Getty Images

Ahead of Paraguay friendly, spring is in the air for US Soccer

3 Comments

CARY, NC — Spring is the season of starting anew.

It’s fitting that the winter muck is finally giving way to warmer weather in Cary, North Carolina ahead of the upcoming friendly for U.S. Soccer against Paraguay on Tuesday. Just yesterday, there was slushy snow plaguing the skies, but today, the sun was shining over WakeMed Soccer Park to warm the air as the team took to the field to train.

There is a strange aura surrounding the USMNT at the moment. Without the hustle and bustle of an approaching World Cup to occupy the focus, there is the tentative feeling of starting anew, with a long journey ahead but new faces ready to stand to the challenges in front of them.

[ MORE: How will the USMNT line up against Paraguay? ]

“It’s been useful to get to know one another, on the field, off the field, a lot of new faces,” said interim head coach Dave Sarachan at his pre-match press conference. “It’s always exciting to build towards something, and that something is tomorrow night against Paraguay. It’ll be a great test for our young guys, and just another opportunity to get on the field and give the guys a real look against a quality opponent.”

Those new guys are abundant. The U.S. roster is chock full of fresh faces, including eight players without a single cap for the U.S. national team, and another 10 with five or fewer caps. The average age of the roster is just a hair over 23 years old. DeAndre Yedlin and Bobby Wood combine for 85 caps – the rest of the roster combines for a total of 77.

With so many young faces, Sarachan was guarded about singling out individuals who have impressed him over the past few days in training, but was open about how this roster brings a completely new outlook to the group, and without the usual faces like Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, or other veteran players, the feel of the trip has been turned upside down.

“A few things have stood out to me,” Sarachan said. “One is they have a youthful confidence; they come in from their environments where they’re playing. They’re drawing on a little bit of the past that we had against Bosnia and Portugal with this young group, so there’s a little bit of consistency for a few of the guys, but they come in with what I would say a clean slate in their minds, so they’re looking to impress by pushing each day in training.”

“Obviously with youth comes enthusiasm and energy, but I think the soccer has impressed me so far in training. Now, when the curtain goes up and the lights show tomorrow night, we’ll see how it looks when it really counts, but I think the confidence of the young group and playing without a lot of fear has been the two things that have stood out to me.”

With such a young group, Sarachan refused to really go into the play of any particular players – or get into any specifics of his lineup plan for tomorrow’s game – perhaps to keep the heads of the young players on their shoulders, but he did name drop a few youngsters he hadn’t seen before.

“I hate to single out anyone because that means I’m leaving out a lot of players,” Sarachan said as he thought long and hard about who he wanted to talk about, “but there are some new faces here that I didn’t know well…Antonee Robinson, Andrija Novakovich…maybe some of the guys I’ve gotten to know a little bit, certainly Tyler [Adams] and all the rest I’ve known, but a few guys that we brought in that…even [Erik] Palmer-Brown that I have never personally coached, just to get to know them and get to see them…nobody’s here that shouldn’t be here.”

While the head coach watches with intent, the players are eyeing their opportunity with a vigor not reflected by the atmosphere of the venue.

“Even though a lot of us weren’t involved in the qualifying campaign, we still kind of felt the disappointment and the pain of not making the World Cup,” said 20-year-old Cameron Carter-Vickers. “So we definitely feel like we need to work together and work with the coach and work with US Soccer in general to get back on track and get the wheels moving again.”

Without anyone to truly take charge, and with time to develop without the pressure of a meaningful game in the near future, there’s room for the young players to grow into their roles and make an impression, and they are reflecting that.

“We’re all young players, none of us are at the peak of our careers yet, or none of us are playing at the highest level yet,” Carter-Vickers said. “So it’s definitely a stepping stone and just trying to kind of all develop together and grow up as a team and get to a World Cup level.”

So with the U.S. left out this summer and likely another 18 months until qualifying starts for the next cycle, what are the stakes of tomorrow’s match? “Starting over I think, for the whole team” said 18-year-old Tim Weah, “and setting everything straight from the get-go together as a young group.”

“If you look at the rosters at the three friendlies we’ve had,” Sarachan said, “the theme has been giving players the opportunity that we feel are going to be part of the bigger picture. And again, we don’t want to get so far ahead of ourselves. You just can’t predict a year from now, but what you hope is that all these friendlies, and all these matches, and all the programming going through 2018 will pay dividends in terms of the investment we’re making to players that we think when the qualifying begins and the next Gold Cup and all the other competitions, that they will be ready.”

Spring is in the air. The sun is shining. U.S. Soccer is playing a game in North Carolina for the first time in 12 years. There’s a very long way to go, and while the lingering disappointment is still palpable in Cary, a new leaf must be turned, and in the shadows of a college basketball state still focused on the finality of the NCAA Tournament, WakeMed Soccer Field could be the start of a new beginning. Tomorrow will shed more light on just how well the budding talent is growing.

Toronto FC suspends all supporter groups after Ottawa stadium fire

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Ottawa police were called and the match halted after flares thrown from the Toronto FC supporter section set fire to the stadium and pitch during a Canadian Cup match between Toronto FC and Ottawa Fury on Wednesday night.

Videos caught the Toronto FC supporters holding and throwing flares around the 72nd minute of the match, but things backfired when their flags accidentally caught fire, followed by parts of the bleachers next to them. One video posted to Twitter (shown below) shows the fans scrambling to put out the blazing flags and the fires in the stands where they are sitting.

Toronto FC announced Thursday afternoon that the club was temporarily suspending all supporter group privileges while they conduct an investigation to root out who is responsible.

“The safety of our fans, employees, and supporters is the highest priority for TFC,” said Toronto FC club president Bill Manning in a statement. “The events which took place in Ottawa last night involving TFC supporters were unacceptable and needlessly put the safety of others at risk.”

Due to the seriousness of this incident, we are left with no choice but to suspend all recognized supporter group privileges indefinitely as we conduct a thorough review TFC’s recognized supporter program. We are cooperating fully with the Ottawa Police Department as they investigate this incident and work to identify those responsible.”

Another video posted from a lower angle shows a player attempting to stamp out a small fire on the field of play when a loud bang comes from the Toronto FC supporter section behind him.

Ottawa Fury released a statement of their own after the match, seemingly downplaying the incident after the flares were smuggled in past security checkpoints.

“Upon seeing smoke and fire, which appeared to be more serious than they were, fans in other parts of the stadium notified Ottawa Police and Ottawa Fire that an incident had occurred and emergency services quickly responded,” the Ottawa Fury statement said. “Upon arrival they confirmed the incident had been resolved and returned to their respective stations.”

“All members of the visiting supporters group had been subjected to bag checks and security scans prior to entering the stadium and no fireworks or other devices were detected. TFC has apologized for the behavior of the members of the supporters group responsible for igniting the fireworks. Ottawa Police have launched an investigation into the incident.”

Canadian media is reporting that the ownership group of the stadium will be fined for allowing the flares to enter the stadium undetected. The match was temporarily halted while the incident was sorted, and the fans were reportedly ejected from the match. The game ended in a 1-0 road victory for Toronto, with the second leg of the semifinal to come.

Scottish club Hearts fields ineligible player in Cup match

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Scottish club Hearts of Midlothian has issued a statement saying they are “embarrassed” after fielding an ineligible player in a League Cup match against 5th-tier semi-pro team Cove Rangers on Wednesday.

18-year-old Hearts youth product Andrew Irving entered in the 65th minute as a substitute for Olly Lee, but was ineligible due to what the club is calling an “administrative error.” Irving, according to the Hearts statement, signed a contract extension back in January but the paperwork was never correctly submitted to the league, hence leaving Irving as unregistered.

“It is with much embarrassment that we have to advise that during last night’s Betfred Cup group stage match away to Cove Rangers, Hearts inadvertently fielded an ineligible player,” Hearts Chief Executive Ann Budge said in a statement on Thursday morning.

“While stringent processes are already in place to try to prevent something of this nature occurring, clearly mistakes can happen.  An additional step in our internal procedures will be implemented immediately to try to ensure this cannot happen again. The club would like to apologize to its supporters, to Cove Rangers Football Club and to the footballing authorities for this inadvertent breach of the rules.”

Since the Scottish League Cup – currently known as the Betfred Cup – has utilized a group stage format the last few years, it is possible that the club will be docked points instead of ejected from the tournament. Previously, clubs such as Brechin, Dunfermline, and East Stirling were all disqualified in the past for similar offenses, according to Mark Donaldson of ESPN. The league will hold a hearing on Monday to determine the appropriate sanctions.

Hearts won the match 2-1 on a 57th minute goal by former Cardiff City, Plymouth, and Rangers striker Steve MacLean.

This is the second incident of this nature of late, as Major League Soccer club LAFC is under investigation for potentially fielding an illegal seven international players in a US Open Cup match against Portland Timbers on Wednesday. As a result, US Soccer postponed the draw for the semifinals until the investigation is complete.

6 clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

[ MORE: Steffen to England? ]

FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.

Premier League friendlies: Liverpool meets BVB; Everton in Portugal

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Premier League is three weeks and one day from opening its 2018-19 slate, when Leicester City will visit Old Trafford for a Friday afternoon match with Manchester United.

The end of the World Cup has eyeballs trained on friendlies, with 19 Premier League teams doing work over the weekend.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

The International Champions Cup has a pair of matches on the docket.

Friday sees Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, sans many of their World Cup stars, mixing it up with Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund in Chicago.

Then Sunday will see Borussia Dortmund switching gears and time zones, tangling with Liverpool in North Carolina as Pulisic renews acquaintances with old pal Jurgen Klopp.

Manchester United takes on San Jose on Sunday, two days after facing Club America.

Other marquee friendlies of the weekend include Bournemouth facing American back Shaq Moore and Levante on Friday, with Fulham hosting Lyon on Saturday, and Everton meeting Lille and Porto on consecutive Portuguese days Saturday and Sunday.

Friday

Bournemouth vs. Levante
Burnley vs. Macclesfield Town
Burnley vs. Curzon Ashton
Cardiff City vs Torquay
Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund (in Chicago)

Saturday

Brighton and Hove Albion vs. AFC Wimbledon
Crystal Palace vs. Oxford United
Everton vs. Lille
Fulham vs. Lyon
Huddersfield Town vs. Real Betis
Huddersfield Town vs. Roy-Weiss Essen or Werder Bremen
Leicester City vs. Notts County
Southampton vs. Derby County
Watford vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
West Ham United vs. Preston North End

Sunday

Everton vs. Porto
Huddersfield Town vs. Darmstadt
Liverpool vs. Borussia Dortmund (in North Carolina)
Manchester United vs. San Jose Earthquakes (in Santa Clara)
Wolverhampton vs. TBD