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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

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jY2Z3aKFO_0]

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?

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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.

Queens Park Rangers set to add Cardiff’s Jordon Mutch

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Cardiff City’s disappointing season in the Premier League couldn’t diminished the promise of Jordon Mutch, a 22-year-old midfielder who scored seven goals during his return to the top flight. Now, while the Bluebirds go back to life in the second division, Mutch has been given more time in the first division, with Queens Park Rangers pulling the Birmingham City product into an already deep midfield.

According to multiple sources out of England, the Rs have agreed to terms with Cardiff on Mutch’s move, with reports putting the fee at between $8.4 and $10.1 million. Provided he passes his Tuesday medical, Mutch becomes the second Cardiff player to join QPR this summer, following in the footsteps of defender Steven Caulker.

Capable of playing through the middle or on the left, Mutch joins an enviable collection of midfield talent; at least, enviable compared to the typical talent coming up from the second tier. Between Joey Barton nd Karl Henry, QPR already has a players with Premier League experience to man the middle. Alejandro Faurlín is returning, while Adel Taarabt, Junior Hoilett, and Matt Phillips provide attacking options. The Rs may have been in the Championship last season, but they have a number of options.

What makes Mutch different is his age. Whereas QPR has spent the last few years collecting veterans who’ve trickled down the ladder, Mutch combines hope for the future with somebody who’s already had success at the top-level. Should Barton become a problem or Harry Redknapp want a more versatile player than Henry, the Rs will have options, particularly if tougher competition forces them to play five in midfield.

If anything, the Rangers seem overloaded. With players like Mutch coming in, perhaps Barton or Taarabt are set to move on. Thanks to purchases like today’s, though, QPR can afford to pursue some return on their more established stars.