Loons Reveal Secondary Kit, Primary Keeper

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

In the middle of the messiest snowstorm of the year (so far), MNUFC took over the Mall of America rotunda for what is often the most exciting part of the preseason: the kit reveal.

I had planned to be there to hear the fan reactions to the new design, but had to turn around after just five sketchy miles of freeway driving. While I waited in a checkout line with 100 pounds of tube sand to balance my car on my Monday morning commute, a quick peek at Twitter replaced the sound bytes I had hoped for: Meh.

The 2019 away kit is appropriately called the Drift Kit:

*For those of you who don’t follow winter sports, the Xcel Energy Center is home to the Minnesota Wild hockey team.*

Fans seem to be fed up with the Adidas templates that are sweeping the league and Minnesota United fans, still accustomed to the individualistic lower league designs of yore, are certainly no different. But, I’m going to put a positive spin on these icy whites.

The Loons are poised for an improved away performance this year that will put the design in perspective: The shirt is simply a template in which the Loons will build a road team identity. And if they don’t…

Maybe Clorox Bleach will replace Target as shirt sponsor.

The keeper kits are a tad more interesting, even more so given who walked out in one.

Italian keeper Vito Mannone has joined MNUFC on a one year loan from English Championship side Reading FC. He comes to MLS with Premier League experience, including seven seasons at Arsenal. Mannone is set to take the top spot between the sticks, demoting Bobby Shuttleworth (who, to my knowledge, was not seen at the kit reveal) to the bench.

When the Mannone rumors first started, I was not convinced he was the upgrade that Adrian Heath & Co were so openly shopping for. After some comparison between Mannone and Shuttleworth’s stats though, I’m a little more comfortable with this game plan. Based on numbers reported by Transfermarkt, Mannone averaged 62.5 minutes between goals conceded over the 2017/18 season, while Shuttleworth averaged 47.3 minutes in 2017 and 44.1 in 2018.

These certainly aren’t the definitive stats to go by, but Mannone, combined with the D-line upgrades made in January, indeed appears to be an improvement.

New looks abound in the North. Come. On. You. Loons.

Featured image: @MNUFC

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New year, new hope: Montréal Impact reveals 2019 squad and jersey

Eve Powell - Montreal Impact/mlsfemale
Official Montreal Impact Reporter

By Eve // @ejp_nb

On Friday evening, the Montréal Impact invited season ticket holders to their annual season launch event at the MTelus Theatre. About 1,500 of the most fervent fans were on site to participate in a Q&A session with the new president, Kevin Gilmore, head coach, Rémi Garde, and administrative director, Patrick Leduc. They also became the first to see the Impact’s 2019 home kit in person, as the entire team (including trialists) were presented to the public.

Due to a nasty case of living in another province, I was unable to attend, but the team was good enough to provide a live stream of the event. All of the team’s supporter groups had a strong contingent in attendance, and at several intervals, they could be heard singing and chanting in support of le Bleu-Blanc-Noir.

During the Q&A session, the technical staff tackled questions submitted by fans. It goes without saying that none of the questions were particularly difficult, and none of the responses were particularly revealing, as this is meant to be a feel-good event to get folks excited about the upcoming season.

A question of particular interest was whether it is worth the effort to develop players through our academy if the coach doesn’t use them. This question was tackled by both Leduc and Garde, who stated that they have been working together to identify how best to integrate homegrown talent into the squad. Garde’s experience at Olympique Lyonnais will prove helpful – but local players simply will not be inserted into the lineup for the sake of playing them.

After a truly disappointing Canadian Championship performance in 2018, Garde promised he is taking the competition (the only way for a Canadian team to access the CONCACAF Champions’ League) extremely seriously this year. Garde also feels that this year’s squad is more ambitious and more confident than the team with which he entered the 2018 season and that they are much closer to their first MLS Cup this year.

In order to get fans excited, and to get them talking about the team, it was high time to introduce the 2019 Montréal Impact squad and the new kit. Each player was announced individually by match commentator Frédéric Lord, and they walked through the crowd to high-fives and raucous cheers from their adoring public.

The previous home jersey, full blue and black stripes with a blue back was so universally admired by Montréal fans and league rivals alike, it would undoubtedly be hard to top.

