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MLS Wrap: What We Learned

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It was another busy evening of MLS action on Saturday. There were upsets,

Here’s a look back at what we learned from Week 17

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]


Earthquakes continue hot form in rout of Galaxy

There weren’t any last minute heroics needed on Saturday evening in the first edition of the Cali Classico.

The San Jose Earthquakes routed the LA Galaxy, 3-0, in front of nearly 51,000 fans at Stanford Stadium in a battle of not only Argentine managers but also more strategic Designated Players v. the Galactico method. It was the Earthquakes fourth win in their last six MLS games, with the other two being draws as the Earthquakes are suddenly in playoff contention.

It took the ‘Quakes some time to get used to Matias Almeyda’s methods, but it’s paying dividends. Vako, who scored a brace on Wednesday in a win over the Houston Dynamo, bagged the first of the night against the Galaxy after a planned free kick routine bounced back to him at the top of the box. Vako’s curling effort in the 11th minute proved to be the difference in the match.

In the final ten minutes, Shea Salinas fired a cracking goal that bounced off the far post and in, while Tommy Thompson dribbled past three Galaxy defenders before his shot took a wicked deflection, leaving David Bingham helpless in goal.

Of course, the Earthquakes wouldn’t have won without their goalkeeper. Daniel Vega made a couple of world-class saves, one on a dipping, curling effort from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and another from Fabian Alvarez. The Galaxy controlled the match, especially in the second half, but thanks to last-ditch defending from the Earthquakes and saves by Vega, they didn’t score.

To add insult to injury, Sebastian Lletget, who continues to battle muscle injuries this season, suffered a right thigh injury, per the club, and was subbed off at halftime.


More drama in Atlanta? 

Thanks to recent acquisition Justin Meram, Atlanta United bounced back from a disappointing defeat at Toronto FC to knock off the Montreal Impact, 2-1. However, the game is partially overshadowed by the substitution of Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez.

The most expensive transfer in MLS history has found life difficult playing for a different coach than Martinez probably expected when he agreed to come to the U.S. (Frank De Boer instead of Gerardo “Tata” Martino) and the MLS style is different than what Martinez experienced in Argentina.

On Saturday, Martinez was subbed off in the 68th minute, well before Meram scored the winner and after the Impact had leveled the score in the 50th minute. Martinez had initially set up Meram’s first goal, but according to de Boer, Martinez wasn’t at his best as the game wore on.

“In the beginning,there was nothing wrong,” de Boer said after the match. “I think he played quite well. He was setting up the first goal, cutting inside, playing it to Justin (Meram), moves through to make the space for Justin to come inside, so I have no problem with that. But in the second half, especially around the 60th to 65th minute,he was making too many mistakes and then it’s a danger to the team in that moment. Then it is my choice to make a decision,and overall against Toronto, I think he played one of his best games. It was short notice that he’d play again and maybe he was tired, but he has to make those plays.”

Martinez spurned European offers to come to the U.S., but one may wonder if he’s regretting that now, midway through his first season here. Of course, this could just be a blip as well. Martinez went the full 90 and could have saved a point with a penalty kick in the eighth minute of stoppage time, but he failed to score.


Are the Revolution turning it around? 

Bruce Arena’s first match on the sideline came in a surprise 2-1 win on the road at his former home, the LA Galaxy. Since then, the New England Revolution has only lost once, which came in the U.S. Open Cup, without a full-strength squad.

In MLS play though, the team is unbeaten under Arena, and the Revolution picked up yet another win on Saturday, as Teal Bunbury’s second half stoppage time goal was the winner in a 2-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo.

Everyone seems to be enjoying a new lease on their soccer lives. Carles Gil looks like the dangerous Designated Player he was supposed to be, Justin Rennicks made his first MLS start and Andrew Ferrell looks like a lock-down defender yet again. Arena also went with Matt Turner in goal instead of Cody Cropper, who had been preferred under former coach Brad Friedel.

Interestingly, Arena credited a tactical switch from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 as the reason the Revolution came back from being a goal down at halftime.

