Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: AC Milan, Ajax, Andres Iniesta, Bayern Munich, Brazil, Camp Nou, Copa del Rey, Cristiano Ronaldo, Deniz Aytekin, Edinson Cavani, European Champions League, European Super Cup, FC Barcelona, Felix Magath, FIFA Club World Cup, Franz Beckenbauer, Hungary, Italy, Johan Cruyff, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Kevin Trapp, La Liga, Layvin Kurzawa, Lionel Messi, Liverpool, Luis Enrique, Luis Suarez, Magic Magyars, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Miracle of Istanbul, Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain, Paul Breitner, Pele, Picasso, Pierre Littbarski, Real Madrid, Santos, Sergi Roberto, Spanish Super Cup, Uli Stielike, West Germany
FC Barcelona engineered the greatest comeback in European Champions League history, shocking Paris Saint-Germain, 6-1, before a jubilant, disbelieving crowd of 96,000 at the Camp Nou to advance to the quarterfinals on a 6-5 aggregate.
Barcelona scored three goals after the 87th minute, with substitute Sergi Roberto netting the deciding goal in the fifth minute of add-on time.
PSG was all but assured of an upset decision after humbling the Spanish giants, 4-0, three weeks earlier in its home leg. It was a humiliation that prompted Barcelona boss Luis Enrique to confirm that he will leave at season’s end, saying the job had “exhausted” him.
Barca got its comeback underway with a headed goal by Luis Suarez in the third minute. Three minutes before the intermission, Andres Iniesta worked some magic in tight quarters at the end line that forced an own goal by PSG’s Layvin Kurzawa, and in the 50th minute Lionel Messi converted a penalty kick drawn by Neymar. But in the 62nd, Edinson Cavani scored to give the French side a 5-3 overall lead and a precious road goal as the Camp Nou balloon deflated.
But in the 88th minute, Neymar ignited what became the second comeback of the evening with a magnificent free-kick strike from the left that dipped inside the near post. A minute later, Neymar converted a penalty kick after Suarez was pulled down in the box. Barca 5, PSG 1, and the aggregate tied at 5-5. And in the dying moments of stoppage time, the Brazilian striker’s chipped pass enabled Roberto to beat PSG goalkeeper Kevin Trapp for the winner. [March 8]
Comment: Perhaps the greatest rally by a great team in an important competition ever.
There have been several “back from the dead” performances in huge matches. Liverpool’s epic “Miracle of Istanbul,” its PK victory over AC Milan after falling behind, 3-0, in regulation in the 2005 European Champions League final, comes to mind. In the World Cup, you could start with the 1982 semifinals and West Germany’s resurrection in extra time against a fine French team to erase a two-goal deficit and force a winning shootout.
But there’s that qualifier, “great team.” The 2005 Liverpool team couldn’t match the talent and accomplishments of its Reds brethren from the 1970s and ’80s; the banged-up Germans, featuring Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Paul Breitner, Uli Stielike, Felix Magath and Pierre Littbarski, were dispatched by Italy in the ’82 final.
Barcelona is a great team, the greatest club side of our generation. It’s Hungary’s “Magic Magyars” of the early 1950s, Brazil from the late 1950s to ’70, clubs like the late ’50s Real Madrid, the early ’60s Santos led by Pele, Johan Cruyff’s Ajax and Franz Beckenbauer’s Bayern Munich in the ’70s, AC Milan of the late ’80s and early ’90s, and, yes, this current version of Real Madrid starring Cristiano Ronaldo. Since 2005 it has won four Champions League titles, three FIFA Club World Cups, three European Super Cups, eight Spanish La Liga crowns, four Copas del Rey and seven Spanish Super Cups. (It leads La Liga by a point over Real Madrid with a dozen matches remaining.) But what will be remembered is how players like Messi, Iniesta and Xavi (now riding into the sunset with a Qatari club) turned soccer into art, and that art into hardware.