The new look continues the beloved stripe motif, but it fades to black at the bottom of the jersey. Additionally, the back is black instead of blue. The quadrant which harkens to the flag of Montréal is at the top of the back, filled in with the IMFC letters in lieu of the symbols of the town. 1642 Montréal’s iconic North Star bell, known throughout the league, is also present on the jersey.

Featured image: @1642Montreal

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Coffee​ with Tomas Hilliard-Arce of the LA Galaxy

LA Galaxy Key Contributor

By Debbie Haar // @GalaxySoccerMom

Watching Tomas Hilliard-Arce walk into an L.A. Starbucks, you’d think he was any average 20 something college student grabbing a cup of coffee before class. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The 23-year-old center back, a twice PAC-12 defensive player of the year, lead his team at Stanford to three consecutive NCAA National Championships. He was then picked up by the L.A. Galaxy as the second pick of the first round in 2018 MLS SuperDraft.

Debbie Haar: Are you ready to do this?

Tomas Hilliard-Arce: Let’s do it.

DH: The day after you were picked up by the Galaxy in the SuperDraft, what was going through your mind?

THA: I was scared. It was overwhelming. I’m confident in myself, but I just went from somewhere where I knew how to control the situation in college to where I’m at the bottom of the totem pole. There were a lot of stars on the team who probably wouldn’t respect someone coming right out of college, so I had everything to prove. I was fortunate to come into a situation where I had 30 automatic friends and a club that cares about me.

DH: Do you have any pregame rituals?

THA: The team manager would give me smelling salts, then I would just hit him as hard as I could, like a chest bump or I’d smack myself in the head and get myself completely fired up. Makes me feel like if someone else were to hit me, I’m ready for it.

DH: What is your family like?

THA: We are very competitive. My Dad has set a very high standard so I’ve always feared failure.

DH: Did you fight with your sisters growing up?

THA: I started soccer late, like 11-12. My older sister and I were in karate growing up and she used to physically dominate me.

DH: Was there that pivotal moment when the tides turned?

THA: She just channeled her dominance into being emotionally abusive. (laughs)

DH: Are you a dog or a cat person?

THA: I really wanted a dog. My Dad said I had to train myself to be responsible, so I had to get a fish and keep it alive for 6 months first. (laughing) We used to leave and go on road trips and there was no one to feed it. I would just dump an unbelievable amount of food in there. It didn’t even make it 3 months.

       Tomas Hilliard Ace playing for Stanford during the 2017 College Cup. Image: Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

DH: I’ve seen you talk about faith, do you think your faith impacts you on the soccer field?

THA: My big moment of finding faith was on the field, so I feel like that is the place where it comes out the most. I’ve been able to play for those in my family who have passed away or gotten sick and I get a lot of strength from them. This year I was looking for something to really play for and put my heart on the field for. My 44-year-old cousin who lives in Costa Rica, who is just an amazing person, recently died unexpectedly a couple days after our vacation there ended. I was with her the day before we left, and being a pro soccer player here in the USA might not mean anything, but there it’s everything. My mom called me the day after the funeral and said I was my cousin’s hero, so I need to play for her this season. I have so many people supporting me, the least I can do is give them my all.

DH: What household chore do you hate to do?

THA: My mom is Latina and my Dad is American. My mom is a stay at home mom and loved to baby us kids. I was the only son, so she super babied me. Now that I live alone, I am really, really bad at laundry. It costs $3 in quarters and I feel bad going to the cashiers and asking for all their quarters. Plus, it always comes out wrinkly.

DH: Do you play video games?

THA: I am a video game guy! Right now I’m all Fortnite. A lot of my friends are professional soccer players so we get home at 1pm. What are you going to do all day?

DH: I see other players on the Galaxy playing [Fortnite], like David Bingham.

THA: I play [Fortnite] with him, he’s a fun guy to play with. He’s super competitive on the field and at video games.

DH: Do you have a favorite TV show?

THA: I’m pretty religious about The Bachelor.

DH: Do you have a favorite movie?

THA: I’m a big RomCom guy. I’m supposed to be a big tough center back so I can’t say The Notebook, but it’s such a good movie. I’m a big Rachel McAdams fan. I’m a hopeless romantic.

DH: Toilet paper roll, over or under?

THA: I live in a little apartment with another guy who plays soccer and we have the most male apartment ever. We don’t have any essentials. We don’t have scissors or anything sharper than a butter knife. We don’t even have a toilet paper dispenser thing.

