Champions League: Schalke 2 – Galatasaray 3, 3-4 agg

With Jermaine Jones  suspended due to yellow card accumulation, Schalke 04 exited the 2012-13 Champions League at the Round of 16 stage on Tuesday.  With the score 1-1 from the first-leg, Schalke took the lead at home when Roman Neustadter scored in the 18th minute.  Galatasaray equalized in the 37th and went ahead in the 42nd minute.  Those goals also gave them the away goal tiebreaker.  Schalke’s Michel Bastos made it 3-3 on aggregate in the 63rd, but that score would send Galatasaray through to the next round.  With Schalke pressing late, Galatasaray scored five minutes into stoppage time to win 3-2 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate.

“We’re obviously disappointed. If you take all four halves together we were very, very unlucky to go out,” Schalke coach Jens Keller said. “We lost the return leg in the first half. We failed to do a lot of the things we’ve been doing very well in the last few matches. We dropped back, we weren’t aggressive enough, we didn’t push forward and we didn’t really go for it.”

CONCACAF Champions League: Seattle 3 – Tigres 1, 3-2 agg

The Seattle Sounders eliminated Mexico’s Tigres on Tuessday night in the CONCACAF Champions League.  In front of their home crowd at CenturyLink Field, Seattle fell behind two goals on aggregate when Tigres scored in the 22nd minute.  The referee sent off Tigres’ Manuel Viniegra just before halftime, and Seattle took full advantage.  DeAndre Yedlin scored in the 52nd minute and Djimi Traore made it 2-2 on aggregate in the 59th.  Eddie Johnson scored the winner in the 74th minute.  Jonathan Bornstein started for Tigres. Jose Torres wasn’t in the squad.

USA Schedule for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup | US Soccer Players

On Wednesday in Chicago, CONCACAF announced the full schedule for the 2013 Gold Cup.  The United States play in Group C with Belize, Costa Rica, and Cuba.  The group kicks off on Tuesday, July 9th at Portland’s JELD-WEN Field with Belize – USA at 11pm ET.  USA – Cuba is July 13th at 4pm ET at Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City.  The group concludes on Tuesday, July 16th with USA – Costa Rica at 8pm ET at Rentschler Field in Hartford. 

At least two and as many as three teams from the group advance to the quarterfinals.  The group winner and runners-up move onto Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, July 21st.  Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX hosts the semifinals on July 24th with the final scheduled for Sunday, July 28th at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Increasing the Pressure in Major League Soccer | US Soccer Players

By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 13, 2013) US Soccer Players – Threatened with relegation and feeling the pressure of playing in the top flight of English soccer, Reading FC fired manager Brian McDermott this week. McDermott was the man responsible for getting the club back into the Premier League in the first place, but because the team is in danger of immediately returning to the Championship, loyalty is not a luxury the club believed it could afford. Right now, Reading is in 19th place and four points from safety after four consecutive league losses.

Whatever one’s opinion on the “fairness” of Reading’s decision to fire him, McDermott himself was undoubtedly aware of the tenuousness of his position. A bad run, no matter the credit he built up taking the club to the Premier League, and he’d be gone. The longevity of a manager at that level measures in months rather than years, and only a string of trophies can guarantee job security from season to season. McDermott went from Manager of the Month in January to unemployed in March. Such is the lot of most English managers.

Meanwhile, the 2013 MLS season is underway, and it’s difficult to ignore how different Major League Soccer head coaches have it. Without the specter of relegation chasing them from game to game, even coaches at the league’s worst performing teams typically know they’re unlikely to get a pink slip before the year is done. MLS rarely rewards turnover. A playoff place is rarely so far away that a head-coaching change in the middle of the season makes much sense.

It’s impossible to disconnect the rules under which the two leagues operate from the amount of pressure applied to the typical coach. Relegation serves as an accelerant, pushing teams to make firing decisions much more rapidly. In North America, postseason playoffs give clubs a safety net, allowing coaches time to make adjustments and reverse negative trends without constantly worrying about their job status.

