Written by Benjamin Santilli (@BSantilli27):
It was a high scoring affair in Toronto on November 30th, as the two Canadian heavyweights went toe-to-toe in the second leg of the 2016 MLS Eastern Conference Final. The rivalry between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC was intense. The rivalry between the two cities extends beyond just football and dates back to the early days of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens in hockey. The struggle between the French-speaking Canadian province and its English-speaking counterparts soared with the result of the first game in Montreal ending with a 3-2 advantage for the Impact.
Toronto FC had their backs against wall and needed to win by two goals to survive to reach MLS Cup. To get to the Eastern Conference Final, Montreal (5) had tackled D.C. United (4) and the top team in the East, the New York Red Bulls (1) and Brandon Wright-Phillips. Their counterparts in Ontario, Toronto FC (3), had to overcome the Philadelphia Union (6) in the first round and easily dispatched second seed NYCFC (2) in a 7-0 thrashing on aggregate.
High profile stars lined both sides ranging from young breakout stars to experienced veterans. Unfortunately for the Impact, recent disputes between Montreal leader Didier Drogba and coach Mauro Biello have gone public over the last few weeks. The Ivorian international expressed frustration with his manager towards the end of the season over starting in certain games and even took himself out of the lineup in an important league matchup against their future conference final opponents, Toronto, in the regular season. The former Chelsea star has been fighting for his position with Matteo Mancosu who is on loan from Italian side, Bologna. The Impact manager had been selecting the much younger Italian and chose instead to use Drogba off the bench. With a little bit of baggage, Montreal made their way to Toronto for the second leg of the conference finals with a one-goal lead.
The intense atmosphere at BMO Field would create an exciting match. Montreal opened the scoring in the 24th minute as a wide-open Dominic Oduro placed his name firmly on the score sheet with a well-placed shot off a pass from Mancosu to create an ominous scenario for Toronto. However, they evened-up the score at one goal apiece when Armando Cooper finished off a rebound from a poorly cleared save on a corner kick. United States star, Jozy Altidore, touched a header home past Canadian goalkeeper Evan Bush on the near post from a Giovinco corner just before halftime to level the aggregate score at 4-4. Both teams would head into the dressing room with a lot on their minds.
The momentum heavily favored Toronto and the Impact had just given up their lead on aggregate. The men in blue and black stripes came back out with a renewed vigor and in just eight minutes past the interval, Ignacio Piatti broke through the Toronto FC defense and the ball trickled in as the Impact again took the lead again. In the 68th minute, Nick Hagglund climbed the ladder and headed home the equalizer in the series and the lead in the game. The game remained 3-2 in favor of Toronto until a cross from defender Stephen Beitashour was headed past Bush by substitute Benoit Cheyrou. The Frenchman gave Toronto FC the lead on aggregate and the final blow was dealt by a sliding Tosaint Ricketts when he touched a cross by Altidore into the back of the net.
Though Montreal, threatened late in the second period of extra time, they were kept at bay by the organized Toronto defense. The story of the night for Montreal was their inability to mark on set pieces. Three of the five Toronto goals came from set pieces or plays resembling them. Toronto players had freedom to move unchecked in the box and Montreal paid for their sloppiness in the back. They squandered the lead they had acquired in the first leg. Surely, Montreal wish they could have that game back but Toronto have advanced to MLS Cup to face off against the Seattle Sounders on December 10.
The disheartening loss seemed to be the last for Didier Drogba who posted a farewell message to Impact fans after the game on Instagram, thanking them for their great support. The message from Drogba and his agent indicates that he wants to continue playing and there are many rumors tying him to Italian clubs in Serie A. He could be picked up by SSC Napoli who are reported to be interested in the 38-year-old after losing Arkadiusz Milik who was injured in Poland’s clash with Denmark in October. Is he the right fit for the Partenopei? The question of age should certainly be raised. Can the Ivorian still play top-level football or has he already announced the end of an illustrious career with his move to the MLS?
Klinsmann and the Kids: A Look at the USMNT’s Young Stars and the First Hexagonal Game Against Mexico
Written by Mark Switzer (@arkwitzner)
On November 11th, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio the United States Men’s National Team will face Mexico in the first of 10 games to decide who will be representing CONCACAF in the 2018 World Cup. The Fifth Round of qualification that both teams find themselves in is nicknamed the “Hexagonal” or the “Hex” after the six teams that remain standing in the federation. The top three advance from the pool of six after round-robin play amongst the six teams remaining with the fourth being forced into a playoff to make the World Cup.
Both teams will be looking to open their Hex campaigns on the right foot, but the onus is on the USMNT. Columbus has been a fortress for the United States historically, as they haven’t lost in 11 appearances in the Columbus Crew’s stadium. 8 wins and only 3 draws to their name. This game is the United States’ to win.
However, the cast that the United States will be trotting out just a week after this piece is being written will undoubtedly have a few younger faces in the mix. They will be thrust onto a stage that will take a different level of skill in order to prevail over one of their true rivals; Mexico. But the kids have the skill, unlike previous generations of U.S. players that revolved around grit and determination to get through tough teams like they will be facing in a few days’ time. They come from all types of soccer, and social backgrounds but they have all been deemed good enough to represent their country at the highest level of soccer by the U.S. Soccer Commander in Chief, Jurgen Klisnmann.
