Champions League: Real Madrid force Bayern Munich to leverage the value of home field

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The quarterfinals were a reminder about the importance of home field. All of Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, and Real Madrid performed dramatically better in their own friendly confines, so much so that a 1-0 loss on the road in UEFA Champions League’s semifinals wouldn’t have held up after leg one. Having learned nothing from the last round, we’ve come to see Real Madrid’s one-goal win in leg one of the team’s semifinal with Bayern as reason to doubt the holders. In reality, a one-goal deficit may still leave Bayern in pole position.

Chelsea turned around a 3-1 deficit against Paris Saint-Germain to reach the semifinals. Atlético were held at the Nou Camp before winning leg two against Barça. Bayern were held at Old Trafford before, after a scare, knocking off Manchester United at the Allianz. Real Madrid built up enough of a lead on Borussia Dortmund to withstand the Germans’ assault in Westphalia. All four quarterfinalists met some level of resistance on the road. All four overcame it to win their quarterfinals.

Why should these semifinals be any different? In theory, as the tournament moves on, teams paired against each other should be more evenly matched, making dramatic swings in either direction less likely. In practice, home field advantage has made a difference; at least of late. Over the last two years — four semifinals — teams returning home for their second legs have improved on their leg one performances Even Barcelona, last year, “improved” on a 4-0 loss at Bayern Munich with a 3-0 defeat at home.

Those results aren’t enough to say Bayern Munich will turn around the 1-0 deficit they were handed at the Santiago Bernabéu, but it’s a note of caution. While Real Madrid looked strong in their home leg — earning an early one-goal lead over the Champions League holders before conceding two good chances late — it would be foolish to think El Real’s success necessarily translates onto its second leg. Their semifinal match in Munich could be completely different.

“We are playing against a great team with a small advantage, so we are not that stupid as to think we have already qualified,” Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “It’s going to be really hard.”

If the teams’ 2013-14 performance is any indication, there may be something to the home field advantage angle. Though in league (where the sample sizes are much greater), Bayern has shown little difference between home and road performances, Real Madrid has been noticeably worse away from the Bernabéau. Whereas the Merengues have gone 15-0-2 (W-D-L) at home, los Blancos have posted a 14-4-2 record on the road. Their goal difference is +44 on home soil; +22 abroad.

Overall, it hints that Bayern’s dogmatic, imposing style came be imposed onto any environment, something that makes sense given the extreme, outlying nature of their approach. When you employ a system that’s so obsessed with ball retention, it should mitigate some of the differences in performance away from home. There are no adjustments to be made.

source: APFor a team like Real Madrid, however, there may not be enough stylistic differentiation to make them immune to home-road splits. Though they are obviously better and more talented than your typical European team, their style may not be so different that we have reason to think they can overcome the broader statistical evidence. They may be worse away from home.

On Tuesday, Ancelotti’s task is to transcend that. He’ll have a fully healthy Cristiano Ronaldo at his disposal; a fully healthy Gareth Bale. For the first time since Ronaldo was injured in early April, the Real Madrid head coach will have his full team at his disposal. Whereas in leg one Bale was restricted to a substitute’s role, Tuesday will see Real Madrid at full pomp.

Whether that matters, however, may be less up to Real Madrid than its hosts. Also having all its main weapons at its disposal, Bayern Munich will be facing the same question it’s been asked all season: If we don’t care about scoring, can you break us down? 

For most of the year, it’s a question that’s been asked by inferior opposition ready to settle of a draw. On Tuesday, it’s one of the most talented sides in the world ready to settle for a draw.

“They will seek to defend their advantage for 90 minutes,” Guardiola said, “but I’m not sure how. We were desperate to score an away goal. Now we have to attack even more – we have no other option. I’m convinced they’ll want to play as well.”

If Bayern can’t break through, it will be less about Real Madrid than themselves. The team’s had eight months to prepare for this moment: a team willing to forgo everything to keep them off the scoresheet. If Pep Guardiola’s team can’t overcome that approach, it will speak volumes about Ancelotti’s Champions League’s prowess as well as Bayern’s lack of progress since the former Barça boss took over.

“We cannot do it by ourselves tomorrow …,” Guardiola said. “The team want it, I want it, the fans want it, and together we can achieve it.”

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.