MLS accommodates FIFA window with playoff schedule, causes congestion

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Seattle Sounders FC won its play-in game on Wednesday, and it now faces a short turnaround before hosting the Portland Timbers on Saturday. The Major League Soccer playoff schedule does teams no favors this year, with an erraticism caused by accommodating the FIFA November international window.

“Some could call it rhythm; some will call it, you’re playing three games in seven days,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said after the game on Wednesday. “So it all depends how you choose to look at it. I think right now, it’s mind over matter, and you’ve just got to go out there and play.”

The first stretch of the playoffs is particularly brutal. The first leg of the conference semifinals follow the play-in games by three days, and the second legs taking place five days later. Teams that advance to the conference finals have three days until they play again.

“The schedule this year is very awkward, the way it’s set out,” Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “I think the play-in game could take its toll on some teams because it’s going to be a number of games over a 10-day period.”

But just as soon as they start, they stop.

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After the first leg of the conference finals, the league takes nearly a two-week break before resuming, which allows U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann to call in whomever he wants for friendlies in Scotland and Austria. Extenuating circumstances of it being the final year of preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup caused the league office to reconsider its plan to play through the November international window.

Other national teams also have matches on their slate, and many playoff teams missed key players at different stretches of the season due to international duty. Real Salt Lake forward Álvaro Saborío plays for Costa Rica, and Galaxy forward Robbie Keane traveled to Europe to play for Ireland, besides the multiple U.S. players on the Galaxy, RSL and Sounders.

RSL heads into its first playoff series, against the Galaxy, on the back of a 10-day break.

“I believe it’s our third opportunity this year to have a long break between matches,” head coach Jason Kreis said. “Our guys are a bit used to it. We’ve worked extremely hard. We’ve been able to get in a lot of training sessions.”

After the second leg of the conference finals, finalists have the week of Thanksgiving off before the MLS Cup final on Dec. 7.

“I would say that it’s not the most ideal schedule in the world, but it seems like it never is in this league,” Kreis said.

RSL might be set up best to handle the tough first stretch, coming off that week and a half of rest and avoiding the play-in game. The Galaxy played on Sunday, giving it six days between games, while Seattle played on Sunday and Wednesday before taking the field again Saturday.

However, Schmid refused to make any excuses for his team, and all three coaches pointed out that the schedule is the same for each franchise.

“There’s no tomorrows,” Schmid said. “You’ve got to go out there and play.”

Watford 2-0 West Ham: No dream start for Moyes

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  • Unhappy debut for Moyes
  • Hart, Gomes make wild saves
  • Hughes scores early
  • Richarlison adds insurance

Will Hughes and Richarlison scored on either side of half time to lift Watford to a 2-0 win over visiting West Ham on Sunday at Vicarage Road.

It’s a debut loss for new Irons boss David Moyes, whose club remains in the Premier League’s 18th position.

Watford rises to eighth, with 18 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

West Ham looked bright and industrious in the first 10 minutes, yet Watford had a lead in the 11th.

Andre Gray whiffed on a shot, and the ball bobbled to Hughes for an advantageous finish.

Watford was on the back foot for much of the latter stages in the first half. A slick one-touch endeavor ended with Heurelho Gomes getting a piece of Cheikhou Kouyate‘s low shot.

Gomes then twice denied Marko Arnautovic, the first an incredible leg save.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Kouyate and Abdoulaye Doucoure traded chances early in the second half, with neither on frame.

Andre Gray and Doucoure worked a fine 58th minute chance, with Winston Reid‘s slight deflection stopping Gray from curling inside the far post. Joe Hart made a terrific save as Watford then pressed off the ensuing corner kick.

Richarlison put it away, essentially, with a 64th minute goal. Hughes handled the ball in the run-up, but the Brazilian’s finish was electrifying.

It’s Richarlison’s fifth PL goal of the season, matching his half-season total with Fluminese.

Christian Kabasele blocked a Lanzini rip off the line in the 74th minute as the Irons kept battling for an unlikely comeback.

Italian president’s burning remarks provide path for USMNT

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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There’s no question whether the Italian national team job is a different class than the United States men’s national team.

Aside from the fact that both sides failed to qualify for the World Cup, have a vacant manager’s chair, and decent recent results at youth level, the disparity is striking (and not all in negative ways for American fans).

