Marcos Senna talks New York Cosmos, NASL growth, Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi and more ahead of NASL Soccer Bowl

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In their first season back as a pro soccer club, the New York Cosmos are on the verge of winning the NASL title.

Not bad.

But there’s one problem, the Atlanta Silverbacks stand in their way. The NASL Soccer Bowl takes place in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday evening (7:30pm ET, watch live on NASL website) as the entire season comes down to the one-off game between the spring and fall champions as Atlanata has home field advantage.

Both teams have gone quite some time since lifting the title as the last team to win the crown from the city of Atlanta was the Chiefs back in 1968, while the Cosmos have six  NASL titles to their name and last prevailed in 1982.

Whoever takes this crown, it’s sure to be a nerve-wracking night for the players, management and fans of both the Silverbacks and the newly re-formed Cosmos.

One player who won’t be feeling too nervous is European Championsip winning midfielder Marcos Senna, who represented Spain at international level for many years and was a pivotal part of Villarreal’s rise through the leagues to become a giant in Spanish soccer and shine in the Champions League.

The 37-year-old is calmness personified on the pitch and he’s even scored five goals and added two assists this season. Not bad for 13 games as a veteran holding midfielder in the fall NASL seasons as he was named to the league’s Best XI earlier on Friday.

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During his days with Villarreal, Senna drove his team onto success in La Liga, the UEFA Champions League and won many admirers.

Following his first season in the USA, Senna spoke to ProSoccerTalk ahead of the final. In 2013 he’s taken the second tier of U.S. soccer by storm to help lead the New York Cosmos one game away from lifting the NASL crown. He’s delighted to be part of the burgeoning club and to help the younger players develop.

“Obviously being here as a team leader, for me it’s very pleasant,” Senna said. “All the experience that I have playing professional soccer, I try to pass it on to the younger guys who always try to do their best in everything. I am looking forward to finishing this year and playing next year too”

Senna also laughed at his goalscoring exploits.

“In all of my years as a soccer player I’m not usually a goalscorer!” Senna said. “But I’m very happy to help the team out and contribute in any way I can.”

It seems as though his help has rubbed off on plenty of the other Cosmos players, something 23-year-old Venezuelan attacker Diomar Diaz agrees with. He believes the experience Senna has brought to the team has been crucial in helping New York to reach the final and at the same time help the younger players develop.

“Obviously playing with Senna, it is an honor,” Diaz said. “He has some much experience and shares that with the youngsters, such as myself. He speaks with us about how to be on the field, how to manage the games and he talks to us a lot. It’s just an honor being part of this team and playing for the Cosmos with Senna.”

The Brazilian born midfielder, who became a household name across Europe for his terrific displays in the holding role during Villarreal’s rise, spoke of his affection for NASL and is already aiming for next seasons title.

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Senna has become an instant hero for the Cosmos as their resurgence continues.

“I like playing in this league,” Senna said. “It’s very good and a competitive league and I’m just looking forward for next season and to finishing top.”

If the Cosmos win the NASL title in just their first season back in the league and after starting from scratch it would be some achievement. But would it also send out a message to the rest of the world that they’re back? Senna’s not so sure.

“We’re not really trying to send a message, the team is already well known,” Senna said. “Even though I would be really happy if we won the title, it’s not really sending a message out to the world that the Cosmos are back.”

And of course, I couldn’t let the former La Liga star go without asking him about the same question that crops up all over the globe. Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?

Having played against both during his days with Villarreal and knowing just how good they are up close and personal, the former Spanish international has nothing but respect for both Ronaldo and Messi.

“I don’t like to compare players,” Senna said. “Obviously they play very different styles of soccer Messi and Ronaldo. And of course they both play for different teams, but if I was a fan of either team I would choose Messi or Ronaldo. It’s been a privilege playing against them. It was certainly very difficult and very hard to play against them.”

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.