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All-Stars and MLS: From the sidelines

Tisha Gale - NYCFC photographer/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Photographer

By Tisha Gale // @TishaGale

The MLS All-Star Game is the third biggest, yet most controversial event in Major League Soccer’s arsenal of annual festivities.  In the grand scheme of things, a midseason friendly, no matter the opponent, has very little to no clout and offers more risks than reward. However, this is America, and an All-Star exhibition game is about as American as you can get.

#tishajuvdossantos
Juventus player, Alex Sandro toe-pokes the ball away from MLS All-Star, Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy). Image: Tisha Gale

This year, the midseason clash between the MLS All-Stars and the Italian bigwigs, Juventus, led us to a showdown in rainy Atlanta, Georgia on Wednesday, August 1, 2018. In the weeks leading up to the match, the topic on everyone’s minds was the overall significance of the All-Star Game. I asked a few friends and colleagues to weigh-in with their opinions of the All-Star Game and here’s what they had to say:

“I’m of two minds when it comes to the MLS All-Star Game. On one hand, pitting our best players against a well-known European powerhouse draws more fans to our league, and ideally shows that we’re progressing in ability and quality with how we acquit ourselves in the friendly. The continued growth in fandom and support make MLS more viable as a major sport with key younger demographic groups. If you’re a fan of the league, you really have to appreciate that.”

“On the other hand, it’s a meaningless friendly in the middle of the season, where the players selected have little time to prepare and gel as a squad, making the possibility of a cohesive, well-drilled game plan difficult to realize and execute. There’s very little upside for selected players and greater risk of injury, especially when the game is played on turf. The game is held midweek during a brutal part of the schedule which doesn’t incentivize participation (so much so that a rule was created to punish those who skip it, even due to injury).”

“If I had a vote, I’d push for . . . a return to East vs. West [format] and make the outcome meaningful (e.g. home field advantage in MLS Cup Finals, or decide which leg to host in MLS Cup playoffs).”  Dave K. (@kilsey on Twitter)

Tisha Gale - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale
MLS All-Star captain, Carlos Vela, wins a 50/50 battle with Juventus star, Emre Can. Image: Tisha Gale

The last time Major League Soccer hosted an East vs West All-Star showdown was at the 2004 game in which the East defeated the West in a 3-2 match at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. In fact, there have been six “East vs West” All-Star games to date, with the East holding an impressive 4-1-1 record. As a proud supporter of one of the best teams in the East, New York City FC, I would be happy to see the return of East vs West format.

My MLSFemale colleague, Keira, echoed Dave’s opinions. However, her biggest complaint has not to do with the game itself, but with one of the rules surrounding it.

“A change must happen to the rules regarding missing the All-Star Game (ASG) for a documented injury. If you miss at least two games prior to the ASG due to injury, you should not be suspended from the next regular season game due to missing the ASG. It’s a punishment to players and their teams. The ASG should be a celebration of excellence in MLS, not a burden.” –Keira M.S. (@keiramunsmith on Twitter)

This ASG rule sparked some outrage in New York when it was announced that David Villa would have to miss the NYCYC’s regular season match versus Vancouver Whitecaps because he had to bow out of the All-Star game. Villa was coming off a six-game injury spell.

There is clearly a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the way the ASG is executed. While some people think a little restructuring would do the trick, others believe that a completely new blueprint might be the best option.

“I mean, All-Star games really are an American thing overall. The idea of this one kinda comes from MLB’s mid-summer classic . . . Personally, I think trying to Americanize soccer hurts it here; from scheduling to roster limits . . . What they should do is create an American Super Cup that pits the MLS Cup winners and the Open Cup winners together to start the season. Like the rest of the world does with their league winners and domestic Cup winners.” –Jeff W. (@J_Weisinger on Twitter)

For the players selected to represent MLS, the All-Star Game is the ultimate pick-up game. It is a chance for them to get together with their friends across the league, to set rivalries aside and enjoy a night of the beautiful game.

When Dudes in Blue co-host, Anthony Scarcello, asked Alex Ring what it was like to attend his first All-Star game, the New York City FC midfielder stated, “I think it was a nice couple of days seeing the guys from the other teams in the league. Playing a little bit, having some fun.” All in all, the game provides “a good opportunity to enjoy yourself a little midweek.”

