Category Archives: Eastern Conference

Eastern Conference

What’s Next for Union? How the Zolos can plan for the future

Locria Nyla - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Philadelphia Union Key Contributor

By Locria Nyla Fox @LocriaOnSports

Let’s face it: this season has been dismal for Philadelphia Union fans.

After a disastrous finish to the 2016 season in which they did not win a game after August 27, fans hoped 2017 would be better as sporting director Earnie Stewart and new DP Alejandro Bedoya would have full offseasons to prepare.

Instead, the Union started 0-4-4, and despite following that with a four-game win streak, never really recovered. As things stand, Philadelphia is ninth in the East, six points behind sixth-place Atlanta United with a strong end-of-season schedule. Oh, and the Five Stripes have two games in hand.

So after a horrid season, what should the Union do? Here’s my optimal-scenario for the rest of the season heading into the winter.

Sack Jim CurtinI have nothing against Curtin as a person; he seems like a really good guy and the players like him. However, the problem with him is that he is not very tactically sound, and that’s a huge issue in an Eastern Conference that has seen teams hire managers such as Patrick Vieira, Tata Martino, and Veljko Paunović.

He’s very stubborn, refusing to even slightly tweak formations, only really rotating if there’s injuries (or it’s a cup match), and his tactics are subpar. I get trying to do a 4-2-3-1 (a very flexible formation) counterattack, but that requires off-ball movement, something the Union does not really do; just look at when Haris Medunjanin picks out a perfect pass, only to see that the guy who he was looking for started his run so late that he never gets to it.

Let’s also not forget to mention how overly harsh he is towards younger players. Keegan Rosenberry has a couple bad games early in the season and gets frozen out of the team. Yet Ray Gaddis strings together a bunch of apperances where he provides nothing in attack and mediocre defense and remains in the lineup? You want to know what happens when you do this? You become the Pablo Mastroeni Colorado Rapids, who were oozing with talent and potential in 2013 with a young group that included Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna, Deshorn Brown, and Shane O’Neill. Only one of those players is still in Colorado, and it’s safe to say Serna is not the player most hoped he’d be by now. A new coach would help avoid that situation in Philadelphia.

I don’t quite think Brendan Burke (Bethlehem Steel manager) is ready for the top level just yet (and I honestly think he prefers to be a developmental coach), nor do I think assistant Mike Sorber is the answer; I would go outside the organization for an experienced guy.

Play the kidsThe Union know who they have in their first-team players. Now it’s time to see what they have in terms of the young players. Give Derrick Jones and Marcus Epps, who have impressed in limited duty, first team runs. Get Keegan Rosenberry out of his slump; the fact that he’s been benched so long is baffling (I get benching him during the 4 game win streak because it was working, but Ray Gaddis is a nonfactor offensively and his defense has regressed). Allow Auston Trusty, who shined at the U20 World Cup, to get first-team experience. See if Adam Najem can take over the #10 role for next season. If the Union intend on building through the academy and young players as they often repeat, it is imperative that they give those guys playing time at the MLS level.

Clear up cap space in the winterI mentioned how bad the Union cap situation was in my last piece, but to refresh, the Union are using about $5 million against the cap of $3.85 million. With this year’s TAM value at about $1.2 million and the Union using it on multiple players (buying down Ilsinho‘s salary, as well as the salary and transfer fees of Haris Medunjanin and Jay Simpson), it is safe to assume the Union have very little remaining.  Combine that with the fact that the Union are well over the salary cap and there’s very little financial flexibility right now.

They can fix this in the offseason. Ilsinho ($470k), Maurice Edu ($480k – paid $750k this season and occupies a DP slot), and Roland Alberg ($346k and an international slot) are all pricey contracts that are likely gone. I could also see the departures of Chris Pontius ($400k), Fabinho ($160k), Charlie Davies ($109k), Ray Gaddis ($160k), Warren Creavalle ($125k), and Brian Carroll ($132k).

The departures would total around $2 million of new cap space, in addition to the increase in TAM coming next year (reported at $2 million), in addition to the freeing up of two international slots and a DP slot. In a perfect world the Union can also find a take for Simpson ($465k), but that’s highly unlikely due to his wage. Maybe you bring some of these guys back with pay cuts, but I don’t see that happening. The only players I’d say are currently untouchable (unless they get a godfather offer) are CJ Sapong, Medunjanin, Bedoya, Fafà Picault, Jack Elliott, and the homegrowns.

Sort out the goalkeeping scenarioAndre Blake is almost certainly headed to Europe at this point, especially after his dominant Gold Cup. So the Union now have to sort out an issue. I’d sign another goalkeeper regardless of if you think McCarthy is going to be the #1 (and I believe he deserves a chance). Either they back up McCarthy and Jake McGuire goes to Bethlehem, they start over McCarthy with McGuire in Bethlehem, or McCarthy starts, McGuire backs up, and the new signing goes to Bethlehem (I don’t want Bethlehem’s success in the hands of a 17-year-old Tomas Romero; as talented as he is, the USL side needs a veteran). Just don’t screw it up the way you did in 2014…

Fill in the remaining holesNow armed with around $1 million in cap space, the reported $2 million in TAM next season, two open DP slots, and two new international slots, the depth chart now looks like this, along with cap hits (we’re assuming Blake leaves as well):

Sapong (300k)
Simpson (465k – INTL)
Picault (115k) Najem (HGP) Herbers (GA)
Epps (53k) Ayuk (65k)
Medunjanin (460k – INTL) Bedoya (DP)
D. Jones (HGP) Fontana (HGP)
Wijnaldum (65k – INTL) Elliott (50k – INTL) Onyewu (65k) Rosenberry (104.5k)
 Yaro (GA) Marquez (135k) A. Jones (50k – INTL)
Tribbett (65k) Trusty (HGP)
McCarthy (86.5k)
McGuire (53k)

