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Craig Gardner Interview

gardnerBy Bill Thomas

If ever a football team dares to lose a game or two, you can pretty much guarantee that they will be accused of a lack of passion, that catch all term that means little but signifies that footballers are all just a bunch of mercenaries who flit from one place to another and that they don’t really care about it as much as we supporters.

Craig Gardner does not fit that description, now putting on disciplined performances in the middle of the park at West Brom. A couple of months into his Albion career, it is clear that after his brief exile on Wearside, Gardner is revelling in being back home in the midlands.

“It’s no secret, I do like being at home, there’s nothing better than being settled and going out to play your football, it is a big help. I’ve been so fortunate through my career to play for Villa, to play for Blues and now to play for the Albion, that’s been great.

“When I was up at Sunderland, I found that difficult and maybe it had an affect on my football as well, I don’t know, but I do know I feel a lot happier with everything now that I’m back in the midlands. It feels good to be back around my family and friends and to be playing for a local team that knows all about me. Albion have been looking to sign me for a while now, so they know all about my game, my passion as a player and my will to win. They know that I’ll give everything that I’ve got for the cause.”

That has been readily apparent from Craig’s displays to date, but it has always been the case in a career that started a little late by modern day standards, Craig not joining up with a club until he was into his teens, another indication of just how highly he values friends and family.

“From around about the age of 12 through until I was 15, there were a lot of academies that wanted me to go and play for them, to go on trial, have six weeks with them and that kind of thing. All through that time, my mom and dad were taking me all over the country playing football and through all that time, my dad said that it was all down to me, that it was my choice as to what I was going to do in future. Did I want to just carry on playing with my mates on a Sunday or did I want to go and take it more seriously and sign up with an academy?

“For a long while, I just enjoyed playing with my mates to be honest, so it wasn’t until I was 15 that I finally decided to join an academy. That was the point where I really had to make the decision because you signed up for a three year scholarship and the point where you have to get serious about it if you want to be a professional. At that stage, there were three clubs that were really in for me to sign, Villa, Blues and Derby as well.

“Derby actually offered me a lengthy contract but in the end, I was most impressed by Villa and I decided to join them. Their academy was brilliant, they had a record of bringing young players through, there were a lot of good young players there then, the likes of Luke Moore, Liam Ridgewell, Gary Cahill, Boaz, Steven Davis, and I could see there was a potential to come through the ranks and to get in the first team. That was what finally made my mind up, plus the fact it meant I could stay at home while I was there, which would have been harder somewhere like Derby.

“My brother Gaz went there for the same reasons. He is doing well at Villa, he’s gone off to Brighton on loan and that’ll be good for him, because he’s had a tough couple of years with injuries. I know I’m his biggest fan, but you just need to keep an eye on him because once he comes back and starts playing, he is a hell of a player.

“I had a good time at the Villa, they gave me my chance as a professional, I got into the team and played quite a few games but then I got an injury and when I was fit again, it was hard to get back into the team and that was when Birmingham came in to sign me in 2010.”

Making the move across Birmingham, from Villa Park to St Andrew’s, is one that is fraught with danger and one that has cost a few players dear down the years. Bit it doesn’t seem to have hindered Gardner’s career, only strengthened it, and he looks to be one of the few where there is still respect for him at both the Second City clubs.

“Birmingham had been following me as a young kid, they wanted me to join their academy right the way back, so I knew they knew all about me before I joined and so I felt confident that I would get games there.

“It is a big thing to go from Aston Villa to Birmingham, but it will only be a bad move if you let it be a bad move and I wasn’t going to let that happen. It can get out of hand if you are disrespectful to the other club, then it can get in the media and it can get nasty. But since I left Villa, I’ve never said a bad word about the club and nor would I because I’ve only got positive things to say about them.

“They were my first club, they gave me my chance in the professional game. That’s where my roots are I suppose, they gave me my education in football, I know what they did to help me become a professional. They had great people working in the youth system there like Gordon Cowans, Kevin McDonald, Tony McAndrew, Bryan Jones, Steve Burns, they were all brilliant with me, so I’ve only got the greatest respect for them.

“David O’Leary gave me my debut, which I’ll always be grateful for, then Martin O’Neill arrived and I had to prove myself all over again to him, but he was great to me there and throughout my career so far, so I’ve only got good things to say about my time at Villa. I think it’s important to be respectful towards people that help you as you go through your career.”

Having a second chance to go and join Birmingham City fulfilled a lifelong ambition for Craig and he thoroughly enjoyed his time at the club, despite a mixed bag of results and emotions from the highest of highs to real lows.

“Moving to Birmingham was great. There’s no secret that that’s the team that I supported as a kid, and so that makes it a very special time in my career and I had a brilliant 18 months there, although it ended with a bit of a bad taste when we got relegated. But we won the League Cup while I was there and that was something I’ll never forget, nor any of the Birmingham supporters either, it was just a fantastic day.

“That League Cup run was the highlight of my career. I scored the winner in the semi-final against West Ham which was a very special moment, and to then go to Wembley with the team that I supported, to finally win something, to beat a great team like Arsenal, that was an incredible day.

“It was fantastic to be able to go to the final again last season with Sunderland, even though we lost, but no disrespect to Sunderland, on a personal level, it was massively different to be able to go there with Birmingham. All my family, all my friends are from the area, lots are Blues supporters, so it meant so much more because of that.

“I think I ended up getting asked for about 500 tickets for that game! Everybody was there so there were kicking every ball with me, it was an unbelievable experience. And it was a great achievement for the club, to finally get a big trophy. And then a few weeks later, we ended up getting relegated.

“I know a lot of fans said at the time that they didn’t mind getting relegated so much because at last we’d won a cup, but to be honest, I would have given my medal back ten times over to stay in the Premier League. That’s where you want to play every week, the league games are the basis of what you do.

“But I think that winning the cup took a lot out of us because it was such a massive thing for the club. I thought everybody got so emotional and so excited about it that when we came to get back to the league, we couldn’t get focused on it again and it cost us a lot of points in the weeks after the final. I remember the week after, we played West Brom at home and we got battered!”

Dropping down into the Championship had massive implications for Birmingham, as we have seen in recent years. For Craig too, it proved to be a turning point in his career.

“Because of the relegation, there was a lot going on at Birmingham at the time and because of the financial situation that came about, they had to sell some players and I was one of the ones that had to leave the club and I ended up going to Sunderland which was a real wrench – I wish it had been a move to Albion then! – because I was very happy at Blues, even though we were going into the Championship. I wanted to try to get us back in the Premier League.”

That was to prove impossible and he was quickly on his way to Sunderland, a move that brought mixed fortunes. Although Craig has too much respect for his former employers to be negative about his time there, it’s clear from speaking to him that being a couple of hundred miles away from home had a real impact on him.

“It was difficult to be away from home and I think people knew that. Every single transfer window after I signed for Sunderland in 2011, I got linked with the Baggies and finally, it came off. Again, I have a lot of respect for Sunderland, it is a great club, great support, the fans are very passionate. I went to watch the derby game with Newcastle from the crowd with a few of the lads one time and that was an experience! The atmosphere was incredible.

“To be honest, they should be having a lot more success than what they get, they should be a top half club when you look at that support and their resources. I think they find it hard to attract players from abroad because they’re in the north-east maybe, but the whole set up there is brilliant and they should be a really top club. I just found it hard to settle in another part of the country.

“I’m back where I feel comfortable, I’m at a club where I think we have potential. It reminds me a little bit of Birmingham in respect of there being a really close changing room, a good atmosphere, great spirit at the training ground. There are no egos, everyone wants to work hard and do well for each other, and I think that’s where it all starts if you want to do well.

“What’s good for me personally is that I’ve started the season in the first team. Every player wants to get regular games and that was why I came here. When we started pre-season, I knew this was the place for me, this is where I wanted to be, I felt I could do well here and so far, I think I’ve settled in really well, I feel as if I’ve been here for years to be honest. But it isn’t about me, it’s about the team, the club, and as a group, we have got to start winning games and put the slow start behind us.

“Alan Irvine has been great to work with. I think before people judge him you need to watch his training sessions, you need to be in the changing room, you need to really know him; he’s come here and been brilliant. His training sessions are different class, he talks really, really well in the changing room. He knows what he’s on about, he doesn’t talk for the sake of it. He’s a top-class coach and he’s a top-class person. On the training pitch we get well-set drills and it’s proper training sessions that relate to proper games. It’s not just ‘go out there and play football’.”

When Craig talks about the quality of that coaching, he knows his stuff because not only has he played under top class coaches at club level, he has represented his country at a high level too, reaching the European Championship final in 2009 when England were beaten 4-0 by Germany. No disgrace in that when you look at the German side: Neuer, Beck, Howedes, Boateng, Boenisch, Hummels, Johnson, Castro, Khedira, Ozil, Wagner. There’s now a World Cup winner or two in there isn’t there?

