The Benham Experiment

PP_logoBy Paula Marcus

It has long been established that loyalty in football is dead. Of course the fans are an exception to this rule, but as far as owners, players and managers go, no one is safe. Yet even taking this into account, the decision of Bretford to replace Mark Warburton at the end of the season is still baffling.

This is the man who not only got them promoted to the Championship, but has turned them from one of the relegation favourites into a team that looks capable of claiming a playoff place. There are two sides of course to this story, and a lot going on behind the scenes that has probably led to this decision. But firstly, what of Warburton? In an interview on The Football League show the week after the announcement was made, Warburton made it clear that he had no prior knowledge that his position was unsafe.

This leads onto the big question; had the press not leaked news of Brentford shopping around for managers, would Warburton have been notified before his sacking at the end of the season? The answer, probably not. At a time when loyalty is low on the list of qualities looked for at football clubs, and with managers rarely showing any concern for the clubs they work at, it probably isn’t fair to expect much more from the men who run them.

Deciding to change your manager during a period of success is a huge gamble, but one that owner Matthew Benham thinks is in the best interests of Brentford FC as he looks to remodel the club in a new ‘European’ format. This change in philosophy is apparently the reason for the breakdown between owner and manager that led to the announcement two weeks ago. Warburton was particularly concerned about the switch from a manager to a sporting director and head coach, the latter of which would not have final say on players coming in.
Rumours suggest he was also unwilling to make changes and additions to the squad in January (which must be a first).

Of course, Benham’s decision could backfire. As has already been shown in the league, it is not that easy to find a good manager. A look around at the number of managerial changes and the
situations at clubs like Leeds and Watford (actually almost every team in this division) should make it clear that changes aren’t always for the best). In particular, selecting the right foreign manager can be even more difficult, as prior knowledge and the Football League as a whole, definitely seems to be a prerequisite for success.

The other change Benham wants to bring in is the use of mathematical modelling as a way of selecting players (imagine Moneyball on a football pitch). Players are not only selected based on ‘key performance indicators’ (KPI’s), but data analysis will also be used to determine everything from team plays, half time talks and even conversations with the media. Whilst the idea of being judged based on KPI’s instead of league position may be a nice thought for some managers, it remains to be seen how many will enjoy having almost no say in the players that they sign.

The statistic approach to football is certainly nothing new. Many clubs favour the use of Prozone, which provides detailed measurements of players during games, including distance run, touches and pass success rate. Similarly, scouting reports on prospective players rely far less on gut instinct and far more on careful analysis of players skills and weaknesses.

The use of this model is also not new to Benham. He currently owns Danish side FC Midtjylland, who have already put this technique to good use, and are currently top of their division. But as with so many things, just because it works in one instance, doesn’t mean it can be translated everywhere. As I have mentioned before, the Championship doesn’t necessarily play by the rules. The richest teams don’t go up and the poorest ones don’t always go down.

Whilst skill will always be important, far more weight is put on squad dynamic. Often when players are signed to teams in the Football League, you hear managers discussing how well the player will fit into the dressing room, on top of their actual ability. What players bring off the field and how willing they are to work for the team are the most important qualities in the lower leagues, and these are the traits that help get teams promoted against the odds. These are also the reasons why Warburton was so unwilling to change things up in the last window.

Even though Benham (and Brentford FC) may not have come out of this smelling of roses, at least everything is now out in the open, and the decision has been made. Unlike many of the owners in the division, Benham truly has the best interests of the club he has supported since childhood at heart. Over the past few years he has pumped vast amounts of money into the club, including plans to move to a new stadium. He wants the club to succeed, and not just so he can make money.

With such a large overhaul happening at the club, both on and off the field, promotion to the top flight may well be the last thing they need. Next season will see the start of Benham’s experiment, and I am sure many will be watching with interest.

EPL Latest

silvaBy Jack Simpkin

As the EPL season accelerates towards it’s climax, there was a final full set of mid-week fixtures this week due to the upcoming FA Cup weekend.

Despite lots of points being collected, table developments were few and far between as the top seven all won and the bottom three all lost. There is one EPL game to look forward to this weekend as QPR host Tottenham in a rearranged game from last week.

League leaders Chelsea just about picked up their three points in beating West Ham United 1-0 at Upton Park on Wednesday. In-form Eden Hazard put the visitors ahead mid-way through the first half and Mourinho’s men should have seen the game out comfortably from that position but the Hammers pressed hard throughout the second period and were only denied a point by Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois. The Blues will be looking to add three more when they travel to Southampton when they are next in league action.

Southampton beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at home on Tuesday night thanks to an 83rd minute winner from Saido Mane. It was a tight affair where neither side particularly deserved to pick up the win but it was a scrappy goal that decided the game and inflicted a first loss on the road for new Palace boss Alan Pardew. Whilst they may not have been richly deserved, the three points for Southampton keep them well in contention for a top four finish. Pardew will be disappointed to have not gotten a point out of the game but his side have a big chance to find some points again after the FA Cup break when they face QPR at home.

Manchester City also picked up their much-needed win this week beating Leicester City 2-0 at the Etihad. David Silva scored right on the brink of half time and that goal seemingly changed the game. Going into the break at 0-0 would have given Nigel Pearson’s side hope of maybe snatching a point but as it was, City cruised to victory with a late doubler from James Milner certifying that fact. However, Leicester can be grateful to their 42-year-old veteran goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, who pulled of a number of great saves to deny the hosts a lot more goals. Manuel Pellegrini will be confident of his side picking up another three points next time around when they travel to Burnley as he goes after a win in every remaining game this season in a last-gasp attempt to retain their title.

Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side impressed once again as they too won 2-0 at home, against Burnley. Goals in each half from Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge secured the win that kept the Reds well in contention for a place in next season’s Champions League. Liverpool travel to Swansea next, after their FA Cup quarterfinal, when they’ll be looking for a similar result.

Another member of the current top six to win were Arsenal who travelled well and beat Queens Park Rangers 2-1. Second half goals in quick succession from Olivier Giroud and Alexis Giroud looked to have killed the game, but a late Charlie Austin strike did give Rangers hope. Next for Arsene Wenger and his side in the league is a London derby at home to West Ham, which will certainly be an interesting tie as both sides will be looking for a result.

Hull City and Sunderland drew 1-1 at the KC stadium on Tuesday night. Dame N’Doye gave the hosts the lead after 15 minutes but Jack Rodwell secured a valuable point for the Black Cats when he equalised with a quarter of an hour to play. The game’s major talking point however came from the touchline where the two managers, Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet, were involved in an altercation that saw the later sent to watch the majority of the game from the stands. Bruce and his side will be looking for a much-needed win next time out when his side travel to Leicester.

