Another US-Mexico World Cup qualifying draw at Azteca, but Mexican fans see different

0 Comments

By Nick Zaccardi

MEXICO CITY – The splash headline of Récord, the daily sports newspaper of Mexico, on Thursday read: Clásico Del Milenio.

On the cover, stare-down faces of Chucky Lozano and Christian Pulisic were the same size. The USMNT and Mexico were treated as equals in newsprint.

[ MORE: Mexico 0-0 USA recap & highlights | Player ratings ]

The US Men’s National Team still hasn’t won a competitive match at Azteca, but it also hasn’t lost one in 13 years after Thursday’s scoreless draw, following draws in 2013 and 2017.

Outside Estadio Azteca, with the fading reputation as a fortress for El Tri, the mood before the match was that the scales had already tipped. At least among a random sampling of green-and-white clad supporters.

“USA team is better than the Mexican team,” said Eduardo Del Campo, a middle-aged man. “First time ever.”

“U.S. won three games over us in a row,” said Hugo Hernandez, who is from California, noting the U.S.’s second-ever win streak over Mexico, though all three matches were in the States.

“They’re missing star power,” Eli Cuelad, a man with salt-and-pepper hair, said 45 minutes before kickoff, “and they’re missing a leader in the midfield.”

[ MORE: Full USMNT World Cup qualifying schedule & results ]

The well-versed Mexican fans marveled at this group of American players.

The U.S. fielded a squad on Thursday missing Juventus’ Weston McKennie and Barcelona’s Sergiño Dest due to injuries, but still with seven starters from the five core European leagues in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.

Mexico’s XI had five from those leagues, granted its domestic league is largely responsible for its seven consecutive trips to (and losses in) the World Cup round of 16.

“It’s the best generation of the USA team,” Del Campo said.

Perhaps one other time was the Mexican program jealous of the U.S.: At the 2002 World Cup, when the Americans knocked out their rivals in the round of 16.

That El Tri had a snarling young Rafa Marquez red carded out of that match for head-butting Cobi Jones.

Marquez retired from international competition after the 2018 World Cup.

“They’re missing Rafa Marquez’s energy and leadership,” Cuelad said.

Much more about Thursday’s match felt different than the mythical, urine-bag-throwing days from decades ago.

Inside Azteca, the some 90,000 seats were not half-filled at kickoff: partly because of COVID restrictions on capacity and partly because of late arrivals for the 8 p.m. local start.

The American Outlaws, seated together in the upper deck, were not surrounded by Mexicans as legend dictates. They were instead bordered by Corona and Club América logos, visible because the adjacent sections were empty.

American fans were still escorted through the gates by shield-wielding Mexican authorities. The Mexican fans from which they were being protected mostly took selfies and phone videos rather than try to taunt over the rhythmic English chanting.

With the U.S., Mexico and Canada tri-hosting the next World Cup, which usually means bypassing qualification, this may have been the last match of consequence in Azteca for many of the American players.

This also may have been the last U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier at Azteca of this significance for quite some time, with the World Cup going from 32 to 48 teams.

CONCACAF is likely to see an increase in berths from its current three and a half, and as of now there’s a dip from the three biggest nations in North and Central America to the rest of the group. It may move the drama of World Cup qualifying down to the likes of Costa Rica and Panama. Perhaps deeper than that.

Jamar Assah, the Phoenix chapter president of the American Outlaws, said his first time for an Azteca match five years ago was the most scared and excited he’s ever been.

[ MORE: 2022 World Cup qualifying hub – Schedule, results & standings ] 

“We were in the cage in the second or third level,” he said before boarding the fans’ bus to the pre-match tailgate. “A stadium of 90,000 people, and a handful of U.S. fans. If you’re on the edge of the cage between where they sit and where you sit, it’s chaotic, the vulgarness.

“The Mexican fans are amazing people, but when that whistle blows, they’re so passionate about that football team, they’re wearing it on their sleeve.”

Perhaps that passion will be back in 2030, when the stadium is full and both nations will be back in World Cup qualifying.

But that’s a long time.

So Assah, and many others in the supporters’ group, made sure not to miss this match, which could in some ways be the last of its kind.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a different atmosphere,” said Assah, “but as far as the teams go in qualification, the desperation is not going to be there.”

USMNT reportedly opens contract talks with Gregg Berhalter; Good or bad idea?

0 Comments

Gregg Berhalter may be sticking around the United States men’s national team program, giving the USMNT coaching continuity as it moves from 2022 World Cup Round of 16 member to 2026 World Cup co-host.

ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle says that Berhalter is beginning contract discussions with the United States Soccer Federation but also interested in taking a job in Europe with his profile having risen alongside the USMNT at the World Cup.

Berhalter’s current contract ends at the end of the calendar year, and the Yanks have scheduled a domestic camp in January and friendlies against Serbia and Colombia.

[ MORE: USMNT transfer rumors for Musah, Dest ]

Berhalter has done some good things for the program, most notably winning the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup with two different groups. He also straightened out the defending, for the most part, and got out of the World Cup group.

Berhalter successfully recruited Sergino Dest and Yunus Musah, two of the program’s stars at the World Cup. He also convinced Malik Tillman, Gaga Slonina, and Jesus Ferreira that the U.S. was the right place for their national team futures.

He also, subjectively, was slow if not downright stubborn in acquiesing to certain points-of-view that made the team better. From Tyler Adams as a right back at the outset of his tenure to saying Tim Ream didn’t fit how he wanted to play about a month before the World Cup… then playing him every minute of the tournament.

But for the most part when lessons were learned, they stayed learned.

Should Gregg Berhalter continue as USMNT boss?

Let’s start here, because it’s necessary: It’s clear that Berhalter cared about his players and the project, whether you like the way he operated or not. This wasn’t a half-assed operation, but one with passion.

So does he still have that passion? Only he can answer that, and if he’d like to get more matchdays in his life then maybe he does want to go back to the club game.

And frankly, that’s fine either way, because his four years with the program were neither amazing nor pitiful. They can be described as anything from a slight disappointment to a minor success, depending on your perspective and expectations.

If you believe that picking up the pieces from the absolute travesty that was failing to qualify for the World Cup from the richest nation and one of the two most talented nations amongst CONCACAF men’s programs was really hard, then you think Berhalter getting the men to the 2022 World Cup and surviving the group with a young group was a solid step in the right direction and a minor success.

If you believe that the American soccer climate is such that you should always make the World Cup out of one of the world’s lesser confederations and that the Yanks progressed as the second team of a group in which they were the second-ranked team according to FIFA and Elo Ratings, well, you can have a different standard.

The Yanks will never again fail to qualify for the World Cup given the expanded field, but hosts have historically had a drastically-improved chance to reach the semifinals. THe federation would have to be confident that picking the best squad regardless of how it reflects on his previous selections — let alone a Best XI — is going to happen under a given coach.

Berhalter’s 49 and is far from the worst or best boss in USMNT history. Whoever’s in the job four years from now will have a chance to go down as either one. Choose wisely, fed. And Gregg! Who knows how far his star could rise with a solid run in Europe, and history says there will be the chance to reconnect with the USMNT job.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Premier League table, 2022-23 season

0 Comments

If it’s the 2022-23 Premier League table you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

We’re at the 2022 World Cup break, and the final few rounds of Premier League fixtures caused so many shocks.

Who’s looking like title contenders and/or favorites?

Almost at the halfway mark of the 2022-23 season, Arsenal and Manchester City are looking head and shoulders above the rest.

The Gunners will have their hands full for the duration of their title challenge, as Erling Haaland continues to take the Premier League by storm with an almost impossible goal-scoring record.

Newcastle, Tottenham and Manchester United are locked in a battle for the top four, while Liverpool have improved and will be back in the Champions League scrap and Chelsea are struggling.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Who are the early-season candidates for relegation?

Newly promoted Nottingham Forest moved off the bottom of the table with a win before the break, with Wolves and Southampton currently occupying the other two relegation places.

Leicester have picked up a few big wins, while West Ham, Everton and Leeds all find themselves within a few points of the bottom-three after a topsy-turvy start.

Below you will find the latest Premier League table.


Premier League table – Matchweek 16

Follow @AndyEdMLS

England vs France: How to watch live, stream link, team news

0 Comments

Match 59 of the 2022 World Cup features a pair of European heavyweights duking it out for a place in the semifinals when England faces France on Saturday.

Didier Deschamps’ France is bidding to become a back-to-back World Cup winner, but Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions are tournament-hardened and have shown their explosive nature three times this tournament.

STREAM ENGLAND vs FRANCE LIVE

France beat Poland 3-1 in its Round of 16 match while England overcame a dodgy start to pound Senegal 3-0.

Neither team can say its faced a test like this in the tournament, and this could be a fantastic fight in Qatar.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for England vs France.


How to watch England vs France live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Saturday, December 1
Stadium: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

England will look to Harry Kane, though the question remains who will flank the Tottenham center forward. Marcus Rashford’s been very good but Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden got the starting spots against Senegal and it paid off for Southgate.

Kylian Mbappe has been borderline unstoppable and will test Harry Maguire, John Stones, and friends and Antoine Griezmann pulls the strings in behind and Aurelien Tchouameni continues to strengthen his reputation in the center of the pitch.


England quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 5
World Cup titles: 1 (1966)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA
Coach: Gareth Southgate
Key players: Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Jordan Pickford

France quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 4
World Cup titles: 2 (1998, 2018)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (Won Group D)
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Key players: Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane, Antoine Griezmann

Follow @NicholasMendola

Croatia vs Brazil: How to watch live, stream link, team news

0 Comments

World Cup-savvy Croatia stands in the way of stylish Brazil’s pursuit of a sixth World Cup crown, and the pair promise a complex match-up on Friday in Al Rayyan.

Match 58 of the 2022 World Cup kicks off the quarterfinals as Neymar leads Tite’s star-studded CONMEBOL powers into a match against the 2018 runners-up.

STREAM CROATIA vs BRAZIL LIVE

Croatia got past Japan in penalties and will now dream of the two wins that could set it back in the final where France could again be waiting for a juicy rematch.

Croatia needed penalties to get past Japan in the Round of 16, while Brazil pasted South Korea 4-1.  Croatia has never beaten Brazil in four meetings, losing at the 2006 and 2014 World Cups.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Croatia vs Brazil.


How to watch Croatia vs Brazil live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Friday, December 9
Stadium: Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Croatia’s Dominik Livakovic was fantastic in penalties versus Japan to get here, but Luka Modric continues to do the things that get Croatia out of trouble and puts the opponents into heaps of it. Josko Gvardiola has arguably been the defender of the tournament, and the 20-year-old looks to test his mettle again against the Selecao.

Pick a Brazil player who’s failed to impress and you’ve achieved a mighty feat. Neymar’s been fantastic when healthy while RIcharlison is in serious pursuit of the Golden Boot. Alisson Becker flexed his muscles once or twice versus South Korea and figures to be busier as the competition continues to heat up in Qatar.


Croatia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 12
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key players: Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic, Josko Gvardiol

Brazil quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Coach: Tite
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker

Follow @NicholasMendola