Twitter/@NYCFC

New order in NY? A closer look at Red Bulls, NYCFC

2 Comments

It’s a rivalry that has already captivated Major League Soccer in just two short seasons, but with the 2017 campaign getting set to begin, it’s the first time that New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls are on a level playing field.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 schedule

Prior to entering MLS two seasons ago, NYCFC had lofty expectations largely due to the fact that the club plays at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, a venue that has become synonymous with winning over the years.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 Eastern Conference preview ]

The club has yet to have a great deal of success against their cross-river rivals, but 2017 could be the year that NYCFC breaks that trend.

While the Red Bulls have managed to keep a large portion of its squad together for yet another season, the club did undergo several disturbances during the offseason that could halt the squad’s success.

Below, PST makes the case for both New York-based teams and why each club will finish above the other in the final standings.

Reasons NYCFC will be better than Red Bulls

Two words; David Villa. The way things are shaping up, the former Barcelona attacker could go down as one of the best Designated Player in MLS history. In two seasons with NYCFC, Villa has scored 41 goals while adding 12 assists for the Eastern Conference side, and has additionally served as the club’s captain.

Manager Patrick Vieira made a promise heading into the offseason and he stuck to his word. The Frenchman sought a younger roster, and that’s exactly what he got. While there was a decent amount of turnover within the NYCFC squad this winter, losing the likes of Frank Lampard, Andoni Iraola and others, the club has found suitable options to fill those holes with younger selections.

Among these names are midfielders Miguel Camargo and Alex Ring, as well as attacking Designated Player Maxi Moralez, who joins the team from Liga MX side Club Leon.

It’s unclear who the starting goalkeeper will be ahead of the 2017 season, but Vieira has two pretty solid options at his disposal. Eirik Johansen showed well towards the tail end of the 2016 campaign, and his 6-foot-7 stature is surely beneficial. Meanwhile, adding a savvy, talented veteran like Sean Johnson gives NYCFC a capable first-team choice who could be the NYCFC keeper for years to come.

Villa has been the clear catalyst for the NYCFC attack in the club’s first two years, but the club has a plethora of youthful options that could very well explode this season. Jack Harrison is clearly the first name that comes to mind after taking the league by storm at times during his rookie campaign, while Khiry Shelton enters his third season in the Bronx.

The club also added reigning USL MVP Sean Okoli, first round SuperDraft pick Jonathan Lewis while bringing back Tommy McNamara, who has scored some of the team’s most brilliant goals in its brief history.

Although struggled at times to find their footing at home last season, NYCFC boasted the best road record in MLS at 7-7-3. NYCFC racked up 24 points on the road a season ago, and if the team can finish around .500 away from Yankee Stadium again in 2017 then Vieira’s group will be in a good position.

Reasons Red Bulls will be better than NYCFC

The most compelling argument the Red Bulls make is their brief history against NYCFC. Over six matches in the past two seasons, Jesse Marsch’s side has won five encounters against the Bronx side by a combined score of 18 to 5. Although their May 2016 meeting resulted in a lopsided 7-0 Red Bulls victory, the overall difference in form has been resounding when the two clubs get together.

At the center of it all has been goalscoring extraordinaire Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has notched eight finishes in the six clashes. Wright-Phillips is the reigning MLS Golden Boot winner, and the Englishman has shown no signs of slowing down after already bagging a goal for the Red Bulls in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Additionally, playmaker Sacha Kljestan is coming off of his most productive season ever in MLS after bagging six goals and leading the league in assists with 20. Kljestan has been a driving force for Marsch’s squad since joining the team in 2015, and his quick distribution fits the Red Bulls’ style of play.

The biggest storyline of the entire offseason was likely Dax McCarty’s blockbuster move to the Chicago Fire, and normally it would have been a major discussion because of the player that McCarty is, but luckily for the Red Bulls they have a suitable replacement.

Sean Davis has emerged over the past several seasons as a strong role player in the central midfield, but with McCarty gone, it’s his and Felipe’s midfield to control. Davis has shown he has the size, physicality and awareness to distribute the ball well enough to fill the void, and he’s a significantly younger option for Marsch.

The Red Bulls have benefitted from having a top-notch defense over recent years, but they also boast an elite goalkeeper. Since 2013, Luis Robles has started every single MLS match for the Harrison side, while making 400 regular season saves in that span. Not only is Robles durable, but he is the emotional leader of the backline, which may not appear on a stat sheet but is certainly a valuable asset to have.

