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Sifting through the ashes of the U.S. Soccer election

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It has now been four days since Carlos Cordeiro was elected president of the United States Soccer Federation, and he’s changed absolutely nothing and stands as a monumental failure.

Jokes aside, it’s a challenge to find the right feeling for this new era of American soccer. The response to Cordeiro’s election was entirely predictable for two significant crowds.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Carlos Cordeiro ]

First, there is the disappointment that flowed freely from the fringes of the anti-establishment group, the bunch that generally wields #ProRelForUSA as a prime solution to the question of what’s kept our 20-year-old top flight club soccer league from taking a Louisville Slugger to all of the top talents at the Bernabeu and Old Trafford and sprinkling them between San Jose, Kansas City, New York City, Wichita, Buffalo, and Ismay, Montana.

Second, there’s the group of MLS-first honks and a legion of those who either directly benefit from the league or enjoy credit for its incredible growth. Their responses are largely a combination of exhaling and castigating the masses who wished to see monumental change on the voting floor. The people had their say, and they love chanting “I believe that we will win.” They are perhaps a bit easier to identify now that they will criticize both Bruce Arena and Sunil Gulati now that they’re positive they are no longer in charge.

But Sunday’s election wasn’t just one for the extremists. It was monitored with interest from people all over our world, magnified by the fact that Arena and Gulati’s USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup out of the most forgiving confederational set-up this side of Oceania.

[ MORE: The soccer world reacts ]

The sheer number of texts or calls I received from both big time soccer fans and casual observers was almost equal, and people were ticked off: How did the United States not learn from their failure?

I wanted to give a proper reply, and not just shoot off some vitriol that has been sitting on top of my chest for months. Part of this was because I felt Cordeiro proffered more vision and personality than Carter, who I had assumed might dance to the crown. And I didn’t say it in the run-up to the election, because I was hoping for better, and I didn’t want to say it afterwards until I was 100 percent sure it was coming from a place of honesty.

SIDE NOTE NO. 1 — Before we go any further, all of this isn’t to say that Cordeiro won’t be a weapon of positive growth who leaves soccer to soccer people — he’s said all soccer hires will be recommended to him by soccer people — keeps the business on track, opens up youth soccer so parents don’t have to downgrade their vehicle to pay a “technical director’s” salary, separates MLS and SUM from U.S. Soccer, and makes it so tiny Ismay 16 SC can have the same opportunity to grow into a soccer giant as the New York Red Bulls. He’s come to the game armed with business acumen, and he may be willing to make some unorthodox moves that require “United Passions 2: This One Doesn’t Stink Because of Carlos.”

The feeling I had all along is this: Almost every voter in that room cares deeply about soccer, but almost every voter has also risen to their current position of influence due to the current system. Many have been involved in the game since the rise of the USMNT and USWNT programs. They’ve seen the massive growth of soccer in the United States over whichever period you choose, because it’s been moving upward since the early 1990s if not earlier. The idea of an admin outsider topping two establishment candidates was a lofty one (and we should applaud everyone who went after it, especially Wynalda and Martino for currying enough favor to make fear a legitimate feeling for those in power).

[ MORE: Zidane gets it right vs. PSG ]

Largely, my gut says the voters would’ve gladly welcomed Sunil Gulati back for another term if he just owned the USMNT failure with true humility (Oddly enough, had the Yanks not qualified for Russia with Klinsmann through a second cycle, he probably would’ve been altogether safe to make his next hire, but that’s another story).

He didn’t come close to handling the situation with any sense of even PR-induced responsibility, and when a federation is in tumult a lot of perceived condescension that may’ve been overlooked as eccentric or confident during the halcyon days just looks like uppity nonsense. Whether or not the emperor is actually naked, he sure appears so.

So who were the voters going to be drawn to? The handpicked successor, by all accounts Kathy Carter, didn’t seem likely to get the job done without appealing to voters with a modicum of change-driven authenticity. The upstarts, led by Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino, may have ultimately appeared too similar to voters as former players with broadcasting acumen (For what it’s worth, NBC affiliation aside, Martino struck me as a potential winner from Day One of his candidacy while there is no denying the immense headway won by the relentless campaigning of Wynalda).

It would’ve taken the soccer campaigning equivalent of baseball’s perfect game for Steve Gans, Michael Winograd, or Paul Caligiuri to project into the top-tier, and Hope Solo’s troubled past was likely a non-starter (despite some exceptional work on the trail).

