NBC Sports lead soccer announcer Arlo White in action.

Week 5: “View from the Booth” with Arlo White

Leave a comment

This weekend the voice of soccer on NBC Sports is back in action as the Premier League returns following the recent international break.

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 the latest edition of “View from the Booth” NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White talks about Everton vs. Chelsea on Saturday as Jose Mourinho squares off with Roberto Martinez. Arlo also discusses the U.S. national team and their chances in Brazil and how Liverpool can keep their fantastic early season run going.

MOREGame schedule  |  Match finder

With four live games on NBC and NBC Sports Network this weekend, and every single games available live online via NBC Sports Live Extra, you have no excuse to not get back into the Premier League spirit.

Okay let’s get to it with this weeks questions, over to Arlo.

Well Arlo, the international break is over. It seems like an age since we had some Premier League games to talk about. You will be at Goodison Park for Everton vs. Chelsea on Saturday, who do you expect from this game?

Firstly, it’ll be great to be calling games again after the International break. This match-up is fascinating on so many levels.

Everton need a win. It’s simple. They weren’t handed a horrible start to the season, but they’ve only managed three consecutive draws against Norwich, West Brom and Cardiff. Now Everton fans, is your glass half full (it’s an unbeaten start, you haven’t conceded a goal in the last two games, no team has had more possession this season than your 64% and you’ve still got Leighton Baines)? Or is it half empty (we haven’t scored for 205 minutes, we haven’t won a game yet and we lost Felliani to Manchester United)?

source: Getty Images
Mirallas is one of the stars at Goodison who must rise to the challenge after losing Fellaini.

It’ll be fascinating to see how Everton fans react tomorrow. They’ve enjoyed some big wins against Chelsea in recent years at Goodison Park, earned through good play and ferocious spirit. Will they be patient if all is not going well and their team aren’t getting the ball forward quickly enough for their liking?

I’m sure they will. They know their Football, and they know it’s a process. Everton wasn’t nicknamed the ‘School of Science’ for nothing.

As for Chelsea, who is going to start up front? Will it be Torres? Will it be Eto’o? Will Juan Mata feature? Will there be a debut for Willian? Will Frank Lampard feature? Will my question mark button still be working next week? It’s been a big week for Frank after earning his 100th cap for England, but he’s played 7 matches already this season for club and country. He only played 45 minutes for England v Scotland but then played all 120 minutes for Chelsea v Bayern Munich. He may be due a rest in this one, especially given that Chelsea start their Champions League campaign on Wednesday.

And then on Monday your back in South Wales to see if Liverpool can keep their good run going against Swansea. Do you see another 1-0 win coming up for Brendan Rodgers’ men against his former club?

What are the odds on another Liverpool win, with Daniel Sturridge scoring the only goal? Does lightning strike four times? Rodgers will be desperate for Sturridge to be fit as he’s on an incredible run. It’s hard to believe after Liverpool dug their heals in so doggedly to keep Luis Suarez from the clutches of Arsenal, that a debate has started about whether the Uruguayan will actually get his place straight back when his ban ends.

Liverpool have been superb defensively. Mignolet has been fantastic in goal. Between them, Toure, Agger and Skrtel have been solid at centre back. But the engine room for Liverpool is the axis between Lucas and Gerrard at the base of midfield. They dictate the pace of the game, and have done so to great effect so far. Ahead of them, they have the likes of Sturrdige, Coutinho, Aspas and Henderson, who you’d back to nick a goal. It’s the solidity of the back seven that protect those slender leads. I’m sure Liverpool will be more expansive as the season progresses, but right now, a controlled approach based on possession and pressing is working very nicely.

I’m sure Rodgers will get a decent reception back in Swansea. For the home side, Michu needs a Premier League goal. He’s failed to find the net in the league so far this season, and only has one one in his last 7. I’m sure it’s just a blip, and the Swans will be hoping to build on that cathartic and nerve settling away win at West Brom.

Talking about 1-0 wins, would Manchester United take that scoreline against Crystal Palace at home on Saturday? That opening day win against Swansea must seem like a long time ago for David Moyes’ side.

