Talking about all things Soccer. Its Soccer, its serious… but not always.
20/05/16 – James Keep
A round up of all the week’s biggest stories from North American Soccer
Z-LA-TAN OR ZLATLANTA?
Arthur Blank wants Atlanta United to be competitive from Day one when they enter MLS next season and, aside from the best fan food options, on the pitch that may depend on who they end up fielding. With Taylor Twellman making it clear that Zlatan Ibrahimovic won’t be going to the LA Galaxy this summer, could the tempermental Swede end up in Atlanta instead? United technical director Carlos Bocanegra was in France for Ibrahimovic’s last game, so anything is possible. However, it has been noted that if the LA Galaxy do want Zlatan, they’ll find a way to get him. Plus there’s someone else who could have a final say in his next destination.
Miroslav Klose is another world star apparently starting to attract some serious attention but, conversely, is MLS learning to say no to aging athletes?
NASHVILLE LANDS A TEAM
Professional soccer is coming to Nashville, with Music City announced on Thursday as the location for the latest USL expansion franchise, due to begin play in 2018. The new ownership group now in place, their attention turns towards finding a suitable home for the new franchise.
Of course, The Tennessee city already has a soccer team in the form of NPSL side Nashville FC, and the fan-owned club, who began their season on Thursday with a 5-2 win over the New Orleans Jesters, released a statement on their shifting position within the local landscape following the news.
THE CROWD KEEPS GROWING
FC Cincinnati broke their own attendance record last weekend with 23, 375 fans packing into Nippert Stadium to watch their team record a 1-0 win over “local rivals” the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
The Cincinnati experience is definitely starting to make its mark on the locals and the crowd on Saturday marked a great weekend for the USL in general, with attendance on the rise across the board. Plus the league celebrated the new youngest goalscorer in their history, with 15-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps 2 midfielder Ben Davies tucking one away in his side’s 4-3 victory over the LA Galaxy II. A result which kept the Canadian side undefeated and atop the Western Conference.
The domestic transfer window may be shut but that doesn’t stop teams from still picking up players from outside the league, with the Portland Timbers grabbing a useful addition to their squad in Amobi Okugo, an unattached option after failing to find a permanent place with both Orlando City and Sporting Kansas City in 2015. Okugo’s contract was still owned by MLS and the midfielder/defender was loaned to the New York Red Bulls II for one game last month. The Timbers also waived Michael Seaton, with the Jamaican’s search for a long-term home, or even just some stability, continuing.
FC Dallas have also strengthened their backline with the addition of Argentine defender Agustin Jara, a free-agent who spent most of the offseason training with the Texan club. The Chicago Fire added Dutch forward Michael de Leeuw to their roster from Dutch Eredivisie side FC Groningen, hoping to add some much needed spark to their attack, while Columbus Crew SC have brought in midfielder Cristian Martinez on loan from Panamanian side Chorrillo FC until the end of the season.
A CUP-PLE OF CUPSETS
The second round of the US Open Cup took place this week with the introduction of the USL sides into the fray and, while the majority of the games went in favor of the Third Division sides, often by large score lines, there were a couple of upsets. The incredibly inept Pittsburgh Riverhounds lost 2-0 to Lansdowne Bhoys FC (of the New York Open Division), while the Charleston Battery lost on penalties to the Villages SC (PDL) following a 2-2 draw during regular play, although there were questions raised regarding the eligibility of one Village player, subsequently leading to The Villages SC’s disqualification and a face-saving reprieve for the Battery . There were also upsets as the Tulsa Rednecks lost 2-0 to the Des Moines Menace (PDL) and the LA Wolves pulled off a surprise win over the Orange County Blues. Huge props to Detroit City FC, who may have lost but took Louisville City FC all the way to penalties following a 1-1 draw, and Mississippi Brilla FC, whose penalty shoot out loss against Oklahoma City Energy ended 10-9.
