Week 2: “View from the Booth” with Arlo White

Leave a comment

When watching soccer on TV, have you ever sat there and wondered what the man behind the microphone really thinks?

Maybe this will go someway to helping with that.

In our new series “View from the Booth” NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White will be joining us each week to talk about the hot topics in the beautiful game and preview the weekends upcoming Premier League action.

MOREGame schedule  |  Match finder

In Week 2, the leading voice of soccer in the USA talks about the two huge games he’s covering this weekend, Aston Villa vs. Liverpool and Manchester United vs. Chelsea, the newly promoted teams and discusses Arsenal’s situation as the transfer window deadline nears.

Ready? Here’s my Q&A with Mr. White, just imagine his dulcet tones responding to these questions… Magnificent.

Have Manchester United silenced the doubters and do you expect them to push on against Chelsea on Monday?

I wouldn’t say they silenced the doubters, what they did was remind everyone that they are the Premier League Champions and are well capable of producing ruthless performances. It was fascinating to be at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday to witness the start of the David Moyes era. I watched Wayne Rooney warm-up before the game and his body language didn’t scream enthusiasm and delight at being there. But when he came on in the 2nd half he was terrific and set up two United goals. OK, he didn’t celebrate with his team mates, and plenty has been read into that, but it was a demonstration that he still loves playing the game and is prepared to be professional when called upon by Moyes to perform. Of course, that is the least he can do whilst he’s still a United player on massive wages, but the eyes of the world were on him, and anything less than giving his all for the cause would have been a huge story.

source: Reuters
The Wayne Rooney saga still hasn’t been solved. But Arlo was impressed with his application vs. Swansea.

Can they kick on against Chelsea? They are very capable of doing so. Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck appear to be in excellent early season form.

I think Jose Mourinho has been as canny as usual. Saying that Chelsea will be ethical and won’t bid for Rooney before Monday’s game is savvy, but then hinting that they will bid after the game still created a potentially de-stabilising situation for Rooney and United, ahead of such a huge early season game.

Before the Manchester United vs. Chelsea game, you are at Aston Villa v Liverpool on Saturday. What can we expect from that match?

I’m really looking forward to this one. It could be a terrific open game.

Villa have had a busy first week, but a fruitful one. To open the season with trips to Arsenal and Chelsea inside five days and come away with 3 points (which could have been 4, as Jose Mourinho acknowledged) is a huge achievement for a young team who struggled so badly last season. I know most of the transfer talk during the off season has centred around Bale, Rooney and Suarez, but one of the greatest signings of recent Premier League history has been Villa securing Christian Benteke’s signature on a new contract.  It was a stunning turn around, as many assumed he was going to a bigger club. His goal at Chelsea on Wednesday was terrific, striking a left foot shot inside the near post took tremendous poise and skill.

It’s also great to see Gabby Agbonlahor firing on all cylinders at the start of the season.

As for Liverpool, I think things are looking really encouraging.  It may sound remarkable given how many goals Luis Suarez has scored over the last couple of seasons, but Liverpool’s win percentage is far better without him (64%) than it is with him (39%). It goes without saying that he is a tremendous player, but it’s equally obvious that Liverpool have learned to cope without him in the short term. Daniel Sturridge got off to a flier against Stoke, he’s now scored 7 goals in his last 6 Premier League games. I can’t wait to watch Coutinho.  As former Liverpool great Peter Beardsley said this week, “he could be the new Kenny Dalglish.”  That is praise indeed.

Can any of the newly promoted teams get off the board this weekend? They have some pretty tough games. 

All games are tough in the Premier League, and I wonder which newly promoted team will find their feet first.  Hull manager Steve Bruce told the NBC commentary team last week that he sees the Norwich game as very significant for his side. It is sandwiched between the opener at Chelsea and a visit to Manchester City, so they must get something from the game.  Bruce called that sort of game Hull’s ‘bread and butter’, and told us his side need 10 wins to stay up this season. I’m sure their new signings Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore will start the game, and they must build on their 2nd half performance at Chelsea, where they passed the ball with much more confidence.

source: Getty Images
Arlo predicts another tough weekend for the newly promoted teams.