And that’s why this stunning victory–without the need for overtime or a penalty-kick tiebreaker–over Paris Saint Germain was the most impressive by any team, anywhere, anytime. Indeed, the ball bounced Barca’s way a few times: German referee Deniz Aytekin falling for yet another instance of Suarez acting as though he’d been shot in the area by a sniper, thus setting up Neymar’s late PK; Aytekin finding an extra five minutes to tack onto the game’s end with the home side in need; the free kick drawn inside the PSG half by Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen ahead of the sequence that led to Roberto’s winner; a performance by Ter Stegen’s counterpart, Trapp, that won’t qualify for any goalkeeping instructional videos. It’s better to be lucky than good. And Barcelona on this night benefited from the “style-be-damned” teachings of Enrique, who, with Messi, Suarez and Neymar at his disposal, has nevertheless steered his team to a more direct approach. But after watching FC Barcelona over the past decade run over La Liga teams, pick apart Champions League opponents with precision, it was impressive–perhaps unsettling, even–to see that this team can reach back and will its way to an unlikely triumph. It’s as if Picasso momentarily turned his brush into a switchblade.
Filed under: Leicester City, Uncategorized | Tags: Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Blackburn Rovers, Bournemouth, Brighton, Championship League, Chelsea, Claudio Ranieri, Derby County, English F.A. Cup, English First Division, English League Cup, English Premier League, Europa League, FC Barcelona, Filberts, Foxes, Germany, Hull, Kasey Keller, La Liga, Leicester City, Liverpool, Major League Soccer, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Nigel Pearson, Norwich, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur, UEFA Champions League, Villarreal
Leicester City, a 5,000-to-1 shot to win it all at the beginning of the 2015-16 English Premier League campaign, pulled off the near-impossible when its closest challenger, Tottenham Hotspur, came from ahead to tie host Chelsea, 2-2, allowing the Foxes to assume a seven-point lead with two matches remaining.
It was the first top-division championship in the 132-year history of Leicester, which had not finished higher than second in the then-English First Division since 1929. A four-time loser in the English F.A. Cup final, its trophy case previously consisted of English League Cups won in 1964, 1997 and 2000.
The Foxes–or Filberts, take your pick–were on the verge of relegation this time last year, but the unfashionable club from the English Midlands won seven of its last nine matches under then-coach Nigel Pearson. It was an omen that this band of unknowns, with ex-Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri hired to replace Pearson during the summer, had bigger things in store this season. [May 2]
Comment I: Leicester City, previously known on these shores only as the club for whom U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller once toiled in relative anonymity (1996-99), indeed took the EPL by surprise. The Foxes were a true party crasher, finishing ahead of the usual suspects named Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City.
So Leicester’s surprise climb to the top was amazing, fun, worth a headline or two even in the U.S. sports pages, and a refreshing break from the usual routine, which has seen previous EPL titles–since the Premier League was created in 1992–go to Manchester United 13 times, Chelsea four times, Arsenal three, Manchester City twice and Blackburn Rovers once. And it sent a wave of hope rolling across the country, lapping up against fans of clubs as pitiful as Middlesbrough, Brighton, Hull, Derby County, Norwich, Sunderland, Bournemouth–for such a small country, the list is long.
But it serves as a lesson in America, where Major League Soccer, now at 20 teams, has designs on expanding soon to 28. This isn’t about dilution of talent, it’s about dilution of interest.
The reason leagues like the EPL can hold their public’s interest with–usually–one of the same small cluster of clubs finishing first year after year is because of promotion/relegation. No season is completely uninteresting for the fan of a mediocre-to-poor club as long as there’s the thrill of booing a perennial bully and the terror of dropping into the second division, or the generously named “Championship League.”
Without promotion/relegation, a bloated MLS runs the risk of being saddled with a dozen or more clubs that endure years–decades, even–in which they neither truly contend for a championship nor get punished for their mediocrity. Death by boredom.
Will MLS ever adopt promotion/relegation? No. But perhaps it will reconsider its race to over-expansion, or at least try to publicly offer a justification for its “bigger is better” approach to running a soccer league.
Comment II: The point was made in some quarters that outsider Leicester rolled to its 22-3-11 record and the league crown partly because it could keep its eyes on the prize while EPL royalty was wrung out by pesky midweek UEFA Champions League and Europa League commitments.