With the NASL sides set to enter in Round Three some interesting ties have been set up, including Minnesota United vs Saint Louis FC, an Oklahoma derby between Oklahoma City SC and Rayo Oklahoma, a North Carolina clash between the Carolina Railhawks and the Charlotte Independence and strong newcomers FC Cincinnati taking on the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
The draw for Round Four has also been completed and, depending on results, there are potential clashes between Saint Louis FC and Sporting Kansas City, the New York Cosmos and NYCFC, and San Antonio FC and the Houston Dynamo.
CANADA HAS A CUP TOO
The second leg of the play-in game between NASL sides Ottawa Fury and FC Edmonton ended with the Ontario side losing 2-0 on the night but winning 3-2 on aggregate to advance to their first Amway Canadian Championship semi-final in their short history. Ottawa will now face off against the Vancouver Whitecaps while Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact meet yet again (seriously, this tournament needs more teams).
It’s going to be a big summer for a number of US national team players based abroad. Alejandro Bedoya will be looking to make his mark on the Copa America but the US midfielder is apparently considering leaving French side Nantes in search of a ‘higher level’ within the domestic game.
DeAndre Yedlin improved dramatically towards the end of the Premier League season and, with numerous suitors rumored to be interested in acquiring the former Seattle Sounder, a good tournament this summer could help secure him his next move. Sunderland are one of the clubs said to be interested and Sam Allardyce could be just the man to help continue Yedlin’s defensive improvements.
John Brooks is another European based member of Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad but his anticipated participation in the summer’s big tournament will see him miss part of the preseason for club side Hertha Berlin. Something his head coach has described as “unfortunate”.
Bobby Wood will be looking to keep his own fine form alive during the summer but if he’s worried about impressing his new club Hamburg before arriving it seems he need not worry, with his new head coach declaring that the US striker has a lot of potential.
TIME TO PRACTICE
The US national team have a Copa America warm up game against Puerto Rico on Friday, but with many of the US’ preliminary roster unavailable for the game due to commitments with their domestic clubs, Jurgen Klinsmann has called in several players who could have bright futures with the national team, including Emerson Hyndman and sudden-German-second-division-goal-machine Fabrice Picault, meaning the friendly could offer some glimpses of whats still to come. The training camp in Miami could itself help answer some important questions facing the US side as well.
STAYING AT HOME
While we wait for Klinsmann to announce his final roster for the Copa America Centenario (due at halftime of the New York derby on Saturday), we know one player who won’t be able to take part this summer is Jozy Altidore, with the striker suffering yet another hamstring injury which has ruled him out for 6-8 weeks, news that Jurgen Klinsmann has called “a bummer”. Given his form this year, it could actually be a blessing in disguise for the US though, so long as Klinsmann can work out an alternative system of play.
Another player looking unlikely to feature for his national team is Altidore’s teammate Sebastian Giovinco, who wasn’t included in Italy’s 28-man training squad for Euro 2016, making his appearance in the final squad highly unlikely.Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t hope.
Back to the Copa America and we have the curious case of Giovani Dos Santos, who faced lots of speculation as to whether or not he would make the Mexico squad following his move to the LA Galaxy last summer. Dos Santos was indeed invited to join El Tri but, for reasons as yet unknown, has chosen to decline the chance to appear in this one -off tournament.
CALIFORNIA VS EUROPE
With the season over for many teams in Europe, so begins the money-making/profile raising trips to the US. The San Jose Earthquakes started things off on Tuesday with a 2-1 win over La Liga’s Real Sociedad, with Chris Wondolowski scoring both goals for the home team.
The Sacramento Republic will be hosting defeated Europa League finalist Liverpool FC’s U21 side for two games over the next few days and, prior to that first match on Saturday, the USL side has secured the signing of Liverpool Academy forward Daniel Trickett-Smith, who could now end up making his debut against his former team.
BUILD PAY FOR IT, THEY YOU CAN COME
The New York Red Bulls II announced last week that they had found a new home, with the club set to play at MontClair State University in 2017. The venue is just up the road from Newark, still located in New Jersey, and on Wednesday it was revealed that the USL side is set to build new seating for the venue, starting with 3,000 capacity and rising to 5,000 during the second phase of construction.
