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We Need To Talk About Aketxe: Toronto FC falls 3-2 to the New England Revolution

Cris Payne - Toronto FC/mlsfemale
Official Toronto FC Reporter

By Cris Payne // @crissypayne

Saturday, May 12: 3-2 Loss

Toronto FC twitter is in a state of panic. Fans fear they’ve stumbled into a time warp. Cold sweats and flashbacks of inadequacy ensue as the collective fanbase tries to claw its way back to 2018 from the pre-Bezbatchenko days of old.

Off the back of a frustrating loss at home to Seattle, a lacklustre Toronto FC team was, for the 6th time this season, not good enough. The concoction of troubles does pose a not insignificant challenge. However, not good enough is not good enough and the expectation is that the best team in MLS can continue to contend with the best regardless of circumstance.

Still, you can’t knock coach Greg Vanney for trying to find a lineup that works within his means, though many do anyway. A serious deficit in defenders saw Michael Bradley start in the centre of the backline once again and Gregory Van Der Wiel joins our crowded roster of injured defenders this week with a minor Achilles issue.

With Van Der Wiel, Drew Moor, Chris Mavinga, Justin Morrow, Eriq Zavaleta, Nick Hagglund and even former defender turned full-time midfielder Nicolas Hasler all sidelined we have two full strings of defensive lines missing. And that’s just the defensive woes.

Joining Bradley in this makeshift backline then are out of form 34-year-old MLS veteran Jay Hernandez along with Toronto native and recent MLS debutant Ryan Telfer. Telfer came in for an injury prone but healthy Ashtone Morgan who is safely squared away on the bench, protected from Gillette Stadium‘s synthetic turf. Brazilian wonderkid Auro Jr., the only first choice defender of the lot, completed a 4 man backline.

Defensive fortitude was, therefore, less a promise going into this game than it was a chasm built into our team. It’s just a pity that it wasn’t the pockmarked defense but the midfield that was directly responsible for 2 of the 3 goals. The defensive excuse ends up holding little water. Unsurprising considering the defense was a sieve but I digress.

Having historically lost a few big players at important times to the New England Revolution‘s poor turf conditions, it was no surprise that players like Victor Vazquez and Sebastian Giovinco joined Morgan on the bench. Therefore a somewhat patched together 4-4-2 squad entered the fray and quickly lost control of the game.

The troubles started in the 4th minute with an undercooked pass from Bradley to Ager Aketxe which was intercepted and neatly nestled in the back of the net by the Revolution’s Chris Penilla. Far from being Bradley’s fault, Aketxe has been caught out time and again waiting for the ball to come to him. Our number one goalkeeper for a third season running, Alex Bono, also looked like he could have done more.

It hastily got worse for the travelling side. Just a few minutes later in the 8th minute, Aketxe, after conceding the pass to him on the first goal, appears to believe Penilla plays for the Reds and passes the ball directly to him under little pressure. Perhaps to avoid further confusion for him I’ll stop referring to Toronto as the Reds as it’s dangerously similar to the Revs. Bono, who is completely off his line after fancying a dribble out of his box which started the manic panic, is unable to get back quickly enough to stop Penilla’s leisurely lofted ball sailing into the back of the net.

At this point, it was looking dire for the defending champions. Nonetheless, they spent the rest of the first half with the lion’s share of the possession, troubled only once more by a bundled attempt from Diego Fagundez after our defense was once more cut like cheesecloth. Unfortunately, possession without goals is all but useless and Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner denied a few good chances from Toronto, including a good shot from distance by an atoning Aketxe.

The second half arrives, time for Toronto FC to keep their heads down and get back into the game, right? Wrong. Inside of 60 seconds the Reds concede a third before most of the fans could crawl back to their television sets after 15 minutes of raw panic. 3-0 at the 46th minute; the Reds are sinking again.

One small positive to this goal is at least we can hope a first choice defensive line might stop that one. But wait; I spy Aketxe, tumbling backwards, apparently helpless to stop Teal Bunbury. At least he tried this time?

Nonetheless, it’s not over ’til it’s over. At 54’ fan favourite (this fan in particular) Jay Chapman sent a well-timed cross towards goal and Jordan Hamilton helped the Revs score an own goal. Shortly after Vanney sent in reinforcements by way of a newly recovered Chris Mavinga to tighten up defense and Sebastian Giovinco the super sub to save the game (little did we know).

Aketxe ends his day of disaster by making way for Mavinga which allowed Michael Bradley to slide back into his holding midfield role. Toronto FC restores much of its defensive harmony with those 2 simple shifts. It was no coincidence that the goals for the Revolution stop there.

Try as they might Toronto struggled to get back into this game. It wasn’t until the 87th minute that after a bizarre coming together in the Revolution box, Auro earned a penalty in the eyes of referee Mark Geiger. Sebastian Giovinco coolly slots it home but then loses all of his chill. He sticks his hand at the throat of a Revs player who tried to knock the ball out of his hand as he galloped back to the centre line.

