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Loons win and lose all in one night

Bridget McDowell - Minnesota United FC/mlsfemale
Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, July 14: 3-2 Win

Just days after a 2-1 ‘friendly’ loss to Costa Rican club Saprissa, Minnesota United FC took the field again on yet another hot evening in Minneapolis. Fans who have seen more than their fair share of temperature fluctuations over the years flocked to TCF Bank Stadium in the hopes of being cooled off by a solid Loons performance… But hopefully not a cold one. They wanted to sing Wonderwall again after facing the team that gave them their first chance to sing last season: Real Salt Lake.

The first half was a mixed bag for Minnesota. The back three, especially Brent Kallman, made some big clearances and the attacking trio of Chris Ramirez, Darwin Quintero and Miguel Ibarra provided plenty of sparks. Unfortunately, no one could get into position in the final third to finish the job. The Loons’ best chances came from Ibarra’s speedy runs and Quintero’s newly unlocked long-range shots. Too bad they were up against Nick Rimando this week. Oh, wait…

Too bad Rimando was up against Darwin Quintero this week.

Minute 52: Quintero finds space, turns with the ball on a tight angle near the right post, opts to cross it in front of Rimando where the inside of Ibson’s right boot is waiting. Goal.

Minute 62: Quintero receives a beautiful ball from Calvo and turns to fire it from long range between the heads of two defenders and over Rimando. Yes, over. Another long chip from the Scientist finds the upper left corner. Goal.

Minute 68: Ibarra, on the run, one on one with Rimando. Rimando goes to the ground. Ibarra passes him and slots the ball into the net. Goal.

There is a reason I highlight the timing…

Jeff Rueter, of The Athletic, led the press box into the Twilight Zone.

Then, it nearly all came crashing down when Plata scored for RSL in the 77th minute (a set piece, go figure) and 85th minute. A nearly sterling defensive performance broke down, allowing two goals inside of ten minutes.

And just as three points were nearly tossed away, so were most of the words I had written before heading downstairs to coach Heath’s presser and then on to the locker room.

After Heath stormed away mid-interview with on-field reporter Jamie Watson; after he sent the players’ kids out of the locker room and gave his team a dressing down which could be heard through the concrete walls (“Nothing I can really repeat,” said defender Michael Boxall); after he settled down just enough to sit in front of the media, Heath was asked to describe the takeaway: “Three points. Did our best to throw it away. Tried to throw away 75 minutes of good work by people deciding that they know best. They’ll do what they want rather than doing what we know is right.”

What does he want from his players moving forward? ” For them to understand that they don’t know everything. And do what’s asked of them. And they’ll be okay. There are too many people in and around this football club that have an opinion on it.”

Neither Boxall nor Miguel Ibarra (who was once again one of the strongest Loons this night) could shine any light on that last statement from their coach. But both spoke of the mental lapses and lack of focus in the dying minutes of both this match and the win against Toronto FC last week. Ibarra added, “I think we’re fine. I mean, we as a team talked about it right after [Heath talked]. He’s right, we gotta do better at closing out games, but we got three points which is the most important thing.”

A win is a win is a… Well, sure, couldn’t it always be better?

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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In Minnesota, if it’s not the heat, it’s the set pieces

Bridget McDowell - Minnesota United FC/mlsfemale
Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Recapping the week

Fresh off an exhilarating win at home against MLS defending champs Toronto FC, Minnesota United flew to Houston and quickly rediscovered their reality. The Loons’ 3-0 loss to the Dynamo on Saturday night was the club’s eleventh on the season, with most of those losses coming on the road.

Despite the Loons’ poor performance in set pieces being an overwhelmingly obvious factor in the loss, coach Adrian Heath told the media, “I don’t think we were sharp enough all evening. Overall it was just another indication that we have issues on the road. I am disappointed with the level of commitment considering where we were on Wednesday.”

Fans were disappointed with Heath’s lack of ownership in the loss and Minnesota soccer Twitter succumbed once again to a barrage of #HeathOut statements, including one from the #HeathOut barometer:

Another quick turnaround to yet another hot, humid, Wednesday night match brought seeds of hope, but also anger. The international friendly against Costa Rican club Saprissa, planned long before United’s recent woes, nonetheless came at a very inopportune time.

All the usual starters got a rest or rode the bench, except for centerback Francisco Calvo (having rested in Houston on yellow card accumulation) who captained the squad of young or untested players. Frantz Pangop, a high profile signing in the preseason, was a bright spot that night, scoring his first goal in the Black and Blue (yes, I know the shirt’s grey, but the song has been ‘Boys in Black and Blue’ for as long as Minnesota has been horrible in set pieces). Unfortunately, that was their only goal. The Loons would give up two goals to the visitors, both on mistakes from Pangop’s countryman, Bertrand Owundi Eko’o.

Fans and analysts all agree that United’s defense desperately needs help and the midfield needs effective coordination. These were the expectations as the transfer window opened. Signing announcements came quickly. And, just as quickly, criticism followed.

First came 23-year-old Romario Ibarra of Ecuador, an attacking midfielder from Club Deportivo Universidad Catolica. But he is neither the Ibarra (“His brother is better,” said nearly everyone on Twitter) nor the midfielder (they just signed a DP mid who likes to score so why add another?) the Loons so desperately need.