Ashley Young scored a late, 89th minute, winner for Manchester United as they beat Newcastle United 1-0 at Saint James’ Park. It was another largely disappointing performance from Louis van Gaal’s men but once again they came out of the game with all three points, making sure that they are still in contention for that top four spot. The match however was overshadowed by another altercation but this time on the pitch as Jonny Evans and Papiss Cisse appeared to spit at each other, a situation that will certainly be investigated.

Newcastle travel to Everton after their weekend off in a game that they could well be confident of winning. As for United, they host Tottenham who will also go into the game off the back of a win as they overcame Swansea in a dramatic game at White Hart Lane that finished 3-2. Nacir Chadli gave Spurs the lead after just seven minutes but shortly after that opener, Swans striker Bafetimbi Gomis passed out and collapsed in the middle of the pitch. The incident attracted a lot of attention of course, especially after Fabrice Muamba’s almost fatal collapse on the same pitch a few years ago. However, it must be said that Gomis was treated in the stadium’s medical room after regaining consciousness on the pitch and his manager Garry Monk confirmed after the game that he was in a healthy condition. Ki Sung-yueng then equalised for the visitors but Tottenham bounced back to go 3-1 up after goals from Ryan Mason and Andros Townsend. Former Spurs player Gylfi Sigurdsson did pull one back to make the final few minutes interesting but Mauricio Pochettino’s men held on for the win.

Tim Sherwood picked up his first win in charge of Aston Villa at the third time of asking as they overcame West Bromwich Albion 2-1 at home on Tuesday night thanks to a penalty from Belgian striker Christian Benteke with virtually the last kick of the game. It was a night to forget for Baggies keeper Ben Foster who almost gifted Villa the lead early on as he let Gabriel Agbonlahor’s shot between his legs, only to snatch the ball back before it rolled over the line. However, Foster and Agbonlahor were soon in the thick of the action again on 22 minutes but this time, as the England third choice keeper raced off his line, his fellow countryman slid the ball under his body and into the back of the net to give the hosts a well-deserved half-time lead. However, Sherwood’s side were pegged back with 25 minutes to play as Saido Berahino equalised with his 18th goal of the season but Foster gifted Villa there much needed win that lifted them out of the relegation zone in second half stoppage time as he was once again racing off his line, this time bringing down Matthew Lowton to give away a penalty that Benteke converted under enormous pressure.

Next for Villa in the league is another winnable game away at Sunderland as they look to push ever clear of the relegation zone. Tony Pulis’ WBA host Stoke, who picked up a win in their midweek fixture, beating Everton 2-0 at home, as they look to get back to winning ways. Goals in each half from Victor Moses and Mame Biram Diouf made it a relatively comfortable night for Mark Hughes and his side as Everton’s disappointing season continues.

The Forgotten Eighteen

week in laligaBy Cesar Benoit

A tectonic shift occurred in Spanish football last season; the tired narrative flipped on its wearisome head. No longer were Real Madrid and Barcelona the main protagonists of a boring, neverending story.

The scrapping, underdog Atletico Madrid – the red-headed stepchild to Real’s beaming prom queen – captured the Spanish title. It was the first time since 2004 that neither Real or Barca were champs. And all was good in the land of tapas and bullfighting.

But here we sit, 25 matches into the 2014-15 season and the same, dull plot is being shoved down our throats.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are indeed first and second, separated by a mere two points in a league that’s hotly contested and shifting back and forth every week. But it’s the same uninspiring tale. Real Madrid and Barcelona. Barcelona and Real Madrid. Year after year. Season after season. On and on, forever and ever.

The story goes like this: Real Madrid loses points? They’re in a crisis. Barcelona loses a match? It’s chaos and the coach needs to be fired. Then the next week, they defeat a league minnow 5-0 with Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi scoring a hat trick and all is well in the world. Crisis? What crisis? We’re back in the hunt for the league, we’re playing deep into Europe, our coach is great. Look at how many supporters follow us on Twitter and Facebook? Blah blah blah …

The narrative thread isn’t that Atletico is five points behind Barca, still in the hunt to retain their title, this after destroying Real Madrid 4-0 a mere month ago. The plot doesn’t mention Valencia, who handily beat Real Madrid 2-1 earlier in the season, defeated Atletico 3-1 and lost to Barca 1-0 in the last minute.

It doesn’t have room for Sevilla’s wonderful run or Villarreal’s stunning performance this weekend at the Bernabeu, where they outplayed Real for large portions of the match.
It’s simply Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Did you know the Clasico is on March 22nd? You probably do, as the adverts have been non-stop and the match announcers mention it approximately three times every minute. It’s the match of the season! The steel cage match for the La Liga championship! Except what about all their other matches before? What about the points they may drop to the Athletic Bilbaos and Eibar’ of the league? Those clubs seem like an afterthought. No respect is paid to the rest of the league.

Who perpetuates that myth? Certainly, the press is guilty of hyping them up and concentrating attention on the Big Two. It seems like they’re the only two clubs that matter because they’re the ones that attract the best players and get the most news coverage. They’re flush with money because of the ridiculous duopoly they have over TV cash distribution. There’s threats of strikes by the other 18, including a recent rumored one on the weekend of the Clasico. But until it happens, I won’t believe it. The other 18 are powerless until they band together for the greater good.

Remember, relegated clubs in England make more money for being relegated than clubs like Atletico and Valencia make on their TV rights for the entire season. And then supporters wonder why it’s been so many years since another club won a Spanish championship. I get it. They attract the world’s biggest stars. They play the most attractive football. Fans flock to see them, read about them, hear about them because they’re big and massive and shine bright in the sky. Except there are so many other great stories. Like Eibar’s fight to even play in the league, an antiquated law almost keeping them out after they’d won promotion last season. The club is debt free and self-sustaining yet still had to raise funds to play in the first division. They’re slipping a bit now, but what a wonderful ride it’s been. Or how about Villarreal, who stole points in Madrid this weekend and plays some of the most attractive football in Europe, mixing youth and experience in a way that’s so appealing to the eye?
Valencia visit Atletico this weekend, hoping to overtake the defending champs and take back their crown as the 3rd best team in Spain. But that’s the problem. Can they aspire to more than third? Can Atleti retain their crown? The drama isn’t with the other 18. It’s if Madrid or Barca can persist at the top, much like they have season after season in a tired, boring epic.

Clubs don’t defeat these giants. Madrid and Barca stumble. The Big Two are perpetually in crisis mode, their spoiled fans calling for their coach’s head after every draw.

I hope the Valencia-Atletico match serves as a demonstration of what else La Liga has to offer. It’s not just about Real Madrid and Barcelona, no matter what the press or the respective clubs lead you to believe.

Are The Dons Wan?

FTglobe_greenBy Brian P. Dunleavy

Last Sunday’s Celtic-Aberdeen match at Parkhead, billed during the lead-up as a clash between Scotland’s top two, only served to highlight the gap between the Hoops and the rest of the field.

