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Three (early) things we learned on MLS opening day

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Major League Soccer is back and true to form it was wildly unpredictable.

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In the early slate of games on the opening day of of the 2018 season, things got weird, fast.

The Columbus Crew rolled into Toronto and beat the reigning champs, while Houston hammered much-fancied Atlanta United.

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Below is a look at what we learned from two huge shocks in the opening 180 minutes of the 2018 MLS season.


Columbus Crew’s players seem unfazed

The #SaveTheCrew movement is still going strong and even though Columbus’ owner broke his silence to speak out on Friday about his plans to relocate the team to Austin, Texas, the players seem unfazed. Ridiculously so.

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Gregg Berhalter’s boys made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals last season and although they lost the likes of Ola Kamara, Justin Meram and Kekuta Manneh in what seemed like textbook asset stripping over the winter, picking up the likes of Gyasi Zardes (more on him shortly) gives them hope they can hang around in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Going away to Toronto FC on the opening day and bagging a big shutout win is some statement and this season can go one of two ways for Columbus: the players can relax and play open, attacking soccer without any worries as this could be the last campaign for the team in Columbus.

Or, perhaps they will coast through and pick up big wins when nobody expects them to and suffer weird defeats. For what it’s worth on Day One, it appears the former is the mindset in charge as this group of players seem to still be riding high from their improbable playoff run last season.


Sophomore slump for Atlanta United?

This is one of those “way too early predictions” but what if Atlanta’s players believed the hype over the offseason about how good they were in their debut MLS season in 2017?

A 4-0 hammering at Houston on Saturday didn’t kick off their season on the right footing and Brad Guzan‘s shaky display in goal was added to by a missed penalty kick by Miguel Almiron as it turned into a horror show in the Texas sun for Tata Martino’s men.

Wilmer Cabrera’s Houston deserve a lot of credit too. They were 3-0 up after 26 minutes but the Dynamo are just one of those teams right now that are neither expecting to, or getting any, credit.

Houston’s attacking unit was the main reason they stunned everyone last season and finished in fourth in the West and made it to the Western Conference final.

Mauro Manotas, Alberth Elis and Andrew Wenger were at it again as Houston’s fluid attacking unit had Atlanta’s defense stretched all over the place. The signing of Chris Seitz and the likes of Philippe Senderos and DaMarcus Beasley being around has added extra experience and there is a good balance to Houston’s team.

Can the same be said for Atlanta?

There is a serious concern that this ATL side is too attack-minded and Darlington Nagbe certainly had a debut to forget in midfield after his big move from Portland in the offseason. How can Tata Martino fit in Barco (when he is fully fit), Josef Martinez, Almiro, Villalba and Gressel into the same team? He can’t. But still, we all expect Atlanta to be the main rivals to Toronto FC in the East.

Opening day in any league around the world throws up some bizarre results and this will be filed under that category. Unless Atlanta truly suffers a sophomore slump of epic proportions.


Zardes ready to get back on track

Remember when Gyasi Zardes was a starter for the U.S. national team and one of the first names on the team sheet? Yeah, that wasn’t too long ago. During the 2016 Copa America Centernario run he was an outlet for the then manager of the USMNT Jurgen Klinsmann, and Zardes’ ability to play out wide or through the middle gave his club and country options.

It seems like a long time ago that he scored 19 goals in the 2014 MLS season on the way to helping the Galaxy to yet another MLS Cup trophy.

Zardes’ star has fallen rapidly over the past few years and he has suffered with injuries and a lack of form in front of goal. He was never the most natural finisher, but his goal at Toronto on the opening day reminded us of what he’s all about.

With 38 USMNT caps and six goals to his name, is this the year Zardes finally puts his injury woes behind him and reignites his international credentials? He is just 26 years old and it’s not like the USMNT has many talented attackers ahead of him right now. Time to reintroduce yourself, Gyasi.

Cole returns to Chelsea as youth team coach

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One of Chelsea’s best players in club history is back at his old stomping grounds in a new role.

Chelsea finally confirmed over their social media channels that former left back Ashley Cole is back at the club coaching in the academy, helping the next generation of stars grow and learn the games. Specifically, Cole is coaching the U-15 squad.

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“I’m also doing my badges at the moment and so being here at Chelsea means I have the chance to coach every day, whereas maybe if I wasn’t working at a club it would be hard for me to get the hours in,” Cole told Chelsea’s website. “I’m learning not just how to be a coach and how to speak to people in a different environment but the side of coaching that you don’t see like planning the sessions and setting up the equipment.

“As a player, you just turn up for a session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball but now I’m getting to understand that there are always ideas behind a particular session or practice. Organization has to be key and those are the little details that it takes to be a great coach.”

While plenty from Cole’s era have moved into the media for lucrative punditry roles, it’s nice to see players like Cole and his former teammate Frank Lampard, now Chelsea coach, go into coaching to help pass on some of the great lessons they’ve learned during their careers. .

Cole said in the interview that he wasn’t sure what was next after playing three seasons for the LA Galaxy and then joining Lampard at Derby County for the second half of last season. He added that he got his first taste of coaching kids while with the Galaxy, helping some of the academy players and taking part in video sessions.

“The Academy are very good at giving ex-players a route back to the club and a chance to learn as coaches,” Cole said. “They’re eager to bring in people who understand what it means to be at Chelsea and what it means to wear the badge. You have to be a top player to play for Chelsea so they want those top ex-players influencing and trying to help the next generation develop and be better players.”

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.