Tracking MLS Coach of the Year: half a dozen names still in strong contention

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With just five rounds of Major League Soccer play remaining, we might logically conclude that these races would begin sorting themselves out a bit more. The fringe candidates seem to be falling out of the Most Valuable Player sweepstakes, for instance.

Not so with Coach of the Year, where candidates seem to be adding their names to the list of potential candidates rather than tumbling off of it.

Here is a very loose ordering; the names here are widely interchangeable. That is, any of these names could move up quickly, depending on how things develop over the remaining five weeks of play.

1. Montreal’s Marco Schallibaum

The Impact is far from perfect under their first-year Swiss boss – as we all saw in last weeks’ surprising home loss to Columbus. But look how far they have come in less than one year under Schallibaum (pictured). Because while Jesse Marsch certainly did a credible job with last year’s expansion outfit in Canada, L’Impact sure wasn’t challenging for top spot in the East and even Supporters Shield in 2012.

2. Real Salt Lake’s Jason Kreis

Last week’s loss to Seattle was a set-back, but the fact remains that Kreis is getting the job done about a half-dozen youngsters that so many good MLS fans still know little about. Kreis said last week he is surprised at how quickly this group has come along. If they can bounce back at home this week against San Jose, they will remain right in the thick of Supporters Shield pursuit. (And don’t forget, they will be favored in next month’s U.S. Open Cup final.)

3. Colorado’s Oscar Pareja

It’s just so easy to overlook good things happening in markets that receive far, far less attention. And that’s Colorado, of course, the very opposite of a place like Seattle, where everything get so overstated. But how can you not respect how the Rapids, crunched by all those injuries early in 2013, kept such a steady course? Pareja has five top starters who are rookies officially, or just miss being officially designated so through MLS technicalities, and yet the club is third in the West. (And the West is the tougher conference this year.)

4. Portland’s Caleb Porter

His case looked significantly stronger a few weeks ago. Heck, we all might have handed him the doggone thing if we were deciding in June. But we’re not … and the Timbers just haven’t had the same edge over the last two months. Still, it shouldn’t diminish the bang-up job Porter has done, style-wise and results-wise – assuming the men of Stumptown hold things together and make the playoffs, which they should be able to manager.

5. New York’s Mike Petke

The team is brimming with talent, of course, so they should be challenging for top spot in the East. Still, doesn’t Petke deserve to be on the list just for managing Thierry Henry and his Red Bull Arena-sized ego. I mean, didn’t the manager – in his first year as a professional head coach, remember – show us something by benching Henry two weeks back? I mean, talk about guts!

6. Seattle’s Sigi Schmid

Yes, a team with Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey up front, plus the league’s standard bearer holding midfielder, should be challenging for MLS hardware. But the Sounders did have questions to answer coming into the season. And this business of incorporating Dempsey, Johnson and Obafemi Martins is no slam dunk. If the Sounders win Supporters Shield (and Schmid’s team has the pole position at the moment) then their veteran manager has to be considered, at least.

(MORE: Tracking MLS Most Valuable Player)

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.