Next was 29-year-old Colombian, Angelo Rodriguez. The forward for Club Deportes Tolima (Columbia) signed as Minnesota’s second Designated Player. These additions are confusing considering their positions and their international status. Jerome Thiesson received his green card this week, clearing the way for Ibarra to fill Minnesota’s seventh and final international spot.

Someone will have to go before Rodriguez clears up his visa paperwork and arrives in Minnesota. Rumors cite an end to Alexi Gomez’s transfer deal to clear the way for Rodriguez.

International slots aside, the signings are confusing in light of these most recent displays of MN United’s problem spots. Why splash money on goal scorers when your defense is leaking goals? When you have a striker in Christian Ramirez who you have held on to despite bids from MLS and Liga MX clubs? Heath’s praise for the two signings offer no real explanation other than stressing each player’s ability to score.

On Rodriguez: “He is a big-time player. We have just added a difference-maker to our roster. He’s a player who is physical, skilled and knows how to score.. He causes stress on defenses by closing down and pressing.”

On Ibarra:  “We have been looking for some change-of-game pace for the team and that’s one of the best things Romario does: He changes games with his pace and he challenges defenders.”

Maybe there is a huge surprise, a big change, in the works for the defense. The Loons did shock everyone earlier this week when they drilled on set pieces in training ahead of Wednesday’s friendly so…

Anything is possible.

Featured image: Minnesota United Facebook

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Another type of pro in Dallas: Alan Avila

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Official FC Dallas Reporter

By Bailey Brown // @baileystaysposi

It may seem like it has been awhile, but it was only in April that we saw our first MLS Cup winner of the year… an eMLS Cup winner. The buzz and hype around the eMLS Cup in Boston this past year was just something I couldn’t get enough of. Seeing supporters of all clubs actively backing their professional gamers to defeat opponents game after game was awesome.

I couldn’t help but be curious as to this notion of signing a professional gamer to MLS clubs and how people even got there. As a teacher, I see middle school students trying to play video games in class. I’m actually pretty sure if I brought in my XBox and allowed them to play FIFA in class, we would have an all-out tournament. However, according to Forbes.com, esports is on track to bring in $900 million in revenue this year. You guys… $900 million.

It’s no wonder that MLS has started signing their own eMLS players as this is a huge market that any business would be crazy to not touch.. So, my next challenge? Talk to the FC Dallas eMLS player who made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, Alan Avila.

 

Check out my interview – with former FC Dallas youth player turned eMLS star!

Okay so, let’s start with a little bit about your soccer background. You played for the FC Dallas youth system as a midfielder in high school. When did you start playing soccer and can you tell MLSFemale readers a little bit more about your soccer background?

I started playing soccer ever since I was four. My dad made a local team and coached me all the way up until my club soccer years. My first club team was the Dallas Texans. I started traveling 5 hours to Dallas and Frisco just to play my league games on the weekends, so it was a sacrifice I had to make, but it was all worth it. 1-2 years later, I joined FC Dallas’ Youth system and played in the Classic League. I played at Robert E. Lee High School in Midland, Texas. I was on Varsity since my Freshman year. Unfortunately, my sophomore year of High School I tore my left ACL and had to miss most of the season. I then went on to play my junior year. My senior year, I tore my right ACL and unfortunately had to sit out my entire senior year. I had surgery again and recovered just in time for collegiate soccer at the University of Texas of The Permian Basin. During preseason I re-tore my right ACL. I had surgery, recovered, but then started focusing more on FIFA and YouTube.

I read in your interview with FC Dallas that you started playing FIFA after your third ACL injury. Surely to be as good as you are, you were playing the game before you decided to start competitively. Was playing video games always a hobby of yours?

Playing FIFA was definitely a hobby of mine ever since I was in elementary school. My soccer mates and friends would always get together and play against each other and have tournaments. It was something I really enjoyed to play whenever I was not playing actual soccer because I just love soccer so much. FIFA, the video game, helped me learn more about the game of soccer. I would always try out new moves or passes that I would see in FIFA on the field. FIFA was a nice hobby to have as a soccer player because during the offseason or whenever I wasn’t playing actual soccer, I would start up FIFA and start playing. I believe many soccer players love to play FIFA.

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Image: emlscup.us

With that, how did you decide to become a professional FIFA player? What is the process for those who didn’t know this e-world existed?

I got very fortunate with timing because, during my third ACL surgery recover, FIFA 17 introduced a new competitive game mode called “FUT Champions”. It is a competitive game mode where you play 40 games a weekend against the best players on your continent and compete with everyone from around the world. I started finishing in the Top 100 in the World leaderboard by winning 38, 39, or even 40 games out of the 40 we were required to play. It was no easy task by any means and it still continues to be very difficult. I then started qualifying for FIFA tournaments through FUT Champions and that’s how I made a name for myself. I posted YouTube videos and people started subscribing and really enjoying the content. In FIFA 18, the current FIFA, I did the same thing. The eMLS was introduced and luckily FC Dallas was able to scout me as a local Elite FIFA player and that’s how I signed my first professional contract. I stayed ranked among the best 100 players in the world. I qualified to the biggest tournament in Amsterdam hosted by EA Sports FIFA. It’s a continuous craft that I need to keep practicing and mastering.

