Why “soccer NIT” tournament would be a bad idea


U.S. Soccer and Soccer United Marketing (SUM) are reportedly investigating if they can stage a tournament in the USA next summer featuring prominent teams who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

So, in College Basketball terms, an “NIT” tournament ahead of the World Cup in Russia. This is not a joke.

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On the face of it, this seems like a splendid idea for many. Fans of the U.S. national team shared similar proposals on Twitter and Facebook as the list of big name nations failing to qualify for the World Cup increased over the past few days. I’m all for growing the sport in the USA and having as many high-profile games as often as possible in the U.S. is a good thing.

But not like this. No. No. No.

Having the U.S. at the centerpiece of an international laughing stock in the world of soccer just isn’t a good look. This should be the end of it. U.S. Soccer should be focusing on bigger problems, like making sure youth development continues to improve and having a clear plan for the future of the USMNT in place. Not this.

Having three or four money-spinning friendlies formulated in a loose tournament format to simply help ease the pain of World Cup failure is pointless.

It seems as though U.S. fans who have been robbed of seeing their team at the elite international tournament next summer are stomping their feet and want an alternative. Guys. There isn’t one. Let’s all move on.

In theory, stadiums across the USA will be full for multiple high-profile friendlies between Italy, Chile, Ghana and the USA . So, that’s good. Right? There have also been suggestions about capping the tournament so that all the players who feature are under the age 25 and that way you get to see the next generation of each nation as they rebuild their rosters following World Cup failure. So, why not?

Well, how about, why?

Other than making somebody, somewhere huge profits for full stadiums during these friendlies, I’m struggling with a viable answer. FIFA wouldn’t sanction any such tournament and it certainly wouldn’t be allowed to run into the start of the World Cup which runs from June 14 to July 15.

There is no official FIFA window for games scheduled in late May or early June. Only teams heading to the World Cup will look to play friendlies in late May and early June and the only reason the teams who didn’t qualify will be in demand is because the 32 teams who made the World Cup will not want to play against anybody they could be facing in Russia.

That means the U.S. will likely play two friendlies in June, just as they have in previous “sendoff series'” games before a World Cup. Of course, they will be going nowhere this summer but that should be it. Two friendlies, then Christian Pulisic should be allowed to spend the summer in California hanging out.

Let’s just all move on from the USA’s 2018 World Cup qualifying debacle and let’s not have the U.S. become the home, and the figurehead, to a tournament where it would be fitting to plaster a sad face emoji on the wooden spoon trophy given to the winning team.

But proponents would argue that in this “NIT” format, the U.S. could, in theory, host two games against two of Chile, Italy and Ghana with each team playing one another once. So, six games in total.

But why not go the whole hog and invite seven other nations — the Netherlands, Ivory Coast, Republic of Ireland and Wales aren’t up to much next summer now — to the USA and have an eight-team tournament with two groups of four and the top two teams from each group reach the semifinals before a final is played where the winner receives a golden wooden spoon.

Listen to how ridiculous that sounds. That is basically what is being proposed.

I have no doubt that given the growing level of fandom (see: the Copa America Centenario in 2016 and huge preseason friendlies each summer) in the USA and the fact that citizens of many other nations now call the U.S. home and barely get a chance to see their own nations play in person, that stadiums would be pretty full for most of these games.

In truth, that’s the main reason why organizers are contemplating hosting these friendly games in the U.S. Think about it.

I’m sure players like Alexis Sanchez, Marco Verratti, Virgil Van Dijk and Pulisic would love to be in the USA next summer after a monster domestic season… but on vacation and trying to get as far away as possible from reminders that they should have been at the World Cup instead.

The fact that the U.S. is even contemplating organizing and hosting this event is part of the bigger problem. For so many years U.S. Soccer has been a supreme business model with huge profits made. But that’s come at a cost, which is, obviously, not being in Russia next summer.

It’s time for U.S. Soccer to move on and focus on one thing: the U.S. national team and getting the best possible two friendlies in June. Nothing else. And then, after those friendlies are over, they should sit back and watch the 2018 World Cup so they can realize just how badly they mishandled the last four-year cycle after Brazil 2014.

MLS All-Stars to face Juventus in 2018

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For the first time, Juventus will be taking on Major League Soccer’s best in the MLS All-Star Game.

MLS announced on Thursday that the six-time defending Italian champions will take on the MLS All-Stars in Atlanta United’s Mercedez-Benz Stadium on August 1, 2018. Juventus will be the second Italian club to play in the MLS All-Star Game, following AS Roma’s appearance in 2013.

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Since MLS adapted its all-stars vs. foreign club format in 2002 (with a brief return to the old East vs. West format in 2004), MLS has gone 9-6. Last year the MLS All-Stars lost 4-2 on penalty kicks to Real Madrid in Chicago’s Soldier Field.

Klinsmann: “I’m sure I’ll come back” to coaching

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Jurgen Klinsmann hinted that he could return to full-time coaching after the 2018 World Cup.

Klinsmann appears to be enjoying life as a full-time soccer dad after his dismissal from U.S. Soccer in November 2016, having taken home a portion of a $6.2 million buyout from U.S. Soccer for he and his staff. Speaking to Socrates Magazine in Germany, Klinsmann gave his thoughts on the Bundesliga, the German National Team, and whether he’d be back in the hot seat one day.

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“I’m sure I’ll come back,” Klinsmann said. “Right now I’m having a nice break, I enjoy it. I do not know when I’ll take on a coaching job again. I’m looking forward to the World Cup in Russia and then I’ll be back in action.”

Klinsmann has been linked with a number of jobs over the past few years, even before he was fired as U.S. Men’s National Team coach, including with Everton, Sunderland, and Club Tijuana in Liga MX. But instead, Klinsmann has remained in the stands, cheering on his son Jonathan at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup along with the rest of the U.S. parents in their section.

Following the disastrous start of World Cup qualifying and the fact that Klinsmann never took the U.S. to the level he promised, it is hard to see where he will go next, unless it’s a lower level, with lower expectations. Based on his work with the USMNT and Bayern Munich, he has shown that he struggles tactically and is mainly a man-motivator, which is just one part of the coaching package.

The 53-year-old former German coach and player also had a bit of a warning to the Bundesliga, after a particularly tough season in Europe. Three Bundesliga teams (Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig) made the UEFA Champions League, but both Dortmund and Leipzig finished third in their groups, dropping down to the Europa League. FC Koln, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin all failed to advance to the knockout stages in the Europa League as well.

“The recent development at the European level is not a good sign, it is important that everyone is aware that success is lacking,” Klinsmann said. “Recently, you have lost too much ground.

“It’s a very critical moment. There is a certain amount of satisfaction after winning the World Cup in Brazil and the Bundesliga clubs having done very well in the Champions League.”

Report: Ibrahimovic to sign with MLS next week, LA Galaxy likely landing spot

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It appears Zlatan Ibrahimovic will finally be taking his talents to the United States.

According to a report from ESPN FC, Ibrahimovic has played his last game for Manchester United, with the club ready to let the Swede out of his contract in order for him to sign in Major League Soccer. While it’s not 100 percent clear where Ibrahimovic will end up, the report states the Galaxy are the leading contenders for his services.

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Ibrahimovic certainly comes to the U.S. with a rich pedigree, with a trophy room full of league titles and UEFA Champions League titles.

But there are questions hanging over Ibrahimovic. The 36-year-old is coming off a torn ACL and whether he’s healed now, 12 months since the injury, he’s made just five appearances for Man United this season, with four of them coming off the bench.

With many MLS clubs moving towards signing younger, up and coming talents, especially from South America, can Ibrahimovic keep up in a physical league, coming off a major injury and at his age? It’s likely he can make an impact, but considering the kind of money he’s likely to be on, it will be tough for him to be worth it without bringing an MLS Cup.

If he does sign with the LA Galaxy, it would be a massive statement back to their new noisy neighbor in LAFC, after the expansion club made waves signing Carlos Vela as a Designated Player and Bob Bradley as head coach. Ibrahimovic will have to quickly gel with Sigi Schmid’s squad, including with Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos in midfield.

Wilshere could have left Arsenal last August

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It’s hard to imagine an Arsenal team without Jack Wilshere on the books, but it nearly came to be during last summer’s transfer window.

Speaking openly in England’s training camp this week, Wilshere detailed how Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger approached him one day in August and told him the England international wasn’t in Wenger’s plans.

“It was an honest conversation,” Wilshere told The Guardian. “It had been boiling up for a while. Everybody knew I had a year left on my deal and had been out on loan, got injured and wasn’t really in his plans. He just said: ‘At the moment we are not going to be offering you a contract so, if you can get one somewhere else, you can go.’”

Wilshere said that he looked around but ultimately wanted to win his place back in the Arsenal first team, and he did so by November, after mainly playing in the Carabao Cup and UEFA Europa League through the first three months of the season.

This week, Wilshere earned a recall to the England National Team for the first time since the Three Lions’ disastrous defeat in Euro 2016 to Iceland and he’s played 31 appearances this season in all competitions, the most since the 2013-2014 season, showcasing a new-found fitness level.

That being said, Wilshere hasn’t found the form for Arsenal that earned him plaudits in the past from Xavi Hernandez. Wilshere looked off the pace in Arsenal defeats to Tottenham, Ostersunds and Manchester City in February, failing to make an impact in his central midfield role.

Wilshere has three months left on his contract, and while he said it wouldn’t be a distraction, the longer his future is unresolved, surely it will be in the back of his mind.

We had a sneak-peak in 2016-2017 with Wilshere playing on-loan at Bournemouth. Perhaps next season we’ll see Wilshere playing away from the Arsenal colors again. This time, on a permanent basis, unless Wenger changes his mind.