NYCFC Fall Spectacularly In Second Hudson River Derby

Photo by NYCFC.com

Photo by NYCFC.com

By Michael Schwartz

So close yet so far never rang more true for New York City in a match where everything seemed to be going their way. As Thomas McNamara deftly controlled a ball in the air before slotting it into the back of the net in the 6th minute, everything felt like NYCFC was on the verge of making a bold statement. However, reality set in as Coach Jason Kreis’ side reminded everyone that they are an expansion side with many issues to solve.

On an overcast day, the atmosphere was simply electric from both sets of supporters. The Red Bull supporters, located in the cheap seats in the upper echelons of Yankee Stadium, formed a sea of red and white up in God’s country. The rest of the stadium, which was packed with over 48,000 supporters, consisted of NYCFC supporters who had reason to believe their novel new club was finally ready to take down their hated cross-town rival. While it will always be a day that NYCFC supporters will probably want to forget, the passion shown proved that football in New York is winning.

New York City’s supporters roared early on as Andrew Jacobson headed a corner behind him to McNamara who showed great composure in taking his chance. With an early lead, Kreis’ players looked energized by the crowd. They aggressively attacked the Red Bulls backline as Coach Jesse Marsch’s side was caught on the back foot. As a result, New York City had a series of chances to perhaps kill off the match early on but they were left to rue squandered opportunities.

McNamara failed to double to his personal tally as he just missed connecting on a cross by Mehdi Ballouchy that agonizingly sailed in front of the goal. A few minutes later, Chris Wingert failed to bury a potential goal that was served to him on a silver platter after being unable to finish off a cross right in front of the goal on the left.

Besides those few excruciating moments, the rest of the first half seemed to drift by as McNamara’s early strike was the only shot on target both sides mustered in the first third of the match. The other biggest cheer of the first half came when out on the jumbotron appeared Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard sitting together watching their new team. By the end of the match, there’s no doubt that the two legends fully realized they’re going to have their work cut out for them.

The second half started all too quickly for New York City as they were about to be trampled by the Red Bulls. The damage started swiftly two minutes into the half as Sacha Kljestan found Bradley Wright-Phillips who buried his shot. The Red Bulls’ first shot on target was the equalizer they so desperately needed.

As if caught in a state of shock, NYCFC looked helpless in stopping the Red Bulls who took complete control of the midfield battle. Chris Duvall’s goal in the 53rd minute highlighted how vulnerable the backline looked as they began to crumble under constant pressure.

R.J. Allen, fresh off a recent string of strong performances, got beat badly by Wright-Phillips whose shot ricocheted off the left post. The Red Bulls looked completely assured of themselves as NYCFC seemed uninspired and shell-shocked by how quickly everything was falling apart. One was left to wonder whether NYCFC had scored too early as they barely created any chances throughout the opening third of the second half.

With Josh Saunders frequently needed to keep New York City in the game, it only seemed like a matter of time before the Red Bulls would find the back of the net again. Sure enough, Marsch’s side took advantage of the small field on a free kick with Matt Miazga, the defender who had got himself sent off in the first Hudson River Derby, able to bury a header past Saunders.

It became obvious that New York City’s best opportunity to win sailed by with the wasted chances of the first half. They simply looked flat and beaten down in the second half as the Red Bulls continued to look more likely to score even after their third. The Red Bulls had another shot bounce off the post after Kljestan failed to put away an easy opportunity off a cross late in the match.

While the injury to Wingert didn’t help, it was no excuse for what must be considered the nadir of New York City’s difficult first season. After looking so spirited early on, their deplorable form in the second half afterwards was easily the worst half of football Kreis’ side has played all season.

Unsurprisingly, Kwadwo Poku showed the only signs of life for NYCFC after coming on in the second half. He forced a spectacular save from Luis Robles and showed plenty of effort trying to win the ball and get forward in the latter stages.

In all, NYCFC mustered a measly two shots on target in the whole match. The Red Bulls simply looked better organized and more assured with what they needed to do in order to win.

