US Soccer stars impress with intelligence and class at MLS Media Day

5 Comments

Despite the deep nipple-freeze cold and New York subway system being up to its old holiday tricks, I made it to Red Bull Arena on time (the wife would be so proud) for yesterday’s Major League Soccer Media Day.

I hadn’t been to previous Media Days so all I knew was what MLS Communications Coordinator, Susan Marschall, had emailed — that the journalists roundtable interviews would take place in a 4th floor suite and that for 15 mins apiece, the following players would swing by to chat: Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Diego Fagundez, Tim Cahill, Clarence Goodson, Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Mike Magee, Eddie Johnson, Graham Zusi, Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman and Thierry Henry.

Suffice to say, I was supremely stoked about the gig.

Upon walking into the suite I immediately recognized a good deal of the journalists — Ives Galarcep, Graham Parker, Brian Strauss, Kyle McCarthy, Leander Schaerlaeckens, among others.

Around 10am the players started coming in. With my I-Phone ‘Voice Notes’ down for the count, I typed furiously during most of their chats. On others, I took a break and just listened.

My top impression from listening to this group is that they all come off as being extremely well educated. As an American, this trait swells me with pride. Look, we’re (probably) not going to win the World Cup. But based on our intelligence alone, beautiful things can happen in Brazil (as they have in many a past WC).

It’s also worth noting that the players are all genuinely pumped at the direction MLS is heading — Miami, Orlando City, everything that went down in Toronto this past offseason — they’re really juiced about it. How the heck could you not be? The league is so blatantly on the up and everyone knows it.

In general, I found the players to be a bunch of classy dudes. Well-spoken. Funny. Respectful. Dudes.

Below are some more specific takeaways from each of the 14 players who attended the roundtable:

Michael Bradley: Bradley has spent the last eight years playing in four of the top leagues in Europe and now, The General is set to unleash havoc on MLS.

Landon Donovan: Hugely impressed by Donovan’s general good nature and mastery of the Spanish language but was disappointed that I couldn’t ask whether he would retire from the Stars & Strips after Brazil was out the door (national team questions were deemed ‘off-limits’).

Diego Fagundez: Love this kid, who told me he’s gonna nutmeg Cristiano Ronaldo when they meet on the pitch — dude has ‘USMNT’ written all over him!!!

Tim Cahill: I’m convinced Cahill (one of my Everton heroes) will be one of two things when he retires — an Army general or a top, top soccer manager.

Clarence Goodson: Dude is tall, skinny and managed to stump the entire room when he asked what Maryland Terrapins were drafted into MLS they year he graduated college.

Brad Evans: Despite the hideous camo pants, Evans’ stock to be the starting US right-back in Brazil sky-rocketed in my book for one reason that rarely gets mention — dude has big time leadership skills.

Omar Gonzalez: Another incredibly sharp thinker, I look forward to the day when Gonzalez doesn’t merely “think” he can be the leader at center-back but knows it, demands it and will tear up anyone who comes near it.

Matt Besler: Under-rated in every possible way Besler has huge breakout potential in Brazil, topping my list as the US player most likely to be in-demand by European clubs come July.

Mike Magee: In not-so-many words Magee admitted that his explosion in 2013 was largely due to finally getting out of the shadow of players like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.

Eddie Johnson: Noting what a “blessing and an honor” it is “to be a part of a team that’s had so much history,” it’s hard not to root for Johnson to succeed at DC United.

Graham Zusi: Appropriately described by someone inside the suite as ‘the guy you want your sister to marry,’ Zusi comes off as one of the nicest guys you could ever possibly meet.

Maurice Edu: After candidly describing his plight at Stoke City — let’s just say the man was done wrong by Mark Hughes, among others — Edu earned a soft spot in my heart and is a guy I’m gunning for to make the roster in Brazil.

Kyle Beckerman: The former Miami Fusion player couldn’t hide that he was “really excited” for David Beckham’s new franchise, noting “I don’t know if the guy has made a bad move in his life.”

Thierry Henry: Henry gets a good deal of schtick for his temperament but I came away from my first time meeting the French legend with nothing but good things to say – upon entering the room he shook every journalist’s hand, pulled his chair in close and gave a Wengerian-esque take on everything from MLS to US Soccer to Arsenal.

Championship playoff contenders all but confirmed

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It was a pivotal day in England’s second-tier as the four playoff teams set to battle it out for a place in the Premier League have all but been confirmed.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

After the results in the penultimate weekend Huddersfield Town, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday are definitely in the playoffs (where they will finish in the standings is still up in the air) and Fulham have all but joined them after they drew 1-1 with Brentford at Craven Cottage.

That means they’re three points clear of Leeds United who are seventh and they also have a goal differential of +27 to Leeds’ +14. So, there needs to be a 13 goal swing on the final day of the Championship season for Leeds to finish above Fulham and nick the final playoff spot.

Yup. Not going to happen…

For fans of U.S. Soccer there will be plenty of intrigued in these playoffs as USMNT players Danny Williams (Reading) and Tim Ream (Fulham) will feature, plus German-American manager David Wagner has guided Huddersfield to the top six in his first full season in charge of the Terriers.

The two-legged playoff semifinals will take place after the regular season ends on May 5 and then the winners of those semifinals will compete in the Championship playoff final, known as the richest game in soccer, at Wembley on May 26 for a place in the Premier League.