What’s the one thing they have in common? Dynamism in the attacking third. And that is one thing that you can never have too much of. Let’s take a look at which young stars fans can expect to see play a role in the upcoming qualification match.
Christian Pulisic, 18 Years Old. Club: Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Some consider this young 18-year-old to be the brightest young player to come through the U.S. talent pool in quite some time. And who can blame them? He has been an integral part of a top tier Champions League club in Borussia Dortmund since the end of last season, and also during the most recent 2016-2017 campaign. The Hershey, Pennsylvania native has racked up 8 caps so far with the national team, scoring 3 goals and he has played mostly in a dynamic attacking-midfield role. This role is similar to the one that he occupies at Borussia Dortmund.
His role at Dortmund at the start of the season was up for debate after the summer transfers brought in by Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel. However, even with the vast number of young and experienced attacking talent brought in during the summer transfer period, Pulisic has kept his place. He has appeared in 7 games and has scored 2 goals while assisting another 3. Stats that get better considering 2 of those appearances came off the bench. In terms of prospects, he is the best in the USMNT talent pool at the moment, that much is hard to debate due to his output and the prestige of the club and competitions he has been a part of. However, he has yet to face Mexico in a senior competitive match. This will be a new test for the youngster if called upon to start, or make an impact off the bench on November 11th.
Julian Green, 21 Years Old. Club: Bayern Munich (Germany)
This player has had an interesting start to his senior national team career, first and foremost because of how he was thrust onto the stage. Julian Green, who was born in Tampa but grew up in Germany, will forever be remembered as the forward that kept Landan Donovan off the 2014 World Cup roster, but he justified his inclusion by scoring the lone U.S. goal in a 2-1 defeat to Belgium in the same tournament. However, since then it has been a tough road for the 21-year-old. He is on the books at Bayern Munich currently but his surprising world cup appearance was followed by an extremely fruitless loan spell at Hamburger SV, another Bundesliga outfit.
Although the loan period at Hamburger SV and the resulting demotion back to the youth teams at Bayern Munich took a toll on his development and minutes in the past few years, his 2016-2017 season has been a positive one. In preseason with Bayern he earned minutes as well as scoring a hat trick. Add on to that fact that he has scored both his first goal for Bayern’s senior side in the past week and also performed well in the most recent USMNT friendlies and he could be in line for an impact substitute appearance against Mexico.
Bobby Wood, 23 Years Old. Club: Hamburger SV (Germany)
Bobby Wood continues the trend of young Americans that are currently plying their trade in Germany’s top division. Wood was born and grew up in Hawaii and is a pure striker by trade but he has also played on the left wing for the U.S. at times. He started his first season in the top flight of Germany very well, scoring in his first match and is still currently the top scorer for his team in Bundesliga action. However, he recently picked up a red card which will keep him out for his next three games in the competition. Although this does not affect him in matches for the United States, he may be short of match fitness come the Mexico game.
It is likely he will get the call to start alongside Jozy Altidore up top on November 11th in Columbus, and if he does it will be on the left with Altidore set up more centrally. That combination got the Americans to the semi-finals of the Copa America Centenario and Klinsmann may look to use the same combination to start off the Hex, if Wood is match fit enough to start.
DeAndre Yedlin, 23 Years Old. Club: Newcastle United (England)
Primarily a right fullback, it is hard to believe that the Seattle native can be so impactful in the attacking third for the United States, but that is exactly what he does. He is an attacking fullback that bombs up and down the right flank making important runs in behind the defense, something the United States can lack at times. This is especially important to the tactical aspect to the United States’ play since it will open up space in the middle for supporting runs from midfield.
He has also spent some time on the wing, both for the United States and at his new club Newcastle United. This could complicate exactly where he plays in the Mexico game but it is a good bet he will be on the field considering he already has 40 caps at the young age of 23. And although he has yet to score for the Yanks, be prepared to see him make a strong impression on the United States attack in their first game against their heated rivals.
Jordan Morris, 22 Years Old. Club: Seattle Sounders (MLS)
The former Stanford collegiate star has made a splash in his rookie year in MLS, a season that has not been without its bumps in the road. He has been forced to overtake the leading role in attack for the Sounders as Obafemi Martins was transferred over the summer and Clint Dempsey has gone down with a heart issue during a crucial stretch of the playoff push. However, Morris has held strong and has been able to consistently produce throughout his first season as a professional. He’s lower down on the pecking order than Wood, most likely occupying the “third string” striker on Klinsmann’s depth chart.
He will likely be nominated, and possibly selected as Rookie of the Year in MLS. A look at his statistical record will back this up. 12 goals and 4 assists for the highest paid homegrown player in league history has helped him make his case to be consistently included in the national team squad. All of this taking into account a rough start to his season where he failed to tally a goal in his first 5 games. Ever since then however, he has been nothing but a player that is looking like the future of the USMNT at the striker position.