NOTE: HGPs and GAs do not count against the cap; DPs only count for a portion of their salary (this year it’s around $480k)

Looking at that roster, the weak spots are easily seen: a number 10, the wings, left back, and maybe goalkeeper. Now, how you fill those spots depends on how you play.  I’d like to think a new manager would be tactically flexible, using the familiar 4-2-3-1 to start but eventually putting their own stamp on the team. If they stick with the 4-2-3-1, based on the removals I made earlier, this is what I’d ideally line up on opening night 2018:

Sapong (300k)
Simpson (465k – INTL)
Picault (115k) Veteran DP #10 (DP) New TAM Winger (~450k)
Epps (53k) Najem (HGP) Herbers (GA)
Ayuk (65k – INTL)
Medunjanin (460k – INTL) Bedoya (DP)
D. Jones (HGP) Strong Depth DM (~150k)
Fontana (HGP)
Attacking Left Back (~150k) Elliott (53k – INTL) Onyewu (65k) Rosenberry (104.5k)
Wijnaldum (65k – INTL) Yaro (GA) Marquez (135k) Veteran Backup (~75k)
Tribbett (65k) Trusty (HGP) A. Jones (53k – INTL)
McCarthy (86.5k)
McGuire (53k)

In terms of a veteran DP, I think the obvious comparison would be what we had with Tranquillo Barnetta – a talented vet on a short deal whose experience will aid the development of the youngsters.

With the TAM winger, I’m looking at someone similar to Daniel Royer from the Red Bulls. Royer right now has ten goals, is solid defensively (which would allow Rosenberry to get forward more frequently), and is a versatile player. Maybe you even add a second new wing and use Picault as a supersub, utilizing his torrid pace to terrorize tired defenses.

I chose to specify an attacking left back because quite frankly Giliano Wijnaldum is a zero on offense. A huge key to fullback and wingback play in the modern era is the ability to get involved and support attacks, combining with wingers and midfielders, and helping get the ball in the box through crosses or passes. This would also mean that, since the U are deep at center back, the team could go to a 3-5-2 if they wanted, because now they’d have a wingback on each side that can get forward.

I also noted that the Union should have a strong #6 on the roster. This would allow for flexibility as well. If the Union were to go 4-4-2 with Bedoya and Medunjanin at center mid, they’d be easily overrun due to the lack of a physical ball-winner, even if you stuck Derrick Jones (who, though he has size, hasn’t quite filled out his 6’3″ frame yet) at central mid and moved Bedoya to the wing. Plus, it helps to add some depth knowing that you will lose Bedoya for a bit ahead of next summer’s World Cup (and possibly Medunjanin as well, if Bosnia and Herzegovina qualifies). And of course, you can bring them on late in a game that you’re winning when you just want to kill the clock.

I’m not thrilled with keeping Simpson, and ideally you’d go out and grab another center-forward that can hold the ball up like Sapong. But Simpson’s awful contract holds that up. If you can somehow dump Simpson’s contract, whether through sale or trade, I’d get another strong target man that can push Sapong. (If you go to a two-striker setup, Fabian Herbers and Picault can both play that second-striker role; Herbers was prolific there in college.) If he has to stay, however, if the Union utilize a two-striker setup, he may be able to salvage something from his MLS career (he’s never been very good as a lone striker), but I’m not optimistic.

As for goalkeeper, I would give McCarthy a try as the starter, as he’s shown fairly well in Blake’s absence and in cup matches. But if him as a starter doesn’t work, it’s not too difficult to find a good keeper in this league. (In this hypothetical, the U sign a third keeper who gets sent to Bethlehem.)

The cap hit for this side would be $3.92 million. But wait, there’s more! Roster spots 21-30 don’t count against the cap! Slots 21-24 are reserved for GA players and Senior Minimum Salary ($65k) players, so you can subtract around $130k from that cap hit. Slots 25-28 are reserved for Reserve Minimum Salary ($53k) players, so you can take away another $159k (Elliott, A. Jones, and Epps). So you’d be looking at a team below the cap even BEFORE the cap increase (which happens every year) and without using any TAM or general allocation money.

As for international slots, you would pick up slots from the departures of Alberg and Ilsinho, as well as, the return of a slot that was recently traded to Columbus. If you loan out Aaron Jones or Eric Ayuk for the season, that opens another one (two, if you loan out both ). So that allows Philadelphia to be flexible looking for reinforcements.


With a new manager, the shedding of bad contracts, and reinforcements, the Union would be set up for a successful 2018. They would have the flexibility to make multiple formations and tactics work, the quality to compete in a strong East, and the ability to use their homegrown and young players as depth instead of burning money against the cap to the Brian Carrolls and Charlie Davieses of the world who barely, if ever, play.

The Union have a lot of work to do this winter after another season of disappointment. It’s been 6 years since a playoff game was played in Chester. Let’s hope they can fix it before it becomes 7.

Featured image courtesy: ESPNFC

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @LocriaOnSports

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

A Team Win for the Crew

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Saturday, August 12: 3-1 Win

It was a fun night at Mapfre Stadium Saturday night as Columbus Crew SC defeated the Chicago Fire 3-1. It was a match that could have had a lot more goals in it, but both teams struggled to put away some chances. Crew SC rolled out the same line up they have been sticking with as of late a 3-5-2-1. Some highlights and thoughts on the match:

Crew SC came out attacking and pressuring the ball early. However, they did not keep possession for most of the game. This is one of the few times I don’t feel like the lack of possession hurt them. They may be figuring out how to make this formation successful for themselves.