With the latest defeat to the Red Bulls, this marks the halfway point in what has been a bumpy road for NYCFC in their inaugural season.  For the optimist, perhaps the loss was a blessing in disguise. The hiding NYCFC took in the second half showed the need for new players and that the winning streak Kreis’ side was on may have been a false dawn. Despite their recent positive form, this is still the same expansion side that has struggled mightily and the need for new players is worth the inevitable growing pains that come with throwing in different footballers.

The midfield lineup of Jacobson, Ballouchy, and Mix Diskerud lost control of the midfield battle. The manner in which the team was outplayed highlighted the need for more composed midfielders such as Pirlo and Lampard. In regards to Pirlo, there are still concerns in terms of whether he’s someone the team can build around due to his age and whether the Italian may be loaned out to Manchester City in January.

If Pirlo was the only player available for New York this summer, then it was worth adding him (though a recent report from Stefan Bondy of the Daily News would suggest otherwise). The encouraging aspect with New York City is that they have been able to sign multiple players such as Diskerud and Iraola that would have likely been Designated Players on other teams.

With things looking bleak, NYCFC will turn to big name superstars to change their fortunes and dazzle the crowd. There is no doubt that Pirlo and Lampard are proven (and very old) winners and they are going to need to have an instant impact in the Big Apple.

Red Bulls Beat NYCFC 3-1 In First Yankee Stadium Derby

Photo by NYCFC.com

Photo by NYCFC.com

 The New York Red Bulls earned a 3-1 victory over New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Sunday evening behind goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and the first career markers from both Chris Duvall and Matt Miazga. The Red Bulls have now taken the first two installments of the New York Derby.

With the win the Red Bulls improve to 6-5-5 on the season, and 2-3-3 on the road.

New York City got on the board in the sixth minute with a goal from Thomas McNamara. The play started with a cross from midfielder Mix Diskerud that was headed across the box by Medhi Ballouchy. McNamara was able to bring the ball down, turn and fire a low shot past Luis Robles and into the far corner.

Wright-Phillips played like a man on a mission from the start, getting involved in the attack early and generating a number of scoring chances for himself and his mates. The former Manchester City man broke through to tie the game just after the start of the second half. In the 47th minute Kljestan brought the ball down at the edge of the box, worked into space and put in a cross for Wright-Phillips to finish on a half-volley. The marker was Wright-Phillips sixth of the season, and third in two derby matches. It was the first of two assists on the night for Kljestan, bringing his season total to three.

The goal seemed to flip a switch for the visitors. The Red Bulls pressed the issue and took the lead in the 52nd minute thanks to Chris Duvall. After a set piece taken by Kljestan, winger Mike Grella regrouped and put in a short cross that Anatole Abang headed into space at the back post, where a wide open Duvall was able to volley his first touch under the cross bar for the eventual game-winner.

In the 56th minute Wright-Phillips was on the attack again, wrong-footing a defender with a cut back on the left side of the penalty area and driving a shot that rang squarely off the far post behind a diving Saunders.

Matt Miazga got in on the scoring in the 72nd minute, getting on the end of another set piece from Kljestan to head home the Red Bulls’ third goal at the back post.

Robles made two more quality saves, both on Kwadwo Poku, to preserve the lead. Robles pushed a drive from the penalty spot over the bar in the 74th minute, and held strong to the near post to deny another attempt in stoppage time.

The win was the first time the Red Bulls scored more than two goals this season. It would also be New York’s first win when allowing the first goal.

New York returns home for another New York Derby on Wednesday with a match against the New York Cosmos in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16. The Red Bulls return to league action with a trip to Columbus to meet Crew SC on Saturday, July 4 at 7:30 p.m.

NYCFC Shows Defensive Resolve in Win over Toronto FC

Photo by NYCFC.com

Photo by NYCFC.com

By Michael Schwartz

While David Villa will grab most of the headlines after scoring a brace in New York City’s 2-0 victory over Toronto FC, it’s the defense that should receive most of the credit for the team’s positive turnaround. The fact that the team hasn’t lost a league game this month as the defense has become more settled is no coincidence.

