Tracking MLS Coach of the Year: half a dozen names still in strong contention

5 Comments

With just five rounds of Major League Soccer play remaining, we might logically conclude that these races would begin sorting themselves out a bit more. The fringe candidates seem to be falling out of the Most Valuable Player sweepstakes, for instance.

Not so with Coach of the Year, where candidates seem to be adding their names to the list of potential candidates rather than tumbling off of it.

Here is a very loose ordering; the names here are widely interchangeable. That is, any of these names could move up quickly, depending on how things develop over the remaining five weeks of play.

1. Montreal’s Marco Schallibaum

The Impact is far from perfect under their first-year Swiss boss – as we all saw in last weeks’ surprising home loss to Columbus. But look how far they have come in less than one year under Schallibaum (pictured). Because while Jesse Marsch certainly did a credible job with last year’s expansion outfit in Canada, L’Impact sure wasn’t challenging for top spot in the East and even Supporters Shield in 2012.

2. Real Salt Lake’s Jason Kreis

Last week’s loss to Seattle was a set-back, but the fact remains that Kreis is getting the job done about a half-dozen youngsters that so many good MLS fans still know little about. Kreis said last week he is surprised at how quickly this group has come along. If they can bounce back at home this week against San Jose, they will remain right in the thick of Supporters Shield pursuit. (And don’t forget, they will be favored in next month’s U.S. Open Cup final.)

3. Colorado’s Oscar Pareja

It’s just so easy to overlook good things happening in markets that receive far, far less attention. And that’s Colorado, of course, the very opposite of a place like Seattle, where everything get so overstated. But how can you not respect how the Rapids, crunched by all those injuries early in 2013, kept such a steady course? Pareja has five top starters who are rookies officially, or just miss being officially designated so through MLS technicalities, and yet the club is third in the West. (And the West is the tougher conference this year.)

4. Portland’s Caleb Porter

His case looked significantly stronger a few weeks ago. Heck, we all might have handed him the doggone thing if we were deciding in June. But we’re not … and the Timbers just haven’t had the same edge over the last two months. Still, it shouldn’t diminish the bang-up job Porter has done, style-wise and results-wise – assuming the men of Stumptown hold things together and make the playoffs, which they should be able to manager.

5. New York’s Mike Petke

The team is brimming with talent, of course, so they should be challenging for top spot in the East. Still, doesn’t Petke deserve to be on the list just for managing Thierry Henry and his Red Bull Arena-sized ego. I mean, didn’t the manager – in his first year as a professional head coach, remember – show us something by benching Henry two weeks back? I mean, talk about guts!

6. Seattle’s Sigi Schmid

Yes, a team with Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey up front, plus the league’s standard bearer holding midfielder, should be challenging for MLS hardware. But the Sounders did have questions to answer coming into the season. And this business of incorporating Dempsey, Johnson and Obafemi Martins is no slam dunk. If the Sounders win Supporters Shield (and Schmid’s team has the pole position at the moment) then their veteran manager has to be considered, at least.

(MORE: Tracking MLS Most Valuable Player)

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

Getty Images
Leave a comment

On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

Getty Images
1 Comment

The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.