José Mourinho’s ‘like to cry’ gibe strikes a patronizing, xenophobic note

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After a Monday stalemate in which many of referee Mike Dean’s decisions went Chelsea’s way, Blues’ boss José Mourinho has hit out at Arsenal for complaints about the officiating. According to the Blues’ boss, Arsene Wenger’s team “like to cry,” with Mourinho labeling the Gunners’ complaints as part of a club “tradition.”

In the process, however, Mourinho may have reached beyond his typical, distracting stance, dancing along the lines of xenophobia by evoking an England versus foreign comparison. Hinting Arsenal’s lack of English players make them more apt to complain, Mourinho tries playing to the old, base instincts or British media. In the process, however, he threatens to make mountains out of mole hills.

The manager’s comments appeared in various English outlets in the wake of Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at the Emirates, a match that had all the characteristics of a Mourinho team playing on the road to a contender. Chelsea sat back and invited Arsenal on to them, testing whether the Gunners could break them down. Strong in midfield in front of the defense, the Blues rarely let Arsenal through, the methods of Cesar Azpilicueta (16th minute challenge on Aaron Ramsey), John Obi Mikel (breaking Mikel Arteta’s shin pad), and Willian (potential penalty) leaving the match wrapped in controversy.

[MORE: Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea: Stalemate at the Emirates on night of heavy weather, refereeing controversy (video)]

Also important: Chelsea were probably the better side over the course of 90 minutes. It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly was a bit cynical, but the Blues’ approach left them with a number of chances to take the lead before Arsenal had even register their first shot on goal. The result vindicated Chelsea’s  approach.

But with Mourinho, it’ doesn’t stop with the results. For man whose media prestige has always rivaled his managerial accomplishments, there was another battle to win.

“You know, they like to cry,” Mourinho said. “That’s tradition. But I prefer to say, and I was telling it to the fourth official, that English people – Frank Lampard, for example – would never provoke a situation like that.”

Interesting note: José Mourinho is not English.

“Players from other countries, especially some countries, have that in their blood,” Mourinho continued. “So, if there is contact or an opponent is aggressive, they don’t keep going.”

Breaking: Ashley Young is apparently no longer English.

“But this is English football. Foreign players are bringing lots of good things … But I prefer English blood in football. English blood in this situation is: ‘Come on, let’s go.’ Mikel’s tackle is hard and aggressive but football is for men or for women with fantastic attitude. It’s true.”

Also breaking: John Obi-Mikel has no “English blood.”

I know the word xenophobia is in the headline, because yes, this kind of ‘England is good, foreigners are bad’ language is a form of low-grade (if entirely out-dated) xenophobia. But Mourinho’s words are more a clumsy type of pandering than anything intended to be divisive. In evoking Arsenal’s lack of stereotypical English qualities, he’s playing to the English press’s willingness to buy into such story lines, trying to use Fleet Street as a type of propaganda machine.

If he can turn Arsenal’s complaints to a debate about their lack of Englishness — about the soft nature that comes with importing all their key talent — Mourinho can deflect criticism. Whatever people want to say about Chelsea’s approach, at least it’s not foreign! Nevermind that the tact’s extremely insulting to the England’s press and public. Throw out Frank Lampard’s name, allude to the namby-pambiness of foreigners, and people will surely bite, right?

For Mourinho, it’s all about the deflection – not that he needs to, in this case. Chelsea plays like this when they’re facing tough competition away from home. We saw it at Old Trafford, we saw it at The Emirates, and we saw it throughout Mourinho’s first spell with the Blues. We’re so far beyond debating its merits that we’ve accepted it as inherent to Mourinho’s approach.

The issue surrounding Monday’s game is less about that than Mike Dean’s willingness to let Chelsea overdo it. Azpilicueta’s tackle on Ramsey sees yellow nine out of 10 times. Thirty seconds later, Frank Lampard slid through Bacary Sagna from behind on while playing the ball out for a throw. Later in the half, Mikel breaks Arteta’s shin pad on a dangerous (red card-worthy) tackle, while Arsenal fans were left lamenting a Willian challenge that failed to concede a penalty kick. It’s not that Dean was necessarily pro-Chelsea; it’s just that his style perfectly played into Mourinho’s approach.

Mourinho doesn’t have to defend that. He doesn’t need to deflect the criticism, because the criticism isn’t coming. This is about poor officiating, not tactical choices.

There’s no need to bring out the foreign diver, English pride, soft player lines for this non-issue. There’s no need for Mourinho to play the xenophobe.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders in firm control after Leg 1

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Seattle Sounders took full control of the Western Conference finals with a resounding 2-0 win over ten-man Houston. The Sounders already had hit first in the 11th minute through Gustav Svensson but the red card to Jalil Anibaba changed the game. Houston had some chances later but fatigue meant the focus and control was off. Former Dynamo striker Will Bruin’s goal may have put the tie to bed.

Three moments that mattered

11′ — Gustav Svensson Goal — The Sounders wanted to set the tone early and they picked up an early goal off a corner kick, as Svensson redirected a header past Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis. The goal changed the complexion of the game to that point, until our next big moment.

28′ — Jalil Anibaba red card — Joevin Jones was a menace to deal with tonight and after getting past Anibaba, the latter pulled Jones down and as it appeared to be denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, Anibaba was given his marching orders. Suddenly, Houston, down a goal and down a man, had a lot more to do to stay in the tie. Nicolas Lodeiro missed the subsequent penalty kick but Will Bruin picked Lodeiro up later.

42′ — Will Bruin goal — The former Dynamo man scored a massive goal against his former club on a great cross from Jones on the left wing. While the tie isn’t over, the Sounders are in firm control and look set to repeat as Western Conference playoffs champions.

Man of the Match: Joevin Jones

Three things: Sounders cruise after (and before) early red

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The Seattle Sounders all but booked a return appearance in the 2017 MLS Cup final on Tuesday, doing so by beating the Houston Dynamo 2-0 in the first (away) leg of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday. The game wasn’t as close at the final score might appear to indicate.

[ RECAP: Sounders take 2-0 lead over Dynamo ]

We learned the following three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


The red card hurt Houston

No way, you’re kidding, right? Clearly a 28th-minute red card (shown to Jalil Anibaba for the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity) is going to have a massive impact on the outcome of a game. But, it really crippled Houston, given the way they play — having a numerical advantage in the center of midfield is so important to Wilmer Cabrera’s side, in the name of frantically winning the ball back after conceding half or even two-thirds of the field.

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When you have to haul off one of three central midfielders, in hopes of still being about to force-create chances on the rare occasion you recover the ball and move it forward, three things are bound to happen: 1) legs are going to get very heavy, very quickly; 2) the clock appears to be counting up in double-speed; 3) you begin to concede two-thirds and three-quarters of the field instead — every move Seattle worked during the second half came after a waltz in the final third before finally meeting resistance.

At right, you can see every Sounders pass originating in Houston’s half of the field — remember, Seattle are the away team here. Playoff games rarely, if ever, come much easier than that.


Addition by subtraction… again?

This one isn’t so much a lesson from Tuesday’s game, as much as it’s a trend played out over the course of an entire season: much like they wound up being in 2016 following Clint Dempsey‘s heart condition robbing him of the final four months of the season, the Sounders are once again, dare I say it, better without another indomitable figure: Osvaldo Alonso.

Here’s the numbers to back it up: without Alsono in the starting lineup this year, Seattle went 6W-2D-2L. In those 10 regular-season games, they scored 20 goals (2.0 per game, versus 1.3 with him in the lineup) and conceded 12 (1.1 per game, same when he played).

The central midfield pairing of Cristian Roldan (7) and Gustav Svensson (4) has proven a formidable foe for anyone and everyone during the second half of the season. On Tuesday — granted, against 10 men for more than an hour — they could do no wrong. (Passes attempted on the right; defensive actions on the left — green triangles are tackles won, orange are recoveries, blue are interceptions, purple are clearances, red are tackles lost.)

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Alonso has been an unbelievable servant for nine MLS seasons, he’s an MLS Cup champions, a four-time U.S. Open Cup winner, a Supporters’ Shield winner and one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS history. He’s also 32 years old with a growing history of lower-body injuries that seem to never fully heal, and he’s now clearly third in the pecking order behind Roldan and Svensson. It’s clearly an oversimplification to say that soccer is a young, mobile man’s game these days, but it’s certainly true of MLS, and the results are in near total agreement.


May I have some hope, please?

Here’s a not-so-fun fact if you’re a Dynamo fan: your team won one — singular — game on the road in 17 tries this season. Not a dark enough outlook? OK, have this: that lone away win came against D.C. United, who finished 21st out of 22 teams if you put MLS into a single table.

Maybe Seattle weren’t so good at home this year… I’m really just searching for anything at this point, you’re thinking. OK, it’s possible, I suppose. They lost once at home all season, to Toronto FC, the best regular-season team in MLS history, by the final score of 1-0, in the month of May.

We’ll see you in Toronto or Columbus for MLS Cup, Seattle Sounders.

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC hold Crew on the road

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The game in 100 words (or less): Without two of its stars, Toronto FC set out to play compact and hold on for a draw on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. Michael Bradley recorded 17 recoveries and a trio of interceptions as TFC broke up play and covered the passing lanes, frustrating the Columbus Crew all night. The best chance fell to Harrison Afful late, but TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono made a crucial save to keep it at 0-0.

Three moments that mattered

0′ — The starting lineup — In a game with chances few and far between, the tactical set-up by Greg Vanney – in which his side without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation – proved to be the difference in the game, frustrating the Crew all night.

52′ — Pedro Santos penalty kick no-call — Justin Meram plays a neat pass through the TFC backline that Santos runs on to, and he appears to be taken down in the box by Bono. Referee Robert Sbiga doesn’t blow the whistle and lets play continue, where Ola Kamara takes a shot that’s deflected away. Santos appeals for video review, and receives a yellow card for his efforts.

85′ — Big Save Bono — Gregg Berhalter’s 77th minute substitution to bring on Kekutah Manneh helped to push Afful higher up the field, which led to this late-game chance. Bono, who hadn’t had a whole lot to do, came up with a massive stop to keep the tie level.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the Match: Alex Bono, Toronto FC

Three things: Being happy with 0-0, and sabotage by Precourt

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On what felt sure to be a seminal night in franchise history, Columbus Crew SC were held by Toronto FC to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Leg 2 will be played next Wednesday, Nov. 29.

[ RECAP: TFC hold Crew SC to scoreless draw in leg 1 of East finals ]

We learned (roughly) three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


Who’s happiest with 0-0?

There’s a case to be made that both sides will be quite happy with Tuesday’s result — Crew SC for the fact they conceded no away goals, and TFC facing no deficit whatsoever before their home leg — but it’s quite clear that TFC should be the happier of the two, given 1) they were the best regular-season team in MLS history, this season; and, more importantly, 2) Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were suspended for leg 1 (they’ll both be back for leg 2) and Crew SC failed to capitalize anywhere meaningful.

TFC lost once at BMO Field all season, while Columbus managed just four victories away from home. Granted, any draw where both sides score would see Crew SC through to MLS Cup, which they would host no matter the opponent (54 points in the regular season; Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo finished on 54 and 50, respectively).


TFC’s tactical adjustment pays off

For all of the regular season, TFC head coach Greg Vanney deployed a back-three, with great success — 69 points, an all-time regular-season record. Nov. 21, three games from lifting (or losing) MLS Cup, is hardly the ideal time to deviate from the only path you’ve known.

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Alas, the absences of Giovinco and Altidore, TFC’s permanent strike partnership in the 3-5-2, changed everything. Without Altidore’s hold-up play bringing the best player to ever grace the league into attacking moves, the 3-5-2 would have quickly devolved into a 5-3-2, followed in short order by a 5-4-1. Columbus need no invitation to hold north of 60 percent of possession in a given game, which is exactly what would have happened. Not just meaningless possession, either, but camping-inside-TFC’s-defensive-third possession; 50-crosses-into-the-box possession; get-the-center-backs-forward-too possession.

Vanney was proactive with his starting lineup, putting another body in midfield by sacrificing a striker for another man in the middle, and it paid off. At right, you’ll see Crew SC’s attempted passes into/from TFC’s defensive third. Woof.


Anthony Precourt sinks to a new low

How low is Anthony Precourt willing to go in order to sabotage Crew SC, the club he owns and efforts to move to Austin, Tex., without so much as a phony attempt at a non-relocation resolution, and alienate the fans that have supported the franchise since MLS’s debut season in 1996? Tuesday night saw Precourt and Co. up the ante as they intentionally restricted entry (two gates for the entire stadium, causing thousands to miss the game’s opening minutes) into MAPFRE Stadium with the presumed intent of a half-empty venue when the television broadcast kicked off and panned left to right.

You pay good money for a ticket so you can see your team play, which ultimately results in filling the pockets of the villain whose no. 1 goal it is to steal your team, and this is how you’re treated on gameday.

This is shameful stuff from all parties involved — Crew SC, under the leadership and direction of Precourt, and MLS, who have allowed this entire saga to be played out in a public forum and enabling Precourt every step of the way.