When you saw other teams in MLS start to sign eMLS players, what were your thoughts? Did you initially reach out to FC Dallas about playing for them? How did the actual signing for you happen?

I have always brainstormed the idea of the eMLS becoming a thing long before it actually became an official thing. I saw other leagues around the world have their own FIFA leagues and it was something that I wanted to see in the USA and Canada with the MLS. When I found out about the eMLS actually becoming a thing, I was super excited because I knew that it would attract many people and that it was a great thing for competitive FIFA and the league. Like I stated in the previous question, FC Dallas did their scouting and found out about me through media sources and all of the FIFA rankings there are. They found out that I was a part of the actual FC Dallas youth program so it was just a great match for their program. I was invited to come down to Toyota Stadium and talk to everyone involved with FC Dallas and that’s where it all began.

Tell us more about the first eMLS Cup. I saw online that only current MLS players are available for teams. What were the other guidelines? How did you decide what squad to field? As a general fan, I didn’t know that you weren’t playing with the full FC Dallas squad. Tell us more about what goes into choosing the team you play with. How does your knowledge of playing soccer give you an advantage while playing people who maybe never have touched a ball in their life?

The first eMLS Cup was a success and a great experience. The guidelines were that we had to have three MLS players on the field at all times, two of which had to be from the MLS club you were representing. When I found out about this, I knew that I had to plan correctly and make a squad that would most benefit me. There is a lot that goes into making a squad to play with on FIFA. Many people want the fastest and most technical players.

In FIFA, there are 6 different categories that distinguish a player. There is Pace, Shooting, Passing, Dribbling, Defending, and Physical. As you can probably tell, everyone competing wants the players with the best overall attributes. FIFA has done a great job in making the game very realistic. This means that the players seem to perform as they would in real life.

Ronaldo, Messi, and Sergio Ramos are players that mostly everyone had on their squad in the eMLS. So if you are knowledgeable in soccer, making a squad in FIFA would become much easier because you will know what you are working with and how to use the players in each position to their best possible potential. I decided to use Kellyn Acosta and Urruti from FC Dallas because Kellyn had the physical and defending aspect of a midfielder and Urruti had the goal scoring ability. My third MLS player was Alessandrini because of his speed and ability to score. Many competitors selected Alessandrini for that exact reason.

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Image: mlssoccer.com

How was the first eMLS Cup? What were the vibes like? Did you previously know any of the other eMLS players from the gaming community and your previous competitions?

The first eMLS cup was a great experience even though I was eliminated in the Western Conference Final. I definitely learned a lot and cannot wait for the next one. The vibes were great. Everyone was excited to get the first eMLS cup underway. It was an honor to be representing the club. Many players including myself played with immense passion for the club and wanted nothing but the best for all the fans and club. The vibes were honestly everywhere. Excitement, curiosity, anxiety, sadness, disappointment, thrill, and a whole lot of adrenaline was seen by everyone throughout the eMLS cup.

I did know most of the players from the online leaderboards, previous tournaments, or even social media. It was nice to be able to actually meet up with them in person and share a great experience. Some of them even knew me from watching my videos on YouTube so it was really nice being able to meet everyone that I hadn’t before.

So now that this tournament is over, what’s next for you? How long are you in a contract with FC Dallas in this position? What are your overall goals?

Now that the eMLS Cup is over, I need to focus on any major EA Sports tournaments I have. I also need to focus on being more active on social media whether it is via YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and even Snapchat to build a close community of great people. I also need to continue practicing a bit for whatever tournament is next. Most tournaments are over with for FIFA 18 so now I can take a little break and focus on starting strong in FIFA 19 in September.

I am in a contract with FC Dallas for a year but I’m hoping to sign again for the FIFA 19 season. There are many goals that I wish to accomplish. I want to win the eMLS Cup and any other major global tournaments. I also want to really build a community on YouTube and social media as a whole to help others in FIFA, their life, or whatever the case may be. Someone that they can look up to and enjoy being a part of the experiences.

For all of the aspiring eMLS players out there, what is one piece of advice you would give so that they could be the next eMLS player for their team?

One piece of advice that I would give to aspiring eMLS players is to never give up and learn from every loss. That is how you not only grow as a player but as a person as well.

And finally, if you could field your perfect 11 (not within the confines of eMLS Cup), who would your lineup be?

My perfect eleven would have to start off with David De Gea in goal. Marcelo at left back. Sergio Ramos and David Luiz at the center back positions. Kyle Walker at right back. Modric, Pogba, and Iniesta in the midfield. Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar up top.

You can follow Alan Avila on Twitter at @AlanAvi_ to see everything he’s up to and keep an eye on his gaming!

Featured image courtesy: Alan Avila

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @baileystaysposi

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Loons make some MLS history

Bridget McDowell - Minnesota United FC/mlsfemale
Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

July 4, 2018

The Loons returned home Wednesday night for an Independence Day cross-conference matchup against the reigning champs Toronto FC. Both sides came in looking to break a three-game losing streak and, for once, Minnesota United FC was not the cure-all drug for another team’s woes.

