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Tony Pulis at odds with realities of Crystal Palace


In England, the manager’s role has traditionally had a very special significance. Pick a man, hand him the keys (and the checkbook), and let him do his job. If that takes you to the top, congratulations. You picked the right man. If you end up in the cellar, well, you should have done your homework.

Over time, parts of England have started moving away from that model. While Arsène Wenger is the be-all and end-all at Arsenal, clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, and Tottenham have instilled more collaborative models. The general feeling: The soccer world has become too competitive for one man to do the job by himself.

Still, consider how deeply you have to buy into the one man philosophy to condone what Tony Pulis did today. Walking away from Crystal Palace two days before the new season, the man who saved the Eagles from relegation appears to be standing on principle. If co-chairman Steve Parish and the rest of Palace’s board won’t pour more money into the club, Pulis was willing to walk.

How can Pulis justify this decision to Palace’s players, some of whom chose South London based on the manager? None of them have the luxury of walking away because reinforcements aren’t coming. What kind of loyalty has Pulis shown by throwing their fall into chaos?

How can he justify this decision to the rest of the club? The staff whose allegiance goes beyond what happens in Steve Parish’s office? Rather than accept the reality of the life he chose (Pulis did only join the club in November), Pulis has made a power play, one that threatens the team’s first division survival.

And how can Pulis justify this decision to the supporters, whose presence helped make Selhurst Park so imposing at the end of last season? With hopes this year can be more stable than the last, fans have seen the man who fostered spring’s stability exit after a game of chicken. Without more money to improve his squad, Pulis followed through on his threat and walked out the door.

In light of Palace’s circumstances, Pulis’s principles are ill-placed. He knew what he was getting into when he signed on: A small club; one that would have to use guile like Pulis’s to transcend its modest situation. As we saw in the last two transfer windows, there are no big checks to cash. Crystal Palace can’t throw away money, the way their manager did at Stoke.

We mentioned it earlier today: Pulis’s net spending over his last five years at Stoke was negative £80 million. What did the Potters get for that investment? Stability, yes. And they got an FA Cup final. They also got a dour brand of soccer that left supporters defending the most unromantic of virtues: Pragmatism. And in time, fans got a team that failed to improve, one that reached new heights after one season under Mark Hughes.

Crystal Palace can’t afford those pursuits, a reality Pulis must have known when he signed on. It was only three years earlier that Palace was in administration – pushed to the brink of the third division by its financial woe. Newly stabilized, newly successful, Palace has shown they need not return to their reckless ways, yet Pulis was demanding they do so.

It all adds up to one sneaking suspicion: Pulis just wanted to go. Either that, or he’s the most short-sighted of old school bosses. If the 58-year-old really was dense enough to overlook Palace’s recent history, last year’s success, and the realities of life at Selhurst Park, it was best he left now. There’s no dramatic change coming in South London.

I refuse to believe Pulis is that dumb. Instead, I buy into his guile. Coming off a stellar showing last season, and knowing jobs will open up over the next five months, Pulis engineered a scenario that would allow him to move to greener pastures – to a club without the limitations of Crystal Palace. And as an easy escape route, Pulis relied on an outdated truism: You have to back your manager.

Some will buy that tale, particularly in light of last season’s success. And there’s a little part of me that sees that point of view. But how to explain that to the players, who are two days away from facing Arsenal? How to explain that to a club whose life in the Premier League is under new threat? How to explain that to a fan base that should abhor this kind of selfishness from their now former boss?

There’s only one explanation: Tony Pulis was acting in the best interest of Tony Pulis. While that’s understandable, managers should be able to transcend that base instinct. In the long term, showing a broader perspective is in a manager’s best interest.

For as tough as life may be for Palace this season, the club was right to let him walk. And for anybody willing to bring back Tony Pulis, they know what they’re getting into.

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.

Puksas Award finalists: Somehow absent is USWNT’s Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd, USWNT

FIFA announced on Monday its three-man list of finalists for the 2015 Puskas Award, handed out each year to the player who scored the “most beautiful” goal of the past calendar year.

[ MORE: 2015 Ballon d’Or finalists ]

The three men up for this year’s honor are Alessandro Florenzi (WATCH HERE), Lionel Messi (WATCH HERE) and Wendell Lira (WATCH HERE) — all scorers of fantastically beautiful goals this year.

That means Carli Lloyd, who made the original list of nominees before being whittled down to just three, is shockingly tragically scandalously criminally not a finalist for this year’s award. Reminder: This is the goal we’re talking about.

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

So, here’s the case for Lloyd:

  • She scored from midfield
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final to complete a hat trick
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final to complete a hat trick in the 16th minute

How in the world is Carli Lloyd’s midfield goal to complete a 16-minute hat trick and win a World Cup final not a top-three goal of the year? You got some (more) explaining to do, FIFA.