But look at England’s team: Loach, Cranie, Richards, Onuoha, Gibbs, Muamba, Cattermole, Noble, Milner, Johnson, Walcott, with Gardner, Rodwell and Mancienne coming off the bench. Some handy English youngsters in there five years ago but, Milner and Walcott aside, nothing like the same element of natural progression to the seniors. Why is that?

“Playing for England Under 21s was a big honour, but the team that we had, that did well, it didn’t really go on from there, there was no progression. I’m not saying that I should be in the England squad at all, but up until the last few months under Roy Hodgson, when he has brought in young players like Fabian Delph or Jack Colback, who fully deserve their chance, it was pretty much that if you didn’t play for a team that was in the top six, you didn’t get a sniff of the England team and I think that’s a bit sad really.

“If you look at that team that played Germany in the Under 21s final, the year after that when Germany beat England in the World Cup, I remember counting eight players from that team who were involved for them. That was a real eye opener when I was watching that game.

“England, they will tend to stick with the same players for three and four campaigns and it just becomes very difficult to break into the squad for any younger players. It looks as if Roy Hodgson is going a different way now and he is trying to bring the young lads through and that’s good because I think we’ve missed out on doing that as a country for a long time. I think it’s very positive for England”.

NY Cosmos Sign Raul

image001The New York Cosmos announced today that former Spanish national team captain Raúl González Blanco has signed a multi-year contract to join the club for the 2015 North American Soccer League campaign, pending a physical. As per club policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

Raúl will also take on an additional role as technical advisor for the New York Cosmos Youth Academy, which is slated to open in 2015. Upon his retirement from playing, Raúl will assume a full-time role overseeing the academy.

“Everyone throughout the soccer world knows the Cosmos name and the legacy of the players that played for this team previously,” Raúl said. “They helped establish soccer in America and I’m honored to follow in their footsteps. I believe in this club’s vision and I’m excited to be a part of that.”

Raúl built a legendary career at the famed Spanish club Real Madrid – beginning his professional career with the team in 1994 and remaining with Los Blancos for 16 years, leading the club to six La Liga titles, four Spanish Super Cups, and three UEFA Champions League titles. He left Real Madrid in 2010 as the team’s all-time leading goal scorer and moved to German club FC Schalke 04. At Schalke, Raúl scored 40 goals in 98 total matches, leading the Bundesliga outfit to the Champions League semifinal in 2011, before departing for Al-Sadd Sports Club in 2012.

“We’re obviously thrilled to add a player of his quality to the team,” Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “Raúl’s skill and ability is world renowned. He’s a world-class player and he adds a whole new dimension to our attack.

“He also brings immense passion and knowledge that he can share with our team and with the next generation of Cosmos players in our youth academy. He’ll help set the academy training curriculum, structure and establish our player development pyramid.”

Raúl, 37, a native of Madrid, became the youngest player – 17 years and 124 days – in history to play for Real Madrid at the time of his professional debut.

He would go on to make 550 La Liga appearances and 741 total appearances for Real – both club records, and serve as captain from 2003-2010, while scoring a club-record 323 total goals across all competitions. His 228 goals in La Liga are also a Real Madrid record and the fourth highest total all-time in Spanish league history.

Raúl led La Liga in goals scored in the 1998-99 and 2000-01 seasons and was awarded the Don Balón award for best Spanish player in La Liga a record five times (1996-97, 1998-99, 1999-00, 2000-01, and 2001-02).

In addition, Raúl is the all-time leading goal scorer in UEFA Champions League history with 71 goals and ranks fourth all-time in Champions League appearances (144). He was awarded the UEFA Best Forward of the Year Award a record three times (1999-00, 2000-01, 2001-02), finished second in the 2001 Ballon d’Or voting for best player in Europe, and finished in third place in the 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year voting.

Raúl debuted for the Spanish national team in 1996 and scored 44 goals (second-most in Spanish national team history) in 102 caps during 10 years of suiting up for La Roja. He served as captain of the Spanish national team and participated in three FIFA World Cups and two UEFA European Championship tournaments with Spain.

“Raúl’s long list of accolades speaks for itself. He’s recognized worldwide as one of the greatest players of his generation and we are now thrilled to welcome him to New York,” Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover said.

No Stopping Pancyprians

cosmoyellowBy Jay Mwamba

If Julio Dos Santos and his Pancyprian teammates had a theme song, it would probably be the old McFadden & Whitehead classic, “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”  That’s how the Greek-Cypriots must be feeling after a 6-1 rout of Hoboken FC at St. John’s University last Sunday extended their unbeaten record to seven matches in the CSL this fall.

Julio got his requisite goal, his German strike partner Yannick Reyering notched two while Michael Palacio, Anastasios Polydefkis and Phil Bannister added one apiece.

Joe Skinner [84th] had Hoboken’s consolation.

“We were simply overmatched,” admitted GM Bill Marth.

His reserves fared relatively better, shifting just three goals while netting one themselves through Greg Pilla.

Andreas Andreou, Petros Neophytou and 17 year-old Nick Psaras scored for Pancyprian ‘B.’

With the win in the senior fixture, Pancyprian [6-0-1, 19] maintained a six-point edge over archrivals New York Greek Americans atop the West standings.

PHENOM
Martinos Dadaj, 17, was the youthful Greek hero at the Metropolitan Oval, scoring in both games as the U.S. amateur champions swept visiting New York Croatia.

“It’s a rare feat one person scoring in both matches.  And even rarer for us when it’s a 17-year-old,” noted coach Stavros Zomopoulos.

Dadaj began his memorable evening with a goal in the reserves’ 5-0 triumph. Peter Touros [two], Dimitris Antonopoulos and Martin Williams also tallied.

The teen was later on target for the firsts, along with veterans Chris Megaloudis and Keith Detelj, in a 3-1 win.

DARYL WINNER
Lansdowne Bhoy’s Daryl Kavanagh struck 15 minutes from time to edge Clarkstown Eagles 3-2 on Randalls Island and move the CSL champs [4-2, 12] to within three points of First Division [East] leaders New York Rover.

Earlier, Kavanagh had set up Kendon Anderson for the opener while Stephen Roche got number two from the spot after Papa Thioume was felled.

Bljerdi Bardic scored both for Clarkstown, his seventh and eighth goals of the season.

“Great game; Landsdowne was a great team,” conceded Eagles manager Oliver Papraniku.

His reserves prevailed 4-2.

SWEET VICTORY
A point ahead of Lansdowne, NYAC eked out a 2-1 victory over Central Park Rangers thanks to Alejandro Sucre and Kevin Meyer.

Mike Nieraeth curled in a left footer for CPR.

The reserve match was goalless.

CELTIC ROLL
Matt Kane’s Manhattan Celtic won their third on the trot in the CSL top flight after shutting out East pace-setters New York Rovers 3-0 at Pier 5.

New signing Ryan Lavigne, Joe Cooper and Austin McCann tallied.

“We are getting better every league game,” said Kane, who’s 23.
Rovers’ reserves won 1-0.

STALLED
Pavlo Kolonifa had a goal and three assists in United FC’s 3-1 defeat of Stal Mielec at the Aviators Sports Complex.  Adam Himeno got the other two.

“We did what we must do again. Great team effort,” summed up manager Alex Zaretser.

United’s seconds also run off 3-1 winners, with Bohdan Matsushenko [two] and Rati Kutaldze on target.

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
At St. Michael’s Playground in Flushing, Shamrock demolished New York Supreme 6-1 to stay atop the Division Two log [5-1-1, 16].

Mohamed Fofana [two], Chris Burns, Mike Stone, Joe Aronovsky and Michael McGreevy sent Supreme reeling.

In the curtain raiser, Sean Hand’s long range effort from 35 yards was the difference in a  1-0 Shamrock victory.

UK ROMP
New York Ukrainians topped Manhattan Kickers 3-1 at McCarren Park to stay on Shamrock’s heels, three points behind with a game in hand.

Adam Maliniak and David Alkasimi brought Ukrainians from one down before the latter added an insurance goal.

According to winning coach Steve Kovalenko, the usually clinical Lukasz Prawdzik was denied a sure hat trick by Kickers’ goalie, while his own shot stopper, Eric Salamon, was outstanding.

The reserves tied 1-1 after Ukrainian  skipper Larry Crowell pegged back Zaki Bernoussi’s opener.

SPORTING EFFORT
Two goals in the last 11 minutes propelled Sporting Astoria from 2-1 down to a 3-2 victory over FC Japan at Evander Childs High School.

Sporting trailed at the interval and after Damone Manning had dusted himself off to nail a penalty, Japan went up again.

“With 11 minutes left we turned up the heat,” said Astoria boss Ed Romero.

First Marc Vilson leveled from a header, off a Johan Clarke flick-on at the far post.  And then Damone Manning, with a bit of individual skill, chested the ball, split two defenders and blasted in a cannon shot.

Eighth place Sporting [2-3-1, 7] picked up just its second win of the fall.

“We needed this win, we aren’t playing the best ball yet. We are still looking to find each other but we are getting closer to being where we need to be,” remarked Romero.

In contrast, it was a walk in the park for his second unit, 4-0 victors on goals by Jeffrey Vera [two], Christian Valencia and Johan Quinde.
“No surprise here. We dominated and we scored plenty of goals as usual,” remarked Romero.

CUFFED
Nick Baum and Juan Vazquez scored for NYPD FC in a 2-2 tie with defending champions CD Iberia at Flushing Field.

Elsewhere in Division Two, Andre Gayraud and Fabien Lombard were on the mark for New Amsterdam United in a 6-2 drubbing by Polonia.

REDS PREVAIL
Undefeated CPR Reds edged NYC Vllaznia 3-2 on Deco Heffernan’s 85th minute strike to go nine points clear [6-0-1, 19] in Metro Div. One East.

Heffernan and Mack Woodruff had scored earlier in the hard fought battle.  Salvatore Finnazio and Albert Ruci got the Vllaznia goals.

CHECKMATE
Lansdowne Bhoys and Ridgewood, in joint second on 10 points, both lost ground to the Reds after they battled to a 2-all draw on Randalls Island.

The Bhoys’ Richard Morgan and Dessie Beattie canceled out Ayhan Bekdemir’s early effort [6th] for the Romanians, but Dani Anton salvaged a point for the home side from the penalty spot [80th].

“We could’ve walked away victorious in the dying seconds but our forward, Viktor Banov, could not get a shot off from inside the six-yard box,” rued assistant coach Ovi Ordean.

BRISHNA FIRST
Three members of Brishna’s large Mashriqi clan — Nayab, Mujibullah and Mohammad Basir — tallied to lead the Metro One club to its first win of the season, 4-2 at Missile FC’s expense at Flushing Field.

Khalid Kamran was the other scorer while Charles Phillips [two] replied for the upstate visitors.

WESTERN FRONT
In Metro Div. One West, FC Gwardia and New York Ittihad drew 2-2 in their top-of-the-table clash that maintained the status quo.
Gwardia had goals from Konrad Sobotka and Marcin Januszko to stay two points in front [5-1-1, 16].

DENNEHY’S STREAK
Mr. Dennehy’s purple patch continued with a 3-1 victory over Gotham City that inched them to within three points of Gwardia.

J.P. Loize [two] and Berat Islami stretched Dennehy’s unbeaten streak to six games after a slow start.

ARGO TIED
Also in Metro One, Nicolas Eceizabarrena and Mike Lim [two] earned Gotham Argo a 3-3 tie with SC Dynamos at Kaiser Park.

Nick “Pugs” Pugliese created both Lim’s goals.

DÉJÀ VU
For the second straight week, New York Bravehearts put eight goals past New York Galicia in a match.

Bravehearts had hammered Galicia 8-4 in the Strumpf Cup seven days earlier but tightened up their defense this time, conceding just one.

Remarkably, Oumar Maybe reprised his hat trick exploits in the cup by netting another three, with Diego Mayanga matching his output and Memo Arbaleaz adding a brace.

OBI TREY
Player-manager Juan González Casares had the assist from which Barnstonworth Rovers’ Tobi Obi completed his own hat trick in a 5-1 shellacking of NYFC Iliria at Red Hook.  Jorge Español and Aldo Morales accounted for the other two goals.

“Not even his former teammates at Partizani now [with] Iliria could believe it,” Casares joked about Obi’s three goals.

MAULED
Neil Franco, Kanijah Lucien, Gianluca Palanca, Antonio Mederies and Stefano Catalano led the charge as Mola SC mauled FC Partizani 5-1 at the Greenbelt Recreational Area to remain joint second in Metro Div. Two.

Ervis Dergjini got Partizani’s face-saver.

IRISH POWER
NYC Metro Stars, on 16 points with Mola, had two-goal hero Wayne Doyle [67th, 89th] to thank for a 3-1 win over AO Brooklyn on Randalls Island.  Cristian Vasquez [26th] stuck earlier from the spot.

“Irish power,” coach Edison Calle lauded Doyle’s performance before adding: “a very complicated game now is time show in what kind of level we are in this division.”

GRAND RALLY
Grenadier Zenith rallied back from two down at Red Hook to edge SC Eintracht 3-2 and register their second win of the campaign.

Artur Galstian and Alex had Eintracht cruising before Zenith roared back through
Davidson Pierre Antoine [two] and Roland Andre.

“The guys showed a lot of character and resiliency. They could have folded playing with only one sub,” Jacky Felix praised his side.

PADDY’S DAY
Ten-man Shamrock Over-30s blanked New York Greek Americans 2-0 to extend their unbeaten streak to six games on coach Paddy McCarry’s 36th birthday.

The Rocks improved to 6-0 [18 points] atop the Div. One standings and are now just one of two sides in the entire 96-team CSL with hundred percent records.

They shook off the early dismissal of skipper Bingo O’Driscoll [20th] to knock off the Greeks courtesy of Danny Parkin’s free kick [25th] and Tayfun Gokeman [70th].

“Best performance of the season,” raved McCarry, the Rock’s fifth-year coach who led the side to back-to-back Div. Two and Div. One titles. “They were fantastic, every single one of them.”

Shamrock moved five points clear of the Paddy Geraghty-coached Manhattan Celtic Legends, with a game in hand, after the latter drew 0-0 with Manhattan Kickers Premier.

DEADEYE DODD
Sharp shooting midfielder Dylan Dodd’s first half hat trick [25th, 35th, 44th] inspired Kickers Over-30s to a 5-0 rout of Barnstonworth Old Boys.

Striker Jack Vivonetto added a second half brace [60th, 80th].

Said Eddie Yee Woo Guo: “It’s a good day when your holding midfielder has a hat trick in the first half and then calls it a day.”

NIEUW PIPPED
Gareth Hasson connected off Andy Murray’s assist to hand the Manhattan Celtic Bhoys a 1-0 decision over Nieuw Amsterdam.

“A great performance by the entire team. Everyone worked well and gave 120%,” said David Seal.

VETS CRUSHED
In Over-35 action, Marty Russo, Vinny Vasconcelos [two] and Dan Ceabuca tallied in Eintracht’s 4-0 thrashing of Hoboken Veterans.

Canada High

esclogoBy Tim Hall

Wooo! The US has qualified for the World Cup! Weeee are going to Moosejaw!

No? Nobody? OK.

Even if the United States qualifying for next summer’s Women’s World Cup in Canada isn’t cause for raucous celebrations in the street, it still deserves attention. This is a perfect seven qualifications from seven tournaments for the US, although one was automatic thanks to hosting, and of course winning, in 1999. It can start to feel like a birthright for the number one team in the world to just saunter their way into the tournament, but don’t forget that it was four years ago when the Americans lost a shocker to Mexico in the semifinals and needed to win a cross-confederation playoff against Italy just to punch their ticket.

There was no such drama in 2014, however, thanks in no small part to the other big dog of the CONCACAF yard – Canada – having automatically qualified. Therefore it would take a pretty herculean effort from the rest of the countries in the region to keep the Stars and Stripes from their appointed rounds, but none was coming.

As is so often the case, the biggest opposition for the United States women was very nearly themselves. Star striker Alex Morgan went down in the second game of the group stage, violently rolling the same ankle that had sidelined her for eight months previously. Thankfully this particular injury isn’t as rough, described as a “pretty bad sprain” to use the most technical medical jargon. Morgan should be back to full health within a month, but her injury did remove her from further play in the continental championships.

Thankfully, head coach Jill Ellis was prepared for such an eventuality, apparently having invested in a Wacky Lineup and Formation Generator. An 4-3-3 against minnows? Sure. Playing Abby Wambach, the world’s greatest goal scorer, as an attacking midfielder even though she is both figuratively and literally head and shoulders above most defenders in the region? Okeedokee. Taking America’s true number 10 Megan Rapinoe and splitting her out left at the top of that 4-3-3? Why not?

These lineups are only for show, however, and perhaps only visible at kickoff, because once the US got the ball it became a shooting gallery, three to four players in the box circling like sharks with another four working on the outside throwing chum into the water. To some, watching the Americans boss around their clearly inferior opposition seemed boring or even a bit unfair.

While it’s certainly true that nations like Mexico and God’s Favorite Footballing Nation of 2014 Costa Rica have improved by leaps and bounds in the last few cycles, they still lack the resources to truly compete regularly against an American team that, if all else fails, can hold the ball in your end and wear you down for 70 minutes before beginning the final onslaught.

For proof of the disparity between the haves and have-nots in women’s play, one only need look at Trinidad and Tobago, who were sent to play in this tournament without proper equipment and with about $30 per player in their pockets for the entire fortnight. You wouldn’t go watch a game with that little money on you, just in case. However, through the power of social media, the Soca Warriors got kitted up, gave the US their best game in the tournament by only taking a 1-0 loss, and pushed Costa Rica to penalty kicks in the semifinals, and then Mexico to extra time before finally succumbing in the third place game.

So now it’s on to Canada for the Nats, potentially. There is the small matter of the legal dispute over the use of artificial turf fields in the Great White North that still threatens to throw a monkey wrench into the entire deal. To review: many of the world’s top players voiced their displeasure on social media and FIFA, like they do, ignored it. So the players lawyered up and threatened to take their case to a human rights tribunal in Canada on the entirely correct basis of gender discrimination and FIFA, like they do, ignored it.

So the players followed through with their threat earlier this month and FIFA, like they also do, turned to bullying people. Multiple reports released this week indicate that players from Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica were threatened with retaliation – including suspension from their national teams or their federations losing out on hosting future tournaments – unless they removed their names from the lawsuit. Don’t worry, FIFA. This is nothing a few more “CELEBRATE DIVERSITY” signs won’t fix.

Provided the World Cup does go on as planned, the Tomahawks would certainly make the short list of prohibitive favorites. On one end, there isn’t so much a question of where the goals can come from as there is a worry that there might not be enough balls on the field to keep everyone happy. At the very top (again, when Jill Ellis isn’t deciding the lineup via darts) is the three-headed goal scoring monster of the world record holder Wambach, a hopefully healthy Morgan and the Canadian-American Sydney Leroux, whose nationality will undoubtedly be a major talking point once things get fired up north of the border.

Behind them however are midfielders like Rapinoe, Christen Press and Carli Lloyd (who would have won the qualifying tournament’s golden boot if not for a four goal outbreak by Wambach in the final) who all either like to have a strike from distance or can muck in on set plays. Granted, the dominant possession play the US showed against Haiti won’t be nearly as easy against Japan, but the tools are there.

The real question is the defense. The anchor in the back is the ageless captain Christie Rampone, who crossed 300 caps during qualification. However in the last few years a solid crew has amassed around her, with Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn and Meghan Klingenberg all but assuring their spots on the roster next summer, the latter with a Youtube-worthy rocket goal against Haiti, as if the US needed more goal scorers. Hope Solo continues to be the first choice in goal despite pending criminal charges, and should thank her defense for allowing almost no shots on goal the entire qualifying tournament so the commentators couldn’t really discuss that so much.

With this team constructed as it is, anything less than a trip to the championship match in Vancouver will be considered a failure, especially when it looks like this might be the last run for a few of these players. If we’re truly living in a second golden generation of US Women’s Soccer, then this group must replicate the feat of that legendary championship 1999 team, 16 years and 1250 miles away.

Championship Football..Going Cheap!

PP_logoBy Paula Marcus

When the ‘Price of Football’ report was published by the BBC last week, few people with any knowledge of the game were surprised by its content. By combining the top four divisions, the report found that the average price of the cheapest matchday tickets (generally the cheapest season ticket) has increased over the last year by 4.4%. Whilst it isn’t a huge jump in price, this increase is over three times the rate of inflation in the UK for the same period.

The Premier League increasing prices isn’t a huge shock; the top teams can always sell out no matter what they charge. The more interesting revelation actually comes from the football league where there is one division bucking the trend; the Championship. Over the past year the lowest ticket price for the division has fallen 3.2%, whilst tickets in League One have increased in price by over 30% and League Two has seen a 19% increase.

That’s not to say that some teams aren’t changing more this year, but with the exception of Bournemouth, who have upped the lowest priced season ticket by almost 50%, most of the clubs who have increased their price have done so by adding £1-3 ($1.5-5) per game. When you look at the division as a whole, it does seem that most teams have actually lowered their prices based on last season, with Charlton fans coming out on top. Even Ipswich fans that paid out for the divisions most expensive season ticket last year at £1061 ($1710) have a reason to be happy this year, with the renewal cost for that ticket coming in at just £805 ($1300).

The most likely explanation for the decrease in Championship ticket costs comes from the unique position the division finds itself in. Attendances continued to increase last season with over 9.1million fans attending matches, making the Championship the fourth most watched division behind the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga. The increased attendance obviously improves both the League’s, and the individual club’s, positions when negotiating sponsorship deals.

Ironically, another large source of income for teams in the second tier is actually the Premier League, thanks to their overly pricey TV deal. Top flight clubs have agreed to give ‘solidarity payments’ to lower league teams not receiving parachute payments. In the Championship this equates to £2.3 ($3.7) million per team, dropping to £360,000 (580,000) in League One and £240,000 ($386,000) in League Two. With many Championship teams now restricted to tight budgets to fit in with fair play rules that equates to quite a significant investment for doing basically nothing.

As you drop down the divisions, opportunities for revenue outside of ticket sales decrease dramatically (as does the Premier League payoff). With so few games broadcast on TV and less fans attending games thanks to smaller grounds, it is harder to obtain similar sponsorship deals in League One and Two. Clubs relay far more on money from matchday spending and merchandise, and to maximise income they have to find the balance between charging the highest amount they can for tickets without causing fans to stay away.

As a side note, the review didn’t only look at ticket prices through the divisions, it also focused on matchday items fans would buy. One interesting stat to come out of the Championship involves Cardiff City. Whilst their tickets, tea and programme prices are probably around the mid to upper level in the division, they actually have the lowest priced shirts in the top three divisions. A cynic may suggested this is a ploy to encourage fans to adopt their red colouring that was controversially introduced in 2012, but I guess we will never know.

It is also worth noting a small disclaimer about the study. Whilst it is the most in depth of its kind, looking at the top ten divisions of English football, there are a few flaws. Few teams offer single pricing for all seats within the stadium (whether looking at single games or season tickets), and ticket policies get more and more complex when you start looking at changes in price for individual matches.

Whilst the study may look at the cheapest tickets offered in each case, it isn’t clear if it takes into account how many games those cheaper tickets are offered over the season or the number of season tickets available at each price band. Charlton may offer £150 ($240) season tickets, but is it really a good deal for fans if only 100 people get them and the rest pay double?

There is also the simple fact that, whilst the Championship is on the right track as far as ticket prices, there is still work to be done. It would be great to see teams take a serious look at reciprocal ticket pricing for away fans. The Football Supporters Federation have suggested this as a reward for fans in all divisions who travel the country watching their team. The travelling supporters are there to watch their own team, not the home team, and as such it seems wrong they should have to pay more money to watch their team at an away game compared to one at home, especially when you factor in travel expenses.

Reports like this are a great tool to highlight the clubs really trying to help make football as inexpensive as possible for their fans. It also shows there is still a long way to go to make football affordable for the majority.

Emerson Hyndman – The Next Michael Bradley?

hyndmanBy Sean Bulvanoski

To many American soccer fans, the surname Hyndman will sound familiar. That is because Emerson Hyndman’s grandfather is Schellas Hyndman, former head coach of Dallas FC from 2008-2013 and runner-up MLS cup finalist in 2010.  

The apple did not fall far from the tree. In 2011, after a stint in the youth system of FC Dallas, the 15-year old Emerson joined the Fulham youth system. Since his arrival he has been very impressive, playing for the first team since the start of the 2014 season. His exploits for the youth squads of the USMNT, along with his rise through the ranks to Fulham’s first team, are key indicators of what he could bring to the USMNT if he continues to develop.

In joining Fulham, Emerson Hyndman could not have chosen a better team’s youth system. It is well-known that Fulham and its fans have a soft spot in their hearts for American soccer players. Kasey Keller, Clint Dempsey, and the venerable Brian McBride are just a few of the American talents who have enjoyed successful careers at Craven Cottage. Fulham’s openness to American talent, especially when most European teams seem to shy away from American players, has even earned it the moniker “Fulhamerica.” Therefore, unlike many club academies in Europe, Emerson was sure to have a fair shot at proving himself at Fulham; fortunately, he took that chance.

Throughout his entire career at Fulham Emerson has impressed the coaches and staff with his vision and work ethic. His hard work was finally rewarded this season, thanks to Fulham’s relegation. Fulham fans would not see their relegation as fortuitous, but for Emerson Hyndman, this was impeccable timing. When a team is relegated, its transfer budget for new players becomes extremely limited. Had Fulham avoided relegation, the team would have brought in more talent to strengthen itself; being relegated prevented it from doing so.

Relegation also prompted a few of its players to jump ship in order to stay in top-flight competition, thus further decreasing its ranks of talented players. No longer able to reinforce itself from other sources, Fulham was forced to look inward. Doing so allowed academy products such as Emerson a chance to prove themselves. Emerson got his first start for the Fulham first team on August 9. Since then Emerson Hyndman has played six additional games. Because Fulham currently have an unsettled starting line-up there will be chances for Emerson to get first-team opportunities.

Anyone who has seen Emerson Hyndman play lauds his technical ability. He has great vision, and he is a master at both short and long-range passes. His spatial and game awareness are still developing, but that is the case with most 18-year-old academy products. These skills will only get better as he gets more time on the first team. Playing time will not be hard to come by either, as Fulham’s head coach, Felix Magath, has a very high opinion of Emerson.

In a conversation with Fulham’s website, FulhamFC.com, Magath even went so far to describe Emerson Hyndman’s role on a team as similar to Andrea Pirlo’s role on the field because of Emerson’s ability to see the field and make the right passes to advance the team from a deep position. It is a great sign when a head coach holds an academy product in such high esteem. The coach’s opinion holds a significant amount of weight within the organization even if he were to be let go.

