Liverpool:Second place in the final PL standings but top of the class this season. Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool exceeded everyone’s expectations. I did not see one preseason poll predicting the Reds would be in the top two. They only blot on their copybook was the late season collapse that cost them the title. That aside, tremendous progress at Anfield as a bright future beckons. Record: W 26 – D 6 – L 6
Manchester City: The Citizens won the PL title and deservedly so. Manuel Pellegrini, known as ‘the Engineer,’ built a solid foundation for City’s creative stars to flourish and they got over the line. They were only top for 14 days of the season but were there when it mattered most after banging in 102 goals to lift the PL crown. Record: W 27 – D 5 – L – 6
Everton: The Toffees came so close to sealing a top four spot, and in almost any other season their return of 72 points would have sealed a UCL berth. Roberto Martinez shouldn’t let that spoil a wonderful first season in charge at Goodison, as the Spanish coach has developed a silky style admired around the country and blooded talented youngsters like Ross Barkley and John Stones. Record: W 20 – D 9 – L 8
Southampton: Mauricio Pochettino’s young side have shown everyone just how good they are down on the South Coast. Saints finished in their best ever PL position of eighth, recorded their highest ever points tally and have three players off to Brazil with England. Possessing a squad brimming with talented teenagers (Luke Shaw etc.) and the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, the future is bright for the Reds. Record: W 15 – D 11 – L 12
Stoke City: A terrific campaign for the Potter as Mark Hughes’ men have turned on the style at the Britannia. Six wins from their last ten games saw Stoke finish ninth, their highest ever PL finish and their first time in the top 10, as they’ve finally shaken off that ‘long ball merchants’ tag. Can they challenge for the top six next season? Record: W 13 – D 11 – L 14
Crystal Palace: After Tony Pulis took charge of Palace in late November the Eagles never looked back. They ended up finishing in 11th place after picking up just four points from August to November. Pulis was rightly named PL Manager of the Year and the Eagles beat the likes of Chelsea at home and stunned Liverpool in a late comeback. Pride, passion and commitment, they battled their way to this B+. Record: W 13 – D 6 – L 19
Hull City:Many didn’t think Steve Bruce could keep the Tigers up, yet early in the season they were flying. Big wins over Liverpool at home and Newcastle away were crucial but their season did peter out. That was due to their run to the FA Cup final which inadvertently also handed them a place in next season’s Europa League. Record: W 10 – D 7 – L 21
Arsenal: A blip in the middle of the season curtailed the Gunners’ progress this campaign… but this still have plenty to be proud of. Up until January they pretty much led the way in the PL, as Arsene Wenger’s new signing Mesut Ozil ran the show. Then he dropped away and Arenal struggled, yet they still finished fourth and have an FA Cup final to look forward to. All in all, a good season and another top four finish. Record: W 24 – D 7 – L 7
Chelsea: The ‘Special One’ didn’t win any silverware on his return to Stamford Bridge, but he came mighty close. Chelsea’s young squad hung in the title race until the penultimate weekend of the season but their downfall was losing to Sunderland, Villa and Palace, despite picking up five wins and a draw in their games against the top four. A UCL semifinal defeat to Atletico Madrid was a bitter pill to swallow. Third place is a tough start for Mourinho in his second spell. Record: W 25 – D 7 – L 6
Sunderland: Gus Poyet asked for a miracle at the Stadium of Light… he got one. The Mackems became just the second club in PL history to avoid the drop after being bottom of the standings at Christmas. Paolo Di Canio was dismissed after a torrid start but four wins in a row in their last five (including victories at Chelsea and Man United) kept Sunderland up against all the odds. Oh, they reached the League Cup final too, but lost to Man City. Record: W 10 – D 8 – L 20
Tottenham: Spurs badly missed Gareth Bale, as the $130 million they reinvested from his transfer fee was very poorly spent. That ultimately cost Andre Villas-Boas his job as the Portuguese boss saw his team battered by Man City and Liverpool early on. Tim Sherwood stepped in, became Spurs’ best-ever PL manager (stats wise) and guided them to fifth…. Then Sherwood left after the season finished. Lots of uncertainty around White Hart Lane. Record: W 21 – D 6 – L 11
Swansea City: The Swans were in real danger of relegation for much of this season, as Michael Laudrup suffered ‘second-season syndrome’ badly. The Danish manager left and defender Garry Monk was put in charge as he led the Swans to a 12th place finish after flirting with the drop. A charge to the Europa League knockout stages didn’t help their league form. Wilfried Bony was their star pupil as the Ivorian banged in goals for fun. Record: W 11 – D 9 – L 18