Of course he would. This is an important game for Manchester United. If they slip up, they will take that disappointment to Manchester City next weekend for the Derby. I’m sure David Moyes and United fans everywhere would love a thumping 6-0 win at Old Trafford, but I bet secretly he’d be delighted with a relatively routine 2-0 victory, and bank the three points.

source: Reuters
Is Shinji Kagawa the set to play in a new-look United midfield alongside Marouane Fellaini?

I have a couple of questions re United. If they weren’t interested in Mezut Ozil because they already have Shinji Kagawa, are we going to see the Japan International start a game? And now that he’s signed a new long term deal, is it time that Nani stepped up and fulfilled that attacking potential?

As for Palace, their manager Ian Holloway was in typically great form when the NBC team spoke to him on the telephone the other day. He said, “I’m down here in the gutter but I’m looking up at the stars.” The man is a pure quote machine! I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Selhurst Park for the Sunderland game two weeks ago. It was a golden sunlight evening in South London and Palace played a vibrant brand of Football and got their fans jumping with a 3-1 win. The atmosphere was brilliant. In Midfielder Mile Jedinak, they have a player who may turn a few heads this season. Ollie may face a fight to keep him in January.

An intriguing battle will take place up at the Stadium of Light this weekend, with Sunderland desperate for their first win and Arsenal rolling into town with new superstar Mesut Ozil set to make his debut. Do you think it’s too early for Sunderland fans to be worried?

No. I suspect they are a little concerned already. There is no doubt that Paolo Di Canio is an excellent coach, but his challenge will be to mesh together a disparate group of new signings in spite of his somewhat idiosyncratic methods. It was a tough night at Selhurst Park last time out, but one positive was the return to the field and then the goal scoring charts for Steven Fletcher.

After he ducked out of heading a Stewart Downing cross at Palace, will we see Jo Dong-Won in a Sunderland shirt in the near future?

After all the celebrations in the United States following World Cup qualification, how far can Jurgen Klinsmann’s men go at Brazil 2014? Many are suggesting that qualification is only the start for Klinsmann’s squad.

The USA were so impressive on Tuesday night in Columbus. They completely bossed that game game against Mexico. The players knew the tactical plan and they executed it with authority.

Having watched England labor to string two passes together in Kiev earlier that evening, it was refreshing to see the US possess the ball with such confidence. It gave them a great platform in the game but it also further demoralized Mexico, who stumbled around looking bewildered and thoroughly beaten for most of the 2nd half. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Jurgen Klinsmann, but he has broken this team in now, like a very good drill sergeant. The personalities that are in his squad now are the ones who have embraced his methods and philosophy, and they are an infinitely stronger team for it.

source: Getty Images
Find out how far Arlo thinks the U.S. national team can go.

The result against Mexico was thoroughly deserved, and was achieved without Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Geoff Cameron, so they will be stronger still. I wonder if Mix Diskerud has a bigger role for the national team in his future? He looks to the manor born in International Football, so maybe a move from Rosenborg is on the cards soon.

The Finals are still a long way away and we are still months away from the draw, but on current evidence, I’d be shocked if the USA didn’t make it out of their group. From then onwards, who knows? (ps – Ghana can still quality, eeek!)

Staying with World Cup qualification, what do you make of England being lambasted for their negative approach in the 0-0 draw with Ukraine?

A point away from home, in a hostile environment like Kiev, when the home side have a massive incentive to win the game, is a very good point, and one that Roy Hodgson would have been satisfied with before the game. However, the method through which that point was achieved was, I’m afraid, deeply concerning and not very surprising.

It’s one thing to gain a point on the road by controlling the game. Keeping the ball for periods frustrates, and extracts the sting from the opposition and quietens a crowd. It’s quite another to completely fail to retain possession, repeatedly hand Ukraine the ball, and hope that you can defend successfully for 90 minutes. There is no doubt that the England team have spirit and tenacity and are difficult to beat (which is something to celebrate), but I just don’t understand why some very good Premier League players struggle to play together in a cohesive manner. Sure, they were missing key attacking players like Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck, but the likes of Gerrard, Wilshere, Lampard, Milner et al, should be able to keep the ball for periods shouldn’t they?

England got away with it in Kiev because Ukraine are fairly average.

