How do you respond to Sepp Blatter? Don Garber shows you how

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It’s been a painful four days in U.S. soccer land, and not because Sepp Blatter took a shot at Major League Soccer. His comments were ignorant and unnecessary, but it’s not the first time the FIFA president has said something ignorant and unnecessary. It’s just the first time this week.

As far as stupid Sepp tricks go, this was far from the worst thing he’s ever said. His contention that MLS is struggling is so demonstrably false, it could be dismissed without comment. Yes, MLS can be bigger, but it’s not closing its doors anytime soon. This isn’t 2004.

But having been through this Blatter rodeo a number of times now, it’s frustrating that we can’t just treat Blatter like the metaphorical troll he’s become. Instead, we overreact. Every time, we overreact. We light up social media, start our protests, ignite the same debates we’ve been having for the past three years. Every time Sepp opens his mouth, it becomes Groundhog Day.

Nobody goes to a circus and expects wisdom from a clown, yet we take Blatter’s words at face value. We break out petitions, say something has to change, but then quickly move on, the whole process playing out like short term immersion therapy which, while making us feel better about all the insecurities we exposed, also wipes our memories. The next time Sepp peeps, we jump back on the wheel.

All the while, we never stop and ask: Why do we only only react when Blatter’s ignorance hits us? Why do we ignore the fact that Blatter Rage was non-existent before the U.S. failed to win the rights to the 2022 World Cup? Those factors don’t absolve Blatter’s comments, but they do help explain why we can’t move on.

In a soccer world that’s produced Jack Warner, Mohammed bin Hammam, and Ricardo Teixeira, it’s unlikely the mere ouster of Blatter would change the international landscape. And nothing Blatter says will change the fact that the games will go on, tournament will be waged, and MLS will continue to grow. While there’s almost nothing to recommend Blatter for the position he holds, there’s also (for good and bad) more to this picture than this caricature of a man prodding a sensitive fan base.

His words are just air, air I’ve wasted too much space addressing here. Either ignore them or roll with them, but don’t get worked up over the crazy guy barking at the moon. And if you do, at least wait for something sexist to come out of his mouth (again). Major League Soccer can take care of itself.

On Wednesday, MLS commissioner Don Garber gave a great example of how to deal Blatter’s semi-annual hiccups. His overall approach: Don’t take it seriously, focus on the positives, and try to convert (not reject).

I’m not sure I agree with the last tactic, but that’s why I’m not Don Garber. From reporting by the Washington Post’s Steven Goff:

In a phone interview with the Insider, Garber said: “I really don’t believe the president believes we are struggling. I don’t think anybody in the pro sports community would describe us that way. In no way are we struggling, but we are less than 20 years old; we haven’t gone through a full generational term.”

Not that you’d expect hyperventilation from somebody like Garber, but this is a direct, measured response which, devoid of defensiveness, ends up presenting the league as confident and self-aware. Seems like a pretty sound approach.

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“The other major [U.S. sports] leagues are so deeply embedded in the culture and have been for generations,” Garber said. “MLS, in a short period of time, has made great progress. But we have not been around for 100 years like [some] other [U.S.] leagues and certainly like the European soccer leagues, and as such, our development is appropriate to where we are from an age perspective.”

It doesn’t make good Twitter fodder, but Garber’s response is much more sensible than hitting a big red button every time Blatter speaks up. Hey, MLS is fine, he’s saying. We’ve got a ways to go, but struggling? I know that’s not true.

We all know that’s not true. And we knew it before Sepp sounded off.

There’s more in Steven Goff’s piece, but more valuable than hearing Don Garber react to accusations so prima facie ridiculous is sensing his approach. No commissioner likes to hear his league denigrated, but Garber’s been in this position before. Rather than sound the alarms and treat the remarks as something harmful, he just rolls with it.

Though you never know. He may have still signed a petition.

Mesut Ozil lauds Arsenal’s “sexy football”

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Mesut Ozil and Arsenal put on a “sexy” second half display to beat Leicester City 3-1 on Monday, as the Gunners extended their winning streak to 10 games in all competitions and seven in the Premier League.

Ozil, 30, captained Arsenal and put in a silky display as he scored an equalizer right on half time, then orchestrated a thorough dismantling of Leicester’s defense in the second half.

First, his perfect through ball found Hector Bellerin who crossed for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to make it 2-1, then moments later Ozil’s clever flick sparked a flowing move into life as he then dummied a ball into the box before using the outside of his left foot to audaciously flick it into the path of Aubameyang to wrap up the win.

Arsenal’s playmaker took to social media after the game and gave a pretty accurate assessment of what went on.

“I think we played some sexy football tonight. Proud captain of this team and this club!” Ozil said.

Unai Emery handing Ozil the captains armband seems to be a bit of a masterstroke, with the German star having a tough time off the pitch over the past few months due to his ongoing dispute with the German FA after retiring from the international game following their 2018 World Cup failure.

Ozil had a slow start to the season at Arsenal and was subbed off by Emery regularly but it appears he is know the heartbeat of the Gunners attack once again and he looks hungry to lead the team who are currently on the crest of a wave. Ozil has now scored four times in his last six games for the Gunners and after signing his new contract in the summer the former Real Madrid star looks settled under Emery.

It is still too early in the season to see whether or not Ozil and Arsenal are set to mount a serious title or top four challenge but the early signs under Emery are encouraging.

Yes, defensively they are coughing up plenty of big chances and Leicester could feel aggrieved to not be handed a penalty kick but going forward Arsenal are in fine form and Ozil is the main man behind the “sexy football” which looks sharper, quicker and more dynamic under Emery.

Bolt unlikely to agree to terms with Australian club

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Usain Bolt’s search for a professional contract may go on a bit longer.