In the 13’, the Fire scored. Our defense including Steffen just decided Michael deLeeuw was offside, but the refs didn’t agree. This is Soccer 101. Don’t stop playing until the whistle is blown. The Fire has been dominant with wins when scoring first, but not this time….

Artur continues to be the Energizer Bunny on the field. However, he may want to work on his shooting. Artur had many different opportunities to score a goal. The one mentioned above in the 2’, a header in the 5’, and not being able to finish a Manneh cross in the 11’.

Kekuta Manneh’s goal in the 18’ was an example of being at the right place at the right time and being able to finish that opportunity. Artur took a shot that deflected off a Fire defender right to Manneh who was able to put the ball in the back of the net.

The second goal in the 73’ was the result of vintage Francis cross to Meram. It is what got Francis to the All-Star Game in 2015, and it is why I believe Waylon should remain the starter on that side of the field. He also made a key defensive play in the 77’ when he took the ball from a Fire player who would have had an uncontested shot.

Meram scored our second goal, and it was a beauty. It was the 1,000 Crew SC goal. There were times during this game that I was in awe of his movements, and then there were times when I wondered why he was taking extra touches and losing the ball instead of passing it. If Pipa really does leave the Crew SC next year, Meram will have to fine-tune a bit to become the playmaker on this team. I’m confident he can do it.

Harrison Afful played just the first half working himself back from injury. This was a solid performance from Afful, which we haven’t seen a lot this season. It makes me wonder if he’s had lingering injuries for the majority of the season even when he was playing.

This was a must-win game for Crew SC. They are just above the playoff line, and they need to prove that they are a team to contend with. They did, and it was fun to watch.

Schweinsteiger was not as big of a factor in this game as I thought he would be. I don’t know if that’s because of where he was playing or how we played against him.

It was nice to see Matt Lampson back in Mapfre stadium. I really miss his “Off The Post” video clips when he was with Crew SC. If you have never seen them, you should go to YouTube and watch. One time he talked about his favorite song by Amy Grant. Watching those clips usually resulted in me laughing with tears streaming from my eyes. I’m not sure the PK call should have been one. I’ve watched replays, and I still can’t decide. Either way, it was a rough game for Lampson.

On a personal note, for those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know that I am a huge Ethan Finlay fan—my dog is even named after him. His trade to Minnesota broke my heart. While some felt it was time for him to go, I was hoping Ethan would be a Crew SC lifer. He gave 100% every time he was on the field and just exemplified to me what it meant to be a Crew SC player.

My only regret is that I never got to meet Ethan. I wish nothing but the best for Ethan Finlay, and I’ll be paying more attention to Minnesota from now on. I hope they realize what an amazing player and person they have on their team. My last 3 favorite players have either retired or been traded, so I’m trying not to have another favorite player. I don’t know if my heart can take it.

At the conclusion of this match, I couldn’t decide who should be Man of the Match. Overall, everyone played well. It was a team win. This is the way I believe a successful game should feel.

We play Orlando City this Saturday, and to continue our winning ways from this match, we need to continue to have all our players firing on all cylinders. I look forward to watching.

Featured image courtesy: @ColumbusCrewSC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

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No Move is the Best Move for Union

Locria Nyla - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Philadelphia Union Key Contributor

By Locria Nyla Fox // @LocriaOnSports

The Philadelphia Union‘s decision to not make any major moves during the summer transfer window is the right one.

A lot of Union fans are going to disagree with my opinion, and I get that. But hear me out.

Right now, the Union are stuck in a bad salary cap situation. The MLS salary cap this season is $3.845 million. Right now, the Union have over $5 million against the cap according to the numbers provided by the MLS Players’ Union. That number, of course, does not include the team’s Generation Adidas players (Fabian Herbers and Josh Yaro), Homegrown Players (Auston Trusty and Derrick Jones), the loaned-out Eric Ayuk, or the extra salary over the DP threshold on Alejandro Bedoya and Maurice Edu.

To stay cap-compliant, the Union used Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to buy down the cap hits of Ilsinho, Haris Medunjanin, and Jay Simpson, in addition to the transfer fees of the latter two from Maccabi Tel Aviv and Leyton Orient respectively.

Oh, and along with using TAM to buy down three players, they also traded away TAM to pick up Bedoya (via the allocation order) and Charlie Davies (via trade with New England) last year. So the Union are in a bad cap situation. They’re also out of roster spots with 30 players.

How did they get thrust into this bad cap situation? Bad contracts. Simple. Four in particular stand out right now.

First there’s DP midfielder Maurice Edu ($480,625 cap hit). As of this writing, Edu’s last game with the Union was September 30, 2015, when the Union fell to Sporting KC in the US Open Cup final. He’s taking up a huge chunk of salary to not play for two years. Even if he comes back healthy, where do you play him? I would not want to break up the central midfield pairing of Medunjanin and Bedoya, and even if you did that you’d also be cutting off Derrick Jones’s opportunities at first team football, which goes against the team’s best interest (and Earnie Stewart‘s plan which relies on the talent in the Union Academy developing into first-team footballers).

Then there’s Jay Simpson ($465k salary + TAM buydown) – The justification for splashing TAM on Simpson was that the Union were hoping he would be Bradley Wright-Phillips 2.0. That completely ignored that BWP didn’t get his hefty contract until after a season where he potted 27 goals and EARNED a huge pay hike. Simpson just sorta got big money coming out of League Two despite not being all that prolific at that level.

Ilsinho ($465k) is a weird case. On his day, he is very effective – just ask FC Dallas who he brutalized on August 5 for a goal and assist – and can be a treat to watch with his bag of tricks. But other days, he’s just invisible.

