David Beckham’s long-pending Miami club.

But viewers averaged under 300,000 for nationally televised regular-season matches, fewer than the average for a New York Yankees game on their regional sports network. Several top young Americans, such as Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, have chosen to forego the MLS to play in Germany and test their mettle in a more demanding environment.

And worst of all, the United States – whose roster was filled with MLS stars – failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase.

“We need to use this failure as a wakeup call for everyone associated with the sport at all levels to ensure that we have the right processes and mechanisms and development programs and leadership and governance in place to learn from this missed opportunity to ensure that it never happens again,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week. “Part of the maturation of becoming a soccer nation is recognizing that qualifying for the World Cup is not a birthright. It’s something you need to earn, and we are unfortunately in the company of some great soccer nations, like Italy and Holland and Ghana and Chile – Copa champions – that have also not qualified.”

MLS playoffs resume next week after the international break with the first leg of Conference Championships. Columbus – whose owners are threatening to move to Austin, Texas, in 2019 – hosts Toronto, while Houston is home against Seattle.

“MLS and soccer in the United States have made great advances in many areas. But its promoters have found that the abundance of existing legacy sports leagues that have the highest quality of athletes on the planet creates a ceiling on professional soccer in the United States,” said Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm SportsCorp. “It has not, and perhaps never, will supplant any of the major legacy sports unless and until the quality of play and players increases significantly and the U.S. men’s team in particular is more competitive and, in fact, wins some of the major international tournaments.”

Momentum of playoff runs was interrupted because of World Cup qualifying, and the culmination of the league’s season competes for attention with the NFL and college football among the wider American sports audience.

“Long-term demographic things like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and stuff with the NFL says maybe there is a long slow decline around some of that, but when you’re starting from where they’re starting, that’s going to take a generation,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We’ll grow because most of the immigration to the U.S. is from soccer-playing countries and the country is going to grow.”

Launched with 10 teams in 1996, two years after the U.S. hosted the World Cup, MLS expanded to 12 but cut back to 10 after the 2001 season. There has been steady growth since expansion started in 2004. Next year’s total will be 23, already well over the norm for a first division, and the league is planning to settle at 28.

Infrastructure could not be more different than in the early days. The league has 14 soccer specific stadiums, two more renovated for the sport and one built with both the NFL and soccer in mind. Three more soccer stadiums are under construction.

Average attendance is up 60 percent from 13,756 in 2000, boosted this year by 48,200 for Atlanta in its opening season. MLS trails only the Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Mexico’s Liga MX, the Chinese Super League and Serie A, with Italy’s first division ahead by only 22,177 to 22,106.

But that has not translated yet into big television ratings.

ESPN averaged 272,000 for 30 telecasts this regular season on ESPN and ESPN2, and Fox averaged 236,000 for 33 broadcasts on FS1 and Fox. In addition, Univision is averaging 250,000 viewers for its Spanish-language MLS telecasts.

But the Premier League attracts a larger audience, averaging 422,000 on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, even though many matches are on weekend mornings.

“We’re not the Premier League,” Garber said, pointing out last year’s MLS Cup drew 1.4 million viewers on Fox. “The fact that we’re able to generate ratings growth across all of our partners here and in Canada, and dramatic growth in Canada, is a positive. So we actually, we and our partners, feel pretty darn good.”

Player payroll has increased as MLS keeps adding what it calls Targeted Allocation Money. While several older American players have returned to MLS from Europe, many of the teens viewed as the future of the U.S. national team have gone abroad as they emerge from the MLS youth academies, which have been mandated by the league since 2007 and produced more than 250 players with first-team MLS contracts.

Pulisic, at 19 already the leading American star, left Hershey, Pennsylvania, to sign with Borussia Dortmund at age 16, able because of his grandfather’s Croatian citizenship to play in Europe before he turned 18. McKennie left FC Dallas’ academy when he turned 18, signed with Schalke and scored in his U.S. debut this week.

“I didn’t want to become one of those guys that started in MLS and said, man, I wonder if I could have made it to Europe,” McKennie said. “I wanted to spread my wings and see what I could do over here.”

