Let’s talk Columbus Crew numbers, the good and bad

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You have to feel a little bit for the Columbus Crew today. In a lot of way, luck just wasn’t with the men in the yellow hard hats.

Columbus cannot count itself among the playoff teams this morning, despite finishing with 52 points. Approach most teams at the beginning of the season and ask if they would take it – most would give it serious consideration, at very least. Some would grab for it.

That’s a total that would have gotten Columbus into the playoffs on any other year; No team has accumulated as many points and then sat home for the “second season.”

Now, some of that is because this year’s 34-game schedule was longer than most years. But, before you scream “A-ha!” … consider this:

The Crew’s 15-12-7 record is playoff-worthy, too, by historic MLS standards. No team has put together a season yet with three more wins than losses and failed to reach the post-season. Heck, Real Salt Lake won the whole bowl of fruit in 2009, and  they marched into the playoffs with one more loss than win (an 11-12-7 record).

Does that make Columbus a good team? No. Robert Warzycha’s club is flawed, just like a lot of them. The point is, the numbers don’t lie, and the Crew just assembled a season that is measurably better than plenty of teams that have made the playoffs in years past. (Yes, Major League Soccer’s long-standing leniency on playoff entry deserves its place in this conversation, but that makes it a much longer conversation. Let’s stay on point for now.)

(MORE: Questions to be answered around Crew Stadium)

Columbus’ dead-even goal difference in 2012 (44 goals scored, 44 goals against) is every bit as exciting as tap water. Then again, owing to those traditionally low playoff entry standards, teams have regularly qualified for MLS post-season with a negative goal-difference. (The last team to do so was, ahem, Columbus last year.)

On the other hand … a Columbus Dispatch columnist did himself some digging, and he came up with what we in the sports biz like to call “statistical gold.” Michael Arace says the Crew’s major downfall is its inability to finish. Not around goal, that is, but in a season.

Yet, the positives are overshadowed by a larger trend: Not since Sigi Schmid coached the team to an MLS Cup title and left town in 2008 has the Crew managed to close well.

Schmid’s successor, Robert Warzycha, has four seasons on the bench. Warzycha is 44-24-28 (.604) in games played in March through August. His record is 11-16-5 (.421) in September and October games. He is 1-4 (.200) in the playoffs.

Blek!

Warzycha’s job status is hot-topic stuff around Columbus soccer supporters circles. But don’t forget, Hunt Sports Group re-signed the former Polish international to a multi-year deal after last season – and HSG is a group that knows how to squeeze the green off a dollar, if you know what I mean.

That puts the odds in Warzycha’s favor.

Cazorla overcomes odds, returns to field after 21 months

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Santi Cazorla was facing the prospect of never walking again.

Now, he’s back where he belongs.

Cazorla made his incredible return to soccer 636 days after his last match, coming off the bench in Villarreal’s first preseason match of the season, a 1-1 draw with Hercules. Between his last game and now, Cazorla had to endure eight (8!) operations on his Achillies tendon, an infection to the tendon and his leg, and nearly two years on the sidelines as he contemplated and worried if he would ever play again.

[READ: Man United draws with Club America]

After years as a top player and 77 caps for the Spanish National Team, Cazorla is thankful to just put on his shirt and boots for a game.

 “To feel like a football player is very special,” Cazorla told Villarreal’s website. “Without a doubt, I stay with the affection of the people throughout this period. The fans have given me strength and accompanied me during difficult times. “

(more…)

Manchester United draws Club America 1-1 on Mata goal

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Manchester United began Jose Mourinho’s “very bad” preseason with a drab 1-1 draw against Liga MX side Club America.

Juan Mata hit the post in the opening 20 minutes and later scored the equalizer in the 78th minute after Ander Herrera‘s header rebounded off the crossbar and right into the Spaniard’s lap. Mata then put his shot through the goalkeeper’s legs and in for the only goal for the Red Devils.

With many players receiving extra rest after participating in the 2018 World Cup, Manchester United is utilizing a bit-part roster for much of the preseason which includes five matches in the United States. Regulars Mata, Herrera, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, and Antonio Valencia were all included in the starting lineup, but they were joined by a smattering of relative unknowns.