And finally we come to Roland Alberg ($345k salary). Alberg’s attitude has been a huge problem for the Zolos this year. After the departure of Tranquillo Barnetta, Alberg basically had the #10 spot handed to him on a platter. Cue him showing up to camp way out of shape, and when he gets on the pitch, he’s not been good enough to win anyone over. He’s twice fought with CJ Sapong over who would take spot kicks, and doesn’t have the final ball the Union needs from a #10.

“But wait, Locria,” you may be asking. “What about that glaring hole at the #10 spot? Don’t you want that filled?”

Of course I do. The Union need to clear up space and allocation money first, though. If you let these guys go at the end of the season, you find a team that now has cap space (especially if a few other players, such as Chris Pontius and Brian Carroll, also leave or take a pay cut), a couple open DP slots, and three international slots (the one recently traded to Columbus will be coming back in 2018). That’s when you take DP money, throw it at a veteran that can help teach young midfielders Adam Najem and Anthony Fontana how to play at a high level. Don’t lose your patience, make a horrible move now, and leave yourself screwed over come the winter.

Making a panic move now would probably not save this season. But staying patient and not making a short-sighted move can set the Union up to be better in 2018.

Featured image courtesy: philadelphiaunion.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @LocriaOnSports

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

The Answer

Robyn Saghini - Atlanta United FC/mlsfemale
Official Atlanta United FC Reporter

By Robyn Saghini // @robynsaghini

Sunday, August 6: 1-1 Draw

First things first: I’d like to ask the MLS Scheduling Department why they would schedule a game to coincide with Game of Thrones?!?!?!?!?! Thank goodness for HBO West, but I had to stay up way past my bedtime Sunday night. Totally worth it for both the game and GoT. No GoT spoilers here, but WOW.

Moving on! Atlanta United traveled to Kansas City this weekend to take on the team at the top of the Western conference. One thing I learned this weekend is that ATLUTD has more wins than ANY team in the West. Atlanta’s record is 10-7-5; the TOP SEVEN teams in the West all have nine wins. So there’s that. Sporting KC also has 10 draws this year after last night’s result.

I was reminded yet again last night of how bad the MLS referees are. This was not a foul:

But this was a yellow:

And this was a PK:

VAR was not used on any of these – or at all during the game if I’m not mistaken. Maybe referee forgot it was launching this weekend?

And yet, ATLUTD managed to get a goal (thanks to Jacob Peterson – aka “The Answer”, who we nabbed from SKC in the expansion draft) and steal a point in Kansas City.

For the record, that’s 7 games undefeated for ATLUTD. We have a 2+ week break (thanks to the delayed opening of Mercedes Benz Stadium) before the boys return to DC to take on DC United for the 3rd – and thankfully final – time this season. Here’s to hoping we can manage a win. Third time’s the charm, right?

Also in ATLUTD news:

  • ATLUTD traded a 2019 3rd round draft pick for CB Bobby Boswell this week. The man packed up his truck and drove all night to get here Wednesday and meet the team. We kind of love him already.
  • In order to make room for Boswell on the senior roster, Zach Loyd was moved to the season-ending injury list due to recurring concussion issues. 😦
  • In other trade news, ATLUTD loaned an international slot through the end of the year to San Jose for $75k. Not sure where that will get us, but we shall see if any additional roster changes are made
  • I will be doing another MLSFemale Instagram takeover on Saturday, August 19th when we get to attend an open house at our new home – Mercedes-Benz Stadium!

Featured image courtesy: atlutd.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @robynsaghini

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

That’s Why They Call It The Blues

Kerissa Ward - New York Red Bulls/mlsfemale
New York Red Bulls Key Contributor

By Kerissa Ward // @kerissaward

Sunday, August 6: 3-2 Loss

Dear Reader,

I need to begin by apologizing.  I apologize for this post being so late.  I apologize for allowing my support of the New York Red Bulls to get in the way of my duty to you.  I should have been eager to write about this match, even though it was a loss.  Truthfully, I would have been, too, if it hadn’t been for who we lost against.

giphy

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be an angry screed against NYCFC.  Yes, I fervently dislike the blue team, but that’s not what this website is about.  There are plenty of other RBNY sites and podcasts who will be dissing them; so if you’re looking for that, look elsewhere.

Especially since Sunday was a classic “That’s so Metro” kind of match.

For those who don’t know, “That’s so Metro” is the phrase used when the Red Bulls lose a game through their own stupidness.  It started in the early days of the club when they were the MetroStars when Nicola Caricola scored the only goal during the inagural home match.  Too bad it was an own goal.

Thus, was a meme born.

“That’s So Metro”, or TSM for short, is not an excuse.  Supporters don’t use it to defend bad plays or explain why we should have won.  It’s used to describe how RBNY can turn a match or a season into a dumpster fire.  It’s used to remember not to get our hopes up about anything until the final whistle of the final match.  It’s our Chinatown.

chinatown

I should have known something was wrong when I didn’t feel nauseated.

For the last few seasons, whenever there’s been an important match, I begin to feel nauseous a couple of hours beforehand.  Several factors determine the strength of the feeling.  How good is the other club?  Have we played them before this season?  If we did, did we win, lose, or draw?  And, most importantly, how have we been playing?  Depending on the answers, my tummy discomfort could fall anywhere from a little grumbly to a level where anything more than a hot dog could exit my body in the wrong direction.  Usually, the worse I feel the better the club plays.

This past Sunday, I felt nothing.

