Getty Images

England’s “great opportunity” for glory

Leave a comment

Football isn’t coming home just yet. But a win for England against Sweden will signal that it’s well on the way.

Gareth Southgate is about as level-headed as managers come, but the England coach knows his young team have a monumental opportunity to make the World Cup final.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The Three Lions, the youngest team left in the competition, face Sweden in Samara on Saturday and if they win they’ll face either Russia or Croatia in the semifinals.

Southgate acknowledged that England are on the kind side of the bracket but isn’t underestimating Sweden’s veteran squad at all.

“It’s a great opportunity, and although our team will be individually better in two years, we might not have this opportunity again,” Southgate said. “We have huge respect for Sweden. They are a team that I think in the past have been underestimated – we won’t make that mistake. Our players come from the same background as their players. We shouldn’t get carried away with ourselves being better than Sweden. They are older, more experienced, and have a better tournament record than us.”

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

England’s first big test of the World Cup, their Round of 16 penalty shootout win against Colombia on Tuesday, answered plenty of questions about the mentality of this young squad.

Colombia tried every trick in the book but Harry Kane scored (of course), England kept their cool and they rallied after a 93rd-minute equalizer to exorcise their penalty kick demons from major tournaments in the past.

This truly feels like a monumental moment for the English national team, with this likeable squad hungry to achieve and capable of fine attacking, flowing play.

As memes and videos do the rounds on social media, for the first time in what feels like a long time there is positivity around the English national team. There’s no more moaning about not beating minnows 8-0 in qualifying games, no more complaining about superstars not caring about wearing the Three Lions on their shirt.

That is one of the nicest surprises. There are no egos in this team.

This is a squad Southgate has said perfectly represents the modern day society in England as fans back home gather in pubs and parks together to roar on a team they expected very little from, given the amount of shocking defeats in the past.

“We are a team with our diversity and with our youth that represents modern England,” Southgate said. “In England we’ve spent a bit of time being a bit lost as to what our modern identity is and I think as a team we represent that modern identity, and hopefully people can connect with us.”

England’s players now have that connection with its fans thanks to an openness with media outlets, Southgate encouraging his players to speak out and Kane leading a new generation by example.

That ‘golden generation’ came and went without a trip to the semifinals of a major tournament but now this team, who have captured the imagination of their nation along with their amiable leader Southgate, have the chance to do what the likes of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lamprd and Wayne Rooney couldn’t.

“We are based on working hard for each other, we don’t carry anybody, they all pressed, they all have good organisation and they are prepared to graft and dig in for each other,” Southgate said. “I know those are slightly old-fashioned qualities but we don’t have the right to just stroll around a pitch. We play with character and I love that about them.”

For England the equation is now simple.

Win and they’ll exceed expectations and the wave of euphoria surrounding the team not just in England but around the globe will continue to the semifinals and beyond. “Football’s Coming Home” will dominate the minds of every Englishman until at least next week.

Lose and everyone will lament them stumbling at a key moment once again, as England, whether they like it or not, will be expected to beat Sweden and then reach the final.

The time has arrived for this young England side to become the darlings of the tournament as they try to bring football home.

Study: MLS improves racial hiring, slides in gender hiring

Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

A diversity report shows improved racial hiring practices for Major League Soccer but also highlighted a continuing decline in gender hiring efforts.

The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Wednesday gave MLS an A with 93.9 points for racial hiring in 2019 for its highest score in 15 years.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

But the gender score of 72 points for a C grade fell for the third straight time, down from 76.8 points in 2018 and 81 points as recently as 2016.

The overall grade for MLS was a B at 82.9 points, falling from a B-plus and 85 points in 2018.

TIDES director Richard Lapchick, the lead report author, called lower gender hiring numbers across men’s professional sports a “systemic problem.”

Online: http://tidesport.org/

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Medel: Chile players decline friendly over civil unrest

Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chile had already canceled a home friendly with Bolivia this international break, and now the players will not play Tuesday in Peru either due to unrest in their country.’

A nationwide strike and protests against the government, spurred by a rise in metro fares, have Chile on edge.

[ MORE: USMNT-Canada preview ]

La Roja stars Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal both posted lengthy messages on their Instagram accounts, saying that the decision was made “in response to the social moment in our country.”

They urged both protestors and law enforcement to turn away from violence.

From Mega.CL:

“We are soccer players, but above all people and citizens. We know that we represent a complete country and today Chile has other priorities much more important than next Tuesday’s game.”

