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Wild day in American soccer: Crew relocation, NASL LOIs, USL reserves

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The top three soccer leagues in the United States of America are dealing with varying bits of turmoil this Tuesday in October.

It began late Monday with reports that Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt aims to take the MLS founding member to Texas, seemingly only paying lip service to the idea of investment keeping the team in Ohio.

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Some have said Precourt’s goals have always been to find a way out of Ohio, and the Crew owner was asked what has changed in the four years he’s owned the club (From ColumbusCrewSC.com):

Q:When we read your story about your purchase of the team, this was back in 2013, part of that was that it was very important to the Hunt family that the Crew remained in Columbus and you said at the time that you were committed to that. So what’s changed?

AP: I was committed to that and I believe that I demonstrated my commitment through significant investment in infrastructure, in personnel, in the quality of our product on the field. What has changed? Our League has grown leaps and bounds, it’s been unprecedented the improvement we’ve seen year over year and new markets that have come in the League have shown dramatic attendance. Let’s look at Atlanta with over 70,000 fans over their last few games, with Orlando building a new facility and averaging over 30,000 fans a game, with New York City FC. The list goes on and on. Our peers get stronger and stronger, year in and year out and I have to get back to our ambition as a club. This is key: our ambition as a club is to be a standard bearer in Major League Soccer, to be respected on and off the field in terms of our soccer operations and our business operations and to operate world-class, soccer-specific infrastructure. We’re going through growing pains now. It’s time for us to explore building a world-class, soccer-specific stadium so that we can be celebrated and successful and sustainable.

So, yes, barring a king’s ransom — word use intended — from the Ohio business community, it’s not being cynical to read Precourt’s intention to leave Ohio as very strong. The idea is very sad for the league, and makes every pro/rel honk’s argument against the closed model.

Then there’s the NASL, where it’s almost head-spinning to keep abreast of the future of the league. New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso has taken the wheel in an attempt to not only see the NASL rise, but remove Sunil Gulati from power at the United States Soccer Federation in the hopes of a complete overhaul. In what should not be read as a footnote, the NASL is currently suing the USSF.

There are reports that the league could have as many as 17 teams next season in a bid to regain sanctioning from the Unites States Soccer Federation, including a series of teams from the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League.

According to SocTakes.com, the NASL has letters of intent from NPSL clubs in Boca Raton, Boston, Detroit, Arizona, New Orleans, and Virginia Beach. Additionally, there’s interest in Hartford and it may not be the NPSL club.

Then came this Tweet:

Now here’s a league, the USL, whose only issues have been perception-related. Growing well and instituting a D-3 companion, the biggest concern has been the mentioned MLS Reserve sides creating a minor league feel for the league.

All of this is manageable, and you could argue that the disappearance or at least rebranding of most of these reserve sides would be a boon for the league.

Taken in a vacuum, any of these stories has the potential to carry a day’s news. Together, and in the wake of the United States men’s national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, they give Tuesday one of those Soccer-USApocalyptic feelings.

A way-too-early look at what’s next for the USMNT

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“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men,”

Captain, “Cool Hand Luke”

(It made us sick typing that headline, too).

So, about qualifying for that 2022 World Cup in Qatar…

It’s difficult to turn our attention beyond the short-term devastation and long-term problems that come from failing to qualify for a World Cup, especially in the forgiving world of CONCACAF qualifying.

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For one thing, it’s challenging not to wallow in the disappointment of what is likely a humiliating exclamation point placed on the glittering USMNT careers of Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, and Geoff Cameron.

The last two will play a bit longer and have some chance of playing a bit part in the next round of World Cup qualifying, but Dempsey and Howard are almost certainly on the verge of their testimonials.

Then there’s the batch of players who won’t get their first taste of the World Cup. Christian Pulisic won’t be able to showcase himself at the age of 19, building up some experience for his prime. Weston McKennie, DeAndre Yedlin (a second for him), Ethan Horvath, and Matt Miazga can’t garner time, either.