These five young stars are sure to make an impact in the upcoming game against Mexico and barring injury, you can expect to see most of them on the pitch from the off. Wood will be in contention for the second striker role, Yedlin will be vying for the starting right back position and Pulisic surely is in Klinsmann’s plan to get his first ever start against their storied CONCACAF rival Mexico. As for Green and Morris, they may be reduced to substitute roles from the start of the game, but it is more than likely we will see at least one of them come on as substitutes if the U.S. need a late spark and additional creativity in the attacking third.
Blog Written by Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese):
The Los Angeles Galaxy made their first-ever visit to Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon to face off against New York City Football Club. Both teams came into the match with 38 points despite the Galaxy having two less matches. After failing to win appeals, NYCFC were without both head coach Patrick Viera and Maxime Chanot due to suspension.
For all the stars on the field, this game did not exactly live up to its hype. An early goal from David Villa off a rebound was the difference as NYCFC prevailed for their fourth straight victory at home. The teenager Jack Harrison brilliantly found Ronald Matarrita out wide on the left-flank whose ensuing shot was deflected by L.A. goalkeeper Clement Diop, only for David Villa to finish with an easy tap-in. However, replays suggest that David Villa was very likely offside at the time of Matarrita’s shot and the goal should have been disallowed. Nevertheless the Spaniard tallied his 16th goal this season, tied with Toronto’s Giovinco for most in the league.
Even after the sixth minute goal both sides seemed stuck in first gear. Villa and Harrison both had good chances but failed to capitalize and double the lead for NYCFC. Josh Saunders got his fingertips to Nigel De Jong’s bicycle kick in the 45th minute to ensure NYCFC went into halftime with the lead.
Bruce Arena’s side had some decent opportunities in the second half, most notably a Robbie Keane header and a left-footed shot from inside the box by Jelle Van Damme. NYCFC were able to hold on and made a statement that they can challenge for the Supporters Shield this year.
When Brian Lewis of BigAppleSoccer.com asked Andrea Pirlo if New York could win MLS Cup this year he responded, “Maybe. We are working game after game," he said through an interpreter. "We have been working since the start of the season to try to get the goal [of] the MLS Cup. It's great to be here first in the standings."
The World Cup champion also added that it was nice to play against Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. “He’s a great champion. He, Ashley Cole, and [Robbie] Keane are a great team.”
New York City FC currently sit in first place of the Eastern Conference Standings with eight regular season games remaining. They will travel to Orlando for their next match on Sunday, August 28.
Blog Written by Benjamin Santini (@Bsantilli27):
Following an incident involving two players during a May 14th clash against the Montreal Impact, the Columbus Crew traded target forward Kei Kamara to the New England Revolution. Kamara was involved in a dispute with teammate Federico Higuain over who was to take a penalty in the 52nd minute. The two exchanged words before the kick was taken which escalated even further. It began as a discussion as the referee sorted through the complaints of Impact players including Didier Drogba. As they voiced their concerns regarding the awarded penalty, the two Columbus men were involved in an increasingly heated discussion that had to be broken up by Crew captain, Michael Parkhurst. The Sierra Leone forward was obviously displeased with the result and refused to celebrate with the team when Higuain converted the penalty and Columbus took a 4-1 lead at home over Montreal. Kamara was understandably upset at his teammate because he had already scored two goals in the game and the penalty would have been a perfect opportunity to add a third goal to cap off an excellent night for the 31-year-old. Federico Higuain however had just scored a goal less than 3 minutes earlier to lift the home team to a 3-1 advantage over the visiting Impact. After the game, Kamara was asked by reporters if the two players would go to lunch to put the dispute behind them and he responded by saying “My Chipotle card only covers one. It says one meal a day. I can’t afford another one.” (via www.oregonlive.com/)
Not long after the dispute, transfer rumors began to surface surrounding the disgruntled player. Though it is still early in the season, Columbus sat ninth in the Eastern Conference with just two games in the win column at that point. With a struggling side on the pitch, the Crew management wanted to rid a bad influence from the dressing room by offloading Kamara and shake things up a bit. His talent is unquestionable and many teams would certainly benefit from the experience that a player with his résumé provides. In 2015, after joining the Crew again from Middlesbrough F.C. in England, Kei Kamara finished the regular season tied with Sebastian Giovinco for the MLS Golden Boot. The prize, however, went to Giovinco because he had recorded more assists. Yet, Columbus might even be better off without Kamara. Negative influences can divide a locker room and cause even more troubles. However, New England has picked up a player who can provide depth to a side that sits just on the border of a playoff spot at this juncture. Signing a proven goal scorer like the former Crew forward could provide them the added push they need to climb the table. The Revolution currently sit tied with D.C. United, Toronto FC and Orlando City for 5th place as they try to gain ground during a home stand that provides some very favorable matchups. Following their 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire, they fell 4-2 to FC Dallas but rebounded with a 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders. With Vancouver and D.C. United up next on the schedule, this will give them the opportunity to really jump into the playoff picture.