There were some changes in Minnesota’s lineup with defender Francisco Calvo returning from World Cup duty and midfielder Miguel Ibarra back from a red card suspension. Their roles were shifted somewhat in a 3-5-2 lineup, with Calvo sitting in a three-man backline alongside Brent Kallman and Michael Boxall, while Ibarra was shifted into a wingback position on the right side of a five-man midfield. A pyramid of Canadians awaited them.

But the base of that pyramid crumbled quickly. For the first time in a long while, Minnesota took ownership of an early lead, rather than give it away. Just eight minutes in, Darwin Quintero broke down Toronto’s five-man defense, setting up a shot that would split two frantic defenders and float into the upper-left corner. One-nil in under ten minutes, in favor of Minnesota. A Christmas miracle in July, courtesy of The Scientist.

Just five minutes later, Calvo saw Ibarra ready to make a run and sent him the ball. Batman sped down the center of the pitch, just one man in red on his flank, Irwin coming far off his line in hopes of intercepting him. He did not. Ibarra knocked the ball right past the keeper to put Minnesota up 2-0.

Toronto managed to take one back before halftime, after a mistake in what coach Adrian Heath would later call a “busy box.” Ibson failed to clear a ball from Kallman, instead passing right in front of Justin Morrow, who connected easily on a slide. 2-1 Minnesota.

From the start of the second half, it was obvious that Toronto’s halftime chat centered around containing Quintero. The five defenders certainly had his number, but they misdialed a few times…

52nd minute: Quintero finds a gap, steps into the box and shoots. Goal. 3-1.

58th minute: Quintero is triple-teamed, but the three defenders pay no attention to each other’s movements and lose him again. Quintero makes a run, shoots. Goal. 4-1.

That goal marked Quintero’s first hat trick as a Loon (the fourth in his career) and the first for MNUFC since joining the MLS. Quintero cited an observation of Irwin’s behavior as the key to those three goals: “I noticed from the beginning that he took two steps forward to anticipate plays. In some games it works, in others, it doesn’t. Today all of them went in.”

Study the evolution here:

He celebrated in the corner, with fans who tossed him their caps, and his teammates who piled on top of him. Christian Ramirez put a cap on the DP’s head which earned him a yellow.

“I thought it was the right thing to do at the time; didn’t know it was deserving of a yellow,” Ramirez said with a chuckle in the locker room. “I asked him to give me the yellow instead, but…”

Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco, quiet all evening, a shadow of his former self, notched a goal in the 70th minute that seemed a message to all present, “Hey, I’m not retired yet.” Bobby Shuttleworth could do nothing other than watch it float by him and into the net.

We have to give Heath credit for maintaining the formation, not simply parking the bus. His first two subs were offensive-minded: Mason Toye for Ramirez, Collin Martin for Schuller. Martin earned a standing ovation and the loudest (non-goal) cheers of the night as he made his first appearance since coming out last Friday.

It wasn’t until the 86th minute that United parked the bus, with Quintero pulled in favor of a defender, Eric Miller. But they left the windows open.

Toronto pulled off one more goal in stoppage time, in the final minute of play. 4-3.

But the whistle blew. A streak was snapped. Minnesota came out on top for the first time since May.

Cue Wonderwall.

Before the goosebumps subside, before the last notes of Wonderwall can fade from the supporters’ consciousness, the Loons will play a match with bigger consequences. On Saturday, United face Houston Dynamo, a club well ahead of them in the playoff race and they will have to do it without Calvo (yellow card accumulation) and with a depleted squad on tired legs.

At least we will always have Wednesday.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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“O’CanaDUH” in Vancouver

Aaryn Vivian - Vancouver Whitecaps/mlsfemale
Official Vancouver Whitecaps Reporter

By Aaryn Vivian // @aarynvivian

To say it’s been a trying few months to be a Vancouver Whitecaps supporter would be a bit of an understatement. After falling 6-0 to Sporting Kansas City on April 20th, a loss that led to their supporters to “Demand Better”, the Caps appeared to finally be finding their footing, going 3-1-4, scoring 16 goals (2nd in the MLS), creating 95 chances (most in the MLS), and 2 MLS Player of the Week honours (Techera & Davies) with 6 matches unbeaten (including back-to-back wins.) The supporters were starting to let their guard down, the fiery pitchfork-wielding anger from April far off in the distance.

Then the Whitecaps reminded us just how quickly things can change.

On June 23rd, the Philadelphia Union put 4 unanswered goals past an undisciplined Whitecaps side, a side that, for the second time this season, was down to 9 men before the final whistle was blown. The glaring discipline issues this team has been rife with all season were once again highlighted for the entire league to see. The calls for #RobboOut were back with a vengeance, coming fast and furious on social media and had many wondering what the Supporters’ Town Hall, scheduled for Tuesday, June 26th, was going to hold.

The Supporters’ Town Hall was born out of the “We Demand Better” statement released in April 2018. In response to the statement, the Whitecaps front office had asked what they could do for the supporters. While there were many ways that question could have been answered, the first step became a Town Hall that would see the Caps’ brass come out to the Southsiders’ supporters pub and answer questions from members of the three Vancouver SGs: the Southsiders, Curva Collective, and Rain City Brigade.