#tishaalexring
Alex Ring, the only player to represent New York City FC at the 2018 All-Star Game, after Villa’s injury ruled him out of the lineup. Image: Tisha Gale

With the debate seeming to end in a stalemate, at least until things undoubtedly heat up again next year, on what side of the coin do you land?  Should the powers that be package the MLS ASG in maple and drape it in the stars and stripes, or will a simple restructuring make it a more appealing event for players and fans alike?

Tisha Gale - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale
Sami Khedira aerial challenge. Image: Tisha Gale

As for me, this was my first year attending an MLS All-Star game, and I was fortunate enough to do so while representing MLSFemale. The All-Stars also presented a unique opportunity for me to network with other fans, photographers, reporters and podcasters from across the league, including a few of my MLSFemale colleagues.

Tisha Gale - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale
MLSFemale Cooligans Crew: Robyn (ATL), Jess (COL), Eve (IMFC), Aya (ATL), Tisha (NYCFC) 🙂

ATL All-Star 18 - Tisha - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale

Pointless or not, the atmosphere inside the stadium was electrifying; all my senses were heightened. The thrill of flashing my “Photographer” media credentials to security as I roamed the belly of Mercedes-Benz Stadium was enough to give me the best heart palpitations. By the time the game started, I was already on cloud 9. The photographer sitting next to me who kept quietly chanting, “This is boring,” could do nothing to lull me out of my perpetual state of bliss, and neither could the star whose bulb blew at the absolute wrong time.

Tisha Gale - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale

Tisha Gale - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale
Image: Tisha Gale

Images by Tisha Gale 

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @TishaGale

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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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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Here’s to our World Cup hosts, Russia

Sylvana Budesheim - NY Red Bulls/mlsfemale
Official NY Red Bulls Reporter, Russia Correspondent

By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

Okay, quick disclaimer: I don’t get to watch much of the World Cup. This is the first year I’ve had a job that runs through the summer. I fondly remember my first (and only) year teaching at an inner city high school and watching the 2014 tournament with a lot of Portuguese-American students. This year, I’ve had my phone streaming games at my cubicle, and have been able to watch at least one half of a given game on the TV at my job. (Don’t worry– the productivity hasn’t suffered.)

But I will tell you I watched last summer’s Confederations Cup. And I hope you don’t mind when I say… Russia was a total snoozefest. I was not really looking forward to seeing them in Group A. It was the ultimate, ‘you own the pool, so we’ll come to your party’ kind of moment. The world would smile and nod, let the team have their time in the group stage, and then we’d all watch the Germanys and the Portugals and the Argentinas take the real stage.

Well… it would seem the Russian FA said, “hold my vodka” and put together one heck of a product.

Opening Day: Russia 5, Saudi Arabia 0

Sure. This is cool. They trounced the 67th-ranked team (Russia is ranked 70th). But they did so with fourteen shots altogether, and half of them on target. And here’s the kicker (so to speak): Russia only had 38% possession. This is not a team that was desperate to keep the ball. They were content to capitalize on chances and did so convincingly. FIFA president Gianni Infantino looked on alongside Russian president Vladimir Putin and Saudi King Salman. Maybe… just maybe… Russia was going to give the world a show.

Group A Matchday 2: Russia 3, Egypt 1

Whoa. The Pharaohs. Mohammad Salah. Group A favorites (alongside Uruguay, obviously). Ranked 45th in the world by FIFA. Not so fast. Much more even in shots and possession, this was a real exercise for the host nation. Salah was neutralized in the attacking end of the field, held to a penalty kick (73′). And while the Own Goal spectre was the first scorer (and definitely on track to get the Golden Boot this year), Denis Cheryshev (59′) and Artem Dzyuba (62′) sewed up the game.

Group A Matchday 3: Uruguay 3, Russia 0

It wasn’t hard to imagine Uruguay (ranked 14th) topping the group. Despite three of their five group stage goals coming from this game alone, they dominated Group A overall. They didn’t drop a point. Add to that Russia being down a man for the majority of the game (Igor Smolnikov, straight red 36′), and the result is another day at the office. But it was enough for Russia to finish the group stage in second place. On to the Knockout Round.