Currently, Michael Bradley occupies the role of midfield orchestrator on the USMNT; however, because of his subpar play at the 2014 World Cup, his recent move to MLS, and his advancing age, he might only hold onto that role until the end of the 2018 World Cup before youth begins to change the dynamic of the USMNT starting lineup. If all goes according to plan for Emerson Hyndman, he can be next up to be the deep-lying midfielder that the USMNT so desperately needs.

His vision and sublime passing make him an ideal future replacement for Michael Bradley, and his current tutelage means he has a much higher ceiling than Michael Bradley has. Emerson Hyndman can be the deep-lying metronome type midfielder Michael Bradley was supposed to become but it will take time for him to obtain those lofty ambitions. The next four years will determine whether Emerson takes the right steps to reach that ceiling, or stagnates.

While an English Championship team is not the optimum spot for a 25-year-old player trying to break into the USMNT, this is of little concern to Emerson at this point. The English Championship is not a bad place for young American players to develop. Each of the teams has good academies and plays quality competition. Also because lowers budgets keep Championship teams from bringing in expensive talent, younger and less expensive academy products like Emerson find that they are not relegated to the bench.

The major concern for Emerson is whether Fulham continues to sink to the lower depths of the English soccer tiers. At the moment, Emerson is in the perfect situation, as long as he keeps an eye on his future. In the Championship he can learn a lot.

However, if Fulham continues to struggle, then Emerson must view his time on the first team as an audition for other teams in Europe. Especially if the team’s continued struggles leads to Felix Magrath being fired. New coaches mean new tactics and new ideas which Emerson Hyndman may not necessarily fit into. He needs to keep moving forward, the worst thing he can do is let himself get dragged down with Fulham if it continues to slide.

Sean is Co-Founder of The93rdMinute

Napoli Face Key Match With Roma

serieA_172x121By Michael Ottolenghi

This is another busy week in Serie A, with a round of midweek games, Gigi Buffon’s 500th game for Juventus and the real risk that for all of Roma’s potential, this year’s diminished Juve may already be opening a gap at the top of the table.

Following Juventus’ midweek loss at Genoa, Roma are now level on top after they beat Cesena 2-0.

With Juve travelling to newly promoted Empoli on Sunday after Roma face Napoli at the San Paolo on Saturday afternoon, this was always going to be part of the Serie A calendar that favoured the bianconeri. But following Roma’s 7-1 drubbing against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, might the good feeling surrounding Rudi Garcia’s team be starting to fade away?
Roma’s game on Saturday against Napoli is a key match for both teams. Roma cannot afford to lose points to Juventus, and need a run of good results to prove to both their fans and their American ownership that the Bayern result was a one-off.  But travelling to Naples is never easy, and not only for footballing reasons.

This will be the first game between these two sides since the tragic events of the Coppa Italia final between Napoli and Fiorentina in the Italian capital last summer – when a Napoli fan was fatally injured in an altercation with a Roma ultra. The game was then suspended while Napoli captain Marek Hamsik “negotiated” with his own ultras to allow the game to proceed.  The death of that Napoli fan, Ciro Esposito, caused a new round of soul-searching within Italian football, and last week’s new “stadium law” allowing the police new powers to confront ultra groups is a direct result of  Esposito’s death.  Saturday’s game will almost certainly be a sell out (a rare occurrence in Serie A) even though the security concerns have led to it being played in the afternoon, with no away fans allowed.

On the pitch, Napoli should be the more buoyant side, coming from a tension-defusing 6-2 home win against Verona.  Napoli manager Rafael Benitez will have been especially pleased that striker Gonzalo Higuain returned to scoring form, with a hattrick on the day to boost his flagging confidence.  Captain Marek Hamsik also scored two to allow Benitez to proclaim that his side had now warned the league that they were back.  He has a point, in that despite their poor start to the campaign the partenopei are just two points off third place and a win against Roma would see them trail the giallorossi by just two points.

While all eyes will be on and off the pitch in Naples, third place Sampdoria will face Fiorentina in Genoa, hoping to continue their good run of form., and potentially capitalising on any Roma faux pas.  Mihajlovic’s side performed well in their 0-0 draw against Roma, passing their first real test against a big side this season, and they trail Roma by just three points.

While Sampdoria’s strikers did not shine, the much-heralded 19 year old centre-back Alessio Romagnoli on loan from Roma had another standout game, contributing to what is the second best defence in the league (behind Juventus), with only 4 goals conceded so far.  Fiorentina should pose an easier test than Roma, as Vincenzo Montella’s team failed to ignite in an insipid 1-1 draw against Milan at San Siro. Yet again the viola failed to pose a significant attacking threat, although Montella will be hoping that the return of Mario Gomez will help kick start his side’s season.

Amid the negative storylines there is a ray of light in Serie A in the form of Sassuolo centre-back Francesco Acerbi, who scored a goal in his side’s 3-1 win in the Emilian derby against Parma last Sunday.  Acerbi had just returned to football after his second diagnosis of testicular cancer and a lengthy course of treatment. His goal allowed his story to take centre stage in the press and to make Acerbi, a player of average quality but rare perseverance, the poster boy for Serie A for a fleeting moment. Long may he serve as a positive role model for Serie A players present and future.

 

EPL Latest

manu_epl

Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie (centre) celebrates scoring his side’s last minute equalizer against Chelsea with teammates during the match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

By Jack Simpkin

It was another entertaining and eventful Premier League weekend with late drama taking centre stage. There were interesting developments in the title race, the battle for the top four spots, and the relegation battle as the EPL approaches the all-important landmark of Gameweek 10 this weekend.

An injury time equaliser from Robin van Persie meant Manchester United stole two points off title chasing Chelsea.

Didier Drogba had marked his first league start of the season in becoming the second oldest Premier League opposition goalscorer at Old Trafford with a trademark header that put Mourinho’s men 1-0 up. Next for Chelsea is a home tie against Queens Park Rangers, a game they will expect nothing less than a win out of.

Despite the inevitable disappointment having conceded so late, the result meant that Chelsea moved another point clear of their main rivals Manchester City as they lost 2-1 away at Sam Allardyce’s ever-impressive West Ham on Saturday. Morgan Amilfatano put the Londoners in the lead after 20 minutes and Diafra Sakho doubled the host’s lead with 15 minutes remaining to break a West Ham record, the Senegalese international is now the first Hammer to score in six consecutive Premier League appearances, quite a feat in his first EPL season. Next for City is the Manchester Derby this weekend, they will be at home but it will be a tough test in a game that they need to win.

Arsenal capitalised on more poor defending from Sunderland to leave the Stadium of Light 2-0 victors last week-end, Alexis Sanchez netting his first EPL brace. The Gunners face Burnley at the Emirates on Saturday and they will be expecting another three points to continue their chase for a top four finish.

Liverpool couldn’t bounce back from their mid-week Champions League disappointment, they were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Hull City. Brendan Rodgers will have to find a way of galvanising his players before this weekend when they travel to play a Newcastle side that are on the rise.

After such disappointment and frustration in the early parts of the season, Alan Pardew has finally turned his Newcastle side around, a key example coming on Sunday when they came from 1-0 down to beat Tottenham 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Spurs looked in total command for the first 45 minutes and they went into the break in the lead after Emmanuel Adebayor scored on 18 minutes. However, Pardew worked some half-time magic and within 10 seconds of the restart, Sammy Ameobi scored. Then, with just over an hour to play, Ayoze Perez found a winner in his first Premier League start for the club.

Southampton moved up into second, four points behind leaders Chelsea, with a 1-0 home win against Stoke City. The Saint Mary’s crowd weren’t treated to anything like last week’s 8-0 drubbing of Sunderland, but a Saido Mane goal, a third of the way into the game, helped the hosts cruise to victory, their sixth of the season. Next for the Saints is a trip to Hull.

This result for Mark Hughes now means that in his 24 Premier League away games in charge of Stoke, he has only managed four wins, so he will be grateful that his side are back at the Britannia this weekend to face West Ham. West Bromwich Albion came from 2-0 down at home to Crystal Palace to draw 2-2 and snatch a late point. Brede Hangeland put the visitors ahead and Mile Jedinak doubled their lead from the penalty spot just before the interval, but in the second half, West Brom reacted. Victor Anichebe pulled one back before the Albion were controversially awarded a penalty in the third minute of stoppage time, Saido Berahino coolly converted it for his seventh league goal of the season.

Palace are back at Selhurst Park this weekend as they play host to Sunderland. As for West Brom, they travel to Leicester City, who lost away at Swansea City on Saturday. A brace from Wilfried Bony, that made him Swansea’s joint-top Premier League goalscorer, was more than enough to secure the three points for Gary Monk’s side.