Let’s imagine a future when pressure on MLS head coaches reaches Premier League-like levels, even without the threat of relegation. For lack of a better analogy, imagine that the attitude that pervades the National Hockey league when it comes to coaches infiltrates American and Canadian top-flight soccer. Imagine an MLS where owners fall prey to the whims of fickle fan bases.

How would MLS change? Would a greater amount of pressure on the men in charge of lineups and tactics dramatically alter the product on the field?

MLS has the reputation as a cookie-cutter League, filled with teams playing similar styles. Parity might make MLS among the most competitive leagues in the world from top to bottom, but it also makes it difficult to develop a unique way of playing the game. Because the League is fast and physical, even teams that hope to slow things down and cultivate a more refined passing game tend to revert to rushing and kicking to compete. With more pressure and a thinner line between employment and unemployment, head coaches would be even more likely to forego the more difficult path in the hunt for points. Shorter tenures means less time to implement a new style and to find the players necessary to implement it.

Coaching is, by nature, a conservative profession. Names like Zeman and Bielsa stand out from their peers because they value offense over defense. They put scoring goals above preventing them, a philosophy that runs counter to coaching’s basic nature. In an MLS with more pressure but the same playoff safety net, it would take a truly unique coach (as unique as Zeman or Bielsa) to break out of a conservative mindset and “go for it.” Organizing a defense and relying on an adept goal-scorer or two is simpler in the short term. With uneven quality across a roster limited by the salary cap and weather that punishes high-effort teams during much of the season, sitting back is not only the easy way, it’s often the most prudent way.

Even worse, with a higher head coach turnover rate, clubs might find it difficult to develop a style of their own over a longer timeline, the way Jason Kreis has done at RealSalt Lake. If short-term results are paramount, and owners treat coaches as easily replaceable commodities, the head coach becomes less important as part of the club-building process. Like with Major League Baseball where the field manager ‘manages’ the players on the field, club presidents, technical directors, and general managers gain even more power in such a scenario. Like with baseball, continuity usually happens further up the food chain.

For MLS, the current environment fosters complacency in many cases, gives coaches little reason to stretch their teams. Would a set of hotter seats prompt coaches to rely on experienced players to the detriment of newer, younger, talent? Expectations should be higher than just reaching the playoffs for coaches placed under greater pressure. In most of the world, it’s not good enough do the bare minimum. In an MLS where that is also the case, the drama surrounding a coach stuck in a rut of dropped points would present its own sort of intrigue.

Imagine an MLS where making the playoffs one year doesn’t buy a coach a grace period for the next season. Imagine an MLS where a string of losses with a playoff place on the line in September results in a head coaching change. Imagine an MLS where every coach knows he’s in constant danger of losing his job. Imagine an MLS more like England, where leading a team to a spot in one of the world’s best leagues isn’t good enough to buy a coach much more than a stay of execution.

Would that be a better MLS?


Jason Davis is the founder of MatchFitUSA.com and the co-host of The Best Soccer Show. Contact him:matchfitusa@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/davisjsn.

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Choosing Home Advantage for the US National Team | US Soccer Players

By Tom Dunmore – CHICAGO, IL (Mar 13, 2013) US Soccer Players - Columbus Crew President Mark McCullers said last week on the MLS team’s official website that “I can’t think of one single reason we would not be named,” referring to the venue choice US Soccer has yet to confirm for its World Cup qualifier with Mexico in September.

This week, McCullers again suggested Columbus’ Crew Stadium was the frontrunner to host the critical game, but let out a touch of nervousness in his update on the situation. “I would expect an announcement soon but I also would have hoped to have announced by now,” McCullers told the Columbus Dispatch. “We are pushing as hard as we can and remain confident that we will host the match.”

