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Potential President Wynalda discusses plans for US Soccer

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Eric Wynalda joined Paul Pabst and Andrew Perloff in the latest edition of The Leisuremen podcast and had plenty of intriguing things to say about his decision to run for U.S. Soccer Fedration (USSF) president.

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Following the USMNT’s embarrassing failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Wynalda, 48, has thrown his hat into the ring to challenge incumbent USSF boss Sunil Gulati and plans on having the likes of Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Julie Foudy involved if he succeeds in February’s presidential election.

The former USMNT star is a current analyst with Fox Sports and is the coach of the LA Wolves in the United Premier Soccer League, but he has big plans to shake up U.S. Soccer from the top down.

Speaking to the guys, Wynalda revealed that this is something he has been thinking about for quite some time.

“I’ve been feeling this way for about 6-8 years. This wasn’t just about something that happened on a Tuesday night in Trinidad,” Wynalda said. “The problem we are having right now, in our country, is that we are completely all over the place. It is so fragmented and people don’t see that. All they see is that final product of our team trying to qualify for the World Cup. We don’t make it and then everyone is screaming at the reins.

“Everybody wants change and wants to get better but nobody really has a solution and that’s where it gets frustrating from a guy on the outside looking in. Then you come to the realization that this is a leadership problem. This is a problem which starts literally with one man. The reason I threw my hat in the ring is 1) I know I can win this election because it is more of a culture problem than anything and 2) I have a plan. Those are the two things Mr. Gulati has really never understood completely.”

You can listen to the interview in full by clicking play above, but below are some key points Wynalda made about the problems facing U.S. Soccer and how he hopes to fix them.


Wynalda took aim at claims that “incredible growth” has occurred across the U.S. Soccer realm in the past decade

“When you really look and dig down at the professional level and see what’s going on a tiers 1, 2 and 3, it is the most disorganized professional outfit on the planet. Then you try to look at the youth organizations who are trying to develop the next superstars and they are even more fragmented than the pros. While we sit back and celebrate all this growth, it is almost that we have to remind people that cancer grows organically too.

“If you don’t have a vision and don’t have a means of getting everybody understanding exactly what their function is within the system, it is not going to work. We are celebrating it right now but the truth is it needs a lot of change, in a hurry, if soccer is going to make sense in this country because we are almost growing out of control. We have become a weed. We talk about grassroots but we have a lot of weeds. This is not the way it is supposed to be.”

Wynalda believes the talent is there for the U.S. to create plenty more players of Christian Pulisic’s caliber

“Is there talent? Absolutely. Absolutely. I would argue that there are 100 more Christian Pulisic’s out there. That is quite the statement. I’m coming from practice right now with a bunch of amateur guys that we discovered an 18-year-old Mexican-American boy in a Sunday league two weeks ago and he’s probably going to be the best guy on my team this year. These are the kind of things that are misunderstood.

“I went on the podium the other day and said we don’t have time for a president who has one foot in New York and one foot in Switzerland, we need a president that has boots on the ground now and starts solving some of the problems. That talent is out there. We just have to find them and make sure we take care of that.”

On how you can create a better type of player for the U.S. without centralizing youth development

“Germany are the size of Oklahoma, so we have different challenges. What I’ve argued is that if you take Iceland as a model and what they’ve been able to accomplish in a very short space of time, just by getting organized, it is a lot easier to organize yourself if you are the size of Rhode Island. We are a massive country and just as our accents change as we move across the country, so does the personality of our players.

“I’m a huge proponent of allowing Dallas to be Dallas. Miami to be Miami. New York to be New York. And the kids in Southern California or LA, the city kids, they’ve got to have that raw attitude. We have to have all of those personalities but we do a bad job with that because when we centralize it, when we think they all have to be thinking the same, that’s when someone isn’t thinking. That’s why we don’t have a personality or have an identity when we play.”

Wynalda intends to change perception some may have on him from his “hot takes” on TV, include former U.S. stars

“I am usually, when it comes to my family or the real world problems, I am the guy that you are going to give the penalty kick to because when the world is swirling around me I’m able to make really solid decisions in moments of pressure. It is going to take people a while to understand and it’s going to take 6-8 months from now when people say, ‘this guy does know what he’s doing and he’s not the guy I thought he was’ and I need to make that happen.”

