Jason Kreis

What a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship would mean to Real Salt Lake, D.C. United

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You don’t need the big soccer brain to understand why Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final would mean the sun, the moon and the stars for D.C. United. This is it for the Black and Red, the one and only chance to salvage some joy from a season of woe like perhaps none other around RFK Stadium.

From Real Salt Lake’s standpoint, the dimensions of the reward are not quite as clear, although surely there. It takes just a little more digging to find them.

Back to D.C. United for a moment before we get deploy the shovels regarding RSL.

It’s difficult to convey in just a couple of sentences the death spiral that 2013 has been for once-proud D.C. United, the league’s original trophy hog. Yes, other clubs have endured miserable seasons. But not only is the ongoing campaign around RFK Stadium crawling toward the “historically poor,” when weighed against the backdrop of expectations this is probably the ugliest fall from grace yet seen in MLS. Remember, this team was so close to an MLS Cup appearance a year ago; hopes were sky high in 2013.

(MORE: United moves closer to statistical, dubious distinctions in MLS)

The Washington Post’s Steven Goff covered things from D.C. United’s end pretty well here. The gist is the enormous, unlikely opportunity that fate (and some savvy tournament play) has provided: to actually lay hands on an important trophy despite this dreadful campaign.

People love the thought of making American soccer in the foreign image, and this is part and parcel: teams can sometimes put a bright blue ribbon around an otherwise black campaign through tournament play. Just a few months ago, Wigan Athletic claimed one of the global game’s most storied trophies, the FA Cup, in the same beleaguered season in which it was relegated into England’s second tier.

As Goff says, soccer “worldwide offers second chances. While the league mission remains paramount, cup competition is often salvation for clubs on the skids.”

While it’s clearly about redemption and not much else for Ben Olsen’s team, there are multiple motivation moving pieces for Real Salt Lake. The chances of a Supporters Shield, and MLS Cup and (of course) the Open Cup in the same season may remain relatively remote, but Real Salt Lake is the one and only club with such a chance for 2013.

(MORE: Domestic treble is unlikely, but still worth discussing)

But “something special” for 2013 around Rio Tinto doesn’t begin and end with some unlikely “treble.”  General manager Garth Lagerwey and coach Jason Kreis (pictured) jettisoned three well-regarded but high-salaried men at the end of 2012, Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. That’s the reality of life in MLS, especially at a smaller market club.

They expected the exciting young likes of Luis Gil, Carlos Salcedo, Sebastian Velasquez, Yordany Alvarez and (U.S. Open Cup specialist) Devon Sandoval to make the team competitive this year. But getting to cup finals? Kreis told me about two weeks ago that this much success, this soon, has surprised even him.

Beyond that, Kreis is such a competitive person, all about soccer and all about the team. He was like this as a player, too – and he always had just a little chip on his shoulder. It’s what drove Kreis as a player (a smaller player, but the first Major League Soccer scorer to reach the 100-goal milepost). It’s what drives him as a coach today –and what may drive him to accept the head coaching post at New York City FC, which we’ve written about previously.

Here’s what Kreis said (during my Soccer Today interview with him linked above) about a chance to win the title as a manager – the title that he won as a player with the Dallas Burn back in 1997. He references the 2009 MLS Cup championship; for all of RSL’s success, there’s been a lot of “getting close,” but just one major title.

It’s a chance to win a trophy, and it’s been a long time. I think everybody knows we’ve been a pretty successful franchise. We have shown that we can be consistent. We’ve shown that we be toward the top of the table every year. We have shown that we can get 15 wins and 50 points the last three years, and most likely we will do it for a fourth year in a row. So we’ve done a lot of good things, but we haven’t won a lot of trophies. … I look at this as a huge opportunity for us to put another win one in our pocket and to say that we’re not just about consistency and playing well, but we’re also about winning things.”

(MORE: Game preview, D.C. United vs. Real Salt Lake)


“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.