DH: Tell me something you are bad at?

THA: Cooking! I never cook. Most of the time when they give us lunch at the facilities I take a bunch of to-go boxes and eat it for dinner.

DH: Do they tease you about that?

THA: Oh for sure! They say learn how to cook or stop looking like a homeless dude when you’re leaving.

DH: Tell me about a time in your life when you were being tested or challenged.

THA: To make it to pro soccer you have to have been “the man” on the team you came from and to get here and be competing with 30 other men is challenging. I realized I was a college player and now a rookie, and pretty much the youngest out there. You can either get frustrated with it or create a lesson learned from it. I remember sometimes when I felt like I deserved something, and it wasn’t given to me, I was on the verge of anger or frustration or even tears because I felt helpless, I had done everything I could but I still wasn’t getting what I wanted. That’s part of being a professional, putting the last play behind you and moving on. This year when I face those things I’ll be prepared.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

DH: What’s a phrase you say a lot?

THA: I say this in just the weirdest situations. I like to say “let the kids play!”. It started in college when the players who didn’t play much, on the days after games, would be so excited to play. Coming into last season when I wasn’t playing much, I always just wanted to get out there and play, and have fun, and show what I can do. So I’d say, “let the kids play.” Now I say it in any situation. If there’s a really good lunch buffet they’ve given us, “let the kids play!” (laughing) Doesn’t really make sense.

DH: Do you have huge goals you want to achieve?

THA: Actually I don’t with soccer. When I got recruited for soccer, Stanford wasn’t very good, they were ranked like 100th in the nation. I went to this prestigious private high school where people looked down on me for either my intelligence or my dedication to soccer. Then when I got into a very good school because of [soccer], I thought that was the end of it. I’ll go to Stanford, get a degree and a good job and show those people. Playing pro soccer is like the icing on the cake. My goal is to continue to prove people wrong. After my first year in pro soccer, I now have doubters. People have said I can’t do something, now I can prove to them that I can. I think I’ve always just wanted to be a really good dad. I want to push my kids to exhaustion. My kids have no choice, they have to play soccer.

DH: What if they are derpy and uncoordinated?

THA: I will force that out of them through exercise! (both laughing)

DH: You do well under pressure, clearly, you play professional soccer.

THA: My first game I started playing in front of 30,000 people was my best game ever because of the pressure. I like being the guy at the front of the sled and helping push it along. Even now being one of the younger people on the team I try to be a leader.

DH: What is the best gift you’ve ever been given, like a birthday or Christmas gift?

THA: My parents don’t give birthday or Christmas gifts. I feel like my parents love me so much and don’t get me presents. When someone does I’m like, “holy crap you love me.” My ex-girlfriend did that. I’ve only been in one relationship. She did so much, it wasn’t even a [specific] gift, it was her heart, every day.

DH: That’s so cute. :gives sappy look: (both start laughing)

I’m excited to see how Tomas brings his competitive personality and drive to the field. The Galaxy had a rough season defensively last year and I’ll be watching Hilliard-Arce to see how he can contribute to the back line.

Featured image: @LAGalaxy

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @GalaxySoccerMom

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State of the (Philadelphia) Union

Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Cait Costello // @caitcostello

With the 2019 season less than a month away, rumors of a deal to sign Marco Fabián breathed fresh life into Philadelphia Union fans feeling adrift and anxious for a big signing in the offseason.

Fabián, 29, joined Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt four seasons ago, where he netted eight goals and six assists in 44 appearances. In 42 appearances for the Mexican National Team since 2012, he’s scored a further nine goals. However, Fabián’s last two seasons were derailed by a back injury and subsequent surgery and recovery.

Still, Fabián would be exactly the kind of high-profile, splashy signing Union fans have been clamoring for and would build confidence in sporting director Ernst Tanner’s vision and direction for the team.

That vision includes a new formation that we saw for the first time in Clearwater during the Union’s 3-2 preseason victory over the New York Red Bulls. After so many seasons of a rigid and predictable 4-2-3-1, it was a refreshing change of pace to see a 4-4-2 diamond formation. I’m particularly excited to see how the two-striker approach changes the Union’s attack this year.

