Scotland v United States

Three Good Questions: U.S. international/FC Kansas City midfielder Lauren Cheney

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Earlier this week, FC Kansas City playmaker Lauren Cheney talked to ProSoccerTalk about the Blues’ impending trip to Rochester, their Saturday match featured as ProSoccerTalk’s NWSL Game of the Week. While much of that conversation was featured in today’s profile, there were enough telling leftovers to dust off an old PST favorite: Three Good Questions.

Through one month of the NWSL season, FC Kansas City’s undefeated, with Cheney serving as the focal point of a team that’s deployed her in a somewhat new role. At UCLA and in Women’s Professional Soccer, the U.S. international was predominantly a striker, while a wealth of forward talent at the national team level has seen the versatile Cheney slowly pushed into a midfield role.

Kansas City, however, has taken advantage of Cheney’s versatility by making her into the playmaker in a 4-2-3-1 formation – playing behind Renae Cueller, in line with midfielders Sinead Farrelly and Kristie Mewis. Given the freedom to move as she sees fit in the attacking phase, Cheney’s been one of the league’s best conductors.

Here are three good questions for the U.S. international. We start by talking about the team’s performance in Tukwila, where Kansas City improved to 2-0-1 thanks to a 1-0 win over Reign FC:

1.) As a team, you had so much possession over the first 30 minutes against Seattle (last Saturday). You in particular, watching your movement, sometimes you’ll come back and show for the ball, if a marker trails you, you’ll peel off and go back upfield. How do you see your role within that attack?

I always want the ball, no matter what position I’m playing. If that’s forward or midfield, I’m always going to check back for the ball sometimes just because I like to get touches. Having a Sinead or a Kristie around me makes it so much easier because I can read off their movement. I’m able to get open more often and keep possession – just have those small touches. I think my movement has been pretty good, and I love it. I’m able to run at the back line if I want to or sometimes just pay a one-touch ball off.

2a.) When did it become apparent to you that you were going to play this role? When you got allocated, some people naturally assumed you would go back to being a number nine.

[FCKC head coach Vlatko Andonovski] did a great job of picking his team. I think the whole time his idea of me was playing a little bit behind the forward and running at players. The whole time I’ve been here in Kansas City, I’ve known this was going to be my role. He’s given us a little bit of freedom. Our ideas and our creativity – he’s given us the freedom to do that. He’s made that apparent from the beginning.

(follow-up on Andonovski, the 36-year-old Macedonian who was brought in from the Missouri Comets indoor team to serve as FCKC’s head coach)

2b.) I just met Vlatko for the first time on Saturday. He was so happy after that performance – his smile was so big. How would you describe him as a coach? What is his style like?

I like what you said there: Vladko had a big smile. You can tell Vladko’s passion for the game. His style is definitely the way that we play. He wants us to play out of the back. He doesn’t want to play long ball. He wants us to have heart and be creative.

Vlatko’s a nice, genuine person off the field, but he demands a lot of us. He wants us to be the hardest workers. He expects us to work hard. He expects us to string together passes and create things, and create opportunities. He’s not scared to let us know when it’s not good enough, but he also is very excited when it is good. He’s sure to let us know that, too.

It’s been awesome playing for Vlatko. He’s really helped our team develop to having a style. I hope that continues the rest of the season.

3.) There is this perception, and it started at the beginning of the year, that there was going to be a big two in this league – your team and Portland. Through one month of the season, there’s been little to prove otherwise. What is your perception of the overall power structure in the league?

I had heard always Portland: top of the line. We had garnered some good press, I would say, but you look at a Boston with Sydney Leroux scoring three goals, Heather O’Reilly scoring two. There are obviously teams that are going to threaten that.

It’s not until every team plays each other will we really know the drop off or who’s were. Right now, Portland’s done well, we’ve done well, but I think Boston’s done well, too. I think those gaps will continue to close the longer teams get to play together.

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)
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)
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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