Jozy Altidore

Frank Gunn /The Canadian Press via AP

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 3-5 Montreal Impact (video)

Leave a comment

The match in about 100 words: Well, here’s a formula for ending Toronto FC’s 11-match unbeaten run –

  1. Hope they don’t use Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, and Victor Vazquez.
  2. Have your best player ball out of control.

Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti did just that, scoring twice and adding an assist in the first half alone. A 42nd minute own goal from Montreal opened the door to home hope, but Anthony Jackson-Hamel continued his breakout campaign with two goals in four minutes. Tosaint Ricketts scored a pair of late headers to complete the score line.

Toronto FC’s home crowd didn’t see arguably its three top performers of the season, and did see something it hadn’t this year: a home loss. That it was a derby loss won’t feel good for the Reds, who also gave oxygen to their rivals’ flickering playoff hopes.

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap | La Liga | Serie A ]


Three moments that mattered

12′ — Michael Bradley clears TFC’s runway — Not the finest moment for Captain America, as Marco Donadel opens up his laser and fires.

24′ — “When defenders fall down” — …And when they do it in front of Nacho, inside the 18.

47′ — AJH puts it to bed — It wasn’t Toronto’s night, and a bad back pass met tepid decision-making and one of the sleepy breakout players of MLS in Anthony Jackson-Hamel.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage | Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the Match: Piatti

Goal scorers: Piatti (10′, 24′), Donadel (12′), Boldor (o.g. 42′), Jackson-Hamel (47′, 51′), Ricketts (77′, 79′).

Shield favorites Toronto FC find a new way to rout in LA (video)

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Leave a comment

At the risk of continuing the neutrals’ love fest with Toronto FC, the Reds found a new way to impress on Sunday.

Greg Vanney left Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore at home for Saturday night’s match in Carson against the LA Galaxy, a risky proposition for any team given the propensity for away teams to lose in Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: Coverage | Standings | Stats ]

Even keeping in mind that LA is terrible at home this season — the Galaxy are one of only two teams with a sub .500 record at home — Toronto improved its league-best record to 18W-3L-8T with a 4-0 trouncing of Sigi Schmid’s side.

Tosaint Ricketts scored twice, while Drew Moor and Victor Vazquez also bagged goals for the Reds in running 11 points clear of New York City FC in the Supporters’ Shield standings. TFC would have to put forth a pure and unfettered collapse in order to miss out on its first one.

Vazquez added an assist, and goalkeeper Alex Bono also posted a helper on the final goal of the rout. Additionally, right wing back Steven Beitashour also missed out as Nicolas Hasler assisted on the second goal in his stead.

Who’s in form and healthy three weeks out from huge USMNT games?

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’re a little over three weeks away from the United States’ most important World Cup qualifying games in some time.

Consider the matches versus Panama and away to Trinidad and Tobago on our minds, so expect more than a few posts as we build up to the Oct. 6 and 10 matches.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Pulisic post-UCL loss ]

In the meantime, injuries continue to pile up. Starting center back John Brooks had already been injured, and backup striker Jordan Morris is also out. Geoff Cameron may be healing quicker than expected, which is good news.

U.S. manager Bruce Arena has maintained that he wants to use players who’ve been a part of the team in qualifying and the Gold Cup, and he’s the sort of defiant character who is likely to stick with that philosophy.

But his center backs, aside from Matt Besler, really let him down in the Yanks’ one-point international break, and Morris’ injury opens the door to someone to join Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Bobby Wood in the strike corps (Chris Wondolowski was also called up earlier this month).

Let’s humor ourselves in spite of Arena’s stated plans, and take a look at Americans in form or back to health, here and abroad:

  • Right-sided man DeAndre Yedlin is back from his hamstring injury and made the 18 for Newcastle last week.
  • Matt Miazga has returned to Vitesse’s Starting XI, and led the back line to its first clean sheet of the season on Saturday.
  • Timmy Chandler has played every minute for Eintracht Frankfurt at right midfield/wingback during the club’s 1-1-1 start to the Bundesliga season, and scored in Cup play.
  • Lee Nguyen is back for New England, and WhoScored rates him as one of only two Americans in MLS’ Top Ten players this season. He has nine goals and eight assists.
  • The leading American scorers in MLS this season? It’s a tie between obviously call-up Altidore and inconsistent but powerful CJ Sapong with 13 a piece. Next is Wondolowski, Dempsey, and Christian Ramirez with 11 each.
  • Not angling for a call-up with this one, but while we’re here spare some positive thoughts for Julian Green. The 22-year-old World Cup goal scorer finally got a start for 2.Bundesliga side Greuther Furth, who broke a four-match losing streak with a 1-1 draw. Green went 90 minutes at left mid.
  • Terrence Boyd has subbed into every 2.Bundesliga match for Darmstadt, nabbing one assist. Lynden Gooch has also been a regular sub in Sunderland’s midfield.