The red mist clears and Giovinco pulls his hand back before applying any pressure to the gesture but the damage was already done. Giovinco is shown a straight red card after a quick video review but he is less quick to leave the technical area as he argues with anyone and everyone within three feet of him. He finally leaves and the remaining 3 minutes are played out without incident. It’s really over this time; Toronto FC is thwarted yet again. Giovinco has since been fined for his failure to promptly leave the game. (source)

In spite of all the reasons the side had to fail, it appears Toronto FC impaled themselves upon their own sword. The midfield made tough work for a weak defense and the attack didn’t attack enough. That is until they attacked too much and were asked to leave the game.

Post-game there’s the question of Aketxe that has remained unanswered. When Toronto FC signed him from Athletic Bilbao during the winter window it seemed an exciting benefit to winning the cup. A La Liga player from a renowned academy chose to play here.

Alas, the days of average to high-quality players coming from European leagues, even the top ones, and immediately making first team appears to be coming to an end. At least, that has been the case for Aketxe. After a slow start to the season for him he has struggled to make an impact despite plenty of minutes to do so.

His biggest impact has come against the Revs having been left red faced after all 3 goals. A bad start to the season for TFC all around and a period of adjustment makes judging the individual tough, but I for one have lost all hope of making a Toronto FC player out of Ager. My only hope for him at this point is that he proves me wrong. Fellow Toronto fans, let me know your verdict on Aketxe or lack thereof.

Toronto FC faithfuls must wait another week for a glimpse of the team they have come to know and love over the past 2 and a half years or so. Now Giovinco is suspended for a minimum of 1 game, Jozy Altidore is still recovering from surgery and the defensive absences are far from over. Patience will be key for Toronto fans looking for their Reds to be back at their best. Toronto faces Orlando City SC at BMO Field this Friday.

Featured image: mlssoccer.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @crissypayne

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A chat between friends – Presidents of Dallas Beer Guardians and Angel City Brigade briefly discuss the recent game

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Official FC Dallas Reporter

By Bailey Brown // @baileystaysposi

With guest, Karina Ceja

Karina and I met this past year at the annual Independent Supporters Council Conference in Vancouver, BC, Canada. We automatically became friends and have bonded over our love of soccer and Selena. She now serves as the President of Angel City Brigade, an independent supporters group for LA Galaxy.

After our game on Saturday, I reached out to her with some questions that I have had as an outsider looking in and trying to get her thoughts on the game.

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Karina Ceja

BB: Hey girl! Thanks so much for being down for this. I think any time we can show supporters having a friendly discussion is always a plus. Anyways, I’m excited about this.

Okay, so let’s jump right in!

I have to admit, when you guys signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, I was incredibly upset. Not because I was jealous, but because I felt like this was just another instance of 1. LA Galaxy flexing its money muscles and 2. The overall look of players from European Premier League not super in the prime coming to MLS for a new beginning. What were your thoughts when you guys finally made the deal?

KC: So, this was a rumor for a few seasons now. At first, I didn’t pay much attention because I didn’t know if/ when this would finally happen but a friend/ reliable source mentioned it to me a few days before the deal was finalized. Given the nature of his career and success, I was stoked, but I was also afraid because he hadn’t played in so long and I didn’t know how his personality would mesh with the rest of the team.

BB: Now that you’ve had him for a couple of games, do you think the investment was worth it/will continue to be worth it?

KC: I definitely think it was worth it. We had lots of games last season where our midfield and defense would play their role, we just didn’t have confident forwards to fulfill the goals we needed to capture the wins.  There are no words to describe how “worth it” he was/is during his debut, helping the team come back from a 0-3 deficit to beat the new team in town. I was crying in the stands, “I LOVE YOU, ZLATAN!”

BB: So, something I’ve come to on my own conclusion is that a lot of these big name players don’t affect the gameplay as much as other acquisitions. For example, in Chicago, I will always stand by the signing of Dax McCarty being a much bigger influence on their midfield than Bastian Schweinsteiger. I get that one brings in a lot more money than the other, but do you think there were any other signings for Galaxy this year that have made a bigger impact for you guys?

KC: Yes. Ola Kamara! Not a huge surprise, considering his stats with the Crew. He has shown heart and dedication since preseason and has continued to do so. He even got a goal on FC Dallas.

BB: Okay, I agree. Ola Kamara was a solid acquisition. I hope to see Zlatan deliver to him up more. I know they’re still working out the kinks and you could see that in the game this past weekend. Once both of them get a little more time together, I think they will both be able to work better at the connection piece.

Saturday, May 12: FC Dallas 3 – LA Galaxy 2

BB: Okay, so let’s start about the game. FC Dallas saw a glimpse of glory with Diaz coming back and making 3 assists for our team. For someone who has been starting on the bench and who has, for the most part, not been as consistent since THE injury (referring back to 2016), this was refreshing to see.

Not to mention Roland Lamah putting two balls in the back of the net for us. Were there any standout plays to you on your side? Reto Ziegler got his second caution in the 73rd minute ultimately sending him off the field and Dallas down a man. I really didn’t agree with it, but I’m not the ref. However, I do think this helped give you guys momentum for your second goal. What are your thoughts on all of it?