Maybe I gave myself a false sense of safety.  RBNY had been playing better in the last couple of matches.  Even though their last three wins were against clubs having poor seasons, their form had improved so much that those matches were blow-outs — 5-1, 3-0, and 4-0 respectively.  They were so improved from their June 24th match with NYC that many felt a draw would be a realistic result.

itsatrap

There were three signs this was going to be an oh-so-Metro match.  The first was Daniel Royer’s cries of agony in the 11th minute.  It looked like a true accident, too.  Royer and NYC’s Alexander Ring were chasing the ball, Royer slid to kick the ball away from Ring, Ring’s run became more of a leap where his momentum didn’t keep him going forward, Ring fell backwards, landing on Royer’s knee.  The play was so clean that neither player touched each other until Ring fell on Royer.

I don’t know if anyone at Yankee Stadium could hear his cries, but I could on television.  They were chilling.  They were the kind of cries that could mean the end of his season.  Thank the soccer gods, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. 

His leaving early affected the team, though.  Before the injury they had a controlled possession with well-timed crosses and plenty of speed.  After Royer’s injury, they lost momentum and began easily losing possession.  They didn’t shake alive until David Villa scored a goal in the 28th minute.

And this was when the second sign appeared.

what

The goal was bound to happen.  NYCFC had been feeding Villa ball after ball after ball.  He came close a couple of times.  So did another player or two.  I just don’t think anybody expected it to come from such a mundane build up.

It began with NYCFC defender Ethan White throwing in to Ring who crossed it to either Alexander Callens or Ben Sweat.  It’s hard to say since it rolled into the wide gap between them making them run for it like a stray ball.  Sweat then lobs it far, hoping to connect with one of the forwards; instead being intercepted by RBNY defender Damien Perrinelle.  Perrinelle then attempts to pass it up to Sacha Kljestan, but an NYCFC midfielder blocks it and — get this — uses his knee to send the ball towards David Villa who only has to run and catch it before Robles, which he does. 

Reader, please believe me when I say that I have watched and re-watched this goal, and I discovered something disturbing: VILLA WAS UNMARKED THE WHOLE TIME!  How?  How was that allowed to happen?  I know they had three forwards, but so did we.  Bradley Wright-Phillips was marked by two defenders whenever the ball came close to him.  Why were we not doing the same?

According to coach Jesse Marsch in the post-match press conference, Aaron Long was assigned to mark Villa throughout the match.  Long had his back to Villa and was ten feet away before the first goal.  For the second goal, he kept pace and was then beaten.  In the build up to the penalty, he was marking Sean Okoli.

interlude

So remember a few seconds ago when I mentioned how Bradley Wright-Phillips always had two or three defenders marking him?  Well, lucky for us he’s so dang good because he was able to make a couple of goals.

The first was really sweet.  First, Felipe took possession from the blue team, passed it to Kljestan, who crossed to Sean Davis, who tapped it over to Wright-Phillips.  BWP then dribbled the ball a few over to just the outside of the 18-yard box, while two blue defenders positioned themselves between him and the goal.

Talk about magic, though.  Wright-Phillips planted his right foot and shot the ball with his left.  Ethan White was literally in front of him and the ball, but he stretched too far to stop it.  The ball went through his legs and towards the goal.  The City goalkeeper, Sean Johnson, then dove to his left to stop the ball, but he also stretched too far.  The ball passed through the triangular hole Johnson’s body made as it flew to the ground.  It was the most masterful goal I’ve seen from Wright-Phillips.

Let’s jump forward now, past the second goals, to the third and final goal. 

There’s still heated debate about what led to Villa’s penalty kick.  Was it a jinx brought on by some RBNY supporters chanting “this is our house” as some talked about the next day?  Probably not.  Was it a malicious kick to the face from Sal Zizzo?  No, Villa was hit by the ball not Zizzo’s foot. 

This is what it was: another accident born of bad timing and one bad decision.

Villa and Zizzo were converging on the same point — the same point being the ball.  They met it at the same time just outside the 18-yard box.  They keep pace with each other for one stride, but the ball is on course to meet Villa.  By then they’re in the box.  Were Zizzo to knock or tackle Villa he would be called for a denial of a goal scoring opportunity, with Villa getting a penalty.  So he went to kick the ball out.

Unfortunately, the ball was neck-high by then.  Villa lowered his torso so the top of his head could meet it first.  Zizzo raised his foot and tapped the ball just as it bumps off Villa’s head sending it into his face.  If it wasn’t for the ball, Zizzo’s cleat would have hit Villa’s face.

A fair-minded individual would recognize that the whole moment was an accident, but even accidents have consequences.  If Zizzo had left the ball alone, Perrinelle would have been able to mark Villa and even block the ball.  Instead he made a decision which could have injured someone.  No one should have qualms with Villa being awarded the penalty.

sadsnoopy

Everyone knew the match was over once the penalty was made.  Marsch had waited too long to sub in Gonzalo Veron and Michael Murillo.  The team was too deflated to even out the score.  They had become so Metro.

But that’s not why they lost.  The team played well and with promise.  Kljestan’s form as a number ten is returning; he moved the ball with precision and assisted on both New York goals.  Wright-Phillips is becoming a laser-focused striker, putting himself where he needs to be and timing his goals in astonishing ways.  The only area that needs improvement is the shaky backline.  Hopefully, more time together will lead to better decisions and improved marking. 

Featured image courtesy: New York Red Bulls Instagram

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Derby Fatigue: A Morality Play

C.M. Brandon - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official New York City FC Reporter

By C.M. Brandon // @lukacharms

Sunday, August 6: 3-2 Win

New York City FC walked into yet another meeting with their bitter cross-state-lines rivals this weekend. Though it was only the fourth time they’d confronted the New York Red Bulls this year alone, it felt like the fortieth. Before the whistle blew, everyone formed a circle on the hallowed ground of Yankee Stadium and held their hands, alternating blue and red, blue and red, blue and red. They solemnly vowed to not meet again until next season because enough is enough, and then the whistle blew.

