D.C. United captain Dwayne De Rosario and Will Chang General Partner of D.C. United, along with fans celebrate their 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake.

Schmid takes needed kick at Open Cup-Champions League hornet’s nest

15 Comments

Seattle loves it some U.S. Open Cup, probably more so than any other market in Major League Soccer. And who can blame them? As the team was quickly finding its way in Major League Soccer, it was also winning the domestic cup competition, giving the team’s huge, still growing fan base three trophies to hang its hats on. They love the U.S. Open Cup.

That’s why today’s comments from Sigi Schmid opened some eyes around Puget Sound, with the Sounders boss saying he was unsure if the Open Cup winner will get a CONCACAF Champions League berth beyond this season. It was part of a larger rant about the competition, with Schmid expressing his disappointment about play during the June World Cup break.

Some markets across MLS love the U.S. Open Cup nearly as much as Seattle. In those places — places like Washington, D.C. — the scheduling news could have some of the resonance it does it Seattle. In other places, however, there’ll be no resonance all. U.S. Open Cup may the oldest ongoing cup competition in world soccer, but it’s one that has a major relevancy problem. In a lot of MLS markets, it’s just the thing your team does between games you care about.

None of this is news, but it is important context, particularly after D.C. United won the tournament last year. In an effort to provide an incentive to take the competition seriously, U.S. Soccer lets the Open Cup champion into CONCACAF Champions League. But for a league that’s struggled to be relevant in that competition, United’s inclusion is a hard pill for MLS to swallow. The team only won three games last season. What are the odds they’ll help against the Liga MX boogeyman that’s keeping the league down?

That’s why Schmid’s tidbit about the Open Cup’s connection to Champions League should make more waves than his scheduling concerns. For those who want the Open Cup to be a more celebrated, relevant competition, the comments will touch a nerve. Open Cup winners should be rewarded, the thinking goes. For those who see United’s place in Champions League as a joke, Schmid’s prediction struck a hopeful note.

Those hopes want U.S. Soccer ti mimic most federations and put its best feet forward. For the time being, U.S. Soccer has elected to forgo that goal and try to build up its cup competition, hoping to build a richer competitive landscape. In theory, Open Cup could identify one of the U.S.’s top four representatives.

As last year’s competition showed, that’s just not the case. It’s also not fair for a team like Real Salt Lake to miss out on Champions League because U.S. Soccer’s trying to prop up the Open Cup. If that’s a short-term gambit, so be it, but rewarding the winner of a single-elimination competition will never guarantee MLS’s best qualify for Champions League. And based on how we’ve seen teams react to the incentive, it’s no guarantee Open Cup will ever be something teams see as more than a competition of convenience.

Two things always come to mind when this topic comes up. First, while cup competitions have an important historic place in countries around the world, they’re important because of their history, not necessarily because of other competitive incentives. To reward the Open Cup’s winner with a Champions League spot confounds the those two issues. A Champions League spot can’t give the Open Cup a historical relevance which, despite its 101 years of existence, it doesn’t have. This just isn’t the FA Cup.

Secondly, the tail’s wagging the dog. You don’t provide rewards to the winner of a competition that lacks relevance. That’s a reason to avoid providing the prize. You wait for the competition to pick up then provide the reward. Else, you end up with situations where a team that won three of 34 league games is representing you on the confederation level.

Look throughout Latin America and Asia and you’ll see a number of vibrant soccer cultures that have no relevant cup competitions. Having a knockout tournament that complements a league competition isn’t a necessary thing, nor does it say if you’re a good or bad soccer culture.

If U.S. Open Cup doesn’t evolve into the competition its fans envision, we’ll be fine, and if the competition can’t stand on its own two feet without the CONCACAF Champions League inducement, it’s okay to let the competition go back to what it once was. People in Seattle and Washington, D.C., may be sad, but we can also stop pretending the tournament is something it may never become.

Either way, give the Champions League berth back to the competition that identifies the best teams. That will never be the single-elimination tournament. That’s Major League Soccer.