KC: To be honest, after the first Urruti goal, I was like, “Okay, here we go with 2017 all over again.” Dallas playing with 10 men seemed to have an influential drive for the Galaxy. They started attacking and eventually, Boateng landed that second goal- which helped the team feel like we were still in the game. Alessandrini and Zlatan both had shots that hit the post, so there was still hope that we’d get a shot in for the tie. Towards the end of the match, I thought we’d tie.

BB: Okay, and lastly… I know you joke about keeping the Wooden Spoon (Independent Supporters Council trophy for worst overall record in the league… the less spectacular sibling of the Supporters Shield), but I really don’t think you’ll have it again. If I’m being completely honest, I think that will be reserved for Seattle this year and I’m not sad about it.

However, I feel like you guys are definitely seeing a little more consistency this year overall. What are your thoughts after last year (I mean, I feel like Dallas ended well enough to share that trophy with you)?

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Picture of the Wooden Spoon on its way back to L.A.

KC: I haven’t completely lost hope in our season. I do joke about it but we still have a few months to get it together. Last year was a combination of bad coaching, poor defense, no performing strikers. We have a bit more consistency with scorers– we just have to get our team to defend the last 15 minutes of each game. We will come back– even if it’s just for a brief playoff appearance.

Featured image: Bailey Brown

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @baileystaysposi

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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The Montréal Impact and the No Good, Very Bad Week

Eve Powell - Montreal Impact/mlsfemale
Official Montreal Impact Reporter

By Eve Powell // @evejulia9

Results: 1-0 Loss @ Chicago Fire, 0-2 Loss vs Philadelphia Union

Hot on the heels of a soul-cleansing 4-2 victory over the New England Revolution, the Montréal Impact traveled to Chicago as part of a busy week. After the emphatic display, fans looked forward to the next performance eagerly, especially as Chicago and Philadelphia are two Eastern Conference foes against whom it is critical to gain points.

Rémi Garde presented a 4-3-3 line-up featuring the attacking trio who had put 4 past New England, and many were starting to feel hopeful with Rod Fanni and Michael Petrasso returning to health.

Unfortunately, an inability to capitalize on promising chances, a defender’s successful stifling of Nacho Piatti and an unfortunate deflection contributed to what would be an unsuccessful day at the office for Montréal. However, there was little time to dwell on that loss. Philadelphia Union were in town on Saturday, a team who had not scored a road goal in 2018 and had not won in their last 16 road games. It was time to make a statement and begin to make a fortress out of Stade Saputo!

The lineup and formation presented for the match vs the Union were identical to the ones from mid-week – no squad rotation had been implemented. Perhaps this was when alarm bells should have begun to ring, but kickoff an hour later made it all too evident that no amount of rotation would have saved the Impact from the humiliating 90 minutes that were to come.

Individual errors would be to blame for both goals conceded, but it was the collective performance that was most shocking. The majority of Montréal players on the pitch displayed varying combinations of lethargy, sloppiness, apathy, and confusion. The Union had a much more disciplined side, and despite having played midweek themselves, they came out fresher and more prepared to claim their deserved 3 points.

Although Philadelphia’s performance was simply superior in nearly all aspects, their goals highlight some of the most glaring problems on the Impact backline. First, simple marking was forgotten as lone striker Corey Burke was entitled to a free header to put Philly on the scoreboard just before halftime. Jukka Raitala tried to get back to his man before the damage was done, but like most of his team’s efforts last week, it was simply too little, too late.

Near the end of the game, when both teams were down to 10 men, there was some sort of miscommunication on the backline, as Chris Duvall made an ill-advised horizontal pass near the goal line. Raitala allowed that pass to bobble over his foot, and Haris Medunjanin had no problem seizing the loose ball and sealing the Impact’s miserable fate.

This season has been defined by many, including myself, as a transitional year. And that’s perfectly fine. What is most frustrating is that the promising tactical and technical improvements seen in the early games of the season have disappeared from the Impact’s play and the team who began the season on an encouraging note is barely a ghost of a memory. The drastic regression in performances over the past several weeks is deeply concerning. If this is meant to be a “reconstruction” … is the Montreal Impact in the demolition phase right now?

Next up: The Impact will celebrate their 25th anniversary with a Monday game versus the LA Galaxy, who are suffering their own defensive issues, on Monday, May 21st. To create more of a headache, Impact find themselves back to square one on the injury front – there is only one healthy central defender available! They will also have to figure out a solution to fill Daniel Lovitz’s absence as he serves his red card suspension. There are sure to be goals aplenty…

Featured image courtesy: impactmontreal.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @evejulia9

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Timbers blank Sounders in historic matchup

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Sunday, May 13: 1-0 Win

What is best in life?