On the subject of stadium construction, Orlando City SC’s facility is really starting to come together, but with the state not willing to grant the club a sales tax rebate, Orlando City’s owners have turned to a different method of securing finance: offering US visa’s for those willing to “invest” $500,000 in the project.
STILL NO LOVE FOR LAMPARD
Poor Frank Lampard, if its not one thing its another, with people now taking umbrage with the fact that Lampard spent time rehabbing from his injury back in England with Chelsea. Couple of things, and I take no pleasure in defending Lampard but that seems to be the hand I’ve been dealt here: 1) if an aging player has serious injury concerns, its understandable he may want to see a doctor he knows and trusts from his long career. NYCFC fans should be happy he’s trying to fix the issue to get back to the team, something he’s apparently close to doing now. 2)If he’s injured, sure, he could stick around and offer “guidance” to the young players, but this is certainly Lampard’s last year with NYCFC so they may as well get used to him not being there. As for guidance, if only they had other veteran stars, or maybe even a coach who was one of the best midfielders of his generation…
Fear not though Frank, while your time at NYCFC has been a disaster, you’re apparently still not among the six worst signings of all time… yet. Thankfully, former Lampard teammate John Terry will not be joining his countryman in MLS as the defender has signed a new one-year deal that will see him remain with Chelsea.
A big win for Owen Coyle’s Houston Dynamo side last weekend took a lot of the pressure off the Scotsman’s position in Texas and, while the club was uncategorical in denying that they has been approached by Celtic regarding their head coach, as was Coyle himself, another report on Thursday has claimed the former Burnley and Bolton boss is still in the running to replace Ronny Deila at Celtic Park.
SHARING IS CARING… OR NOT
Could the US and Mexico be preparing a joint bid for the 2026 World Cup? That was the report that emerged from the FIFA Congress in Mexico City, with officials from both countries apparently confirming the news. However, US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati has since come out and rubbished the claims, stating ““We haven’t made a decision about the  World Cup. Until we know what the rules are of the bid process — which won’t be until October at the earliest — we’re not going to be making a decision… and we certainly haven’t had any formal discussions with the Mexican federation at this point.” The word formal might be key there though.
On the field, MLS is not as good as Liga MX. That’s not an inflammatory statement, that’s a fact, and one which MLS Commissioner Don Garber has himself acknowledged. Will that change in a few years? Definitely, but there are other things that both leagues can change to improve things on and off the field.
There seems to be a good team spirit in the Toronto FC dressing room this season, and not even Sebastian Giovinco is safe from the practical jokes, as evidenced by this video of Drew Moor and Will Johnson blocking his car in. Fair play to the diminutive Italian for the decisive action he takes to deal with the problem though.
There’s also a nice story about Darlington Nagbe’s journey to citizenship and the US national team on MLS Insider and another one on New York rivals Lloyd Sam and Kwadwo Poku, who made an emotional journey together to Ghana.
Finally, one young cancer survivor made his first trip to a soccer game last Sunday, just in time to watch Sporting Kansas City beat Orlando City SC.
ONE TO WATCH
New York City FC vs the New York Red Bulls 3pm ET, FOX
Is New York red or blue? It’s rivalry Week in MLS and possibly the biggest rivalry on offer this weekend (the best in the league according to Alexi Lalas) is the Hudson River derby, which sees the two teams with New York in their title face off. New York City FC have been stoking things up this week by reducing seating allocation for Red Bulls fans and, more brazenly, offering free NYCFC jerseys for anyone who wants to trade in a Red Bulls one. For their own part, Red Bulls fans have stated that they refuse to consider this a rivalry game until NYCFC actually win one of their encounters. True enough, the Red Bulls won all three matches last season but the team from New Jersey has failed to hit their stride this year, having lost twice as many games as NYCFC, and face an opponent unbeaten in five games that currently sit 1st in the Eastern Conference. With the majority of the Bronx-based side’s starters rested for their 1-1 draw with Toronto FC they’ll be coming in with fresh legs but whether or not the pressure gets to them remains to be seen.
Oh, and Klinsmann’s revealing his final 23-man US national team roster for the Copa America Centenario at halftime too. All the fun of the fair in one broadcast.