Kamara joins a talented Revolution attack that includes United States internationals: Lee Nguyen, Juan Agudelo, and Charlie Davies, as well as Uruguayan striker Diego Fagundez among others. Kamara adds some much needed height to a unit that is certainly lacking in that department. Fagundez and Nguyen both are only a diminutive 5’8” and Davies stands just two inches taller while Agudelo is the tallest at 6’1”. Kamara is 6’3”, which gives him a big aerial advantage; his ability to win 50/50 balls will be key for his side and his long, wiry frame makes him an excellent possession striker. With Kamara, the Revolution have a reliable target up front who will provide a sizable advantage in the attack. In addition to his height and control, the central forward is a profound goal scorer; his 22 goals last season are evidence that he has a nose for the net. His goal scoring abilities will be the biggest addition to the Revolution attack. Kamara has more goals than any Revolution forward to this date with a total of five goals. The number of goals Kamara can provide, establish him as a valuable asset to any team and a sign that the Revolution have begun their search to find an answer to their struggles temporarily until the next transfer window opens on the Fourth of July.
Kamara has yet to score since moving to New England and the full impact of this deal is yet to be seen. Will Kamara turn his season around and help to boost the Revolution into contention for the MLS Cup? That depends on the attitude and desire of the player and the aspirations of the team around him.
Blog Written by Benjamin Santilli (@Bsantilli27):
Sebastian Giovinco has taken Major League Soccer by storm since joining Toronto FC in early 2015 from Italian giants Juventus. The 29 year old has scored an unbelievable 28 goals in just 42 appearances for the Canadian side, which also features US National team stars Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, who spent time at AS Roma. Giovinco made the journey to North America as part of a recent wave of European stars such as Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David Villa and his former Juventus teammate Andrea Pirlo, who are all towards the end of their careers and looking to ride off into the sunset. Giovinco however, does not fit this profile.
In two terms at Parma FC on loan from Juventus, Seba scored 22 goals in 66 appearances. During the 2010-2011 season, Giovinco scored 7 goals, 3 of which, happened to be against his parent club Juve. Manager Antonio Conte used him sparingly upon joining Juventus. Often players like Alessandro Matri, Fabio Quagliarella and Fernando Llorente were favored as complements to players like Carlos Tevez, Alessandro Del Piero and Mirko Vucinic. He arrived at BMO Stadium young, ambitious, and eager to prove his talent. He was accepted with open arms in Toronto and made an immediate impact. The Torino native is often referred to as La Formica Atomica (The Atomic Ant). Though Giovinco stands at a mere 5 feet 4 inches tall, he packs a bundle of talent into his small frame. His assets include excellent speed, tactical understanding, and the artistic control that makes his free kicks a nightmare for MLS goalkeepers. His work rate is impressive and his hunger to score makes him dangerous at all times in all areas of the pitch. His versatility allows him to fit into almost any coaches’ side seamlessly. He is a valuable commodity for any club who is willing to give him the chance.
His talent is certainly under appreciated by many coaches who view his size as the biggest detriment to his skill. His numbers show quite the contrary. His effectiveness can be found in his goal and assist numbers per game. So far in MLS, Giovinco has scored an impressive 28 goals and 17 assists in 42 appearances (per whoscored.com) in just over one full season in Toronto. That is an impressive 0.7 goals per game. At Parma, he averaged one goal in every 3 appearances in Serie A. However, for Juve, his production levels were not nearly as high. As a member of the Bianconeri, he was used sporadically in games primarily coming on as a sub without much time to perform. In North America, the Atomic Ant has found new life. His speed and quickness, nightmares for a defender, create new space for him to produce at astronomical rates. Despite playing in MLS, he has garnered the attention of fans and people around the world for his spectacular playmaking ability. He earned MLS MVP honors, the MLS Golden Boot and shattered Chris Wondolowski’s single season points record along with many other accolades. He was also named to the MLS All-Star team and the Best XI for 2015.
Now, with Euro 2016 fast approaching, Italian National team manager Antonio Conte will have many tough decisions to make. In the mix for for the Azzurri will be renowned names in football such as Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne, AC Milan’s Mario Balotelli and Southampton’s Graziano Pellè. The full list of potential strikers includes:
Sebastian Giovinco is up against some stiff competition for a position in the final 23. These final weeks before the final cuts will be very important for a fringe player like Giovinco, it's chance his to show Conte that he is up to the task. If he makes the Azzurri side, it will do wonders for MLS and if he plays, it will draw even more attention to the league for having one of their star players at the pinnacle of European international football. More players may be willing to join MLS in the years ahead and the talent pool in the league will continue to add more quality to its ranks. The league will continue its trend upward regardless of whether Seba is given an Azzurri shirt in June, but it would certainly make a statement that top quality European players can be found in MLS and Giovinco is definitely deserving of a chance. His success since he left Juventus in February 2015 has shown that he can make the best out of any situation and he has world-class talent, which he has utilized to dominate MLS. Conte knows him very well from watching him every day in training at Vinovo for The Old Lady in Torino which could give the short man a big advantage. The biggest question is not whether Giovinco is capable of outperforming his size, but whether or not he will be able to use his great skills impress enough to earn his place on one of the most successful national sides in world football.
Blog Written by Rahman Baba Osman (@iamrahmanosman):
Major League Soccer, once a laughing stock in the 1990s, has finally become attractive. The league now is able to sign players from various European Leagues, even though a few are veterans who are on the level of retirement.