There are few things in life more satisfying than a win against the Seattle Sounders. And

  • a shutout
  • at home
  • against the Sounders
  • for the 100th matchup versus the Portland Timbers
  • on Mothers Day
  • accompanied by two of my children
  • surrounded by a passionate group of over 20,000 Timbers supporters

…okay, I will readily admit that this was PARTICULARLY satisfying.

Rivalry and history

In the run-up to the match, I had a jumble of feelings. Of COURSE, any game against the Sounders is huge. And this matchup was, by most counts, the Timbers’ 100th time to face the Sounders, in one league or another, in one form or another, since 1975.

The rivalry between our two teams is deep, long-standing, and very, very real. There are many videos that address the enmity between the two (Copa90 created a couple of excellent ones: take this one, for example). And this one from several years ago is one of my favorites. While the video’s primary focus is the Timbers Army, the backdrop is a home game against the Sounders, and the attitude and spirit in the stands for a rivalry match are captured brilliantly.

The fact that it was our 100th matchup was also not lost on anyone. The Portland Timbers released a brilliant mockumentary to commemorate the occasion:

The rivalry between the Timbers and Sounders dates back to the NASL era in the 1970s.

The Timbers and Sounders, along with the third Cascadia Beatle, the Vancouver Whitecaps, also have a supporter-created contest among the three teams: the Cascadia Cup.

Dating back to the USL era, the Cascadia Cup is created, owned, and managed by supporters. It is awarded to whichever Cascadia team wins the most points in head to head matches among the three teams (see this page for an explanation of the rules).

The Timbers are currently in possession of the Cascadia Cup, and I get the joy of showing it off to visitors to the Timbers Army fanladen (clubhouse) before every home game.

Out of balance

We relish every opportunity to cheer on our boys as they face off against their greatest rivals. At the same time, supporters on all sides of the Cascadia Cup are very disappointed with the league’s schedule this year. When a rivalry this deep, intense, and enduring exists, it is difficult for supporters like me to swallow a league schedule that intentionally unbalances a rivalry matchup.

As the number of teams in the league changes, the schedule must also change: but it is beyond disappointing that this year the league saw fit to create such an uneven schedule.

For many years, we will have to deal with the reality that some teams will have more home games than others in head to head matchups, which is challenging enough in a rivalry.

This year, however, not only do the Timbers, Sounders, and Whitecaps have an uneven number of home and away Cascadia matches among them: the three clubs don’t even face each other the same number of times during the regular season. This means that, for the first time in MLS history, a regular season Cascadia match will not count in the standings toward the Cascadia Cup.

The last time this happened was during the USL era when it was more common for teams to fold mid-season and for league schedules to change in medias resBased on the unanimous decision of the Cascadia Cup Council, while last Sunday’s match will, of course, count in MLS league standings, the result will not count toward the awarding of the Cascadia Cup this year.

The Timbers Army made their feelings about the unbalanced schedule clear in this three-stick display:

And on the occasion of the 100th matchup of the Timbers and Sounders, that outcome is, to put it mildly, unfortunate.

All right, enough prelude…on to the match!

Match Recap

With a decimated lineup, the Sounders used a formation designed to absorb pressure, shut down work through the middle, and hope for an opportunity on the counter-attack, an approach that worked well for them midweek against Toronto FC. In this case, the Sounders deployed a 5-4-1 with Clint Dempsey as the lone striker. With the injuries the Sounders have suffered, they didn’t have a whole lot of other options, and with Dempsey as the lone striker up top, they weren’t really set up to go on the attack either.

The Timbers went with the same 4-3-2-1 lineup they used to full effect against the San Jose Earthquakes. On a hot day with both sides playing conservatively, it wouldn’t have been at all surprising if the match had ended in a draw; but this was a Timbers-Sounders match, so anything could happen.

While our rivals to the north weren’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard, they were also doing a decent job on defense. For most of the game, the Sounders made it difficult for the Timbers to find opportunities. They had a few chances, in particular, this shot by Diego Valeri that was thwarted with a brilliant challenge by Sounders defender Gustav Svensson:

The Timbers had another chance to score, this time from Andy Polo, stopped by Sounders keeper Stefan Frei:

Ultimately, though, the Timbers were finally able to break through, thanks to the vision of Samuel Armenteros, a late-game substitute for forward Fanendo Adi. Armenteros did a brilliant job of threading the needle with this pass to Sebastian Blanco, who slotted it home for the only goal of the match:

Quick Takes

Blanco continues to step up. Between offseason roster changes and a year’s experience to get accustomed to MLS, Blanco has taken on a bigger offensive role this year, with 5 goals and an assist so far this season. He did the job for the Timbers again on Sunday, putting it into the back of the net for the win.

Blanco’s celebration after scoring the goal included briefly donning a Chucky mask, a move that seemed no doubt bizarre to casual onlookers, but it has a simple explanation. Blanco’s nickname among his friends in Argentina is Chucky, presumably because he is tiny and FIERCE. (His bio says he is 5’6″ but I’m sure that is only in cleats and after some carefully applied hair gel.)  Vamos, Chucky. I’m sure your offensive ability already frightens opposing teams, even without the mask.