Or, in other words, the EPL’s top clubs sure are impressive, but they don’t win in Europe because winning the lucrative Premiership is Job One and they don’t have the luxury of playing in a league that’s dominated by one club (Germany, Bayern Munich) or two (Spain, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid). Alas, they have to play one another on Saturdays, so the pursuit of Continental silverware is an afterthought left for midweek nights at faraway places.
That’s an excuse that England would do well to retire.
Deep pockets mean player depth, which means the means to get through league, domestic cup and European cup matches, and there are few clubs more wealthy than England’s big five. If need be, they can just study Spain’s La Liga, where teams manage to find a way to win a variety of trophies or at least come within touching distance. The UEFA Champions League final will feature, for the second time in three years, two clubs from one city, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, one year after FC Barcelona came out on top. Atletico won Europa League crowns in 2010 and 2012, and Sevilla, a Europa League winner in 2006 and ’07, just won its third consecutive Europa title, beating Spanish rival Villarreal in the semifinal. And all these clubs had the wherewithal to compete in La Liga, a league that’s supposedly FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and a bunch of nobodies.
Filed under: 2014 U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year, Uncategorized | Tags: 2014 FIFA World Women's Player of the Year, 2014 U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year, Abby Wambach, Bayern Munich, Brazil, Carli Lloyd, Cristiano Ronaldo, FC Barcelona, FC Kansas City, Germany, Lauren Holiday, Lionel Messi, Manuel Neuer, Marta, Nadine Kessler, National Women's Soccer League, Real Madrid, Seattle Reign, Tim Howard, U.S. National Women's Team, U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year, Western New York Flash, Zurich
Lauren Holiday was voted 2014 U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year, becoming the first player to win the USSF’s athlete and young athlete of the year awards.
The holding midfielder received 43 percent of the vote, followed by Carli Lloyd (25 percent) and Abby Wambach (18 percent).
Holiday has 110 caps, including 16 earned this year, when she scored two goals and set up three others. She also starred for FC Kansas City, scoring eight goals with seven assists. In the National Women’s Soccer League championship match, she assisted on both goals in a 2-1 victory over the Seattle Reign, winning MVP honors.
Taking part in the balloting for the athlete of the year award were players who earned a cap with the U.S. National Women’s Team in 2014, women’s and youth women’s national team coaches, National Women’s Soccer League head coaches and select former players, administrators and media members. Goalkeeper Tim Howard was named U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year a week earlier. [December 6]
Comment: Wambach has been named one of three finalists for the 2014 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award, along with Brazil’s Marta (the winner from 2006 through 2010) and Nadine Kessler of Germany. A finalist for the fourth time and winner in 2012, the imposing striker led the U.S. in scoring with 14 goals to increase her world-record tally to 177. Despite a string of injuries during the NWSL season, Wambach scored six goals and contributed four assists in 10 games for her club, the Western New York Flash.
The winner of this award, along with the men’s honor (Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid, Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona and Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich are finalists), men’s and women’s coach of the year, and goal of the year, will be presented in Zurich on January 12. The voters included national team captains and coaches and media members.
Best of luck to Wambach. We must live in a wonderful land of female soccer talent when the woman considered the third-best female player in America can also be considered among the three best female players on the planet.
Filed under: Landon Donovan farewell, Uncategorized | Tags: 2014 World Cup, Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich, Brazil, Cobi Jones, East Hartford CT, Ecuador, England, Enner Valencia, Everton, FC Hollywood, Germany, Honda Player of the Year, Joe Corona, John Harkes, Juergen Klinsmann, Kasey Keller, Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy, Major League Soccer, Maximo Banguera, Mix Diskerud, Rentschler Field, Steve Sampson, Timmy Chandler, U.S. National Team, U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year, Uli Hoeness
Landon Donovan played his final match for the U.S. National Team, a 1-1 tie with Ecuador in a friendly in East Hartford, CT.