As for the other two, Crystal Palace may fancy themselves to get something at Stoke, who are revamping their style of play under Mark Hughes. The atmosphere at Cardiff will be magnificent, but they face an incredibly tough task against a Manchester City side who looked very slick in their opening victory over Newcastle.

How has the situation at Arsenal affected their chances of reaching the top four? Mounting pressure on Wenger, but surely it’s too early to panic? 

I am a believer that in life, nothing occurs in a vacuum. I’m sure Arsenal’s reticence in the transfer market has convinced other sides (Spurs anyone?) that they are more vulnerable than ever, and that it’s time to spend big and pounce on the opportunity. Arsenal enjoyed a soothing win at Fenerbache during the week which has all but secured their place in the Champions League group stage, and perhaps that will be the final trigger for them to go out and spend some of their massive war chest. Of course, Spurs can wield enormous spending power because of Bale’s value, but I’m equally sure that Arsenal’s wobbles have convinced them to spend big right now to seize the moment.

Mourinho’s men have got off to a flying start, do you expect them to be clear at the top this time next month? 

Did you see Manchester United and Manchester City last weekend? If Chelsea are clear in a months time then they will have enjoyed a magnificent start to the season (including a win at Old Trafford next Monday) and City must have wobbled early on (with a defeat v United?) Chelsea have 6 points out of 6.  Hazard, Oscar and De Bruyne played very well together in the 1st half against Hull, but they were perhaps fortunate to take all 3 points against Villa on Wednesday.  Chelsea are going to be a major power this season, but clear  at the top in a months time? I doubt it.

source: Getty Images
Arlo tips Sam Allardyce’s men to keep on improving.

Out of Southampton, West Ham and Aston Villa… which team is most likely to make the top 10 this year? Early form shows all 3 teams are much improved. 

On the early evidence, all three clubs can feel very optimistic.  Villa have been impressive. We’ll know more about them after Liverpool’s visit on Saturday. Southampton pulled off a major coup by signing Osvaldo from Roma.  He’s a real live wire both on and off the field, so much will depend on Mauricio Potchettino’s ability of focussing his mind on Football and getting the very best out of him. It’s always interesting when small to medium sized clubs start spending unprecedented amounts of money. It really could go either way, but Pochettino seems to be an intelligent, level headed manager.

Big Sam is delighted with life at West Ham. They enjoyed a great opening day win and have Striker Andy Carroll returning from injury. With Downing on one flank, and Jarvis on the other, they have the skilled wide men to deliver the ammunition for Carroll. Kevin Nolan started with a really nice goal.  Sam told us last week that Nolan is in great shape and in good form, so thats big news for the Hammers.

To answer your question, why not all three?

Big shock results this weekend? Fulham piling more misery on Arsenal? Palace to beat Stoke?

I’m not sure that there is a major shock in store this weekend. I just can’t see Cardiff beating Manchester City, but they will give it a real go.

I think it’s a massive weekend for Newcastle United, who host their former manager Sam Allardyce and West Ham. The Magpies were very poor on Monday night at Manchester City. Sure, they were de-stabilised with Arsenal’s untimely bid for Cabaye, but their performance was listless and the most worrying of any Premier League team on the opening weekend (including Arsenal). The Toon Army will walk up to St James’ Park full of their usual enthusiasm but with plenty of trepidation too. They will be desperate to see a response from their side, but will fear that another unconvincing defeat will act as the prelude to a long season fighting relegation.

That shouldn’t happen with the squad they have and they don’t have the disruption of Europa League Football this season, but the omens weren’t great on Monday Night.

Enjoy the weekend everyone!

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Leave a comment

The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.