Biggest winners from the 2014 World Cup

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Germany was the big winner, of course, but that’s not exactly what we’re talking about here. At least, we’re not limiting ourselves to the results on the field.

Taking a broader view of the 2014 World Cup, which players, coaches, and teams came out as big winners? Who came into the tournament with one perception and, by virtue of what happened over the last four weeks, has crafted a new reputation for themselves? Who used Brazil 2014 raise their profile in the soccer world?

And let’s not limit this to what happened on the field.  When we look back on the 2014 World Cup, what other aspects will leap from our memories, serving as the surprise contributions that helped define the tournament’s second trip to Brazil.

Undoubtedly, there are too many to list; then again, that’s what comments sections are for. Still, here are the handful that jump out to us one day after festivities have ended in at this summer’s World Cup.

The Players

Tim Howard – The long-time Everton keeper had established a certain level of respect within England, but aside from the most loyal of U.S. Men’s National Team diehards, few would have listed him as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. While that status may still be slightly beyond the 35-year-old’s reach, after his Round of 16 performance against Belgium, his name’s going to come up more often. Germany’s Manuel Neuer is now recognized as the best goalkeeper in the world, but you don’t have to move too far down that list before asking whether Howard deserves recognition.

Miroslav Klose – He’s never going to be discussed among the best strikers in history, but after claiming the World Cup’s all-time scoring record, the 36-year-old has a claim to being the tournament’s best striker. Longevity is certainly on his side, as is his production, but perception is not, something we may want to reconsider. As Klose’s 2014 shows, it’s easy to take the reliable for granted. As German found out, there’s something to be said for somebody who “merely” does his job very, very well. Where Klose started the tournament as an as-needed number nine, he ended it as a starter.

Javier Mascherano – Do you realize there’s a team in the world that has both Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano? After seeing what the Argentina destroyer did in Brazil, it’s tempting to ask why those two can’t play in the same midfield with Barcelona. Yeah, the club’s preferred style and formation mean … blah, blah, blah … Why would you ever want to take Mascherano out of midfield? Crucial to protecting Argentina’s defense, the former Liverpool linchpin proved his still one of the best defensive midfielders in the game, even if he doesn’t get to play the position as often as he wants.

source: AP

Guillermo Ochoa – The former America goalkeeper’s promising international career was derailed when Javier Aguirre went away from him before the 2010 World Cup. It took four years and a pre-tournament injury to Jose de Jesus Corona to get that career back on track, but over four games in Brazil, the free agent goalkeeper reminded us of the promise he flashed in his early 20s. Now we wait and see what Memo’s World Cup breakthrough means for his club career.

Arjen Robben – Robben is recognized within the game as one of the world’s more dangerous attackers, but amid frequent injuries, playing in Germany, and a reputation for treating any contact like an artillery shell, his talents get overshadowed. In Brazil, however, the system Louis van Gaal implemented allowed Robben’s speed and skill to shine in transition, reminding the world that beyond the game’s absolute elite, there may be no player more dangerous than the Dutch star.

James Rodríguez – Radamel Falcao’s injury was a huge loss for the tournament, but Colombia may have been better for it. With James as the team’s focal point, the Cafeteros made a quarterfinal run, along the way establishing their 22-year-old as one of the world’s most exciting players. Back at Monaco, the five games James played in Brazil may become a distant memory, but if the 2014 World Cup provided any hint of his future, a new superstar was born.

[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]

The Coaches

Jurgen Klinsmann – Group of Death or not, almost nobody expected the United States to get out of Group G. But advance they did, vindicating the controversial decisions Klinsmann has made in the run-up to Brazil. Though the team was again eliminated in extra time at the Round of 16, Klinsmann’s redemption continued, with the Germany program he helped build claiming the country’s first title in 24 years. In both his old and new homes, Klinsmann has begun converting doubters into fans, convincing some that his aloof confidence is based on a vision that may actually work.

Louis van Gaal – The Netherlands’ inability to qualify for World Cup 2002 was one of the blights on van Gaal’s résumé. Over the last four weeks, he’s earned redemption, taking a Dutch team picked to crash out in group stage to the tournament’s semifinals. Now on his way to Manchester United, van Gaal will have another reclamation project to master, but in his two years with the Dutch, he’s taken a team humbled by Euro 2012 embarrassment and restored its place among the best nations in the world.

The Countries

source: APAlgeria – The Fennec Foxes had never qualified for the knockout round, with the ghosts of Austria and Germany’s 1982 collusion lingering 32 years later. In South Africa, the team didn’t even score a goal, leaving few hopeful Vahid Halilhodzic’s team would make a big impact in Brazil. Yet employing a quicker, more ambitious approach, Algeria bested Russia for second in their group, eventually taking Germany to extra time in the Round of 16. Shunning their own limitations, the Foxes set a new standard for themselves, making waves at the World Cup in the process.