“One of the things I’ve offered is the structure of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). Right now there is only about three of four guys running the whole deal. There is some branch out but we don’t have enough people making soccer decisions. On our board we have guys running hedge funds, the Clinton Foundation etc. but we don’t have real soccer people solving real soccer problems. Landon Donovan would be great. Timmy [Howard] would be great. Julie Foudy would be great. These are people who need to be at the table and given roles within our structure that they can be passionate about and bring their expertise to and will allow us to address these issues appropriately. Right now it’s hard.”

Wynalda will soon be on the campaign trail, visiting Utah, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Seattle, northern California and Phoenix, among others, to try and “find out what the problem is” in each city and state

“I am going to need guys like Landon, guys like Brian McBride in my corner and a guy I can bounce different ideas off of and he will come back with maybe a different look. As opposed to a politician who would say ‘how can we manipulate this? How do we control this? How do we benefit from this?’ because that’s what we have got right now.”

Wynalda revealed that Lionel Messi’s best friend plays for his team in Southern California and he would look to ask for Messi’s opinion and other stars to try and help U.S. Soccer progress

“That is my network by the way. These are the people I talk to and the people I want to bring into my outer circle. I need to know what someone like Zinedine Zidane thinks about what is going on over here. We can get to Ronaldo. I can sit with someone like Franz Beckenbauer and he can give me the whole background, the whole picture. I don’t know how expensive that bottle of wine is going to be… but we’re going to solve something. There’s a huge world out there that at times we have stayed away from. We have created our own model and unfortunately a couple of Tuesday’s ago we were reminded that our model doesn’t work and it needs drastic change.”

On what it would mean if Wynalda did become the next president of U.S. Soccer

“If I do, all that means is soccer has won. And that soccer will succeed in this country and progress. I’m hoping for that and I need support and I need people to understand my message. I have a lot of time to get that message across and maybe reintroduce myself to people who maybe think I am somebody else.”

How to stop Alexis? “Padlock, tie him up,” says Sevilla boss

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“Well, maybe we can lock him up with a padlock or tie him up with rope.”

Vincenzo Montella has mixed it up with Alexis Sanchez in the past, and he’s not relishing the need to stop him again without using non-traditional means.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

The Sevilla boss, 43, said he “remembered well” the Manchester United star from the Chilean’s playing time at Udinese,.

“He has improved his style a lot during his career and I think he can be a really good player in transition,” Montella said. “I think they have really good speed in attack.”

That padlock joke wasn’t the only quality quip from Montella, who said of Paul Pogba:

“He is a complete player. I hope he doesn’t play.”

Sevilla hosts United at 2:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium.

Conte gets tactics spot on but Messi has last laugh

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LONDON — Before the game Antonio Conte‘s tactics were the talk of the press room at Stamford Bridge, plus pubs and television studios around the world.

After the game his decision to play Eden Hazard in a false nine position, flanked by Willian and Pedro, and leave out his two star center forwards, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, was lauded. This was a reminder of the man who led Chelsea to Premier League glory last season and also a reminder of Chelsea’s successful past against the Catalan giants as they’re now unbeaten in their last eight UCL encounters as the clash of styles continues.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned | Recap

Conte is under pressure with just five wins in his last 13 games in all competitions, but this was a tactical masterclass from the Italian coach as his side totally bought into his plan and without a mistake from Andreas Christensen late on, it would have been an archetypal Italian defensive display leading to a 1-0 win to take to the Nou Camp.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Conte believed his players were incredibly unlucky to not win the game as Willian struck the post twice in the first half and they threatened multiple times on the counter.

“We were very close to playing the perfect game. One mistake and we know very well when you make a mistake against Barcelona and players like Messi, Suarez and Iniesta you pay. It is a pity because tonight, at the end of the game, we are disappointed for the final result,” Conte said. “We hit the post twice with Willian. There is a bit of disappointment but I think that this game must give us confidence to trust that in the second leg that qualification is open. It won’t be easy. We must be realistic. We are talking about Barcelona. Tonight we showed that if we are ready to work very hard together defensively, but at the same time you continue to have the right feeling when you win the ball to create chances to score, we can try to do something incredible at the Nou Camp.”