It was a feat in and of itself to have the likes of Club President and Whitecaps legend Bobby Lenarduzzi, Chief Operating Officer Rachel Lewis, Vice President of Soccer Operations Greg Anderson, and of course, Manager Carl Robinson on the panel for this event, but the day before the Philly match, the supporters received word that Jeff Mallett, from the Whitecaps ownership group, had added his name to the list of panelists. For the first time in the MLS era, the Whitecaps supporters would get an audience with the people making the big decisions for their Club and be able to ask the tough questions.

Without going into the nitty-gritty details of the Town Hall, I will say it closed with each panelist offering their rationale for why each supporter should stick with the team, renew their season tickets for next year and continue to chant and cheer themselves hoarse on match days. Then the team went on to lose 1-0 to the Colorado Rapids. On Canada Day. At home. To a team who, until then, had only secured one point on the road this season.

The Whitecaps were without Yordy Reyna and Jose Aja, who were serving their match suspension after taking red cards during the match against Philly, and Cristian Techera who was serving the first of his three-match ban for “offensive, discriminatory language” used during the Union match. It’s difficult to ascertain whether any of those three would have been the difference maker in the Canada Day match because it didn’t matter: the team’s complete lack of discipline had resulted in the Whitecaps dropping a valuable three points yet again.

The pitchforks have been sharpened, the supporters are more displeased (and vocal!) than ever about the direction in which their team is headed and the calls for change rage on.

Rule #1 of the Southsiders is “Always support the Caps” and while the frustration with the Whitecaps organization reaches its boiling point, I encourage our supporters to continue the productive dialogue that began back in April, the one that reaches far beyond #RobboOut and seeks more from the Whitecaps organization as a whole.

Continue to stand and sing for the boys in Blue & White, cheer them on to victory…while holding the organization accountable and demanding better.

Featured image: @WhitecapsFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @aarynvivian

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Portugal Fails to Advance After Loss to Uruguay

Shae Beaudoin - Orlando City SC/mlsfemale
Official Orlando City Reporter

By Shae Beaudoin // @ShaeEliz

For all of us Portugal fans, our 2018 FIFA World Cup chances are over. After finishing second in the Group stages, Portugal faced Uruguay in the second match of the Round of 16. Unfortunately, once we hit Round of 16, there are no second chances. A win sends you forward and a loss sends you home.

This was definitely a rough game. We Portugal fans had to start worrying just 7 minutes in when Edinson Cavani put Uruguay on the score board. Yeah, I was a little worried at this point, but I also know our team, and I knew that Portugal wasn’t out of the running just because they were trailing by one goal.

This was overall a pretty fair game. The referee didn’t pull out yellow cards like they were trick-or-treats on Halloween. In fact, the card only left his pocket once during the whole match. Considering how the rest of the matches have gone so far in this World Cup, I’m counting that as an improvement.

Other than that first goal, there isn’t too much to share about the first half. These teams both played well and most importantly, the match was extremely even. It could have gone either way at any point in time.

Second half is when Portugal seemed to get their heads in the game.

In the 55th minute, Pepe tied things up and breathed new life into the Portugal fans. We could breathe a little easier. Ten minutes, at least, before Cavani made his second goal. Before he could go for his hat trick, Cavani ended up injured and came off the field.

If you weren’t able to tune in for this game, we really need to highlight this for a second because of the extremely touching moment between Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani. As Cavani limped off the field, Ronaldo came over and lended the striker a shoulder to lean on and helped him off the field.

That is the A+ sportsmanship I love to see. Even though this man is the reason Portugal was about to go home, Ronaldo didn’t let that stop him from being a good person. Whether it was for the spotlight or not you have to commend him. If I was in that situation, with my whole nation’s chances of advancing on my shoulders, I highly doubt I would have even thought about helping the other team out in any capacity.

But back to the match. Closing out second half, the score stood Uruguay 2, Portugal 1. And then the fourth official gifted us with six whole minutes of added stress time. I don’t think I’ve ever wished so hard for an equalizer in my life. (Though, spoiler alert, after the stress of Sunday’s Spain/Russian tiebreaker shootout, I realize that maybe it’s better I didn’t get my wish.)

Of course, you’ve read this far, you know Portugal didn’t get the equalizer and they are in fact, eliminated from the competition. It’s been a rough weekend for me. Three L’s with all the teams I support and the only solace is that Argentina and Lionel Messi were also eliminated on Saturday, thanks to the French.

That wraps up my coverage of the 2018 World Cup now that both my teams have been eliminated. I haven’t decided who I’m rooting for next. France? Brazil? I guess we’ll see. Who do you still have in the competition?

Featured image: mlsfemale

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @ShaeEliz

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Orlando sees it’s 8th straight L but hey, there’s a new head coach

Shae Beaudoin - Orlando City SC/mlsfemale
Official Orlando City Reporter

By Shae Beaudoin // @ShaeEliz

Raise your hand if you witnessed the madness that ensued on June 30th, 2018. There were game upon games between the FIFA World Cup and MLS. It probably got tough to keep up with, so let me break down one match for you, at least. On this day, Orlando City SC traveled north to Atlanta for the rivals’ second meet up this season. And by just three minutes in, I was wondering why we even bothered to make the trip.