35-year-old journeyman goalkeeper Lee Grant played the first 45 minutes between the sticks, replaced in the second half by 22-year-old Joel Peirera. 22-year-old midfielder Andreas Pereira played the full 90 minutes in midfield, while 21-year-old winger Demetri Mitchell saw his name listed among the starters along with Scott McTominay, who suffered a nasty looking head injury late in the match on an overhead kick attempt.

16-year-old Mason Greenwood got a few minutes towards the end, with Mourinho hoping to get a quick look at the club’s U-18 leading scorer. Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Alex Tuanzebe also both came off the bench to participate, as did 18-year-old former Feyenoord youth product Tahith Chong who was impressive during his second-half appearance.

While Manchester United held a slight majority in possession, Club America out-shot the Premier League giants 15-10, however the Liga MX side could only manage to put four of those on target.

Pep: Hart’s future uncertain, will play in preseason

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Joe Hart has returned to Manchester City after spending last season on loan at West Ham, and his future is very much up in the air as it stands.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was asked about Hart’s situation at the pre-match press conference prior to City’s International Champions Cup match against Borussia Dortmund. He confirmed they are shopping the English veteran. “We’re going to try and make a solution for Joe,” Guardiola told reporters, “but if not then he is with us. He’s one of the best professionals I’ve ever seen but at this moment he is with us.”

Guardiola also confirmed that Hart would play in the preseason game against Dortmund. Starting goalkeeper Ederson is not on the roster for the US preseason tour, having returned from participation in the 2018 World Cup with Brazil, although he didn’t play as he served as Alisson’s backup.

The former #1 England goalkeeper, Hart has struggled mightily in recent seasons. He last played a full Premier League season back in 2015/16, starting 35 games for Manchester City. However, he lost his place the following year and was loaned to Italian top flight club Torino. He had mixed success during his one year in Italy and was loaned out to West Ham last campaign with Ederson and Claudio Bravo entrenched at his parent club. Hart only made it half the season before losing his starting spot for the Hammers, replaced by Adrian. That saw him lose not just starting job with the England national team but his place in the squad, forcing Gareth Southgate to take a trio of inexperienced goalkeepers to the World Cup, leading to the emergence of Jordan Pickford.

West Ham returned Hart to Manchester City at the end of the season, and here he sits in limbo again. Hart has just one more year left on his contract, but according to the Manchester Evening News, wants to leave this season on a permanent deal anyway.

Tomorrow, Hart will get the opportunity – albeit a small one – to showcase himself to potential suitors. If he gets another chance to play in the ICC (Manchester City plays Liverpool and Bayern Munich before heading home to England), he will have another opportunity to plead his case.

Report: Leicester to pluck Danny Ward from Liverpool

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With the announcement of Alisson’s signing on Thursday, Liverpool has spent over $200 million this summer, but it seems they’ve already begun to trim the squad and even out the net spend by a bit.

According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds have agreed to sell 25-year-old goalkeeper Danny Ward to Leicester City, with the clubs agreeing to a $16.2 million fee. The report also states the deal includes a 20% sell-on fee, meaning Liverpool will receive 20% of any transfer fee Leicester City receives for Ward during the life of his next contract.

[ MORE: Alisson signs for Liverpool ]

Ward has spent the last six seasons with Liverpool after signing from small non-league club Wrexham in 2012 as a 19-year-old. However, he has played more games for the Welsh international team (4) than he has for Liverpool (3). Previously stuck behind Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, the arrival of Alisson meant the club needed to make room.

Leicester City already has Kasper Schmeichel firmly entrenched between the sticks. However, especially after a stellar 2018 World Cup with Denmark where he was considered among the top choices for the Golden Glove award, Schmeichel is a wanted man and 31 years old and a contract with three more years remaining, Schmeichel’s time at King Power Stadium could be limited.

The addition of Ward at the very least would allow Schmeichel some time off. The Dane was stretched thin last season as not just the Premier League starter but also used in a few cup games with only Eldin Jakupovic behind him. Now, it’s realistic that Ward could receive time in Cup competitions, leaving Schmeichel to rest up for league games.