This first look at the new formation also marks our first glimpse into the mindset that has guided their offseason roster decisions. Players we said goodbye to this winter include winger Marcus Epps (New York Red Bulls), midfielder Fabian Herbers (Chicago Fire), and defender Keagan Rosenberry (Colorado Rapids). 

The first big-name signing of the offseason was Brazilian forward Sergio Santos, 24, who made 16 appearances for Chilean Primera Division club Audax Italiano in 2018. During that time he scored nine goals, earning his place as the club’s top scorer and tying for 10th leading scorer in the league. Santos will occupy an international spot on the team’s active roster.

Goalkeeper Carlos Miguel Coronel, 22, joined the Union from Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg—Tanner’s former club—as part of a one-year loan with an option to buy. Tanner sees an opportunity for Coronel to develop alongside fellow goalkeeper and new Homegrown signing Matt Freese.

The Union also signed centerback Aurelien Collin as a free agent. A former MLS Cup Champion and MLS Cup MVP with Sporting Kansas City in 2013, as well as an MLS All-Star in 2012, 2013 and 2014, Collin comes to Philadelphia fresh off a Supporters’ Shield victory with the New York Red Bulls last season. 

Will these signings help the Union build on the successes (and avoid the painful defeats) of last season? We’ll have to wait until March 2 to see, but I feel cautiously optimistic about the Union’s 10th season—and I’ll feel even better if the team announces that they’ve signed Marco Fabián this Friday when they launch the new away kit.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Ernst Tanner confirmed the rumors of talks to bring Marco Fabián to the Union, but declined to elaborate any further.

The team also announced the signing of German left back Kai Wagner, 21, from Würzburger Kickers, part of Germany’s 3. Liga. As the third left back on the roster, Wagner provides depth and can be a backup to Matt Real when he likely heads to Poland for the U-20 World Cup in May. Additionally, this extra depth on the left will allow Ray Gaddis to move over to right back, his natural position. Wagner is the eighth international player on the Union’s roster and the third added by Tanner during this offseason.

Featured image: Philadelphia Union/Kylie Willet

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @caitcostello

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27 days to opening day in Colorado

Official Colorado Rapids Reporter

By Jess Houwen // @jesshuh15

27. That’s how many days we have left until the 2019 season begins. I am EXCITED. The Colorado Rapids made some big roster moves over the offseason and we have finally signed our needed strikers, but let’s rewind a bit first. 

The Rapids did not do well last year, at all. We did not finish last, thanks to the San Jose Earthquakes but we came very close. We did, however, spoil FC Dallas’ postseason aspirations by defeating them 2-1 and making them play in the knock out rounds instead of the first full round. In all, we finished 2018 with an 8-7-19 record – a total of 34 points that included two separate 6+ game losing streaks.

The offseason saw a myriad of changes come in and a retirement announcement from our very own Secretary of Defense. 2019 will see the likes of Deklan Wynne, Kellyn Acosta, Dillon Serna, and Niki Jackson back in Burgundy. Joining the team will be Kei Kamara (Vancouver Whitecaps), Diego Rubio (Sporting KC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), and Benny Feilhaber (LAFC) – just to name a few.   The Super Draft saw us pick up University of Denver and Rapids U23 player, Andre Shinyashiki. Unfortunately, we said goodbye to a couple well-known faces in the team when goalkeeper, Zac MacMath headed to Vancouver and midfielder Marlon Hairston was traded to Houston.

Tim Howard took to Twitter earlier this month to let us know that he’s hanging up his boots after 21 years as a goalkeeper. I know that not everyone was a fan of Howard, but I was – and am. While I don’t have personal encounter stories, I have been impressed with how hard he has worked throughout his career and how he seems to be willing to take the time for his fans.

I think one of my favorite moments from the 2018 season was when a friend of mine came to his first MLS game, first soccer game really, and one of the first things he said to me when we met up at half time was, “Is that the guy from the World Cup? The one with the crazy amount of saves in that one game?” So thank you, Tim Howard, for what you’ve done and for choosing us to end your career with. Enjoy your time with your kids!

Rapids open their season on March 2nd against the Portland Timbers.