Which brings us to the what’s next. Bruce Arena has to be gone. He shouldn’t get another minute on the job. Yes, he’s a legend who managed the team to its longest World Cup run. He also essentially admitted there were better players he’d call in for the World Cup should he got there.

Even ignoring that he also coached one of its most embarrassing tournaments (World Cup 2006) in addition to this fiasco, he has to leave the gig. If you want to debate this for some reason, let’s not waste everyone else’s time. Email nicholas.mendola@nbcuni.com.

I hate that this picture of classy CB Matt Besler exists (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Here’s one thing to remember: A lot of desperate people are going to try to tell you everything is okay. It brings us to the lines so famously uttered by Strother Martin and sampled by Axl Rose in “Civil War.” It’s not good when power reaches a point where it dismisses failure as happenstance or bad luck when it so clearly is, well, failure and the product of design.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is a powerbroker and has had some terrific success guiding the American ship, but the worst thing American soccer can do right now is assume “it could be worse.”

Hardly! And, in fact, perhaps some of us should’ve said that when Arena was hired to replace Jurgen Klinsmann. We rely on the familiar far too often when it comes to American soccer.

I mean LISTEN to this guy, as if the side hasn’t been below its own standards and expectations for the majority of play since the end of the Copa America Centenario:

And we — myself included — are so antsy to celebrate Major League Soccer that we make huge excuses for it. Sure, MLS is improving other players in CONCACAF, but the league is also largely American. And it’s not about those Costa Rican, Jamaican, T&T, or even U.S. kids getting better, it’s more about accepting America’s best talents coming home to play in MLS rather than challenging themselves in much better leagues.

You can love MLS, love the USMNT, and accept that they both need each other to improve but also need to eschew the easy option. Maybe Michael Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya just naturally got a little worse when they came home because of natural career decline, or maybe it was about not playing against better competition. Matt Besler choosing to stay home at Sporting KC instead of trying his hand at Fulham or Sunderland was great for us as MLS fans, but did he reach his potential? Right now, it’s a bit too easy to say no (or yes).

If someone lives to the ripe age of 75, they maybe get 16-17 chances to be cognizant of their nation’s play in a World Cup. We’re set to miss one. RIP.

So, uh, back to the path forward.

They deserved better. Turned out to be lousy vacation usage(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Let Arena resign, hire a new coach… And let’s stop with the also-rans. If you need to be an America-first guy, go for Peter Vermes (Sporting KC) or Greg Vanney (Toronto FC). Talk to Tata Martino about leaving Atlanta United, and have a guy who understands MLS but also will work to get his players in great spots. Or find an alum to keep driving the technical bus. What’s Steve Cherundolo doing? Tab Ramos? Claudio Reyna? Yes, you may find a coach who does some things that bother you tactically, but at least you won’t be looking clueless in a must-win match at Trinidad and Tobago.

Build up to Brazil… While the United States is playing friendlies for the next two years, it needs to let its new coach and a bevy of new faces go through their international growing pains ahead of the 2019 Copa America in Brazil.

That team shouldn’t be about a bunch of wily vets trying to manufacture a positive result. It should be about seeing what Miazga, McKennie, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Cristian Roldan, Kenny Saief, and Sebastian Lletget can do against top international competition. With loads of love and respect to Besler, I don’t need to see him mark Neymar.

Get over yourself… The road to a World Cup should be a relative cakewalk for the United States given its talent, which regularly qualifies for major tournaments at the youth level. (And for goodness’ sake, can we please stop with the “CONCACAF is hard” lip service and walk around like a team that knows it’s going to work hard enough to maximize its talent and prevail?).

Well, that means recognizing that the U.S. Soccer Academy system has to be nurtured, and the right top-to-bottom focus should be implemented so the concept of an American team missing out on an Olympics or World Cup at any age level is a thing of the past.