An adoring sellout crowd of 36,265 at Rentschler Field bade farewell to Donovan, 32, who leaves as the USA’s all-time leader in goals (57), assists (58), starts (142) and minutes played (12,853).
Donovan played a small part in Mix Diskerud’s goal in the fifth minute. He later rang the right post with a shot in the 25th minute, grounded an attempt wide and saw another shot smothered by Ecuadoran ‘keeper Maximo Banguera before exiting for Joe Corona in the 41st. In the 88th minute, with Donovan long gone, striker Enner Valencia spoiled the party somewhat when he equalized on a looping shot.
Donovan’s 157 caps are second only to Cobi Jones’ 164; the U.S. was 90-36-31 when he played, and 11-3-5 when he was captain. He played a record 15 years as a member of the full U.S. team, tied with a non-field player, goalkeeper Kasey Keller. Donovan was a seven-time winner of the Honda Player of the Year award and was named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year four times.
The impish forward-midfielder announced two months ago that he will also retire as a player when the Los Angeles Galaxy’s season concludes later this fall. He is Major League Soccer’s all-time leader in goals (144) and assists (136), and has won five MLS championships. [October 10]
Comment: Thus endth the international career of the greatest player ever produced by America. With about five minutes left in the half, Donovan and coach Juergen Klinsmann, who controversially cut Donovan from his 2014 World Cup squad, exchanged an awkward embrace at the touchline, and the only U.S. male soccer player many Americans could name was gone. Over the past five months the snub–costing Donovan a U.S.-record fourth trip to a World Cup–became the biggest soap opera in U.S. National Team history, dwarfing the sacking of captain John Harkes by then-coach Steve Sampson on the eve of the 1998 World Cup. What began as a discussion of player form and the subjective nature of a coach’s player selections mushroomed to almost Freudian proportions.
No one will know exactly how this coda to Donovan’s career in red, white and blue came about. Most will summarize it by pointing to Donovan’s five-month soccer sabbatical in 2012-13, causing the driven Klinsmann to question the player’s commitment to the national team and his profession in general. But this appears to be a case of Klinsmann regarding Donovan as a prized pupil, a player held to a much higher standard than, say, defender and dual citizen Timmy Chandler, who waffled from 2011 to 2013 before at long last agreeing to play for the U.S., not his homeland, Germany.
Here’s what Klinsmann had to say the day before the Ecuador friendly:
“As a coach, you always want to see a player drive for his 100 percent. I’m looking at Landon always that I wish, in a certain way, he could have done a bit more here and a bit more there. But he had a tremendous career and he deserves that farewell tomorrow night and all the compliments on your end as well.”
And Klinsmann’s wishes go all the way back to 2008, when Donovan, who had already struck out as a kid with Bayer Leverkusen and was striking out on loan to Bayern Munich, had nevertheless captured the fancy of Munich’s coach. That happened to be Klinsmann, who would last only one stormy season with the club known in Germany as FC Hollywood. Said German legend and Munich general manager Uli Hoeness later, “Juergen really wanted us to sign the guy, but to be honest, he wasn’t even good enough for our second team.” (Donovan would go on to prove his European mettle during loan stints in England with Everton in 2010 and 2012.)
So where did it go sour between Donovan and the man who some six years ago was one of his biggest boosters? And why? Did Klinsmann chase Donovan into a premature retirement as a professional player? It should be noted that Klinsmann won a European Championship when he was Donovan’s age and two years later he played in one more World Cup. So it should also be asked how much more Donovan could’ve accomplished in MLS as an elder statesman. But the primary question remains the one fans have been asking since the U.S. was eliminated from the 2014 World Cup on July 1: What would Landon Donovan have done in Brazil?
