U.S. Soccer budging on qualifiers in Portland, Seattle

4 Comments

Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl released these little nuggets last night on his Twitter feed, updates which could influence which venues get next year’s five U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup qualifiers:

[tweet https://twitter.com/GrantWahl/status/284070895264337920 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/GrantWahl/status/284074446610907137 align=’center’]

Even with the caution implied by the second tweet, this is good news for Portland and Seattle. At least, it’s progress. Whereas before it was thought CenturyLink and Jeld-Wen fields were long shots to get any of The Hex’s games, now it seems U.S. Soccer is willing to be flexible in order to get final round qualifying matches in two highly desirable venues.

Seattle’s virtues are obvious. True, it’s a big football stadium in a day and age when Soccer Specific Stadium is becoming dogma, but consider the upside. It’s a huge football stadium, meaning we could see around 70,000 people backing the U.S. for a meaningful match.

And unlike other places that can draw similar crowds, Seattle’s is likely to be heavily pro-U.S. That’s something you couldn’t say in Los Angeles or Dallas. Even New York’s crowds tend to include a large number of non-USMNT supporters. When was the last time the national team played in front of a supportive crowd that large?

source: Getty ImagesPortland’s virtues lie on the other end of the spectrum, but with the charged atmosphere Columbus’s Crew Stadium was able to generate for a recent qualifier, U.S. Soccer seems interested in pursuing similar venues – locations which may not sell tons of tickets but will generate an imposing, bandbox atmosphere.

That’s Portland. Jeld-Wen can’t hold much more than 20,000 people, but it might have best atmosphere in Major League Soccer. The full voice of the field’s crowded north end would give the U.S. the type of unique setting that proves problematic for teams not used to a venue.

There seem to be few drawbacks to trying to get Portland and Seattle in the rotation. Travel is often cited as a deterrent, but in instances where the U.S. is plays the first of a two qualifier set on the road, the extra distance from Europe is a non-issue.

Ultimately, this game with Portland and Seattle has to stop. We’ve heard the reasons why U.S. Soccer avoids the venues, but the reasons seem thin compared to the sacrifice of leaving two potentially strong home field advantages out of the rotation (and two large fan bases out of the loop).

And sometimes, it all feels like a game of chicken. Who will flinch first? Each side seems to think they have some leverage. U.S. Soccer makes the final decisions and are trying to use that power, but Portland and Seattle know they offer enough distinct virtues to hold firm on some basic issues. Until now, both sides seemed to be holding out.

So while the idea of qualifiers in the northwest is exciting, the big news to glean from Wahl’s reporting is some movement in that stalemate – an apparent compromise. U.S. Soccer is willing to play on something that isn’t permanent grass while Portland and Seattle have to bring in the sod.

It’s good news, even if the debate itself is a bit of a farce.

More on the farce of the fake stuff later on the blog.

How will USMNT line up against England?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the U.S. men’s national team currently training in London and the squad for friendly games against England and Italy already having some ins and outs, there are plenty of question marks about who will start at Wembley on Thursday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

The Stars and Stripes face the no.5 ranked team in the world, with England riding the crest of a wave after their run to the World Cup semifinals in the summer. Gareth Southgate will rotate his team ahead of their crucial UEFA Nations League clash with Croatia on Sunday, and while we know Wayne Rooney will play some part in his final game for England, the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Pickford are set to be rested.

But what about the USMNT? Interim head coach Dave Sarachan largely has his young squad fully together for this game (at last!) with the likes of Josh Sargent, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Tim Weah all available in midfield and attack.

Below is a look at a few options for the starting lineup for the USMNT against England.


JPW’s preferred USMNT XI v England (3-4-3)

—- Guzan —-

— Carter-Vickers — Miazga — Brooks —

— Yedlin — Adams — McKennie — Robinson —

— Pulisic — Wood — Weah —


Possible USMNT XI v England (4-2-3-1) 

—- Guzan —-

— Yedlin — Miazga — Brooks — Robinson —

 — Adams — Trapp — 

— Pulisic —McKennie — Weah —

—– Wood —–


Evaluation

If I was Sarachan I’d go with a 3-4-3 formation and match up with England, who struggle defensively down the flanks as Croatia proved at the World Cup. Having Yedlin and Robinson bombing on as wing backs would cause the Three Lions plenty of problems. In goal, Brad Guzan is now the obvious choice as Zack Steffen left the squad due to injury but Evan Horvath has impressed for Club Brugge in recent months. Defensively, the U.S. has looked more solid with a three-man central defense and that suits CCV, Miazga and Brooks well, but that said, would Sarachan really want those three going man-to-man on England’s attackers? Probably not. That is why I think we will see a back four from the USMNT, with Miazga and Brooks probably getting the nod. Having Adams, Trapp and McKennie in midfield gives the U.S. a more solid feel, while Weah and Pulisic could then support Wood and provide flair as well as digging in and doing their defensive work.

Wayne Rooney discusses “special” England farewell v USA

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wayne Rooney‘s one-off return for the English national team has caused plenty of uproar but the Three Lions legend is focused on one thing: saying thanks.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Rooney, 33, will make his 120th and final appearance for England against the U.S. men’s national team at Wembley on Thursday, in a fixture renamed the “Wayne Rooney Foundation International” as he is expected to come on as a second half sub.

A year after announcing his retirement from the international game (as England’s all-time leading goalscorer), Rooney has been granted an opportunity to say thanks to the England fans by current boss Gareth Southgate and the FA.

Speaking to the FA.com from England’s St. George’s Park training base, the current D.C. United striker believes this will be the perfect chance for him to say goodbye.