So far, they have only beaten Moldova and San Marino, yet they still lead the group and control their own destiny. I’m confident that with their stars back (fingers crossed) and two big Wembley crowds behind them, they can get the 6 points they need against Montenegro and Poland to qualify for Brazil, but my word it’s been a painful journey.

Griezmann wins best player award in Spain for last season

SEVILLE, SPAIN - OCTOBER 23:  Antoine Griezmann of Club Atletico de Madrid looks on during the match between Sevilla FC vs Club Atletico de Madrid as part of La Liga at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuanon October 23, 2016 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
Leave a comment

VALENCIA, Spain (AP) Antoine Griezmann has won the best player award in the Spanish league for last season.

The Atletico Madrid forward was announced as the winner in a ceremony organized by La Liga in Valencia on Monday. The Frenchman was not at the ceremony.

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or omissions ]

Atletico also had Diego Simeone win the best coach award, Diego Godin earn the best defender award, and Jan Oblak clinch best goalkeeper.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was selected as the best forward, and Real Madrid’s Luka Modric as the best midfielder.

Team captains voted for the top players in each position, while a data-analysis system generated the best player award.

Barcelona won the Spanish league last season, ahead of Real Madrid and Atletico.

Biggest omissions from the Ballon d’Or shortlist

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (R) is chased by N'Golo Kante of Chelsea (L)  during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

France Football released the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or award given to the world’s best player.

As expected in a EURO year, there are several Portuguese standouts to go with the usual suspects.

There are also some odd omissions.

[ MLS: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Alexis Sanchez was Arsenal’s second-leading scorer as the Gunners finished second in the Premier League, and the South American attacker scored three goals as Chile won its second-straight Copa America, this one on American soil. It’s baffling that he’s not on the list.

N'Golo Kante enjoyed a season as the engine of the best story in Premier League history, manning the midfield for Leicester, and followed it up by helping France reach the EURO 2016 final. Pretty good, right?

Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic were key pieces in Barcelona’s run to the La Liga crown despite being limited by the transfer ban. Mascherano followed it up by captaining Argentina to the Copa America Centenario final, while Rakitic starred alongside Ivan Perisic as Croatia won a tricky EURO 2016 group before falling to eventual winners Portugal.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11: Fernando Torres of Club Atletico de Madrid is surrounded by (L-R) Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on January 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Mascherano (far left) and Rakitic (second from right) are among several Barcelona players who didn’t make the cut (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images).

Harry Kane may’ve not been a good choice to take corner for England, but he also was one of the best all-around attackers in the world as Tottenham surged into the Top Four of the Premier League.

With four goalkeepers making the cut, it shows that club success is more important than performance. David De Gea‘s season was certainly on the same plane as Buffon, though the latter won the league with Juventus and edged Spain at EURO 2016.

Marcelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and David Silva were also players who succeeded for both club and country and could’ve found their way onto the 30.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Finally, let’s see how I fared in projecting the 30 men back in mid-September:

— I got 24 on the nose, wrongly guessing that Kante, Kane, Alexis, Mascherano, Rakitic, and Olivier Giroud would make the cut. Giroud led Arsenal and France in scoring, but if Alexis wasn’t going to make it the coiffed Frenchman had no hope.

— Of the six I didn’t get, only one brings me great shame: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should’ve been in the first 15 names on any list, not missing the post entirely. Paulo Dybala is a bit of a shocker from the crew, and Koke is a tricky miss. Luka Modric was our No. 31, while Rui Patricio was our 35. Diego Godin was a bad miss.

— What to learn from this: Atletico Madrid was obviously credited for its return to the UCL final, so Godin and Koke prove that carried a bit more weight than Kante and Giroud making the final with France, and Alexis thriving at the Copa America.

Whose historic hiccup was worse: Portland or Columbus?

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 6: Kei Kamara #23 of Columbus Crew and Liam Ridgewell #24 of Portland Timbers go after a ball during the second half of the game at Providence Park on March 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers won the match 2-1. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
1 Comment

It’s been less than a year since we discussed who was best suited to return to the MLS Cup Final following Portland’s 2-1 win over Columbus in the 2015 title match.