The boys in blue enjoyed a rousing game of aggressive football. Though Bradley Wright-Phillips did his best to one-up David Villa goal for goal, he was no match. Their nemeses exited Yankee Stadium with defeat bitter on their tongues as NYCFC celebrated their comeback win.

“It’s possible you are a robot whose sole purpose in life is to play football,” a reporter told Villa after the game before his thought petered out into a nervous laugh. “But that’s crazy, right?”

With no life behind his eyes and the chants of the crowd still ringing in his ears, Villa smiled. “Yes. So crazy.”

He resisted the urge to say he was human, because that’s exactly what a robot would say.

All looked to be peaceful at last in the land of New York… Until Don Garber rode in on his highest of horses and slammed his ruby-and-sapphire-encrusted staff into the ground.

“No!” he bellowed to the heavens, shaking the cherubs (who, strangely enough, all looked like Yangel Herrera before he grew his baby beard) from their slumber. “No, I demand more rivalry weeks! I demand revenue! I demand MLS be taken seriously, but mostly I demand revenue! You shall meet again! YOU SHALL ALL MEET AGAIN.”

He disappeared in a cloud of smoke. The horse remained.

“I don’t particularly want to be doing this again,” Jack Harrison said in his piping voice, like a lovely caged songbird who will inevitably be released soon for a lot of money.

Patrick Vieira lifted his gaze to the skies, searching for any sign of their overlord only to find none. “We must,” he sighed Frenchly. “The Don commands it.”

“It won’t be so bad.” David Villa threw everyone a roguish grin. “You have me, so.”

Yes, he was indeed the hero of the night. Not one goal, not two goals, but three goals found their way from his anointed foot to the back of the net. His first hattrick! Surely there would be much jubilation tonight. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but you’d never know it by looking at their captain, indefatigable and effervescent as ever.

“Somebody should probably take care of that horse,” Alex Ring pointed out, because he’s perfect and the only one with his priorities straight.

“I want to ride it.”

“Maxi, that’s dangerous.”

“Let me ride the horse.”

“No, Maxi. He’ll stomp you. You’re a quarter of his height!”

With no warning, the horse let out a mighty whinny and shook its glorious star-spangled mane. From its tresses fell– a check for extra allocation money to sign a new right-back?

No. No such luck. It was merely a note straight from The MLS Mechanism Room. With the collected calm of a man no longer burdened by his own flowing locks, Tommy McNamara picked it up from the ground and read it aloud to the group:

THE NEXT TIME YOU MEET WILL BE IN LESS THAN THREE WEEKS. THE HUDSON RIVER DERBIES WILL CONTINUE UNTIL MORALE IMPROVES. NO GODS, NO MASTERS. IN NEW YORSEY WE DIE LIKE MEN.

C.M. Brandon - New York City FC/mlsfemale
Image courtesy: Daily Mail

Andrea Pirlo awoke from his nap just in time to hear the news. “Very ominous,” he deadpanned. Nobody knew if he was being sarcastic or not. Nobody dared to ask.

For as much as they may have wanted to rally against the forces of the universe, they knew deep into their hearts that it would be futile. No man can supersede The Don. Many among their own ranks had tried, and where were they now? Gothenburg. Salt Lake City. Orlando. Retired, which everyone knows is a code word for something much more sinister.

No, to stay alive in New York City, one must play the hand they’re dealt. And if that means every other match being a Hudson River Derby to appease the whims of a fickle federation, then so be it. They had to accept their fate, prepare for their trip to the west coast and begin to brainstorm a way to defend their derby title, short-lived as it may be.

Still, nothing could take the night’s victory from them. As they headed out into the dusky evening, nineteen men and one mysterious horse, they did so with one immutable truth burning at the forefront of their minds:

New York is blue.

Featured image courtesy: @NYCFC

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Crew SC vs San Jose Earthquakes

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Saturday, August 5: 2-1 Loss

At some point, it just stops being fun—watching your team lose a game that they could have won.  As a Columbus Crew SC fan, it feels like it has happened a lot this year– points slipping through our fingers.   It happened again Saturday night against the San Jose Earthquakes as Crew SC lost 2-1. 

Some thoughts about the match:

  • Even though he was scored on twice, Zack Steffen played a great game.  In the 20’, he saved a Wondo header, and he denied Wondo again in the 46’.  In the 87’, Steffen had a one vs. one save.  I would imagine it’s hard to keep going if you are the Crew SC keeper when your defense hangs you out to dry, but Steffen plays with intensity and won my vote for man of the match.
  • During the first 12 minutes and periodically throughout the game, I thought to myself, “Wow, we are moving the ball incredibly well.”  There were a lot of first touch passes, and we controlled the field during those times.  This is the team we have to consistently be in order to be successful.
  • We had trouble finishing opportunities.  Ola Kamara had a few chances prior to the 14’ that should have been finished.  Raitala had an opportunity unmarked at the top of the box in the 20.’  In the 73’, Arthur had a pretty shot from distance.  In the 81’, Kamara sent a nice ball to Meram who took a shot that the keeper couldn’t keep his mitts on, but there was no one at the backdoor to finish it off. 
  • Mensah was a mixed bag. He got a well-deserved yellow in the 26’.  He was somewhat culpable for Wondo’s goal in the 57’, but he also headed the corner that led to Adam Jahn’s goal in the 75’. 
  • We did concede 10 corners in the first half, and after that, I stopped keeping track.  It was surprising that none of San Jose’s goals came from them as we kept gifting them corner kick opportunities.
  • The field was awful, awful, awful….  Crew SC players slid or fell at least 6 times during the game, usually in key moments that could have resulted in a cross for us or a defensive block against San Jose.