With super-fan Rod Stewart in the house, Ronny Deila’s side won 4-0, and could have scored more. The Dons’ back four looked lost for much of the contest and, at the other end of the pitch, Craig Gordon’s goal was rarely under serious threat.

“I’ve said all along there’s only one team that can lose [the title], and for us it’s about trying to get that improvement,” Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes told the BBC after the match. “I’ve always said there has to be a deterioration from the team that can lose it and that’s Celtic, and today… they showed exactly why they’re top of the league.”

The win extended Celtic’s lead at the top of the Premiership table; the title race isn’t over yet, but the checkered flag is in sight. The Hoops’ recent form has some of the biggest naysayers in and around the club—including former striker John Hartson—now backing Deila to do big things.

That the Norwegian’s side was unceremoniously dumped from the Europa League by Inter Milan only a few days before the Aberdeen match already seems a distant memory. In fact, many within the team’s support are pinning the loss in Milan on the shortcomings of the Slovakian match referee. Deila is clearly living right; even after four years in charge, former Hoops boss Gordon Strachan never got a similar free pass from the Paradise support.

Just as the leadership at Celtic Park becomes more firmly entrenched, the hierarchy at Ibrox remains very much in flux. On the pitch, the Sky Blues looked lifeless last weekend in a 1-1 draw at Falkirk. Off of it, rebel shareholder Dave King is claiming victory in his efforts to stage a coup in the boardroom as two ’Gers directors—James Easdale and chairman David Somers—announced their resignations this week. An announcement may also be imminent regarding the manager’s post, which has effectively been open since Ally McCoist stepped down in December. Stuart McCall, who resigned as Motherwell manager in the fall, has been linked with the Sky Blues.

Of course, McCall remembers the halcyon days at Ibrox. He made nearly 200 appearances for the club as a player in the 1990s, as a key part of the final six of its nine straight league titles at the time. Needless to say, the mood around the place is a bit different now.

And speaking of sour moods, Dundee United supporters can’t be taking too much solace from chairman Stephen Thompson’s admission that the transfers of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven to Celtic during the January window were made primarily for financial (as opposed to footballing) reasons. United have stumbled in the league since the moves, and they play Celtic the next two weekends—first in the Scottish Cup quarterfinals, then in the League Cup final.

Armstrong and Mackay-Steven are both cup tied and will not feature in either match. Still, if Celtic take United out of both competitions, Thompson had better hope that Dave King does not have a counterpart at Tannadice.

A Week Is A Long Time In Serie A

serieA_172x121By Michael Ottolenghi

So Roma again proved unable to win a game at home and Juventus seem set for the title after the 1-1 draw in last Monday night’s title clash.  The focus in Serie A now returns to the ever-changing race for third place.

After Napoli’s 1-0 loss to Torino, Rafael Benitez’s team are still hanging on to third place, but are only two points above Lazio, and three above Fiorentina.  While the Genoan teams seem to have fallen out of contention for now, Lazio and Fiorentina are the form teams of the moment and their clash on Monday night at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico will have some of Serie A’s best attacking talent on display.

Following a bout of inconsistency that coincided with the absence through injury of Brazilian striker Felipe Anderson, Lazio have found their groove again, with three successive victories, including last weekend’s 3-0 away win against Sassuolo, with Anderson scoring another goal of the season contender. Manager Stefano Pioli has spoken of assembling a side that can contend for the title within three seasons. That may be bluster, but the club will need to qualify for the Champions League to have any chance of keeping hold of Anderson in the summer. In addition to the Brazilian, Lazio have a strike force featuring Miroslav Klose, and Stefano Mauri, not to forget midfielder Antonio Candreva, so the biancocelesti’s fans will flock to the Olimpico confident of seeing some goals.

The defensive side of things is what has let Lazio down in the past few months, and the arrival of Fiorentina provides a big test for any Serie A defense. La viola are coming into the game in Rome on the back of a great week in which they eliminated Tottenham from the Europa League and beat Inter 1-0 at San Siro, with Mohammed Salah scoring in both games. The Egyptian has been a revelation since his arrival on loan from Chelsea, scoring a goal every 60 minutes he has been on the field. With Mario Gomez also rediscovering his scoring form, and without a loss since January 6th, Vincenzo Montella will be confident of getting a result on Monday night in Rome.

The other notable game will see Roberto Mancini’s Inter face Napoli at the San Paolo on Sunday night. Rafael Benitez tetchily defended his record following Napoli’s loss to Torino, pointing out that they had won 10 games out of 13 this season, but the truth is that both Napoli and Inter need to win this game. Napoli need to keep the pressure on Roma and to fend off challengers to their third place, and Inter need to show that they can beat a top of the table team under Mancini. Like in Rome, both team have plenty of firepower upfront (Mauro Icardi and Gonzalo Higuain to name just two) and suspect defenses, guaranteeing entertainment for the partisan neapolitan crowd.

In the lower reaches of Serie A, two of this weekend’s games are of more general interest. The sorry saga of Parma continues – the club’s financial woes persist, and in true Italian fashion nobody has taken responsibility or made a decision about the club’s future. Last weekend’s game against Genoa was postponed, perhaps indefinitely, because the players and staff refused to play. It remains unclear what will happen to the remainder of Parma’s fixtures this season (starting with Sunday’s game against relegation-threatened Atalanta), with the key question for the club being whether they will be allowed to play in Serie B next season (as relegation is all but assured), or be dissolved and have to start from the bottom of the Italian league structure.

Of only slightly less consequence, Milan’s game against Verona on Saturday has been billed as Filippo Inzaghi’s last chance to save his job, following last weekend’s dreary 0-0 draw against Chievo. Silvio Berlusconi, who selected Inzaghi for the job, seems to have finally run out of patience with the team’s inconsistent results, as  Milan have the third-lowest points total in the league in 2015. The odds do not look good for Inzaghi regardless of the Verona result, as rumours have been circulating that he has “lost the dressing room” – well-known code for “about to get sacked.”

New York Croatia Win CSL Indoor Title

North Jersey's Ramapo FC beat Lansdowne Bhoys on penalties to win the 2015 CSL Indoor Tournament's Over-30 title.

North Jersey’s Ramapo FC beat Lansdowne Bhoys on penalties to win the 2015 CSL Indoor Tournament’s Over-30 title.

By Jay Mwamba

A year after the last edition was snowed out, neither the elements nor a strong field could deny New York Croatia a third CSL Indoor title at the SuperDome Sports Complex in Waldwick, N.J., last Sunday. The Croats defeated New York Greek Americans 2-1 in a sudden death shoot-out to win the Premier final.

CB Iberia and Ramapo FC were the other big winners on the day after scooping the Open and Over-30 titles, respectively.

Sergio Ambrogio banged in two of his tournament-high nine goals, while Chiki Vazquez and Alfonso Fernandez also tallied to earn Iberia its second ever indoor crown with a 4-1 mauling of Mola SC.

