Eric Wynalda expands role with Atlanta, set to be Silverbacks’ Mr. Everything in 2014

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At the risk of navel-having, posts like these are exactly why the Atlanta Silverbacks should be trilled to have Eric Wynalda. Without their technical director, this site — one that rarely dives into lower-division United States soccer — wouldn’t care about the Silverbacks’ transition from Brian Haynes, the man whose contract wasn’t renewed at the end of the last North American Soccer League season. Instead, because Wynalda is expanding his technical director role with the league’s spring  champions, the Silverbacks are a point of conversation, transcending the relative national anonymity that persistent with most NASL clubs.

As of today, part of the conversation surrounding Wynalda will center on the new experiment Atlanta’s undertaking. Instead of replacing Haynes, the man Wynalda identified to take the reins after his seven-game interim spell two years ago, the Silverbacks are eliminating the head coach’s role entirely, giving Wynalda control of everything from the technical director’s office to the training ground and sidelines.

According to a statement distributed by the team on Tuesday:

Wynalda will handle all team-related decisions, and manage the team during NASL play. While he will still remain in his role as a soccer analyst at Fox Sports 1, the former U.S. Men’s National Team star will manage all of the team’s games and key practices. Wynalda will rely on a group of hand-selected assistants to take the team through early-week recovery and training sessions.

In short, Wynalda has a contract with Fox. Whenever he’s not fulfilling that deal in California, he’ll be with Atlanta. If that means he has time to be at practice, he will. Same for games, but even when he’s not around, he’ll be calling the shots.

This could end up being an experiment in virtual managing, with video cameras set up at practice and games allowing Wynalda to give instructions via Skype. Maybe we can get a Tupac-esque hologram Wynalda projected onto the sidelines at Silverbacks Park, though if Atlanta had that technology, Virtual Eric would have been patrolling the sidelines long ago.

But this move could also ended with Wynalda racking up tens of thousands of dollars in airfare while burning himself out by the end of the 2014 season. While it appears to be the next step in a U.S. legend’s transition from punditry to practice, it may also be a man eat to prove his talents spreading himself too thin.

Regardless, Silverbacks management is ready to take the plunge.

“The organization has tremendous belief in Eric Wynalda’s system of play. Heading into the offseason, we asked ourselves how we could get back to following that system,” Silverbacks chairman Boris Jerkunica said in a statement distributed by the club. “We’ve come to the conclusion of reengineering Eric’s role, and that will include managing the team’s training sessions and games. We believe in Eric’s vision and we consider him to be part of our long-term plans.”

Suffice to say, this isn’t something that would happen in Major League Soccer, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a great arrangement for all involved. Wynalda, who has long coveted a job in MLS, gets to flash his coaching potential to whatever extent his Fox contract allows. At the same time, Atlanta gets the talents of somebody whose seen early success with Cal FC and the Silverbacks, has a profile that will draw attention to the second-tier club, and will be on television regularly to implicitly expand the team’s profile.

In the process, Wynalda and the team can spin this as an innovation, even if it’s really just a logical extension of their mutually beneficial relationship.

“We understand as an organization that this appears to be a less conventional approach to running a club, however, we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t expect it to be successful,” Wynalda said. “Our ethics, our principles, our tactics, and our philosophy will not change, and we believe this process is very feasible and has tremendous potential.”

It has the potential to keep the Silverbacks in the news, a place Wynalda frequently finds himself. With today’s appointment, he’s again back in the discussion. How often he keeps Atlanta in our minds will be as important as 2014’s results.

Liverpool releases statement after Sevilla stadium supporter outcry

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Liverpool has proffered a strong and cautionary statement regarding its supporters’ treatment at Sevilla on Tuesday.

Claims of police punching a woman in the back and throwing her “political” flag at her, a Liverbird with the word “Defiance” on it, are just the tip of the iceberg.

[ REPORT: Palace to get new digs ]

Fans claim that many were either delayed or denied in entry to the stadium, with “police in riot gear not letting you get to your seat” in some cases.

The Reds have released a statement, from LiverpoolFC.com:

Following detailed and troubling accounts given by Liverpool supporters attending the match against Sevilla last night, the club is seeking to establish the facts regarding their treatment at the hands of the host stewards and local police force.
The safety and security of our supporters is our paramount concern and we intend to gather all the relevant information before responding further.

Supporter treatment away from home is deservedly a hot button issue, and especially at Liverpool given the horrible Hillsborough disaster that killed 96 and wounded almost 800 more in 1989.

As for the match, the Reds squandered a 3-0 lead at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, drawing 3-3.

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.

Toronto FC holds Columbus 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.

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Man of the Match: Alex Bono, Toronto FC