Still no clear front-runner at strikerFanendo Adi is still our starting striker, and while he isn’t terrible, he still hasn’t done anything, in particular, to stand out this season. I was glad to see Samuel Armenteros get to the field a little bit earlier this game, subbing in for Adi at 77′.

Both strikers still had some okay plays and some head-scratching moments on Sunday, but ultimately this is a game of results. Take a look again at this pass and tell me Armenteros doesn’t deserve more time in the lineup:

Swiss army knife fullback continues to shine. Right back (and most recently left back) Zarek Valentin is having a good run. He has always had good field sense and soccer intelligence, but his lack of speed has sometimes meant another player starting in his stead.

But with injuries to the squad, most notably with Vytautas Andriuškevičius on the sidelines, Zarek has often taken on a starting role on either side of the defensive line and has done so admirably. As long as he isn’t facing a frightening speed burner on the wings, I like what he contributes to the defense.

Speaking of defense. Hey, guys, the Timbers just recorded their third shutout in a row. The last time they did that George W. Bush was President. No, really. While it is true that two of these shutouts came against less than stellar opponents, it is also worth noting that they coincide with the return of Jeff Attinella and Liam Ridgewell to the starting lineup. Just saying.

What a wonderful way to end the weekend…for some of us.

See you all next Saturday, when the Timbers face Los Angeles FC at home in Portland.

Featured image courtesy: Shawn Levy

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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The Road to Russia: Vela, Gaber, Beitashour and Ureña from LAFC named to provisional rosters

Araceli Villanueva - LAFC/mlsfemale
Official LAFC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

Monday was a busy day for LAFC as the club announced four players named to their national team’s provisional squads, respectively. In addition to, Los Angeles will serve as one of the host cities for the Gold Cup in 2019.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia is starting to heat up as managers of all 32 countries competing in the 2018 tournament officially released the provisional squad rosters on Monday. Each country’s coach selected between 30-35 players for their provisional squads.

Teams have until June 4 to announce their official 23-man tournament roster. However, some coaches have already announced their final rosters before the deadline. Including, Costa Rica’s head coach Óscar Ramírez.

The month-long tournament will kick off on June 15 with the group stage running till the 28th before going on a two-day break for the knockout phase. The final will take place on July 15 at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

LAFC is the only MLS club with the most potential participants in this year’s tournament and is expected to have multiple players called up by their respective national teams:

Steven Beitashour – Iran

For the first time since 2014, defender Steven Beitashour has been called up by the Iranian National Team and has the opportunity to make his second appearance for the squad in the 2018 World Cup.

The San Jose native first featured for the Iranian National Team in 2013 and appeared in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He notched an assist in Iran’s 3-0 win over Thailand in Asian Cup qualifications in 2013 and was on the bench for the national team’s three group matches in Brazil.

Iran is the first team from the Asian Football Confederation to stamp their ticket to Russia. Iran was drawn into group B with Morocco, Spain, and Portugal – arguably the toughest group in the tournament. If selected, Beitashour could face Ronaldo.

Despite, the controversial call-ups of Masoud Shojaei and Ehsah Haji Safi – both players who were initially banned for life last year after playing for their Greek club Panionios against an Israeli team – Beitashour remains on the 35-man provisional roster. There is a chance he will not make the trip as head coach still has less than a month to whittle down his squad to 23 players for the tournament.

Omar Gaber – Egypt

Omar Gaber was named to Egypt’s 29-man provisional squad as The Pharaohs prepares for their first World Cup appearance since 1990. The 26-year-old defender is a veteran of World Cups in youth tournaments for Egypt and now has a chance to make his first appearance for the senior competition led by head coach Hector Cuper.

Egypt was selected to play in Group A with Uruguay, Saudi Arabia and the host country, Russia. Although Egypt won’t play the host country until June 19, Gaber’s presence can be huge for the team. Gaber has played 18 times for Egypt, appearing in five games in 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying.

Carlos Vela – Mexico

Vela has been vital to the black and gold’s current success having scored his sixth MLS career goal this past Sunday in a dramatic 2-2 draw against New York City FC. Named to the 28-man preliminary roster by the boss Juan Carlos Osorio, Vela has a chance to bring his talent back to the world stage.

A veteran of the 2010 World Cup, Vela has been a consistent starter during Mexico’s qualifying campaign and helped his team stamp their ticket to Russia. Vela skipped the 2014 World Cup in Brazil due to a long-standing dispute with the national team. However, he returned to the roster later that year. The forward has recorded 67 appearances and 18 goals for El Tri and is now on the verge of his second World Cup appearance.

Mexico was drawn into Group F consisting of Germany, Sweden, Korea Republic. Mexico is set to start their run on June 17 against the current World Cup champions and will need Vela’s help to hold off the German powerhouse.

Marco Ureña – Costa Rica

The 28-year-old LAFC forward Marco Ureña is part of the squad that will represent Costa Rica this summer and has been a key player for both club and country. Costa Rica’s head coach Óscar Ramírez announced his final roster the same day before the deadline, making it Ureña’s second World Cup selection.