Swansea’s next opponents Everton completed Sunday’s action with a 3-1 win over Burnley at Turf Moor. Samuel Eto’o opened the scoring after four minutes but Burnley equalised via Danny Ings, largely thanks to a terribly judged back pass from Romelu Lukaku. But the Belgian responded by restoring his side’s lead nine minutes later. It was then left to Eto’o to seal the win with five minutes to spare.

On Monday night, a Charlie Austin double secured Queens Park Rangers a much needed win at home to struggling Aston Villa. The win lifted Rangers off the bottom of the table but condemned Villa to their fifth consecutive defeat, and they could easy extend that run to six this weekend as they travel to London to face Tottenham.

US Women Tooled Up For World Cup Challenge

wambach

Abby Wambach – 177 in 228 national team appearances.

By Ian Thomson

The United States women’s national team hardly broke sweat in clinching a seventh CONCACAF Championship and a place at next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup during the recent regional qualifying tournament.

Five games. Five wins. Goal tallies of 21 scored and zero conceded. Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala and Haiti were shrugged aside in the group stage. Carli Lloyd’s first-half double set up a comfortable semi-final win over Mexico at PPL Park, and Abby Wambach’s hat-trick of headers demolished Costa Rica in an anti-climactic title decider at the same venue on Oct. 26.

Yet there were some signs that new Stars and Stripes head coach Jill Ellis has found ways to make the U.S. more multifaceted in its attack, even despite the mid-tournament withdrawal of Alex Morgan.

The U.S. team’s Olympic gold medal in 2012 owed much to the old hallmarks of brawn, directness and mental toughness after the Yanks were outplayed in long stretches by France, New Zealand, Canada and beaten finalists Japan. Those qualities are still apparent under Ellis, but there is a subtlety now in the way that her players can stretch the opposition to create spaces for Lloyd in and around the penalty area.

Megan Rapinoe occupied a withdrawn forward role in the 3-0 win over Mexico that posed all sorts of problems for Leonardo Cuellar’s defenders, particularly with Lloyd agitating to exploit any gaps if either center-back tracked Rapinoe into midfield.

It took six minutes for the Yanks to make the breakthrough when Tobin Heath’s cross from the left wing found Sydney Leroux, Rapinoe and Lloyd all crashing the 6-yard box to get a head on the ball. Lloyd succeeded. The 32-year-old from Delran Township, N.J., not far across the Delaware River from the Philadelphia Union’s stadium, converted a penalty kick on the half-hour mark to effectively end the contest.

Such a threatening U.S. presence from central areas could tempt opposing coaches to “park the bus” on the middle of the 18-yard line. The Americans displayed the poise and nous to develop advantageous situations on the flanks to get behind packed defenses. Heath and her former North Carolina teammate Meghan Klingenberg were born two months apart and have been playing on the same development teams since they were 13 years old. Unsurprisingly, they displayed an excellent understanding of each other’s movement down the left side.

And then there is still the aerial dominance of Abby Wambach to call upon. The veteran forward set a new U.S. record of 18 goals scored in World Cup qualifiers and boosted her phenomenal ratio to 177 in 228 national team appearances with a four-goal salvo against the Costa Ricans.

Las Ticas held out for fewer than four minutes when Wambach nodded home Morgan Brian’s cross from six yards out. The Rochester, N.Y. native won another duel on 17 minutes to send a powerful header toward goal that Lloyd flicked past goalkeeper Dinnia Diaz. Wambach converted another close-range header on 35 minutes when Lloyd floated a ball to the back post. The same duo combined again six minutes later to complete Wambach’s first-half hat-trick and give the U.S. an unassailable 4-0 lead.

Wambach added her fourth goal of the night with a delicate chip after the break, and Leroux sealed the 6-0 thrashing with a header of her own.

Costa Rica’s coach later suggested that the best way to combat Wambach is to pray that the ball does not get to her. Even if that happens, the U.S. seemingly has far more weapons to use next year in Canada than it did during the last two major women’s tournaments.

Ian Thomson is a freelance journalist and founder of The Soccer Observer website. Follow him on Twitter @SoccerObserver

Southampton Answers

keano1. Southampton is in which county?

Hampshire

2. Who was manager when they won the 1976 FA Cup?

Lawrie McMenemy

3. Who scored a record 227 goals in two spells between 1966 and 1982, invariably celebrating with with a distinctive windmill arm action?

Mick Channon

4. Who replaced Nigel Adkins as manager in January 2013?

Maricio Pochettino

5. How many England caps did Matthew Le Tissier win?

8

Cosmos Tie 2-2 With Tampa Bay

cosmos-logoThe New York Cosmos were held to a 2-2 draw by the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night, following a 91st-minute equalizer from Rowdies winger Evans Frimpong.

The visitors struck first through Frimpong in the 25th minute, only to see the Cosmos equalize two minutes later through midfielder Hagop Chirishian. The next goal, which looked to be the match-winner, was a perfectly-placed free kick from Cosmos midfielder Marcos Senna, who took aim from 25 yards out and made no mistake with his curling effort in the 49th minute. The final say belonged to Tampa Bay, though, after Frimpong pounced on a rebound off Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer in the 91st minute, and stole an important road point.

“I think we deserved more,” said Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese following the match. “We want to try to win every game. Every game for us is important, and we wanted to get the win of course. But I was very content with our performance today. I think it was one of the best games we have played so far this year.”

Both sides started the match on the front foot, and the Rowdies nearly had the game’s opening goal. Tampa Bay forward Luciano Olguín latched onto a loose pass from Maurer, but saw his effort saved by Maurer in the end. The hosts then created a chance of their own at the other end, just two minutes later. Cosmos right back Jimmy Mulligan made a darting run down the right flank, which he continued into the box, but his cross could not be turned in by midfielder Sebastián Guenzatti.

The game continued to open up, and there were chances at both ends soon after. Cosmos defender/winger Ayoze ran through the midfield and forced Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens into action in the 11th minute with a shot from the edge of the area. Tampa Bay answered with a sweeping counterattack through the midfield, which ended with a strike on goal by Frimpong in the 18th minute.

Frimpong remained a threat going forward for Tampa Bay, and he was soon on the score sheet following a Rowdies free kick in the 25th minute. Midfielder Darel Russell provided the service into the area, and Frimpong headed home to give Tampa Bay the 1-0 lead.

That lead was short-lived, though, thanks to Chirishian. He blocked an intended clearance by the Rowdies defense, and busted into box before firing past Pickens to level the score at 1-1 just two minutes after Tampa Bay’s opener – much to the delight of Cosmos supporters on Fan Appreciation Day.

“It was amazing,” said Mulligan on playing in front of the Cosmos faithful. “Those fans lift us up, and it was such a good crowd tonight. We really appreciate them coming to every single game, and they’ve been with us. They’re definitely a part of this team.”

The frenetic pace of the match continued until the halftime whistle, though neither side was able to muster another real chance at breaking the deadlock.

The Cosmos made a switch at the start of the second half, bringing on Mads Stokkelien for forward Danny Mwanga, and that move would pay off immediately for Savarese’s side. The big Norwegian striker won a free kick 25 yards from the Tampa Bay goal, and up stepped Senna to deliver a moment of real magic. The Spaniard curled his effort over the wall, and past a diving Pickens to give the Cosmos a 2-1 lead in the 49th minute.

Stokkelien continued to have a growing influence on the match, and came close to giving the Cosmos a two-goal cushion in the 62nd minute. The forward managed to get a shot away in the Rowdies’ box, but his effort was kept out by the post before rolling across the goal line and into the safe hands of Pickens.

Tampa Bay continued to push on. In the 91st minute, a long ball over the top by Rowdies defender Anthony Wallace eventually found Frimpong, who was on the spot to steal a point for the Rowdies at the death.

“I think we had a lot of good moments,” Mulligan said after the match. “Some moments we could’ve been better in, but overall I think it was a pretty decent performance by us. I think we might’ve been the better team, but that’s soccer sometimes. We just have to keep pushing forward.”

The New York Cosmos will head to San Antonio for their final regular season match next Saturday, Nov. 1 against the Scorpions.

Interview with James singer Tim Booth

timboothBy Jon Langford

As you might expect with a band that’s 32 years-old, James have experienced line-up changes, drug addictions, in-fighting, break-ups, reunions and almost every other rock ‘n’ roll cliché you could care to think of. But what separates James from their peers is that this is a band that has never lost its relevance (a remarkable feat when you consider they’ve survived such un-timeless trends as Madchester, baggy, Britpop and beyond).

So while their peers are currently rolling out nostalgia tours playing “the hits” to anyone that’s still willing to listen, James are back with their thirteenth studio album La Petite Mort (French for “the little death”).

I caught up with frontman Tim Booth ahead of the band’s sold-out Webster Hall show to talk life, death and football.

FT: One common theme on La Petite Mort is death and I know this is something you’ve sadly had to deal with recently…

Booth: It’s not “sadly” though, because it’s a fact of life. There’s birth and there’s death and they’re two different windows. Being at my mum’s death was actually an amazing revelation for me because I realized it was a birth. And that’s not even a spiritual idea; when it happened it really just felt like a birth.