Real Madrid loses Modric and Marcelo to injuries in Malaga win

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 21:  Marcelo of Real Madrid CF comes off substituted during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Malaga CF at the Bernabeu on January 21, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The 40-game unbeaten run seems like a distant memory.

Real Madrid had lost two straight matches before a 2-1 La Liga win over Malaga on Saturday, but despite the three points, they still did lose in a way.

Los Blancos lost both Marcelo and Luka Modric to injury in the match, and both could potentially miss up to a month of time.

Modric has been in and out of the squad this season due to injuries, and during his other lengthy spell on the sidelines, he was replaced adequately by 22-year-old Mateo Kovacic, and he was the man to replace Modric against Malaga with 12 minutes remaining. Reports say the Croatian suffered an adductor injury which can be quite painful and could keep him off the field for a number of weeks.

Marcelo, meanwhile, has been a staple in the Madrid lineup, appearing in the last 11 league matches and starting all but two of those. Marcelo was brought off just 25 minutes into the Malaga win reportedly with a hamstring problem, replaced by Isco. The likely long-term replacement for the 28-year-old Brazilian would be Nacho Fernandez, who has seen time this season on both defensive flanks.

The injuries puts not just the immediate La Liga and Copa del Rey futures of the two in jeopardy, but also could affect their availability for the start of the Champions League knockout stage which begins on February 15th against Napoli.

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. Hull City (Lineups & Live Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea warms up prior to the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Diego Costa has returned from his short absence as the Brazilian starts in front of the home fans at Stamford Bridge live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Costa had missed the 3-0 win over Leicester City with what was officially tabbed as a back injury, but with reports swirling that the striker had been unsettled by a big offer from China and a bust-up with management. Now, he’s back after missing just a single match.

[ WATCH LIVE: Chelsea vs. Hull City live online at NBCSports.com ]

John Terry does not make the Chelsea squad despite returning from suspension, with Kurt Zouma on the bench in relief Antonio Conte‘s preferred back three.

Hull City is without leading scorer Robert Snodgrass, a big loss for a player who has struggled with injury problems the last two years. David Meyler returned to training this week and is on the bench.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard.
Subs: 
Begovic, Ake, Zouma, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

Hull City: Jakupovic; Maguire, Dawson, Davies, Elabdellaoui; Mason, Huddlestone, Clucas, Robertson; Evandro, Hernández.
Subs: Marshall, Meyler, Maloney, Diomande, Niasse, Tymon, Bowen.

Arsenal 2-1 Burnley: Arsenal into second in stunning fashion

Leave a comment

What appeared a straightforward result for Arsenal ended in stunning fashion as a pair of penalties in stoppage time saw Arsenal through to second in the Premier League table.

A 59th minute header by Shkodran Mustafi had Arsenal 1-0 in front, and it remained that way for much of the game. Granit Xhaka was sent off again in the 65th minute, but it didn’t appear to make much of a difference to the Gunners.

Then, things exploded in stoppage time with seven added minutes due to earlier injuries. Referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot two minutes into stoppage time for a kick from Francis Coquelin, and Andre Gray buried the chance to level things up, appearing to have wrapped up a point. But in the final tick of seven added minutes, Arsenal themselves earned a penalty when Ben Mee produced a high boot to the face of Laurent Koscielny, leaving the referee no choice but to point to the spot. Alexis Sanchez cooly went down the middle, and Arsenal came out on top.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Burnley started brightly, but it was Arsenal that had the best early chance. With six minutes gone by, Alexis Sanchez broke down the left and delivered a good ball in, but Olivier Giroud‘s flick header was from too far out, and the Frenchman probably should have let it go with the ball set to arrive at the feet of Aaron Ramsey.

That chance sparked Arsenal to begin pummeling the Burnley box, mostly up the left edge with Sanchez. The visitors packed in the box, forcing the Gunners to get creative, and Mesut Ozil fired wide on the half-volley past 20 minutes.