The forward recently underwent surgery to repair a facial fracture injury he acquired in LAFC’s home opener against Seattle on April 29. As he continues to heal, it is expected Ureña will make the trip to Russia, and likely to play, too.

Although it is an honor to be called up for national duty, this means Ureña could possibly miss five games including the friendly against Borussia Dortmund, and potentially longer depending on how far Costa Rica advances.

Featured image courtesy: @FIFAWorldCup

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Can’t Stop- NYCFC battles LAFC to a 2-2 draw

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Sunday, May 13: 2-2 Draw

Mia’s Magical Falcon versus the Pigeon

No, I promise this won’t be a drool fest about everything Los Angeles Football Club does right.  Humor me for a minute and I’ll quickly move on.  As a New York City Football Club fan, I’m a bit green with envy.

Banc of California Stadium is beautiful – located in actual downtown Los Angeles, a mere walking distance from the USC campus.  The supporters’ section holds over 3200 supporters.  They have a live falcon.  (Hey, I’m into birds of prey.  Don’t judge.)

The soccer-specific stadium has real grass.  The uniforms are timelessly stylish worn by talented, young international players and they are part-owned by sports phenoms Mia Hamm, Magic Johnson, Nomar Garciaparra, and well-known actor Will Ferrell.  I was nervous that the new cool kids in town were going to defeat us.

I hope that some newbies to soccer and detractors of the sport caught some of this match as it was a nail biter with possession ping-ponging from end to end and it was also a fun watch.  From David Villa‘s 402nd goal which was an easy-peasy header rebound off a penalty shot to take the lead 1-0 to Ismael Tajouri- Shradi‘s game tying rebound rocket minutes after being subbed in, the vibe was positively SoCal.  The sun was blinding and the chanting was relentless and intense.

Major props go out to the almost perfect play of LAFC’s Laurent Ciman and Latif Blessing who dished out trouble for NYCFC from the first whistle.  New York City clearly evolved in their strategy of maintaining possession in tight spaces and constantly trying to thread the proverbial needle to maintaining possession but mixing in deep long low balls and high crosses to penetrate LA’s defense.  This game could have gone either way with plenty of missed finishers, great saves, and clearances by both teams.

The good:

  • Tajouri-Shradi is back and scored his fifth goal in as many games.
  • Villa is back in major hustle mode, applying pressure in every corner of the field and was potent in the counter attacks.
  • Goalkeeper Sean Johnson made some ridiculously incredible saves.

The bad:

  • One of the goals LA was credited for was an own goal off a deflection by defender Sebastien Ibeagha.  Ouch.
  • We still have no stadium of our own.

Questions:

  • Will we move forward utilizing this new strategy mixing in long balls or will we go back to our short pass possession method?
  • Is Anton Tinnerholm injured?
  • Why are we not more dangerous off set pieces?

“Can’t stop, addicted to the shindig.  Chop Top, he says I’m gonna win big.”  – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Featured image: nycfc.com

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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The beat goes on as Los Angeles Galaxy lose again

Michelle Huitink - LA Galaxy/mlsfemale
Official LA Galaxy Reporter

By Michelle Huitink // @mchuitink

Saturday, May 12: 3-2 Loss

Starting XI: David Bingham; Daniel Steres, Michael Ciani, Jorgen Skjelvik, Ashley Cole ©; Perry Kitchen, Jonathan dos Santos; Chris Pontius, Romain Alessandrini, Ola Kamara; Zlatan Ibrahimović.

Michelle Huitink - LA Galaxy/mlsfemale
Image: @LAGalaxy

Bench: Justin Vom Steeg, Emrah Klimenta, Dave Romney, Servando Carrasco, Baggio Husidic, Sebastian Lletget, Emmanuel Boateng.

It’s like having the same bad dream over and over:  The LA Galaxy concede early, chase the game, and fight to come back from behind two goals. It’s going to be reoccurring until they work out the problems, but they have to start tackling the issue of our defense first.

At this point, fans are calling for coach Sigi Schmid to be fired and for the front office to go as well, but the latter won’t happen as most have a five-year contract extension. The MLS salaries were also released revealing the Galaxy as having the highest paid defense with not much to show for it.

Saturday, Los Angeles Galaxy took on FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium and it turned out to be a wild one. The humidity and almost 90 degree weather added to the challenging elements of this particular match. Frequent water breaks were taken and FC Dallas knew how to run and tire LAG out in such conditions, messing with their momentum.

It started with Maximiliano Urruti who scored in the 28th minute. Then, in the 44th minute, FCD’s Roland Lamah scored. At that point, a change needed to be made and Sebastian Lletget came in for Perry Kitchen. Ashley Cole got a yellow card, which suspends him for the next match.