“It has been great to be back. I know all the players, and there are a lot who I have played with who are in the squad,” Rooney said. “I know Gareth and the coaching staff too and being back in this environment is a privilege; it’s something I’ve been looking forward to and I’m going to enjoy it. It will be great to run out one last time in an England shirt and playing at Wembley again is a way for me to be able to say thank you to the fans for all the support they’ve given me over the last 15 years. It will be a nice to thank them and say goodbye – something I didn’t get to do properly in my previous game. To do that will be very special before I return to being a fan.”

Whatever your stance on Rooney’s return to action for England and whether or not it diminishes the value of a cap or this friendly altogether, you can’t argue that he doesn’t deserve a special sendoff.

Reports suggest an extra 20,000 tickets have been sold for the match since Rooney’s return was confirmed, but it does feel like having him on the pitch to collect some sort of trophy and then maybe going on a lap of honor before the game would have been more fitting. The fact he still plays at a high level and was in the Premier League and in England squads last season makes this situation a little different and a little more complex. Yet due to England not taking this friendly with the USMNT that seriously — they play Croatia in a crucial UEFA Nations League game on Sunday — this opportunity for Rooney to say farewell has presented itself.

Rooney has shown this season, his debut campaign in Major League Soccer, that he can still score goals and impact games and who would bet against him jumping off the bench and scoring one more time for England? The odds on him to score at any time against the country where he currently plays his club soccer stand at around 21/20 with the UK bookmakers.

There is one more opportunity for Rooney to make a name for himself on home soil.

Report: English FA plan to limit overseas players due to Brexit

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With Brexit approaching the United Kingdom fast (they are due to depart the European Union on March 29, 2019, but who knows if that will ever actually happen…) the English Football Association has been planning accordingly.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

A report from The Times has revealed that the FA will aim to limit the number of overseas players in each clubs 25-man squad to 12, which would cause many teams, especially some of the PL giants, a huge headache to sort out in the coming months as the current limit stands at 17 overseas players per squad.

Per the report, PL clubs will discuss the plans this week and there is some pressure for them to agree to the Brexit plan the FA has put together. More details from The Times here.

“England’s top tier is under pressure to agree a deal with the FA for Brexit. If the clubs do not do so, they could face a nightmare ‘no-deal’ scenario in which all EU players would have to fulfil the same criteria that non-EU players do now in order to get a work permit. The clubs can have up to 17 overseas players in their squads under current rules.”

The issue surrounding EU players is perhaps why the FA feel like they need to act now in order to stop chaotic scenes when the Brexit deal is triggered and new labor laws and regulations come into place. Of course, there will still be a transition period for new laws in the UK as they exit the EU fully by 2021 but the soccer world, especially in England, is one which needs to get its house in order quickly to not lose a competitive edge with their European counterparts as not being able to employ players from European countries easily would have a huge impact.

We must add that although the English Football Association is the governing body of the game in England, they also have very different objectives than the Premier League. For the FA, they would love to see more English youngsters given a chance to play in the Premier League week in, week out, and this ruling would allow that to happen so there will be some back and forth on this matter. In Germany and Spain stricter rules on the number of overseas players has benefitted their respective national teams in recent years, but some PL clubs may feel like their ability to assemble the best squads possible will be hampered by only having 12 overseas players to choose from.

Look at the starting lineups for Arsenal and Chelsea over the weekend: combined they had 1 English player who started, plus Arsenal had two more players who would count as homegrown talents in Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi.

Like Brexit in the political world, there is still so much to sort out in terms of how the PL moves forward.

England playmaker Joe Cole retires

Getty Images
1 Comment

Joe Cole has announced his retirement from the game at the age of 37.

Cole won 56 caps for England, scoring 10 times for the Three Lions, as he became a Premier League star with West Ham United, Chelsea and Liverpool.

He made 716 appearances in his career, scoring 104 goals.

The silky midfielder won three Premier League titles, a League Cup and two FA Cups with Chelsea and excelled at the 2006 World Cup for England before injuries hit his career hard.

A second spell at West Ham, plus time at Lille, Aston Villa and Coventry City followed in Europe before he moved to the U.S. in 2016 to play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the NASL and USL. He has recently played and coached with the Rowdies in Florida and hinted at moving into coaching as his next step.

A graduate of West Ham’s academy, Cole released the following statement on social media.

“After 20 years as a professional, the time has come for me to hang up my boots. It has been a dream come true. All of it,” Cole said. “My favorite thing about being a professional footballer was the feeling you enjoy after coming back into the dressing room after a win. It will be difficult to replicate that but I’ll always remember all of my former team-mates who I shared that experience with. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have played with some of the very best players of my era and even more fortunate to call a lot of them friends.

“As a fan, I loved watching wholehearted, skilful players and this is what inspired me. I remembered what was special for me when I was sitting in the stands watching games and I tried to replicate this. I hope I was able to do this for some of the fans and people who have watched my games over the years. Winning trophies at Chelsea was particularly special for me. Those memories will live with me forever, as will the chance I had to share them with my family.”

Cole was truly one of the most gifted players England has ever produced and at Chelsea during Jose Mourinho’s first spell in charge, and under Carlo Ancelotti, he was a huge part of their all-conquering teams. Cole played in the UEFA Champions League final for Chelsea in 2008 as they lost to Manchester United on penalty kicks in Moscow.

The Londoner had tricks and flicks galore but he often delivered goals and assists at crucial moments and he could play out wide just as comfortable as he was in central areas.

He will be remembered as a maverick with the ball at his feet and he certainly brought enjoyment to fans across the world with stunning goals and sublime pieces of skill.