Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Columbus officials release statement after MLS, Precourt meeting

3 Comments

Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther and Alex Fischer, the CEO of the Columbus Partnership, met with MLS commissioner Don Garber and Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt on Wednesday in a bid to keep the Crew in Ohio.

It did not go well.

[ MORE: Rochester Rhinos in jeopardy ]

Ginther and Fischer released a statement on the meeting, claiming that they offered every option to get Precourt and Garber to take relocation to Austin, Texas, off the table only to be shot down by the MLS hierarchy.

“We met with Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber and Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt in New York today. It is clear the MLS and ownership did not come to the meeting willing to commit to staying in Columbus. We know this is heartbreaking for the dedicated fans in Columbus and across the country who have shown unwavering support for the Columbus Crew SC.

We are disappointed and frustrated. We were united in putting all options on the table, with the expectation in return that the MLS and ownership would cease pursuing moving the team to Austin. Great American cities do not get into bidding wars over sports teams to benefit private owners. Garber and Precourt were not willing to do that today.

Once the league and owner are committed to Columbus, we stand ready, willing and able to support the team’s success. On November 21, standing alongside the best soccer fans in the country at MAPFRE stadium, we will be cheering Black and Gold onto victory. Glory to Columbus.”

Relocation stories are never fun, but this one is infuriating. From the timing of the announcement — before a big playoff run — to the words of Precourt, it’s been one big stinger after another.

Sadly, stories like these are unavoidable when a league size is limited and closed. Precourt bought the original MLS team with the hopes of moving it to Austin. The sale was approved with that language in it. Essentially, the Crew barely had hope of overcoming those desires.

Precourt claims that Columbus didn’t present a viable plan to keep the team in Ohio, from MLSSoccer.com:

Precourt Sports Ventures and Major League Soccer met this afternoon in New York City with Mayor Ginther and Alex Fischer, at the request of the city, in anticipation of being presented an actionable plan and a legitimate offer that would advance efforts to improve Crew SC’s long-term ability to operate and compete in Columbus.  Both PSV and the league entered the meeting with open minds, no demands and a complete willingness to listen and entertain concrete ideas or a meaningful proposal from the city’s representatives at the meeting.

We were extremely disappointed that no concrete offer or proposal was presented and then told by the City of Columbus that it would not communicate with us past today.

Precourt Sports Ventures made a clear commitment to Columbus four years ago by purchasing 100 percent of Columbus Crew SC.  In the meantime, despite successful efforts to reinvent the brand and improve the Club, market challenges for Crew SC in Columbus continue to mount.

Despite the city’s refusal to make a real offer and its decision to cease conversations, we remain open to a productive dialogue if the City of Columbus reconsiders.  Columbus Crew SC remains focused on our quest to win MLS Cup.

In terms of business, Precourt has every right to move the team, and MLS has every right to let him. And it seems — strictly inference here — MLS views the outcome of giving Cincinnati a team after Columbus leaves as somehow a fine trade-off for Ohio.

If MLS started today, Columbus probably wouldn’t get one of 28 markets. That’s not the point. They have a team, an original team, and those are generally hallowed in major and important American sports leagues.

But as someone who grew up in Buffalo with constant threats and hostage moves regarding the Sabres and Bills to pony up or risk losing the team, I hope Columbus finds the solution our city did: Owners who were willing to make less than the maximum to cater to a community in love with its teams.

Imagine a United States without the home of Dos a Cero boasting a top tier side. Again, this remains a league barely over 20 years old, and Garber and Co. are very much navigating the equivalent of the Wild West (along with teams in other leagues). Still, concern for what’s been built in Ohio would be nice, at the very least.

Champions League preview: Man City visit Schalke; Atleti v. Juve

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City’s quest for European glory resumes on Wednesday, when the reigning Premier League champions travel to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, to take on a struggling Schalke side in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Liverpool blunted by Bayern, and vice versa, in first-leg draw ]

Schalke sit 14th in the Bundesliga with barely a point per game (23 from 22 games) nearly two-thirds of the way through a disastrous league season. Manager Domenico Tedesco’s position will surely come under consideration this summer, though he could do himself a massive favor by knocking off a heavy favorite to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.

Man City come into the first leg in fine form, having won 12 of their last 13 games (all competitions) after their season nearly went up in smoke back in December. Sergio Aguero’s red-hot finishing touch has been at the center of recent successes, with the Argentine scoring in five of his last six appearances (nine games during that time, including a pair of hat tricks). City will, however, be without the services of three key figures: left back Benjamin Mendy (knee), forward Gabriel Jesus (hamstring) and center back John Stones (groin); meanwhile, Vincent Kompany (muscular strain) has been passed fit and made the trip to Germany.