Forward Josh Sargent decided against Sporting Kansas City and is waiting until he turns 18 in February to sign with Werder Bremen.

“I think I’ve just always wanted since I was a little kid to play in Europe,” he said.

Tyler Adams, who also made his U.S. debut this week, played his first MLS game with the New York Red Bulls last year at age 17 and became a regular this season. Garber says “Tyler Adams probably is playing more minutes today for the Red Bulls than he would if he was not in Major League Soccer.”

Adams is happy but thinking ahead.

“Obviously a goal of mine is to play Champions League one day, and obviously the MLS is working its way to becoming one of the top leagues in the world,” he said. “Maybe one day I find myself in Europe. You never know.”

Sometimes big contracts only stall a career. Matt Miazga left the Red Bulls to sign with Chelsea in January 2016, saw little playing time and didn’t get in games regularly until late that autumn during a loan to the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem.

“If your only desire is to go to Europe, there are flights leaving every hour on the hour from JFK and LAX and everywhere in between,” said retired American defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox analyst. “But getting to a place in Europe where you are making good money, where you are playing consistently, where you are learning, where you are valued as a player and as an American player, where you are able to adapt and adjust and live in the other 22 1/2 hours that we often don’t talk about, that’s whole `nother story, and there’s not a lot of flights leaving that have that on the other end.”

With the U.S. soccer community in turmoil following the World Cup failure, some have called for MLS to guarantee playing time for young Americans.

“Our coaches universally believed that that was not the best way to ensure we had the highest-possible product quality to be able to have competitive games and to drive the growth of our fan base,” Garber said.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.

Bartra error emphasizes Dortmund’s latest Bundesliga woes

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Christian Pulisic sat out Friday’s 2-1 Dortmund defeat against Stuttgart. Coincidence? Perhaps.

However, the club’s struggles are apparent as Dortmund’s winless run extended to four matches and their gap from Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich could be up to nine points by the end of the weekend.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down from Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

BVB was without several of its top talents for the match, including U.S. Men’s National Team star Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it’s Dortmund’s defending that continues to be the side’s biggest issue.

Stuttgart struck after five minutes when Chadrac Akolo broke the deadlock off of an embarrassing blunder by Marc Bartra and the Dortmund defense.

Bartra attempted a routine back pass to goalkeeper Roman Burki during the early moments of the match, but his ball back proved to be way too strong and deflected off of Burki and into the path of Stuttgart forward Akolo (video below).

Dortmund atoned for the former Barcelona man’s mistake just prior to halftime when Maximilian Philipp equalized, but it took just six minutes into the second stanza for Josip Brekalo to restore the Stuttgart advantage.

Moyes: Chicharito could miss two weeks with hamstring strain

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David Moyes has given Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez assurances that he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a starting role with the Hammers, but the Mexican international will have to wait a bit for a chance.

[ MORE: North London Derby takes center stage Saturday morning ]

Hernandez, 29, is currently nursing a hamstring strain, leaving his status for this weekend against Watford in doubt.

“I think everyone knows he [Chicharito] has got a hamstring injury,” Moyes said during Friday’s press conference. “It could take a week, it could take two weeks.”

Moyes didn’t mince words recently when speaking about Chicharito and other players within the squad, essentially pointing out that no player will be awarded a starting role simply because of their stardom.

Hernandez has scored four goals in 13 matches this season for West Ham, who currently sits 18th in the Premier League. The Hammers have won just two matches to start the 2017/18 campaign and sit on nine points.

Alessandro Nesta steps down with NASL side Miami FC

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Miami FC quickly put itself on the U.S. soccer map in two short seasons, and much of the club’s success can be attributed to manager Alessandro Nesta.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down with Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

The former Serie A defender has managed the club in its first two years of existence, but Nesta’s time in South Beach is coming to an end.

Nesta revealed on Friday that he won’t be returning to the NASL club in 2018, as he prepares to fnd a “new challenge” in his managerial career.

With NASL’s future as a league very much up in the air, Nesta could be seeking a more stable position entering 2018, especially given that his name has been thrown around with several MLS jobs over the last few months.