Below is a look at the Championship table with one round of games to go as Brighton (already promoted automatically to the PL along with Newcastle) can seal the title with a win against Bristol City late on Saturday.


Relegated Sunderland “obviously distraught”; Moyes wants to stay

Leave a comment

Neither John O'Shea nor David Moyes had been relegated during their long careers in football.

That changed Saturday.

The former Manchester United defender and Everton manager saw Sunderland drop into the second tier after a bevy of wasted chances and a lapse at the back perfectly summed up their season in England.

[ RECAP: Sunderland 0-1 Bournemouth ]

Moyes wants to stick around and help Sunderland back to the Premier League the way Rafa Benitez did this season in the Championship. Here’s what he said on NBCSN after the match:

“I feel for the supporters. They put their hard-earned cash out there to support the team, and my thoughts are really with them today.

“Yeah, the job’s to make sure that we get ourselves prepared and ready but we’re in this position, to talk about it now is just too quick.”

As for O’Shea, he’s clearly gutted and exasperated. The veteran Irish back did not have a strong season along with the majority of his teammates, and is left grasping for answers.

“Look, we’re obviously distraught. We all wanted the support that we got today. It’s not a nice feeling.

“Performances, results, are the obvious things at the end of the season. The detail never lies. We haven’t kept enough clean sheets, we haven’t taken enough chances. We needed a miracle run to save us, and we couldn’t produce it.”

The Black Cats were kept alive by Jermain Defoe‘s heroics for most of the season, but the striker went ice cold with finishing from February onward. The club rarely looked the part this season, and this might not be a short spell away from the top flight.

Stoke City 0-0 West Ham: Stalemate in the Potteries

Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Stoke, West Ham waste chances
  • Potters move on to 40 points
  • West Ham have 39 points

Stoke and West Ham played out a tense 0-0 draw at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday.

Marko Arnautovic went close for Stoke and so did Andre Ayew for the Hammers but both Adrian and Jack Butland were in fine form in goal.

The draw means Stoke reach the 40-point marker but they drop 12th place in the table, while West Ham remain in 14th and have 39 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The first big chance of the game fell to Stoke as Marko Arnautovic cut the ball back from the left side of the box to find Saido Berahino and his powerful effort was well blocked by Winston Reid.

Stoke continued to do most of the pressing early on and West Ham’s best chance came from a free kick as Jose Fonte’s header was deflected over the bar.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

West Ham then had a great chance to go ahead as Fernandes’ cross found Jonathan Calleri but he blazed over the bar. Moments later Andre Ayew’s overhead kick was then denied brilliantly by Jack Butland who made a phenomenal stop on his first appearance back at the bet365 Stadium.

Stoke finished the half well as Glen Johnson brilliantly burst into the box and his ball to the near post was poked wide by Fonte just as Arnautovic was ready to tap home and moments late Fonte blocked by Berahino as Joe Allen cut the ball back.

Right on half time Calleri then made a terrible mess of a great chance as he tried a rabona instead of slotting home. 0-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The second half started brightly as Allen had a volley just wide and Cheikhou Kouyate saw his effort go wide of Butland’s far post.

Good work from Arnautovic then led to a chance to Xherdan Shaqiri but he fired just wide under pressure. Allen’s shot from distance caused Adrian some problems and West Ham’s goalkeeper also pushed away an effort from Berahino.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ayew then forced Butland into a save from a shot and a header as the Hammers pushed hard for a winner late on.

Stoke went close to snatching all three points as a fine ball into the box found Arnautovic but Adrian denied his volley superbly and scrambled clear at the second attempt.

Southampton 0-0 Hull: Jakupovic the hero in late PK drama

Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Jakupovic saves Tadic’s late PK
  • Hull three points clear of bottom three
  • Saints move on to 41 points

Hull City held on at Southampton on Saturday to grab a vital point in their battle against relegation.

In a game which saw few goalscoring chances created, Edlin Jakupovic emerged as Hull’s hero as he saved Dusan Tadic‘s poor penalty kick in second half stoppage time.

With the point Hull move three clear of the relegation zone and have 34 points, while Southampton move on to 41 points and remain in ninth place in the table.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Hull looked lively early on as Kamil Grosicki broke on the counter and his low shot hit the side-netting.

The Polish winger went even closer moments later as he curled a free kick up and over the wall but the ball clipped the outside of the post and went wide.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Hull continued to launch long balls forward and one of those caught out Maya Yoshida as Oumar Niasse raced free but Jack Stephens deflected his effort wide.

The visitors looked the more likely to open the scoring in an even first half.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Saints started the second half brightly with Sofiane Boufal working some space on the edge of the box but Harry Maguire blocked well at the crucial moment and moments later Dusan Tadic had an effort deflected wide.

Puel then brought on Shane Long and Josh Sims for Boufal and Manolo Gabbiadini as he tried to spark fresh impetus into Saints’ attack.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Late on Saints pushed hard to find a winner as Tadic saw his shot saved by Jakupovic after Hull’s goalkeeper had initially punched a clearance down into the box. Niasse then had a good chance but got it all wrong and belted the ball over from the edge of the box.

Southampton then had a glorious chance to win the game in stoppage time as Yoshida was hauled down in the box by Alfred N'Diaye but Tadic’s penalty kick was superbly saved by Jakupovic who was once again the hero for Hull.

The Tigers almost snatched all three points late on as Niasse’s scrambled effort was cleared off the line by Cedric Soares.