MLS Season Preview: Columbus Crew

3 Comments

Two straight playoff-less seasons have the Columbus Crew staring at a repeat of their worst stretch in franchise history, the three seasons from 2005-07 that saw them out of the postseason. Yet attendance was up in 2013 and there’s a new boss in town in Gregg Berhalter.

There have been rumors of a three-man back line for Berhalter, who will be running a club that features some familiarity with the return of dynamic attackers Dominic Oduro and Federico Higuain. But there’s also significant turnover with fixtures like Chad Marshall skipping town and Eddie Gaven retiring.

LATEST MLS 2014 SEASON PREVIEWS, HERE

source: Getty Images
Higuain

Players in: Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg), Daniel Paladini (trade with Chicago), Matt Wiet (Homegrown player), Waylon Francis (Herediano), Brad Stuyver (unattached), Steve Clark (Honefoss BK), Hector Jimenez (Los Angeles), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Valerenga).

Players out: Chad Marshall (trade to Seattle), Andy Gruenebaum (trade to Sporting KC), Glauber (option declined), Eddie Gaven (retired), Danny O’Rourke (option declined), Konrad Warzycha (option declined)

Key player: Waylon Francis

Who? Well, firstly, let me admit that the easy answers were Higuain, Oduro and Parkhurst… but there’s something very interesting about Francis, the left back from Costa Rica comes to Columbus from CONCACAF Champions League side Herediano. At age 23, he has plenty of experience and should add a dynamic aspect to the left side of the Crew’s attack. Will he adapt instantly and show the form that got him noticed in the States?

source: APManager: Berhalter comes to Columbus with the lofty distinction of being among the first Americans to manage a European club, Hammarby IF in Sweden’s second flight. His record there was a modest 18W-12L-16T as he engineered a rise to 4th place in the second flight Superettan but was fired in July 2013 for a lack of firepower.

He’s already managed to ruffle some feathers with willingness to be quite open with at least one personnel issue, and time will tell whether this was a blip on the radar or a significant issue.

Outlook: Lot of questions here that extend beyond the Crew’s new manager. Will Francis be as dynamic in MLS as Costa Rica? Was Parkhurst’s lack of playing time in Germany a matter of coaching or form? Is Clark’s transfer from Norway’s top flight, where he started for two seasons, the answer to their goalkeeping quandary, or will it be another Crew member to steady the ship? There’s a lot to answer here, and plenty of excitement that comes along with the hiring of Berhalter. Can the Crew make the playoffs in 2014? I wouldn’t bet on it, but if the team gels quickly and they hit on their personnel moves, they may just squeak in.

De Gea limps off for Spain ahead of Man Utd-Liverpool tilt

ANDERS WIKLUND/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here’s the good news for Manchester United supporters: David De Gea played incredibly well for Spain in its EURO qualifier on Tuesday as La Furia Roja clinched a place in EURO 2020.

The bad news? The performance was truncated, with De Gea limping off the pitch and replaced by Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga in the 60th minute.

[ MORE: EURO qualifying wrap ]

De Gea appeared to injure himself while attempting a goal kick of all things, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be wondering what fresh hell awaits him next.

Perhaps that’s simply the fact that Liverpool visits Old Trafford on Sunday in a match that Solskjaer previously said was perhaps ideal for his reeling Red Devils.

Solskjaer would turn to Sergio Romero should De Gea been unable to play at the weekend. Lee Grant is United’s third goalkeeper with Dean Henderson on loan to Sheffield United.

United was already going to need a lot of help to beat back the unbeaten Reds.

EURO qualifying wrap: Spain earns place in stoppage time

Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Spain clinched a spot in EURO 2020 via a last-minute equalizer, but the rest of the picture only got murkier thanks to dramatics in Romania and Switzerland.)

[ MORE: How should USMNT line up? ]


Sweden 1-1 Spain

A Marcus Berg header had Sweden on the verge of a significant home win against nearly unbeatable David De Gea and Spain, but Valencia forward Rodrigo delivered a stoppage time goal to give Robert Moreno’s men a place in EURO 2020. But Sweden can breathe a little easier thanks to a stoppage time goal across the continent.

Bad news for Manchester United, though, as De Gea’s strong day ended early due to injury.

Romania 1-1 Norway

New York City FC’s Alexandru Mitrita added another beauty to his collection in scoring for the second successive qualifier, but it wouldn’t stand up thanks to former Crystal Palace striker Alexander Sorloth‘s stoppage time equalizer.