Chile is ranked No. 17 by FIFA and 22 in Elo Ratings.

Slumping USMNT big favorites v. Canada

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Let’s start with two statements which might be a bit controversial given the tone and tenor of the United States men’s national team program.

  1. The CONCACAF Nations League very much matters to Gregg Berhalter’s era and the program in general, even if the coach’s job is not in jeopardy and the tournament is in its infancy.
  2. The USMNT are the oddsmakers’ heavy favorites to win (nearly +500), even given the current injury problems, and it will be shocking but not surprising if they lose to the Canadians.

Point No. 1 might be a bit surprising, but this is a competition with silverware and Berhalter hasn’t won any of it yet in his tenure as USMNT boss. It’s also relevant because losing to Canada twice in a month after not losing to them since the Billboard No. 1 single was the sensual “One More Night” by Phil Collins.

And even without Christian Pulisic and a raft of injury excuses, plus taking into account Canada’s sincere re-emergence on the CONCACAF scene, the USMNT has no business losing a meaningful match at home to a team that, while improved, has far more holes than the hosts.

If you remember from October, Berhalter didn’t call upon his men to press an inexperienced Canadian back line (I just realized I’m still angry about this). There is literally no way he’ll do that at home.

If John Herdman keeps his backs the same as the one that shut out the Yanks at BMO last month, he’ll have Kamal Miller, Derek Cornelius, Steven Vitoria, and Richie Laryea out there. Three of the four aren’t full-time starters for their MLS clubs (Vitoria is an every week man in Portugal’s top flight). Goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) is capable of stealing a result, but shouldn’t have the chance if the Yanks pressure the ball on Friday.

The midfield and attackers are where the U.S. will have its hands full. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David beg speedy and/or smart defenders. John Brooks being in the mix should help in both counts, plus he’s the best passing back in the pool right now.

Whether the match is cagey or comfortable will come down to the midfield. Scott Arfield is going to make it difficult on the Yanks, but Alfredo Morales plays with a nasty streak and will not be as bullied as his peers were in Toronto.

The one thing to fear is how bamboozled Berhalter was by Herdman’s plan in Ontario. This isn’t to pile on the coach, who is known for his tactics but hasn’t seen them deliver against too many opponents of quality. Herdman may be the novice in terms of overall club experience, but he’s got a better handle on the international game.

If the Yanks look out-foxed and unprepared on Friday, that’s a big problem.

How will the USMNT line up versus Canada?

TIM VIZER/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

No Christian Pulisic.

No Tyler Adams.

No Timothy Weah.

No Michael Bradley, Matt Miazga, and no Zack Steffen, either.

Ugh.

[ MORE: NYCFC teen signs for Gladbach ]

Still, the United States men’s national team will be favored to get a home decision over Canada on Friday as the CONCACAF Nations League begins its final two match days of the group stage.

How will Gregg Berhalter line up his team without so many key components?

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan is probably going to get the start here, and he won’t kill the team, but we’d love to see Sean Johnson get a chance to improve on his 100% clean sheet success rate across two tournament caps for the U.S.

Back line: It would be insane if Sergino Dest didn’t start at one of the full back spots given his election of the USMNT over the Netherlands. Also insane would be not starting a finally-healthy John Brooks.

After that, it seems likely Berhalter will opt for Aaron Long to pair with Brooks. If his left back option is Dest, then it’ll be DeAndre Yedlin at right back (or Reggie Cannon). If Dest is on his preferred right side, than Daniel Lovitz may get a look over Tim Ream on account of the speed in Canada’s attack.

Midfield: Might Berhalter pull back an attacker and use a four-man midfield against the Canucks? Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales will take two spots, and it seems pretty likely Jackson Yueill will get the chance to be a deep-lying playmaker with McKennie and Morales running their shorts off to make his life easier. We suppose Berhalter could opt for Wil Trapp over Yueill. It’s possible. A little too possible.

Attack: Josh Sargent is going to get the center forward spot, and it would be wild if Jordan Morris doesn’t join him. Then it’s down to Tyler Boyd or Paul Arriola, exciting versus a bit safer. And Arriola would give him more of a midfield presence than the forward-thinking Boyd.

Here’s how we think Berhalter starts in Orlando:

Guzan

Yedlin — Long — Brooks — Dest

Yueill

Morales — McKennie

Morris — Sargent — Arriola