When a “fortress” in soccer is not very fortress-like


Show me a stadium that TV types enjoy referring to as a “fortress,” as a place that’s Kevlar-tough on opposition and I’ll show you … a place that probably is none of the above.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a scarf-sporting, beer-chilled, rocking wall of synchronized noise as much as the next foam-fingered fellow.

It’s just that media members, particularly those paid for adding words to the HD moving pictures, have always found it easy to falsely equate lively grounds and packed seats with prodigious home-team performance.

Only, it’s frequently nonsense.

BMO Field was the classic case — it took forever for TV broadcasters to knock off the hyperbole, referring to Toronto FC’s ground at Exhibition Place as “Fortress BMO” and as “one of the toughest places to play in MLS” and such. It finally became painfully obvious that the team stunk, no matter how faithfully fantastic the crowds were back in the late 2000s.

Tonight MLS gives us a couple more comparative examples:

Sporting Kansas City performs insides its sumptuous, teeming ground. I really love Sporting Park, a place where owners spent generously – and absolutely nailed it. When the place is rocking, the noise trapped marvelously by the glistening roof overheard, few of those storied European or South American grounds have anything on the place.

All that said, Sporting Kansas City has never truly made it a “fortress” in terms of results. True enough that the team’s former high-pressure ways made it a difficult place to play – but the numbers are the numbers.

And they ain’t that great.

Peter Vermes’ team is a pedestrian 4-3-2 at Sporting Park this year. They tumbled out of the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 there. Plus, a crushing U.S. Open Cup loss in June to lower tier Orlando City was more devastating still because it happened inside the team’s suburban KC ground.

(MORE: Sporting Kansas City-Vancouver preview)

Since the swell and sparkly place opened three years ago, Sporting KC is 23-8-12 at home, a .674 winning percentage.

Last year’s 9-3-4 mark was ninth-best in MLS. So it’s not awful; we can probably go with “just OK.”

Now consider that Real Salt Lake is 69-13-21 all-time at Rio Tinto Stadium, a .771 winning percentage. It’s better, even if not wildly so. (RSL plays tonight at Rio Tinto.)

But when we talk about perception, that’s where we find some “there” there. Because we tend not to think of Rio Tinto as one of the more intimidating MLS places to play. It’s a pretty stadium, and difficult to pull points from because RSL has been an MLS steady performer for years now – but perhaps not cray-cray raucous the way the home grounds tend to be in Portland, Seattle, Kansas City and perhaps Philadelphia.

(MORE: Real Salt Lake-Philadelphia preview)

It all makes sense, really. After all, visiting players get all geeked and stoked to play in front of big crowds, too. Especially in MLS, where it’s still not the norm. Hardly so, unfortunately.

By the way, Portland in two-plus seasons before that loud and loyal Timbers Army at Jeld-Wen: just 21-10-11 at home.

Seattle is better, but the 38-15-17 mark (.664 winning percentage) at CenturyLink since joining MLS is even worse than Sporting Kansas City’s home mark.

Andrija Novakovich: “It’s a good feeling” to earn USMNT call up

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As the U.S. Men’s National Team continues its transition towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, a new face has emerged for the Stars and Stripes ahead of its upcoming friendly against Paraguay.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

Striker Andrija Novakovich earned his first call up on Sunday when U.S. manager Dave Sarachan named the Telstar player in his squad, which will play the South American side on March 27 in Cary, North Carolina.

The 21-year-old forward has been nothing short of brilliant in his first season with the Dutch second-division club, scoring 18 league goals for Telstar — who sit fourth in the Eerste Divisie.

“It’s a good feeling to get the call-up and hopefully it will be a very good experience,” Novakovich said. “They [the U.S. national team] sent the club and myself an email saying that I was on the preliminary roster and we were just waiting, and then this week I got another email saying I was on the final roster.

“I called my Mum right away and she’s proud, she’s happy.

“I’m just there for the experience — of course I want to play, of course I want to get the opportunity and hopefully that will happen, It’s an honour to be called up and I’m very proud and very happy.”

Novakovich, a Wisconsin native, is currently on loan at Telstar from English Championship side Reading.

The young USMNT player moved to England back in 2014 to join Reading’s academy, despite originally planning on playing for Marquette University following high school.

Despite this being his first senior-team call up, Novakovich is familiar with the U.S. national team setup. Novakovich has previously represented the Under-17, U-18 and U-20 national teams.

Lionel Messi suggests 2018 will be his final World Cup

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Lionel Messi’s track record as a professional has encompassed just about every imaginable accolade, but one that has eluded he and his Argentina national teammates is winning the World Cup.

[ MORE: Kekuta Manneh added to USMNT squad ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

The Barcelona star has played a significant role for the Albiceleste since debuting for Argentina back in 2005, and even helped guide the South American power to the 2014 World Cup final, however, harsh criticism from local media could push Messi and many of his teammates towards not returning to the national team.

This wouldn’t be the first time Messi has contemplated international retirement, though.

Following the 2016 Copa America Centenario final — which resulted in a Chilean victory over Messi’s Argentina — the Blaugrana attacker announced his retirement from the Albiceleste. While he has since returned to the international scene, it appears Messi is once again considering a halt from representing Argentina.

“It’s just the feeling that this group of players has. It seems that having reached three straight finals didn’t mean anything,” Messi told La Cornisa TV. “Obviously, we depend on results and unfortunately, we reached three finals and we didn’t win them.

“A lot was said about us. The criticisms hurt back then. But the demand is going to be there for this group to get it done. We think that if we don’t do it, we are going to get a lot more [criticism] and we are not going to have another possibility.”

Argentina has fallen in three consecutive major finals dating back to 2014, including two Copa America competitions and the World Cup.

Messi says these shortcomings have weighed heavily on him, and that winning a World Cup is still the one goal that has left him hungry.

“I’ve cried many times for lost finals,” the Barca forward said. “I cried for not being able to fulfill the dream of our nation. My desire is the same as every Argentine, which is to lift the World Cup.”

He continued: “To win a World Cup is not easy. It doesn’t happen often. The last time we did things well but due to minor details we didn’t get it done. We are very enthusiastic and eager to lift the cup for our country. I hope God helps us and it happens.”

Messi has scored 61 international goals in his international career for Argentina, the most of any player from his native country.

Brazil to play Austria in final warmup game for World Cup

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VIENNA (AP) The Austrian soccer federation says Brazil will play its final warmup game for the World Cup against Austria on June 10, a week before the five-time world champions take on Switzerland in their Group E opener.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of friendly ]

The match will be played in Vienna at Ernst Happel Stadium, the same venue where both teams last met in a 2014 friendly, which Brazil won 2-1.

Brazil has further build-up games against World Cup host Russia (March 23), world champion Germany (March 27) and Croatia (June 3) ahead of the June 14-July 15 tournament, where it also meets Costa Rica and Serbia in the group stage.

Austria failed to qualify for the World Cup but will also play friendlies against Russia on May 30 and Germany on June 2.

Fiorentina renames training ground for Davide Astori

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Fiorentina’s training ground has been renamed “Centro Sportivo Davide Astori” in honor of the club’s deceased captain.

[ MORE: Manneh added to USMNT squad ]

Davide Astori died in his team hotel room on March 4, shocking the Italian soccer world and triggering tributes around the world of soccer.

The respected Italian national team center back has had number retired by both Fiorentina and former club Cagliari.

Thousands packed a Florence piazza to salute the player en route to his funeral, and the club won its first match after his passing following vivid pre- and in-match tributes.