Featured image: @keikamara

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @jesshuh15

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A Candid Conversation with Uriel Antuna

LA Galaxy Contributor

By Debbie Haar // @GalaxySoccerMom

After much anticipation, the L.A. Galaxy announced on January 29, 2019, a one-year loan deal with Manchester City for 21-year old Mexican International midfielder Uriel Antuna. Antuna signed a four-year contract with Manchester City in 2017, spending last season on loan with FC Groningen in the Netherlands. In November 2018, he was called up for the senior Mexican National Team for friendlies against Belgium and Poland but saw no play time.

I was lucky enough to sit down and talk to him just a few hours after his loan deal was officially announced by the Galaxy.

Debbie Haar: Welcome to L.A. How’s it feel to be here and with the Galaxy?

Uriel Antuna: Good. It’s very exciting.

DH: How have the practices been?

UA: Hard, but it needs to be that way. I’m used to them now.

DH: So, when did you start playing soccer?

UA: Probably age 3. My Dad loves futbol.

DH: What kind of kid were you?

UA: I talked a lot to my Mom. Sometimes I was a little crazy.

DH: What’s your Mom like?

UA: (big smile) She is crazy! (laughs) She used to bang on the drums in the stands during my games.

DH: Would you like if we said hi to your Mom in this article?

UA: Yes! (Hi Bertha, you did a good job Mom!)

DH: Do you get recognized in public?

UA: I did in the Netherlands.

DH: Did it feel like an invasion of privacy?

UA: No! I love the fans.

DH: Do you get homesick?

UA: I miss my family – this is futbol life.

DH: Do you have any brothers or sisters?

UA: I have two younger brothers age 16 and 12. My brother Kevin plays in Mexico.

DH: We heard about your Mom, what is your Dad like? What does he do?

UA: He is very proud and supportive. He delivers chips to stores for a living.

DH: If you weren’t a soccer player what career would you pursue?

UA: I don’t know, I always wanted to play soccer. I’d like to study. I’m good at math. You show me once and I know it.

DH: Are you superstitious or have any pregame rituals?

UA: I used to. I put my left sock on, then my right sock. Then my left shoe, then my right. But I stopped that.

DH: What’s your favorite thing to eat?

UA: I eat a lot! I like pizza and sushi.

DH: Question. Do you like pineapple on pizza?

UA: Yes.

DH: You’re awesome! On your days off do you wake up early or like to sleep in?

UA: I like to sleep.

DH: Do you drink coffee?

UA: Of course!

DH: What kind of coffee do you like?

UA: Caramel. I love caramel and I don’t like my coffee hot.

DH: Tell me something interesting most people don’t know about you.

UA: I gave up soda eight years ago. I only drink water, apple juice or orange juice. Sometimes sparkling water but not too much.

DH: I watched you score a hat trick in the CONCACAF U20 Championship game, you did some very impressive gymnastics after. Where did you learn to do flips like that?

UA: (laughs) I learned on my bed, then just started doing them on the field.

DH: Do you play video games?

UA: Of course! PlayStation, Call of Duty.

DH: What has been your achievement when it comes to soccer?

UA: Signing with Manchester City.

DH: Does it ever bother you when fans boo or get upset?

UA: No, you get used to it. We don’t want to lose either. I like when fans are fans through the good and bad.

DH: We’re all excited to watch you play. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

UA: Of course.

(Some communication was done via translation app)

L.A. is excited to see you on the field, Uriel. Welcome to the Galaxy.

Featured image: @LAGalaxy

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @GalaxySoccerMom

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MNUFC’s pivotal year three spending spree

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

With preseason matches kicking off this week, it is time for that deep dive I’ve been teasing. This will, unfortunately, be a low dive, but I’m sure the next few weeks will give us plenty of material to build on. After all, I believe there’s still some TAM, GAM and JAM (or is it jelly?) in the coffers, ripe for spending.

We’ve had enough Twitter. This one is all words. Ready, Loons? Dive.

Minnesota United is making strides in rebuilding one of its weakest links on the pitch ahead of the club’s third MLS season, with nine additions to the backfield: Osvaldo “Ozzie” Alonso, Jan Gregus, Chase Gasper, Hassani Dotson, Dayne St Clair, Romain Metanire, Mitchell Osmond, Kevin Rodriguez and, most recently, Ike Opara.

Of the five expected to immediately compete for starting roles, only two (Metanire and Opara) are true defenders, but doubling down on the defensive midfielders certainly isn’t a bad thing for this club.

