Two games, six points make for an unexpectedly perfect start for Montréal

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Marco Schällibaum may be new to Major League Soccer, but you couldn’t tell by the way he’s set up his team. Two games and six points into his Montréal Impact career, Schällibaum may as well have taken a page out of the books of Bruce Arena, Dominic Kinnear, and the other veteran coaches who’ve had consistent success in MLS. He’s kept it simple.

Using the same compact, conservative setup that earned a 1-0 win last week in Seattle, Montréal defeated Portland 2-1 on Saturday night, a match that was never in any real doubt. To look at the numbers alone you’d never know, with Portland holding large advantages in possession (64 percent) and shots (19-9). Aside from two chances for Ryan Johnson, the second of which was converted off a Ben Zemanski cross in the 81st minute, Portland failed to seriously stress Troy Perkins.

The Impact, on the other hand, proved dangerous early and often. In the eighth minute, Felipe pulled an open shot from inside the penalty area just wide of Donovan Ricketts’ goal. Three minutes later, Marco Di Vaio’s header was kept out by a spectacular save from Ricketts. The resulting corner kick saw an unmarked Hassoun Camara’s flick from the near post go just wide, while an open chance for Davy Arnaud in the 21st minute went for naught after the Montréal midfielder failed to control a cross from Jed Brovsky.

Montreal finally broke through in the 30th minute and spectacularly so, with Camara’s overhead kick from 16 yards going into the left side netting.  With Portland pushing for a second half equalizer, Felipe doubled the Impact’s lead in the 60th minute. A pristine pass from Patrice Bernier was converted to into the backbreaker by a sharp cutback pass from Andrea Pisanu.

It was the second straight week Schällibaum’s team had put on a clinic, his veteran squad content to sit back and wait for a mistake before pouncing. In Seattle, it was Arnaud and Di Vaio taking advantage of some momentary Sounder disorganization. Against Portland, a first half foul from Darlington Nagbe led to the first, while a spectacular pass and run that exploited Michael Harrington delivered the second.

It’s a plan that could blow up on other teams. But Schällibaum has the experience of Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferrari, and Patrice Bernier as the foundation of the defense. He has Di Vaio to control the attack, with Felipe and Davy Arnaud to run off him.

“It means a lot, when you have a group of guys who have played in big games and big moments,” Arnaud, the team’s captain said of his team’s experience. “We’ve had a lot of guys who’ve experienced that. When the times were kind of hectic on the field at different times of the game, there’s never a real sense of panic amongst the group, and that’s good.”

To his credit, Schällibaum has left it to his players. He has out a 4-1-4-1, instilled some basic tactical precepts, and let his talent do their thing. If he had his team executing a complicated scheme that relied on more than veteran guile and an opportunism, his team could have struggled starting the season so far from home.

Instead, Montréal has six points. Perhaps unexpectedly so.

Report: U.S. U-17 midfielder Reyna to sign for Borussia Dortmund academy

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Another top American youngster is set to head for Germany for the crucial development years of his career.

According to Goal USA, U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team midfielder Giovanni Reyna is expected to join Borussia Dortmund’s academy when he turns 16-years old this November. Reyna is able to head to Europe before his 18th-birthday thanks to a Portuguese passport he received by way of his father, former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Claudio Reyna and Claudio’s mother, who was born in Portugal.

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Reyna just finished a tournament in Mexico with the U.S. U-17s, and earlier this summer he led NYCFC’s Under-18/19 team to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy title, despite being just 15 years old. Reyna was also a standout on the U.S. U-15 national team the past couple of years.

While not every American moving to Europe is successful (see: Haji Wright, Junior Flores), there is plenty of good precedent at Dortmund, especially thanks to Christian Pulisic. With Josh Sargent looking strong in the youth ranks and reserves at Werder Bremen and both Pulisic and Weston McKennie (Schalke) starring for the first team for their clubs in Germany, it’s an attractive place for young players – not just Americans – to move to. It’s still much too early to start the hype train on Reyna, but if he impresses in the Dortmund academy over the next two years, he could see a chance to play with the first team by 2020.

One thing to keep in mind is that NYCFC, which has likely spent thousands of dollars investing in coaching and facilities for Reyna’s development – along with other players – is losing him for nothing to Dortmund. And other talented young players, James and Will Sands or Joe Scally, haven’t seen much if any time with the first team.

La Liga plans to play regular-season matches in US

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A regular-season Spanish league game is coming to the United States, possibly as early as this year, but a “clasico” between Real Madrid and Barcelona is pretty much out of the question.

The league said Thursday it is planning to play a match across the Atlantic as part of a new 15-year partnership with sports and entertainment group Relevent to promote soccer in North America.

[READ: Real Madrid players, manager react to UEFA Super Cup defeat]

The group operates the International Champions Cup, the world’s largest summer club tournament. Barcelona and Real Madrid faced each other in the tournament in Miami last year.

The league gave few details on the planned regular-season game. League president Javier Tebas, however, dismissed the possibility of taking the “clasico” away from Spain.

The league said it is still making arrangements for the game and there is no timetable for when it will happen, but it could be this season.

The Spanish league has been trying to expand internationally for some time, hoping to grow and keep pace with the powerful Premier League in England.

Tebas last year also talked about the league possibly playing a regular-season match in China, and a few days ago the Spanish Super Cup was held in Tangier, Morocco, marking the first time it was played outside Spain. The league game in the United States would be the first to be played outside of Europe.

“Joining with Relevent to create LaLiga North America is a major milestone in our international expansion strategy,” Oscar Mayo, the league’s international development director, said in a statement. “This agreement ensures not only a bright future for soccer in North America, but also for LaLiga and our clubs.”

The league said “the operation will support the league’s growth in the U.S. and Canada through consumer related activities including youth academies, development of youth soccer coaches, marketing agreements, consumer activations, exhibition matches and plans to have an official LaLiga Santander match played in the U.S.”

A decade ago, the Premier League tried to introduce an additional international match but plans for each team to play a 39th game overseas were abandoned amid opposition from FIFA and fan groups.

The Premier League has more exposure than its Spanish counterpart in the United States, in part because of a six-year TV deal with NBC worth about $1 billion.

Since 2012, the Spanish league has been on BeIN Sports, which was received by less than a quarter of American English-language television households even before it recently was dropped by the Comcast Xfinity cable system.

Relevent was founded and is owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who called the partnership “the next giant leap in growing soccer’s popularity in North America.”

“This unique relationship will create new opportunities for millions of North American soccer fans to experience the most passionate, exciting, and highest level of soccer in the world,” Ross said.

The Spanish league called the agreement “an inflection point for soccer in the U.S. and Canada,” coming in anticipation of the 2026 World Cup that will be hosted in North America.

Ramirez makes instant impact in first start for LAFC

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Christian Ramirez showed Minnesota United FC exactly what it is missing.

Back home in Southern California, Ramirez scored twice in his first start for Los Angeles FC as the expansion side comfortably held on to a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake in mid-week MLS action. It was his first MLS goals since he scored a brace against LAFC four weeks ago.

Once LAFC heard Ramirez was on the market, Bob Bradley and co. quickly snapped him up, and he is already paying dividends.

Playing as a lone striker, Ramirez found himself between two RSL defenders as LAFC took control of the ball off a turnover. Carlos Vela cut inside and delivered a perfect pass to Ramirez, who made a diagonal run away from the nearest defender and then back to the ball. All Ramirez needed was to loop the ball over Nick Rimando’s head in goal to give his side an early lead.

When someone is in good form, the ball seems to just find its way to you, and that’s exactly what happened for Ramirez’s second. Waiting at the far post, Ramirez side-stepped a couple of times to his left before slotting home easily. It showcased solid awareness and anticipation for the 27-year-old striker, who could still have a future with the U.S. Men’s National Team, especially with September friendlies coming up.

Ramirez has always seemed like he was destined to play on a bigger platform, and with LAFC’s impressive first year and numerous placements on national television, Ramirez may finally be getting the respect he’s due.

France is king, USMNT at No. 22 in latest FIFA rankings

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France’s World Cup title has given the nation the coveted No. 1 ranking from FIFA.

In its latest World Rankings, FIFA crowned France as the top team in the world, as well as promoting the U.S. Men’s National Team to  No. 22 in the rankings. The USMNT now sits one spot behind Italy and one place ahead of Austria. England’s semifinal run also boosted the Three Lions to No. 6 in the world.

Both Russia and Croatia earned massive jumps in the rankings based on their excellent World Cup performances. Russia moved an impressive 21 places up to No. 49, while Croatia jumped 16 slots to the top five. Sweden also rose 11 places to No. 13. While Russia and Croatia made big moves up, two nations made moves in the opposite direction. Former World Cup champion Germany fell 14 places to No. 15, Argentina dropped six spots to No. 11 and Iceland and Poland both dropped ten spots. Egypt’s disastrous World Cup cost the national team 20 places, down to No. 65.

Behind France, the rest of the top 10 looks like this: Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Uruguay, England, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain and Denmark. The latter two are both tied for ninth.

The next World Rankings will be released on September 20 following the September FIFA dates. The USMNT returns to action on September 7 against Brazil at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey before heading to Nashville to take on Mexico on September 11. England hosts Spain in UEFA Nations League action on September 8 at Wembley Stadium before heading north to Leicester for a friendly match against Switzerland.