Laurent Koscielny was needed at the back after a mistake in possession by his defensive partner Shkodran Mustafi, but the Frenchman was calm, cool, and collected to dispossess Andre Gray on the break. Koscielny had a chance on the other end as well, past the half-hour mark as he headed a free-kick on net but it looped agonizingly over the bar, settling on the top netting.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Arsenal continued to attack the packed-in Burnley box, and Sanchez whipped a shot in three minutes before halftime that swerved just wide of the post. The Gunners kept at it right out of the break, as Grioud fed Ramsey with a header, but the Welsh international tried a scorpion kick, and it went over. Sanchez fired a fizzing shot on net on 50 minutes, but it curled just beyond the top right corner. Arsenal should have had a penalty, with Mustafi going down under a silly challenge from Gray, but no call was awarded.

The hosts finally and deservedly broke through in the 59th minute as Mustafi expertly headed in off a corner. The header was from a very tight angle, as Mustafi met the ball ahead of the near post, angling it all the way across the face of goal and tucked inside the far corner past a diving Tom Heaton.

Arsenal was pegged back when Granit Xhaka earned his second red card of the Premier League season for a two-footed lunge on Steven Defour. Xhaka had passed the ball straight to Defour and as the Burnley midfielder distributed it to a teammate, the Swiss international went in studs showing, and after a conference with the assistant referee, head official Jon Moss sent Xhaka off.

With 15 minutes remaining, Burnley lost a steady man as Dean Marney was forced off after a heavy challenge with Mesut Ozil that earned him a yellow card. The stretcher was required after what appeared to be a serious injury to his right knee which took the full brunt of Ozil’s weight in an awkward position.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

As the game wound to a close, there were seven added minutes due to the Marney injury. Early in stoppage time, Burnley won a penalty and appeared to have earned themselves a point. Substitute Francis Coquelin kicked Ashley Barnes in the lower leg, and the penalty was awarded. Gray buried the penalty down the middle, and things were level with just minutes remaining.

Arsenal poured forward, and with an angry Arsene Wenger sent to the tunnel, the Gunners produced a winning moment. A free-kick looped in to the far post, and Mee’s boot contacted Koscielny in the side of the head, again forcing the referee to award the penalty. Sanchez broke out the panenka finish, dinking the ball down the middle and in for a last-gasp 2-1 lead. Replays show the penalty was the correct decision, but Koscielny was in an offside position when the delivery came in, the flag failing to punish the Gunners.

The win moves Arsenal past Liverpool and Tottenham, into second place with 47 points, five behind leaders Chelsea who are yet to play this weekend. Burnley, meanwhile, remain with just a single point all season away from home, sitting in 13th place with 26 points, having been passed by Southampton who won in the early Sunday match.

VIDEO: Claudio Ranieri admits tactical mistakes after another road defeat

Leave a comment

Ever-gracious Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri has taken full responsibility for the Foxes’ recent struggles, claiming his lineup tinkering has fallen flat.

The Italian said following the 3-0 defeat to Southampton that he has tried a few different formations to maximize his players’ abilities, but that it hasn’t worked out.

[ RECAP: Leicester falls on the road again at Southampton ]

“I think the last two matches I changed the shape to try and help my players to play better and find the right solution, but maybe I make mistakes. I am wrong against Chelsea when I play with three at the back, and also today when I wanted to play with a diamond. My players are used to playing with a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1 and they recognize the position, the game, everything, the movement. I wanted to give something more, but I make a mistake, I was wrong.”

Honesty sure is Ranieri’s best policy, and deflecting criticism from his players is clearly the tactic here. Managers often like to play down the importance of tactical formations at times, but here it clearly has weighed on Ranieri’s mind, who may revert back to his tested formations.

[ MORE: Is Pep Guardiola unhappy in the Premier League? ]

“I think it’s much better to give to them what they know very well. I look and they had to push a lot with this system and this mentality, and keep going and improve of course.”

Whatever the case, something will have to change with Leicester City this season if they wish to continue in the English top-flight. The Foxes have gone all season without a single away win, and they’re 15th in the table with just 21 points, five above the relegation zone.