Now we’re wondering who’s fall was more shameful, the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew each missed the playoffs, just over 11 months after contesting the final. That’s never happened before.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

We asked our staff to take a stand on the matter of who flubbed worse: Gregg Berhalter’s Crew or Caleb Porter’s Timbers.

Andy Edwards

Columbus: 2016 was Gregg Berhalter’s third season in charge in Columbus, and in each of his first two years, Crew SC took a gigantic step forward — from non-playoff side to in the playoffs in 2014; from young, naive playoff team to MLS Cup hosts in 2015 — which meant 2016 was supposed to be the culmination of a truly great revolution in Columbus.

They started the season slow, with no wins in their first five games. But they had done the same thing just 12 months earlier and there they were playing for the Cup in December. The Crew looked to be slowly turning this season’s corner when the Kei Kamara/Federico Higuain thing exploded and effectively ended their season in May.

(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The big knock on Crew SC last year, at least for me, was that they never seemed to figure out a Plan B — if “hit it long for Kei, he’ll knock it down, and Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram will run onto it and toss the alley-oop back to him inside the six” wasn’t working, you’d already beaten them.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

2016 exposed Berhalter, perhaps more than any player on the roster, because of the elongated nature of those struggles — literally the entire season. Finlay (6 goals, 9 assists) and Meram (5 goals, 13 assists) put up fine numbers once again, but they rang hollow for a losing team going nowhere all season long.

Wil Trapp’s age-23 season was completely wasted — he’s no longer “a young player” — and I’d take a long, hard look at Europe this winter if I were him. The defense has been an unmitigated disaster the last two season (53 and 58 goals conceded), mostly due to the all-out attacking nature of Berhalter’s game plans — hint: defending 2-on-4 against counter-attacks almost never ends well. The “other” Kamara, Ola, actually panning out was the saving grace that kept them within a mile of the playoff race.

Nick Mendola

Portland: Maybe it’s an odd year thing; Portland won the 2015 MLS Cup after claiming the West’s best record in 2013.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Timbers ran out of luck under newly-extended Caleb Porter in his fourth season on the job. This time, no one bailed them out.

Portland came out of nowhere to claim the West’s No. 1 seed in 2013, as Porter engineered an astounding 15 draws including 10 on the road. The tactics and lineup selection helped, but so did the arrivals of Diego Valeri and Will Johnson (pretty important, no?).

The Timbers missed the playoffs by a point in 2014, a 3W-1D end to the season not enough to make up for a horrible start to the season.

The next season saw the Timbers win it all, but not without needing a three-match winning streak to leap ahead of four teams and claim the third-seed (Seattle, LA, and KC all finished two points back). Six games later, they went from almost out to on top of the MLS world.

So what happened this year, with many falling all over ourselves to praise the long-term prospects of a Timbers dynasty? A giant failure. The Timbers failed to win a single road game, tossing aside their strong home field advantage (Portland was 12W-3L-2T at Providence Park).

SANDY, UT - APRIL 19: Head coach Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers encourages his team during their game against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium April 19, 2014 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

The Timbers scored the second-most penalties in the league this year, with five, so it’s not like fortune avoided them (The Red Bulls didn’t score one).

But, oh, this was ugly.

Portland took three of its the final 12 points available to it. The Timbers lost big in Vancouver and Houston, two non-playoff destinations. In its last 13 games, Portland lost nine and won four.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

The Timbers completed the fewest passes in Major League Soccer, 400 less than the closest competitor and 4,300 behind the league-leading Revs. Portland couldn’t take the ball away, either, with the second-fewest interceptions in the league.

You could even argue that losing 4-1 in Vancouver on Decision Day — a loss to a knocked-out Cascadia Cup rival — makes it worse than Columbus’ season alone. This was awful stuff, albeit schadenfreude for the anti-Porter brigade.

Oh, and they bombed out of a poor CONCACAF Champions League group without a Liga MX or MLS opponent in it.

Alright, so Andy tabbed Columbus and Nick took Portland. Let’s get a tiebreaker in here.

Matt Reed

Every champion has a target on its back but the Timbers managed to essentially bring back all of its key starters from a season ago, despite losing Maxi Urruti. The Timbers were involved in 22 games separated by one goal or less in 2016, with Caleb Porter’s side winning only seven of those contests. Had one more game gone in their favor the Timbers would likely be back in the postseason. 