Finally, Red Bull Arena may not always draw the crowds that Yankee Stadium does, but it’s been a fortress for the Red Bulls since the club adopted it as its home. Since 2012, the club has won 10 or more matches at home, including finishing with a record of 13-2-2 a season ago at the venue, which accounted for 41 of the team’s 57 total points.

Jamaica upset Mexico to reach 2nd straight Gold Cup final, face USMNT

AP Photo/Jae Hong
Leave a comment

For the second straight tournament, Jamaica are headed to the final of the Gold Cup after knocking off Mexico, the side which beat them in the 2015 final, in the 2017 semifinal on Sunday.

New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence scored the game’s only goal in the 88th minute, making the most of Andre Blake’s man-of-the-match goalkeeping performance which spanned the entirety of 90 minutes.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Blake put forth a stellar display of goalkeeping in the game’s opening 45 minutes, facing three shots on target and denying El Tri’s attackers on each and every occasion.

The pick(s) of the litter came in the 12th minute, when the Philadelphia Union ‘keeper pulled off a stunning double-save to deny Jesus Dueñas and Erick Torres. Dueñas fired first, aided by a wicked deflection, but Blake pulled off the reflexive kick-save, followed by Torres’ powerful strike through traffic seconds later.

15 minutes later, Torres earned himself a yellow card for what was undoubtedly, unquestionably a red-card, lunging “challenge” against Damion Lowe.

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The second half consisted of much the same things as the first, as Blake continued his clinic in the 65th minute. Jesus Gallardo fired a free kick through the Raggae Boyz’ wall, a knuckling shot which Blake didn’t see until very late but managed the put two fists behind the ball and punch it anyway anyway.

Blake’s counterpart, Jesus Corona, joined the fun in the 78th minute. Lowe rose highest to get to Owayne Gordon’s free kick, heading it inside Corona’s right-hand post, but the Cruz Azul ‘keeper was quick to scramble across his goal and palm the ball away at full-stretch.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Two minutes before full-time, Lawrence produced the game’s only piece of purge magic, a curling peach of a free kick from 24 yards out. Corona went one way, Lawrence went the other and Jamaica are headed to their second straight Gold Cup final.

Jamaica will take on the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

MLS: Rookie Ebobisse stars as Timbers win in Vancouver

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers, thanks to a standout performance in rookie striker Jeremy Ebobisse’s first MLS start, put to bed a six-game winless skid with a 2-1 win away to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday. The run of poor form stretched back to early June, and saw Caleb Porter’s side slip from contention for the Western Conference’s top spot, into the jumbled mess surrounding the playoff cut line (four teams separated by one point, either side of sixth place, coming into Sunday). Ebobisse scored the opening goal less than a quarter-hour into the game, and delivered the beautiful backheel assist to Sebastian Blanco to restore the Timbers’ lead four minutes into the second half, after watching it disappear just before halftime. The victory sees Portland leapfrog Vancouver to move into fourth place in the West, just four points off the top spot once again.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Ebobisse touches home his first MLS goal — Sometimes you don’t really have to do much beyond simply existing in the right place. Ebobisse existed in the right place.

45′ — Jacobson heads home before halftime — Update: Portland still have issues defending set pieces.

49′ — Blanco slots past Ousted for 2-1 — No one really stepped up to deny Blanco’s marathon dribble, and Ebobisse did so much more than simply existing on this one.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jeremy Ebobisse

Goalscorers: Ebobisse (14′), Jacobson (45′), Blanco (49′)

FOLLOW LIVE: Mexico vs. Jamaica — who’ll face USMNT in final?

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Leave a comment

It’s Mexico versus Jamaica in the second semifinal of the 2017 Gold Cup on Sunday, facing off for the right to play the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final.

When: 9 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

[ LIVE: Gold Cup scoreboard ]

It’s the second time these sides have met this summer, having already played to a scoreless draw in the second game of Group C play, en route to Mexico finish top of the group, besting Jamaica by two points on the final day of the group stage.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Hit the link above, or click here, to follow along with Sunday’s semifinal action.

Gonzalez follows heart in switch from Mexico to USMNT

Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jesse Gonzalez started in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup for Mexico, his parents’ homeland. Then last month, the 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper switched his affiliation to join the United States, his home country.