In 2017 and 2018, compounding on the issue of the Loons’ leaky defense was a discombobulated midfield that struggled to move the ball into the final third and struggled even more to maintain possession in their own half, meaning the defense was nearly always on their back foot before they came face-to-face with the opposition’s attack. Adrian Heath’s experimentation with the 3-5-2 sparked hope, but like a line of dominoes, no matter the formation, one mistake would lead to total collapse.

So United needs to get back to the basics. Defensive stalwarts like Opara and Alonso will provide a solid backbone to a successful transition. Both would operate well in either the 4-2-3-1 or the 3-5-2. I would pair Opara with Michael Boxall in a four-man backline, with Calvo and Metanire to their left and right, respectively. In a three-man backline, I see Wyatt Omsberg (or Gasper?) on Opara’s left and Kallman on his right.

There are too many variables for me to lay out the midfield, but in either formation I want Alonso and Jan Gregus orchestrating with Rasmus Schuller and Miguel Ibarra anchoring the wings.

The varied experience brought by Alonso and Opara counteract many of the negatives cited (over and over and over) on Minnesota Soccer Twitter. These are two MLS veterans with hefty postseason resumes, not just grainy highlight videos from another league. Their composure and leadership will balance the youthful inexperience of the fresh legs around them and give the other Minnesota mainstays (i.e. Calvo and Kallman) more favorable conditions to rise to their potential consistently. And I have a feeling that consistency will be the buzzword this season.

Yes, we need depth. Yes, we need more starters. Yes, we need to score goals, too. But when the Loons’ receive their credit statement for the past month, the transaction history will, for the first time since the club’s promotion, hint at forward progress in the building of a team with playoff hopes.

Is the third time the charm? Either way…. [Insert photo of shiny, new stadium here.]


Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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LAFC Weekly Roundup: Preseason, Vissel Kobe, USMNT update, Gold Links

Official LAFC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

The Los Angeles Football Club kicked off their six-match preseason with a 3-1 victory against Toronto FC on Sunday evening.

Andre Horta, Diego Rossi, and newcomer, Peter-Lee Vassell scored all three goals for the home side, while Toronto’s Drew Moor pulled one back for the visitors late in the match.

Baggio Husidic, former LA Galaxy midfielder, who is on trial with the club – made his debut for LAFC after entering for Eduard Atuesta before halftime. If given a contract, he can provide some depth in the midfield area.

Although it was only the first match and the results don’t benefit much, it was nice to see a win from the Black and Gold after a string of losses that ended their season early last year.

LAFC will host Columbus Crew, Atlanta United, San Jose Earthquakes and Vancouver in Banc of California stadium for the remainder of preseason.

Supporters and the public are invited to attend the second-ever international friendly and season ticket members will have an opportunity to attend the final preseason match on Saturday, Feb. 23.

USMNT Update: Zimmerman and Ramirez scores in Sunday’s win

The United States Men’s National Team kicked off a new era under new head coach Gregg Berhalter on Sunday, opening their 2019 campaign with a 3-0 shutout against Panama at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Following the opening goal from Chicago Fire’s Djordje Mihailovic in the 40th minute, LAFC’s favorite duo Walker Zimmerman and Christian Ramirez scored a pair of goals back-to-back – securing the 3-0 shutout. 

January has been a busy month for Zimmerman. After much speculation, Zimmerman and LAFC agreed to a new four-year contract. The center back returns as an elite defender in his prime years – having six years of MLS experience and has been a regular for the U.S. Men’s National Team over the last year.

But Zimmerman wasn’t the only player from the Black and Gold to contribute – Ramirez, 27, earned his first international cap and marked the special occasion with a goal in the 89th minute.

Zimmerman and Ramirez will get another chance to shine on Saturday, Feb. 2, as the USMNT take on Costa Rica in San Jose, California.

Tyler Miller Returns to LAFC

Walker Zimmerman, Christian Ramirez, and Tyler Miller recently completed three weeks of USMNT camp in Chula Vista, California. Unfortunately, the team would leave behind four players, including Miller, before departing to Arizona.

The 25-year-old goalkeeper immediately returned to training with LAFC and played a vital role in Sunday’s contest.