McCullers’ confidence comes from the US National Team’s superb record at Crew Stadium. The US has gone 6-0-3, including five wins and two draws in seven World Cup qualifiers in Columbus. That includes 2-0 wins over Mexico in three consecutive final rounds of World Cup qualifying, in 2001, 2005 and 2009. For good competitive reasons, then, McCullers believes the US should continue to play critical games against Mexico at Crew Stadium.

There are reasons why they wouldn’t. Since the US began playing in Columbus in 2001, several new soccer-specific-stadiums have opened. One in particular, Sporting KC’s Sporting Park, might well offer a similar genuine home advantage with US National Team fans packing a stadium that can generate far more revenue and boast more luxurious facilities than the relatively spartan Crew Stadium can offer.

Still, breaking the streak the US enjoys in Columbus would seem like a foolhardy decision. Which raises the question: how exceptional is Crew Stadium in providing a home advantage for the US in World Cup qualifiers against Mexico? Let’s take a look historically.

The US National Team did not play its first World Cup qualifier on American soil until 1957, even though the team had already participated in three World Cup finals. The US accepted an invitation for the inaugural 1930 tournament in Uruguay. In 1934, the US beat Mexico in a one-game qualifier in Rome only days before the World Cup began. The US did not enter the 1938 World Cup.

For the 1950 World Cup, the US qualified, but via a three-team competition with Cuba and Mexico held exclusively in Mexico City. The US finished second, qualifying alongside the host nation. In 1954, the US failed to qualify for the World Cup, playing all its qualifying games away from home in Haiti and Mexico. In January 1953, the US agreed to play its “home” qualifier against Mexico in Mexico City, for “climatic reasons.” The US similarly agreed to play its other qualifier against Haiti in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Finally, in 1957, the US hosted a World Cup qualifier. It was against Mexico, and it wasn’t pretty. For the first time, the chain of events that would lead to key qualifiers against Mexico moving to Ohio rather than California was set in motion.

The US faced Mexico in two qualifiers in the 1958 World Cup qualifying cycle. The first in Mexico City on April 7, 1957 ended in a 6-0 loss with the US team meeting each other for the first time in their hotel just a couple of days before the game.

According to Tony Cirino’s book US Soccer Vs The World, after that game the United States Soccer Football Association (USSFA) President J. Edward Sullivan promised “it will be different in Los Angeles,” referring to the return game scheduled to take place at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach three weeks later.

It was different, but not by much. The US lost 7-2. Just as distressingly, there was little home field advantage to enjoy. Cirino writes that “The 12,500 spectators were mostly Latin Americans, who had come to see famous players Carbajal and Reyes in action. They rooted for the Mexican team during the entire game.”

The Los Angeles crowd applauded enthusiastically at the end as the beaten US team trudged off the field.

Four years later, the USSFA ignored the lesson of 1958 World Cup qualifying, once again staging a game in Los Angeles for the 1962 World Cup qualifying cycle. This time, though, things went much better, in a surprising turn of events at LA’s Wrigley Field on November 6, 1960. Mexico led 3-0 by halftime, but apparently became overconfident, and conceded three times in the second half for a 3-3 draw. The Los Angeles Times called it “the biggest international upset since the Alamo.” Mexico had their revenge a week later, winning 3-0 and eliminating the US.

In qualifying for the 1966 World Cup, the US secured a draw in LA against Mexico once again, with a 2-2 score line on 7 March 1965 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, in front of a record crowd for a US-based World Cup qualifier of 23,000 fans. Again, most were rooting for the away team. Though the US secured a point, another loss in Mexico followed in the return game.

Seven years passed before the US played Mexico again in World Cup qualifying, as El Tri qualified automatically for the 1970 World Cup as the host nation. Los Angeles continued its exclusive grip on games against Mexico, with the qualifier held on September 10, 1972. With the US already eliminated, Mexico won 2-1 in front of nearly 10,000 fans. The US scrambled to even field a team, with semi-pro player Barney Djordjevic called from the stands before kickoff to join the American XI.