Michelle Huitink - LA Galaxy/mlsfemale
Celebration after Ola Kamara’s goal. Image: @LAGalaxy

Then, a breath of life for the Galaxy came from Ola Kamara with a header off a corner kick in the 47th minute, cutting the Texas team’s lead in half.  Lamah scored again, though, in the 52nd minute. The Galaxy made another change when Jonathan dos Santos got hurt and Servando Carrasco subbed in at the 56th minute. The Mexican national was not seriously injured.

Reto Ziegler earned two yellow cards, which gave the Galaxy an advantage as they were up a man. Still, despite a fighting effort, the LA Galaxy came up short.

Emmanuel Boateng came in for Chris Pontius in the 76th minute and he scored a goal in the 83rd minute of play. It seemed the Galaxy could catch up.

I clung to hope as the minutes ticked away. In the 88th minute, Zlatan Ibrahimovic took a free kick that hit the top post with such fervor that the entire net shook!

Watch below:

That was not the last thrill as the Galaxy created chances and took shots til the whistle blew.

It is disheartening to write that a team with a stellar squad, most notably Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ola Kamara, is in 9th place in the Western Conference at the close of Week 11.

Michelle Huitink - LA Galaxy/mlsfemale
Zlatan Ibrahimovic in action. Image: @LAGalaxy

But, The Whispers sang a similar tune: the beat goes on, I might as well get over the blues. Let’s move on strong. LAG’s next match is once again on the road as they are set to face Montreal Impact on Monday, May 21st.

Featured image: @LAGalaxy 

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @mchuitink

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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MNUFC faces ever-growing faultline

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

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Saturday, May 12: 1-3 Loss

Going into Week 11, San Jose Earthquakes had notched just one win. That was way back on opening night, when they hosted Minnesota United. That night, the Loons started a disturbing trend of going two goals in the hole before halftime. They would give up one more in the second half before Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino got two back to make the stats recorded under the loss look slightly less depressing.

This time around, Superman himself returned to the lineup after two matches off. A good sign in itself. Then the Loons gave up a penalty kick in the second minute.

Minnesota conceded all possession to the Quakes for the first twenty minutes, allowing themselves to be dispossessed much too easily, failing to carry the ball out of their own half over and over and over again.

Until a pass finally found the right foot of Superman in the 26th minute. And wasn’t it pretty?

He nearly added a brace in the 41st. It would’ve counted in FIFA, but in real life, it dinged the crossbar and was cleared. Defender Jerome Thiesson nearly scored in the first half’s injury time (that one wouldn’t have counted in FIFA), but they went to the locker room deadlocked.

In keeping with debut trends, making his MLS debut this day was referee Victor Rives. And what a performance it was. No one in the black and gray was happy with him after the match, least of all Adrian Heath and Francisco Calvo, especially after this play:

It wasn’t all Rives’ fault though. Sure, some calls (or the lack thereof) were debatable, but Minnesota had plenty of opportunities to take control. Instead, they forgot to put the cap back on the Hoesensauce bottle and paid dearly for their mistake. A lurking Danny Hoesen was assisted by Chris Wondolowski in what may have been the most easily poached goal allowed this season. And open-air TCF Bank Stadium seemingly deflated.

Wondo notched another on a penalty. And so the Loons dropped another perfectly winnable game to the least-winningest team in the west.

You can point to as many mistakes as you want and Calvo knows you will:

“If you want to point at me, point at me. I’ve been playing as a pro eight years. So, I know what this pressure is. So, if you want to say Calvo is doing mistakes, Calvo is not playing well, you can say whatever you want. But we are 11 on the field. Alright? So, if you want to talk, talk about the team. Don’t talk about me or any of my teammates.”

But the bottom line is this: If United can’t find a way to link their play from one end of the pitch to the other – for all eleven to work the same game plan, to play with the same energy and focus during the same match – they will have much bigger problems than San Jose.

And so it goes in the North.

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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“Night Spoiled” New York City FC destroyed by New York Red Bulls

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Saturday, May 5: 4-0 Loss

“I don’t have much to say, I’ll be out front
Won’t you come spoil my night?
Feelings come into play and I’m thinkin’
this happens every time.
Spoil my night, spoil my night…”

Before Saturday’s thrashing of NYCFC at Red Bull Arena, and before said night was spoiled, I spent quite a bit of time pondering soccer fandom in the US in general and more specifically the development of franchise rivalries in MLS.  We were, of course, playing our alleged rival in what MLS dubbed the #NYDerby.  There was so much talk in the days leading up to the game about how both NYC fans and NY Red Bulls fans were actually renaming it the “Hudson River Derby” and were resistant to the assumed insistence by the league in naming it a New York rivalry.

As seasoned football fans are quick to point out, a “derby” game doesn’t necessarily indicate a match that underscores the fiercest rivalry.  If you look at Real Madrid, they may play a derby versus Atlético Madrid and fans of both clubs across the city will come out in large numbers, but their true rival in La Liga on any given day would be FC Barcelona.  And in the English Premier League, if you ask any Manchester United fan who their “biggest rival” is, they will answer Liverpool and not Manchester City.  