Like the saying 'wherever there is life' be sure to find an African footballer there. Players from Africa can be found everywhere the coveted leather ball is kicked from Afghanistan to Tonga; therefore the growing number of Africans in Major League Soccer is not surprising.
Major League Soccer since its rebranding in 1996 has seen a major increase in the number of African players in the competition. As far back as 2003 you could only count 10 African soccer players in the league. That number rose to 32 in 2009 and this current season it has increased to 37. Ghana has 11 nationals in MLS, the highest of the African contingent in the league with the closest being Nigeria who have 5 representatives. Despite being released today, Egypt was the latest African country to have a player in MLS with Amro Tarek, who made a substitute appearance for Columbus Crew on April 16th, 2016.
Notable amongst the Ghanaians are 4 full Internationals in the names of Afful Harrison, David Accam, Gideon Baah and last season's goalkeeping sensation Adam Larson Kwarasey, who won the MLS Save of the Year aside from helping his club, the Portland Timbers, to winning the MLS Cup. Another Ghanaian player doing well in Major League Soccer is Kwadwo Poku of New York City FC. From the day he netted a hat-trick in a 4-3 win over Real Colorado Foxes in the first round of the US Open Cup, he has never looked back. In the 2015 season he formed a brilliant midfield partnership with Italy legend and World Cup winner Andrea Pirlo. Poku's performance didn't go unnoticed as he was selected among the best young players in MLS, aged 24 and below. He had expressed his desire to feature for both the Black Stars of Ghana and the Yankees of USA, but Ghana seem to have tied him down after he featured for the Stars in an international friendly against Canada.
Nigeria is also strongly represented in MLS by Fanendo Adi of the Portland Timbers, Stephen Sunday of Real Salt Lake and Kennedy Igboananike of the Chicago Fire. In the entire league there are few 6-foot-4 target strikers with the nimble feet of the 25 year old Nigerian Fanendo Adi. The tall, prototypical No. 9 is a true menace around the area, constantly popping up in dangerous spaces with a key strike or header. So far, he has scored 31 goals in 65 MLS appearances, but none of his achievements eclipse his playoff performances that helped the Timbers win the MLS Cup last season. This season he has already netted 7 goals in his first 9 games of the season. Fanendo Adi is keeping the Green and White flag of Nigeria high, taking on from Obafemi Martins who flourished for Seattle Sounders FC between 2013-2015. In the 2014 season Martins was one of the best players in MLS, earning a spot in the MLS Best XI of the season. He hit the back of the net 17 times in the league and provided 7 assists. The Nigerian striker made his name in MLS for the Seattle Sounders before joining the China train to Shanghai Shenhua, where his salary tripled.
It will be a sacrilege to overlook Kei Kamara when talking about Africa's influence in MLS. Born in Kenema, Sierra Leone, he had to move to the USA from a refugee camp in The Gambia in 1999 due to civil war to join his mother who had already fled the war to California in 1990. Seven years later he was registered as a player for Columbus Crew. He has since featured for three other MLS clubs namely San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo, and Sporting Kansas City. Now, back at where it all started for him (Columbus Crew), he was crowned the top scorer in the MLS Playoffs last season and earned a spot in the Best XI. The striker has 77 MLS goals to his name, 2nd only behind Chris Wondolowski amongst active players in the league.
The African contingent in Major League Soccer lacked star power till African football legend and world superstar Didier Drogba traded Europe for America. The striker settled into the league with ease, actually scoring a perfect hat-trick in his first ever start; one with his left foot, the other with his right and a header. In his first year with Montreal, he finished the regular MLS season with a 100% goal scoring record of 11 in 11 games.
With the likes of Kei Kamara, Fanendo Adi, Adams Kwaresey and Didier Drogba keeping the flag of the African continent high in Major League soccer, do expect the number of Africans in the MLS to double in few years to come.
African Countries and Their Number Of Players In MLS
The Gambia: 4
Sierra Leone: 3
DR Congo: 2
Ivory Coast: 1
Blog Written by Sandro (@TransfersCalcio & @sandro_gaga):
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber visited Syracuse University on Tuesday, March 22. After spending some time during the morning with the Syracuse Men and Women’s soccer teams, Mr. Garber spoke with Rick Burton, professor of sports management, at Hendricks Chapel that evening. MLS has clearly made great progress since Garber became commissioner in 1999. The league has currently expanded to 20 teams with more on the way, secured lucrative TV and sponsorship deals and attracted some world-class players.
The conversation started off about soccer’s governing body, FIFA, which has been plagued by many scandals in the past months. Garber pointed out that FIFA has no constitution and “should be accountable to its members.” He also said the newly elected president, Gianni Infantino, will be a “breath of fresh air” for the organization. As a U.S. Soccer Pro Council Representative, Garber also confirmed the United States will look to host the 2026 World Cup.
Garber says a challenge is that U.S. men’s players are not developing enough even though there are over 100 homegrown players in the league and some MLS clubs are spending “$8-10 million on developing players.” Naturally, he also brought up the cultural differences between American and Europe & South America, “Belgium has a cultural dynamic that we don’t yet have. How do you have a player think about nothing else but the team when they’re 16? That culture doesn’t yet exist and it will take some time before that happens.” Bottom line: “We don’t have a world class player with an American passport.”
