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2018 MLS awards: Tata wins Coach, Zlatan wins Goal

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Major League Soccer announced a number of its regular season awards on Tuesday, and a pair of the league’s international stars were at the forefront of the achievements.

Outgoing Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino won Coach of the Year, while LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic won the league’s Goal of the Year award for his incredible long-distance strike against rivals LAFC back in late March.

Martino, in his second year in charge as Atlanta United’s first and only manager in franchise history, came just a point from securing the team’s first Supporters’ Shield in just its second year of existence. The club just won its first playoff series in club history as well, beating NYFC over two legs to reach the Eastern Conference finals. The Argentine has announced he will depart the club at the end of the season, with reports pinning him to a job with the Mexican national team.

LAFC manager Bob Bradley finished second in the Coach of the Year award, having led the first-year club to a third-place finish in the Western Conference and a playoff spot before being dumped by Real Salt Lake in the knockout round.

Ibrahimovic won Goal of the Year with his audacious half-volleyed strike from almost 40 yards out that chipped LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller and leveled the score. It was Ibrahimovic’s first MLS goal after moving to the Galaxy in the offseason from Manchester United. He scored again that match, a stoppage-time winner in the brand new derby.

Other awards were handed out during the hour-long awards ceremony on Periscope, including the Save of the Year, which went to Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei for ranging across his net to stop Colorado Rapids forward Shkelzen Gashi.

Skill Play of the Year went to Portland’s Samuel Armenteros for an incredible dink past Colorado defender Danny Wilson just before scoring the game’s first goal. The Celebration of the Year went to Bradley Wright-Phillips for the aftermath of his 100th MLS goal where he proceeded to remove his jersey to reveal another underneath with the number 100.

Kreilach’s ‘Karate Kid’ goal helps Real Salt Lake spring upset at LAFC

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Damir Kreilach scored two goals and assisted another as Real Salt Lake bounced No. 3 seed Los Angeles FC from the MLS Cup Playoffs in an entertaining 3-2 match at Banc of California Stadium on Friday.

One of Kreilach’s goals was straight out of “The Karate Kid,” a standing volley that called to mind Daniel LaRusso’s crane kick.

Danilo Silva and Christian Ramirez scored for Bob Bradley‘s LAFC, which goes down in its first playoff match.

Jefferson Savarino also netted for RSL, who will meet Sporting KC in the conference semifinals. Seattle and Portland will stage a Cascadia Derby in the other semi.

[ MORE: Columbus tops DC in PK thriller ]

The match started late, but the scoring arrived after just 20 minutes.

Former Liverpool academy man Brooks Lennon chased down a loose ball and sent an arrow cross to the penalty spot.

Kreilach settled the ball and had time to lash it home.

The lead lasted about 10 minutes, as LAFC leveled through Silva’s header of a Carlos Vela cross.

It stayed 1-1 into the break, but not much longer.

Lee Nguyen set up Ramirez for his goal in the 54th, with an answering coming from Kreilach within five minutes.

And, well, holy cow, guys and girls:

MLS Playoff Preview: Which home side is safest?

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Thirty-four match seasons have led to Wednesday and Thursday’s Major League Soccer playoff games, which will see four teams go one-and-done into the offseason.

[ MORE: To Real Madrid from the NCAA ]

The league’s parity means fine margins separate seeds, but single elimination in a league driven by home field advantage usually provides a significant edge to hosts.

Where does each match rate in terms of chances for an upset?

Look out: Philadelphia at NYCFC — Let’s start with two sides who met in the same venue just a few days ago. That’s where the playoffs begin, with Philadelphia visiting NYCFC on the postage-stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium.

NYCFC beat Philly 3-1 on Decision Day to seal a home match for the first round, and Columbus’ win over Minnesota sent Philly into sixth. The Union beat New York City at home in the summer, and are one of the better away teams in MLS. Sunday’s loss was their first road loss in five outings.

Doesn’t feel in the cards: Columbus at DC United — The Crew limped into the playoffs and have been pretty poor away from MAPFRE Stadium, not winning since a quality 3-2 defeat at Red Bulls in late July. But Wayne Rooney and DC have not lost since the calendar turned to September, and are 13-2-2 at home this season.

Difficult to account for the unknown: Real Salt Lake at LAFCBob Bradley‘s got plenty of experience, and his players aren’t newbies either, but how will LAFC’s first ever playoff match go? That’s about the only thing keeping us from putting this in the win column for a black and gold side which lost just once, with seven draws, in 17 home matches this season. LA also beat RSL home and away this season. Mike Petke is a savvy manager, so Real Salt Lake has a puncher’s chance despite taking just 12 of 51 away points this season.

Almost a toss up: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas — Once hopeful for the top seed out West, Oscar Pareja’s FCD heads into the postseason with losses in three-straight. The two sides drew home and away this season, and it would not be a surprise to see Portland win. In fact, the venue is the only thing tilting this toward Texas.

New York City FC (3) vs. Philadelphia Union (6) — 7 p.m. ET
FC Dallas (4) vs. Portland Timbers (5) — 9:30 p.m. ET

DC United (4) vs. Columbus Crew (5) — 8 p.m. ET
LAFC (3) vs. Real Salt Lake (6) — 10:30 p.m. ET

Loving the idea of Berhalter for USMNT, but hating the process

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Let’s get the ugly out of the way early: The appearance of nepotism is garbage, and U.S. Soccer will have made the latest of several ego-driven, tone deaf, unforced errors if and when it announces the hiring of Gregg Berhalter without having spoken with a number of top candidates.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day ]

It’s only going to look like they had their guy all along, the brother of the federation’s chief commercial officer Jay Berhalter, and that their new general manager either wasn’t allowed to conduct a full interview process or hire a new USMNT manager without his hand being held.

Again, that’s probably not what happened, but U.S. Soccer not caring how it looks shows that very little’s changed since Sunil Gulati left office channeling Gordon Bombay’s “quarter of an inch” logic.

So, again, U.S. Soccer didn’t interview Tata Martino, who may be off for the Mexican gig, and that knowledge triggered a pretty healthy discussion on Twitter with the knowledge that Sporting KC mastermind Peter Vermes, 2016 MLS Coach of the Year Oscar Pareja, RB Leipzig assistant Jesse Marsch, and former El Tri boss Juan Carlos Osorio also were not interviewed. Doug McIntyre adds ex-USMNT coach Bob Bradley and longtime U-20 boss Tab Ramos to the list.

Assuming the reports are all true, that’s a problem. It also doesn’t mean that Berhalter isn’t a good, if not great, candidate for the job (and maybe Stewart was hired after saying, “I’d take Gregg as my No. 1 guy.”)

The 45-year-old knows the importance of both testing himself overseas and keeping himself sharp in MLS, having player in the Netherlands, England, and Germany before finishing his career with the Galaxy.

In management, he got his start assisting Bruce Arena before taking a head job in Sweden and losing just 11 of 46 matches for Hammarby.

Moving to Columbus in 2013, he’s led the a team which has never spent much to supply a team under his eye. According to Spotrac, the Crew have spent the 22nd (2018), 17th, 17th, 13th, and 17th most dollars on player salaries in the league. Here’s how those teams performed in the league:

That’s outstanding, and when you throw in the fact that he’s done that with the distraction of owner Anthony Precourt at times literally trying to keep fans from making the stands look full for a playoff game so he could engineer a move to Austin? Insane!

Even if Columbus loses on Sunday and is passed by Montreal for a playoff spot, that’s still impressive.

You could reasonably argue that fans should want his hire as much as any other American candidate and many from outside the continent, too. Shoot, as long as an interview doesn’t drop where Berhalter claims an MLS All Star Team would dominate the top tiers of England, Germany, Spain, and Italy, and that Gyasi Zardes is like-for-like with Roberto Firmino

Anyway… what I’m saying is there would be plenty of reasons to be excited with the Berhalter hire, who has show he knows when to drop off and defend and when to lay his foot on the pedal. There are only two things to really dislike about him, and one assumes Martino is off to Mexico.

  1. Berhalter is 0-4 against Martino in MLS play
  2. Unfortunately we hearken back to the top of the post, and the knowledge that the USSF will have put its new boss in a precarious position amongst its supporters and “shareholders.”

It won’t change how Berhalter does his job — the guy looks like he’d rather chew through a 2×4 than deal with speculation — but it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the other aspects of how the federation has dealt with an improbable World Cup qualifying failure in one of the most forgiving confederations on Earth.

Then again, maybe they’ll announce Zinedine Zidane on Nov. 1. What do we know?

Who are the key contenders for USMNT job?

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Fresh from the news that USMNT GM Earnie Stewart has begun interviewing candidates for the vacant managerial position, plenty of names are being thrown around regarding the favorite to land the gig.

Gregg Berhalter seems to be the overwhelming favorite to become the next permanent manager of the U.S. men’s national team, with the current Columbus Crew coach working wonders in Ohio in tough circumstances over the past few years.

He reportedly gave a “no comment” response when asked if he has been interviewed by his former USMNT teammate Stewart but with the Crew’s potential relocation to Austin, Texas, Berhalter has a natural break in his current job which could suit the USMNT. However, the LA Galaxy not having a current permanent head coach could suggest that Berhalter may head back to his former team. He is a man in demand.

Who are the other main contenders?

It appears the decision has been delayed until now (much to the annoyance of most USMNT fans) due to many MLS coaches being under consideration, with Peter Vermes, Greg Vanney and Gerardo Martino all said to be candidates.

Current interim head coach Dave Sarachan, who has held that role since last October when Bruce Arena resigned, will also be among the contenders but it is likely he will take up a coaching role within U.S. Soccer rather than the main gig.

Another contender is Jesse Marsch who took a slightly bizarre decision to leave the New York Red Bulls earlier this season and head to their sister club, RB Leipzig, in the Bundesliga to become an assistant coach for the 2018-19 campaign. Marsch, like Berhalter, worked miracles with the Red Bulls and his ability to nurture young U.S. talent will no doubt have him high on this list of candidates.

Both Berhalter and Marsch are former USMNT stars and know the program inside out, with Marsch Bob Bradley‘s assistant coach in the past. And for fellow former USMNT players Vermes and Vanney, well, they both have plumb jobs with two of MLS’ most successful franchises in recent years. Despite TFC’s downturn in 2018, Vanney still seems to be in a safe position for now. As for Tata Martino, his lack of English suggests he will not be in the running even though his time at Atlanta United is reportedly coming to an end.

There is also a list of what we call “fantasy appointments” with Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and David Moyes all included. The latter has been seen at recent USMNT games but the last thing the U.S. need right now is to hire a coach who is detached from the American game and will take 6-12 months to get to know the playing squad. They’ve stood still for too long in this search and a coach from within the domestic game would be the smart move.

Former Portland Timbers boss Caleb Porter and current U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos are also said to be among the more serious contenders, but when it comes to where the USMNT want to be in the future it appears two coaches stand out above the rest.

Berhalter and Marsch.

Both have turned their MLS clubs into hard-working, successful units where young U.S. players have been nurtured and turned into international caliber players. Both are passionate about the American game and both are in situations where they’d be able to head to the USMNT job quickly, which is needed after 12 months of stagnation.

Stewart is cracking on with his job to find a USMNT coach who will give young players a chance and give this team a much-needed identity in the coming months and years as they build towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. The U.S. must cast the net far and wide but Berhalter and Marsch are the most viable options if the USMNT’s talented youngsters are to reach their full potential.