[ MORE: Lyon strong at home, hold Barcelona to 0-0 draw (video) ]

All Atletico Madrid have to do to compete in this season’s final at their brand new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the Spanish capital is run through three home-and-away ties over the next three months, beginning with seven-time reigning Serie A champions Juventus. To further complicate matters, the Bianconeri are now led by Atleti’s old nemesis, Cristiano Ronaldo, from his days at Real Madrid. On the plus side, Atleti haven’t lost a home knockout game in 22 years, so they’ll almost certainly head to Turin with a puncher’s chance of sneaking through.

Massimiliano Allegri and Juve, on the other hand, intend to leave little to chance in the second leg on March 12.

Our team is growing physically, mentally and technically and we have to keep going as we enter the most important stage of the season,” the Juve boss said this week. “We have to be focused, knowing that we face a compact team that make the most of set pieces, and who in recent years have achieved a lot of good results in Europe. I wouldn’t take a draw now — I said to the lads that it’s important to score goals.”

Sarri an isolated manager after Chelsea fans turn on him

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
2 Comments

LONDON (AP) The volley of abusive chants from Chelsea supporters were aimed in a different direction this time. Toward the sideline at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Liverpool blunted by Bayern, and vice versa, in first-leg draw ]

Players were spared on Monday, there was no need to dig out the “rats” banners from 2015, and supporters seem just fine with Eden Hazard and Co.

Typically loyal to their managers — and there have been a dozen alone this century — many Chelsea fans instead seem to be done with Maurizio Sarri even before the end of his first season in charge.

Losing in the FA Cup to Manchester United was the breaking point, even if it wasn’t a complete rout. The cup competition is low on Chelsea’s priority list — winning it wasn’t enough to save Antonio Conte last season — but the end of that quest only adds to the despair.

In this rebuilding season, winning the Premier League — as Conte did in 2017 before finishing fifth the next year — couldn’t have been expected given the strength of Manchester City. But neither was a slide to sixth in the standings and a scramble for one of the four Champions League places.

“I am worried about the results,” Sarri said after Monday’s 2-0 loss to United. “Not about the fans.”

But the mutinous atmosphere won’t be lost on owner Roman Abramovich, who has spent the year watching from afar because the British government stymied the Russian billionaire’s visa renewal. That offshoot of the London-Moscow diplomatic dispute feeds the uncertainty at Chelsea.

[ MORE: Lyon strong at home, hold Barcelona to 0-0 draw (video) ]

Without fan backing, the 60-year-old Sarri — without a trophy in his career — looks isolated and exposed. The much-vaunted “Sarriball” is now part of the vocabulary of vitriol in chants — with added expletive.

It’s reminiscent of Rafa Benitez‘s interim title being used against the caretaker coach five years ago. Even in the darkest days of Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge — as Benitez’s successor — it was the players who were blamed. Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Hazard were branded “rats.”

Hazard is the only one of the trio still on the team — not that he gives the impression of wanting to stick around. The Belgium winger has avoided committing his future to Chelsea and has openly stoked talk of a transfer to Real Madrid.

Much like Madrid, Chelsea oscillates from glory to gloom under a conveyor belt of managers.

There’s also a regular flow of trophies, albeit only potentially secondary ones this season. Chelsea can still win the League Cup by beating Manchester City on Sunday and remains in contention in the Europa League.

While Madrid dropped to sixth place at one point this season in the Spanish league, the team hauled itself back up to third. Chelsea, which has won the Premier League five times since 2005, hasn’t been as successful. In the last month, the London club has lost to Arsenal, Manchester City — a 6-0 humiliation — and even to an ostensibly inferior Bournemouth.

For the stubborn Sarri, there seems to be no alternative to the “Sarriball” pressing tactics that helped his Napoli team push Juventus hard for the Italian title. Just a repetitive sequence of decisions.

– a reluctance to trust young players like Callum Hudson-Odoi.

– a determination to shoehorn Jorginho into defensive midfield, forcing N'Golo Kante out of position in favor of the recruit from Napoli.

– persisting with a back four after a three-man defense proved so effective for Conte.

– substitutions repeated in like-for-like changes. If it’s not Ross Barkley replacing Mateo Kovacic in central midfield, then they are interchanging the other way – 20 times this season. Pedro Rodriguez and Willian have swapped places 14 times.

For all the problems, it’s easy to forget that it took Chelsea three months to lose a game as Sarri started on an 18-match unbeaten run. Losing to Tottenham in November now seems to be a significant turning point.

Before that 13th game, Chelsea was in third place and had scored 27 and conceded only eight times in the league. Since then, Chelsea had netted 18 and conceded 21.

The cups will now define Sarri’s future, and it’s one down and two to go this week.

Chelsea holds a 2-1 lead over Malmo in the Europa League heading into the second leg of the round of 32 on Thursday before the League Cup final against City at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

“The most important thing now is to stay calm, train really hard and recover our best football and our best feeling,” Pedro said, “because if not, we are in trouble.”

More specifically, Sarri will be.

First-leg draw “not the worst, not a dream result” for Liverpool

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

If indifference — and its inherent lack of feeling — could be classified a feeling, it’s the one most Liverpool players, and manager Jurgen Klopp, would use to describe their collective mood following Tuesday’s 0-0 home draw with Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Liverpool blunted by Bayern, and vice versa, in first-leg draw ]

While the high-quality chances weren’t quite there for a meeting of two sides the magnitude of Liverpool and Bayern, the frenetic pace and end-to-end nature was still on display, which did plenty to keep a scoreless draw plenty entertaining for the neutral observers.

Speaking after the game, Klopp said it “wasn’t a dream result,” but also called it “a good one.” Wishy-washy — quotes from the BBC:

“From a result point of view, it’s OK. It’s not a dream result, but it’s a good one.”

“We made life more difficult with the last pass today – about 10 or 12 times a promising situation [fizzled out]. We can play better. We should play better.

“In the first half we had the bigger chances. I can’t remember any chances for either side in the second half. It wasn’t a Champions League night from that point of view.”

Midfielder and captain Jordan Henderson, who, it must be said, was a titan for the Reds on Tuesday, called it “not the worst result in the world.” Noncommittal.

“It’s not the worst result in the world. The performance level was good but we lacked that bit in the final third.”

“We’re disappointed not to score. But we kept a clean sheet and defended well. We had enough chances, especially in the first half.

“They’re a good team, they’re going to keep the ball. At times we found it frustrating. We were a bit unlucky in front of goal.

“It’s still alive. We’ve got games before the second leg. We’ve got to be confident still. It’ll be difficult but we have experience in the Champions League. We can go there and hurt them.”

In fairness, all of the above is true. The feeling of Liverpool having left so much on the table stems from how effervescent they were en route to reaching last season’s Champions League final. To see them struggle so early in the knockout rounds was, even after just one deep run a year ago, a bit jarring and unsettling.

[ MORE: Lyon strong at home, hold Barcelona to 0-0 draw (video) ]

Take into consideration the 10 days they had to prepare between games, and you get the feeling that Klopp and Co., know they needed to do so much more to give themselves a better chance of advancing to the quarterfinals.

The second leg is set for the Allianz Arena on March 13.

Liverpool blunted by Bayern, and vice versa, in first-leg draw

Peter Byrne/PA via AP
Leave a comment

There was virtually nothing to separate Liverpool and Bayern Munich in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday, and the two sides will head to leg no. 2 (March 13) at the Allianz Arena with everything still to play for.

[ MORE: Spain revamps Super Cup (and others should follow suit) ]

0-0 was the final score at Anfield, and neither side will be thrilled with the result, nor will either side be devastated not to have found the back of the net.Control and momentum swung back and forth over the course of 90 minutes; the only thing missing was a goal to well and truly liven things up.

Liverpool, it should be noted, failed to pick up a single point away from home in the group stage, losing all three times on the continent.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson was called into action with barely 10 minutes on the clock, and perhaps the Brazilian knew nothing about the goal-saving block he made. Serge Gnabry crossed the ball into the box from the right wing, but Joel Matip stepped into the ball’s flight and booted it clear, only back toward his own goal. Fortunately for the Reds, Alisson was no more than two yards away and took the wayward clearance off his chest.

Liverpool’s first golden scoring chance came in the 33rd minute, when Naby Keita‘s shot from the edge of the box was blocked but fell ever so perfectly for an unmarked Sadio Mane 12 yards from goal. With Manuel Neuer all on his own and unable to close down the angles in such a rush, Mane let the six-time reigning Bundesliga champions off the hook by yanking his left-footed shot well wide of the post.

[ MORE: CONCACAF Champions League returns with TFC, Houston ]

While the first half was quite open with end-to-end tendencies — particularly for a first leg — the second half was even more so, at least early on. Robert Lewandowski got on the end of a cross Gnabry into the six-yard box, but Fabinho, forced to play center back due to injuries and suspensions, made a brilliant tackle to poke the ball away. Liverpool raced to the other end through Andrew Robertson, who nearly scored an unlikely goal off Neuer’s clearance, but the ball fell to Mohamed Salah who wasn’t able to fire a cross or shot under immense pressure.

Down the other end, barely five minutes later, it was the constantly active and involved Gnabry who went inches high of scoring a stunner into the upper-90. The 23-year-old winger cut inside to and unleashed a blast with his left foot that Alisson was never going to get a hand to, but Georginio Wijnaldum did just enough to harry Gnabry and cause him to lift his shot over the crossbar.