When asked about promotion/relegation by Professor Burton, Mr. Garber said “America is different” and “I could give you 100 reasons why it wouldn’t work”, after listing about 4-5 reasons. While it’ll likely never happen, I can give you 100 reasons why pro/rel could work and how it could be effective, Mr. Garber. Obviously the argument is much larger than that but let's save that for another time.
MLS has tapped into a young fan base and Garber realizes this, “Millennials grew up with the game” and sees soccer as “a sport for this new America.” The soccer culture is what makes the sport different. He said proud fans, such as those who stand in pouring rain for 90 minutes to watch their favorite team, are special. Garber brought up an interesting story that in 1999 a merger was proposed between MLS and the Women’s league at the time. Unfortunately, after some meetings it just didn’t work out.
Garber made an intriguing point that there’s only about 55-60 minutes of actual gameplay during a 90-minute match, between dead balls and substitutions, leaving about 30 minutes of dead time. Garber would in fact like to see offside calls to be reviewable but doesn’t think it’ll happen. But wouldn’t it be doable if the 4th official had access to replays on the sideline? It would take about 5 seconds to make the correct call.
Garber cited the fact that he brought MLS in line with international rules after 3 months, abandoning shootouts to settle draws and letting referees keep the time on the field. Since then, MLS has dramatically changed its brand. He thought the “old MLS logo looked like a cartoon.” But now the logo suits each team as it varies color on each teams jersey. MLS has expanded its brand well enough that international viewership is now greater than domestic viewership. Garber then raised an interesting point, which is, “Are we an American sports league playing soccer or are we a global soccer league playing in America?” He added, “Building an American version of a global product is just really complicated.” Garber did admit that, “We have to improve quality of play.”
The league holds every player’s contract and Garber must approve every contract. He confessed it was difficult to let Oba Martins leave the Seattle Sounders to move to China but pointed out his salary tripled. He also admitted that many players and coaches aren’t exactly the biggest fans of the MLS All-Star Game. If they win, it’s that the other team didn’t try and if they lose, the story is they’re not good. Some guys would just like to have a week off since MLS clubs do the most domestic league travelling in the world.
Overall, Garber gave good insight to the league’s achievements so far and it’s plans and goals for the future. Garber is certainly dedicated to continue developing Major League Soccer through a long-term plan.
Fun fact: Mr. Garber’s father attended Syracuse on the G.I. Bill.
Guest Blog by Max Colantoni (@MColantoni10)
After a disappointing first-round departure from the playoffs in 2015, the Los Angeles Galaxy aims to get back into championship form for the upcoming year. 2015 was a roller coaster ride for Los Angeles; their record in home matches was good for second best in the MLS (12-2-3.) On the flip side, The Galaxy were a league worst at 2-9-6 away from the StubHub Center.
On the heels of a dazzling season from the 2014 MLS MVP Robbie Keane, many questions still remain surrounding the team’s other strikers. Giovani dos Santos arrived from Villarreal in August to provide another quality option for Galaxy boss Bruce Arena. Gyasi Zardes once again showed signs of brilliance with nine goals and five assists across all competitions. Zardes’ goal production took a dip after the arrival of Giovani dos Santos after Arena used him mainly on the right flank. Dos Santos scored four goals and finished with seven assists across all competitions in thirteen games with the Galaxy. Dos Santos and Keane look to lead the attack for the Galaxy once again in 2016. Last year, Bruce Arena also saw flashes of promise from some of his young talent, players like Ignacio Maganto, Bradford Jamieson IV, Raul Mendiola, and Jose Villarreal, all of whom scored at least once in 2015. Alan Gordon also shined last season with 11 goals throughout the year, remaining Arena’s first choice as an attacking substitution. Free agent, Mike Magee, returns to Los Angeles after playing two years in Chicago, making 51 appearances and scoring 22 goals from 2013-2015. He looks to provide depth and another goal scoring threat for Arenas. Twenty-two-year-old, Ghanaian Emmanuel Boateng, also joined the attack corps in January as a free agent, having spent the last two years in Sweden with Helsingborg’s IF. Arenas hopes he can find goal scoring chances, off the bench, providing a fiery boost in attack. Although Boateng tallied only four goals in 37 appearances from 2013-2015 with Helsingborg, he looks to learn some good technique from veterans Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos this season.
When the LA Galaxy’s midfield was at full strength, they were one of best groups in Major League Soccer. But because of countless injuries and international call-ups, Galaxy head coach, Bruce Arena, had to mix up his midfield for a majority of the season. The Galaxy found a bit of success after the arrival of English midfielders Steven Gerrard and Sebastian Lletget. With Gerrard in the center alongside Juninho, as well as Lletget and Gyasi Zardes manning the wings, the Galaxy midfield helped the team to a league best 6-1-0 record in August. After only scoring once in 2014, Juninho rediscovered his scoring ways with four goals and eight assists across all competitions, all while playing in a team high of 37 games. On December 24, 2015 Juninho transferred to Tijuana and will play in Liga Mexicana in 2016. This is obviously a big blow to the midfield and undoubtedly spurred the signing of Dutch midfielder, Nigel De Jong, from A.C. Milan. De Jong will step into a central midfield role and use his veteran leadership skills to motivate his younger Galaxy teammates. Another veteran, free agent midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, joins the Galaxy after two seasons with Chicago and looks to play the central defending midfield role this season. Expectations will be high for the Galaxy’s midfield for the 2016 season. Steven Gerrard and Sebastian Lletget will have a full pre-season with the club, and will surely be expected to produce much more than they did in their first season. Starting the season together should only help the team’s newcomers gel and hopefully allow the Galaxy to create the same form they enjoyed in 2014.