The case for (and against) every Eastern Conference playoff team

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Benoit Cheyrou #8 of Toronto FC defends Andrea Pirlo #21 of New York City FC free kick at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Of the six teams remaining in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, you could argue there are three distinct pairings.

You have red-hot traditional sides in DC United and the New York Red Bulls; There are the big-name driven, deep squads from Toronto FC and New York City FC, and finally the two relative unknowns truly deserving of “wildcard” status in the Philadelphia Union Montreal Impact.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

Sure the table tends to tell us who’s who in the pecking order. It’s hard to bet against the Red Bulls seeing they haven’t lost since July 3, and Frank Lampard has somehow quietly been a wrecking ball thanks to dynamite performances from captain David Villa and world-class maestro Andrea Pirlo.

But there are reasons those teams may not be the true favorite to advance to the MLS Cup final, just as there are ways to imagine Philly can punch their way through the East. We’re here to give you both.

Philadelphia Union (6)

Why they’ll win: The young unit might be too green to know it isn’t expected to knock off Toronto in Toronto, or a New York team in New York or New Jersey. Chris Pontius and Tranquillo Barnetta add veteran skill and savvy, while Andre Blake is capable of stealing some of the league’s more terrific strikes.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Why they won’t: Their last win was Aug. 27, and we’re supposed to expect the Union to win on the road at Toronto, RBNY, and then either NYCFC or DC. Nah, dog (though it’d be quite a story and we’d be happy to watch it).

Montreal Impact (5)

Why they’ll win: Didier Drogba may not be mentally in it, but he’s still a fierce competitor who can score with the best of them. By the way, the “best of them” definitely includes Ignacio Piatti. The Argentine has been one of the top players in the league this season, and can take over any game (Yes, even three on the bounce).

Why they won’t: The dysfunction and fall-out from Drogba’s benching permeates the room before match against red-hot DC United, and an average road team fails to meet expectations.

Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba heads the ball in front of D.C. United midfielder Marcelo Sarvas during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

DC United (4)

Why they’ll win: A four-match win streak earned most of DC’s starters a well-deserved rest on Decision Day, and there will be a “Why not us?” cry coming from the DC dressing room. Patrick Nyarko has been a lot of fun to watch. Luciano Acosta is legit as well. Bill Hamid is an excellent shot stopper, and the four-time champion Black-and-Red is overdue for a final, having been absent since beating KC in 2004.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Why they won’t: Let’s be honest, most arguments against DC sound quite political. “Well, they can’t win because of the other guys being so good.” DC doesn’t have the firepower of TFC, NYCFC, and RBNY; Would you bet on them beating two of the above, which they likely would have to? (Actually, kinda).

Toronto FC (3)

Why they’ll win: Frankly, this is the best defensive team in the East, with a minimum of three game attacking breakers in Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore. Imports Drew Moor and Clint Irwin aren’t scared of the spotlight, and Will Johnson will be putting on for his city. And they’re good away from BMO Field. This could be TFC’s season, y’all.

Why they won’t: This is Toronto’s 10th season, and happens to be the first one in which it won more matches than it lost. TFC’s debut home match comes on Wednesday evening, and there’s something to be said for experience. While some of its players have plenty, the club does not possess much at all.

New York City FC (2)

Why they’ll win: One of only two teams (Toronto) to finish their road schedule with a .500 record, Patrick Vieira has been able to get the best out of the superstars and the lesser-known members of NYC’s squad. Tactically, we’re not sure there’s another coach in the East with his acumen.

Why they won’t: It’s also Vieira’s first playoffs as a manager, and the whole franchise hasn’t done that dance, either. They have one win in five combined matches against RBNY and TFC.

New York Red Bulls

Why they’ll win: Frankly, as stated above, because they don’t lose. Jesse Marsch hasn’t overseen a loss in three-and-a-half months, has two legit claimants to MVP honors in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, and have been reinforced by one of the deepest Academy production lines in MLS.

Why they won’t: New York won just three road matches all year, even if it managed 7 draws away from Red Bull Arena. On top of that, this is year No. 20 of MLS, and founding members RBNY have zero titles and one final appearance. Those ghosts could come creeping up to the door.