The one wrench in Conte’s plan was always going to be one incredible player: Lionel Messi.

Without a goal in eight games (730 minutes in total) against Chelsea, the five-time World Player of the Year stroked home a killer away goal 15 minutes from time to swing the tie back into Barcelona’s favor after Conte’s masterclass. Messi, 30, once again arrived at the pivotal moment for the La Liga leaders and the Argentine star sprung into life as Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta made the most of Christensen’s mistake.

Messi’s presence on the ball sparked nervousness within the Chelsea defense but it looked like he would leave empty hand once again until he was gifted a chance to silence the doubters.

Barcelona had 73 percent of possession on Tuesday and attempted 887 passes to Chelsea’s 325. They looked comfortable in a cauldron of noise at Stamford Bridge and even though they were vulnerable on the counter, they never looked too flustered but only had two real chances via Paulinho in the first half and Suarez in the second.

Despite following the blueprint to get a result against Barcelona almost to a tee, Cesc Fabregas believes the Blues will have to be more expansive at the Nou Camp in the second leg to get through to the quarterfinals.

“We have showed that we can compete and we will need another excellent performance at the Nou Camp to go through,” Fabregas told BT Sport. “You have to have a lot of personality to play against this team who has 70 percent of the ball. We have to go there to attack and score because 90 minutes defending at the Nou Camp is an eternity, it is a suicide mission. We have to play our game.”

As for Barcelona’s manager Ernesto Valverde, he admitted that he was a happy man to escape West London with a draw but urged his side to respect Chelsea’s style of play in the second leg.

“It has been a clash of styles this game, two different teams,” Ernesto said. “We tried to control the game, had a lot of possession and got close to the area. We were just lacking a little bit of extra quality in the final third. They defended very well. The good thing is we managed to get an error and get a goal out of them. We will go back to the Camp Nou happy.”

Conte was happy his players followed his gameplan and believes they must believe they can deliver killers blows on the break in Barcelona in two weeks time with Willian, Pedro and Hazard key to the plan.

“I must be pleased because the players did a great effort and they followed the plan we prepared,” Conte said. “In 15 days we must be ready to prepare for another game against Barcelona. We must be prepared to suffer together but in the moment you are suffering, you must know that the moment you are in possession you can create a chance to score.”

Chelsea need at least one goal to go through or to take the game to extra time, but given their spirited display at Stamford Bridge there’s renewed hope that Conte can mastermind another defensive masterplan to get them into the last eight for the first time since 2014.

Fabregas: Chelsea has to avoid “suicide mission,” push Barca in 2nd leg

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Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas has seen Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi work plenty of magic in his career, and he preferred it much better when he was on their side for such brilliance.

[ MORE: Recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

But the Blues’ midfielder will feel as good as a player can following a tactical masterclass from Antonio Conte was betrayed by one miscue in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw versus Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Barca was held, arguably, without a true chance before Andreas Christensen‘s miscue helped Iniesta cue Messi up for a second half equalizer.

And Fabregas, who was La Liga and the Copa del Rey with Barca, is already thinking about the second leg at the Camp Nou. From the BBC:

“It is such a shame really. I thought we were very good, we executed the game plan really well, we were compact, solid, played as a team and created lots of chances – Willian could have had a hatrick – but we go home sad because a fantastic performance is not a fantastic result.

“You have to have a lot of personality to play against this team who has 70% of the ball. We have to go there to attack and score because 90 minutes defending at the Nou Camp is an eternity, it is a suicide mission. We have to play our game.”

True story, though one easier planned than executed against Barca. Conte said he lost a lot of sleep coming up with his tactics for the first leg, and he’s going to have to put on some coffee a few times before March 14.

Three things learned: Chelsea v. Barcelona

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LONDON — It was honors even at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday as Chelsea and Barcelona battled to a 1-1 draw in an intriguing UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg.

The familiar foes (this was their 13th meeting in the Champions League) played out a tight game with Willian hitting both posts in the first half with sumptuous curling efforts before scoring the opener in the second half, while Lionel Messi equalized late on to grab a crucial away goal.

Chelsea are unbeaten in eight Champions League games against Barcelona, who have won just once in their seven trips to Stamford Bridge, yet Barca are among just four teams who remain unbeaten in the UCL this season and they’ll fancy their chances of getting by the Blues at the Nou Camp on Mar. 14 in the return leg with a vital away goal in the bag.

Here’s what we learned from another massive European night between the clubs in west London, as Chelsea need a score draw 2-2 or higher or a win at the Nou Camp to advance to the UCL last eight for the first time since 2013-14.


WILLIAN, HAZARD DAZZLE

This wasn’t the Messi and Luis Suarez show. Chelsea’s dynamic duo of Eden Hazard, and particularly Willian, took charge early on Tuesday.

Hazard has yet to really carry Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League and it was his job to take the game to Barcelona in the first leg. He did the best he could, and although he had little support, he caused problems for Barca on the break.

With Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata both left on the bench from the start, Hazard was asked to play a role he has rarely flourished in. His talents are much better suited to playing in a No.10 role floating off a front man or cutting in from the left flank.

Hazard, 27, flashed an effort over the bar early on and wriggled free of Barca’s defense on a few occasions as he slammed another effort over the bar. Then Willian took over.

The Brazilian continued his fine form after two goals last time out against Hull City and he smashed each post with trademark curling efforts from outside the box. Antonio Conte stood with his head in his hands on the sidelines, but deep down he knew he’d got his tactics spot on.

It was a case of third time lucky for Willian as in the second half he hit a low shot into the bottom corner to put Chelsea ahead. Chelsea’s dynamic attacking duo of Hazard and Willian had delivered.

Suarez’s drought in front of goal was now his worst in the Champions League, while Messi’s peculiar lack of potency against Chelsea looked to be continuing…


MESSI’S CHELSEA CURSE IS OVER

A moment in the first half acted as a precursor to Messi’s magic. It was a warning for Chelsea that they didn’t heed.

The Argentine magician is a joy to watch in the flesh and the way he simply glided past N'Golo Kante and Antonio Rudiger summed up that his gearbox us more than capable of cranking up five gears at a time with minimal fuss.

Yet Messi didn’t get too many chances to click through the gears as Barcelona’s pragmatic approach saw both he and Suarez left isolated for much of the game as the La Liga leaders struggled to get going until late on. He only needed one chance to grab the all-important away goal.

Barca’s defensive record was the best in the Champions League this season going into this game and although Ernesto Valverde has added steel to their swashbuckling style, too often they lacked cutting edge in the final third.

Messi, now 30, may not come up against Premier League clubs many more times in his career but he provided a dagger of an away goal 15 minutes from time to end the talk of him struggling against Chelsea.

It took over 730 minutes, but Messi finally has a goal against Chelsea and it was a hugely important strike.


CONTE GETS TACTICS SPOT ON

The decision to not start with Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud up top was a bold one from Conte and it paid off brilliantly.

Some may call it boring. Some may criticize him for not playing with a recognized striker. Yet Conte’s tactical masterplan to have Hazard, Pedro and Willian charging at the center of Barca’s defense whenever they could worked to perfection.

Ahead of this clash Conte admitted he didn’t sleep well because he was concocting a plan to stop Messi and Co.

“I must be honest… it was a bit difficult to sleep well,” Conte said. “When you have to play this type of game, you have to prepare. You have to prepare everything. You have to prepare big things, but the smaller details too.”

He got the small details spot on as the Blues retreated into a 5-4-1 formation at times with Conte screaming at Thibaut Courtois for lumping the ball long to Hazard and Willian. He wanted the Blues to keep the ball, give it to Cesc Fabregas and have Hazard, Pedro and Willian running behind Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti.

They launched several counters in the second half but could only finish one of them off, while one mistake from Andreas Christensen cost them dear.

That said, Chelsea will use this same gameplan in the second leg at the Nou Camp with confidence that they can at least take the game to extra time.

Even though Conte has won just five of his last 13 games in all competitions, this display will fill his team with confidence they can get the job done on the road in Barcelona.