So what’s an early guess at the 23 men Arena will call up next month? Again, this isn’t our 23, just an “Arena’s mind” prediction.

Goalkeepers

Unless Arena has a sudden change of heart and opts for Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath and DC United’s Bill Hamid (or LA Galaxy man Brian Rowe because, well, LA Galaxy), it’ll be the same trio: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando.

Defenders

Nothing’s certain after Geoff Cameron, though educated guesses say Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, and Jorge Villafana are coming, too. Eric Lichaj didn’t get into either qualifier, but could still be in the mix. Was Arena turned off by Tim Ream or DaMarcus Beasley? More importantly, does he see anyone else who’s a clear improvement (Again, does he see them)? Completing our eight will be Chandler and Yedlin.

Midfielders

Arena called up eight earlier this month, and it seems likely he won’t change much from Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Dax McCarty, Darlington Nagbe, and Christian Pulisic. Wild card looks to Danny Williams (if he can get some Huddersfield PT), Lee Nguyen, Cristian Roldan, or Kelyn Rowe.

Let’s face it: It wouldn’t be completely out of left field for Arena to ditch Johnson for one bad performance, and Rowe could get a chance to build on his Gold Cup. But if there’s a change, it’ll be Jermaine Jones for one last hurrah. That would likely come at the expense of McCarty.

Forwards

Jozy Altidore is due for a big, big performance having taken a terrible yellow card to miss the Honduras draw. Bobby Wood will be there, too, and maybe we’ll see them together. Clint Dempsey makes it three, which leaves a spot for… Wondolowski like last time? Old pal Gyasi Zardes? Sapong?

USMNT’s Pulisic reflects on big night; Lalas’ comments

Getty Images
3 Comments

WEMBLEY — His 19th birthday is next week. Remember that.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Christian Pulisic put in yet another superb display for Borussia Dortmund but they lost 3-1 to Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

Speaking in the mixed zone afterwards, a downbeat Pulisic, 18, reflected on his display as he tore Tottenham apart in the first half, had a goal disallowed and battled against the best defense in the Premier League.

He wants those calls back as Dortmund had a second, more contentious, goal chalked off for offside.

“Things didn’t go our way and that’s how the sport is sometimes. We had to take some other chances but things didn’t go our way with decisions and other things,” Pulisic said. “I have to see them again but my goal in the first half, I guess Auba was off but he didn’t touch it. I don’t know if he was offside. The second one I didn’t think was offside. Obviously refs make mistakes and the game just changed after that.”

Pulisic was everywhere in the first half, giving both Serge Aurier and Toby Alderweireld a tough time from the left but he told Pro Soccer Talk he still wants to do better.

“I always tried to bring confidence to the game. I still need to do more and create goals and score goals. I couldn’t do it today,” Pulisic said.

Pulisic started out on the left and had plenty of touches early on, ghosting between Serge Aurier and Toby Alderweireld. His run and cross led to an attack which eventually saw Andriy Yarmolenko curl in a stunner for Dortmund’s opener. In the 19th minute Pulisic cut inside and his shot deflected off Alderweireld and went out for a corner.

The Kid kept going.

He then raced clear on the half hour mark and his cross to the back post towards Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang was brilliantly cleared by Jan Vertonghen. A great chance then arrived for Pulisic with Aubemayang the provider but the Hershey, PA native couldn’t get enough on his effort as he stretched to get on the end of the cross.

Right on half time Dortmund could have been level with Pulisic scoring at the back post as he controlled and finished calmly.

The offside flag was up way before he finished, but although Aubameyang appeared to be in an offside position he didn’t touch the ball. The jury is out as to whether or not he was interfering with play.

That was the kind of night it was and Pulisic is getting used to it.

“This is how professional soccer is now. Of course it’s a lot for me, it’s my first year, but now my second year playing this many games,” Pulisic said. “I’m getting used to it. My body is okay. It is how it is. I always prepare myself to play every single game.”