“I think I probably screwed them up in the first half a little bit,” Arena said. “I don’t think that formation they were
comfortable enough in, and not bad, as much as it was more favorable for Houston to play against. We
wanted to see [Justin] Rennicks up top with [Juan Fernando] Caicedo. So, we got that opportunity. I think
the second half, switching our formation a little bit helped. But at the end of the day, it’s still 11 against 11.
I don’t get entirely consumed with the discussion of formations. Of course, if the players know how to
move and work together, any formation you play can work.”

With the win, the Revs sit just three points outside of the playoffs. We’re not saying that they can win the whole thing, but a late-season surge to make the playoffs? We’ve seen weirder things happen.

USL adds new team in Queens, David Villa involved

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David Villa is heading back to New York City.

This time as a club owner.

A second-tier side called Queensboro FC will begin play in the USL Championship in 2021 with Villa, 37, heading up a ownership group who are bringing the team to Queens.

In a statement to ESPN, the former NYCFC and Major League Soccer star is delighted to be part of setting up the new team which will play at York College in Queens.

“Bringing professional football to Queens’ diverse community is an exciting and unique opportunity,” Villa said. “The beautiful game already lives here, thanks to the melting pot of cultures who are so passionate about the sport. I can’t think of a better place for QBFC to grow. I’m proud to be part of this project.”

Villa spent four seasons with New York City FC and the Spanish national team legend was one of the best Designated Players in MLS history as he scored 82 goals in 130 appearances across all competitions. Villa is now heading back to the Big Apple to head up QBFC and you have to think there will be some kind of link-up with his former club in the future when it comes to giving NYCFC academy products playing minutes in a professional environment.

Jonathan Krane, CEO of New York City-based asset management company KraneShares, is leading the ownership group and Villa will be retired by 2021 (he currently plays for Vissel Kobe in Japan) when the team begins play, so he can take up a leading role.

Villa lived in Queens during his time playing for NYCFC and was heavily involved in the local community, setting up his own soccer academies and trying to help youngsters in Queens realize their dreams.

Queensboro FC will now be his next project as Villa’s strong connection with NYC continues.

Liverpool’s move for Ryan Fraser makes perfect sense

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Liverpool are said to be in talks with Bournemouth about signing Ryan Fraser in January.

The Scottish winger is out of contract next summer and talks over a new deal at Bournemouth have so far failed.

Fraser, 25, was a star for the Cherries last season but has only been a bit-part player so far this campaign (adding one goal and two assists) as Eddie Howe plans for a future without him and the tension surrounding his future hasn’t helped matters.

Per a report from talkSPORT in the UK, Liverpool winger Harry Wilson, who is currently on loan at Bournemouth, could make a permanent switch to the South Coast club in January in exchange for the Reds being able to sign Fraser. Per the report, it is expected Bournemouth would also want around $15 million from Liverpool, plus Wilson, for Fraser.

Does this move make sense for Liverpool? Absolutely.

The speedy winger was an assist machine last season, racking up 14 which was the second-highest in the Premier League. Fraser wouldn’t start ahead of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino, but he would be a great option off the bench and to play in cup competitions. His style of play is also perfectly suited to Liverpool’s high-tempo and pacy counter attacking.

With Xherdan Shaqiri currently out injured and failing to break in as a regular for Liverpool last season, Fraser would jump ahead of him in the queue for minutes after Liverpool’s attacking trio.

If this move to Liverpool doesn’t work out then Fraser can of course ‘do an Aaron Ramsey‘ and start talking to non-English clubs in January about a free transfer next summer. That’s not something Bournemouth would want, so you can understand their eagerness to at least get a little cash and a promising young player to replace Fraser.

From Liverpool’s point of view, Fraser would be a great addition on the cheap and he still has the prime years of his career ahead of him.

Sterling issues apology after Gomez row

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Raheem Sterling has been left out of the England team for their EURO 2020 qualifier against Montenegro on Thursday after a bust-up with Joe Gomez.

According to multiple reports the Man City winger was sat in the players’ canteen when Gomez, the first of several Liverpool players to arrive, walked in and was laughing.

Sterling then reportedly said “you’re the big man now are you?” and confronted Gomez, trying to grab him around the neck as the two were separated.

This all came after Sterling clashed with Gomez in Liverpool’s 3-1 win over City at Anfield on Sunday, as the England winger was booed heavily by the home fans, plus also clashed with England teammates Jordan Henderson and Trent-Alexander Arnold during the game.