1978 World Cup qualifying saw LA’s dubious streak as a winless host city for US-Mexico games march on. This time, it was a 0-0 draw before a record 33,173 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum on October 3 1976, the largest ever crowd at the stadium for a soccer game. American goalkeeper Arnold Mauser putting in a virtuoso display to keep the Mexicans at bay.

The 1980s saw the US play Mexico outside of Los Angeles in World Cup qualifying for the first time. That game came on November 23, 1980 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Though the United States was already out of contention to qualify, they beat Mexico for the first time on American soil. Steve Moyers scored both goals in a 2-1 win for the Americans, but only a little over two thousand fans showed up.

The US met Mexico next again in World Cup qualifying in 1997 – a full 17 years passing as the nations both hosted a World Cup, thus qualifying automatically, and did not meet in 1990 World Cup qualifying, when the US made it to the World Cup for the first time in forty years.

By 1997, the US had clearly made up an awful lot of ground on its southern neighbor on the field. Off it, the nation still lacked a good-sized soccer-specific-stadium to host the game. The US Soccer Federation knew it could sell out a venue like the Rose Bowl near Los Angeles for the game – but that would ensure a crowd cheering for Mexico in a critical game. The two countries played at the Rose Bowl in the summer of 1996 in front of 93,000 fans, almost entirely supporting Mexico in a 2-2 draw.

So, for the first time against Mexico, US Soccer decided to pick a venue that could provide the US the feel of considerable home support. The Federation picked Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts and it did not disappoint. A sellout crowd of 57,877 meant the USSF took in over $1 million less in revenue than it might have at the Rose Bowl, but it also increased its odds of a home team victory.

A new supporters group for the US team that had founded following the 1994 World Cup, Sam’s Army, appeared in force with almost 1,000 members present at the game. Sports Illustrated reported the “majority of the crowd rooted for the home team,” bolstered by “the tireless whistling, drumbeating and periodic singing of Sam’s Army.”

The US coach, Steve Sampson, concluded after the 1-1 draw that the crowd had played a role. “It made a difference having a pro-American crowd,” he said. “Crowd support is equal to at least one goal a game. Today you could finally see something that could grow here.”

Ahead of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, Crew Stadium opened in Columbus in 1999, the first soccer-specific-stadium in MLS. With a cozy capacity of a little over 20,000 and from the first qualifier against Mexico held there on February 28, 2001 on a chilly day, a notably pro-American crowd. A sell-out crowd of 24,624 watched as Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart scored in a 2-0 result, the first American win against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier since 1980.

US goalkeeper and Ohio-native Brad Friedel said after the game that “I think the crowd helped us more than the weather did. That was a factor in the game. It would be great to play here a lot in the future.”

The US Soccer Federation took the hint, and Crew Stadium has continued to prove an inspired venue for home World Cup qualifiers against Mexico. DaMarcus Beasley and Steve Ralston scored the goals in a 2-0 qualifying win over Mexico in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup on September 3, 2005, and Michael Bradley found the net twice in another 2-0 win on February 11, 2009 as the US and Mexico began final round qualifying for South Africa.

As US Soccer prepares to announce where it will hold the 2013 home edition of USA-Mexico in World Cup qualifying, the history supports Mark McCullers’ argument that it should be in Columbus.


Tom Dunmore is a Chicago-based writer and an editor of XI Quarterly. You can follow him on Twitter @tomdunmore or email him at tom@pitchinvasion.net.

Upside: Feelings we transmitted on the pitch | US Soccer Players

Their Words

“we had an obligation to try and fight back and that’s what we did. The feelings we transmitted on the pitch were fantastic. When we show our identity, we’re very hard to beat.” Barcelona’s Andreas Iniesta.