Round of 16: Spain 1, Russia 1 (3-4 PK shootout)

As I used to say in high school: Ish about to get real here. Spain is ranked TENTH. They have won the freaking World Cup. They have some of the greatest players in the world today. Ain’t no shame in this game if Russia bows out now. This is the furthest they’ve ever gone*.

And of course Spain scores first. Well… kinda.

Like it or not, the ball was inside the net after a set piece. Russia was down, but not out. Then came the other error. The one that would ultimately shift the momentum of the game.

I don’t claim to know everything about soccer, but I do know this: put your daggone arms down. Dzyuba stepped up to the spot and converted the penalty kick to level the game.

We were then treated to the most boring second half of the tournament thus far. I guess both teams were content to wear each other out. But they could have tried to get something going in Added Extra Time. But no Golden Goal meant they could just keep trudging and send the game to the penalty shootout. That’s where anything could happen.

Even this:

And so it is Russia who advances. They will face Croatia in the Quarterfinals. The Germanys, the Portugals, and the Argentinas will watch from home. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep enjoying this ride, however long it lasts.

* Russia advanced to the World Cup Quarterfinals in 1970, when they were the Soviet Union.

Featured image: mlsfemale

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @WhiteZinWench

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Brazil Snap, Crackle, and Pop into the Round of 16

Michelle Huitink - LA Galaxy/mlsfemale
Official LA Galaxy Reporter

By Michelle Huitink // @mchuitink

June 29, 2018: World Cup

Brazil did Brazil things to break out of the group stage even though they didn’t look as threatening as their reputation implied.

The Squad:

Neymar da Silva Santos Jr – forward
Philippe Coutinho – midfielder
Marcelo Viera – defender
Alisson Becker – goalkeeper
José Paulo Bezerra Maciel Jr known as Paulinho – midfielder
Gabriel Jesus – forward
Thiago Silva – defender
Willian Borges la Silva commonly known as Willian – forward
Roberto Firmino – forward
Douglas Costa – midfielder
João Miranda de Souza Filho better known as Miranda – defender
Carlos Henrique Casemiro – midfielder
Filipe Luís – defender
Frederico Chaves Guedes aka Fred – midfielder
Fagner Conserva Lemos – defender

Saturday, June 17th

Brazil faced off against Switzerland in their World Cup Opener. The squad didn’t seem prepared for Switzerland’s defense and ended with a 1-1 draw. Neymar da Silva Santos Jr was fouled 10 times, the most of any player in the last 20 years. Brazil’s only goal was from Philippe Coutinho.

Friday, June 22

Brazil’s next opponent was Costa Rica. They didn’t get too CONCACAFed as they won 2-0. Brazil didn’t look like they were going to draw again despite outshooting the Ticos, but the ball just didn’t want to go into the net. The two late goals were finally scored by Philippe Coutinho and Neymar Jr in extra time.

Wednesday, June 27

Their last opponent in Group E was Serbia. In this scenario, Brazil needed to win and goal differential could’ve put them in second place, but since Switzerland drew with Costa Rica, they came out on top of their group. Serbia put up a good fight with several shots with a final score of 2-0. Both had a chance to advance. Goals were scored by Paulinho and Thiago Silva.

The next match is July 2nd versus Mexico. Kickoff is at 7AM PST. My bet would be on Brazil to win because Mexico didn’t look strong after their major finish defeating Germany in their opening match.

Featured image: mlsfemale

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @mchuitink

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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

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @PanucciLiz

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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LAFC’s Carlos Vela plays vital role in final stages of El Tri’s group run

Araceli Villanueva - LAFC/mlsfemale
Official LAFC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

Despite dropping their last match to Sweden, Mexico advances to the Round of the 16 with the help of a former opponent.

Mexico won back-to-back matches at the 2018 World Cup following a 2-1 victory over South Korea marking the first time since winning their first two matches at the 2002 World Cup. However, El Tri fell short of making history after falling 3-0 to Sweden for their final group match.