Ramapo, meanwhile, made sure the Over-30 trophy stayed in north Jersey with a 2-1 penalty win over the CSL’s Lansdowne Bhoys. The victors play in the North Jersey Soccer League’s World Division.

CUTTING EDGE
Inspired by the finishing of Chris Karcz and Tom Mustac, Croatia put their indifferent outdoor form in the CSL last fall behind them en route to their third indoor success since 2008.

Karcz and Mustac both notched a brace in a wild 5-4 defeat of Stal Mielec in their Group ‘H’ opener. Marko Loncar got the other goal.

Another Mustac double and a strike by Juan Peralta saw off Vllaznimi 3-1 in game two, before Karcz [two] and Richie Heredia dispatched Clarkstown Eagles by the same score line.

Handed a bye in the last eight, Croatia would cross paths with Polish rivals Stal Mielec again in the semis.

Coach John Grbic made sure that it wasn’t close this time.

Goals by Mustac, Peralta and Karcz in a 4-2 rampage powered the Croats into the Premier Open final against a Greek American side that had also emerged out of Group ‘I’ undefeated in the preliminaries.

The Greeks had edged SC Polonia Wallington 3-2, tied New York Dinamo 1-1 and thrashed fellow Hellenic side Doxa 5-1 in the group rounds.

They cruised past Legends 3-0 in the quarterfinals and held off New York Athletic Club 2-1 in the semis.

Predictably, the final would go to the wire. It finished goalless after regulation time and in the ensuing penalty shoot-out, goalie Pedro Velazquez would ultimately clinch it for Croatia with a dramatic save after Peralta and Karcz had converted their spot kicks.

Croatia’s other indoor title victory came in 2009, said Filip Loncar.

YOUNG TITANS
Greek Americans opted for youth in the tournament and according to coach Stavros Zomopoulos should have won it all.

“We were there with a very young squad, and a couple of veterans.  Our attack was led by Keith Detelj,” he remarked.

Christian Camacho anchored the midfield, Antoni Papasevastos was a pillar in defense, while MVP honors went to goalie Kris Cherry.

“We had great performances by 19 year-old Stephan Megaloudis, 22 year-old  Dimitri Antonopoulos and our 23 year-old “twins” Ben and Adam Marcu. There was also Ammar Todic, Leo Gkoros and young Touros.

“We should have won the final. We had to play one more game than our competitors.  The final was [our] fourth back-to-back match! The teams we played in the [semis] and final both had rests.”

The semi-final against favorites NYAC was particularly grueling and left his men drained while Croatia watched from the touchline, claimed Zomopoulos.

“It took a lot out of us and we were just a bit too tired to press the issue effectively [in the final].  So it was 0-0 even after five minutes of extra time. That’s 28 minutes of [a] 6 vs. 6 game without any goals!

“Penalties were sudden death.  I still fancied our chances but that’s a lottery and this time Croatia won out. They were a good quality team. Congrats to them,” he added.

GOLDEN CD
CD Iberia was another team that stepped it up several notches to strike gold indoors after a poor fall campaign outdoors.

The CSL Division Two defending champions were superb on both ends. They   kept a clean sheet into the final while scoring goals in bunches — most notably through the clinical Sergio Ambrogio – to claim their second Open Division title.

SC Eintracht were the first to feel the Spaniards wrath in Group ‘E,’ succumbing 5-0 to an early blitz by Ambrogio [two], “Chiki” Vazquez, Javi Beiro and Mark Shkreli.

Next came Williamsburg International, thrashed 3-0 on goals by Ambrogio [two] and Vazquez.

Ambrogio kept his gunpowder dry in Iberia’s group finale, a 2-0 romp over NYC Vllaznimi in which Vazquez and Alfonso Fernandez tallied. However, he’d reel in a hat trick to knock off New York Croatia ‘B’ 3-0 and ease the rampant Spaniards into the final.

In Mola, they faced stiffer than expected foes despite the 4-1 final score.

Mola had come out of Group ‘D’ with a 2-1 record after wins over New Amsterdam United ‘B’ [4-0] and Croatia ‘B’ [2-0], sandwiched between a 2-0 defeat to USTA of South Jersey.

“Contrary to what the result may indicate, it was a hard fought and even final. Mola was our toughest opposition of the tournament,” said Juan Lago, before offering a blow-by-blow account of the match.

“We scored quickly, going up 1-0 on a goal by Sergio Ambrogio in the first three minutes of the game. Mola tied the game at 1-1 about four minutes later.

“Chiki made it 2-1 on a nice give-and-go with Alfonso [Fernandez] about three minutes after their equalizer. Then with about two minutes left in the game Alfonso scored to make it
3-1 with a hard shot that hit the inside of the post and screamed its way into the net.

“Mola almost made it 3-2 on the next play but a nice save by [goalie] Augie Shkreli led to a 3v1 and Sergio tapped in the fourth goal after a nice assist from Javi Beiro.”

“Great job by the whole team, 17 goals scored and only one against,” added Lago. “MVP to Sergio Ambrogio — nine goals on the day, five of which were in the knockout stages.”

JERSEY DEBUTANTS
In the Over-30 division, Ramapo were remarkable winners on their CSL debut after scything through the field.

Robert Danbury got the “local” side off to winning start in Group ‘B’ with the only goal in a close nod over New York Hungarians.

There was a Marco Chung hat trick and strikes by Joshua Lilburn and Danbury again in a 5-0 blowout of Hoboken FC.

And in game three against SC Eintracht, Chung’s solitary effort was enough to sink the CSL club 1-0.

Ramapo’s impressive debut continued in the semi-finals, at Clarkstown’s expense. Danbury, Chung and Sergio Ulloa scripted a 3-1 result.

It took the Irish might of Lansdowne Bhoys to keep Ramapo scoreless in the final. But when it went to penalties, Danbury and Chung sank the Irishmen.

Who Will Be NYCFC’s Defensive Rock?

Mix Diskerud - Can he play the ‘Kyle Beckerman’ role for NYCFC?

Mix Diskerud – Can he play the ‘Kyle Beckerman’ role for NYCFC?

By Michael Schwartz

As New York City cruised past Charleston Battery during their final preseason match last week, Mix Diskerud had a starring role during the easy win. The club’s signature American player, Diskerud controlled the first half with his top-notch passing game. 

Often positioned further back in New York’s own half, his vision was on full display as he initiated gradual opportunities to break down Charleston. Providing long balls and quick short passing, Diskerud was always on the move as his tenacity to win the ball back and retain possession was vital for maintaining control. He had a hand in the first goal as his pass set up Mehdi Ballouchy to find Ned Grabavoy in the box.

Because of Diskerud’s creative passing ability and mobile presence, one can make the argument that he is more valuable further back in midfield. I couldn’t help but ask myself if the Norwegian-American could be the next Kyle Beckerman. After Jürgen Klinsmann tried to convert him into a defensive midfielder for the U.S. Men’s National Team against Honduras, now Jason Kreis has picked up on Diskerud’s potential in that position.

In the second half of the Charleston match, Diskerud played in a more familiar box-to-box role by getting more involved in the final third. His industry and overall play was rewarded with an astounding goal as he seamlessly brought down a Javier Calle long ball with a great first touch and then blasted the ball from outside the box past the keeper in the top right corner.

So is Diskerud really best suited as a defensive midfielder like Beckerman or should he be played in a box-to-box role?

Do NYCFC indeed have a defensive midfielder with the quality of  a Beckerman to anchor the midfield diamond?

So far, that responsibility has been left to Andrew Jacobsen who struggled in that position against Houston and Orlando.

Against Brondby and Orlando, New York City were repeatedly broken down by opposition build-up play through the middle. A standout moment of the preseason was Kaka’s goal as Jacobsen failed to thwart the Brazilian from striding across the center as he lined up his shot.

Jacobsen is an experienced midfielder noted for his defensive instincts. During his time with F.C. Dallas, he was known for intercepting passes and winning balls in the air.

The question remains, does Jacobsen have the passing ability to run the diamond? While he’s more than capable of linking up with others, does Jacobsen have the vision to break down opponents as well as Diskerud?

It’s fair to say that Diskerud is not a natural defensive midfielder either. However, something convinced Klinsmann to play him there, and while the Norwegian-American was far from perfect, he showed enough promise to so far convince Kreis that he could play a similar role for NYCFC.

He has the drive to relieve the backline by covering the entire field, breaking up attacks from the opposition, and putting in a good tackle. As he steadily improves with his defensive responsibilities, I believe that Diskerud can exceed as a deep-lying playmaker.

Michael Schwartz is the First Touch NYCFC reporter and editor of Skyscraper Blues

1970s Entertainers’ Questions

keano1. Named after the battleship that his father served on, he made his name by demonstrating his often dazzling skills with Fullham, QPR, Manchester City and, on nine occasions, with England.

2. Born and brought up near the King’s Road, this talented midfield playmaker was renowned for his flair and skill during his peak years with Chelsea and Stoke City.

3. Ever-smiling Republic of Ireland international with a famously balding head, he was a favourite with Leyton Orient, QPR and Arsenal.

4. ‘The King of Stamford Bridge’ who won the FA Cup with Chelsea in 1970 and Southampton in 1976, he was renowned for a playboy lifestyle.

5. Supremely skilled attacking midfielder who made 647 appearances for West Ham United before becoming John Motson’s regular co-commentator on live matches on BBC TV.

ANSWERS

Dave Mackay – A Tribute

MACKAYBy Bill Thomas

The passing of Dave Mackay leaves football shorn of another of its true greats, a footballer of monumental gifts, of drive, intelligence, of an unquenchable desire to win, of physical prowess that saw opposition players simply bouncing off him and possessed of a left foot that had surely been brought down from heaven on the wings of angels.

That was possibly the only connection with the angels that Dave had during a playing career in which that barrel chested physique and utterly committed attitude went before him, creating an impression of an intimidating character who would stop at nothing to win.

Sure, he was the archetypal player who would knock his granny out of the way if she was foolish enough to go into a tackle with him, but that disguised a rare talent and vision that made him one of the finest talents of his generation.

He established his reputation at Hearts, quickly becoming a Scottish international, forming part of the side that went to the World Cup in 1958. But it was at Tottenham that he really came into his prime, becoming a driving force in one of the most extraordinary teams that the English game has ever seen.

In March of 1959, manager Bill Nicholson told his skipper, Danny Blanchflower, that Mackay might be available for a move. “Then why the bloody hell are you still here?” came the response from Blanchflower, the ringing endorsement required for Nicholson to get on his way to Edinburgh and secure the move.

When he reached London, Mackay was the proverbial final piece in the jigsaw, playing in the half-back line with Blanchflower, the yin and yang of a Spurs side of all the talents, pulling the strings, pressing the levers, letting nothing pass, the wellsprings from which a extraordinary team drew its life.

Spurs played football of flowing majesty, of pace, power, intelligence. They decimated the rest of the First Division, such that by Christmas 1960, the league was all but won. Attentions turned to the FA Cup and that was duly delivered too, the 20th century’s first double, a seemingly impossible mission, now accomplished.

In a frenzy of achievement, Spurs defended the FA Cup the following year, then became the first British team to carry off a European trophy when they lifted the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963. The beating heart of it all was Mackay, ball winner, ball user, goalscorer on occasion, leader, guiding light. There was a further FA Cup win to come in 1967 before, a year later, came the final act in his already stellar playing career.

Brian Clough, a youthful manager making his name, attracted the 33 year old to Derby County of the Second Division. The shrewd Clough could see that Mackay’s legs might no long be up to the rigours of the midfield melee, but that the Scot’s brain was razor sharp and so he installed him at sweeper where his vision and still magnificent range of passes transformed the Rams overnight, creating a team that could turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye.

Promotion followed almost immediately, Mackay named joint Footballer of the Year with Tony Book of top flight Manchester City, and Mackay was then pivotal in establishing Derby as a real power in the First Division over the next two seasons before finally, the boots were hung up and he moved into management at Swindon.

But there was to be a second act to his Derby odyssey. In October 1973, football was stunned as Brian Clough resigned from the club after an increasingly scabrous relationship with this chairman, Sam Longson, finally reached breaking point. Longson might have been an idiot to let things go so far and to lose the brightest young manager in the country. But he was nobody’s fool and, as supporters threatened boycotts and the players threatened to strike if Cloughie wasn’t reinstated, he played a masterstroke. He appointed the only man whose stock was anywhere near as high as Clough’s. Dave Mackay was the new Derby manager and better yet, he left Nottingham Forest to go there.

A club that could have spiralled out of control following the loss of Clough and Taylor was swiftly steadied in Mackay’s hands, so much so that they finished third that season. A year on and Mackay’s side were lifting the First Division championship for the second time in four seasons, an extraordinary feat for both team and manager. They almost eclipsed it the following year, in the hunt for the league until late on, finishing fourth as well as beaten FA Cup semi-finalists in 1976.

Not even Mackay was indestructible though and as the team aged, as injuries to crucial players like Roy McFarland and Colin Todd, a sublime defensive pairing took their toll, as good players went elsewhere, Derby County suffered the inevitable consequences and began to slip away from the peak. A sluggish start to the season saw him sacked in November 1976, just over three years since he’d taken over as manager, a decision as scandalous in its way as the one to allow Clough to go in the first place. Some people never learn.

Mackay’s career never touched those heights again, but he will forever remain a consummate footballing man, one of its finest exponents and a true all-time great.

Rest easy Dave.

Soccer vs Big Media

esclogoTim Hall’s View From 101

It is the constant bane of the American soccer fan’s existence, to be told that it is incumbent on you to “grow the game” in this country, that it is up to each and every one of us to strap the game to our backs and go proselytize for the faith. “REPENT! SOCCER IS COMING!”

One of the most repeated ideas in these circles, trying as hard as they can to advance the sport, is that it all comes down to the media. If you can get the media, especially here in New York City, to pay attention, then everything will come good. If the papers and the radio stations and the TV networks would simply give soccer the same attention that they pay to the other major sports, then we can all simply sit back and ride this rocketship all the way to the mountaintop. So we need to mobilize, call up the radio shows, email the editors, beat the street and make our voices heard and let them know that we belong, we matter, we want coverage!

Except that’s a terrible idea.

First of all, to believe in this concept that getting media coverage will start this snowball rolling downhill to Relevancy Town is to believe that all these writers and talking heads have never heard of soccer and have no concept of what it could be. This isn’t an issue of “if we could just get them out to a game and show them the pretty green rectangle they’d get it!” These are old men, just trying to hold onto their jobs, and the best way to do that is to be safe, and to cover the same four sports, the same tired way, ad nauseum, until they get a gold watch and a bland cake, and the guy that they took under their wing writes some awful column about how “he did it the right way” when they finally kick the bucket.

But secondly and more importantly, to view the media gatekeepers as the one and only true path to relevance is to blindfold yourself to the ills that the New York media has. You are putting the media up on a pedestal because you view it as an institution as a whole, instead of its component parts. It is a hopelessly diseased, incestuous, myopic, self-congratulatory cesspool.

Let’s start with that most revered institution, the Old Gray Lady, the New York Times. Remember when the Times meant something? Nowadays, you’re better off telling people that Times Square is so named because it’s the place where they invented multiplication tables. Once upon a time they were the paper of record, and they had the exceedingly capable writer in Jack Bell covering soccer for them. But Bell didn’t fit their business model, and he’s got bought out. So when the Times needed to put out some pabulum on the addition of NYCFC to the area soccer mix, they leaned on an ice hockey writer, because, hey, what’s the difference, right? And in his article, he couldn’t be bothered to actually research train travel times and decided to Google Map it instead,  and he decided a championship wasn’t a championship, and he gave about 80% of the column space to one side of the argument, because when you come from a world where two Neanderthals on ice skates punching each other in the face is how conflicts get resolved, your concept of fairness is already pretty skewed.

Then you have the New York Post and the Daily News, which are sometimes called “rags”, and that’s apt, since both they are both only really useful when your dog decides to have a whiz in the hallway. Their business is to make goofy puns and push the agendas of their owners, not to report any actual news. Last week, with all the actual issues facing the world, the Post devoted their cover to a reality TV show renewing its contract, and made a joke about the size of one of its stars’ posteriors. These publications are marketed to the lowest common denominator, and if it takes getting the mouthbreathers on board to push the game into the stratosphere, thanks, but no thanks.

Speaking of knuckledraggers, sports radio. If you invent time travel, after you go stop Hitler, swing by the sixties and knock off Bill Mazer for inventing sports talk radio. The reigning king in the NYC market is Mike Francesa, a portly man addicted to diet soda (it’s not working, Mike) who, as video evidence will show, is more likely to fall asleep on the job than to talk about soccer. Francesa works for what is ostensibly the radio partner for NYCFC, and even though he already has that skin in the game, the doddering old fool can’t be bothered, because he really needs to talk about the NFL for five-and-a-half hours a day. Yes. Five-and-a-half hours. You know what else takes five-and-a-half hours? Nothing, because nothing is worth that amount of time.

Sticking with NYCFC’s partners, their TV channel YES has opened up a contest for anyone, you or I, to be their sideline reporter for games. You know, when you’ve got a chance to get some information about injuries or tactics or to squeeze a juicy quote from a coach, you want to send some completely untrained nobody down there to freeze when the red light comes on.

Not to say that the professionals are that much better. The standard sports report on the nightly news lasts just long enough for you to go microwave a burrito and ignore the man with the dirigible-sized head and bleached teeth. When they can be roped in to talking about soccer, they do so with the cadence and emotion of someone reading a prepared statement written by their captors. This lot, somehow more than their print or radio colleagues, are the most obviously failed athletes themselves, desperate to be wanted and accepted by the jocks that stuffed them into lockers during high school. What objectivity they do have would go flying out the window if Joe Linebacker signed a ball for their kid.

And at every turn, each and every one of these cretins miscategorize, misreport, misunderstand, downplay and disregard this thing that we love so dearly. Somewhere along the way the “media” stopped being the medium, the middle ground, and started being a profit center, and if they can’t figure out a way to make a buck off of soccer, they won’t touch it, and when they can figure out a way to make a buck off of soccer, well, go try and buy a copy of The Sun in Liverpool.

Stop treating traditional media like they are the path to relevance. In this internet age, if those relics of a time gone by want to remain relevant, they have to come to us.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Sunday, March 8: ESC Membership Drive – No idea if we’ll have a game to watch or if the league will be on strike, but we’ll get together just the same. Swing by The Football Factory (6 W 33rd St. in Manhattan) from 6pm, join the club, get a scarf and have a drink.

NYCFC Open 300 Level at Yankee Stadium For Opener

New_NYCFC_logo_(circular_badge)New York City FC will open the 300 level at Yankee Stadium for their first ever game in New York, due to popular demand for seats.

New York City FC will take on New England Revolution on Sunday March 15 and are making more seats available as they have exceeded 25,000 tickets sold for their first game.

Tom Glick, President of New York City FC, said:

“We are excited to be making more tickets available as we see such strong demand for our first ever home game. We are extremely pleased that so many New Yorkers want to be part of history and be there as we kick-off in New York City. This is a landmark moment for our Club and for soccer in New York.”

Jason Kreis, Head Coach of New York City FC, said:

“We are extremely excited about playing in front of our fans in New York for the first time. We have had fantastic support throughout our pre-season. For the team and for me, playing in front such a large crowd at Yankee Stadium is going to be very special.”

Yankee Stadium, as configured for soccer, will typically hold 27,528 fans, but because of continued momentum building around the first game it will be expanded to accommodate additional New Yorkers.

This announcement, comes as New York City FC announced that they have sold more than 14,000 season tickets for their inaugural season.

 

Argentina to play Ecuador in NY On March 31st

Argentina team vs USA, Meadowlands March 2011

Argentina team vs USA, Meadowlands March 2011

CMN Events today announced that Argentina will play El Salvador on March 28 at 4:00 p.m., EST at FedExField in Washington, D.C. and Ecuador on March 31 at 7:30 p.m., EST at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Both matches fall on what is termed “FIFA dates”, which means that club teams must release players to the national teams.  As a result, Argentina’s full squad is expected to appear, including Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Carlos Tevez (Juventus) and Javier Mascherano (FC Barcelona).