Defensively, in 2015, the Galaxy showed their true weaknesses. Countless mistakes and miscommunications made coach Bruce Arenas shake up his defensive formations. This, along with lack of discipline, led to one of the worst defensive displays in recent memory for the Galaxy. Omar Gonzalez and Dan Gargan once again led the defensive corps. Brazilian defender Leonardo was by far the Galaxy’s most consistent defender. Leonardo showed his stout ability to take on offenders in one-on-one situations. He was named the Galaxy’s defensive player of the year and looks to continue his good form in 2016. Veteran Englishman, Ashley Cole, joins the Galaxy defending corps after transferring from AS Roma over the winter and gives the Galaxy a veteran defenseman with plenty of European and international experience. He is tasked to fill the shoes of Omar Gonzalez who is on his way to Pachuca. Another Belgium international joins the Galaxy in Jelle Van Damme. Van Damme, another veteran, looks to provide another defensive option for Arenas this year. He has played the last five seasons with Standard Liege making 205 appearances with the squad in that span. Left back Robbie Rogers showed that his 2014 campaign was no accident as he had another strong season in 2015. Despite being a defender for less than a year, Rogers led all left backs in MLS with 75 interceptions. But his finest moment came on June 25th when he scored his first goal for the Galaxy during the club’s Pride Night. Concentration lapses weren’t the only issue for the Galaxy’s defense, as the club also suffered from a bunch of injuries. No defender was more struck by the injury bug than right back A.J. DeLaGarza. A foot injury sidelined the defender in the preseason, causing him to miss out on his usual starting role in the club’s first three matches. This wasn’t DeLaGarza’s only injury, however, as the defender also dealt with a groin injury that eventually required surgery at season’s end. Although DeLaGarza recovered to make 28 appearances across all competitions, the versatile defender was unable to regain the form that he enjoyed a year ago.
Now, about the messes in between the posts - the goalkeepers. No position drew more scrutiny in 2015 for the LA Galaxy than goalkeeper, the year can simply be defined by two distinct moments. First, was the mid-year loss of Jaime Penedo, who cited family reasons for his departure. Penedo never signed with another team and expressed regret when asked about the situation months later. Los Angeles turned to a familiar face as they brought back Jamaican international goalkeeper, Donovan Ricketts, from Orlando City. Ricketts played well in his 14 appearances, but his air-headed mistakes in the playoffs ultimately led to The Galaxy’s demise. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena has not stated that the club will dismiss Ricketts, but with the 38-year-old goalkeeper out of contract, it doesn’t look promising for the Jamaican’s future. With Ricketts expected to move on, Arena must find himself a new starting goalkeeper. Multiple media reports have said that the Galaxy could bring back Penedo, but that doesn’t look likely with the additions of Dan Kennedy and Clement Diop. Kennedy only made 16 appearances with Dallas last year and will probably mentor up-and-coming Diop, who was signed from Galaxy II. In the 2015 season, Diop won the USL Western Conference and reached the USL Championship final with LA Galaxy II. On December 16 2015, LA Galaxy announced they had signed Diop to a first team contract for the forthcoming MLS season.
In 2016 the new look Galaxy have their sights set on another MLS Cup win. After the departures of Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez, and Juninho, the squad needs to be able to gel together again. Often times when teams take on new players, there is a lack of much needed chemistry on the pitch. Coach Bruce Arena said in an interview with SI.com: “Clubs have a lot of autonomy. They really do. You get to choose your own players. If you want to get Designated Players, you can. I’m sure the collective bargaining will give a little bit more freedom as well. But I think the notion that the league runs teams and tells you how you can spend and who’s on your team and who’s not is not accurate. However, at a local level you should have more freedom and responsibility in developing your roster. There’s still room to improve there.”
Our projected starting eleven shows a flurry of talented new and familiar faces. With Keane, dos Santos, and Zardes leading the attack. De Jong, Gerrard, and Lletget in the midfield. Robbie Rodgers playing a defensive minded midfielder, with Leonardo, Cole, and De La Garza holding up the defensive corps. As of today, veteran Dan Kennedy would most likely start in goal for Los Angeles.
Today we will look at Toronto FC, who over these past couple months have added important pieces to their team. Important enough that people will start to consider this team a contender in the MLS this season, and not a pretender.
