AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File

Running diary of Sunil Gulati’s conference call

7 Comments

Hello! You’re on the precipice of some of the biggest decisions in United States men’s national team history.

Bruce Arena failed in his bid to earn the United States a place in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and stepped down on Friday.

Now, in the midst of a mass of supporters begging for more upheaval, president Sunil Gulati is answering questions from the media in a Friday morning conference call.

[ MORE: Cameron’s USMNT omission explained ]

We’ll be laying out the play-by-play of this intriguing call here. Stay tuned, and refresh.

11:25 a.m. ET — The call is slated by 11:30 a.m., and the calming piano hold music is surely not the tenor of this conversation. We’ll let you know if it changes to “Hell’s Bells.”

11:32 a.m. ET — Before taking questions, Gulati makes opening statement. “The end of the qualifying campaign was disappointment to all of us. It’s a shock to the system.”

They full expected to qualify, and Gulati thanks Bruce Arena for what he’s done in the history of U.S. Soccer from college to pro to international soccer.

“It saddens me at a personal level that it ended the way it did Tuesday.”

There will be at least two games in November, the first in Europe and the second likely in Europe. Will announce coach in the next 7-10 days.

“We’re going to look into everything we do on the men’s side and women’s side,” something they do all the time. Says it will be a “deeper dive” and include pay-to-play, college, and more.

11:35 a.m. ET – Question – “Why has the player pool quality spiraled down?”

Gulati, “I wouldn’t identify reason or say the pipeline has dried up.” Mentions Matt Miazga, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and says the Olympic failures hurt them.

“Not going to prejudge that. We’re going to look at everything.”

11:36 a.m. ET – Gulati says he doesn’t plan to resign, takes full responsibility for the World Cup qualifying failure, and it’s “not the right day to say” whether he’ll run for a fourth presidential term in February.

11:38 a.m. ET – Question: “Why will you maybe run again?”

Gulati says just as you can’t judge Bruce Arena’s career on this failure, you can’t judge him on this point. He also says voting delegates can help make that decision (Sounds like he’ll run).

11:39 a.m. ET – Doesn’t say the November coach will be strictly interim, but says they will take their time in naming a coach.

11:40 a.m. ET – He’ll announce whether he’ll run in the “coming weeks.”

11:41 a.m. ET – “Who will choose interim coach, and who will be involved in choosing next permanent coach?”

Gulati – In the end it’s my decision, but we have committees that undertake the process. Three or four people will be involve in “much easier” November decision. May be a change in process, but was never a singular decision on men’s or women’s side.

11:42 a.m. ET – “When people point out that second cycle coaches after the World Cup haven’t done as well traditionally as the first time, it’s a very small sample and it’s a biased sample.”

Says this is because people who have been rehired have done well, so hard to improve. Doesn’t know that “there is a definitive pattern.”

“If you look at Bruce’s record, it’s two cycles plus. Every World Cup run we’ve had since 1990, with the exception of 1998, the margin has been especially narrow.”

11:45 a.m. ET – Question: “Any specific issues when it comes to player development you can point to?” and “Will MLS be involved in whatever changes you are looking at?”

Gulati: “We have far more resources now than we’ll ever had… one because US Soccer has more resources and two because MLS has more resources. MLS and our other professional leagues will certainly be involved. … All of the things that we all talk about, the pay-to-play model, inner city soccer, we’re going to look at all of that.”

Says they will try to get outside expertise as well.

11:47 a.m. ET – On whether MLS has improved CONCACAF rivals too much.

Gulati – It’s good for them, and us, because the competition is better.

“I don’t think there’s any rationale in trying to limit that or prohibit that. Having top players in France in the Premier League helps, but the Premier League would never limit that.”

Says MLS, US Soccer goals will never be 100 percent in sync. Has no doubt MLS has helped the USMNT.

11:50 a.m. ET – Gulati offended by question regarding his mandate to run U.S. Soccer. Mentions fan, independent, player involvement better than other governing bodies. Say the U.S. Soccer mechanism is the best out there.

