Not-so-wayback machine: Remembering the 2013 MLS preseason – Eastern Conference version

Leave a comment

We’re three weeks from Major League Soccer’s opening weekend, so expect the preseason hype machine to go into overdrive soon. Particularly as teams return home from their “spring training” locations, the coverage is going to start gathering momentum. As those last spots in squads and lineups are finally nailed down, anticipation for March 8 will build. Before we know it, Seattle and Sporting Kansas City will be kicking off at CenturyLink Field.

Along the way, just remember: A lot of what you’ll hear over the next three weeks will end up wrong. The outlook we have on the 2014 season will quickly change once teams start playing games that force them to adjustments. Once club make their big moves in the summer, squads may barely resemble their March selves.

Those moves, as well as the results, will put a quick end to February’s narratives, not that can’t a little fun looking back on how wrong we were. We’ll get to the Western Conference in a few hours, but for now, let’s just think back on some of the story lines we were focused on last preseason:

[MORE: Not-so-wayback machine: Remembering the 2013 MLS preseason – Western Conference version]

1. Houston Dynamo was an Eastern Conference favorite – Not only was Dominic Kinnear’s team coming off their second straight MLS Cup appearance, but they were about to get full season from Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark. What happened: Although the team made the playoffs, they never quite met expectations. The team struggled in the summer, had to deal with both scoring droughts (from Will Bruin, mostly) and defensive problems, and finished fourth in the conference. Sporting Kansas City saw them out of the playoffs in the conference finals.

2. D.C. United was ready to push on – A rebounding team with a young core had a year’s experience under their belts. With Perry Kitchen, Bill Hamid, and Nick DeLeon a year better, United were ready to build upon their second place finish. What happened: Ben Olson’s squad set a record for fewest wins in an MLS regular season (three) while claiming the U.S. Open Cup – a strange, dispiriting season.

3. Could Sporting Kansas City replace Roger Espinoza? – And Kei Kamara (though he briefly returned), and Julio Cesar. Coming off a first place finish in the East’s regular season, Sporting was forced into an offseason restructuring, one that saw Benny Feilhaber, Claudio Beiler, and Oriel Rosell move into the starting XI. Hopes were still high, but Houston loomed. What happened: Sporting dropped a place in the East, finishing second, but the team proved stronger in the postseason. Peter Vermes led Sporting to their second MLS Cup.

4. Toronto still looked like a train wreck – This time last year, Toronto’s biggest additions looked like Kyle Bekker and the midfield version of Julio Cesar. Robert Earnshaw would provide some early-season hope, but a team dig face-plant under Aron Winter couldn’t improve in their first offseason under Kevin Payne. With Danny Koevermans’ return uncertain, Toronto looked destined to take up residence at the bottom of the standings. What happened: They weren’t the worst team in the conference, but it took a historic season from D.C. United to save them from last place. Preseason doubts about TFC’s direction proved well-founded.

5. Nobody knew what was going on in New England- A team that finished ninth in the Eastern Conference in 2012 failed to make significant offseason additions. Jay Heaps was back. Saer Sene would start the season on the sidelines. It looked like the Revolution were stepping back into the box with the same broken bat. There’s no way number one pick Andrew Farrell was going to be that influential. What happened: New England survived the season’s early months with a surprisingly strong defense – the José Goncalves effect. Once the attack gelled around Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, a surging Diego Fagúndez, and the rental of Juan Agudelo, the Revolution had a team capable of finishing third, forcing Kansas City into extra time before bowing out in the East’s semifinals.

New York ended up surprising, and Montréal spend half the season looking like the conference’s best team, but the narratives around those teams weren’t there. Chicago, Columbus, and Philadelphia? Mid-conference predictions functioned as a wait-and-see approach.

For Houston, D.C., Sporting, Toronto and New England, the consensus had a pretty good idea of what to expect in 2013. In most cases, that consensus was wrong.

Former Arsenal, Brazil midfielder Baptista announces retirement

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Julio Baptista’s time at Arsenal only lasted 12 months, but it was a memorable stint.

The Brazilian, who played the 2006-07 season for the Gunners, announced his retirement on Thursday at the age of 37. The former Brazil international only managed 10 goals with Arsenal, but they came in bunches.

Baptista memorably scored four goals against Liverpool in the League Cup quarterfinal, as Arsenal finished with a 6-3 win. Baptista even missed a penalty kick that game.

Baptista cemented his legacy later in the season with a brace in the FA Cup against rival Tottenham.

Baptista, clearly an immensely talented player, suffered from being a good, but not great player. He seemed to have no perfect position other than the No. 10, and most teams he played for had better players in that position. It forces him to play along the wings, deeper in midfield or as a striker during the prime of his career.

In the end, injuries beset his career, especially a short spell at Orlando City in MLS.

 

U-20 World Cup Rewind: Italy tops Mexico, host Poland falls on Day 1 (video)

AP
Leave a comment

Italy opened the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with a bang, knocking off fellow Group B favorite Mexico, 2-1, in Gdynia, Poland.

It only took Italy three minutes to get on the board, as Davide Frattesi found a pocket of space in front of the El Tri backline and dribbled in on goal. The Sassuolo midfielder then decided to fire on goal from distance, hitting a rocket into the corner to give Italy a 1-0 lead.

Later in the first half Gianluca Scamacca also took a rip from outside the box, but his strike sailed just wide.

A defensive error on a corner kick gave Diego Lainez and Mexico life. In the 37th minute, AC Milan product Alessandro Plizzari committed a howler, coming out to punch away the curled corner kick. Plizzari missed the ball and it went right to the head of Roberto De La Rosa, who calmly made it 1-1.

El Tri however suffered a blow late in the match as Italy took back the lead. In the 67th minute, Luca Ranieri collected the ball on the edge of the six yard box and from a tight angle, he scored past Mexico goalkeeper Carlos Higuera.

For Mexico, it’s a rough way to start the World Cup, having to go against a perennial power in Italy and playing on European soil. Not all is lost for Mexico, but it has to rebound with a win in its next game against Japan.

Elsewhere, Colombia defeated host Poland, 2-0, Japan tied Ecuador 1-1, and Senegal beat Tahiti, 3-0.

Saudis, Bahrain, UAE join to bid for FIFA’s U-20 World Cup

Getty Images
Leave a comment

GENEVA (AP) Middle East neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are jointly bidding to host the Under-20 World Cup in 2021.

FIFA says the Gulf plan is among five to express interest in bidding, including Brazil.

Indonesia, Peru and a Myanmar-Thailand joint bid are the others.

FIFA announced the contenders Thursday, one day after dropping a proposal for Qatar to share hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup with regional neighbors.

The 2021 U20 contenders must submit a formal bid by Aug. 30. FIFA’s ruling Council will pick the winner, likely in October.

The 2019 edition kicks off Thursday in Poland.

Putin awards medal to FIFA president Infantino

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) Vladimir Putin has given FIFA president Gianni Infantino a medal.

The Russian president awarded Infantino the Order of Friendship at the Kremlin on Thursday.

Infantino has often said last year’s World Cup in Russia, where the host nation surprisingly reached the quarterfinals, was the best of the 21 editions of the tournament.

Putin thanked the FIFA leader for “your glowing assessment of our efforts.”

Infantino says of Russia’s “bonds of friendship” with soccer “is not the end, it is only the beginning of our fruitful cooperation and interaction.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports