Normally your star player’s contract extension would be cause to celebrate, but when the announcement coincides with news your best defender will be Gone `Til November, it’s hard to enjoy the punch and pie. Welcome to Tuesday at Paris Saint-Germain, where news of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s extension was coupled with word of a six-week absence for Thiago Silva.
Ibrahimovic was already under contract through the end of the 2014-15 season, but if there was ever time for an extension, this was it. The summer before a contract’s last season is usually when you sell, if you’re inclined to do so. If not, you try to re-up before that time to prevent too much leverage sliding to the player’s side of the table.
With today’s deal, Ibrahimovic is now bound to the French champions through 2015-16, with a reported increase in salary from $18.9 million to $20.2 million. Considering that’s likely a net, after-taxes value, Ibrahimovic will be one well-compensated man while playing out his age 34 season.
But the news wasn’t all good around the Parc de Princes, with the diagnosis on Thiago Silva’s Sunday injury returning with bad news. After 16 minutes, the Brazilian international was forced from this weekend’s match againstMonaco, with a subsequent evaluation confirming a left thigh injury will sideline him for six weeks.
Silva made the diagnosis public via his Instagram account (welcome to 2013). PSG head coach Laurent Blanc:
“Thiago has undergone tests that have confirmed a problem with the muscle and the tendons,” he said. “So it is not just muscular and I think he will be out for a certain period. I am not a doctor, I can’t be more precise …
“He is an essential element of the squad, so it is a major blow.”
With a relatively easy Champions League group, their big fall league game behind them, and some depth at center back, PSG should be fine during Silva’s short-term loss. The Marquinhos acquisition from Roma, thought to be a luxury at the time, now looks more prescient. Alex, recovering from a thigh injury of his own, will be back shortly, and Blanc still has Zoumana Camara, who came off the bench on Sunday to play 74 minutes.
The more concerning element of Silva’s injury may be the chronicity. If not that, then the coincidence that a similar injury cost him two months this winter. Perhaps there’s nothing to it, but having turned 29 on Sunday, Silva is approaching the age where injuries could become a bigger part of his profile.
State of Chivas USA makes for a not-so-SuperClasico
The final score was only 1-0 , but the distance between the defending champions and the lesser half of the Derby Angelino was still evident Sunday night. Even with a relatively lackluster effort, the Galaxy were able to take full points from Chivas USA, leaving the Goats with four wins in 27 all-time regular season meeting between the two rumored rivals. In all competitions, it was the team’s 30th meeting, with the Galaxy claiming 19 wins.
Excuse that patronizing “rumored” crack, but as Chivas fans are fully aware, this hasn’t been much of a rivalry in any respect. Not only have the Galaxy won the battles on the field, they dominate the market to an extent that Chivas end up feeling like visitors in their own home. And in terms of how the organizations are run, while the Galaxy are one of Major League Soccer’s model (and highest valued) franchises, there’s been regular talk this season as to how long Chivas USA will still be a thing.
Beyond Sunday’s result, two other small occurrences served our bothersome reminders of that morose reality.
The first came from a former Goat on Twitter, with one of the franchise’s better known alums expressing disappointment that the atmosphere he remembered from LA’s intra-city derbies had diminished into what he saw Sunday night.
Then consider this, as relayed by The Goat Parade. Organized on Reddit, a subset of Chivas supporters raised enough money to fly a protest banner over the stadium during Sunday’s match, lengths the Black Army 1850 has had to go to because of increased scrutiny of supporters groups’ signage around StubHub. Trailing the plane as it flew overhead, the message read “FUERA VERGARA! #VERGARA OUT”.
Such is the state of Chivas USA. Whereas teams across the country look to their Atlantic, Rocky Mountain, and Cascadia Cup derbies as highlights, fans of LA’s wayward franchise see it as a platform for dissent. No better time to bring attention to their plight than during the league’s not-so-SuperClasico.
Morgan scores, Thorns win, but Portland’s crowd steals the show
PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Thorns FC came good on their home debut, dominating Cascadia neighbors Seattle Reign FC during a 2-1 win Saturday afternoon. Goals from Marian Dougherty and Alex Morgan gave the home team their first NWSL victory, but amid the post-match reflections the same, transcending theme kept emerging: The atmosphere made the match.
An NWSL record 16,479 people came out to what’s normally the Portland Timbers’ home field, and while record attendance in a two-week old league deserves a skeptical context, broader descriptions prove even more laudatory of the Portland’s support.
Saturday’s crowd out-drew any match from the three years of Women’s Professional Soccer, the professional league that preceded the NWSL. You have to go back to the Women’s United Soccer Association to find a women’s professional match that drew more people, and while a handful of crowds in WUSA bested the Thorns’ support, it’s been 10 years since that league played its final game.
“This was awesome,” was Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone’s reaction after her first professional victory. A veteran of 158 caps during her time with the U.S. Women’s National Team, Parlow Cone has perspective on big games, experience that came in handy while trying to describe Sunday’s environment.
“I was walking around the field with Rachel Buehler and we looked at each other and she’s like, ‘This is like the World Cup.’ That’s what it felt like … It was an unbelievable atmosphere.”
Packed into seats normally occupied by the Timbers’ Army, the Rose City Riveters were able to replicate most of the environment that makes JELD-WEN Field one of the more notable destinations in MLS. The crowd was noticeably different – a bit smaller, and more skewed toward a family demographic that’s stronger in the women’s game – but outdrawing the combined attendance for the league’s four opening weekend matches, Portland still created a landmark event.
“Over the past few weeks we’ve heard about the number of tickets being sold, but I don’t think any of us expected that,” Thorns captain Christine Sinclair said after the match. “It was just incredible.”
The numbers alone were impressive, but for the few international stars on the field – U.S. internationals Alex Morgan and Rachel Buehler, in particular – they’re numbers they’d see multiple times each year playing for their national team. What made Sunday different was the type (and depth) of supporter culture that’s been hard to come by in the women’s game.
“It was a great Portland vibe,” was how Morgan described it. “We weren’t sure what to expect, but right from when we went out (for) warmups until game time, you hear the fans loud. I think every team that comes to Portland will not want to play us because they will be intimidated by the atmosphere.”
Sinclair echoed the sentiment. If the Rose City Riveters can replicate Sunday’s performance, Thorns FC will have a distinct home field advantage.
“This is going to be the only city that gets this type of crowd,” Sinclair explained. “When you haven’t been here before, it can be intimidating. Hopefully you can punish teams in the first half before they get used to it.”
On Sunday, Thorns FC took their first lead of the season, a late first half goal that did the punishing Sinclair described. With momentum coming out of halftime, Portland put the game away with an early second half goal.
If that becomes a formula for success, the value of Portland’s crowd will transcend these opening day headlines. It will become something that matters on the field.
NWSL Game of the Week: Portland Thorns vs. Seattle Reign
PORTLAND, Ore. — On Sunday, Portland Thorns FC host the first NWSL Cascadia derby when the Seattle Reign visit JELD-WEN field. With over 14,000 expected to witness Portland’s home opener, the new country’s new women’s league will see its first five-digit crowd. In their first of four meetings this season (one which will be streamed on the league’s YouTube channel), Portland versus Seattle is our NWSL Game of the Week.
THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Can you have a rivalry against a team you’ve never played?
It seems illogical two teams who’ve never played will automatically will be rivals, but this is Cascadia, and this is soccer. While a new NBA team in the Emerald City may not spark instant tension with the Trailblazers, Cascadian soccer culture mandates the Thorns and Reign be rivals.
“It’s articulated in the Sounders-Timbers rivalry going back decades,” Reign owner Bill Predmore said, alluding to the NASL legacy of the regions MLS teams. “I think there’s going to be a lot of crossover from fan perspective. You’re going to see Sounders fans who are Reign fans, Timbers fans who are Thorns fans … I think that’s a great fit.”
For the Thorns, the rivalry allows them to build on that Timbers-Sounders intensity, something that could help the city’s new team share support with its MLS brethren. For Predmore, the dynamic could prove an important part of his nascent club’s growth.
“It think [the rivalry is] pretty important,” Predmore said. “Right now, for instance, our best selling matches are the two we’re going to play in Seattle against the Thorns … we’re absolutely seeing the budding rivalry is driving fan interest.”
But is the rivalry really budding? It’s impossible to know until game time. As Seattle head coach and general manager Laura Harvey said, “all that matters is what happens Sunday at two o’clock.”
Until then the question lingers: Can you truly have a rivalry before playing a game. Here’s what seven principles said when asked:
Cindy Parlow Cone Head Coach, Thorns FC
“I don’t know. Don’t you guys set up the rivalries more so than we do? (It’s) the fans and the media.”
Laura Harvey Head Coach/General Manager, Reign FC
“All that matters is what happens Sunday at two o’clock … It’s something the fans look forward to, the players look forward to, the coaches look forward to.”
Alex Morgan Forward, Thorns FC
“All of Portland knows that it doesn’t matter what it is. Seattle and Portland always have a great rivalry … It’s just the way it is, isn’t it?”
Bill Predmore Owner, Reign FC
“I think there’s probably a deep-seated rivalry just between the cities … Hopefully it creates a great environment for the fans in both cities when we’re playing.”
Christine Sinclair Forward, Thorns FC
“It’s hard to built a rivalry when it’s both team’s second game ever and we’ve never played against each other before.”
Keelin Winters Midfielder, Reign FC
“I definitely think they can. I know a lot of players who play on Portland. Words have been exchanged. Not saying anything exciting, by any means, but obviously both teams want to win.”
2. MLS venue means MLS atmosphere
Thorns FC had a number of advantages coming into the season, the biggest of which will be seen on Sunday. The crowd at JELD-WEN will eclipse the combined attendance of the league’s four Week 1 games, and while the club has been reluctant to boost the 14,000 projection that’s been floated this week, a crowd between 16,000 and 17,000 is possible.
Particularly for players who aren’t national team regulars, crowds that size are exceptionally rare.
“The last time I played in front of that amount of people was in 2008 at the Under-20 World Cup,” Seattle midfielder Keelin Winters said. “Emotions are going to be high, playing in front of a big crowd like that. It pumps the players up, maybe a little too excited at times. I think the atmosphere’s going to be awesome, especially because it’s like a Northwest derby.”
It’s the most common refrain among players during this week’s buildup. Yes, the rivalry’s big, and it’s going to be good to get another game until their belts, but the opportunity to play at a Major League Soccer venue in front of Major League Soccer-caliber support is Sunday’s big selling point.
“I think the crowd is going to be awesome,” Thorns defender Rachel Buehler said, excitedly. “I hope that really carries over for us.”
It’s guaranteed to, at least in proportion. Thorns FC have over 7,000 season ticket holders, more than the maximum attendance at all but one of the league’s other seven venues.
3. Two very different midfields
Though Cindy Parlow Cone said the entire team could improve on their Kansas City performance, midfield was a particular area of concerned. Thanks in large part to the play of FCKC’s Desiree Scott, Portland’s midfield four saw supply to Morgan and Sinclair completely cut off. The Thorns failed to score from open play, and until moving Sinclair into an attacking midfield role near the hour mark, the team couldn’t find an alternate route into attack.
“We had so many issues [against Kansas City],” Parlow Cone said. “We weren’t playing well together as a team. We weren’t playing well between our lines – the midfield linking up to the forward, and the defenders linking to the midfielders. Those are things we have to clean up.”
Defensive midfielder Becky Edwards eventually came on after a difficult start, but the rest of the midfield was ineffectual. Allie Long, on the left of a narrow line of three, was the most active midfielder, but she was never able to convert her touches into product. Angie Kerr was a non-factor trying to operate in front of Scott and Jen Buczkowski, while Nikki Washington failed to have a influence as play tended to build through the other side of midfield.
Unfortunately for Portland, Seattle may present even greater problems than Kansas City. Whereas FCKC played a 4-2-3-1 that often saw attacking Lauren Cheney stay well above of the space in front of defense, Laura Harvey’s likely to use a 4-3-3 that will leverage Winters, defensive midfielder Kaylyn Kyle, and first week standout Jessica Fishlock (right, playing last December in Australia).
“Jess came up huge for us defensively (against Chicago),” Winters explained. “She made countless tackles. She didn’t just go into a tackle. She won the tackle.
“I think she was an unknown coming into this league, coming from Wales. Nobody knew what to expect from her. (After) that game against Chicago, people are going to be a little more wary of where she is on the field in relation to them, especially when they have the ball. She’s coming after you whether you like it or not.”
Fishlock will default to the highest, more pressing role in what seems to function as a traditional win-pass-go trio. Winters, known as a defensive midfielder, can hold or play box-to-box, while Kyle’s main responsibilities will be in front of the defense.
Yet Harvey doesn’t want to limit her versatile players to those roles.
“We can play any three of them in any of the three different positions in midfield,” Harvey says, explaining how she’d ideally like her midfield to function. “Defensive mid – all three of them can play it. [Box-to-box] – all three of them can play it. The No. 10 role, playing behind the forward – all three of them can play it. That’s how I like my midfield to be anyway.”
The system’s designed for a lot of interchangeability, a potentially daunting task for Portland considering the trouble they had breaking through Scott and Buczkowski. For Winters, the Reign can learn from Kansas City’s plans, even if the players aren’t identical.
“Desiree (Scott) did a really good job in the game against Portland,” Winter said, commenting on Kansas City’s ability to keep Portland’s midfield from connecting with Morgan and Sinclair. “I was definitely looking for what she did well and worked for her in the game. At the same time, I’m not Desiree Scott.”
“[Morgan and Sinclair] just didn’t have the ball at their feet as much as I’m sure they would have liked,” Winters noted. “One of the things that myself and my midfield and my backline will obviously try (to do is) to deny [those passes]. Whenever they have the ball at their feet, they’re a threat … I’ve seen Sinclair shoot from 30 yards out and score.”
Last week Portland lost the battle of midfields, and they were fortunate they didn’t lose the game. If Seattle can replicate Kansas City’s success in the middle — and improve on the quick transitions Harvey would like to see off turnovers — Portland’s home opener will prove more troublesome than expected.
Star to Watch
Alex Morgan – Portland’s No. 9 looked tired last week, understandable considering the hectic month she endured leading up to the season. On Sunday, Morgan will be well-rested.
Jessica Fishlock – The Welsh international was Seattle’s Week 1 standout. If she can pressure Edwards at the based of midfield, Portland will have to find another person to organize play ahead of the middle third.
Angie Kerr – Just like last week, the linkup between Sinclair and Portland’s most attacking midfielder will dictate how the game is played. In Kansas City, where the linkup non-existent, the game was played on Kansas City’s terms.
Michelle Betos – The 25-year-old came up huge in Chicago in place of Hope Solo. With Seattle’s back line devoid of any star defenders, Betos will have to continue providing stellar performances.
Win if …
… they get Sinclair and Morgan more involved, which means solving the midfield problem. They can afford defensive mistakes if they’re scoring goals, but without service to their strikers, Portland can’t get into a shootout.
… they win the midfield battle, transition like Harvey wants, and use Christine Nairn and Kiersten Dallstream to stretch Portland’s vulnerable defense. Tactically, Seattle appear to have a series of advantages that should give Portland problems.
Other games, Week 2
Washington Spirit vs. Western New York Flash (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – Aaran Lines’ team played better than their 1-0 loss hints, but they’ll face a more robust defense in Washington, who took a strong point from Boston last weekend. This one looks like a 0-0, with quick transition play sparked by Veronica Perez coming up short against Ashlyn Harris and a strong Spirit defense.
Oh, c’mon! Are you telling me you couldn’t play in that?
Okay, I believe you. Putting the ball in the picture provides some perspective. Today’s game in Commerce was just not going to happen. Instead, MLS has rescheduled the Rapids’ home opener against Philadelphia for tomorrow at 3 p.m. ET.
From the linked announcement:
“As always, the safety of our fans, staff and athletes is paramount, and the conditions in the Denver area preclude the game from being played as originally scheduled.” MLS EVP of competition and game operations Nelson Rodriguez said in a league statement. “We would like to thank both clubs for working with us to plan accordingly and we look forward to their match on Sunday at 1 pm local time.”
An earlier starts and later finishes mean a few more Major League Soccer matches will fall into iffy weather windows. Today’s match was a casualty. Northern Europe deals with this every once in a while, and thanks to the ever-expanding MLS calendar, our domestic league gets to deal with it, too.
More, this time from Tim Hinchey:
“We had hoped and planned to play our match as scheduled, but we cannot put staff, fans, and players from both teams at risk by asking them to travel or play in unsafe conditions,” Rapids club president Tim Hinchey said in a statement. “The weather, roads and field will clear up by Sunday at 1:00, and we look forward to welcoming everyone to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for our home opener at that time.”
Commence with your obligatory soccer calendar observations. Feel free to assume Sepp Blatter’s reading. Now is the time.