11:51 a.m. ET – Questions: Is there a profile for a coach in mind? and Are November friendlies set up before or after World Cup failure.

Gulati – No profile, just improve performance and technical skills. … Multiple contingencies based on whether they advanced to World Cup, needed a playoff, or failed.

11:53 a.m. ET – Does this loss give needed push vis-a-vis pay-to-play, other community initiatives.

“It doesn’t happen in most countries that players pay nothing. We need to make sure players are prohibited” from playing based on money. “As things become more expensive, where there’s a roadblock, you’d like to do something about it.”

“Need to find right solutions, what will work” in terms of player development in inner cities, facilities, etc.

Will help overcome political hurdles “because people will see urgency.”

11:56 a.m. ET – Should Gulati’s job be a paying gig to encourage interest?

Gulati – We’re looking at it, and have been reviewing it for some time.

11:57 a.m. ET – Any signs Tuesday that things weren’t well.

Gulati – “Any time you’re playing a do-or-die game, you’re nervous about it. It’s the first time since 1989 that we came down to the last game. In the end we didn’t get it done but no premonition about that.”

11:59 a.m. ET – Question: Technical director role status. Coming back? Separate from head coach? And how busy will USMNT be with long break from meaningful games.

Gulati – “Ideally we’d like to have a technical director. Most of that role (post-Klinsmann) has been filled by Tab Ramos. … We do see two distinct roles if we can find the right people. That role is a very unique and specific role, and harder to fill than national team role.”

“In terms of activity in 2018, we’ll have a full program of games and I expect us to play on all FIFA dates, including dates with teams going to the World Cup or not.”

12:01 p.m. ET – On the nomination process for U.S. Soccer president.

Gulati –  “Up until a year ago, or 20 months ago, we changed our nomination rules to have nominations come long before the annual meeting. The primary reason was to be able to have background checks. Nominations are due I think two months before the election (in February).

“We have probably 120 different member associations that can nominate people, and you need three nominations to be eligible. I don’t think that will preclude anyone.”

Admits he has reached out to people about nominating or endorsing him.

12:03 p.m. ET – Can you understand the point of view of people who think he shouldn’t have his job?

Gulati – “Sure. I can understand the frustration. Sure.”

12:08 p.m. ET – Why do you feel you’re the right guy for this job, given what happened?

Gulati – “Because of where the sport is now, and the role I played in it, plus where it can go if I choose to run.”

12:09 p.m. ET – What do you say to fans who are really upset, and calling for change?

Gulati – “All of us involved in the game are also passionate about the team, and are extraordinarily disappointed in every single way. None of us is happy about not going. This reconfirmed the passion and support of the team has grown tremendously.”

12:10 p.m. ET – That’s all she wrote. Many people not called upon for questions (including me, to be honest). Lot of softballs, to be painfully honest.

Ligue 1: PSG return to comfort zone, thrash Strasbourg

AP Photo/Francois Mori
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) After falling short in the Champions League, Paris Saint-Germain returned to its French league comfort zone and beat Strasbourg 5-2 on Saturday.

Edinson Cavani netted twice, and Julian Draxler, Angel Di Maria, and Neymar also scored to ensure PSG stayed 12 points clear of second-place Monaco at the top.

But not without a fright.

Strasbourg took the lead in the sixth minute and pulled back to 3-2 as PSG continued to show alarming signs of weakness at the back. Strasbourg had a late goal incorrectly ruled out for offside after PSG’s defense was again easily breached, although it was already 5-2 by then.

PSG lost at Real Madrid 3-1 on Wednesday in the first leg of the last 16. The way PSG capitulated by giving away two late goals heaped pressure on coach Unai Emery over his team selection.

“The atmosphere was a bit tense. That’s normal,” Cavani said. “We have to look forward now. We played well today, although at times we could have been better.”

Emery was booed by sections of the home crowd when his name was announced over the loudspeaker before the game. Later, Cavani stopped short of giving Emery his personal backing when asked if the under-fire coach has the full support of the players.

“We’re a team and big teams stick together in the important moments,” Cavani said. “That’s the only way you can win.”

Strasbourg beat PSG at home in December, and stunned the crowd at Parc des Princes by taking the lead when midfielder Jean-Eudes Aholou was left completely unmarked near the penalty spot.

PSG hit back hard and was 3-1 up after 23 minutes thanks to Draxler, Di Maria and Neymar’s 19th in 19 league games.

Stephane Bahoken scored against PSG for the second time this season after a quick counterattack. Strasbourg poured forward but the hope didn’t last for long.

Cavani gave PSG some breathing space with an assured finish in the 72nd, clipping the ball over goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja, then lobbed him for his league-leading 23rd goal.

“It was important to win after Wednesday’s match. We have to get our fans ready for the games to come against Marseille (next weekend) and Real Madrid,” Emery said. “We have to show we can maintain this level of play against better sides, with all due respect to Strasbourg.”

To celebrate Chinese New Year, PSG players’ names were written in Mandarin on the back of their shirts and a Chinese dragon paraded around the pitch. PSG says it has 1.3 million Chinese followers.

In order to better serve the soccer market in Asia, the league match between Nice and PSG on March 18 has been moved forward to 1 p.m. local time (1200 GMT).


Marseille players will also have their names in Mandarin for Sunday’s home game against Bordeaux at Stade Velodrome. Marseille recently launched an account on Chinese social media site Weibo.

Striker Giovanni Sio’s second-half equalizer gave Montpellier the point it needed to take fifth place after drawing with Guingamp 1-1.

Two goals from newly signed striker Diafra Sakho gave Rennes a 2-2 draw at Caen, which missed two penalties.

Saint-Etienne won at Angers 1-0, Troyes beat last-place Metz 1-0, and Amiens drew with Toulouse 0-0 in another relegation scrap.

In Sunday’s other games, fourth-place Lyon goes to Lille, and Nice hosts Nantes.

Pardew ‘furious’ after four WBA players steal taxi in Spain

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

At least when you’re bottom of the Premier League table and appear headed for relegation, as West Bromwich Albion now find themselves, you can take the positive approach that “the only way to go from here is up.”

[ FA CUP: Man United advance, drawn against PL opposition in QF ]

Alternatively, four of your most senior players — Jonny Evans, Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill, in this case — might have other ideas and elect to steal a cab during a late-season training camp in Barcelona. That’s the current state of affairs for the Baggies and manager Alan Pardew, who openly admits he was “furious” and felt “let down” — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is obviously not ideal. They broke the curfew and that’s unacceptable and I feel a bit let down by that.”

“It’s difficult for managers. Obviously, I was furious with what happened but at the same time I’ve got to stay faithful to the players and give them a chance to remedy the situation.”

The night’s timeline reads something like this: the quartet wanted to go out in the city center, but everything was closed late at night; they got a taxi to a McDonald’s by the Barcelona port; the driver left the car, at which point the players decided to drive back to the team hotel around 5:30 a.m.; the care was returned to the cab driver around 8 a.m.

Evans was stripped of his captaincy for Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-round defeat to Southampton. The players have since released the following statement through the club’s website:

“We felt it important we identify ourselves as the players involved in an incident which occurred during the training camp in Spain this week out of respect for team-mates who otherwise could be implicated by association. We freely acknowledge and apologize for the break of curfew which we accept represented a breach of the standards of professionalism required of us as representatives of West Bromwich Albion.

“The club has informed us that it will now conduct its own inquiry into the incident and we will cooperate fully. In the meantime, we would like to assure our supporters that this incident does not reflect the determination and resolve we possess to do all we can to recover a difficult season.”

With 11 games left to play, West Brom currently sit seven points adrift of safety; Pardew’s position grows more and more tenuous with each point dropped; and three of their final 11 games are against Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

Serie A: Turkish youngster Under fires Roma back into 3rd

Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) The rapid development of 20-year-old Turkey winger Cengiz Under is playing a big role in Roma’s revival.