According to the Central Coast Mariners, the Australian club he’s been training with, they have extended Bolt a contract, but conceded a deal is “unlikely” “without the financial contribution of an external third-party,”

Reports across Europe state that Bolt is looking for a $3 million contract from any team he signs with, and the Mariners appear unable to meet those demands. “We are looking at ways to do this as the club does not have the luxury to be able to do this in the Hyundai A-League,” the club said in a statement. According to a report by the Guardian, the Australian football governing body has contributed $100,000 from its marketing fund for the contract, but would add no more than that.

Bolt scored twice in a friendly last week, and he’s been training with the club for the past few weeks, but the club announced that while talks are ongoing, Bolt will not travel with the team or attend training “to ensure that there is no distraction to the Hyundai A-League squad in preparing for this weekend’s match versus Melbourne City.”

The A-League side said in the statement that while Bolt is improving, the former sprinter requires further training to become a viable professional player. “Usain has made great progression during his time on the Central Coast and we feel that he will improve further with more individual intensive training and competitive game time.”

However, the club’s head coach wasn’t so complimentary. “Do you think he’ll get in our front three? We’ve got a very good front third,” Mike Mulvey said. Central Coast sports former Leeds United, Fulham, and Aston Villa striker Ross McCormack up front, alongside 26-year-old Australian international Tommy Oar and 24-year-old Connor Pain who has one cap for the international side.

Bolt doesn’t exactly have a ton of time to improve his game, already at 32 years of age and with a full Olympic-medal-winning professional sprinting career on his legs.

Man United hosts Juventus to headline Champions League Tuesday

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The stars align at Old Trafford on Tuesday as Manchester United hosts Juventus at the forefront of the Champions League slate.

Cristiano Ronaldo returns to face his old club and his old manager, while Paul Pogba also takes on his former team as the top spot in Group H is on the line. Ronaldo is back in Champions League action since September 19 when he was controversially sent off, earning a one-match suspension he served in a 3-0 win over Young Boys.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho told the players after throwing away a late lead against Chelsea to “use the anger to motivate ourselves to play a big match.” They’ll take on a Juventus team that’s slightly banged up, missing Mario Mandzukic, Emre Can and Sami Khedira all out injured. Manchester United also has its own issues, with Alexis Sanchez unavailable with Mourinho confirming he’s “not fit” although no other injury information was given.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Manchester City travels east to take on Ukranian club Shakhtar Donetsk. Group F is crowded through two matches, with City in second a point behind Olympique Lyon at the top. Kevin De Bruyne is in the squad after returning from injury over the weekend, coming off the bench for 32 minutes of Premier League play against Burnley. They’ll look to attack a Shakhtar defense that choked away a 2-0 lead against Lyon last time out. City has Kyle Walker available as well, announced as part of the matchday squad.

Bayern Munich visits AEK Athens having returned to winning ways over the weekend with a 3-1 victory over Wolfsburg. It’s a welcome sight for Niko Kovac, who was under fire for a terrible stretch of games, but now the Bavarians have a positive result to take with them on the road. Robert Lewandowski and James Rodriguez were both on the scoresheet, with the Polish international grabbing a brace.

Ajax takes on Benfica in Amsterdam as the Dutch side looks to extend its lead at the top of Group E. They’re tied with Bayern on points, but hold a slightly superior goal differential. Since falling to PSV Eindhoven in Eredivisie play, they have blown out Fortuna Sittard, AZ Alkmaar, and Heerenveen 11-0 over their last three games. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar already has 10 goals this season across all competitions, and former Southampton attacker Dusan Tadic is right behind him with 9.

Real Madrid has its best chance to turn around the poor run of play as they host Czech club Viktoria Plzen. Madrid has not won since September 22, a run of five matches that consists of four defeats. The club broke a scoreless streak of over 450 minutes last time out in a 2-1 loss to Levante, but the pressure has only increased on head coach Julen Lopetegui.

Other matches

Young Boys vs Valencia
AS Roma vs CSKA Moscow
Hoffenheim vs Lyon

Puel, Schmeichel fume at referee after Leicester loss to Arsenal

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While the world looked on at the performance by Mesut Ozil in awe, Leicester City manager Claude Puel and Foxes goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel were left stewing after the match at a first-half decision which they believed changed the game completely.

Had the referee awarded a penalty for a Rob Holding handball in the first half with Leicester City up 1-0, the game would likely have turned out very differently. Holding, already on a yellow card, would have likely been sent off and Leicester City would have a chance from the spot to go up 2-0.

“I think [the first half was] our best half since the beginning of the season,” Puel said after the match. “We deserved to score more goals and make the difference in the first half. I didn’t understand why the referee didn’t whistle for the penalty, because in this moment it was a penalty, it was a second yellow card and so a sending off for the Arsenal player. This situation can change the finality of the game.”

Puel said that once the call was not made, and Arsenal was able to equalize before the break, Leicester City’s level of play dropped enough for the Gunners to pounce.

“I regret a little our beginning of the second half. We lost a lot of balls and we gave them the ball too easily to put us under pressure, but we have had the chances to score and to be leading in the game with the header from Ndidi. A lot of regret in this game because we showed a lot of quality and we were not lucky with the refereeing decision.”

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was in agreement with his manager about the key first-half decision. “We got no help from the official,” Schmeichel said. “I’ve never seen a clearer penalty. It’s tough to take because we were so good in the first half but in the second we’ve got to do a lot better than we did.”

At halftime, the replay showed the ball clearly hitting Holding’s forearm while above his head. However, the NBC studio crew argued that the penalty was not called because Holding’s arm was hit into the ball by the Leicester City attacker who attempted a header, and that although his arm was above his head, it was not in an unnatural position due to the natural human instinct to balance the body while jumping into the air.