Newcastle: It all started so well for Newcastle as Alan Pardew’s side challenged for the top four before Christmas. Then the wheels fell off as Pardew was banned for headbutting an opposition player, the Magpies plummeted to 10th and their were huge protests from fans against the owner and their manager. All is not well at St. James’ Park. Record: W 15 – D 4 – L 19
West Brom: Somehow the Baggies weren’t relegated as they won just seven games, the lowest total in the PL. They missed the goals of last season’s loan striker Romelu Lukaku and Steve Clarke lost his job ludicrously early in the campaign. From eighth last year to three points and one place above the relegation zone, the decline at the Hawthorns was shocking. Spanish boss Pepe Mel was brought in but after many issues with the playing staff, he left at the end of the campaign. Record: W 7 – D 15 – L 16
Aston Villa: No wonder American owner Randy Lerner wants to sell Villa, two seasons of struggle for the Midlands giants has pushed the fans’ patience to the brink. Manager Paul Lambert has failed to kick the club on and Villa only secured their safety a week from the end of the campaign. There needs to be a clean sweep at Villa as they keep scraping by. Record: W 10 – D 8 – L 19
West Ham: Sam Allardyce could well be on his way out of Upton Park as fans of the Hammers have turned against his direct style of play. It was a real rollercoaster ride for West Ham as they started poorly, then picked up in the New Year, before finishing with a whimper on 40 points. Losing Andy Carroll for over half of the season through injury didn’t help but overall it was a season to forget. Record: W 11 – D 7 – L 20
Manchester United: What a simply wretched season for the Red Devils. David Moyes lasted 10 months before he was fired and put out of his misery. United lost 12 PL games for the first time in a season, finished out of the top four for the first time in PL history and failed to qualify for Europa for the first time since 1990. An aging squad is finally being broken up but that should’ve happened last summer. A new manager is on the way this summer, after Ryan Giggs stepped in on an interim basis, but the reigning champions surrendered their crown in embarrassing fashion. Record: W 19 – D 7 – L 12
Fuham: Three managers had a crack at keeping the Cottagers in the top-flight, as Fulham made a right pig’s ear of this season. Martin Jol assembled an aging, yet talented, squad which struggled early on. Jol was fired and his assistant Rene Muelensteen was put in charge, however he lasted less than two months as German boss Felix Magath arrived. A string of late wins gave Fulham hope but their awful defending sent them down as they had the second worst defense in PL history with 85 goals conceded. Record: W 9 -D 5 – L 24
Cardiff City: Cardiff’s first-ever PL campaign became the ‘Vincent Tan show’ as their eccentric Malaysian owner is now the number one villain in the Welsh capital. Memorable home wins over South Wales rivals Swansea and Manchester City gave Bluebirds fans hope, then Tan fired manager Malky Mackay and new boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer just wasn’t given enough money, or time, to turn things around. Back to the Championship as they struggled for goals all season and bagged just 32. Record: W 7 – D 9 – L 22
Norwich City: Talking of struggling for goals, Norwich were the PL’s lowest scorers with 28. Chris Hughton was fired with five games to go as his expensive summer signings, Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, failed to score the goals Norwich needed. Sacking Hughton was pointless as Norwich’s last four games were against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United. Relegation was inevitable but it was an awful season at Carrow Road as the players massively underperformed. Record: W 8 – D 9 – L 21
MLS Snapshot: Houston Dynamo 0-2 New York City FC (video)
The game in 100 words (or less): With one goal already accomplished for New York City FC this season, Patrick Vieira’s group made positive strides in capturing another on Friday night in Houston. David Villa’s 20th and 21st tallies of the season gave the visitors the lead after halftime and NYCFC managed to hold onto the points from there. With just two matches remaining following the win over the Dynamo, NYCFC currently sits atop the Eastern Conference on 51 points. Meanwhile, the Dynamo remain nine points out of the final spot in the West with four matches to play.
73′ — Saunders watches as Rodriguez hits post — It can be a game of inches at times and the Dynamo were certainly on the wrong end of this one as Raul Rodriguez’s effort struck the post and stayed out.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The South Korean soccer league deducted nine points from league leader Jeonbuk Hyundai on Friday after one of the club’s employees was convicted of bribing referees in 2013.
The K-League also fined Jeonbuk 100 million won ($90,600). The club, which saw its 14-point lead over second-place FC Seoul reduced to a five-point margin, issued an apology and vowed to take measures to prevent it from happening again.