It’s been an emotional tournament for Carlos Vela after his grandfather passed away following their opening match win over Germany, nevertheless, he remained focused on the task at hand. Vela has been a key player in all three matches as he continuously created dangerous plays. As well, becoming LAFC’s first player to score a goal in the World Cup when he converted a penalty breaking a scoreless drought during their scuffle with South Korea on June 23.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez added to the score in the 66th minute when he drilled a clipped ball from Lozano into the right corner past South Korea’s keeper becoming the first player to score 50 goals for Mexico. After going scoreless for 180 minutes in the tournament, South Korea’s Son Heung-min found the net during stoppage time with a screamer from 20 yards. Mexico rushed into action to prevent the Tigers from leveling the match for the remaining time securing their 2-1 victory.

The Swedish match was a whole different story. After getting hit by a multitude of controversial calls – and receiving nightmarish penalty call flashbacks – El Tri fought hard looking for their third-straight victory. But despite all efforts, they ultimately fell 3-0. Mexico was given hope after South Korea defeated Germany in a shocking 2-0 victory eliminating the reigning World Cup champions.

El Tri will go on to face Brazil in the Round of 16 on Monday, July 2. Kickoff is set for 9 a.m. CT.

Featured image: mlsfemale

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Nigeria’s win over Iceland 2-0 keeps Argentina alive

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Group D: kickoff June 22nd

Nigeria is back! With a strong build-up of a quick aggressive offense, the Super Eagles stomped all over the World Cup dreams of beloved underdog Iceland.

Minutes before kickoff,  I ran into a young Nigerian-American family friend who would be nervously watching the game on his phone. We parted ways, crossing hopeful fingers that the young team would get their act together.

After a first half lacking solid goal-scoring chances, the Super Eagles came out in force in the second.  When Ahmed Musa, familiar to local Russian fans for his time as a striker for CSKA Moscow, scored in the 49th minute, I was out of my seat jumping up and down. (No offense, Iceland).  And then Musa did it again in the 75th, his brace pushing the lead to 2-0. They were doing it. Nigeria was keeping its hopes alive and I was riding that high from New York.

My 12-year-old son was having none of it. An ardent Cristiano Ronaldo fan, he can’t stand Lionel Messi and was relishing the downward spiral of his soccer icon nemesis (or “neMessis”?) and in turn, Argentina’s seemingly negative prognosis in this World Cup.

(Aside #1- I don’t condone the Messi hate but it started when he was quite young and there were some jerky Messi-obsessed classmates so I understand.) (Aside #2- He’s a Man City fan who likes Aguero so some of this passionate dissent makes no sense.) Now he loudly wailed “Argentina is still in thanks to Nigeria! Why couldn’t they just tie Iceland?”

When the United States failed to qualify for the World Cup, I embraced the chance to watch each game for the beauty of it versus worrying and strategizing about who the US should/would/could play next. When you don’t have a team that you die-hard root for, it can be liberating once you get past the disappointment.

Clearly, many fans including my son have alternative strategies for watching the games depending on their connection to a team or country or passionate disdain for another.   For now, nothing is settled in Group D.

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We will have more clarity one way or another on Tuesday, June 26th when Iceland faces Croatia and Nigeria faces Argentina at 2 pm EST. Matches play simultaneously, which stinks for fans who want to watch both games.  I’ll be watching the rematch of the 1994 World Cup duel between Argentina and Nigeria that hooked me into the Super Eagles’ football style. It’ll be a real feat if Nigeria can put a nail in Argentina’s 2018 coffin.

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Los Ticos Troubled World Cup Run

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Group E:  June 17th vs Serbia & June 22nd vs Brazil

Seriously who doesn’t love Costa Rica?  I want to know.

Fun facts about Costa Rica:

  • The Republic of Costa Rica abolished their military in 1949.
  • The nation is listed in various happiness indexes as having one of the most content populations on earth as well as being one of the most environmentally sustainable.
  • They are the source of beautifully delicious coffee enjoyed worldwide.
  • The country has 6 active volcanos.
  • The nickname for a person from Costa Rica is a Tico or Tica. Rooted in the Costa Rican Spanish diminutive “-ico” in contrast to other Spanish speaking countries’ use of “-ito”. The term indicates fondness or affection.