Costa Rica – Perhaps the biggest Cinderellas since Turkey and South Korea made the semifinals in 2002, the Ticos showed a five-man defense need not be boring. Jorge Luis Pinto’s men were among the hardest workers in the tournament, an ethic that allowed them to navigate one of the competition’s deepest groups. While drawing Greece provided some fortune in the Round of 16, the Costa Ricans took the Netherlands to penalty kicks in the quarters, becoming CONCACAF’s best performer at the 2014 World Cup.

France – For Les Bleus, 2014 went beyond getting results on the field. Looking to redeem the team that was a source of embarrassment in 2010, France played some of the most attractive soccer of the tournament, and while they eventually met their end in the quarterfinals, their run helped erase the lingering unease over what happened in South Africa. Now, France can push on knowing the likes of Paul Pogba and Antoine Greizmann are capable of ushering in a new era, one that will make 2010 less of a memory than a footnote.

Germany – Obviously, the biggest winners of the tournament, but coming off a disappointing Euro 2012, die Nationalmannschaft’s triumph represents something more than the world title. Though the reforms Klinsmann introduced helped move the program out of its 2004 nadir, the semifinal loss to Italy two years ago highlighted a fragility in the team – a fault that introduced new doubts for a squad with nearly unmatched talent. With their win in Brazil, though, there’s no more room for doubt. Even if this generation crashed out of the next two tournaments, they’d still have this moment on top of the world.

source: Getty ImagesThe Supporting Cast

Goal-line technology – From Ochoa’s save on Neymar in the group stage to Ron Vlaar’s near goal in Holland’s penalty kick shootout against Argentina, goal-line technology was implemented simply, elegantly, and without error, with the goal-no goal graphics sparking a number of memes through the competition. Perhaps FIFA should have implemented this sooner, once they did, they got it right.

Vanishing spray – While it was funny to hear the rest of the world’s reaction to a technology the Americas have used for some time, vanishing spray still represented a big win for world soccer. Perhaps that victory was lesson by some’s confusion the vanishing paint with an ability to make objects disappear, but that’s more about branding (and, education levels) than implementation. As Major League Soccer knows, there’s no reason why every major league shouldn’t use this stuff.

The World Cup – Seemingly from the tournament’s opening weekend, Brazil 2014 was lauded as one of the most entertaining World Cups in memory, and while there was some discussion of the tournament slowing as it reached its knockout rounds, drama in competition’s final rounds helped restore the competition’s last impression. With the last bastion of soccer nihilism watching in record numbers (at least, that’s how some want to see the U.S.), the World Cup was winning some of soccer’s final battles. Unless our memories fail us, Brazil 2014 will be remembered as one of the greatest World Cups.

Women soccer players to go on strike in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Women soccer players in Spain plan to go on strike after failing to reach a deal with clubs over working hours and minimum wages.

About 200 players met in Madrid late Tuesday and voted in favor of the strike, which is expected to begin in November after legal requirements are met.

More than 90% of voting players favored the strike.

The players’ and clubs’ associations have been in negotiations for a collective agreement over the last year.

They disagree over issues including the clubs’ decision to limit working hours to 20 per week. Players want at least 30 hours to be guaranteed.

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

Benfica loanee Parks readies for playoffs with NYCFC

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Keaton Parks plays the kind of hard-to-quantify midfield role that sends both stat nerds and eye test takers to a very good place.

Barely 22, the New York City FC midfielder doesn’t stand out in any one particular area. Since arriving on loan from Benfica, the American shuttler (of sorts) ranks near the top of the club rankings in pass percentage and aerials won while chipping in tackles and successful dribbles.

[ MORE: PST talks public pitches, youth development with NYCFC director Reyna ]

He’s averaging near one key pass per game but has just a goal and an assist, due more to his responsibility in Dome Torrent’s system than a particular skill set (He has eight goals and seven assists across two-plus seasons between Varzim and Benfica B).

“In the midfield it really helps to play both sides of the ball,” Parks told ProSoccerTalk. “I take pride in doing that, and I love to make a tackle as much as getting in the attack and assisting or scoring goals. It doesn’t bother me that I’m not scoring or making all of the assists. I like to be the solid player who keeps the balance on the team.”

(Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

Parks has been an enigma to American soccer fans for some time in that he’s been in a celebrated club in Benfica but playing in a developmental role that’s near impossible to track without single-minded dedication to Portuguese football (Dramatic? Sure, but you try to catch every Liga Pro game).

But in moving to New York City FC to play under Dome Torrent, he’s had an easier transition than most due to his upbringing with Benfica, which annually ranks amongst the top possession teams in Portugal. Torrent, of course, left his last managerial gig at Girona in Spain to spent a decade-plus on Pep Guardiola‘s staff at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City.

“Dome likes to play a possession style, a confident style,” Parks said. “I still have to fight for my spot on the team but the playing style I was used to right away.

“You can see the experience Dome has, and he mirrors a little bit of what Pep does, so it’s been amazing to be able to learn from him and see the experiences of the players he’s been able to coach in his career.”

NYCFC begins its playoff run on Wednesday against Toronto FC at Citi Field in Queens, and Parks says he’s feeling better after missing three matches with injury.

And while he’s focused on the playoffs — “We want to win the Cup and be at the top” — there is a question of what’s next for him, still on the books at a perennial UEFA Champions League club but very important with a CONCACAF Champions League club.

[ MORE: MLS Playoffs preview/predictions ]

“I’m just going to be looking forward to whatever club I’m at next, whether here or back at Benfica or wherever I am and also with the U-23s going into Tokyo next summer.”

He’ll, in theory, be an imperative part to Jason Kreis, ironically a former NYCFC man himself, and the Yanks bid for a first Olympic run in three cycles. The team should be powerful, and Parks is happy.

“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “We have so much talent on the team with guys playing first division all over the world. I believe we can make a run all the way to these Olympics.”
NYCFC and Toronto FC kick off 7 p.m. ET Wednesday at Citi Field.

MLS conference semifinal preview and predictions

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We’re not sure we should be allowed to make Major League Soccer playoff predictions after getting two upset bids wrong in the first round, but we go again anyway.

No, DC United did not outlast Toronto FC at BMO Field nor were the Portland Timbers able to get a win over Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto but… we got the other four right?

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

It gets trickier at midweek for the conference semifinals, as two of those six victors from the weekend face well-rested one seeds (We suppose they could be rusty, not just well-rested).

NYCFC v. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
TFC 4-0 NYCFC (April 29)
NYCFC 1-1 TFC (Sept. 11)

Toronto hasn’t lost since Aug. 3 (5W-6D) and is well-equipped to deal NYCFC’s possession system on a postage stamp pitch. NYC’s only loss in its last 11 was a throwaway loss to a desperate Revolution side in New England. TFC has a lot of experience in spots like this, but Dome Torrent’s done an incredible job with City. It’s a coin toss, but ultimately it feels like that coin lands TFC side up. 2-1 aet.

Seattle v. Real Salt Lake  — 10 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
Seattle 1-0 RSL (April 6)
RSL 3-0 Seattle (Aug. 14)

This one’s also close, as RSL has a number of players who won’t be bothered by the pressure but man is this home field advantage a real one. The Sounders only lost two home matches this season, and haven’t lost a home playoff match under Brian Schmetzer. Call it 2-0 for Seattle.

Atlanta United v. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
ATL 1-1 Philly (March 17)
Philly 3-1 ATL (Aug. 31)

The Union are resilient, and Jim Curtin seeing success is an absolute joy. So deserved, but Frank De Boer is showing his mettle in making the tough decisions and Ezequiel Barco looks a terror. A side that is able to bring Tito Villalba and Pity Martinez off the bench is unfair. Atlanta, 3-1.

LAFC v. LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
Galaxy 3-2 LAFC (July 19)
LAFC 3-3 Galaxy (Aug. 25)

Can hardly wait for this one. Bob Bradley and Carlos Vela look to send Zlatan Ibrahimovic packing after a riotous summer competition. LAFC is so, so good, and the lack of rest for the Galaxy is a problem. Still, betting against Zlatan seems borderline insane, and Jonathan dos Santos has big game mettle of his own. We’ll call it 2-2 and a place in penalty kicks, where David Bingham’s the difference for the Galaxy in a history-writing upset that takes El Trafico to the next level. Yes, we are predicting for storylines now.

Champions League preview: Chelsea, Liverpool hit the road

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Frank Lampard has a selection headache amongst his wingers as he tries to figure out Chelsea’s best avenue to break down Ajax on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League.

Youngsters Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic starred in the Blues’ weekend win, and Lampard also has Pedro and Willian available at Johan Cruyff Arena before a weekend visit to Burnley.

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

From ChelseaFC.com:

“Callum gave me that in his display from the start and Christian gave me that in his display coming on, and in terms of the wingers I have, Willian gave me that, Pedro gives me that so I have good selection problems when people come on and make a difference. That is what we are all about.

“The extra level that is the Champions League, the detail, the focus, concentration for 90 minutes, making the most of tiny moments, will be a test for all the young players, not just Callum.”

The good news for Pulisic in his bid to match wits with fellow USMNT (for now) player Sergino Dest is that he’s had experience on the UCL stage with Borussia Dortmund.

The other PL side in action is Liverpool, and the Reds will be expecting to get all three points in Belgium against Genk.

But Genk drew Napoli 0-0 at home on the second match day and the Reds will be wary of a slip-up.

“It’s a really good football-playing team,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. “They are organized and brave in their positioning. They don’t play with the pressing line too much but go for second balls, have speed and good midfielders and very active full-backs.”

Klopp will not have Trent Alexander-Arnold (illness) and Joel Matip (knee).

Other highlights…

— American manager Jesse Marsch hopes to lead Red Bull Salzburg to a home win over Napoli when he matches wits with Carlo Ancelotti.

Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan could really use a result against tricky Borussia Dortmund in Italy.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Ajax v. Chelsea
RB Leipzig v. Zenit Saint-Petersburg

3 p.m. ET
Slavia Prague v. Barcelona
Red Bull Salzburg v. Napoli
Genk v. Liverpool
Inter Milan v. Borussia Dortmund
Lille v. Valencia
Benfica v. Lyon