My favorite all-time Christmas present: Classic National Team gear

7 Comments

Eddie Pope has become a litmus test. Recognize his greatness, and you’ve been around. Remember him as the player you saw in Major League Soccer? At least you’ve been here that long.

Don’t know him at all? Oh, boy. Let me get the first round. We’re going to be here a while, because when I wear a U.S. Men’s National Team kit with “Pope, 23” on the back, it’s a statement.

He’s not on television every week like some of his peers, so the relative anonymity for the former national team defender makes some sense. His current role as Director of Player Relations for MLS’s Players Union also keeps him out of the limelight, a place he probably prefers, though it keeps his legacy from being trumpeted. Because he was always a quite person, many fans don’t remember how truly brilliant he was.

Lalas got the fame. And Marcelo Balboa got the goals. All Pope got was respect.

Many of his teammates still refer to him as one of the most underrated talents of his generation. With the athleticism of a converted midfielder, Pope was the cornerstone of Bruce Arena’s back lines, his skill, speed, and athleticism allowing him to play in the middle of three-man defenses the U.S. has scarcely employed since.

He was the best defender the U.S. has ever had, and since he retired from international soccer six years ago, nobody has come particularly close.

Not everybody agrees, but these are the types of discussions born from U.S. Soccer’s mid-90s ascension, a rise that brought the program in from 40 years in the international wilderness. Who was better: Tab Ramos or Claudio Reyna? Brad Friedel or Kasey Keller? What was the best way to use Eric Wynalda? And how good would he have been if he his international career match up better with Brian McBride’s?

If you have a friend in soccer, you’ve undoubtedly talked these things through. And that’s why a classic national team kit is the ultimate holiday gift. No gift will be received better than one which says, “Friends remember other friends’ favorite national team player.” And since you’ve spent ours upon hours talking about each others’ favorites, there’ll be no doubt which kit to get.

source:  Or if the women’s national team holds a tighter gip on your (or your friend’s) heart, there’s nothing better than finding a kit to commemorate USA `99. A “Hamm 9,” “Akers 10” or “Lilly 13” will earn a lot of soccer hipster cred. Even if you prefer some attachment to the current national team squad, a “Rampone 3” is a way to subtly, snobbishly flaunt your recognition of the team’s roots.

Unfortunately, these type of gifts are difficult to come by. If you’re truly committed to getting an authentic kit, you’ll have to be persistent, checking Ebay regularly in addition to trying to track down something through more conventional stores. For example, the last time an Eddie Pope national team jersey hit the market was mid-November (though a Mia Hamm kit did clear two days ago).

And if you can’t track down an old school version, you can always customize a current kit via U.S. Soccer’s website, a move that has the underlying cache of saying, “This player? I still want him on the team today.” Because you are a knowledgable soccer fan, after all.

And for a soccer fan, there’s no better moment than opening the box you’re sure will be a sweater only to see it’s a kit – the exact opposite end of the clothing excitement spectrum. If you’re smart about it, pack the kit with the player’s name out so all the shock arrives at once. Then, as you see them hurriedly pull the jersey over their shoulders, you’ll know you’ve given the perfect soccer present.

Juventus goalkeeper Szczesny to have offseason knee surgery

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will undergo knee surgery this offseason, but he will be available for the final match of the season against Sampdoria, manager Massimiliano Allegri confirmed on Saturday.

The Polish international has been the first-choice goalkeeper for much of the year for Juve, but has occasionally ceded time to 26-year-old Mattia Perin.

Allegri said that Szczesny will need “keyhole surgery,” likely another term for an arthroscopy, lending belief that he is either struggling with a torn meniscus or just generally needs his knee cleaned out. Given that speculation, it’s unlikely the surgery will cause him to miss any time at the start of next season. The 29-year-old has been a warrior for most of his career, staying clear of serious injuries throughout his time with both Arsenal and Juventus.

Juve has already confirmed its ninth straight Serie A title, but the club has limped down the stretch of the season, without a win over its last four matches. Prior to the late-season slide, Szczesny had been the goalkeeper to secure the best results, with Perin between the sticks for both of Juve’s two losses on the year and Szczesny dropping just four points all season, but the Polish international has been the one in goal for the four-game slide that includes three draws and a loss.

Allegri also announced that Cristiano Ronaldo will be held out of the season finale on Sunday and will not make the trip with the squad for the road game, instead resting for international duty this summer. “It is right for others to play now,” Allegri said.

“After that, we can all go to the beach, I’ve been told to put sun cream on my head. Now let’s go for a drink,” Allegri said, joking about his extremely short hair to end the press conference.

PSG extends manager Thomas Tuchel through 2021

Getty Images
Leave a comment

No wonder Thomas Tuchel was in such a jovial mood regarding his job security yesterday.