Filed under: 2014 Guinness International Champions Cup, Uncategorized | Tags: 1984 Olympics, 2014 Guinness International Champions Cup, AC Milan, Ann Arbor, Aston Villa, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chivas Guadalajara, English Premier League, Inter Milan, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Landon Donovan, Liverpool, Los Angeles Galaxy, Major League Soccer, Manchester City, Manchester United, Miami, Michigan Stadium, New Jersey, Olympiakos, Pasadena, Real Madrid, Red Bull Arena, Roma, Rose Bowl, Steven Gerrard, Sun Life Stadium, Toronto, U.S. National Team, UEFA Champions League, Wayne Rooney, World Cup
Manchester United, looking to recover quickly from its worst showing in the English Premier League era, rallied to defeat EPL rival Liverpool, 3-1, at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium to win the 2014 Guinness International Champions Cup. A 14th-minute penalty kick goal by Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard was cancelled out by strikes by United’s Wayne Rooney (55th minute), Juan Mata (57th) and Jesse Lingard (88th).
The tournament, held in 12 U.S. cities and Toronto as a warm-up to the European season, kicked off July 24 with eight European clubs, two of them defending champions of their respective national leagues, plus UEFA Champions League winner Real Madrid. Manchester United (2-0-1) won its group over Inter Milan of Italy (1-0-2), AS Roma of Italy (1-2-0) and Spanish giant Real Madrid (0-2-1). Liverpool topped a group that included Greek champion Olympiakos (1-1-1), English champion Manchester City (1-2-0) and Italy’s AC Milan (0-3-0).
Attendance for the 13 games totaled 642,134, for an average of 49,395. Topping the list was the throng of 109,318 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., to see Manchester United defeat Real Madrid, 3-1. That crowd was the largest in U.S. soccer history, eclipsing the 101,799 on hand for the 1984 Olympic gold-medal match at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. A more modest 51,014 were on hand for the Manchester United-Liverpool finale. [August 4]
Comment I: Proof positive that World Cup fever not only hit America full-force early this summer but that it lingers. Throw in the 84,362 who witnessed Manchester United’s 7-0 demolition of the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl, a Bayern Munich-Chivas Guadalajara friendly at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and a dozen other exhibitions involving Major League Soccer teams and foreign opposition ranging from Spanish champion Atletico Madrid to EPL tail-ender Aston Villa, and about a million fans in the U.S. paid top dollar to say they saw in person some of the finest players from some of Europe’s most storied clubs.
Comment II: Are we not rubes?
Sure, there are plenty of expatriates here who’ve just got to see the old hometown club. And then there are the so-called Eurosnobs, young Americans who’ll get up at dawn from August to May to watch their adopted club–usually from the English Premier League–on a television at the local pub, er, sports bar, but wouldn’t cross the street to watch an MLS game for free.
But to the folks in Europe, a million people over here just shelled out big bucks to watch some clubs with fresh hardware and others living on their good name. The spectators wore their replica jerseys and cheered and chanted as their favorite players went through the motions during cameo appearances while plenty of the playing time was taken up by fine fellows fighting to win a place on the roster, if not into the starting 11. Wholesale substitutions disrupted the flow of the games, players weren’t exactly keen on the extensive travel, and coaches considered these moneymaking adventures an intrusion on serious pre-season preparations. In the end, fans here saw moments of brilliance, mis-timed tackles, remarkable goals, and shots that actually resulted in throw-ins. And at the final whistle of each match, a result that meant absolutely nothing.
There are many benchmarks that will indicate that the U.S. is developing into a soccer nation. Like criticism of the U.S. National Team for its shortcomings in a World Cup instead of praising its goalkeeper for repeatedly bailing it out. Or the prompt emergence of a genuine successor to the soon-to-retire Landon Donovan. Or, in this case, attendance at meaningless midsummer friendlies involving European clubs in numbers that aren’t an embarrassment to MLS.