Gonzalez just felt more comfortable in the red, white and blue.

“The U.S. has given me a lot. I’m grateful for what they have given me and the opportunity they have given me,” he said after joining the U.S. roster for the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Tim Howard, now 38, remains the top U.S. goalkeeper as the Americans try to qualify for next year’s World Cup. Brad Guzan, who will be 33 in September, is entrenched as the No. 2.

After that, no keepers have emerged at the top level in the next generation. Gonzalez, and fellow 20-somethings Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Cody Cropper and Ethan Horvath all figure to compete with Guzan for the starting job in the 2019-22 World Cup cycle.

“I don’t have any doubt that he will be one of the best keepers in America,” Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said of Gonzalez after discovering the teen prospect when he was playing in a youth tournament.

Gonzalez’s parents emigrated from Mexico, and he was born in Edenton, North Carolina.

“My parents didn’t really find anything around North Carolina,” Gonzalez said. “They thought it was a lonely state, so they got out of there.”

His family moved to Houston and then on to Dallas when Gonzalez was a child. After spotting Gonzalez on a recreational team, Pareja persuaded the family to switch the keeper to the FC Dallas youth academy. He played there alongside midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who has broken into the U.S. starting lineup this year.

“They taught me how to be more responsible,” Gonzalez said. “It was almost like a job at the time, just waking up early and being on time to training.”

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Pareja, a Colombian national team midfielder in the early 1990s, said the 6-foot-4 Gonzalez’s long arms and quick reflexes immediately reminded him of late Colombian keeper Miguel Calero. Gonzalez debuted for Dallas’ under-16 team in September 2010 and was signed to a professional homegrown player contract in March 2013. Just more than two years later, he became the youngest keeper to start in team history: at 20 years, 89 days.

By then, Mexican team scouts had noticed Gonzalez at a showcase in Sarasota, Florida, and asked whether he had interest in playing for El Tri.

“Richard Sanchez, one of my old teammates, he was there. He talked very well about them,” Gonzalez recalled.

Gonzalez started Mexico’s first four matches at the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, then had a pair of saves during penalty kicks to lift Mexico over Panama in the final. At the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, he played in Mexico’s second and third games,

The following January, Gonzalez turned down an invitation from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to attend a national team training camp in Carson, California. Instead, Gonzalez went to a Mexican Under-23 team camp ahead of the Olympics, but he was not picked for El Tri’s Rio de Janeiro roster.

Gonzalez spent a long time before deciding this spring to apply to FIFA for a change of affiliation. Because he had not played a competitive match for Mexico’s senior national team, he was allowed a one-time switch.

“Whatever you decide, you’re going to be right, because that’s going to be your heart,” Pareja recalled telling him.

“Any time a soccer player is making a choice, whether it’s club or country, it’s important that they analyze the options carefully, they seek input from people they trust, and that they come to a decision that they’re happy with,” said Gonzalez’s agent, Richard Motzkin. “That’s the process Jesse took in making his decision and, rest assured, it wasn’t done lightly or without a lot of forethought. Ultimately, Jesse was fortunate in that he had two very good choices.”

After the switch was announced, Gonzalez received text messages from surprised friends.

“They were funny,” he said without going into detail.

[ MORE: Mexico blocking out drama during deep run at Gold Cup ]

Howard is the U.S. starter as the Americans head into Wednesday’s Gold Cup championship against Mexico or Jamaica, and Hamid is the backup while Guzan settles in with Atlanta. For now, Gonzalez’s role is limited to training and pushing others on the practice field.

“We just want to see what he’s about,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Gonzalez is with the national team to learn. A full international debut might take a while.

“He’s not much of talker, which is good. I think young guys talk too much nowadays,” Howard said. “You’re naive in a good way and you think you know it all, and really it’s the opposite. You have it all to learn. At this age they’re using their athletic ability and their raw talent to keep their head above water, and through that process you learn. It is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation. It’s got to be everything to you. You’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices to get there.”

Gonzalez is willing to wait. He just hopes his absence from Dallas doesn’t cost him playing time in Major League Soccer.

“My backup could come in and have great games. He could stay there,” he said. “It’s difficult for me. I want to be over there, but I want to be here because this is an amazing opportunity for me.”