During away games, I try to keep up on twitter to see others’ responses.  It always ranges.  During and after this game, it was people ready to have Gregg fired, disappointed in our development of players, being frustrated at dropping points again, or unhappiness at the lack of movement so far during the transfer window.  It was people finding the positives in Steffen’s play, cheering on Jahn for his goal, or being excited to see Cristian Martinez get some minutes.   

I am not going to tell any Crew SC fan how to feel.  I know I went through most of those feelings at some point during the game too.  I did not want to sit down and write about another loss.  But I will reiterate one of my tweets from last night.  I appreciate fans looking for the positives in the games or being incredibly upset about the state of the team.  It means we care about the team, that we truly bleed black and gold.  

This team needs passionate fans more than anything, and I know on that we can deliver.  Hopefully, they can deliver a turnaround on the season.  They have done it before, and I’m not ready to count them out. 

Featured image courtesy: @ColumbusCrewSC

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Sunshine On BMO: 4-0 Sweeping of NYCFC

Cris Payne - Toronto FC/mlsfemale
Official Toronto FC Reporter

By Cris Payne // @crissypayne

Sunday, July 30: 4-0 Win

Song of the Match: Walking on Sunshine – Katrina & The Waves

July was a month of firsts for Toronto FC. First new contract for a manager, first MLS goal for not one, not two, but three players and all Canadian to boot; and of course first place for a lot of the month. I can only speak for myself but I’m a little sad to see it go, but optimistic to see out the summer.

Congratulations are in order for Raheem Edwards’ first MLS goal. It didn’t dawn on me that it was his first until hours later when I happened upon Jay Chapman’s tweet congratulating him. It seemed absurd that his first goal came in the dying embers of July when all season he’d been making huge contributions to the team, be it just by coming off the bench and injecting the team with some much needed energy, or handing out assists like gifts. He’s become so important to the team’s success I nearly forgot how new he is to the scene, not to mention how young.

It was a beautiful afternoon for a beautiful game in our beautiful stadium. The whole day had a glow about it. It’s safe to say at this point that Toronto FC loves playing NYCFC, and Sebastian Giovinco loves it most. In the past year Toronto FC have managed to absolutely steamroll NYCFC 13-2 across 4 games with Giovinco bagging a hat trick in one and a brace in another.

The highlight of the game for me came from the blessing I have to be a Season Seat Holder in the south end Supporters’ Section of BMO Field. I got to bear witness to a small moment not entirely caught on camera that is one of those moments that reminds me why I love the beautiful game.

It was the 75th minute and Toronto FC were awarded a penalty; Giovinco got to the ball first. He picked it up and held it against his chest. He could probably taste the hat trick only seconds away from his clutch. But then he must have thought of Jozy Altidore, of the players we had just gotten back from International Duty and whom Seba looked absolutely delighted to be reunited with. Especially Jozy (the jumbotron had been playing a slow-motion replay of Seba running into Jozy’s arms on the first goal throughout the game).

He marched up to Jozy and proffered the ball to him but Jozy said no at first. The second time Seba held the ball out to Jozy he took it reluctantly, and a hush seemed to fall over the south end. We had seen Jozy miss penalties before, and he looked none too comfortable as he set the ball down and stood back for the whistle. “Come on, Jozy!” a few of us yelled in support.

If Jozy had turned for one last look at Seba in that moment, I’m sure Seba would have offered a wink and a thumbs up. It was with the confidence of Seba, the rest of the team, and the fans that Jozy stepped forward and keenly shot the penalty kick home, effectively burying NYCFC by making it 3-0 with only 15 minutes remaining. Of course, Raheem would hammer in the nails at the very end with our 4th.

That show of sportsmanship is extra special to me coming from Seba, who was accused of selfishness early this season for an outburst. As a Toronto supporter, nothing makes me happier than seeing players come to our city and learn to love Toronto and the team. Seba showed that on Sunday with his enthusiasm, work ethic, and team effort. There’s no better ways we could have asked for to close out the month than 4 goals and a clean sheet in the Six and in the sun.

My only point of contention? I’m a bit perturbed that Jay Chapman lost a starting spot though it was not unexpected. He will perpetually face the issue many of our Canadians guys face which is to compete in a deep squad, particularly in the midfield, and Jay has it the hardest when guys like Michael Bradley and Victor Vazquez are effectively pushing him out of the team. Still, he came off the bench and got the minutes he deserved so I can’t say I’m too disappointed.

Quick shout out to the David Villa jersey wearing NYCFC fan who travelled from New York to stand in the Supporters’ Section. I’d apologize for the torrent of chanting you endured but it was just way too much fun taunting you for the majority of the second half. Thank you for being a good sport about it and my condolences that you chose to stand amongst the most loyal of Toronto FC fans.

Here’s hoping that August is as fruitful as July! See you all this weekend when TFC travels to D.C. to face D.C. United on their home turf.

Featured image courtesy: @torontofc

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @crissypayne

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Kings of the South

Robyn Saghini - Atlanta United FC/mlsfemale
Official Atlanta United FC Reporter

By Robyn Saghini // @robynsaghini

Friday, July 21: 0-1 Win

Saturday, July 29: 1-1 Draw

After much online banter between Atlanta United and Orlando City fans over the last month – and some for over two years prior, the two teams finally met in Orlando on Friday, July 21 to begin the (slightly manufactured) rivalry everyone’s been talking about.