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

Italy has won four World Cups and a EURO, and played in four additional title games. Their domestic league is Top Five, and only six pool players who’ve been called up in the last 12 months come from outside Serie A. Three play in the Premier League, two in La Liga, and one in Ligue 1. It’s qualifying slate meant top Spain or face a home-and-home playoff with another top European team.

On the other hand, the U.S. faces the most forgiving qualifying run this side of Oceania. It’s room for improvement on the international stage is much higher, and its current group is so much further from its potential than the Italian side that it’s hard to find an apt comparison (Consider that, playoff loss aside, Italy has beat the following sides in the last 18 months: Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, and Uruguay).

Differences/similarities aside — and yes, it’s a tad ridiculous to get this deep into what separates Italy from the U.S. in terms of soccer — the USSF could do worse than monitoring how the Italians are handling their World Cup disaster.

1) Accepting responsibility without caveats about their previous successes — Here’s federation president Carlo Tavecchio (who it must be noted has said some reprehensible racist things. We would never gloss over something like that, but we’re talking about the soccer side here). After blasting player selection, he then said, ‘Yeah, but I hired the dude”:

“How can you not play [Lorenzo] Insigne? I told the staff, not him. I can’t intervene [with the coach], there are rules. I have to acknowledge it; I chose the coach. It’s been four days that I haven’t slept. I wake up continuously. We have always played crosses against tall defenders, some almost two meters tall. We had to play around them with the little players, who were on the bench.”

2) Waiting a while to make the correct move — By most accounts, this is very much the plan for the United States (especially with a presidential election looming in February). While most new presidents wouldn’t begrudge the hiring of an highly-qualified name, plenty of prospective bosses would want to wait until the new (or current) man in charge cements his place.

Tavecchio dropped plenty of names, and is especially interested in Chelsea’s Antonio Conte. And he said it’ll be worth the wait.

“We’re looking for the best. They already have commitments until June from a contractual point of view. Then when we get to June, who will be free? The ones are Ancelotti, Conte, Allegri, [Claudio] Ranieri and Mancini. This is the truth of those available.”

Granted the U.S. does not have the wealth of elite experience coaches that Italy does, but the Americans are also not limited to hiring an American.

USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan is a respected soccer name who is not going to light the shop on fire while the right hire is made during this upcoming string of friendlies.

It’s a top-bottom failure. It includes nearly every part of the system, but the man in charge is the most important part considering that the USMNT should qualify for every World Cup and somehow managed to bungle it.

America needs a bungle-free hire.

McKennie impresses again as Schalke goes second

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Schalke will enter the Revierderby in the Bundesliga’s second place after a 2-0 win over Hamburg on Sunday.

Franco Di Santo and Guido Burgstaller scored for Schalke, but those getting their eyes on USMNT teen Weston McKennie following his debut international goal got another promising feast for the eyes.

[ MORE: PST’s McKennie profile ]

Consider:

— McKennie, 19, covered 12.51 kilometers in the match, more than any other player by nearly a half km (Aaron Hunt of Hamburg ran 12.07).

— Only Burgstaller (94) recorded more individual runs than McKennie’s 91.

— His three attempts on goal were also a match-high. One was a flub, but another was barely redirected out for a corner.

— He’s now started five-straight matches when fit.

A win over Christian Pulisic’s Borussia Dortmund on Nov. 25 would put Schalke’s rivals six points in the rear view. And McKennie’s played a far bigger role than even we suspected during our preseason chat.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 12 9 2 1 30 8 22 5-1-0 4-1-1 29
 FC Schalke 04 12 7 2 3 16 10 6 4-2-1 3-0-2 23
 RB Leipzig 12 7 2 3 20 15 5 4-1-0 3-1-3 23
 Mönchengladbach 12 6 3 3 21 21 0 3-1-2 3-2-1 21
 Borussia Dortmund 12 6 2 4 29 16 13 3-0-2 3-2-2 20

Rashford’s childhood hero played for USMNT (Take one guess)

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But can he grow a beard?

Manchester United attacker Marcus Rashford is known for his darting runs and clever finishes, but he grew up begging to get between the sticks with a lot of love for an American.

“Howard was my idol. I used to have a little Tim Howard shirt.”

[ MORE: Dempsey still wants USMNT role ]

Rashford said he’d ask his youth coach to allow him to play goal so he could mimic his hero, who at the time was the Manchester United backstop and now USMNT legend.

The 20-year-old was nine when Howard left Old Trafford, but it hasn’t changed his enjoyment for tending goal. Rashford joked that he’s got to be the choice to replace David De Gea in case of a post-sub emergency.