LAFC’s friendly against Vissel Kobe

With the re-signing of Walker Zimmerman and the subsequent return of defenders Danilo Silva and Dejan Jakovic a day later, LAFC is bringing back 18 members of its inaugural squad. And in returning that core, a season after setting the standard for first-year teams in MLS, the club and its fans are asking: What can this group of players achieve with a full season under their belts?

The Black and Gold will have a chance to answer that question as they host Vissel Kobe for a preseason friendly this Thursday.

Vassell, Perez, and Mendoza are Black and Gold

LAFC surprised fans when they traded their first-round pick to FC Cincinnati during the 2019 MLS SuperDraft in Chicago.

But head coach Bob Bradley isn’t to be underestimated and the club didn’t leave empty handed as LAFC selected Peter-Lee Vassell, Javi Perez, and Kevin Mendoza.

Here’s what we know about these three draftees:

  • Peter-Lee Vassell – 40th overall pick

Before hitting the pitch, Vassell is already an interesting case.

The 19-year-old is one the few players who did not get selected out of college. Instead, the midfielder found his route to the SuperDraft via the 2018 Caribbean Combine, being selected MVP and earning an invite to the main MLS Combine. Additionally, he is on the senior international with Jamaica – having recorded eight caps and five goals, thus far.

  • Javi Perez – 64th overall pick

At just 20-years-old, the Spanish midfielder wanted a change of scenery after playing for Spain’s La Liga club Valencia CF – serving as the team’s captain for twelve years.

Perez spent the last two years at the University of Pittsburgh, having started in all 35 games he played. As a senior in 2018, he ranked second on the team with eleven points, four goals, and three assists.

A junior transfer from Spain, Perez was a two-time captain for the Panthers, earning USC All-South Region Third Team honors in 2018 and Second Team All-ACC in 2017-18.

  • Kevin Mendoza – 73rd overall pick

Mendoza spent the past four years at Liberty University, earning all-conference honors all four seasons, including first team accolades from 2016-18. A two-year captain for the Flames, Mendoza finished his collegiate career with 32 goals and 15 assists.

The 25-year-old midfielder graduated from Colegio de Bachilleres in his hometown of Mexico City, while also playing for Cruz Azul’s U-17 and U-20 squads.

Gold Links

Featured image: @LAFC

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Spotlight on LA Galaxy player: Matt Lampson

LA Galaxy Key Contributor

By Debbie Haar // @GalaxySoccerMom

On January 23 the LA Galaxy signed veteran goalkeeper Matt Lampson in the 2nd stage of the re-entry draft. During his seven seasons with MLS, the 29-year-old has played for Columbus Crew SC, Chicago Fire and Minnesota United FC. During his career, he has made 60 appearances, 194 saves and had 16 shutouts. He once admitted as a kid he wanted to be a goalie because he wanted the “cool gloves”. Goal achieved.

Although soccer is a huge part of his life, I wanted to know and share who Matt Lampson is off the soccer field.

Lampson is a two-time winner of MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year award for his work with cancer patients and survivors, most recently winning again in 2018. After donating blood during his senior year of high school he received the devastating news he had stage 4B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. He stated he never once thought about losing his battle with cancer.

We look forward to watching him bring that kind of motivating positivity to the soccer field. He sent out a celebratory tweet on September 24, 2018 stating he has been cancer free for 11 years. He also confessed that there is no doubt in his mind that if he didn’t have cancer he would not be a professional athlete.

In 2014, Matt Lampson founded the LampStrong Foundation, a non-profit with the mission of positively changing the lives of those battling cancer and encouraging survivors and their families to make the most of their second chance at life. After games, you may see him on the field, at both home and away games, with kids who are fighting or survived cancer and their families. Kudos to him for taking the time to inspire and motivate those who need it most.

Who doesn’t like doughnuts? Lampson is no different. The L.A. Galaxy now has it’s own “doughnut snob” and proud owner of an array of doughnut shirts. During an interview last year he took the time to describe the perfect old fashioned doughnut with well thought out phrases such as “texture of a crunch”, “delicately dense” and “velvety smooth on the inside”. He often plans doughnut shop counter takeovers and doughnut tours to raise money for his foundation. Doughnuts are not his only food favorite, he also is a self-proclaimed meat lover.

He has a thing for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He mixed his hobby of art and his fondness of the TMNT and drew impressive pictures of each turtle, painted them, then displayed them proudly on his walls. He has even been known to celebrate with TMNT birthday cakes. At one time he even had a turtle he affectionately called as his precious lil ninja Leonardo.