Filed under: Landon Donovan, Uncategorized | Tags: 1994 World Cup, 2014 World Cup, 2018 World Cup in Russia, Alejandro Bedoya, Aron Johannsson, Aston Villa, AZ Alkmaar, Azerbaijan, Bayern Munich, Besiktas, Bob Gansler, Brad Davis, Brad Evans, Brad Guzan, Chris Wondolowski, Clarence Goodson, Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley, DeAndre Yedlin, England, Eric Cantona, Everton, Fabian Johnson, FC Nurnberg, France, Geoff Cameron, Germany, Ghana, Graham Zusi, Group of Death, Hertha Berlin, Hoffenheim, Holland, Houston Dynamo, Jermaine Jones, Joe Corona, John Brooks, Jozy Altidore, Juergen Klinsmann, Julian Green, Kyle Beckerman, Landon Donovan, Landycakes, Los Angeles Galaxy, Major League Soccer, Mat Besler, Maurice Edu, Mexico, Michael Bradley, Michael Parkhurst, Mix Diskerud, Nantes, Nick Rimando, Nigeria, Norway, Omar Gonzalez, Portugal, Puebla, Real Salt Lake, Rosenborg, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City, Stanford University, Stoke City, Sunderland, Terence Boyd, Tim Howard, Timmy Chandler, Toronto FC, Turkey, U.S. National Team
Juergen Klinsmann, the coach hired to shake up the U.S. National Team, dropped the biggest bombshell of his controversial tenure by announcing a 23-man World Cup squad that does not include all-time U.S. scoring leader Landon Donovan, a player considered the best ever produced by this country.
Klinsmann had until June 2 to reveal his final roster, but with his preliminary squad still training at Stanford University ahead of final World Cup tune-ups against Azerbaijan (May 27), Turkey (June 1) and Nigeria (June 7), he pulled the trigger, sending home Brad Evans, Clarence Goodson, Maurice Edu, Michael Parkhurst, Joe Corona, Terence Boyd, and the man considered the face of American soccer.
The final 23 headed to Brasil ’14:
Goalkeepers — Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Tim Howard (Everton, England), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake, MLS);
Defenders — DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla, Mexico), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City, MLS), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin, Germany), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City, England), Timmy Chandler (FC Nurnberg, Germany), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim, Germany), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders, MLS);
Midfielders — Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake, MLS), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes, France), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC, MLS), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo, MLS), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg, Norway), Julian Green (Bayern Munich, Germany), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas, Turkey), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City);
Forwards — Jozy Altidore (Sunderland, England), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders, MLS), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar, Holland), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes, MLS). [May 22]
Comment: This isn’t on a par with the decision to leave Eric Cantona off the roster of what would become 1998 World Cup champion France, but by American standards, it’s close. And, on the face of it, a completely unnecessary gamble.
In a perfect world, Klinsy’s grateful selection of players melds in Brazil and beats Ghana, upsets Portugal and walks arm-in-arm with Group “G” favorite Germany into the round of 16.
But in this imperfect world of Klinsmann’s own making, the U.S. could be tied late with Ghana or trailing Portugal or Germany by a goal, and standing at the halfway line, ready to ride to the rescue, will be Wondolowski or the 18-year-old Green (total international experience: one half hour), not the guy who’s scored 57 career goals, including five in his 12 World Cup matches (all U.S. records). In short, by omitting Donovan and assembling a team that includes Yedlin, Brooks, Gonzalez and 15 other players with no World Cup experience, Klinsmann, the coach whose aim is to motivate his players by making them uncomfortable, has succeeded in leaving everyone unsettled, including fans who, over the years, have derided Donovan with the nickname “Landycakes.”
Klinsmann described the decision as a matter of 23 players being better than the 32-year-old forward/midfielder: “… I just think the other guys right now are a little bit ahead of him.” Perhaps it’s true. But in soccer, player selection can be a very subjective thing. Perhaps the coach is still holding a grudge against Donovan for his well-publicized sabbatical in late 2012 and early 2013 that caused him to miss the USA’s first matches of the final round of World Cup qualifiers.
Whatever the reason, Klinsmann has created a potential nightmare for himself. Some have speculated that he has concluded that getting out of the so-called “Group of Death” is impossible and it’s best to blood young players like Yedlin (total U.S. minutes played: 34) in Brazil in preparation for the 2018 World Cup. But this isn’t the 1990 World Cup all over again, where then-coach Bob Gansler, looking to the ’94 World Cup the U.S. would host, threw a team averaging 23 years of age to the wolves. Three and out is no longer acceptable under any circumstances.