FT: I know you’ve said that your mother’s death was just about the nicest way that anyone could go, pain free and surrounded by love.

Booth: She was ninety and she really wanted to go about six years earlier. You know, we’ve got this whole thing about prolonging life, but we’re prolonging life at the wrong end. I’d like to live long, but I wouldn’t like to live long in those last fifteen years, they don’t look so exciting to me [Laughs]. But if we could extend life when we’re in our twenties, that’d be nice.

FT: It would. So was writing the lyrics for this record therapeutic for you or was it difficult to confront your thoughts and emotions?

Booth: It wasn’t difficult. The words wrote themselves. Most of the lyrics I write write themselves and it was indeed therapeutic writing them. I don’t tend to think ahead so I just kind of threw myself into them and I’m very happy with them. But then of course when it came to having to sing them every night I went, “Oh shit.”

FT: Because you’re sharing very personal feelings with strangers?

Booth: No, I don’t mind that. It’s because some nights I’ll burst into tears and you can’t sing when you’re crying. Some nights I get the balance right with being really emotionally challenged and stirred up that it goes into the song, but you can’t control it because grief is a very strange thing. It comes in waves. Sometimes you can laugh about your mother dying and other moments you’re in tears. It’s very odd.

FT: I think that juxtaposition really comes across in the album, too. You’re dealing with a subject that many people would find morbid, yet the album doesn’t feel melancholy. I think “Moving On” must be one of the most uplifting songs about death ever written. Lyrically and musically.

Booth: We’ve always done that, where the band purposely play uplifting music to a heavy lyric. Take “Come Home” for example, “After thirty years I’ve become my fears/I’ve become the kind of man I’ve always hated” and yet that was in a pop song. So we’ve always worked with contrasts and contradictions. I believe paradoxes are the most fascinating statements about life. You can make a statement about life and the opposite can be equally true and that’s about as close as we can get to a real truth, when the opposite is also true. Our whole approach to this album was about celebrating life and not mourning death. It’s not a Western approach. It’s more of a South American one. That’s why we had the Day of the Dead imagery as artwork. Down there they talk to the dead, they take the piss out of them, they leave food out for them. It’s a much more tangible relationship.

FT: That’s a healthier way of dealing with death, I think.

Booth: I think so too. In the West it’s so hidden from us. When my dad died I was in New York and they promised me they’d keep the casket open until I got there and they didn’t. I really wanted to see him because I needed to say goodbye to him, not a box. I watched an amazing documentary years ago that’s stuck with me. It was filmed in a village in Bali and there was this old man that they thought was aged somewhere between 105-115, they didn’t know exactly, and he’d been a famous artist who worked according to the moon cycles. One day he called the village together and told them that, according to the moon, it was time for him to go and he lay down and died. And then the village passed his body around and they kissed him and they cried and they said goodbye. I thought to myself, “Holy fuck, that’s the way to go, that’s what we should be doing.”

FT: I think the video for “Moving On” profoundly captures what we’re talking about here. Was it a collaborative effort between the band and the director, Ainslie Henderson?

Booth: Yes and no. We’ve known Ainslie since he was about 19, and he’s been making these amazingly beautiful animations for a few years now. We’ve really wanted to work with him for a while and so we asked him to pitch a script for “Moving On.” The first one he sent over was crap so I rang him up and we talked about the song and I told him the story of my mum dying and the story of Gabrielle dying who was my mate that lived in New York and was one of the people I loved the most in the world. So Ainslie went away and thought about it and one day he was listening to the song on his headphones and he passed by a store with a ball of wool in the window just as the line “Time always unwinding” was playing. Two days later he sent me the fully formed storyboard.

FT: It deals with a difficult topic beautifully.

Booth: They’ve started showing it to kids who are dying in hospitals in England. Kids with terminal illnesses want to know about death because they’re dying, but the parents don’t want to talk about it because they don’t know what to say.

FT: Okay, let’s leave the topic of death for now because otherwise that’s going to be all we talked about. Do you have a favorite track on the record?

Booth: “Walk Like You.”

FT: And is there one that’s your favourite to perform live?

Booth: “Curse Curse.”

FT: There’s a lyric on “Curse Curse” that goes, “Turn the TV up/Copa del Rey/Messi shoots and scores/A hundred thousand came.” I think that line really captures the religious-like quality of football. What’s the story behind the lyric? Were you watching a Barcelona game when it came to you?

Booth: I’m very aware of the ecstasy that men get from a goal being scored. I love watching Barcelona, so Messi was easy, and also because sex is messy so the metaphor worked on all levels as I was comparing the goal to the sex happening in the hotel room next door. They’ve done a study on men that shows if your team wins your testosterone goes up at least twenty percent, but they’ve found it hard to study what happens when your team loses because most of the men are so depressed after a loss that they don’t even come back for the study.

FT: On the new record the band worked with a producer they’d never collaborated with before, Max Dingel. How was the process and what did Max bring to the table?

Booth: It was great. Max is a German who speaks great English. He’s very precise and he’s very patient, which you have to be to work with this band because everybody has different ideas and everyone’s very passionate about the music. Max is a real sonic maestro. He filled up the studio with all this old equipment from the sixties, seventies and eighties that he’s collected. It was great.

FT: Speaking of the eighties, in the early days it took James a few years to find mainstream success…

Booth: Seven years.

FT: …Was there ever a point where you thought of giving music up and doing something else?

Booth: Not really. There was one day when our drummer suggested it and we all looked at him and went, “Fuck off.” We were sure that what we were doing had value and that it would eventually be recognized. Our live audiences were growing in a very encouraging way, but the problem was we couldn’t get played on the radio or television. This was a long time ago when there weren’t many TV and radio stations. Even when we were playing to 5000 a night in Manchester, we still couldn’t get played. But then one day, Radio One suddenly decided to start playing us.

FT: Every album James has released since what would generally be considered the band’s heyday, the nineties, has charted in the top twenty in the UK Albums Chart.  In your opinion, how has the band managed to stay so relevant?

Booth: Actually, we’re bigger now than we were in the nineties, just not in the U.K. In places like Peru and Mexico we play to 15,000 people, and these are territories we’d never been to before about five years ago.

FT: How about in the U.S.? How would you summarize James’ career here?

Booth: There was that moment where we nearly broke, but then we took three years to release an album and in that time the head of the record company changed and the new guy hated us. And that was the end of that.

FT: Getting back to my question about how James has managed to stay so relevant, what do you think your secret is?

Booth: We’re still hungry and we were never too successful. I think if you get really fucking successful it’s hard to motivate yourself. We’ve been successful, but we’re still a working band, you know, we still have to work our arses off. I think we’re very proud of what we’ve done and we want to maintain that and push it further. We’re not finished. I left in 2001, but that was different. The band was a mess because of addictions and various other things, but now we’re back and we’re the strongest we’ve ever been. We’re getting on better than we ever have done and musically we’re a force. So as long as that continues, we’ll continue.

FT: Do you still enjoy touring?

Booth: Oh yeah. I love touring, love it. Especially with a new record. But it’s scary as well because we only just about know the songs. We’re not a band that rehearses a lot, but we like the energy that that brings. It’s better than being over-rehearsed.

FT: You’ve often said that because of the liver disease you suffered as a young man you’ve had to be careful around the drink and drugs lifestyle that many rock and roll bands traditionally indulge in and, as a consequence, seek your highs elsewhere.  Is one of those highs dancing?

Booth: Yes, dancing is my drug. I dance a lot and it brings up altered states. I drink once every three months and I take drugs once every two years, so I get high from dancing and meditating. Both of these things allow you to go deep into your psyche and find parts of yourself that are buried.

FT: I read somewhere recently that you’re currently writing a novel. How’s it going?

Booth: I am writing a novel but I haven’t touched it for about six months because of the new record. I’m not a natural writer and I have to fight a lot of procrastination. I can’t write on the road because I need silence to work.

FT: What’s the book about?

Booth: It’s kind of a ghost love story.

FT: What’s next in your burgeoning acting career? Any forthcoming roles we should be aware of?

Booth: I haven’t even got an agent. It’s weird, I moved to L.A. and I had this agent and I never really got put up for anything. If something comes my way I’ll take it, but I’m not looking for it because James has become pretty all-consuming.

FT: Before we finish, let’s talk football. Like me, you’re a Leeds fan. What do you make of Massimo Cellino?

Booth: [Laughs.] He seems very honest, but paradoxically, obviously dishonest simultaneously… probably… according to a judge anyway. I love his outbursts. They’re hysterical because he says and does things that nobody else would or could. Stuff like, “He’s fired!” and then a few days later, “No, he’s not fired and I should really fire myself” and then a week later, “No, he is actually fired.” Sadly, I think the Football League will try and get rid of him, which would be awful for Leeds. But if he stays it’ll be a roller coaster ride and we’ll see a lot of managers come and go. He’s passionate and who knows, maybe he’ll get us back into the Premier League.

FT: Do you think Leeds have any chance of going up this season?

