Finalists Toluca, Tijuana hope surprise Liga MX campaigns end with title

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Club Tijuana made life difficult on themselves, bringing a 2-0 deficit to León back to Estadio Caliente ahead of Sunday’s final leg of their Liga MX semifinal. Thankfully for the league’s Cinderella story — a fairy tale that’s evolved over the last two years — it only took 68 minutes for Fidel Martínez and Dubier Riascos to put them back on course. When substitute Ricard Ruiz put the tie out of reach with a late goal, Tijuana was in their first Primera Division final.

The weight of the occasion wasn’t lost on Xolos.

“It’s really a great feeling for the group,” striker Alfredo Moreno said after the game. “We wanted it. We wanted to be in the final, and it showed in the game. We’re very happy.”

“[T]hey played a superior match from beginning to end,” head coach Antonio Mohamed said of his players. “[It] was 3-0, but it would have been five or six.”

The only misgiving for fans of the league was seeing the league’s northern-most club, in only their third tournament since being promoted last summer, had to go through another recently elevated squad to make the final. León, the five-time league champions who had spent 10 years in the second division moving up this summer, saw their Cinderella story end within sight of the border.

That they, along with Tijuana, spent the season at the top of the table made the Apertura as an indictment of Mexico’s promotion-relegation policies. Each summer, only one team is promoted into the 18-team first division, and since the Ascenso uses a spring playoff to decide the new Liga MX club, there’s no guaranteed that the best team will move up. Club León had to go through five failed playoffs before winning their return to the Primera, and the team that won this season’s second division Apertura (Necaxa, by seven points), was eliminated Cuauhtémoc Blanco’s Dorado in that Liguilla’s semifinals.

Had Tijuana met León in the Primera’s final, it would have been vindication for all the second division clubs struggling to make it through Mexico’s bottleneck. Instead Toluca, the qualification stage champions, made it though, holding off a ferocious América comeback on Sunday to win 3-2, reaffirmed the surprise nature of this season’s opening tournament.

In recent seasons, the Apertura has been the more difficult to Mexico’s two tournaments, and in that sense, it’s also been more predictable. Teams at full strength coming off of a summer’s rebuilding came concentrate on the domestic competition. Come the Clausura, teams will devote attentions to CONCACAF’s Champions League and Copa Libertadores, often merely trying to survive the qualification stage with the hopes of being able to concentrate on the Liguilla. Monterrey, two-time defending confederation champions, have won two of the last three Aperturas but, as they’ve driven toward their CONCACAF titles, have been unable to win a Clausura.

That Toluca, who had not been a factor since Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre was in charge, finished first was a surprise, albeit one fans had 17 rounds to get used to. Under Chepo, Toluca won two titles from 2008-2010 before losing their coach to Mexican national team. De la Torre’s successors — Sergio Lugo, Héctor Eugui, and Wilson Graniolatti — had failed to return Toluca to the postseason, let alone significance. Though the Diablos Rojos have won 10 league titles, few thought they’d get their chance at a record-tying 11th this soon.

It took another of Liga MX’s most renown coaches, Enrique Meza, to get the Red Devils back on track. In two previous spells with Toluca, Meza won three of his four career titles. More recently, Meza spent six tournaments at Cruz Azul but failed to make a final, something he achieved in his first tournament back in Toluca.

“I do not play, I just run the team,” Meza said, asked if his experience will be an advantage against Tijuana after his team eliminated América.

His team, however, retains 10 players who won at least one title under de la Torre. Sinha, the team’s captain, has been with the club since Meza’s first tenure in Toluca. And let’s not forget those 10 titles. While both finalists qualify as surprises, one team has certainly been here before. Tijuana still carries the aura of upstarts.

Come Sunday, that upstarts’ aura could be gone. Then, Xolos will be at Toluca, having hosted the Red Devils in Thursday’s first leg at Estadio Caliente. If they show the same focus that brought them back from two down to León, Mexico will have a new, first-time Champion. If not, Toluca will tie Chivas for the most titles in Mexican history.

U.S. Open Cup fourth round draw: New York Derby, Minnesota-Cincinnati

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Major League Soccer enters the fray as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup reaches its fourth round.

There are four all-MLS matches in the bunch, including another round of the Hudson River Derby between NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls.

[ MORE: Next USMNT-Mexico date set ]

Elsewhere, Portland hosts San Jose, Chicago visits Columbus, and Real Salt Lake entertains Sporting KC.

Open qualifier NTX Rayados earn a date at Houston Dynamo, while PDL side FC Golden State Force will visit the LA Galaxy.

NPSL side Miami United hosts Orlando City as an MLS side travels to visit a fourth-tier side.

The rest of the match-ups feature USL sides vs. MLS teams.

