Author: Richard Farley


MLS shifting schedule? Sorry, Sepp. League president says it’s not happening any time soon


PORTLAND, Ore. — MLS is about to align its calendar with Europe’s? That’s news to Major League Soccer; at least, according to league President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott.

In the middle of a wide-ranging media session Tuesday in Portland, Abbott denied by recent claims from FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who said on Monday that MLS would soon adopt what’s often referred to as the “international calendar” – the late-summer-to-spring season footprint that’s used by most leagues around the world.

Asked about Blatter’s assertions, Abbott said Major League Soccer, which plays from March through early December, could not make the change at this time, reiterating a view expressed by league commissioner Don Garber in December.

“I saw the comments, we didn’t have a chance to talk to [Blatter] about those,” Abbott explained, “What I’ll say today is what Don (Garber) said last year, which is we looked at it last fall. We concluded that, at this point in time, it is not a change that we could make.”

Note: could, not would. A change in schedule could happen at some point, but there are no plans to sync up with Europe any time soon.

“We don’t rule it out for some point in the future,” Abbott said, “but there’s not an imminent plan to change to the international calendar.”

Blatter, speaking yesterday in Canada ahead of the Women’s U-20 World Cup, said “[MLS] has taken the decision … to adapt the FIFA calendar,” a claim that contradicted Garber’s statements in December at MLS Cup. There, the league commissioner said a schedule change was something MLS would “continue to look at it … to see if we can do this in the future,” but was “not something we are going to do in the short-term.”

In that short-term, Major League Soccer is focused on other things, like getting the league up to 24 teams by 2020. If it is a goal, changing schedules remains a long-term one.

CONCACAF Champions League starts group play on Tuesday

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Starting Tuesday in Montréal, five Major League Soccer teams again try to do what none of their counterparts have done before: Win CONCACAF Champions League. Though MLS teams have claimed confederation championships before, none have done so since the competition changed format in 2008. Since then, only one MLS team has even made the final, with Real Salt Lake coming closest to breaking Mexico’s monopoly of CONCACAF’s crowd.

This year, D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, Portland Timbers, and Sporting Kansas City have U.S. Soccer’s spots. Add in the Impact as Canada’s champions, and Major League Soccer has another five-team allotment.

As is the case each tournament, the biggest challenges will be from Mexico. Cruz Azul, winners of last season’s competition, are back, as is Pachuca, who finished second in the Clausura. León, winners of Mexico’s last two tournaments, are one of the competition’s favorites, as is Club América, whose attacking tandem of Oribe Peralta and Raúl Jiménez may be the best in CONCACAF.

Given the quirks of the format, Major League Socccer’s teams will avoid Mexican opposition until at least the quarterfinals, but with only three MLS entrants making it past group stage last season, “first things first” will be the rule thought the competition’s opening round.

Here’s what the group stage looks like for the five MLS teams:

D.C. United (Group 4)

Aug. 20 – vs. Waterhouse (Jamaica)
Sept. 16 – at Waterhouse
Sept. 24 – vs. Tauro (Panama)
Oct. 21 – at Tauro

Montréal Impact (Group 3)

Aug. 5 – vs. FAS (El Salvador)
Aug. 20 – at FAS
Sept. 17 – vs. New York Red Bulls
Oct. 22 – at New York Red Bulls

New York Red Bulls (Group 3)

Aug. 26 – vs. FAS
Sept. 17 – at Montréal Impact
Sept. 23 – at FAS
Oct. 22 – vs. Montréal Impact

Portland Timbers (Group 5)

Aug. 19 – at Alpha United (Guyana)
Sept. 16 – vs. Olimpia (Honduras)
Sept. 23 – vs. Alpha United
Oct. 21 – at Olimpia

Sporting Kansas City (Group 2)

Aug. 19 – at Real Estelí (Nicaragua)
Sept. 18 – vs. Saprissa
Sept. 23 – vs. Real Estelí (Nicaragua)
Oct. 23 – at Saprissa

History, but not victory, as manager Corinne Diacre begins with Clermont

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Clermont’s Corinne Diacre became the first woman to manage in the top two tiers of any European professional league on Monday, but unfortunately, that piece of history didn’t come with a positive result. After Diacre’s team took a ninth minute lead at Stade Francis-Le Bié, Brest came back to post a 2-1 result, sending their history-making guests to a loss to open France’s Ligue 2 season.

Diacre, a former defender who made 121 appearances for the French national team, was given the Clermont job this summer after the resignation of Helena Costa, who left the before coaching a game. Despite her predecessor’s concerns about the position, Diacre signed onto the job, making her the highest-placed female manager in the history of European men’s soccer.

Monday’s match coincided with Diacre’s 40th birthday, with Brest manager Alex Dupont presenting her a bouquet of flowers before the game. Shortly after, Souleymane Sawadogo gave the visitors a ninth minute lead, one that was reversed by Bruno Grougi and Alexandre Alphonse in the second half.

After the loss, Diacre’s view looks about history than the result on the field. From the Associated Press:

“It’s never nice to lose, that’s obvious,” Diacre said. “But Brest played well. We made a couple of mistakes for their goals. But we did good things too, which is a good sign for the future. You can’t ignore Clermont this season.”[…]

“We didn’t know how to keep the ball today, that was one of our weaknesses,” Diacre said. “We didn’t use the ball well, we didn’t develop our game as we could have, as we should have. That’s what put us in danger. There are plenty of positive things. I have a young team and I’m happy with my players because they gave everything.”

Clermont, who finished 14th in Ligue 2 last season, continues their season on Friday against visiting Auxerre.

PST Major League Soccer Player of the Week: Dax McCarty

Dax McCarty
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Robbie Keane’s Saturday performance won the league’s Player of the Week honor, with his two second half goals (and a hockey assist) leading the Galaxy to a 3-1 win over visiting Portland. But one of the goals was from the spot, via a penalty he didn’t earn, and while his other goal showed great awareness to get ball-side of Will Johnson, Landon Donovan may have made the bigger play on the score. Keane’s stats make him an easy choice, but the details leave the door open.

For example, consider Dax McCarty, who was a part of two positive results this week, and while he didn’t stand out in the team’s mid-week, 1-1 draw at Real Salt Lake, he did complete 89 percent of his passes, helping his team to a valuable point on the road.

On Saturday, McCarty’s influence was much more dramatic, especially after New York saw starting center back Matt Miazga sent off before half against New England. Down a goal and a man, McCarty responded quickly, with his 47th minute chip over Bobby Shuttleworth (above) bringing the Red Bulls even. Making up for the man New York lost, McCarty was the game’s dominant player over the next 40 minutes, helping the Red Bulls take control despite their disadvantage.

When Bradley Wright-Phillips scored just after the hour, McCarty and his teammates had their reward. Thanks in large part to the midfielder’s efforts, the 10-man Red Bulls were able to take full points, jumping back into the East’s top five with their 2-1 result.

On an individual level, it was performance that put McCarty into Player of the Week consideration, and after digging deeper beneath the more stats-driven cases, New York’s anchor took our honor. He is PST’s Major League Soccer Player of the Week.

Jermain Defoe out 2-3 weeks: How has Toronto done without him?

Toronto FC's Jermain Defoe scores from the penalty spot against San Jose Earthquakes during first half MLS action in Toronto on Saturday June 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)
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Toronto FC striker Jermain Defoe was originally selected to the MLS All-Star Game, but thanks to a groin injury, the former England international will miss this week’s festivities in Portland, Ore. Replaced on the roster by Sporting Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer, the 31-year-old is set to miss 2-3 weeks, with scans conducted on Monday shelving the Reds’ leading scorer for up to three games.

TFC confirmed the new today on the club’s website:

Toronto FC announced Monday that scans revealed Jermain Defoe suffered a groin strain and will be out approximately 2-3 weeks. The Reds will travel to Columbus to meet the Crew on Saturday, August 9. Kick-off is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.

After facing the Crew, Toronto take on East-leading Sporting before finishing August against the Chicago. With team’s stated timeline, Defoe’s out for Aug. 16’s trip to Kansas City but could return to face the Fire.

Between rest and injury, Defoe’s already missed seven games this season, considering both MLS play and the Canadian Championship. While that’s not enough to draw any conclusions, it’s not a trivial amount of time, either. The samples are growing, on both sides of the study.

With Defoe in the team (17 games), Toronto is averaging .47 goals per game, a rate that falls to 1.14 when he doesn’t play.

To take the quality of opponents’ defenses into account, teams facing a Defoe-less Toronto concede 18 percent fewer goals than they do against other opposition. When Defoe’s in the team, Toronto’s scoring seven percent more goals than teams concede against different opponents.


Games Goals GPG % Diff. Opponent’s GPG
With Defoe 17 25 1.47 +7
W/o Defoe 7 8 1.14 -18


Perhaps most importantly, Toronto’s only 2-4-1 without Defoe.