England manager Gareth Southgate released a statement on Monday saying that Sterling would not be available to play against Montenegro but would remain with the squad.

“One of the great challenges and strengths for us is that we’ve been able to separate club rivalries from the national team. Unfortunately, the emotions of yesterday’s game were still raw,” Southgate said as he referenced the fiery Liverpool v. Man City clash. “My feeling is that the right thing for the team is the action we have taken. Now that the decision has been made with the agreement of the entire squad, it’s important that we support the players and focus on Thursday night.”

Gomez and Sterling both trained for England at St. George’s Park on Tuesday.

In a statement posted on his Instagram page, Sterling issued a public apology to Gomez and apparently the matter is now sorted between the two.

“First and foremost everyone knows what that game means to me. Everyone knows that I am not that way inclined and more to the point, both Joe and I have had words and figured things out and moved on,” Sterling said. “We are in a sport where emotions run high and I am man enough to admit when emotions got the better of me. We move, this is why we play this sport because of our love for it. Me and Joe Gomez are good, we both understand it was a 5-10 second thing. It’s done, we move forward and not make this bigger than it is. Let’s get focus on our game on Thursday.”

Sterling will be available to play against Kosovo in England’s final EURO 2020 qualifier on Sunday.

It seems like that is that and Southgate has acted swiftly to punish Sterling for his reaction, everyone has accepted it and they’ve drawn a line under it.

These things happen in sport all the time and this is more about the principle of the matter as Southgate doesn’t want to see anything like this in his squad in the future.

The message is now clear, it isn’t acceptable. No matter if you’re one of England’s best players or a youngster who is a bit-part player, the Three Lions squad must stick together.

Borussia Dortmund hurting after heavy loss in Munich

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BERLIN (AP) Borussia Dortmund is hurting again after another heavy Bundesliga defeat in Munich.

Dortmund lost 4-0 in the “der Klassiker” against rival Bayern Munich on Saturday, being fortunate not to concede more goals.

Dortmund’s lackluster performance has been criticized following sporting director Michael Zorc’s call for a “men’s soccer” type of performance in the buildup for the game. Instead, Dortmund delivered what Kicker magazine called “scaredy-cat soccer.”

“A lot of our players just weren’t there today,” Dortmund coach Lucien Favre said. “That’s the biggest disappointment.”

Zorc was even more critical of the performance.

“That wasn’t football at all, to be honest,” he said. “Bayern were on top and better in every respect. Bayern completely took over after 15 minutes and we were second-best at everything. That’s why Bayern also deserved to win by this score.”

It was Dortmund’s fifth consecutive heavy defeat in Munich. It lost 5-0 in April, 6-0 last year, 4-1 in 2017 and 5-1 in 2015. In its last six games in Munich, Dortmund has been outscored 26-3.

“It was beautiful that the talk before the game was of men’s football,” said Bayern forward Thomas Muller, who set up two goals. “As I’m a bit older now, 30, I know that it gives you a bit extra inspiration. The way I see it, that’s why we are German champions seven times in a row. It’s always wonderful when the Dortmunders come to Munich and we play like we did today.”

Bayern appeared to be in crisis after firing coach Niko Kovac following the team’ 5-1 loss at Eintracht Frankfurt – its heaviest league defeat in over 10 years.

But Kovac’s dismissal seems to have come as a relief to some players, and interim coach Hansi Flick has now overseen two wins from two competitive games, with no goals conceded. Bayern reached the last 16 of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Olympiakos on Wednesday.

Bayern’s will to win on Saturday contrasted sharply with Dortmund’s, which will be under increased pressure after it appeared to have turned a corner following a series of questionable results.

[ MORE: Premier League Club Power Rankings ]

Dortmund had strung together three consecutive wins – over league leader Borussia Monchengladbach in the German Cup, previously unbeaten Wolfsburg in the league, and Inter Milan in the Champions League, when the team displayed great morale to come back from two goals down and win 3-2.

But there was none of that in Munich on Saturday, and Favre and his superiors are left wondering how to consistently get the best from the talented but fallible team.

“We expected a lot from this game,” Zorc said. “Then we delivered what is basically a non-performance. I’m disappointed. You can’t even say that it was just a lack of challenges. We were also bad when we had the ball, we gave it away and simply made it too easy for Bayern. That was a huge disappointment.”

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Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP