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PST survey results: Lower leagues, and that darned pyramid

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The results of PST’s Big American Soccer Survey are in, and our staff will be walking through the results of thousands of votes in a series of posts this week.

We didn’t realize you could acronymize it to BASS, or else we would’ve done it sooner. Today’s BASS questions deal with lower leagues and pro/rel.

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Before we get to the results of three intriguing questions regarding domestic soccer, let’s talk a bit about the mercurial nature of our blossoming-if-haphazard soccer country.

Do you want a team, or do you want a culture?

Those ideas aren’t mutually exclusive, but too often the expectation that starting one will ignite another turns out to be foolhardy.

We’re in the Wild West of American soccer right now, make no mistake about it, and the frontier is far from settled.

That’s unavoidable in a country so big, with travel costs so high, where the most established league is a whopping two decades old and support is far from traditional.

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American soccer tends to lean on its success stories, and understandably so. Portland, Seattle, and Kansas City are among myriad wonderful tales for a nascent culture.

But support is so much more than one set of fans, or players, or an owner. Look no further than Rochester, where an annual playoff team in a soccer specific stadium has suffered under the weight of unsatisfied MLS expectations.

Or San Francisco, a one-and-done champion of the NASL.

Or Austin, which failed to support a USL team but is emboldened at the idea of getting another city’s MLS team.

Or Dayton. Or Wilmington. San Antonio Scorpions. Atlanta Silverbacks.

(We’re going to conveniently leave out the teams dropped into a city by a league in order to battle for a market because this is America and we just need Borussia Butte competing for market share with Montana Monterrey United).

Each of these “failures” has a story, and we’re not naive enough to pretend each falls on one reason. Some American cities, accustomed to having the best example of any particular spot in their region via the NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL, simply won’t support a league which wouldn’t rate in the Top 20 — or way worse — on a global scale.

We like to blame leagues more than anyone which is insanely easy given the closed structure of every league and the highly-magnified nature of Major League Soccer as a torch holder. Sometimes it’s deserved (the handling of Columbus, the handling of Columbus, as well as the handling of Columbus). Other times, probably not.

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It would take a much longer post than this to figure it all out, and much brighter minds than mine. In fact, one of our biggest flaws as a soccer community is pretending to unveil a universal fix inside of one big lightbulb.

If we had to proffer some easy fixes, they would be this

chattanoogafc.com

— Support your local club. I don’t simply mean by buying tickets, though that certainly helps, but by allying with the cause of improving support in your area. It might seem odd to be a group of four friends starting a supporters’ group for your third- or fourth-tier club, but the team will love it and your enthusiasm just might make someone else come back for seconds. Believe us, we’ve heard the arguments about quality of play, etc., but at some point desire for the development of our culture starts at home. Look at Chattanooga (right), Detroit City (at top), and even Sacramento for this. Look at Columbus while it’s being tortured, too, and look it in the eye. Maybe MLS wouldn’t have given Columbus a market had the league started up today, but it did 20 years ago and we’re fairly sure the business isn’t hemorrhaging money and the fans haven’t quit on the idea of the Crew.

Detroit is really an incredible example, and it’s pertinent as MLS entertains expanding to the city with an organization which isn’t Detroit City FC. Full disclosure: I’ve run a club which has staged a derby with DCFC, and I’ve watched the Motor City outfit go from “Detroit should have a soccer team” to “I bet we could fund restoring a neighborhood stadium and sell it out” to defying critics about what’s possible for a fourth-tier (for now) club. And without as much first hand knowledge from this writer, Chattanooga’s growth predates DCFC’s story with some striking similarities. If either club’s ownership was unable to move forward, I have no doubt their fan bases would rally to keep the clubs alive.

— Support your local soccer-first organization, too. If there’s a group running a program in low-income areas or aiming to elevate the quality of youth soccer without demanding $4000 per player and the pipe dream of maybe being seen by FC Porto’s North American marketing director (then maybe look into whether they do good work with donations, or if the donations make sure the “technical director” has a nicer house).

So to the questions, which show an appetite for the game at all levels and a desire to move toward an open model. And again, this demands you support your local club, because the idea that Major League Soccer is going to ask its owners to risk their investment dipping into a lower tier is improbable. We’re not saying we wouldn’t love it. And we’re not saying we won’t keep asking for it. But change in American hierarchy, especially when it comes to big money, takes a lot of work and lobbying.

Yes, I realize I’ve glossed over the pro/rel part in one paragraph, but let’s be very, very real here: You entered this discussion with a very pointed opinion on promotion and relegation in America. The results of the survey say most of us want to see it, but I couldn’t convince supporters it’s a bad idea or detractors that it’s necessary. I will say this: It’d be great if leagues found a way to make it work despite the massive travel costs that would multiply a successful team’s path upward. With loads of respect for the idea and how successful the open pyramid is in other countries, few if any have to deal with the gigantic landscape of the US of A (let alone several Canadian teams as well).

According to our voters:

La Liga roundup: Casemiro’s brace earns injury-riddled Real Madrid win (video)

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Casemiro’s heroic performance against Sevilla highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Madrid 2-1 Sevilla

Real Madrid’s goalscoring hero on Saturday wasn’t Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, or even Sergio Ramos.

With two crucial goals in the second half, Casemiro single-handedly earned three points at the Santiago Bernabeu, days removed from cathartic Spanish Super Cup win against arch rivals Atletico Madrid.

With Bale, Hazard, Ramos injured, Benzema on the bench far from match-fit, and Federico Valverde suspended, Los Blancos were in dire need of someone to lead the way, and place pressure on struggling co-leaders Barcelona, who are now under Quique Setien’s tutelage.

By the time the first 45 minutes came to a close, the overall impression was that it would take a miracle for the home side to earn much-needed three points.

That all quickly changed in the second half as the Brazilian midfielder chipped Tomas Vaclik after a picture-perfect backheel from Luka Jovic. Madrid were edging Julen Lopetegui’s side, and Casemiro foreshadowed what was to come.

With the score level, the Brazilian leaped inside the box and headed home a lofting ball from the right flank, catching Sevilla’s defense completely off guard.

Casemiro’s brace came just five minutes after Luuk De Jong‘s left-footed goal in the 64th minute.

League leaders with 43 points, Madrid prepares for their Copa del Rey bout against third-division side Unionistas midweek. Sevilla, on the other hand, host Levante in the same tournament.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Osasuna 0-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-1 Alaves

16-year-old Cherki scores 2 as Lyon advances in French Cup

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PARIS (AP) Two goals and two assists from 16-year-old forward Rayan Cherki helped Lyon win 4-3 at Nantes and reach the last 16 of the French Cup on Saturday.

But the run of Reunion Islanders JS Saint-Pierroise ended with a 1-0 loss away to Epinal, which scored deep into extra time.

Cherki put Lyon ahead in the first minute, deftly rounding goalkeeper Alban Lafont and then clipping the ball beyond a defender. He made it 2-0 in the ninth, slotting the ball through Lafont’s legs after being set up by right winger Bertrand Traore.

New signing Renaud Emond headed in Moses Simon’s cross from the left to pull a goal back for Nantes in the 16th. Cherki then showed great awareness to release forward Martin Terrier with a fine pass from midfield in the 37th for 3-1.

Cherki shaved the crossbar with a shot in the 60th and won a penalty in the 67th after robbing the ball off Thomas Basila. He generously allowed striker Moussa Dembele to take it, but Lafont saved Dembele’s attempt.

Two minuter later, Cherki threaded the ball down the right to Dembele, who slotted in, and the irrepressible Cherki set up another chance for Terrier.

Lyon’s defense remains vulnerable and Simon set up Imran Louza’s goal before heading in late on to ensure a tense finish.

Saint-Pierroise had caused an upset in the previous round by knocking out second-division Niort and the players again traveled 6,000 miles (around 9,700 kilometers) from the small island in the Indian Ocean, located off the east coast of Africa.

Saint-Pierroise, the former club of France midfielder Dimitri Payet, was looking to become the first club from the Reunion Islands to reach the last 16 and almost forced a penalty shootout, despite having forward Jean-Michel Fontaine sent off in the 15th minute.

But substitute Adel Berkane rifled home a half-volley for fourth-tier Epinal with two minutes left in extra time.

Also, there were wins for first-division sides Nice, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg.

Lille won 2-0 at fifth-division Gonfreville thanks to goals from forwards Loic Remy and Victor Osimhen, while coach Patrick Vieira’s Nice side held on to beat third-tier Red Star 2-1.

Saint-Etienne won 3-2 at Paris FC, a team fighting relegation in the second division.

Paris FC led 2-1 with goals from former Paris Saint-Germain forward Jeremy Menez and ex-Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Teen forward Charles Abi equalized for Saint-Etienne with 20 minutes left before veteran right back Mathieu Debuchy netted the winner.

Strasbourg won 5-1 at fourth-tier Angouleme.

On Sunday, Rennes plays at fifth-tier Athletico Marseille and PSG travels to face second division league leader Lorient.

Rennes beats PSG in last year’s final.

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

‘I’m very happy for this’: Jimenez becomes Wolves all-time leading PL goalscorer

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Raul Jimenez has carved his name in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ history books.

“I want to say thank you to all my teammates, to the staff, to the coach, because without all of them, I can’t achieve this goal,” Jimenez said following Wolves’ come-from-behind 3-2 victory against Southampton on Saturday.

Just minutes earlier, in front of a fervent stand of Wolves supporters at St. Mary’s Stadium, Jimenez scored his 23rd Premier League goal for Midlands side, becoming the club’s all-time leading scorer in the Premier League era. The Mexican surpasses Steven Fletcher‘s record of 22 goals, which stood since 2012.

“I’m very happy for this, and I want to keep scoring,” he added.

With Wolves disputing Europa League qualifying matches in August, the 28-year-old began to build early on what is now a monstrous campaign – 19 goals and 9 assist in throughout all competitions. Half a year down the road, there are no signs of Jimenez’s magic running out. In fact, his brace against the Saints is clearest indicator of why that’s the case.

With his divine hold up play, well-calculated pressing and hunger for redemption, Jimenez emotionally inspired Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side comeback. And in the 65th minute, his trademark penalty overturned a two-goal deficit, turning emotional to physical inspiration.

“[Coming back] was very important for us after a very bad first half,” he told Wolves reporters following the match.

Jimenez was full of praise for his team’s collective grit. He lauded his team’s “fantastic” second half – full of pressing and chances created. The tactic alterations implemented by Nuno Espirito Santo influenced Adama Traore’s run that led to Jimenez’s third and winning goal.

“In the end, we know that it depends on us – what we want to do, what we want to achieve. So, we need to keep going until the last minute. Keep trying to score, keep going with our football that makes us Wolves.”

We now know that Jimenez is Wolves’ all-time Premier League goalscorer, too.

Lampard calls for Chelsea to finish chances: ‘We know where we need to strengthen’

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Chelsea’s dramatic last-gasp loss to Newcastle United was, in a way, a blessing in disguise for Frank Lampard and company.

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The Blues conceded their first first loss since Boxing Day, dropping crucial points in the league’s top-four race. With plenty of chances to score at hand, the visit to St. James’ Park is one of sheer frustration.

But at the same time, the London side learned an invaluable lesson: Chelsea are in dire need of a new striker before the January transfer window comes to a close. Chelsea registered 19 shots (4 on target) on Saturday but squandered most, while Newcastle’s netminder Martin Dúbravka did his job and saved a few.

“We know we have problems at the top of the pitch in terms of we don’t get enough goals,” Lampard said following his team’s 1-0 loss, via the BBC.
“If you don’t score you are always liable for a sucker punch and they got it.”

“If we are looking for people to bring in to the areas to win games when you are controlling it, it is scoring goals.”

From RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner to Lyon’s Moussa Dembele, Chelsea has been linked to a striker all winter long. With Olivier Giroud a signature away from sealing a move to Inter Milan, a replacement is necessary.

Sure, Tammy Abraham‘s return to Stamford Bridge is an outright success – 13 goals and two assists in 22 league appearances – but rotation is visibly needed. Michy Batshuayi replaced Abraham, but failed to show any promising signs. The 26-year-old has scored just once in 13 matches this season.

“We can’t work anymore in training on finishing,” the 41-year-old manager added. “You need to have that killer instinct in front of goal. We need to score more goals from front-line areas if we are going to get to where we want to be.”

Lampard gave no indicator that his side are on the brink of landing a new goalscorer up top. With the transfer window open for just 13 days, however, Chelsea are going to have to get intentional on their search.

“It’s quite clear from what I am saying now that we know where we need to strengthen but we shall see.”