Perhaps this is an argument for bringing in an outsider, someone who is going to say, “I’ve seen it all, and you’re not as good as you think you are.” Kid, try your hand on a bigger club. Veteran, here’s a role you might not like. Not on board? Cool, we’ll find someone else.

November 2019… Ugh. That’s a long way away, but shortly after the Copa America, the U.S. will begin World Cup qualifying again with a fourth round against a decent team, a below average team, and an poor team.

How many surefire guys do we know at this point? Here’s a preliminary look, with ages at that time in parentheses.

(Goalkeeper)

Yedlin (26) — Brooks (26) — (CB2) — (LB)

 Arriola (24) — McKennie (21) — (CM2) — Pulisic (21)

Wood (27) — Altidore (29)

That’s really not bad.

You’d say Miazga (24) is the front-runner at CB, Carter-Vickers (21) is in the mix too, and Cameron could still be in the fold for that spot or CM2. Bradley isn’t an improbable option there either, nor is Kellyn Acosta. Jordan Morris will hopefully have a claim toward Altidore’s spot, and Haji Wright is one to watch in Europe. Horvath and Bill Hamid are among the goalkeepers who could get looks.

Left back in America is a death spiral. Just assume teams will be ruining Hex matches and World Cup thoughts from that spot (you’ll notice the two goals versus T&T originated from room on that side).

By then the team should be teething several of Tyler Adams (CM), Josh Sargent (FW), Tim Weah (FW), Jonathan Lewis (FW), Matthew Olosunde (DF), and Jonathan Gonzalez (MF).

It doesn’t feel good right now, and it won’t for some time. The interconfederation playoffs are gonna sting, the World Cup draw is gonna be a throat punch, and the tournament itself will carry emotional paper cuts every time you see Alberth freaking Elis dribbling at a world class defense.

But stinging is good if it’s antiseptic. And U.S. Soccer better have some important people ready to flip the script.

USMNT v. Trinidad and Tobago Preview

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For a country that loves dramatic finishes, the U.S. Men’s National Team has sure left it late.

The USMNT heads into its final game in the Hex at Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday evening with its World Cup hopes still up for grabs, although crucially the U.S. holds its own destiny. A win and they’re in. A draw, and anything but the most unlikely scenario puts them through to the next round.

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But a loss, coupled with wins by Panama and Honduras at home? That could be the dagger for this USMNT.

The pressure of a nation is weighing on the squad as they take the field Tuesday, hopefully not comically surrounded by a moat and waterlogged by heavy rains like it was Monday.

Coincidentally, the U.S. has been here before. The last time the USMNT didn’t have qualifying wrapped up by the last match day was in 1989 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, when Paul Caligiuri saved the day for the U.S. with a 30th minute goal that sent the USA to the World Cup.

This time around, the Soca Warriors and Yanks will reconvene a few miles down the road at the Ato Boldon Stadium.

Unlike the 4-0 win over Panama, the U.S. won’t be playing on a pristine pitch with a fast surface. If anything, expect the ball to bobble more and take unexpected hops while players try to run through the heavy surface, as described by Bruce Arena. This calls for tactics closer to that of the Honduras away match, or perhaps even the Mexico away match where the U.S. came away with a 1-1 draw.

“It definitely changes the way the game is going to look,” Arena said. “It’s going to be a slow game, probably a little bit sloppy. A little bit different than we’ve seen in any of the qualifying games. But we’ll have to adapt to the conditions of the field.”

On the USMNT’s side is history. The last time the USA played a World Cup qualifier in Trinidad and Tobago, they held on for a scoreless draw. The time before that, a 1-0 win in 2009 (Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore started that night).

Overall, the U.S. is 18-2-4 against the Soca Warriors with a 13-1-3 clip in World Cup qualifying. During the side’s last meeting in June in the altitude of Denver, T&T hung in with the U.S. until the second half, when two Christian Pulisic strikes put the game out of reach.