Los Ticos boast 5 players* on their current men’s national team from MLS and one HUGELY famous keeper for Real Madrid:

  • Francisco Calvo, Defender, Minnesota United
  • David Guzman, Midfielder, Portland Timbers
  • Marco Ureña, Forward, LAFC
  • Rodney Wallace, Midfielder, NYCFC
  • Kendall Waston, Defender, Vancouver Whitecaps
  • *Ronald Matarrita Defender, NYCFC was injured in training and replaced by Kenner Gutierrez
  • Keylor Navas, Goalkeeper, Real Madrid

So in other words, the players have soccer hermaniticos across the US, Europe and Latin America.

Costa Rica defeated the United States Men’s National Team in a 2018 World Cup qualifier making them partially responsible for the absence of the US team in this tournament.  Okay, well if you’re going to throw shade at them for any reason, that’s the only acceptable one.

A sea of Ticos flags in New Jersey
A sea of Costa Rican flags pre-gaming the USMNT vs Costa Rica World Cup qualifier in 2017.

However, Los Ticos’ first match of the World Cup versus Serbia ended as a 0-1 loss. Sadly the team failed to gain any solid attacking momentum against Serbia, who are a strong team who fly under the radar.

Yet, the result that hurt my heart much more deeply is the 0-2 loss to Brazil because they held them to a 0-0 draw until injury time.  Keylor Navas still has my vote for MVP of his group, if not the tournament thus-far, for his 90 minutes of denying Brazil’s offense.

Yes, he ended up letting in 2 goals in the end but most of the match felt like Navas against the entire Brazil team.  Costa Rica had about 3 counter-attack chances that fizzled out but most of the game was about defending and having one of the best keepers in the world as your last defense.

What a horrible way to lose and have all your World Cup dreams dashed.  To hold Brazil to nil-nil until 91 minutes and then lose.  I have to say that this one hurt and Neymar’s diving and whining was the salt in the wound.

As of now the group looks like this:

Keira Smith - Costa Rica/mlsfemale

Now Costa Rica will play their last match of the tournament Wednesday, June 27th against Switzerland in a match that can’t save their World Cup dreams but may affect the results in the group.  If Costa Rica gets a win against Switzerland and if Serbia defeats Brazil, Switzerland could be out of the tournament.  Chocolate and coffee do go well together…

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Mexico upsets defending World Cup Champions in historic win

Michelle and Araceli - LA teams/mlsfemale
Official LAFC Reporter – Araceli, Official LA Galaxy Reporter – Michelle

Co-written by Araceli Villanueva and Michelle Huitink

June 17, 2018

The stadium in Moscow could’ve been taken for Estadio Azteca. Not just from the number of Mexican fans in attendance, but the sheer volume of the supporters.

Back in Mexico City, seismic activity was registered due to all the celebrations, but that wasn’t the only shakeup.

Mexico made a historic win in a 1-0 victory over Germany in Luzhniki Stadium. Defying all odds, El Tri defeated the defending 2014 World Cup champions winning their fifth opening match at the World Cup. Hirving Lozano – otherwise known as Chucky – broke through the machine’s defense to slide in the winning goal in the 35th minute.

With only 13 shots and 33% possession of the ball, El Tri made every play count.

“Chucky” made the early goal in the 35th minute giving Mexico the lead. This is the first World Cup appearance for the 22-year-old, additionally scoring his eighth career goal since joining the senior team in 2016.

Even though Los Angeles Football Club’s Carlos Vela only saw 60 minutes of action during this remarkable match, he played a crucial role in El Tri’s counterattack, so it was a questionable tactical substitution. Starting in a central attacking role behind Javier Hernández (better known as “Chicharito”), Vela orchestrated multiple dangerous counterattacks from Mexico. Vela came close to adding to Mexico’s score in the 56th minute when he missed a perfect chance off a cross due to some sloppy footwork from Chicharito in a 2v1 advantage. With this style of play and Osorio’s praises, I predict we will see Vela starting for the other two remaining group matches.

El Tri created several chances to add to their score throughout the second half, but despite all efforts and coming on strong, they couldn’t do so.

Rafael Márquez even made his fifth World Cup appearance when he was subbed in the 74th minute for Andrés Guardado.

Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa recorded seven saves, the most he has ever made in a World Cup game.

The LA Galaxy’s Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos brothers remained on the bench.

Mexico’s next match is against South Korea Saturday, June 23 8AM PST.

One Football App Game Summary

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Follow and chat with Araceli on Twitter // @Aracelv1

Follow and chat with Michelle on Twitter // @mchuitink

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