When soccer fans speak in general about the makings of a rivalry, the common thread is that it’s more than just a geographic commonality.  Fans commented that true rivalries take time and history to develop and that ultimately it’s passion that fuels all.

However, in a league as young and eager to grow as MLS, mere hints of a rivalry by means of geography, team age, and a few contentious games can be accelerated into a full-blown “Rivalry”.  These matches are easy to advertise and market and they sell more tickets.  Both derby games and matches against a league rival grip fans as they give them a rare chance to loudly proclaim which clan they identify with. 

“The beautiful game is for the fans and they are the ones responsible for defining what is meaningful and important and what or who isn’t”. – NYCFC fan Angel Meza

In the case of the New York City and the Red Bulls, some say that it’s not a true historical rivalry and not even a true derby game as the Red Bulls’ home is in Patterson, NJ.  However, there is clearly true animosity and, for many NYCFC fans, it stems from the belief that a New York team needs to actually play in New York State. 

It seems that the perceived highjacking of the “NY” in RBNY was the big rub.  Not that the actual team or its fans had any say in that decision.  No matter, as one City fan succinctly stated, “The one thing that makes a rivalry a rivalry is both sides agreeing it is one.”  And that may be the only thing that most NYCFC and Red Bulls fans can agree on.

Special thanks to the following fans for sharing their thoughts about soccer fandom:  Andrés Emilio Soto, Stephanie Plaut, Osman Sosa, Rollie Joe Carney, Anthony Scarcello and Angel Meza.  And thanks to Post Malone for those lyrics.

Featured image of HC Patrick Vieira: @NYCFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

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Chicago Fire: You win some, you lose some

Daniela Calvo - Chicago Fire/mlsfemale
Official Chicago Fire Reporter

By Daniela Calvo // @DanielaCalvo__

Chicago Fire 1- Atlanta United 2: Loss

Saturday, May 5

After two road games, the Chicago Fire came back home to Toyota Park to host the Atlanta United. The last time the two met the Fire played with 10 men early in the game and eventually lost the game 4-0.

Starting XI

Richard Sanchez; Kevin Ellis, Johan Kappelhof, Damian Lillard, Brandon Vincent; Dax McCarty ©, Mo Adams; Elliot Collier, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Aleksandar Katai; Nemanja Nikolić

Chicago Fire coach, Veljko Paunović kept the same lineup from the previous week against Toronto FC, but in a different formation, Schweinsteiger was moved up from the back line to attacking midfield in order to create scoring opportunities for Nikolić and Katai. 

Daniela Calvo - Chicago Fire/mlsfemale
Aleksandar Katai (left) and Diego Campos (right) setting up for a free kick. Image: Daniela Calvo

The Fire dominated the first half by keeping Atlanta on their toes in order to minimize them from scoring. The Fire was aware that Atlanta could find space and exploit it by creating a scoring opportunity. But once the halftime whistle blew the score was 0-0.

Subsequently, 8 minutes into the second half, Atlanta’s Ezequiel Barco scored the first goal of the night with an assist from Miguel Almirón. Then 4 minutes after that, it was Josef Martinez who scored the second goal for Atlanta.  Ultimately in the 61st minute, Fire’s, Kevin Ellis scored his first goal of the season with a half-volley and the last one of the match.

The Fire played a midweek game against The Montreal Impact.

Daniela Calvo - Chicago Fire/mlsfemale
Kevin Ellis, player who scored Chicago’s only goal of the match. Image: Daniela Calvo

Chicago Fire 1- Montreal Impact 0: Win

Wednesday, May 9

Starting XI

Richard Sanchez; Kevin Ellis, Johan Kappelhof, Damian Lillard, Brandon Vincent; Mo Adams, Dax McCarty©, Bastian Schweinsteiger; Alan Gordon, Aleksandar Katai, Nemanja Nikolić

After losing to Atlanta United 4 days prior, the Chicago Fire were looking to defeat the Montreal Impact. This time Fire Coach, Veljko Paunović added Alan Gordon to the starting lineup. Currently, both teams are battling for the middle of the table so this game is an important one.

It took 34 minutes into the game of Aleksandar Katai to find a scoring opportunity, but unfortunately, Impact defender, Daniel Lovitz was there to clear the ball and keep the score an even 0-0 in the first half.

Daniela Calvo - Chicago Fire/mlsfemale
Bastian Schweinsteiger setting up for a free kick after he was fouled. Image: Daniela Calvo

The Fire bounced back in the 89th minute when defender Kevin Ellis scored the only goal of the match for the Fire marking the final score 1-0. The Fire tend to dominate in the second half, and having young talented players on the bench aides them when its time to sub in to keep the momentum going in the final minutes of the game.

Chicago Fire’s Mo Adams aided the team greatly with his defensive skills. He was all over the field stopping Impact’s Ignacio Piatti from putting them on the board. He was not awarded Man of the Match, but he sure made an impact. 

Daniela Calvo - Chicago Fire/mlsfemale
Rookie Mo Adams. Image: Daniela Calvo

Images courtesy: Daniela Calvo

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @DanielaCalvo__

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