Paris Saint-Germain announced on Saturday that it has handed manager Thomas Tuchel a one-year contract extension, pushing the expiration of his contract to the summer of 2021. The addition extends his initial two-year deal he signed last summer when he joined the club after leaving Borussia Dortmund.

The news is somewhat surprising given that Tuchel had come under fire for PSG’s struggles down the stretch of the season, first with the club’s elimination from the Champions League in the Round of 16, and then for the failures down the stretch of the domestic campaign. It took weeks to formally clinch the league title as the team skidded through April, and the club fell to Stade Rennes in the final of the Coupe de France. Still, according to a number of reports, the deal was signed back in March making the end to the season irrelevant.

The German boss was able to joke about his future after PSG’s season-ending defeat to Stade de Reims on Friday, laughing at reporters who asked about his job security heading into the summer, “Honestly, I am worried… I get the impression that everybody knows something that I do not!”

Less than 24 hours later, news of his extension was official. “The entire Paris Saint-Germain family is delighted to see Thomas Tuchel extend his contract ,” said PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi. “For a year now, Thomas has been bringing fantastic energy every day, not only to players, but to the entire club.”

Ultimately, PSG won the Ligue 1 crown handily, ending the season with a 16-point cushion. The first half of the season was an unmitigated success, starting the league season on a 14-match winning streak and not suffering a single loss until early February. They also performed well in the Champions League, losing just once in a very difficult Group C that featured Liverpool, Napoli, and Red Star Belgrade. The costly slip came against Manchester United where they fell 3-1 in the second leg at home despite a 2-1 first-leg advantage.

Tuchel’s extension also comes with its head-scratchers, as the German was critical of club hierarchy after Friday’s defeat. He hit out at the front office for allowing Neymar to leave the club early to join up with the Brazilian national team, with the 27-year-old suspended for the final match of the year. “No, Neymar has not been released,” Tuchel said when asked about Neymar’s absence from the squad. “In any case, he has not by me. It is not a sporting thing, so I do not know. You will have to ask the club.”

“Correct, this season has had its problems,” Tuchel continued later. “The goal moving forward has to be to stay more focused. That goes for the team, as well as the club. We must be stricter and pull in the same direction to achieve our goals.”

RSL’s Savarino downs Atlanta United in 94th minute

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Atlanta United dropped its second straight match, this time in gut-wrenching fashion, as Jefferson Savarino scored a 94th minute winner to hand Real Salt Lake a 2-1 win over Frank De Boer‘s bunch.

Josef Martinez appeared to have rescued Atlanta with his 78th minute equalizer, cancelling out Sebastian Saucedo’s first-half opener, but Savarino struck a blistering stunner from outside the box with the minimum three minutes of added time already passed. Savarino used straight muscle to shield a charging Leandro Gonzalez Pires off the ball, and the strike punished Brad Guzan for creeping just inches too far towards his near post.

The late winner redeemed a Real Salt Lake defense that fell asleep just a fraction too early on Martinez’s goal, as a low cross from Franco Escobar should have been easily dealt with, but the Venezuelan waited for the right moment and pounced in front of a snoozing Justin Glad to poke home the delivery.

While the two sides split the possession, RSL out-shot Atlanta and held the lead most of the way after Bofo put them in front just past the half-hour mark. The 22-year-old was given way too much space just outside the top of the box and placed a curler past Guzan for the opener for his second goal in two weeks.

The win gave RSL its third straight victory in what has become a streaky season. The campaign so far features two winning streaks and two losing streaks through 13 matches, with just one draw among the group. For Atlanta, the second straight loss leaves them stuck in fourth, squandering the chance to pass third-placed Montreal who sits a just point ahead.

LA Galaxy moves third in West with 1-0 win over Orlando

Associated Press
Leave a comment

A Jonathan dos Santos howitzer was enough to give the LA Galaxy a 1-0 win over Orlando City at home to move them into third place in the Western Conference standings.

The win not only boosted the Galaxy back up the standings but also stopped a brutal four-game losing skid that had threatened to erase the fabulous winning start to the season. It marks the club’s first clean sheet since a 0-0 draw with Minnesota United in late April.

The winner came in the 19th minute, a blast for his second goal of the season and first since mid March.

The clean sheet did not come easily. Dave Bingham stopped a Nani penalty in the 32nd minute after dos Santos tackled Sebastian Mendez in the area. Perry Kitchen – off the bench for his 2019 debut – was on hand to clear off the line after Bingham whiffed on a 68th minute Sacha Kljestan cross, while Bingham came up big three minutes later to stop a header by Chris Mueller off a corner.

Los Angeles’s victory moves them to 25 points, one behind Seattle who has a game in hand, and two ahead of Houston who has played three fewer games. For Orlando, they remain on 15 points, good for 10th in the East.