Booth: I don’t think so. I also think not letting Neil Redfearn carry on was a mistake. The players seem to play for him. And what’s more, it’s hard for a new manger to come in after the team has won a few on the trot and then the new guy doesn’t get the results. It puts a lot of pressure on the new manager.

James new album, La Petite Mort, is out now.

Video for “Moving On” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWPgJkOdUZU

The End of an Era

esclogoBy Tim Hall

Unfortunately, as the New York Red Bulls season winds down and the great unknown of the playoffs looms on the horizon, El Pastor, the bar that the Empire Supporters Club have rallied at for home games since the opening of Red Bull Arena in 2010, is also winding down, as it will be closing within the next few weeks.

The most asked question about all of this is “why?” and, after considerable soul searching on this matter, I can tell you that the ‘why’ isn’t important. It simply is a reality, and no amount of hand-wringing over the particulars is going to change that. Sometimes life is not reasonable, and sometimes it is best to not try to reason with it. If you really can’t sleep at night without knowing every single detail about every little thing, perhaps you can find some cold comfort in the statement “life’s not fair.” There is no overarching force of justice in the universe, and bad things can and do happen to good people.

It’s that last bit – “good people” – that I want to stress, because Mr. Marques, the owner of El Pastor, has treated this ragtag bunch of soccer fans and derelicts like gold from the first time we met him. No, not like gold, better, like family. No one is blind to the fact that the ESC was bringing a pretty considerable amount of money to this bar and so being nice to us was just good business sense, but there’s a big difference between raking in the cash and pocketing it and what Mr. Marques and his team did. They brought in a pool table, improved the service, expanded the beer selection, set up a permanent TV on the patio for those really nice days when sitting inside is a sin, painted Red Bulls colors, and about a million other little things. It’s all about the little things. Always.

We first found El Pastor, thanks to a tip from a member, on a bar crawl we used to establish a new home base before RBA opened (and, also, as an excuse to get together and have a few drinks during the long winter offseason). Even though we visited a number of other bars on that particular day, El Pastor just seemed like a natural fit. It wasn’t expensive to have a few drinks and a sandwich for lunch, the stools at the bar invoked the feel of an old-school lunch counter that, even if you’ve never actually been to one, somehow screams Americana. There was the patio, which even though it was covered by snow at that first encounter, still gave all of us the idea that it would serve as a good transition from baking in the parking lots of Giants Stadium in the hot New Jersey summer. And there was parking, always an important plus for those coming in from the far suburbs or those hauling in assorted club gear.

There isn’t a better feeling in the world than sitting outside on a Saturday afternoon in the spring, cold beverage in hand, blue sky overhead, friends around, talking about soccer or anything else, and El Pastor provided that, and we’ve been so incredibly lucky. We’ve also been able to use the space in other ways, as well. We held a few concerts out in the parking lot, invited some friends to rock out and raise some money for good causes. I’ll never forget the lead singer of one of the bands running off during a guitar solo and climbing onto the roof covering the patio a good fifteen feet off the ground. That was definitively rock-and-roll. We’ve set up a dunk tank and basically tortured one of our members for a few hours (sorry, Jay). We’ve hosted two professional wrestling shows – again, raising money for charity – that were the most hilarious, joyful, silly things I’ve ever seen. It didn’t need to make sense, it just needed to be fun.

There have been late nights singing karaoke. There have been pow-wows in an area we thought of as “the upper deck” where a few of us would abscond and discuss the game and the matters of the day. There were the Christmas parties upstairs where, even though the soccer season was over and (more often than not) a disappointment, we still got together to spend one more night in each other’s company before the holidays like the bizarre warped extended family that we are.

And there have been individual moments that maybe don’t amount to anything to people who weren’t there or don’t understand the context. There was the night that Paul picked up a plastic chair out on the patio, slammed it down and made a ridiculous face. There was the night a group of us stayed behind to take care of a friend who had a bit too much to drink and needed the company instead of driving home. There was the time that my brother Mike executed, what is, to the best of my knowledge, the only successful judo throw in El Pastor history on a guy that was clearly off his gourd and decided to get aggressively friendly with Mike’s then-girlfriend. I don’t think we ever saw that kid again. Maybe when a guy flips you onto your back in a crowded bar on a Saturday night it’s bad for business, I’m not sure, but Mike and said girlfriend are now engaged with two kids, so, they’re doing just fine.

And there was the night we won the Supporters’ Shield as league champions, just about one year ago now, I walked around that bar and hugged everyone I knew, and maybe one or two people I didn’t. No worries if we weren’t the best of friends over the years. In that moment, all of the past nonsense was squashed for the joy of the moment.

There was sangria made with Sunny Delight that could be a major problem if not enjoyed responsibly, but there was rocket fuel espresso on offer at all hours inside, and boy did we need it sometimes. There was food and drink and laughs and songs and friendships and bonds and memories.

And now, that’s going to go away. I’m not so much worried about what the future will hold. The ESC has always been resilient, we’ve had to be to support this team through the years. We’ll land on our feet and when we do we’ll invite all of you out there to come join us wherever that may be.

But I am wistful. It’s a bit like losing a friend, only, if there’s any good to come of it, we get to say goodbye on our own terms and not hear about it after the fact.

Thank you, El Pastor. Thank you, Mr. Marques. Thank you Max and Joe and David and Carlos and all the other bartenders and waiters and cooks that we’ve crossed paths with. We are forever thankful to you. You are our family, and wherever we end up, you will always be welcome to join us there.

Sampdoria and Milan Look To Challenge Leaders

serieA_172x121By Michael Ottolenghi

The international break has been a bit of a misnomer for Serie A.  While the national team played in the watered down qualifying rounds of Euro 2016, Inter nearly fired their manager, Chievo did fire theirs, Juve were accused of stealing the title and the Italian parliament passed the latest law seeking to curb fan violence in Italian stadiums.

As usual, the Juve-Roma showdown rumbles on.  The controversy surrounding the reigning champions’ 3-2 victory against Roma before the international break rekindled conspiracy theories about Juventus, harking back to the dark days of the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal of 2006.  But while Juventus came out on top of that game, last Saturday’s results confirmed, yet again, that these two teams will compete for top spot on a weekly basis.
Juve’s 1-1 draw against second bottom Sassuolo allowed Roma to close their deficit to the Turin club to one point, with their own 3-0 win against Chievo (causing the first managerial change of the season, with Rolando Maran taking over from the fired Eugenio Corini in Verona). The return of the Champions League this week will again test both teams’ squad depth, as Roma face Sampdoria in Genoa on Saturday and Juventus face Palermo in Turin on Sunday.

Of the two games, Roma’s is the tougher, particularly after their Champions League drubbing by Bayern Munich.  Sampdoria are no Bayern, but they have emerged as this season’s early surprise team, and currently sit in third place three points behind Roma.  Under manager Sinisa Mihajlovic, Sampdoria have become a compact, aggressive outfit with notable quality up front in the form of Italian strikers Stefano Okaka and Manolo Gabbiadini (both of whom scored again in the 2-2 away draw in Cagliari last Sunday).

The club has recently changed ownership, with new boss (and film mogul) Massimo Ferrero immediately trotting out the necessary clichés about “projects” and returning the club to former glory.  But those clichés, tired as they are, do show a new boldness within the club that once showcased the talents of Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini, as Ferrero expressed his disappointment at the draw with Cagliari, telling journalists he had hoped to enter the Roma game on the back of a win, to allow his team to go second in the table after defeating the Roman side.  With re-energised home support and Mihajlovic’s past as an iconic Lazio player, Roma can expect a tougher ride than Juventus will have against a Palermo side who struggled to record their first win last Sunday in an injury time 2-1 victory over Cesena.

Away from the title challenge, the big fixture of the weekend sees Milan take on Fiorentina at San Siro.   The two teams enter the game in contrasting form. The Filippo Inzaghi experiment continues to go well in Milan, with last Sunday’s 3-1 away win at Verona showcasing Keisuke Honda’s versatility.  Milan are fourth in the table, just one point behind Sampdoria, and will be encouraged by the fact that results have come despite the lack of a clear tactical plan.  Inzaghi has given his attacking players a lot of freedom and is fortunate to have players like Honda, Stefan El Shaarawy and Jeremy Menez, who have all contributed goals and assists this season.

Inzaghi deserves credit for reigniting the careers of all three of those players, and also for shoring up a creaky defence, with the centre-back pairing of Alex and Adil Rami performing decently so far (albeit against middling opposition). What the team lack is a striker in the Inzaghi mould, or indeed in any goal-scoring mould, as Fernando Torres floats through games with no discernible connection to the rest of the team.

Fiorentina, on the other hand, have plenty of out and out strikers, but most are out injured and the viola sit in mid-table mediocrity, despite early season ambitions of European qualification. Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez are injured, while  attacking midfielders Juan Cuadrado and Josep Ilicic have also failed to find their form this season. Montella has to get his team clicking in order to at least replicate last season’s fourth place finish, and a win at San Siro would be a true statement of intent for the viola.