A court in Busan on Wednesday sentenced a Jeonbuk scout to a suspended prison term of two years for paying referees in exchange for favorable decisions in several league matches in 2013.
An official from Jeonbuk said the scout has been suspended by the team and it will soon make a decision whether to terminate his employment. He refused to be named, citing office rules.
The K-League had vowed reforms after being rocked by a massive match-fixing scandal in 2011, when 52 players were indicted for taking bribes in return for trying to manipulate the outcome of matches or betting their own money on the games.
The French football federation gave no explanation for coach Didier Deschamps’s decision to replace Mathieu with Eliaquim Mangala, only saying he made the move “following a discussion” with the Barcelona player. Mangala is currently on a season-long loan at Valencia from Manchester City.
France takes on Bulgaria on Oct. 7 at the Stade de France before traveling to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands three days later in Group A.
EXCLUSIVE: Michael Bradley on Toronto FC’s long-awaited renaissance
Times have changed in Toronto for the local football club. The Reds are no longer, to put it bluntly, the bad club that failed to deliver results to a passionate fan base expecting so much more.
A club that missed the playoffs in each of its first eight seasons has clinched a postseason berth for a second-straight season. And this year, for the first time ever, TFC will finish this season with more wins than losses.
You read that right. For the first time ever. Yes, it was that bad.
It would overstate things to say Bradley showed up and fixed things for the Reds, turning them from a bad big club to a big, bad one overnight; For one thing, TFC missed the playoffs during his first season and Bradley only netted twice in a return to MLS which was expected to be dominant (though he was, per 90, one of the best possession players in the league that season).
Yet as time as gone on, in an organization that frankly had not seen much winning at all, Bradley has not just led the way as a battler emerged from BMO Field; The 29-year-old TFC and USMNT captain now leads a winner, one he’s quick to point out comes from an organization, not any single personality.
“I’ve tried every day since I got here to spill my heart and soul into it and to try to help in every way that I can,” Bradley told ProSoccerTalk.
“For a lot of people who have been here for the last years to see the way that things have continued to move forward and progress, there’s a big sense of pride. We’re by no means where we want to be. There are big goals around here in terms of continuing to turn this into a team and a club that can compete and win on a regular basis.”
Yep, times have changed for the better. And at the center of it all, whether he admits it or not, is the steely reserve of an American in Canada.
Michael Bradley is deliberate in his choice of words, and pauses several times to make sure his point is clearly made.
The train powers along once he finds the right track, however.
It’s fitting, because Greg Vanney’s defensive system with Bradley works in a similar way. Patiently wait for the right time to take the ball, then surge forward and take no prisoners. Find Sebastian Giovinco. Find Jozy Altidore. Find Jonathan Osorio, or another attacker… or just fire away.
“On our best days, we have a team that plays in a real good way,” Bradley says. “When we have our best group on the field, our football is good, the ball moves quickly, we’re a team that is able to put the game on our terms with the ball but not do it in a way that’s not just needless possession.
“We circulate the ball, but also do it with an eye toward playing forward and make sure we get it to our dangerous attacking players quickly and in good moments. Defensively we’re able to tighten things up and found a way to make it very hard on other teams to play against us.”
Heading into Saturday night’s home match with DC United, TFC has won seven of its last 12 MLS matches. That stretch has seen Toronto lose just once, and the Reds have weathered an injury to reigning MLS MVP Giovinco with a win and three draws.
Bradley’s deliberate expression of feeling comes into play again when he considers the challenges of TFC’s summer, injuries not withstanding. The captain is thrilled with how the Reds have found contributions from all over the field, but would love to see their best XI for a sustained stretch of action.
Finding chemistry with a team during the MLS season, where a club can lose its best players for weeks at a time thanks to the unorthodox calendar, is a massive challenge. Bradley knows it’s not just Toronto who’s troubled by it, but he also senses how good the team could be with a season’s worth of build-up.
The excitement ratchets higher and higher in his voice as he contemplates the complementary pieces in a healthy, non-international break hampered Greg Vanney lineup. TFC went 1-2 during the Copa America, losing to the Red Bulls and Orlando City. Those points loom with Toronto in a three-way battle for the top of the East.
“We feel like we’re on a very good team, and I mention the other stuff because it’s a shame that over the course of a 34-game season there are so many other things that go into it,” Bradley said. “Which means you are not able to play your best team on as consistent a basis as you’d like.”
The conversation turns, briefly, to the United States men’s national team.
The leader of the unit, Bradley has been through the highs and lows of wearing the stars and stripes since a very young age.