[ REPORT: FC Cincinnati to join MLS in 2019 ]

The winner of the U.S. Open Cup gets a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Full schedule (June 5-6)
New York Red Bulls vs. NYCFC
Louisville City (USL) vs. New England Revolution
DC United vs. North Carolina FC (USL)
Philadelphia Union vs. Richmond Kickers (USL)
Miami United (NPSL) vs. Orlando City SC
Atlanta United vs. Charleston Battery (USL)
Minnesota United vs. FC Cincinnati (USL)
Columbus Crew vs. Chicago Fire
Nashville SC (USL) vs. Colorado Rapids
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston Dynamo vs. NTX Rayados (LQ)
San Antonio FC (USL) vs. FC Dallas
LA Galaxy vs. FC Golden State Force (PDL)
LAFC vs. Fresno FC (USL)
Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Sacramento Republic (USL) vs. Seattle Sounders

Pulisic on USMNT dream; Premier League rumors

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Christian Pulisic hasn’t played for the U.S. men’s national team since last October but next Monday he will step out onto the pitch for the Stars and Stripes once again, and he will be less than a few hours away from his hometown of Hershey, Pa.

It will be quite the homecoming for Pulisic, still just 19 years old, as the Borussia Dortmund star plays for the USMNT in a friendly against Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium, close to Philadelphia.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

In an exclusive chat with Pro Soccer Talk, Pulisic revealed that he is ready to be a leader, if that’s what is asked of him, as the USMNT continue rebuilding after their World Cup qualification nightmare eight months ago.

“We definitely have a younger roster this time around and I’m really looking forward to going in there and obviously I am young as well but I have a few caps to my name and I’m looking forward to being kind of a role model to these guys and helping shape our new team for the future. If it takes me being more of a leader out there that’s what I’ll have to do and I’m happy to be in that role,” Pulisic said.

Pulisic was speaking to PST about his new partnership with the Hershey Company and the playmaker was delighted to be linking up with his hometown brand as he received a Reese’s Outrageous Bar inspired cleats.

“I am super excited to be Stateside, always, so being able to spend a lot of time here recently has been awesome,” Pulisic said. “And I am super excited with everything with Hershey.”


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As he returns to the state of Pennsylvania to play for the USMNT, Pulisic also played for Dortmund at LAFC in midweek before he links up with the national team in Philly on Thursday. Dortmund will also take on Benfica in Pittsburgh this summer in the International Champions Cup, as ‘the kid’ will be spending plenty of time with family in the Keystone State as he recharges his batteries from a tough season in the Bundesliga.

With 42 games under his belt for Dortmund this season in Germany’s top-flight (they finished in the top four but struggled throughout), Pulisic isn’t concerned with playing too many games in just his second full season as a pro. And with four goals and five assists in the Bundesliga, he set a goal and assist record for himself in league play.

He believes the best is yet to come as he gets set to work under a new coach, Lucien Favre, at Dortmund.

“There were definitely a lot of ups and downs this season but I’ve learned so much this year and obviously I feel that I have improved in the last season and I still feel that I have a long way to go,” Pulisic said. “Looking back at the season, finding things I can improve on and I will continue to work on those and hopefully we can do even better personally and as a team next season.”

“I just want to work hard every day in training and earn my spot every weekend. That’s always been the goal for me. Obviously I want to continue to build. Personally I have so much to build on, to be more clinical and get stronger, even trying to get my numbers up higher next season. That’s what I’m going to try and do and I’m going to work very hard to achieve that. Every player wants to score goals and get assists. I think I can do much more than that on the field, which doesn’t show on the stats, but of course that’s a very important part of the game.”

As Pulisic’s star has risen, rumors regarding his future have intensified and he continues to be linked with moves to Premier League giants Liverpool and Manchester United.

Do the reports frustrate him? Or is it flattering to be linked with some of the biggest clubs on the planet consistently?

“I really don’t look or read into it very much,” Pulisic said. “People know more about it than I do! Of course, the Premier League is a great league. It was a dream to play there when I was younger but I’m under contract with Dortmund and I’m just working hard there at the moment.”

So often American soccer fans say Pulisic shouldn’t move now to the rough and tumble of the Premier League and should instead spend the next few years improving his game at Dortmund and in the UEFA Champions League. When asked, the teenager didn’t set a timeframe on when would be the best time for a potential move to the PL.

“I’m very focused on the here and the now. Of course, you never know what can happen with professional sports but I am just focused on what I am doing right now,” Pulisic said.


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Focusing on the past, Pulisic’s tears became the lasting image of the USMNT’s loss at Trinidad & Tobago back in October 2017 as he broke down on the field after the defeat which sealed their failure to qualify for the World Cup this summer.

USMNT fans won’t need reminding that the U.S. won’t be at the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

And Pulisic believes the USMNT not being at the big dance will have a big impact on the nation from a soccer perspective.

“When I was just a kid watching the U.S. at the World Cup, that gave me so much inspiration, seeing my country and seeing people playing with the U.S. crest,” Pulisic said. “Seeing them compete at a World Cup inspired me so much. Missing out on that is going to be a big thing but that doesn’t mean it’s over for U.S. Soccer. We are still growing a lot and we will do everything we can to be at the next one.”

As we edge towards the 2018 World Cup with excitement building across the globe, has time helped ease the pain for Pulisic?