While the conditions will be different, perhaps if the U.S. can control possession or press high up the field, they can tire out Trinidad again and exploit it in the second half.

“Now the pressure is on for us to at least get a point, and we’re not here to get one point, we’re here to get three points,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “I think that’s the mentality and I think going into this game it’s going to be extremely important to remember that.

“The conditions are going to be tough but I think in the end we’ll be able to do what we do best, and that’s take care of business.”

One of the noticeable traits of this current USMNT squad is its experience. 12 players on the roster have made 11 or more World Cup qualifying appearances, led by Clint Dempsey with 42. Centerback pair Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler went through the last round of qualifying and helped lead the U.S. at the World Cup, while Bradley, Altidore and Howard have been mainstays for the past two World Cup cycles.

That experience, especially playing against a young opponent in Trinidad and Tobago with nothing to lose, could give the Americans a leg up on the road in a crunch qualifier.

“It happens throughout one’s career where you play on these type of fields where the ball doesn’t roll, it gets stuck in water,” Gonzalez said. “You just have to play through it. The circumstances are going to be difficult tomorrow but we’re playing to go to a World Cup.

“You have to put it behind us, we have to control what we can control, and that’s our alertness, our competitiveness, how aggressive we are, and the rest we have to roll with it and do what we can to win the game.”

UEFA: Germany’s B-team completes 10-for-10 WCQ campaign

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Germany thrashed Azerbaijan, 5-1, on Sunday to become the first (of two possible) side to finish with a perfect 10-for-10 record during UEFA’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

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Switzerland, the only other side to win its first nine games, are away to Portugal on Tuesday. England, who won eight and drew two (26 points), were the next closest. Poland went 8W-1D-1L (25 points) in their 10 games.

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Leon Goretzka put the defending world champions ahead after nine minutes, courtesy of a clever backheel into the upper-90, only for Joachim Loew’s side to be yanked back to level terms in the 34th minute. Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi suffered what appeared to be a thigh injury in the lead-up to the visitor’s equalizer. After the game, Loew revealed that Mustafi likely suffered a muscle tear, which will keep him out “for a long time.”

[ MORE: France, Portugal one win away from qualifying; Netherlands out ]

Sandro Wagner, Antonio Rudiger and Goretzka — all of whom played major minutes during this international break due to entrenched first-teamers being left out after having clinched their place at next summer’s tournament last window — each scored during a 12-minute stretch (54th to 66th) that blew the game wide open. Liverpool’s Emre Can provided the exclamation point with fewer than 10 minutes remaining, in the form of a seeing-eye rocket from 30 yards out.

Northern Ireland finished as runners-up in Group C and will make their way into the qualification playoffs scheduled for the final international window of the calendar year, next month.

Based on the upcoming edition of FIFA rankings, Germany will be seeded as a Pot 1 team for the World Cup draw on Dec. 1.

Video: Costa Rica players, fans go bonkers after they book place for 2018 World Cup

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Costa Rica has made three of the last four World Cups, but the soccer-crazy Ticos and their fans are not taking that for granted.

La Sele booked its place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia in dramatic fashion, as Vancouver Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston powered a header home deep into second half stoppage time to earn a 1-1 draw at home with Honduras and clinch a spot at the World Cup.

[ INSIDE: A look at potential USMNT World Cup qualification scenarios

The goal sent everyone in the stadium and around the tiny nation of around 4.9 million people (around the population of South Carolina) into hysterics. Waston ripped off his jersey and swung it in the air while he and the team slid into the corner. Ticos coach Oscar Ramirez ran around the touchline, looking for fellow coaches to hug and celebrate with.

The Ticos fans, overjoyed at returning to the World Cup, made a cacophony of noise as they jumped and celebrated as one. The goal was so momentous, a local Costa Rican broadcaster repeatedly shouted “World Cup” in Spanish.

Here’s how the momentous goal sounded in Costa Rica: