Disgruntled Toronto FC fans need to protest with more than words

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Before and after Toronto FC’s 4-1 loss to AS Roma on Wednesday, the Canadian club has been taking a lot of heat for its insistence on playing midseason friendlies despite vehement protests from its fan base.

General manager Kevin Payne’s message, delivered during an in-game interview on TSN, was that fans “should get used to it.” Toronto FC seems to be as staunch in its defense of the friendlies as its fans are in opposition.

While fans have been willing to sign online petitions and otherwise protest against the front office, but 18,274 fans still walked through the gate to see the Reds play Roma.

That’s marginally more than the 17,987 who saw Toronto beat the Columbus Crew, 2-1, on July 27 in the club’s last home game, and it certainly wasn’t a small enough number to discourage Payne from setting up future games, no matter the disdain.

In a poll on Toronto fan blog Waking the Red in late June, nearly as many people said before the game that they would attend as said they would not. Clearly, the club can still make money on these games.

Toronto’s opponent this weekend, Seattle Sounders FC, is on the opposite coast and in a different world when it comes to mid-season friendlies.

General manager Adrian Hanauer said last summer that the club would have to look closely at whether it would schedule more one-off games in the future. In 2013, it has not, and Seattle has played only competitive matches since preseason.

The fans spoke not only with their keyboards, but also with their wallets.

CenturyLink Field’s capacity is capped at less-than-full for the majority of Sounders matches, but management picks a handful of games every year for which it opens the entire cavernous stadium. Of the four games selected, the July 18 friendly against Chelsea FC was the least attended.

A total of 53,309 people watched that game, but 55,718 went to the Cascadia Cup game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, and 60,908 bought tickets to see David Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy on Aug. 5.

The highest-attended game was against the Portland Timbers, Seattle’s biggest rival, on Oct. 7, when 66,452 people walked through the turnstiles. The message was clear: fans would rather see meaningful, competitive games than friendlies against big-name squads.

In Toronto, the fan base has not sent that message. Until it does, expect to continue seeing foreign clubs at BMO Field.

Pep Guardiola praises Man City’s “animals”

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City have set a new English top-flight record with 15 consecutive wins and, of course, comparisons are already being made as to just how good this City side are.

Runaway leaders of the Premier League with an 11-point lead heading into the busy festive period, City are being compared to the great teams in PL history.

Their winning run means they’ve accomplished something none of the other great PL teams have, and it seems like there is no stopping City.

Speaking to the media after the 4-0 win at Swansea on Wednesday which clinched the record, Guardiola praised his players for breaking the record but also their ability to not only excel when they have the ball but to hunt in packs to win it back.

“In history there have been some amazing teams – Liverpool, [Manchester] United with Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho. A lot of good, good teams and we are the first ones to win 15 games in a row,” Mourinho said. “Of course that will not make sense if we do not win the title, if we don’t win the title it will just be a record. This record will be broken but it will not be easy. When (my players) don’t have the ball they go to win it like animals. At this level it’s so competitive. That means we are strong in the head.”

Guardiola’s team have made the best start in Premier League history to a season with 49 points from their opening 17 games and 16 wins from those matches.

They’ve scored 52 goals and the duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are controlling the tempo of each and every game they play in, but not much has been said about the tenacity in City’s play to win the ball back.

That quality has always been a hallmark of Guardiola’s teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with the fabled “six second rule” mentioned time and time again as he set his players a target of six seconds to win back possession of the ball.

City did that time and time again against Swansea on Wednesday with Silva regaining possession on multiple occasions in midfield and releasing the likes of Sterling and Sergio Aguero to attack.

There is a lot more behind this ruthless City side than just breaking winning and scoring records. Their extreme hunger for success and doing the dirty work was duly noted by Guardiola.

USSF says nominations submitted for 8 president candidates

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CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. Soccer Federation says it received the required three letters of nomination for eight candidates in its presidential election, one fewer than the total of people who announced their intention to run.

The USSF is conducting background checks on the candidates whose nominations were received by Tuesday night’s deadline. The governing body said the check is to ascertain that a candidate has “no conviction or no contest plea to a felony or crime of moral turpitude” and it will announce the candidate slate after completing the process.

[ MORE: Atlanta acquires Nagbe ]

Sunil Gulati, the USSF president since 2006, decided after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup that he will not seek a fourth four-year term.

The nine people who announced they are running include former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino; U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo; Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; Boston lawyer Steve Gans; New York lawyer Michael Winograd; and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.

The election will be held in February.

Madrid rallies to beat Al Jazira, reach Club World Cup final (video)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Gareth Bale scored an 81st-minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 on Wednesday and reach the Club World Cup final.

Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. roundup ]

The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team.

Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.

But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after entering the match as a substitute for Karim Benzema.

Paul Clement admits helplessness at facing Man City

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Swansea City manager Paul Clement may have the enduring quote of the season so far when it comes to facing the behemoth that is Manchester City.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

The suffering Swans have had their share of poor performances this season — Clement later said January transfer spending “is a must” if the club wants to stay up — but he’s throwing his hands up in the air when it comes to Wednesday’s loss at the Liberty Stadium.

The man sounds exasperated, and sorry for his team. From the BBC:

“At times it was horrible to be on the sideline watching that, seeing my side trying but suffering for long periods. They’re not the games that will decide our season but it was hard to watch at times because they were so dominant. For me, one of the best sides I’ve ever come across. So many good athletes, so many intelligent footballers and it’s really hard to pin them down. We actually had some attempts on their goal so I’m disappointed we didn’t get on the score sheet but they were a far superior side to us. We’ve got to put it aside that game. We’ve got Everton away (next) and we’ve got to try and pick something up there.”

All that’s left is for Clement to pick up a clarinet, awkwardly blow into it, then point at Pep Guardiola and say, “He’s good.”

Free message board points to the first one to name the reference.