Hindsight being 20/20, is it any surprise that a man who was described as Sunil Gulati’s protege but clearly wasn’t in lockstep with the embattled boss was enough of a chance for the voters? The first vote saw Cordeiro emerge with a slim lead of Carter, and only Cordeiro and Martino gained in both the second and third ballot.

SIDE NOTE NO. 2 — Soccer Twitter has stirred in me what amounts to an occasional but very real paranoia about the establishment, and there was a part of me that harbored the following conspiracy theory: Carter’s low profile candidacy and the stories of Don Garber and Sunil Gulati courting voters for her was simply designed to get people comfortable with the idea of Cordeiro being establishment but not the establishment’s choice (It’s worth noting that this conspiracy theory does not require Cordeiro to be in the know if you want it to be extra nutty). At the right hour of any given day, I will fight you on behalf of this conspiracy theory. Most hours, though, I just laugh and make more coffee.

[ MORE: Cordeiro’s open letter to U.S. Soccer ]

Perhaps, as some have suggested, there would’ve been a better chance of a revolution if there were only one or two rivals to Carter or Cordeiro, but I don’t believe the election would’ve carried as much water with the soccer public without the controlled chaos caused by the nine person pool (a ninth candidate, Paul Lapointe, was eliminated from contention in late December).

But as I reflect on the tumult of the fall, the candidates announcements, their campaigning, and the election, it seems like it was always going to be Cordeiro. He declared his candidacy before Gulati announced he wouldn’t run, agreed to have a soccer committee recommend all hirings, and would have the establishment’s resume without carrying its recent failures.

If any change was going to come, it was going to come with a buffer of four years (and next time, can we please have presidential and VP tickets? Don’t you want to know right away who your president wants as his or her right hand man or woman?!? What if you were choosing between Carter-Cordeiro, Martino-Winograd, Gans-Solo, and Wynalda-Caligiuri?).

And when we’re breaking down the 2022 presidential election, Cordeiro is likely going to be carrying a USMNT World Cup berth and hosting duties for the 2026 World Cup. His staff and he have to know that the failure to qualify was a managerial blip on the radar, which means how U.S. Soccer treats youth soccer, the women’s game, and club ball over the next four years is going to make the difference. That’s the closest I’ll get to cup half-full.

Mourinho: “Paul made a big effort”

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho had fine words for Paul Pogba, but was tickled by the performance of 21-year-old Scott McTominay in the Red Devils scoreless draw with Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: Sevilla 0-0 Man Utd ]

The visitors emerged unscathed, though without an away goal, and Mourinho raised eyebrows when he kept Pogba on the bench to start the match. The young McTominay started the match, and was paired with Pogba once Ander Herrera left the match with injury.

When a reporter asked Mourinho about McTominay after the match, the boss asked if he could give the reporter a hug before elaborating (via the BBC):

“In the press conference, the questions were about Paul [Pogba] but the question should be about the kid. He was fantastic. He did everything well. He put pressure on Ever Banega and stopped him playing, he’s their playmaker. I think Scott was brilliant.

“I think Paul made a big effort to try to give the team what I asked of him. Paul replaced Ander, he tried to bring to the game the same kind of qualities. He lost a couple of possessions but he also gave us stability because we had a good percentage of possession for the way we played.”

Mourinho was sure to include Nemanja Matic as a big part of the midfield trio.

The Pogba-Mourinho questions aren’t going to go away any time soon, though it should be noted — perhaps strongly — that the player was ill this weekend and United has to face Chelsea in Premier League play this weekend.

Still, he couldn’t help but mention how much he believes “Old Trafford has missed a big European night,” and how he’s looking forward to a potentially big win come March 13.

Nil-nil in Seville as De Gea stars

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  • English sides unbeaten vs. La Liga in UCL season (2-6)
  • Pogba subs into match for Herrera, 17′
  • De Gea with seven saves for United

David De Gea was the star as Manchester United escaped Sevilla with a scoreless draw in the first leg of the two sides’ UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Sevilla won a corner kick within 90 seconds, but the ball made its way through the 18 without finding a receiver.

Ander Herrera sprung Alexis Sanchez down the middle, but Jesus Navas cut across to catch the Chilean and thwart the United chance.