Things got heated a few days before the game when we learned that ATLUTD had paid for a billboard to go up in downtown Orlando, two blocks from the OCSC stadium.

This did not go over well in Orlando. Two days after it went up, the billboard was defaced (allegedly) by the Iron Lion Firm, one of OCSC’s let’s say “rowdier” supporters groups. The billboard was taken down later that day, whether by Orlando fans or because that was the plan is unclear.

ATLUTD had just under 500 fans travel to Orlando for the game. During the march to the match, Atlanta fans were escorted by local police and some OCSC front office staff. Someone threw a purple smoke bomb in the middle of the march. Another Atlanta fan was sucker punched walking to the stadium and the people he was with had water bottles thrown at them. There were also reports of a false fire alarm at 3:45AM at the hotel the team was staying at. The social media staff had a good response to that one:

The game was pretty close, though. If not for Tito Villalba‘s late screamer of a goal, ATLUTD would have come away with just one point. My favorite part of this clip is that Adrian Healy and Taylor Twellman are talking about how Bendik has been making some great saves and is Orlando’s MVP and then…

This past Saturday, in ATLUTD’s last game at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Orlando struck first. This stunner of a goal from Kaka kept OCSC in the lead for an hour:

I hate to say it, but that was really well done. And it had us ATL fans worried for a while. Down 0-1 at home to a team we defeated 8 days prior? Fortunately, Tito did not let that happen. An extra time goal from Tito took back a point and Atlanta remains undefeated against Orlando City. I do love the treatment Dirty South Soccer gives this clip:

We still have one more game against Orlando coming up in September. Hopefully their fans will be a little bit better behaved (but probably not).

This coming Sunday, Atlanta United travel to Kansas City to take on the top team in the West. I’m nervous, y’all. The good news is that Dom Dwyer is already in Orlando and wasn’t very effective against us this weekend. At least we don’t have to worry about him.

In other news…

  • Lots of progress has been made on our new home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium (aka “The Benz”). Turf was laid down this week. The stadium held a media day last week and so many pictures were shared!
  • It was just announced on Monday that our first game at the Benz is already sold out. The capacity will be held at 42,500 (the standard going forward for ATLUTD games) for the September 10th game against FC Dallas.
  • The ATLUTD U-16 Academy team are national champions!

Featured image courtesy: atlutd.com

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Keep it Rolling

Sylvana Budesheim - NY Red Bulls/mlsfemale
Official New York Red Bulls Reporter

By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

Saturday, July 29th: 4-0 Win

Have I ever mentioned that I love Canada? It’s kind of random on my part… I have no affiliation with the country as far as my heritage is concerned. But I just latched on to Canadian stuff when I was younger and it has stuck with me ever since. Barenaked Ladies… Kids in the Hall… Quebec City… Poutine…

So you should know that when the New York Red Bulls (11-8-2, 35 pts) faced the Montreal Impact (6-8-6, 24 pts), I sang along to both national anthems. The Impact’s “home and native land” is pretty cool. And former RBNY defender Chris Duvall was in their starting XI, and he is no “Metro Reject”.

THE SAME… BUT DIFFERENT: RBNY has been enjoying quite the run these days. They won every game they played this month, between League and Open Cup play, scoring 16 goals and keeping 3 clean sheets. I went back and read my last article about Montreal and RBNY… it wasn’t very optimistic.

15 points later, I wish I knew what finally ‘clicked’ for the team… There were very few changes to the lineup: only 3 players from the defeat on June 3rd were not part of this win (Kemar Lawrence– suspension; Frederik Gulbrandsen– returned to RB Salzburg; and Mike Grella– season-ending injury). Defender Aurelien Collin is still out with injury.

Although the team had been doing well while Michael Amir Murillo was away for the Gold Cup, he just fit back in upon his return, which is fantastic to watch. His mental presence to poke the ball in from Daniel Royer‘s cross in the 58th minute and open his MLS scoring account was ridiculously satisfying to watch.

Image courtesy: @NewYorkRedBulls

ROYER ROLLING (AND FLIPPING): Speaking of fantastic to watch, Austrian attacker Daniel Royer has really grown into his role as fellow striker with Bradley Wright-Phillips. With 2 braces in the last 3 games, he’s just getting hotter for the team.

He started off the scoring for RBNY with a penalty kick in the 23rd minute, having been clipped by Impact GK Maxime Crepeau trying to make a save. Then his second goal, slotted between Crepeau and the near post in the 90th minute, looked a lot like his second goal against San Jose Earthquakes. Quite the signature goal, as well as the signature celebration.

Of course, it must also be noted that BWP netted his 80th goal in his RBNY career (85′), taking only 128 games to reach that number. This puts him at #16 of all-time MLS scorers.

CH-CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: The summer transfer window for the Red Bulls, like the season itself, had a bit of a slow start. But the game began with a new player in the red training top: Panamanian defender Fidel Escobar was on the bench for the team, although he did not make his debut.

Forward Muhamed Keita is not yet available. And head coach Jesse Marsch has said there could be more moves coming before the window closes. Will he nab a trade from another MLS team? Will any members of NYRBII get a nod? And what will these moves mean for the current members? Change can be scary, but necessary.

The 2nd (or 3rd, if you include the Open Cup) Hudson River Derby of the season is coming up after the MLS All-Star Game. Best wishes to Tyler Adams, Derrick Etienne Jr, and Evan Louro, participating in the Homegrown All-Star Match. The rest of the guys seem to be enjoying a little time off:

Bring it on back, guys, and be ready for even more!

Featured image courtesy: @NewYorkRedBulls

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @whitezinwench

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