Under scored his fourth goal in three matches and Roma won at Udinese 2-0 for its third straight win in Serie A on Saturday.

Roma moved into third place, two points ahead of Inter Milan, which lost at Genoa 2-0.

It’s a drastic improvement from where Roma was a month ago, when the Giallorossi were mired in a five-match winless streak that risked dropping them out of contention for the Champions League places.

“We’re getting back on track to where we were in the first half of the season,” forward Diego Perotti said.

Roma went ahead when Under unleashed a powerful, rising shot from beyond the area in the 70th.

Perotti sealed the victory in the 90th with an angled effort after Udinese gave the ball away near midfield.

Under is having a breakout month.

First, he scored after 43 seconds when Roma ended a five-match winless streak by beating Hellas Verona 1-0. Then he had a brace and also delivered an assist in a 5-2 win over Benevento last weekend.

All this after not being involved in any goals in his first 14 matches with Roma.

“He plays far more for the team than himself,” Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said of Under. “His greatest strength is being able to prepare his shot with great speed, making him difficult to close down.”

Added Perotti, “He’s very humble and he doesn’t speak Italian yet but he’s well behaved and is a great kid. He deserves all of this.”

On Wednesday, Roma visits Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of the Champions League last 16.

“We’ve got to make the most of the fact they’ve had a winter break and might not be match fit,” Di Francesco said of the Ukrainian side. “They have a lot of quality in attack and are dangerous, but we shouldn’t change our attitude.”


Inter’s defense was in shambles against Genoa.

The hosts took the lead before the break when a failed clearance attempt from Milan Skriniar ricocheted off of a stunned Andrea Ranocchia, who was charged with an own goal.

Then former Inter striker Goran Pandev was left unmarked to score from the center of the area midway through the second half.

Inter hasn’t won at regional rival Genoa in more than seven years.

Chievo Verona took a big step toward avoiding relegation with a 2-1 win over visiting Cagliari.

Emanuele Giaccherini and Roberto Inglese scored late for the hosts before Leonardo Pavoletti pulled one back for Cagliari.

Chievo moved up to 14th, level on points with Cagliari, eight points above the drop zone.

La Liga: Barca’s 31-game unbeaten run ties longest in club history

AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FA CUP: Man United advance, drawn against PL opposition in QF ]

Eibar 0-2 Barcelona

Barcelona, the last remaining unbeaten side from Europe’s five major domestic leagues, warmed up for Tuesday’s Champions League round-of-16 clash with Chelsea by dismantling seventh-place Eibar side away from home on Saturday and extending their unbeaten run to 31 games in the league, tying the club’s all-time record in the process.

The Blaugrana took the lead after 15 minutes, when Lionel Messi slotted an inch-perfect through ball for Luis Suarez who rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home (WATCH HERE) for his 17th league goal of the season (20 in all competitions).

Messi played his part in Barca’s second goal, which came three minutes before full-time. The Argentine’s shot was initially saved, but Jordi Alba arrived on the scene moments later to clean up and finish off the 10-man Basque minnows.

The victory sends Barca 10 points clear of second-place Atletico Madrid, who play on Sunday, and 20 points clear of fourth-place Real Madrid, who have played two fewer games thus far.

Malaga 1-2 Valencia

Valencia, who spent the majority of the season’s first half as Barca’s nearest title rivals (while never really challenging), fell to third when they recently lost three straight league games, but have since regained their footing with back-to-back wins, including Saturday’s come-from-behind triumph away to last-place Malaga.

Brown Ideye put Malaga ahead just before the half-hour mark, a lead which remained intact for more than 50 minutes. Alas, Francis Coquelin bagged his first goal for Valencia in the 80th minute to draw level, followed by a penalty kick converted by Dani Parejo five minutes later.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 1-2 Sevilla
Alaves 1-0 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Sociedad vs. Levante — 6 a.m. ET
Atletico Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao — 10:15 a.m. ET
Espanyol vs. Villarreal — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Real Madrid — 2:45 p.m. ET