With the season in full flow with Dortmund as they chase a Bundesliga title and aim to get back on track, the USMNT’s crucial World Cup qualifiers next month are never far from his mind.

“Obviously now I am focusing on Dortmund. We have big games coming up. But it’s there,” Pulisic admitted. “We have to do everything we can and I am going to do everything I can do to help us qualify.”

Over the weekend Fox Soccer analyst Alexi Lalas called out Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore to step up for the USA.

He also rounded on Pulisic, saying “even you, wonder boy” when asking the U.S. to win key World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago next month. What did Pulisic think about Lalas’ comments?

“I heard about it. I am not going to lose sleep about what Alexi Lalas has to say about us. He can say what he wants,” Pulisic laughed.

The Kid is growing up.

Before kick off Pascal Girwert was walking down Wembley Way with a beer in his hand, his friends by his side and Christian Pulisic’s name and number on the back of his Dortmund jersey.

“He is a very, very, very big talent. Now that Ousmane Dembele has left us, he has a place in our team for every match. We are very happy to have him,” Girwert, a Dortmund fan who had traveled to London for the game, explained.

Are Dortmund worried about him leaving as his star continues to rise?

“Dortmund is the biggest thing he can reach!” Girwert laughed. “I love that he is very happy at Dortmund. He likes to play and doesn’t want to move. That makes us very sympathetic to him. We are very happy to have him.”

After the game Dortmund’s coach Peter Bosz was very complimentary when asked by Pro Soccer Talk about his teenage talent.

“He is a huge talent and I still see room for progression. This is not the end of his journey,” Bosz said. “He has a lot of quality. He shows us in training and also showed it in the game. He is still 18. Big talent.”

With Pulisic’s cousin, Will, in Dortmund’s youth team as a goalkeeper last season, the fans at Dortmund are quite eager to help nurture more young American players.

“It would be brilliant for Dortmund to have more American kids to come to us, but also for American soccer. He usually plays off the right for us. It is a very good position for him. I think the quality of the Dortmund team is much better than the USA national team, so maybe that’s why he plays in the middle,” Girwert chuckled.

He, Pulisic and the rest of Dortmund’s fans weren’t chuckling at the end of the game as Spurs ran out winners but the teenager from Pennsylvania can take solace from the fact that he tormented one of the best defenses in the Premier League multiple times.

Every time you watch him in a big game he steps up and there is plenty more to come from the kid who turns 19 next week.

Reflecting on a short stint when he trained with Tottenham as a youngster over a decade ago while his family moved to England for a year, Pulisic was reflective about how far he’d come in such a short period of time.

“Those were great times,” Pulisic said. “It is pretty crazy playing at Wembley for the first time and it is pretty special, coming this far.”

MLS Notes: Toronto’s system, weapons too much; Cascadia rising

Jon Blacker/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Heading into the home stretch of the Major League Soccer season, some thoughts on where the 2017 season stands.

[ MORE: What’s next for Palace? ]

Toronto… holy smoke! A friend of mine gave me tickets to take my young son to BMO Field for a match-up between Toronto FC and San Jose on Saturday, so we crossed the border to see the Reds hope to clinch a playoff spot versus the Earthquakes.

San Jose was coming off a 3-0 win in the Cali Clasico and another victory would’ve boosted the Quakes into the Top Six. Now bringing a second grader to a game, all I was hoping for was that TFC would handle its home field like the majority of MLS, score a goal so the kid could cheer, and to not be sucked into the vortex of overgrown Toronto traffic.

The game gave us that, and then some, with the Reds rolling to a 4-0 win and leaving me with the thought that this TFC team has two big things we’re not often talking about: a masterful coach in Greg Vanney and a “gem unearther” in GM Tim Bezbatchenko.

The Reds move so well with and without the ball, a master class in shape. Days after Costa Rican star Marco Urena exploited space in the United States back line, Vanney’s defensive corps — which includes USMNT captain Michael Bradley at CDM — either eliminated the channels for San Jose’s star and, at one point, forced Urena to dribble the width of the defense just to find a step in the corner.

(Jon Blacker/The Canadian Press via AP)

Knowing the many Americans in TFC’s XI, the Reds’ clear understanding of their duties and roles, and with Urena’s work against the U.S. fresh in my mind, I literally wondered for a moment if the U.S. shouldn’t just hire Vanney and call up TFC’s 3-5-2 for next month’s World Cup qualifiers, plugging Christian Pulisic in for Sebastian Giovinco (TFC players below in bold).