Navas then dragged a shot across goal and past a diving David De Gea but inches wide of the far post.

A Herrera injury — yes, another injury United supporters — meant Paul Pogba would join the fray after just 17 minutes with the key position in the 4-3-3.

Lukaku botched a terrific diagonal cross from Sanchez with a blast over the goal in the 25th minute.

The 38th minute saw Scott McTominay pump a ball right at Sergio Rico for the Sevilla backstop’s first save, and Angl Correa’s low shot was collected by De Gea for a third Red Devils save.

De Gea then made a leaping save on Steven N’Zonzi’s redirection of a bicycle kick just before halftime, and then slapped Luis Muriel’s header over the bar before the whistle.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

De Gea nabbed another save, his sixth in the contest, when Clement Lenglet got his head on an Ever Banega free kick in the 64th minute.

A Sanchez giveaway provided Sevilla the chance to counter, and Muriel couldn’t get the step back needed to power a header past De Gea.

United had a goal pulled back in the 83rd minute as the ball struck Lukaku’s arm in the build-up.

Fred’s vicious free kick leads Shakhtar over Roma

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Facundo Ferreyra and Fred scored second half goals to lead Shakhtar Donetsk past AS Roma 2-1 at the Donbass Arena in Wednesday’s first leg of the clubs’ UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

Cendig Under scored his fifth goal in four matches as AS Roma did manage an away goal before the March 13 second leg in Rome.

Fred has been linked with a summer move to Man City, and the banger of a free kick showed part of the reason the Brazilian is in demand.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Roma is bidding to make its first UEFA Champions League quarterfinal since 2007-08 when they went out at the hands of Manchester United, while Shakhtar last made the quarters only to be dismissed by Barcelona in 2010-11.

Ukrainian backstop Andriy Pyatov had an early save on Edin Dzeko off a cross from Aleksandar Kolarov, two minutes after Kolarov mailed a free kick over the bar.

Kolarov and Dzeko remained big parts of the story line, though Pyatov and the Shakhtar defense stood tall.

Dzeko would wind up assisting the opener, and it was the in form Under who’d bury his chance.

Not soon after the break, though, Yaroslav Rakitskiy cued up Ferreyra for the equalizer.

And Fred but the hosts ahead with this outstanding free kick, what they’d call a “bar down bingo” in hockey.

Madrid beats Leganes 3-1 in game postponed from December

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid overcame the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and other regular starters Wednesday, coming from behind to defeat Leganes 3-1 Wednesday in a Spanish league match postponed from last year.

The result allowed the defending champions to regain third place from Valencia, but it did little to put Zinedine Zidane’s team back in the title race as it still trails leader Barcelona by 14 points after 24 matches. Madrid is seven points behind second-place Atletico Madrid.

[ MORE: Messi defies Conte’s successful tactics ]

Less than a month ago, Leganes jolted Madrid into a crisis by eliminating the Spanish powerhouse from the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

The hosts from southern Madrid went ahead less than 10 minutes into the match on Wednesday, but Madrid answered with first-half goals by Lucas Vazquez and Casemiro. Sergio Ramos sealed the victory by converting a 90th-minute penalty kick.

The league match was rescheduled from the 16th round because of Madrid’s participation in the Club World Cup in December, a competition it won.

Only in its second season in the first division, Leganes had a promising start to the campaign but has struggled recently. It hasn’t won in six matches and has lost four straight, dropping to 13th with 29 points.

Madrid has won four in a row, including 3-1 against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 of the Champions League last week.

Ronaldo, who scored twice against PSG and has 10 goals in his last six matches, was rested on Wednesday along with goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Marcelo, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are trying to recover from injuries in time for next month’s return match against PSG in Paris.

Leganes opened the scoring with a goal by Unai Bustinza six minutes into the match at Butarque Stadium. The defender dived in front of the ball as Madrid left back Theo Hernandez tried to clear it from near the goal line. The ball ricocheted off Bustinza’s head and shoulder and went into the net.

Madrid equalized five minutes later with Vazquez’s low shot into the far corner from inside the area after a through ball by Casemiro, and 20 minutes later it was the Brazilian defensive midfielder who found the net from close range after a pass by Vazquez.

Ramos scored from the penalty spot after Mateo Kovacic was pushed inside the area in the closing minutes.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

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