If the U.S. somehow advances out of Group “G” next month, Klinsmann is a bloody genius. But if the U.S. crashes, Klinsmann will be hounded by the spectre of Donovan and what might have been. And that will cast doubt on every decision he makes–whether risky or mundane–from now through Russia ’18.
Filed under: 2013-14 UEFA Champions League final, 2014 World Cup draw, Chivas USA purchased by MLS, ESPN 30 for 30 Soccer Stories, Julian Green, Klinsmann contract extension, Offside, Steve Cherundolo, U.S. vs. Mexico, Uncategorized, USA's Group of Death, World Cup tickets hot in U.S. | Tags: AC Milan, Adrian Lopez, Arda Turan, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Estadio de Luz, European Champions Cup, FC Barcelona, Juventus, Lisbon, London, Luzhniki Stadium, Manchester United, Moscow, Old Trafford, Paris, Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos, Stade de France, Stamford Bridge, Super Bowl, UEFA Champions League, Valencia, Wembley Stadium
Atletico Madrid, behind goals by Adrian Lopez, Diego Costa and Arda Turan, recovered from a scoreless draw at home in the first leg to pound Chelsea, 3-1, at Stamford Bridge to win its UEFA Champions League semifinal series, setting up an all-Spanish final May 24 in Lisbon.
The victory comes a day after Real Madrid humbled defending champ Bayern Munich, 4-0, on a pair of goals each by Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo and won its home-and-home set by a 5-0 aggregate.
The final, at Benfica’s massive Estadio de Luz, will mark the first time that teams from the same city have met for Europe’s biggest club prize. Since the European Champions’ Cup became the UEFA Champions League in 1992, four finals have pitted clubs from the same country: 2000, Real Madrid 3, Valencia 0, at the Stade de France outside Paris; 2003, AC Milan 0, Juventus 0 (Milan on PKs), at Old Trafford in Manchester; 2008, Manchester United 1, Chelsea 1 (United on PKs) at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium; and 2013, Bayern Munich 2, Borussia Dortmund 1, at Wembley Stadium in London.
Real Madrid, a finalist for the 13th time, will be seeking an unprecedented 11th European champions title. Atletico, which last appeared in a final 40 years ago–losing to Bayern Munich–will be playing in its second final. [April 30]
Comment: Like Spanish soccer? You’d better.
(Full disclosure: This writer likes Spanish soccer.)
This derby showdown–to be played more than 300 miles from Madrid–will be the fifth this season for the two teams, and the sixth since Atletico defeated Real in last May’s Copa del Rey final, ending a 14-year, 25-match winless streak against its rival. In La Liga, Atletico, the current frontrunner, won at Real, 1-0, in September and tied at home, 1-1, last month; Real swept their Copa matches in February by an overall 5-0.
It raises the question, what will this grand finale prove?
Sometimes, these things work. Last year’s UEFA Champions League final was an entertaining advertisement for German soccer. But for those who want to see a real contrast in styles, a meeting of sides that don’t know one another too well, it often does not.
There’s no going back to the days when the European Champions’ Cup was true to its name and involved only defending league champions. This year’s competition was open to a whopping 76 clubs, including a handful from the more powerful nations who dazzled the soccer world the previous season by finishing fourth in their league. Of course, this is about money–lots of it. Clubs that qualified for the group stage automatically pocketed $11.9 million; maximum points in the group would bring in another $8.3 million. The payout for an appearance in the knockout rounds began at $4.8 million. As for the final, one of the Madrids will walk home with an additional $14.5 million. And the public doesn’t seem put off by a same-country final: Bayern Munich-Borussia Dortmund last year attracted a global television audience of 360 million–better than three Super Bowls.
But from a sporting perspective, the UEFA has both turned its prime club championship into the impossible dream for dozens of its member associations and reduced its secondary competition–once known as the UEFA Cup and now known as the Europa League–into an afterthought for all but the most ardent fans.
As for the “champion” credentials of this year’s two finalists, Real Madrid qualified for the 2013-14 Champions League by finishing second to FC Barcelona a year ago, a whopping 15 points off the pace; Atletico was third, a dot in the rear-view mirror at 24 points back.