Now you know I’m #CityTilIDie, but that doesn’t make swallowing the L pills any easier. Especially not against rivals/arch nemeses. To sum up the game in as few words as possible, we got the ball, we didn’t communicate, we lost the ball, Atlanta scored. Rinse and repeat four times and you’ll have yourself a full 90 minute match.

There’s really not much else to say about our eighth straight loss that we don’t all already know. Instead of focusing on the negative and complaining about what went wrong this game, I want to highlight what went right.

First off, Chris Mueller. I’ve been saying this since the 2018 draft pick saw his first minutes of play time for this team. Mueller is our key. Whether he starts or comes in as a sub in second half, Mueller continuously brings the drive, effort and energy this team so badly needs.

Take this game versus Atlanta, even in the 88th minute while we’re staring at a 4-0 scoreboard, Mueller never stopped putting on the pressure and making attempts on goal. As long as we have a player like that on our roster, I hardly care about results because I know the passion is there. I know the motivation is there. Plus, it’s been a little bit since Mueller tucked one away for us. I know he’s just itching to get his name back on the score sheet. Just wait for it.

Second, Amro Tarek. Tarek was a new addition to our roster during the 2017/2018 off season. He brings strength and size to our severely struggling defensive line. Combined with captain Jonathan Spector, these two are quite the force. Not only did he have several great saves during this game against Atlanta, but he also saw (by my count) at least two close attempts on goal off of set pieces. This needs to be applauded. Nothing is better than defense scoring. But as a former defender, I may be bias in that opinion.

I know, if our defense is so good, why did they allow four goals? There’s really no clear answer here and I wish I had one for you. If you ask me, the problem lies with our formation.

To catch you up to speed, after our devastating loss to Montreal Impact (the first one), Orlando City said goodbye to head coach Jason Kreis. I gave this man a lot of slack for never flexing off the 4-4-2 formation, but that’s more because I feel each team requires a different formation approach. With our interim head coach, we played a 3-5-2. I can definitely appreciate this change but when we take Atlanta, who’s got a strong attacking lineup, I really think we should have opted for a bit more defense and a little less offense. Or even if we wanted to start attacking strong, once we saw 2 (or 3 since they happened back to back) goals with very few chances for comeback, we should have switched up our formation.

I digress. At the end of the day, it was another loss. 4-0 in favor of Atlanta. So Atlanta fans get to continue to gloat and I will just wait patiently for the day we get our revenge.

Now, let’s talk about this coaching situation. We have a new head coach! So many fans were eagerly hoping for Ricardo Kaká to come back to us with the title “Coach” but sadly, that’s not the case. However, we did end up signing on a former Lion. James O’Connor played for the Orlando City team back before we joined the MLS.

He’s young, he’s still growing his resume, so there’s a lot to be nervous about, but I’m willing to give him a chance to prove to us what he can do. We’ve got an amazing roster of players. The talent pool is definitely there. The remainder of the season will tell us if O’Connor is able to rally this squad to success.

Currently, Orlando City has dropped to 9th out of 11 teams in the Eastern Conference standings. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but we’re not trailing too far behind those ahead of us. There’s still plenty of time to turn this club around and for us to see our first playoff season in MLS. So, hopefully, my next write up is about a win.

Featured image: @OrlandoCitySC

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Loons lose two, despite not allowing early goals

Bridget McDowell - Minnesota United FC/mlsfemale
Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Minnesota United’s last two matches are about as ridiculous a juxtaposition as I have ever seen between two performances with the same result. The first appeared an easy win on paper, but in reality, while allowing the brightest ‘up-and-coming’ names to make their case, tested the Loons’ grit and the coach’s tactics. The second matched a daunting foe with a depleted side in a new formation. Opportunities mounted, celebrations sparked repeatedly and….

And nothing. The Loons have nothing to show for it.

United played perhaps its most passionate game of the season in Colorado last Saturday and throngs of away fans were there to disrupt the home sides’ broadcast mics for the whole show. And both sides did put on quite a show. The Loons struck first. When Rapids keeper Tim Howard blocked Darwin Quintero’s tap-in, he sent it spinning just off his line. Few players on either side reacted quickly, but United midfielder Miguel Ibarra rushed the box and launched both the ball and himself into the back of the net to put the Loons up 1-0.

Colorado wouldn’t answer until the second half, when Edgar Castillo sent one past Bobby Shuttleworth to tie it up in the 50th minute. Fifteen minutes later Christian Ramirez tapped one in, assisted by Ibarra and Quintero, to regain the lead. For nine minutes, it appeared the lead may hold, that the Loons could hold them off, but Shkelzen Gashi and Danny Wilson worked the gaps to set up a beauty from Joe Mason. 2-2, in the 74th minute. Then disaster.

Ibarra, attempting to take the ball from Joe Mason of the Rapids for quick restart, appeared to (from the official’s perspective) take a swing at Mason’s head. Ibarra was shoved to the ground by Jack Price and further agitated. As his teammates ran to his defense, Ibarra was shown red. Ejected.

The ten-man side looked dejected as they fought to maintain a one-point result away. The Loons gutted it out for thirteen minutes and both sides showed some, um, passion as they defended their goals at all costs. But grit and passion weren’t enough for United.

Nearly eight minutes into the announced minimum six minutes (yeah, you read that correctly) of stoppage time, Gashi takes a corner and connects with Joe Mason’s head. Goal. Whistle. Loss.

Cue fan anger. The sentiment #HeathOut, having grown from an occasional addition to banter to the first reaction of many fans on Twitter, spawned an account with the handle @HeathOut. Since that match, Is Heath Gone Yet? has tweeted every day, just a word or two each denoting the gaffer’s status: ‘Nope.’ ‘Naw.’ ‘Nein.’ ‘Nuh uh.’ ‘Nopers.’ Of course, there’s always this positive outlook: They didn’t give up a goal in the opening ten minutes.

Ahead of Minnesota’s home game against FC Dallas on Friday, the account posted, “Not today. Maybe Tomorrow.”  Present and accounted for, Heath rolled out a different formation of depleted Loons that offered hope for goals against a strong Dallas side. The 3-5-2 pulled one defender, Tyrone Mears,  forward into the midfield, which has leaked like a sieve all year.

Mears played right wing opposite Alexi Gomez, freeing up Ibson and Rasmus Schuller (usually the two in Heath’s 4-2–3-1) to track forward and back without leaving too much room for a Dallas counter. With these box-to-box roamers behind an attacking duo of Quintero and Ramirez, what could go wrong?

Against the Rapids, the Loons were efficient with their shots. Out of twelve total, eight were on target, two of which found the net. Taking note of the Law of Averages, the Loons peppered shots into the Toros’ box. But only five of their fifteen shots were on target.

Schuller nearly had a highlight reel screamer, but it curled wide. Ibson sent two brilliant shots wide. Ramirez sent a few wide, failed to connect on the end of others. Quintero went wide. It was as if the humid haze above the artificial turf created a force field between the sticks. As if a rifle shooter neglected to zero in his scope, shot after shot.

But they had plenty of set pieces to fall back on. Even a team notoriously poor with set pieces should find the Law on their side given enough opportunities. Right?

Let’s do a word problem

FC Dallas takes three corner kicks. One goes in (Goal: Roland Lamah, 59’). MN United FC takes thirteen corner kicks. How many of United’s corners result in goal?

This English major comes up with 4.33 goals for United on paper. On the pitch, the Loons came up with zero.

And so, despite again not allowing a goal in the first ten minutes, the Loons lost another.

But the supporters sweated it out with them. It wasn’t just any hot and humid game night. It was Pride Night and the club was celebrating one of its own.

Midfielder Collin Martin came out publicly on Friday morning, the only active pro athlete to play openly as a gay man.

In an impromptu discussion with media before the match, team owner Dr. Bill McGuire was asked if there was anything political to be inferred by the announcement.  “This is a human statement,” he replied. “Not a political one.” In subsequent interviews, Martin noted an overwhelmingly positive response.

The Loons may have lost the match, but Collin Martin (a player who didn’t even see minutes on Friday), with the club and supporters behind him, won the night.

#PrideNightEveryNight

Featured image: @MNUFC

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A recap on Dallas and how homegrowns can change our league

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Official FC Dallas Reporter

By Bailey Brown // @baileystaysposi

Hey everybody! I would like to start off with thanking everybody for chillin’ on the FC Dallas content for awhile. Between a few moves and some trips, I had to take a short break. So, what happened in that time? Let’s take a QUICK trip down memory lane.

My last article concluded with a win against the LA Galaxy. Since then, the following major things have happened:

  1. Dallas continues to be #2 in Western Conference and I am happy about this. We are still debating whether or not we are headed into that notorious “summer slump” but I’m not quite convinced that we are there yet. I’m still feeling confident and optimistic going into the summer.
  2. Dallas lost to Sporting KC in the Open Cup. I’m not too terribly upset about this. With this loss, we cleared up our schedule from having to travel excessively which would absolutely take away focus from league play. Open Cup is great, but MLS Cup is what we have our eye on.
  3. The loss to New York Red Bulls was something to witness. Literally, I got to witness this in person and I wish I could say I could forget it. Hopefully we have learned that playing 5 back should NEVER happen. Like, ever.
  4. Matt Hedges is named to the All Star Team. Congratulations to him, but I could definitely do without this. I’m not a huge fan at the idea of my captain leaving to play a game that doesn’t matter with the potential to get hurt when we really need him in Dallas. Stay safe, Matty!
  5. Oh, and Mauro Diaz is gone. Did I mention that our unicorn is gone? Dallas social media is up in arms about this because people are claiming we just let one of our best players go. My take? Good luck, Mauro! People keep thinking about pre-injury 2016 Mauro. He hasn’t been the same since and is way too injury prone. I would much rather see one of our other midfielders taking that position and making it theirs…. Say, like, Paxton Pomykal. I’m absolutely excited and hope to see him get some more time.

I hope this gives you a quick insight into the happenings with FC Dallas over the past month. However, something I would like to highlight is the fact that June 29th, FC Dallas played 6 homegrowns in their win over a scrappy Minnesota United.