The captain has 121 caps and 15 goals, a journey that began when he was capped at age 18. He’s seen the improbable Confederations Cup comeback run, the thrills of the 2010 World Cup, and several Dos a Ceros. He’s also seen the 2015 Gold Cup failure, the disheartening loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, and more positional banter than any player in U.S. history.
Given his lofty status within the federation, and his early start, he’s the right person to ask about the USMNT’s teenage sensation Christian Pulisic. And he’s happy to talk about the kid, though not about the big picture, and mentorship. Yeah, he talks to the kid about soccer. No, that’s not for media consumption. So stop asking.
“Christian is a really good kid,” Bradley said. “He’s smart, he’s into it, he’s talented, motivated.
“(But) Everybody needs to stop asking what kind of advice to give him. The most important thing for him is, and I said this to somebody last week, is to continue to find the most joy every day in playing, in training, in improving, in stepping on the field on Saturday and competing and trying to be as good as possible. As long as he never loses the joy of what it means to step on the field and play football, then he’s going to continue to improve and take himself to great places.”
You get the sense that, consciously or not, Michael Bradley has ushered these thoughts from personal experience.
The captain of America loves his adopted hometown north of the border.
And Bradley isn’t exactly measuring Toronto against a one-light city in the sticks. After leaving New Jersey as a teenager in 2005, Bradley has lived amongst the abbey and villages of Monchengladbach, the Dutch windmills of Friesland, and the many wonders of the Eternal City, Rome.
But there’s something in the fourth biggest North American city that works for Bradley.
“It’s a city that is so incredibly diverse,” Bradley begins. “When you get around different parts of the city, the types of people you meet and see who come from all over the world, that part is special. Since the first day that my family and I got here, this has felt like home.
“Our daughter was born here. Our son goes to kindergarten here now and comes home; He’s an American, he was born in Rome, but goes to kindergarten in Toronto and comes home every day singing, “O Canada”, because at the beginning the day that’s what they do. It’s an amazing city, and a place we’re proud to call home.”
Bradley is signed through the end of 2019, and Toronto has turned down several overseas pleas for the midfielder.
And TFC should be good for a long time. Only two rostered players are over 30: outstanding back Drew Moor and Benoit Cheyrou. This on a team that has won the joint-most road games in MLS, allowed the second-fewest goals, and ranks third in goal differential (plus-12).
“We’ve in some ways have such a high standard for ourselves that when you get home and you have a few games at home and you’re not able to find the winner, you’re not able to make that final play to win the games and take all three points, when you’re only able to come away with a tie, that people — and we include ourselves in this — are disappointed,” Bradley said.
“The feeling inside our group on certain days, lately even when we’ve tied a few of these games at home has been disappointment and frustration, and feeling like there was more there for us. That’s a positive thing. We’ve gotten ourselves to the point where we expect to step on the field every weekend and compete to win. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, and where we’re playing. That’s the mentality that we have.”
To sum it all up, a personal angle that might underscore the impressive turnaround in Canada’s largest city.
Living in Buffalo and loving the sport the way I do, my friends and I got in on TFC season tickets in 2008, Toronto’s second season. We’d make the 90-minute or 3-hour drive, depending on the city’s unholy, construction-driven traffic, and revel in the soccer paradise created by the Red Patch Boys.
Visits by River Plate, Pachuca, and Real Madrid sustained interest in the team, but in a way we became numb to names: Amado Guevera, Torsten Frings, and Danny Koevermans were trotted out and left without a playoff run. Taking a dozen or so day trips to watch losses that made the average at-best Maple Leafs look like 1980’s Oilers became too much to justify the cost.
Oddly enough, TFC went from hot new Toronto property to one that started to feel like just another entity. When Jermain Defoe and Julio Cesar didn’t spur a playoff run, morale seemed at an all-time low. As a soccer writer now with no true allegiance, it was more with a sigh of “Wouldn’t it be cool if they were good?” when Altidore, Vanney, and Giovinco joined Bradley. When Clint Irwin, Will Johnson, and Drew Moor joined mainstays Justin Morrow and Jonathan Osorio, there was even more legitimate reason for hope.
But hope is different from getting the job done, and that’s something for which Bradley and Vanney deserve a ton of credit. There are more Toronto demons to overcome — there’s little doubt a sports teams’ playoff stench can linger over a town once the postseason hits (Again, I’m from Buffalo) — but for now it’s worth lauding a club which has found its forward-thinking despite the skeletons in their Ontarian closet.