Argentina last played in the New York area on November 16, 2013 when the two-time World Cup champions tied Ecuador (0-0) at MetLife Stadium. The team is currently preparing for this summer’s Copa America, the South American championship, which will take place in Chile in June.

El Salvador, currently preparing for this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, is led by  U.S. based players Rafael Burgos (Minnesota United), Richard Menjivar (San Antonio Scorpions) and Alexander Larin who plies his trade with Herediano in Costa Rica.  The “Cuscatlecos” are managed by Spaniard Albert Roca.

2014 World Cup participant Ecuador is led by England-based stars Enner Valencia (West Ham United), Luis Antonio Valencia (Manchester United) and Juan Carlos Paredes (Watford).  The team is also preparing for this summer’s Copa America.

Tickets for both matches go on sale to the general public on Saturday, February 28 at 10 a.m. and will be available at Ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000.

Price for the El Salvador vs. Argentina match at FedEx Field starts at $38. Tickets will be available for purchase in-person at the Redskins Ticket Office, located outside Gate A at FedEx Field, via Ticketmaster by calling 202-397-7328 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com., and at Megamart supermarkets for fans in the Washington, D.C.-area.

Tickets for the match at MetLife Stadium start at $40 and will be available at the MetLife Stadium Box Office beginning Monday, March 2 at 11:00 a.m., EST.  For groups of 15+ tickets, email groupsales@njsea.com or call 201-460-4370. For more information visit www.metlifestadium.com.

NYCFC Announce Sale Of 14,000 Season Tickets

New_NYCFC_logo_(circular_badge)New York City FC, the new Major League Soccer Club, have announced that they have passed 14,000 Founding Members as season ticket sales continue to grow leading into their historic inaugural season.

The milestone comes as the Club is just weeks away from their home opener against New England Revolution on Sunday March 15.

Tom Glick, President of New York City FC, said:

“We are delighted to see so many New Yorkers getting behind our Club. The momentum is growing every week and we have sold over 1,000 season tickets in the last 3 weeks alone.”

“New York City FC’s 14,000 Founding Members are the foundation of our Club. They’re passionate about this Club and passionate about soccer in New York. We can’t wait to start playing for them.”

 

FIFA Hijack Christmas

bowlerBy Bill Thomas

Christmas is traditionally the time when wise men are said to converge on the Middle East but sadly, FIFA seem to be rather short on wisdom if they think that playing the World Cup Final in Qatar on December 23rd is a smart move.

For it appears that after months of sheepishly averting their eyes every time the dread word “Qatar” is mentioned, FIFA has now decided to come out fighting. The always outlandish idea of playing the World Cup there in the midst of the summer has finally been throttled and the FIFA taskforce has concluded that World Cup 2022 will take place through November and December.

Let us for the moment ignore the rather inconvenient and perhaps litigation inducing truth that FIFA requested bids for a summer World Cup when it put 2022 out to tender and think instead just where that finally leaves us.

As far as the club game in Europe goes – the powerhouse of the game and its finances – the answer is absolute chaos. Essentially, we are talking about a competition that will straddle several months when we take into account preparation as well as the tournament itself, a bloated version of the African Cup of Nations, which also takes place in the middle of the European season.

But where clubs can survive the loss of a player or two for the duration of that competition, how are the likes of Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Barcelona going to take to losing virtually their entire squads for a couple of months? And just what does that mean for the organisation of the domestic competitions?

FIFA are taking a belligerent stance now that their taskforce has spoken, saying that the World Cup will take place and that there will be no compensation to clubs or leagues who find its timing, shall we say, unhelpful.

I suspect they protest too much and that this is posturing ahead of what they must know will be an avalanche of legal action. Let’s be grown up about it and face facts. There is no way on earth that the Premier League, the Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga could run at the same time as the World Cup is there? Just imagine the World Cup was happening this winter and not seven years hence. What kind of a team would real Madrid be able to field? Or Juventus? Or Manchester City?

We will also be living in a world of the broadcast deal after the next one, in a landscape where there’s every likelihood that each game is on television. Are the broadcasters going to want to pay up for months of what will effectively be under-21s football? And with the time difference between Qatar and mainland Europe just a couple of hours, good luck playing your bog standard league fixture at the same time as Italy are taking on Germany or when Spain are facing England. It is simply unthinkable.

Allied to that, the idea that the final itself will take place on December 23rd will be sending a chill through the bones of accountants at many a football club, especially in Britain, for it is the Christmas fixtures that traditionally guarantee bumper crowds and a few extra quid in the cash box that can be an absolute Godsend to some.

So forgive me for being a little cynical if I ask whether that December 23rd date has been deliberately chosen just to make mischief, if it has not been laid down as a bargaining chip at the start of this hand of poker?

Here are the starting positions. The European leagues in particular do not want a winter World Cup. FIFA does. Not only that, it wants to hijack the birth of Christ and take over Christmas itself, a slightly risky move one might suggest in that particular part of the world, but perfectly in keeping with Sepp Blatter’s Messianic tendencies, let’s be honest.

Who would bet against FIFA, in a spirit of benevolent comradeliness, eventually saying, “Tell you what, we’ll shift it so that the whole thing takes place in November. How’s that do you?” At which point, the assorted leagues of the world hold their collective noses and sign up to a deal they don’t want but which is the least worst option open to them. Such is realpolitik.

Because after all, do you really think all those FIFA dignitaries are going to want to try and get a last minute flight home in time for Christmas?

Who Will Be NYCFC’s Third Designated Player?

SSB First Touch ImageBy Michael Schwartz

Who Could New York City’s 3rd Designated Player Be?

As the start of the season draws near, there will still likely be one lingering question left unanswered before the ball gets rolling at the Citrus Bowl in March; who will New York City’s third Designated Player be?

After a long off-season of rumors linking New York City with a host of talented players (which I turned into the formidable Skyscraper Blues Transfer Rumor 11), the MLS expansion side will enter the season with David Villa and Frank Lampard as two of their Designated Players. Yet, according to Stefan Bondy of the Daily News, New York City FC members currently in Charleston for the Carolina Challenge Cup implied that the third DP may arrive around the same time as Lampard during midseason.

So with New York City expected to acquire a third DP during the summer transfer window, here are three potential transfer targets that could join the club during their inaugural season:

Xavi Hernandez

New York City has been heavily linked with the Barcelona midfielder over the last few months through various Spanish outlets. It seemed like the possibility was put to rest after Xavi recently admitted that a last second phone call from Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu before the World Cup convinced him to stay with the Catalan giants.