The fans look forward to seeing Matt Lampson bring his positivity and resilience to the field. Welcome to L.A., we look forward to watching you play!

Featured image: @LAGalaxy

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Montreal Impact’s biggest winter signing won’t set foot on the field

Official Montreal Impact Reporter

By Eve // @ejp_nb 

As the team flew to Florida to begin training camp, Montréal Impact fans were feeling rather blasé about the team’s offseason transfers. Then news broke on Monday evening. Team owner/president Joey Saputo was calling a press conference for the following morning. The topic was quickly revealed to be that industry veteran Kevin Gilmore would be announced as Saputo’s presidential successor. That revelation was met with utter incredulity – Saputo hand over the keys to his beloved team? Never!

Joey Saputo. Image: @impactmontreal

As is usually the case with Impact news, the leaked info was confirmed. In a 45-minute conference, Saputo explained that as the league and the team were evolving at a much faster rate than he could have imagined, he simply could not devote the time needed to properly run the Impact’s organization. It turned out that Gilmore had begun working with the team as an independent consultant in November 2018, and his impressive sports management resumé coupled with his knowledge of the region planted the seed in Saputo’s mind that this could be the right person to take over as president.

Nobody can doubt how much Joey Saputo loves the team he founded in 1993. The team he brought to MLS in 2012, which reached the CONCACAF Champions League Final in 2015 and played one of the most thrilling Eastern Conference Final matchups in the history of MLS a year later. Joey Saputo is the man who brought Didier Drogba to Montréal, which allowed me to fall in love with the Impact. He was clearly ready to invest in establishing soccer’s presence in a fairly-monopolized Montréal sports landscape, with the construction of Stade Saputo and a state-of-the-art training facility. After a thoroughly disappointing 2017 season, Joey Saputo sought out an elite coaching staff in Rémi Garde, Joël Bats and their assistants.

However, repeated criticism of Saputo’s leadership was that his passion could cloud his judgment when it came to the business side of the team. In 2018, when the team was in the midst of a winless May, Saputo mused aloud in a radio interview about selling beloved captain Nacho Piatti. He regularly spoke of the team as being in a small market and having to live in the shadow of the Montreal Canadiens. He would lament the lack of sell-out games in the post-Drogba era while offering little in the way of solutions to bring new fans to the stadium and often alienating supporter groups.

In his statement, Kevin Gilmore addressed several of the Impact’s, and by extension Saputo’s, shortcomings head-on. “We need to understand that we play in a top market and we need to start acting like a big-market team,” he asserted. Gilmore called for wiser spending rather than splashing larger sums of cash. He recognized that MLS has a much younger viewing audience than the other big North American leagues and that the team needed to target those younger fans, to engage with them more. He firmly believes there are enough fans in the city to fill Stade Saputo every week, but the team needs to work much harder to bring them to the stadium. Gilmore feels that the multi-cultural, multi-lingual team represents the city and that the Impact need not cower in the shadow of the Habs, but seize their own identity and stand up on their own. 

Kevin Gilmore. Image: @impactmontreal

How do the fans feel? In his first conference, Gilmore spoke the words we wanted to hear. He has a long history in the sports business, and although he is educated as a lawyer, he speaks like a salesman. In particular, his desire to bring people to the stadium and to come to love the team, rather than attracting people who are looking for a casual outing thrilled the IMFC community. Gilmore cited the importance of highlighting Piatti, who is an eternally underrated star of the league, because if we have one of the league’s best players – the whole city needs to know it.

Gilmore also stated that his previous experiences in the NHL showed him that the administration should not involve themselves with the technical aspects of a team. Given Saputo’s reputation for over-management, it will be a breath of fresh air to know that Rémi Garde and his staff can operate without the president adding his two cents.

As a millennial myself and one of Gilmore’s targets, his insight into what we are looking for as a generation – experiences, engagement, and authenticity – inspired confidence that he is looking to target a younger generation, who will hopefully remain faithful to the stadium longer. Although it is too early for Gilmore to provide specific examples of the changes he will effect, and some difficult decisions made, the long-term future of the club looks far more exciting than it did just a week ago.

Featured image: @impactmontreal

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