For most parts of last season, Toronto FC were carried by the little Italian, Sebastian Giovinco. Seba was Toronto FC. Despite making the playoffs for the first time in the clubs history (which ended quickly because of a 3-0 loss to Montreal) Toronto still had holes and many things to fix. The first thing, for me was the overall depth of the squad. TFC hugely relied on Giovinco to create moments of magic nearly every game. It seemed like without him, nothing was happening. Secondly was the defensive situation. Toronto FC were terrible at the back and an abomination considering those are actual players that get paid to do that as a profession. The defense cost them tons of games (Toronto 4-4 NYCFC comes to mind along with many more). And against Montreal in the playoffs, it was no different. Actually, both of those flaws I pointed out were on complete display that night.
Toronto knew they had to make some changes in order to improve this team. Step forward GK Clint Irwin, DEF Steven Beitashour, DEF Drew Moor and MID Will Johnson. They drafted Tsubasa Endoh 9th overall in the draft, who from first impressions looks like a solid midfielder. He was voted the Major League Soccer combine MVP. So Toronto bring in a goalkeeper and some very good defenders, fixing that hole. Clint Irwin in anyway you put it is an upgrade on Bendik and Konopka. Last season Toronto had to play 9 different right-backs and Jackson was used as a right-back. Erm no. Beitashour comes in as a well respected right-back in MLS and completely fixes that problem, which might have been the biggest. Then there's Moor, someone who's very well known in MLS and brings everything Toronto needed in a center back. A good defender who can lead the defense. I'm interested to see his partner, I'd be looking at TFC II defender and 2015 9th overall pick Clement Simonin to possibly make the jump full time. His debut last year was great and got praise from coach Vanney and other players. If he can take his chances and stay healthy, (missed a lot last year due to injury) him and Moor are an option, but it's likely to be Moor and Prequis, which makes the most sense. Canadian midfielder Will Johnson will bring some much needed depth in the midfield. It will be interesting to see where this years draft pick Endoh will be used this season.
This team is not complete; there are still some things to fix no doubt. But this team has definitely improved enough where we can start asking the question if this team is ready. This transfer window the team didn't make any big headline signings but they brought in important pieces to improve the little things that kept holding them back from contending last season. Irwin, Beitashour and Moor definitely fix the teams biggest holes while Johnson brings great depth.
The market isn't over and they have been linked with a move for Italian striker Marco Borriello. The former Milan, Roma and Juve striker has had a respectful career in Serie A and the 33 year old would definitely bring in some attacking depth, especially if Luke Moore goes back to England as it's been reported. It seems unlikely in my opinion, but we'll see what happens.
This season is a very highly anticipated one for both Toronto FC and the TFC fans since with their new signings they definitely feel that they might finally have a team that could contend and make noise in the MLS.
Possible TFC XI: Irwin; Beitashour, Moor, Prequis, Morrow; Osorio, Cheyrou, Warner, Bradley; Jozy Altidore, Giovinco. (4-4-2 diamond)
Blog Written by Max Colantoni (@MColantoni10):
LA Galaxy 0, Santos Laguna 0
Wednesday, February 24, 2016 – 7:00 p.m. PT
2015-16 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League Quarters – First Leg
StubHub Center – Carson, California
The LA Galaxy earned a hard-fought result on Wednesday night at the StubHub Center, playing Liga MX side Santos Laguna to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the teams' CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series.
Jelle Van Damme nearly had an amazing start in his first game for the Galaxy, as his header off a corner kick in the first minute forced an astonishing save from Santos goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin. Ashley Cole, also making his Galaxy debut, did well working with the four man back line. Robbie Rodgers was a non-factor, demonstrating a few very frustrating mistakes. As for A.J. De La Garza he seemed to already be in mid-season form. Steven Gerrard displayed a classic “European Style” of play with magisterial one touch passes throughout the 0-0 draw.
As for the attack corps of the Galaxy, much was left to be desired. There weren’t many opportunities for Robbie Keane as he lacked support from his wingers Giovani dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes. In the 80th minute, substitute Javier Orozco nearly put Santos ahead, but his header flew just wide of the far post. Teammate Jesus Molina, attempting to follow up on the ball, accidentally slammed into the post and needed attention from Santos' medical staff before continuing.
The teams will play the second leg next Tuesday in Torreon to determine which team will advance to the semi-final round in the CCL.
Substitutes not used: Brian Rowe, Oscar Sorto, Dave Romney, Baggio Husidic, Mike Magee, Alan Gordon.
SHOTS: 11; SHOTS ON GOAL: 3; CORNERS: 7; OFFSIDES: 0; SAVES: 5
Santos Laguna: Agustin Marchesin; Javier Abella, Jesus Molina, Diego Gonzalez, Luis Angel Mendoza (Diego de Buen 90’+3), Bryan Rabello (Ulises Davila 87’), Nestor Calderon, Nestor Araujo, Jorge Villafana, Martin Bravo (Javier Orozco 69’), Carlos Izquierdoz
Substitutes not used: Kristian Alvarez, Adrian Aldrete, Julio Gonzalez, Jorge Sanchez.
SHOTS: 9; SHOTS ON GOAL: 5; CORNERS: 5; OFFSIDES: 0; SAVES: 3
Referee: Armando Castro (Honduras)
Referee’s Assistants: Christian Ramirez, Walter Lopez (Honduras)
4th Official: Melvin Matamoros (Honduras)