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and it definitely hurt more right after the shock and that it had happened,” Pulisic said. “Now, leading into the World Cup, I am just going to watch the games, I have some time off now to rest, which my body could use. Watching the World Cup is going to get me even more excited and I’ll want to be in the next World Cup even more… I’m just looking forward to some good games, now that the U.S. isn’t there, I just want to see some good football.”

Pulisic admitted that he “hadn’t really looked into” the intense fallout from the USMNT’s failure as outgoing head coach Bruce Arena and several senior players had their say.

Wise beyond his years, Pulisic summed it up simply. But it’s clear that the pain still remains.

“I just think we had a great chance to qualify with one game and we had a little slip up there… a big slip up, actually, and that’s what happened,” Pulisic said. “I don’t look at the tiny little details as to what could’ve gone wrong. Because that would just drive me crazy.”


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With interim head coach Dave Sarachan in charge for three friendlies since the World Cup qualification debacle, plus the friendly against Bolivia and then outings at the Republic of Ireland and France next month, the USMNT are in a strange place.

They have no permanent head coach. No General Manager has been appointed in the newly-created role. And there’s a real lack of direction as U.S. Soccer seemingly waits for coaches to be out of work following the World Cup this summer so they can then plan for the future.

“Not being in the World Cup has put us in a whole different situation but we still have good coaches and new players that they’re bringing in and trying to develop, so I don’t think it’s a real problem at the moment. We are going to put our heads down and continue to work,” Pulisic said.

Those given the chance to work hard include plenty of youngsters, with the average age of the squad to face Bolivia just 22 years of age. With Sarachan expected to ring the changes and go with a more experienced lineup for the games against Ireland and France, now is a big chance for the youth to shine as the road to the 2022 World Cup has well and truly begun.

There’s no doubt that Pulisic will be the leader of a new era in American soccer and with the likes of Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga and Tim Weah building their professional careers successfully at big clubs home and abroad, the future is bright.

“The next step is just the Bolivia game and continuing to develop all of our players and getting them minutes,” Pulisic said. “Hopefully all of the young players, and I see a lot of American names in Europe, which is great, hopefully we will continue to develop and continue to make time for the national team and play some games together and create some chemistry and hopefully build a strong team going into the next World Cup.”

Still just a teenager, could it be a case of ‘Captain Pulisic’ blazing the trail towards the tournament in Qatar?

“I always dreamed of just playing for the U.S. men’s national team, not necessarily being the captain, but I’m happy to take on whatever leadership role it is, be it leading by example or whatever,” Pulisic said.

This is now his team. The kid from Hershey has the reins. And let’s be real, he’s had them for the past two years since he burst onto the scene.


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USMNT-Mexico to renew rivalry on Sept. 11

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The USMNT will renew its rivalry with Mexico for the first time since World Cup qualifying when El Tri pays a September 11 visit to Nashville.

Mexico will be coming off its World Cup run, while the U.S. summer consists of friendlies against Bolivia, Ireland, and France.

[ MORE: Pochettino signs new Spurs deal ]

The federation did not announce when tickets would go on sale, or how they would be allotted, saying that information will come at a later date.

The U.S. is winless in its last three matches against Mexico, with two losses to go with the 1-1 draw at Estadio Azteca in June 2017.

Theoretically, the Yanks will be facing the Mexico test with a new permanent coach. Dave Sarachan has been running the ship since Bruce Arena resigned after an embarrassing loss at Trinidad and Tobago which kept the U.S. from reaching the World Cup.

Mexico is in tricky World Cup Group F with Germany, South Korea, and Sweden.

Pardo: Osorio “would be a great coach” for USMNT

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One of the names constantly rumored with the U.S. Men’s National Team job is Juan Carlos Osorio, and on Thursday he picked up some praise from a Mexico National Team legend.

Although he never played for him, Pavel Pardo said in an interview with Metro New York that watching from afar, he felt Osorio would be a good fit for the USMNT.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

“I think so, 100 percent. He has the mentality,” Pardo said in an interview as part of a promotional tour for Panini, the famed World Cup sticker company. “I think, in my opinion, he could be a great coach for the US National Team. He was doing it in Mexico – of course in Mexico he has a lot of critics. They talk about his teams, his rotations. When you see the results, the performance, the most important thing, qualifying and getting to the World Cup, he certainly understands the game and has had success. He also understands the American player too and certainly MLS. I think Juan Carlos would be a great coach for the US.”

As Pardo mentioned, Osorio has earned his fair share of criticism since taking over the El Tri job in 2015. He’s constantly rotating his squad and challenging his players, and when things have gone wrong, it’s been very wrong – i.e., the 7-0 defeat to Chile in the 2016 Copa America and the 4-1 defeat to Germany’s B squad in the FIFA Confederations Cup semifinals.

But on the other hand, Osorio has succeeded in ways his predecessors hadn’t. Under his leadership, Mexico has re-taken its place at the throne of CONCACAF and many of his young players have made the difficult move overseas, including the likes of Jesus “Tecatito” Corona and Hirving “Chuky” Lozano.

And all of that, plus his knowledge of MLS and the American soccer player, has made Osorio one of the most intriguing prospects to coach the U.S., should he become available after the 2018 World Cup.