The Radar

    Gold Cup schedule. Using reserves in the CONCACAF Champions League. Using reserves in the UEFA Champions League. Barca’s comeback. Seattle’s win.

Ten Stories

Sporting KC’s defense is out of kilter – from The Kansas City Star’s Tod Palmer: “It’s a psychological thing — and it’s something that has to change.”

NBC to air MLS marathon in new digs – from USA Today’s Michael Hiestand: including a show that will include live look-ins to four games.

MLS changes top tiebreaker for the end of the 2013 regular season to most wins – from The Seattle Times’ Joshua Mayers: 1. Most wins

Barcelona v AC Milan: The secrets behind Barca’s historic win – from BBC Sport: But how did they do it?

Barcelona do it their way to restore Champions League pride – from The Guardian’s Sid Lowe: “Even if we had lost, I would have said the same thing.”

Barcelona can cement their place as favorites to win the Champions League – from ESPN FC’s Gabriele Marcotti: The trademark high press was back, the rossoneri simply could not keep the ball.

Barcelona’s comeback among the greatest in Champions League history – from Goal.com’s Zac Lee Rigg: “It’s been a while since we played like this.”

Longmuir resurrects Old Firm colt proposal – from The Herald’s Michael Grant: and other clubs and supporters have been fiercely hostile to the idea.

All links are provided as a courtesy. US Soccer Players nor its authors are responsible for the content of third-party links or sites. For comments, questions, and concerns please contact us at editor@usnstpa.com

Thursday's TV: Europa and Libertadores

It’s a packed Europa League schedule on Fox Soccer, with the second-legs from the Round of 16: Inter Milan – Spurs at 2pm with Spurs leading 3-0, Chelsea – Steau Bucharest with Steau up 1-0, and Lazio – VfB Stuttgart with Lazio ahead 2-0. Fox Soccer Plus has Rubin Kazan – Levante at 1pm with that series scoreless, Newcastle – Anzhi at 4pm also scoreless, Zenit St Petersburg – Basel with Basel leading 2-0, Bordeaux – Benfica with Benfica leading 1-0, and Fenerbache – Viktoria Plzen at midnight with Fenerbache up 1-0.  Copa Libertadores on Fox Deportes: Nacional – Boca Juniors at 6pm and San Jose – Millionarios at 8:30pm.  All Times Eastern

Champions League: Malaga 2 – Porto 0, 2-1 agg

Oguchi Onyewu wasn’t in the squad for Malaga’s turnaround in their Champions League Round of 16 series with Porto.  With Porto up a goal from the first leg, Malaga equalized on aggregate when Isco scored in the 43rd minute.  The referee sent off Porto’s Steven Defour in the 49th minute.  Malaga’s Roque Santa Cruz entered the game in the 74th minute and won the series on aggregate with a 77th minute goal. 

“We back from a disappointing game in Portugal, although FC Porto’s goal was clearly offside,” Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini said. “We intend to keep on playing the best football we can and continue on in the Champions League.”

CCL: Santos Laguna and LA Advance | US Soccer Players

Santos Laguna had no problem at home against the Houston Dynamo, knocking them out of the Champions League with a 3-0 shutout on the night for a 3-1 aggregate win.  Juan Pablo Rodriguez opened the scoring in the 23rd minute with Herculez Gomez putting Santos ahead for good five minutes later.  Marc Crosas scored Santos’s third goal in the 77th minute. Santos advance to play Seattle.

At the Home Depot Center, the Los Angeles Galaxy had no trouble with Herediano in a 4-1 win on the night and on aggregate.  With the first leg ending scoreless, Omar Gonzalez put LA up in the 18th minute.  Jose Villarreal made it 2-0 in the 69th with Robbie Keane scoring the Galaxy’s third goal in the 83rd minute.  Herediano scored in the 85th, but it was LA adding a fourth goal when Jack McBean scored three minutes into stoppage time. LA advance to play Monterrey.