Yet, New York City Director of Football Claudio Reyna rekindled the speculation surrounding Xavi’s future by revealing in a television interview that the club hasn’t given up their pursuit of the the Spanish legend. “We aren’t closing the doors in the face of Xavi for next season,” said Reyna.  “It’s true that we have tried to sign him before, but next year we will need new Designated Players and that door remains open for him.”

After reportedly having his bags packed last summer for New York City, Xavi stayed for undetermined reasons. Soccer Newsday’s Nick Chavez reported that there were rumors suggesting that if former Barcelona president Joan Laporta wins re-election in 2016, Xavi could become the next manager of Barcelona.

As a midfield maestro that knows the possession-oriented style Barcelona utilizes, it would make sense that Xavi would be considered as a potential managerial candidate. A product of the La Masia youth system, Xavi has spent his whole career with Barcelona and has been a key figure in the rise of tiki-taka football.

Yet, there is no guarantee that Laporta will be re-elected or that Xavi will immediately achieve his reported managerial ambitions at Barcelona. As of now, the 35-year-old only has four assists and one goal in 14 appearances this season. While Xavi’s experience likely makes him a clubhouse leader, age has affected his on-field impact. While he’s still a talismanic figure at Barcelona, Xavi is no longer making as many appearances as he did due to age, injuries and the emergence of Croatian box-to-box midfielder Ivan Rakitic.

As Barcelona continues to move forward, Xavi is being relied upon less often. The Spaniard would have a far larger role with New York City as a deep-lying playmaker that would coordinate the possession-oriented style Coach Jason Kreis is known for. With former teammate David Villa up front, Xavi would be a fantastic addition for New York City’s midfield due to his creative vision and his excellent ball retention and passing abilities. Considering his familiarity with former Barcelona executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain who are now respectively the Managing Director of New York City and Director of Football for Manchester City, Xavi would fit in with City Football Group’s philosophical approach of playing.

Xavi’s ability to retain possession, produce instrumental passes, and take set pieces make him a worthwhile choice as a potential 3rd DP.

Daniele De Rossi

Along with Xavi, no other European player has been more heavily linked with New York City than Roma’s Daniele De Rossi. After multiple Italian media outlets reported that De Rossi was open to a move abroad with New York City, the Serie A superstar revealed in an interview with Roma TV that he’s open to ending his career in America.

After expressing admiration for American soccer, De Rossi disclosed, “I’d like to end my career overseas. I want to live in America, and I hope I’ll be able to do that.”

De Rossi has struggled with Roma this season as they currently sit 9 points behind Juventus. According to Football Italia, De Rossi would only be open to leaving if Roma won the Scudetto which has always eluded the Italian midfielder (during his time with Roma, the club has finished second in Serie A 6 times).      If Roma fail to win Serie A this season, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see De Rossi stay in order to go out on top.

That being said, De Rossi’s contract with Roma expires after next season and his number of appearances has gone down this season. A move away to New York is possible considering he is nearing the end of tenure with Roma.

It wouldn’t be the first time De Rossi has been linked with City Football Group after Manchester City failed to sign him a couple of years ago. The Italian’s familiarity with Manchester City along with his fondness for New York City makes his potential arrival a compelling possibility. Having the Italian midfielder line up alongside David Villa and Frank Lampard would be quite sensational for New York City FC.

Currently 31-years-old, De Rossi would be a younger option than Xavi which bears consideration considering how costly DP wages are. Besides being a potentially more valuable addition in terms of number of years, De Rossi would fit more of a need the team has for a defensive midfielder that could run the midfield diamond. An adept passer that is known for his long balls, De Rossi could excel in New York’s midfield. He’s not a great tackler but his aerial prowess and ability to cut off passes from the opposition could be a immense boost for Kreis’ side.

De Rossi is definitely a player worth watching during the summer as New York looks for their 3rd DP.

Tim Howard        

Tim Howard was one of the many known players linked with New York City over the last few months after a Daily Mail report indicated that big-market clubs such as New York City, Toronto, and the Galaxy were all interested in him. While the Daily Mail is certainly not the most reputable source, it’s hard to know what the future holds for the former MetroStars keeper. Would he settle for potentially being a backup in the final years of his career in Merseyside?

After recently signing a new contract through 2018, the 35-year-old has struggled with Everton this season. Before a calf injury sidelined Howard in late December, Everton’s defense had regressed compared to last season. With only three clean sheets in 20 Premier League appearances, Howard has one of the worst saves-to-goal ratios in the EPL.

While Howard was hurt, Joel Robles played well in his absence as he matched the same number of clean sheets the American had all season in just seven appearances. To be fair, Robles benefitted from the return of John Stones who helped make Everton’s backline more secure.

While Howard is now back in goal, whether the U.S. Men’s National Team keeper will maintain his place remains to be seen. Considering that Robles is 11 years younger than Howard, Everton manager Roberto Martinez may eventually want to give the Spaniard more opportunities to see if he’s capable of being the club’s future goalkeeper. Howard’s place may also be jeopardized by reports linking Everton with other goalkeepers such as Cardiff City’s David Marshall and Molde’s Orjan Nyland.

Howard though has been consistently adamant about his desire to stay with Everton. Last summer, Howard admitted there was a possibility he could return to MLS before he had signed a new contract with Everton. Even after what’s been a tough season, Howard recently revealed to Sports Illustrated that his desire to stay hasn’t diminished.

“It’s a place where I can achieve things I want to achieve and push myself every day and I am still hungry for the game,” said Howard. “All of the questions I have been looking for in my career have been answered here. So I think I would like to finish here and then be done. I’m living the good life here at Everton and I I don’t I really need a change of scenery.”

Although Howard may want to stay with Everton for now, a move to New York City could be beneficial for both him and the expansion club. If Howard wants to be a starter in the next World Cup, he needs to maintain regular appearances which may be harder to come by in England as Everton grooms Robles as the American’s successor. If Howard wants to avoid becoming the next coming of Brad Friedel, a move back to New York seems like an appealing option.

Howard would likely be guaranteed a starting role for New York City based off who’s on the roster. New York’s starting goal-keeper, Josh Saunders, is a long-time backup that lacks experience as a starter. New York’s other potential starting option, Ryan Meara, is an unproven and may not even stay with the club beyond this upcoming season considering he’s on loan from the Red Bulls.

The former MetroStars keeper from 1998 to 2003 would be an effective shot-stopper for New York City. Considering that New York City has focused on adding players from the New York metropolitan area, the North Brunswick native would be one of the faces of the club. After Howard’s sensational performance for the U.S. in Brazil, he is one of America’s most famous players and having him back in the United States would be a huge boost for both MLS and New York soccer. Who wouldn’t want the Secretary of Defense between the posts?

Normally goalies are not sought after as DP’s but considering Howards’ popularity and potential value to the team both on and off the field, he’s worth the high price. Coming back to where it all started for Howard would be a rewarding homecoming to end his career.