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)


Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”