Let me go off on a tangent for a quick second.

I was supporting Germany this World Cup. As most people know, that didn’t turn out too well. However, I saw a tweet that said that people across the United States were now ripping up their German manuals on how to play soccer and trying to figure out how to play. This mentality is exactly what Dallas has been against under coach Oscar Pareja. I read that tweet and absolutely went back to the “Busca La Forma” philosophy that we hold onto so dear.

Papi always says that we shouldn’t tell our youth to play like people from other countries. We need to tell them they have their own way of doing things and we need to embrace finding the way that works for us. Seeing Dallas field 6 homegrowns absolutely shows that we are practicing what we preach.

We are giving those who have come up through our own system the opportunity to show everyone what we are made of. Last night, we had Acosta, Cannon, Gonzalez, Pomykal, Reaves, and Ulloa on the field. This made FC Dallas the first in MLS to play six homegrowns. I’m not here for a game break down this go round (we will get back to that with Atlanta) but I do want people to reflect on what this means for Dallas and how it sets the standard for MLS.

Dallas has only lost two games this year and are actively playing people who came through our system. This allows Pareja to absolutely establish a certain type of play within the system. It is not a secret that he is active at Academy practices and brings in DA players to the first team practices.

You begin to have a fluidity that when you need players, they’re there already knowing the system and able to apply it in a game situation. We have seen this with the eagerness of some of our younger players, but the anchor some of the veteran players provide.

Ulloa has absolutely had a second coming under Pareja as he was a part of the Academy system that Pareja established. Papi gave him that chance to continue playing for Dallas and he has provided leadership and consistency.

I will always sing Kellyn Acosta’s praises. He is the face of Dallas, in my opinion. Coming through the system and applying it in a way to make him a staple in the midfield for the national team.

So, what could other teams learn from this?

I will say that I think the Red Bulls do a great job with following this same guide and you see them able to replace “key” players with their own without falling down the table. But, when we look at teams lower on the table, what are their Academies like? Are they relying on developing their own and bringing them into their first team, or are they trying to put together a puzzle with players who may cost a lot of money and are well known, but are not helping bring results.

I believe that we are starting to see the teams that follow the model of developing their Academies and signing homegrowns and then bringing them to actually have time on their first teams are going to be the clubs that succeed moving forward. I am a full believer that you can’t bring in a big name and continuously change your system to them and expect results. Instead, let’s look at Dallas and see that when you bring players through a system, the results come because you are developing your puzzle pieces rather than searching for them.

Congratulations to Kris Reaves on his MLS debut, Hollingshead on his 100th appearance, and Lamah on regaining most goals for FCD this season with his 7th goal. I look forward to giving y’all more Dallas content moving forward and more breakdowns of the games.

Featured image: FCD Academy | The Next One

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Moving on: Round of 16 for Denmark

Liz Panucci - Co-Founder/mlsfemale
Editor

By Liz Panucci // @PanucciLiz

They’ve done it! Denmark has advanced to the Round of 16 in the World Cup!!

Their best FIFA World Cup result to date was achieved in 1998, where they narrowly lost 3–2 in a quarter-final against Brazil. Denmark also made the second round in 2002. Check out these amazing stats comparing then and now…hmmmmm, makes you wonder.

Advancing to this next round was not clinched until the final day of Group C games on June 26th. France was already set to move on and that’s who the opponent was for Denmark. Australia was hosting Peru at the same time. With a Denmark loss and an Australia win, both teams would be tied at 4 points each. Tournament rules would then go into effect.

As the tweet below states, there was lots of huffing and puffing but not lots of scoring. The match with France ended in a scoreless draw. Kudos to keeper Kasper Schmeichel once again. Peru defeated Australia 0-2 in an exciting match to clinch it for Denmark.

France and Denmark were tops in Group C and both moved on to the knockout phase – Round of 16.

June 29th was a day of rest for the World Cup in Russia. Teams who did not advance packed up their bags, collected their memories and hopped a plane home. It will be another four years before they can try again.

Round of 16

France kicked it off versus the favored Argentina. Many say it was the match of all matches, and almost everyone agrees it was exciting to watch, even for new fans of soccer. The final score was 4-3, for France. Uruguay knocked out Portugal with a score of 2 -1. Sunday, July 1 has Spain and Russia playing the early game.

In the later game, Croatia and Denmark play. Croatia was in a competitive group with Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria who all played well during tournament play. They are coming in strong. Here is a quote from Crotia midfielder Filip Bradaric as we look forward to the match:

Denmark has some similar features to Iceland. Croatia will be well-prepared for this encounter.

Competitors in the football (soccer) world know Denmark to be a solid competitor. It will be an exciting match between these two intense teams as this is a win-or-go-home situation. Here’s what Denmark’s official team reporter for 2018 FIFA World Cup had to say:

See you there!

Croatia v Denmark. Sunday, July 1. #CRODEN

Update: Denmark was defeated in the knockout match against Croatia. It was a very exciting game, going into shootout penalty kicks, with the eventual loss. Kudos to all the Danish players on a successful World Cup!

Featured image: mlsfemale

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