Altidore — Pulisic

Morrow — Bedoya — Bradley — Delgado — Yedlin

Zavaleta — Moor — Hagglund

Howard (Not yet, Alex Bono)

All of TFC’s center backs in its 3-5-2 were marvelous with the ball, and the team seemed especially dangerous when it was on the left peg of Chris Mavinga. The left-most CB allows Justin Morrow to fly up the side of the field. In the middle, it’s Drew Moor who shows an innate ability to play off of Bradley.

For TFC, Bradley is the marshall expected by USMNT fans, and this simply isn’t because MLS is different from CONCACAF competition. He tries just as many creative balls and does get caught jumping towards the ball, but his midfield mates quickly suck into the ball.

This is true for essentially every position on the field, as TFC does a tremendous job attacking the ball when it reaches vulnerable points of opposition positions. If an attacker gets too tight to the end line or, even better, the corner, either Morrow or right-sided wing man Steven Beitashour are quickly on the case, pressing.

Keeping in mind that 27-year-old Jozy Altidore and 30-year-old Sebastian Giovinco as a pair are borderline unplayable at this level, the Reds attack is augmented by savvy pick-up Victor Vazquez from Club Brugge and Barca’s famed La Masia Academy. And when trio-completing Marky Delgado went down, the Reds were able to turn to TFC vet Jonathan Osorio.

And, by the way, note how an incisive pass victimizes Honduran center back Victor Bernardez to help Altidore beat Danny Tarbell, the promising American backstop who had a day to forget at BMO Field.

Seeing a match in person without any writing duties usually brings a few new reflections to mind. Last year in Orlando, I saw visiting NYCFC midfielder Frank Lampard dominate physically in a way that showed the previous criticism of his career status in MLS was ridiculous.

This year, it was the fact that this Toronto side can not only snare a treble with the Supporters’ Shield, Canadian Championship, and MLS Cup, it can compete with anything CONCACAF will offer in the Champions League. It’s a shame it’ll have to keep its corps in tact over an offseason in order to do so.

Bonus TFC/MLS in a nutshell fun fact: The flags on the left are indicative of how Major League Soccer would love its international and American stars to help raise the tide for all American boats, in this case on a Canadian team (Stats via WhoScored.com):

Bonus TFC “Power Couple” fun fact: Jozy Altidore scored a pair of goals on Saturday, the same day his girlfriend Sloane Stephens won the U.S. Open. Lunatics will hope their glorious love blossoms and provides USMNT and USWNT champions deep down the line…

Other quick hitters:

  • Portland goes top — As long as Caleb Porter’s in charge, and he’s gonna be there a while, I’ll be nervous to confidently state we know which Portland Timbers team is going to show up: the flashes of brilliance side which can run to an MLS Cup Final, or the flashes of brilliance side which fails to make the playoffs. But the win over New York City FC, Andrea Pirlo mistake-aided or not, has the Timbers remaining in a fine spot.
  • Cascadian trio leading West — Matches-in-hand means Sporting KC and perhaps FC Dallas will stop the table from finishing this way, but Vancouver stayed hot by knocking off a good Real Salt Lake team and Seattle remains unbeaten since mid-June to make the table 1-2-3 with Cascadia Cup rivals.
  • Atlanta’s big week — The “Five Stripes” clobbered Dallas to christen Mercedes Benz Stadium, and now make up one of their matches-in-hand at midweek. With visits from New England and Orlando City, it’s not crazy to think AUFC will be in the driver’s seat for a home playoff match after this weekend.
  • Crew looking tricky — Columbus is going to run out of time to climb the table thanks to playing more several matches than their competition at this point, but no one’s going to want to see the unbeaten in five Crew on their playoff docket.
  • Impact slowing — Three-straight losses for Montreal have the Impact outside the Top Six, as the buoyant arrival of Blerim Dzemaili has cooled a bit in Quebec.
  • Revs closer to road imperfection — Houston’s 1-0 win at Columbus mean New England is the only team without a road win. The Revolution still have trips to Atlanta, KC, Orlando, and Montreal, and will need to win more than one of those to make a surprising run into the playoffs. The six-pointers versus Atlanta and Montreal — the first is Weds. — are huge.