Switzerland 2-0 Republic of Ireland

Terrible from the Irish, who trailed after 16 minutes and then went down to 10 men when Seamus Coleman was shown a red card in the 76th minute. Former West Ham man Edimilson Fernandes put it to bed in stoppage time as the Swiss out-attempted Ireland 20-9.

The Irish are tied for the lead in the group with 12 points but that’s about where the good news ends. They do not have an automatic spot in the playoffs while Denmark does and has 12 points. Switzerland has 11 and has also played one fewer match.

Ireland will need to beat Denmark next month and hope for help on the out-of-town scoreboard when Switzerland meets Gibraltar and Georgia.

Finland 3-0 Armenia

Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki continued his fine year with a pair of goals after Fredrik Jensen staked the Finnish side to a lead in Turku. Group J second place side Finland has a five-point lead on chasing Armenia and BNH.

Elsewhere

Faroe Islands 1-0 Malta
Gibraltar 2-3 Georgia
Greece 2-1 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Liechtenstein 0-5 Italy
Israel 3-1 Latvia

Lloyd: Coming off bench at World Cup “rock bottom of my entire career”

Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The upper echelon of the USWNT player pool, especially the veteran generation, just swims in a different competitive gene pool.

Comments from a recent podcast featuring Carli Lloyd are the latest evidence of this, as the USWNT legend calls not starting regularly at this summer’s World Cup “the worst time of my life.”

[ MORE: How should USMNT line up? ]

She says she was happy to be a part of it and happy for her teammates but doesn’t back down from the “worst” diagnosis. Yeah, you read that right.

“I’m not going to lie and sugarcoat it,” Lloyd said on Julie Foudy’s Laughter Permitted podcast. “It was absolutely the worst time of my life. It affected my relationship with my husband, with friends. It really was rock bottom of my entire career. But somehow, you see light at the end of the tunnel, and I can honestly say I’m having more fun now playing than I ever have in my career. I think I just learned a lot throughout it.”

To be fair, Lloyd hasn’t backed up anyone in almost a decade and has since won a Ballon d’Or. Not many elite athletes get used to being second (or fourth) fiddle, especially on a major stage like that.

The personalities on this team are as big as any produced by Ronaldo’s Brazil or Zidane’s France. Some may laugh at this, but it shows what a tremendous job Jill Ellis did in marshaling the team to two-straight World Cups, the first with Abby Wambach in a sub’s role and the second with Lloyd.

It also shows the marvelous competitive nature of Lloyd and the resilience of players who know they’d start for any number of teams in the world. Lloyd says in the podcast that she believed she was playing at near her best level despite being moved from midfielder to forward.

Obviously no player prefers a sub’s role to starting, but — wow — if it isn’t bewildering to hear Lloyd talk about her supporting role at age 37 being the worst time of her life. Different types.

Liverpool’s Alisson, Matip return to training

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Premier League leaders Liverpool have been handed a huge boost ahead of their massive clash at bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Remember: Liverpool are eight points clear atop the table and United sit in 12th, so Jurgen Klopp‘s men are keen to rub salt further into the wounds of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Red Devils.

Alisson and Joel Matip both returned to training at Melwood, with Alisson recovering from a calf injury which he suffered on the opening day of the season.

The Brazilian goalkeeper has been missing after limping out of the 4-1 win against Norwich City on Aug. 9, and his return to full fitness will bolster this already stingy Liverpool defense. Adrian has performed admirably, albeit with a few errors, in Alisson’s absence but it is now time for the superstar goalkeeper to return to action.

As for Matip, the towering center back suffered an injury against Sheffield United and missed Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League win against Red Bull Salzburg and their narrow Premier League victory against Leicester City.

Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren have both come in for Matip but neither have been solid enough and the former Schalke star will slot straight back in alongside Virgil Van Dijk and bring a steadying influence to the entire defensive line. Matip has been sensational this season, just as everyone expected Gomez to take his starting spot.

Another situation to keep an eye on is the fitness of Mohamed Salah, as he trained on his own at Melwood. Salah was caught with a rash challenge by Hamza Choudhury at the end of Liverpool’s win over Leicester and suffered an ankle injury.

Klopp was incandescent with rage about the foul on Salah and it appears the Egyptian winger is in a race against time to be fit for the clash against Man United, although he is reportedly looking good to play at Old Trafford on Sunday.

With the fitness of Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and others a constant struggle for United in recent weeks, Solskjaer hasn’t had much help in that department.

Having Alisson and Matip back is great news for Liverpool and Klopp.