After coming off a heart-breaking midweek loss to the New York Cosmos in the U.S. Open Cup, Coach Jason Kreis’ side put in an assured road performance against Toronto. In a battle of sides that have splashed the cash on shiny new designated players, it was New York City’s stifling defensive resolve and ability to take advantage of their few chances that proved to be the difference.

New York City was finally able to score within the first few minutes of a match after earning a fortuitous penalty thanks to Benoit Cheyrou’s handball in the box. The French midfielder’s arm was too far out as he tried to control a ball off a New York City corner and was rightfully called on for conceding a penalty by the referee. Villa confidently scored his second penalty of the season by sending the keeper in the wrong direction as he buried the ball into the bottom left corner.

To see NYCFC draw first blood early in a match and create an opportunity off a set piece were encouraging signs. That was about the only sign of offense we saw in the first half from Kreis’ side as they spent most of the period trying to thwart Toronto’s relentless attack.

New York City effectively frustrated Toronto’s most dangerous player, Sebastian Giovinco, through physical defensive coverage that put the Italian off his game. To see Giovinco arguing with the referee showed that New York had successfully got to his head.

However, New York City wouldn’t have made it through the first half unscathed without repeatedly calling on Josh Saunders to make crucial saves. After the 25th minute, Toronto really took control of the match as New York City was pinned too far back in their own half. After denying a goal from Giovinco on a free kick, Saunders had to make back-to-back saves on Michael Bradley and Justin Morrow. Saunders, who has been the most consistent player of the season so far, did tremendously well to stop Bradley’s snap shot and to make himself big on Morrow after the winger got in on goal.

NYCFC rode their luck as they were bent but never broke under Toronto’s constant pressure. They were especially fortunate the referee didn’t spot a potential handball by R.J. Allen towards the end of the half. Regardless, New York weathered the storm due in large part to the backline and the defensive coverage of Andrew Jacobson who marked Bradley particularly well during the match.

Having a consistent backline is important for the chemistry built and the confidence it gives off for the rest of the team. Shay Facey, the young Manchester City youth player who struggled earlier this season out wide as a fullback, looks far more assured in his more familiar role as a center back. Often able to react quickly, the young Englishman is also bringing the best out of the more experienced Jason Hernandez who seems bolstered by having a quality partner.

Even though he told First Touch that he prefers to play in the center, Chris Wingert seems far more effective in his established role as a left back. On the right side, Allen’s positive form both at defending and getting forward has been a much-needed relief for Kreis due to Josh Williams’ health concerns. To see Allen getting started ahead of Jeb Brovsky is certainly a surprise which highlights how unpredictable soccer can really be.

In the second half New York City didn’t create many opportunities but ultimately didn’t need to as they stood up well defensively. They took their best chance of the half in the 58th minute when Toronto turned the ball over to Mix Diskerud in their own half. New York was unselfish and purposeful with the ball as Diskerud passed to Tommy McNamara out wide who found Mehdi Ballouchy in the box. Rather than trying to shoot with just the keeper to beat, the Moroccan displayed similar vision as he had in last week’s victory over Montreal by finding Villa on the other side of the box with an open goal to take advantage of. New York’s quick, decisive passing in the final third will no doubt be a welcome sight for Kreis and all supporters of NYCFC after the team had often struggled to break down opposing defenses.

Despite bringing on Jozy Altidore and having plenty of possession, Toronto simply failed to figure out how to break down New York’s backline. Their best chance came when McNamara was well-positioned to head a ball off the line following a Toronto corner.

While there is still room for growth, to see New York City put together a run of positive results is a testament to the emotional and mental resiliency of many experienced players on the team that have undoubtedly been through their share of bad runs at various points in the past. As the team dropped one match after another, the players continued to harp on the importance of sticking together in order to overcome the negative tension during the losing streak.

It must have been difficult for these players to come hastily together, have little time to build chemistry in the offseason, feel the exhilaration of first achieving success as an expansion side in front of a lively atmosphere, and then withstand the constant disappointment of a losing streak that lasted for months. New York City’s improved form speaks of character and how the players have been able to manage negative emotions that come when things just don’t go your way.

For now, Kreis’ seat won’t be as hot as some had expected it might be when the successful MLS coach was struggling to come up with answers for the team’s uninspiring performances. Unlike earlier this season, New York City looks settled, sure of itself and what needs to be done with each match. And as both Kreis and the players have eluded too on multiple occasions, the ball may just be finally starting to roll in their way. That is surely a relief for fans hopeful of good times ahead.

The Hidden World Cup

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Costa Rica scorer Melissa Herrera celebrates with the fans

By David Brand

Shortly after the final whistle sealed Costa Rica’s 2-2 draw with South Korea in the second Group E match of the Women’s World Cup in Montreal, the Koreans –heads down, shin guards in hand — stalked to the dressing room while the Ticas – beaming and buoyant — strutted to the stands to celebrate with their supporters. 

In the 89th minute, substitute Karla Villalobos found a seam in Korea’s backline, controlled a perfectly weighted chip with her chest and slipped the ball past the sprawling Korean keeper to earn a well-deserved point for Costa Rica. Like their male counterparts last summer, the Ticas have emerged as the tournament’s overachieving fan favorites. As the players walked along the wall that separated the crowd from the field, they seemed to accommodate every photo request with genuine excitement. We handed them our iPhones and hung over the railing to fit inside the frame as they snapped our group photos.

The selfie-bration was a refreshing response to Montreal’s indifference. In order to gain attention and acclaim, the players and fans had to generate it themselves one Instagrammed selfie at a time.

olympic-stadiumI traveled to Montreal last weekend with my parents, my brother Mike and my friend Joe to catch Saturday’s Group E doubleheader at Olympic Stadium, the former home of the Expos baseball club. The dome’s Kevlar roof dangles from a gigantic arm that towers above the structure and, like the Jetsons, the crumbling stadium serves as a time capsule for understanding what people in the mid-20th Century imagined the future would look like. Evidently, that vision of the future did not include international women’s soccer tournaments. Or water softeners. Crystallized sediment trickled from the drinking fountains and the green mineral deposits matched the color of the fake turf on the field. Exposed studs and wooden beams poked through the poured concrete terraces. The Fan Zone – restricted to ticket-holders – was on a sun-baked slab of concrete only accessible from the first level of the stadium.

Yes, the place was a dump, but at least there was unlimited beer and no evident security presence. We watched the bland Spain-Brazil game from our assigned seats as we plotted our move closer to the action. I strategized how we would split up to sneak by the ushers into the lower levels, but we encountered no resistance when we headed to empty seats about twenty rows behind the Korean bench. So we moved to the fourth row. Then the first.  No one ever asked to see our tickets. A young woman in a FIFA lanyard sat alone behind the Korean bench to monitor and ostensibly control the crowd. When I got her attention and pantomimed jumping onto the field, she smiled and shook her head.

Earlier in the week, I had sent a list of questions to our AirBnB host Alice. “What was the atmosphere like surrounding the World Cup?” I wondered.  “How evident was the tournament around the city?”

Unfortunately, Alice said she had not noticed any publicity on the streets or in bars and restaurants. She shared my questions with her friends who also responded that most Montréalais paid little attention to the event. On Friday night, our waiter at a restaurant in the hip Saint-Henri neighborhood said he had not seen any fanfare related to the event. Nor did the clerk at the bodega beneath our apartment or the waitress at the poutinerie we visited Saturday morning. In fact, the city seemed much more excited about Mural Festival, a large art exhibition and flea market where vendors served food from tents along Saint Laurent Boulevard, a major thoroughfare.

As we walked through Mural Festival on our way to the stadium, I spotted cooks stirring huge pans of paella outside a Spanish club. “Are you excited for La Roja’s match today?” I eagerly asked in Spanish. “No! Because they are the women,” one cook answered bluntly.

I was disappointed, but I suppose his regressive attitude reflects Spain’s general disregard for women’s soccer. While the men perfected tiki-taka and dominated world soccer for much of the last decade, the women just qualified for their first World Cup. Meanwhile, the Spanish federation has not changed coaches for 27 years despite the team’s mediocrity.

The festival stretched through Montreal’s Portuguese neighborhood and I stopped outside St. Laurent Frappe, a Portuguese sports bar with Super Bock beer banners and the familiar string of international flags that marked World Cup viewing venues throughout New York City last summer. There was a Women’s World Cup logo hand-painted on a window, but the bar featured many more prominent ads for the Copa America. Of course men’s soccer is more popular than women’s, but I was shocked by the host city’s neglect.

I finally noticed a handful of yellow Brazil jerseys when we approached the Mont Royal metro station. Next, we passed an older couple in Spain shirts and scarves near the station entrance. Fittingly, we had to go underground to find flocks of World Cup fans. Families with teenage girls in Brazil, Spain and Alex Morgan jerseys lined the subway platforms and packed the cars.  I spoke with Raina, a ninth grader from Pennsylvania who wore a blue Kaká jersey, and her mother Tapan. They too found the lack of interest in the tournament disconcerting, but they planned to tour Canada for the World Cup anyway. They even had tickets for the final in Vancouver.

Outside the stadium, I spoke with Johanna, a Montreal native filming the tournament for FIFA. She said the stadium was dead for the first two matches earlier in the week, but she expected a revved up crowd for the weekend. She attended a pep rally for the Spanish team at a cultural center earlier in the week and she said a few hundred fans pledged to form a Spanish cheering section. I later realized that she was referring to the same club where I met the cynical paella chef. I hoped a band of Spaniards would defy his misogyny.

selfies-ticosAnd so they did. As game time approached, fans flooded the entrance and filled the lower bowl of the cavernous stadium. Large groups wore Brazil and Spain gear. Proud Costa Ricans blew vuvuzuelas in line behind us. A crowd of Koreans unfurled a huge flag. But it was most heartening to see the fans who strapped on whatever soccer jersey they owned and headed to the stadium with no specific rooting interest. It reminded me of the nascent supporters at early MLS matches. The fans wore jerseys representing Poland, Ireland, Celta Vigo, Honduras and Sao Paolo. I spotted at least ten different iterations of Barcelona jersey. One family wore US soccer shirts, held a large American flag and posed for their next Christmas card in front of Olympic Stadium.  Like the Costa Rican players, these fans refused to let Montreal ignore the World Cup.

 

Many Positives For Some Championship Sides

PP_logoBy Paula Marcus

With so much controversy this year in the Championship, it has sometimes been hard to really focus on all the positives that have played out over the season. So here is the final part of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ review of the 2014/15 Championship season, with a look at who had a good year.

Obviously, teams enter the season with different expectations and hopes for the coming year. After gaining promotion two years ago, AFC Bournemouth were looking to push on from their 10th place finish last season. What actually happened was probably far beyond even the most optimistic fans dreams, as they gained promotion and sealed the title on the final day of the season. More impressively, it capped off a rags to riches story that few would believe, after the club started the 2008/09 season in League Two with -17 points after financial problems resulted in the club entering administration.

After a slow start to the season, six wins in a row in October sent them to the top of the table and they never looked back, spending the remainder of the year in the top six places. Despite concerns they would be unable to stick it out till May, largely due to squad size and experience, they always looked worthy of a place in the top two. How they will cope next year is a big question mark, but there is plenty of time for that and nothing will take away from this past year.

The most tried and tested way to earn promotion out of the Championship is through hard work and a good team ethic, and Eddie Howe has installed both of these qualities into his players. In fact, their team was so strong as a unit, only two players made it into the PFA team of the season. There was surprisingly no place for two players who had really stood out this year, PFA Fans player of the season Harry Arter and 20 goal striker Callum Wilson.

In a team where everyone is still probably celebrating, Wilson has more reasons than most to be happy. After finishing League One top scorer, Bournemouth fought off a host of other Championship sides to sign Wilson from Coventry City in the close season. The biggest surprise was the lack of any top flight team willing to take a chance on a player who had an impressive goal tally in League One. He made the jump to the Championship look effortless and not even a £3million price tag could hold him back.

You don’t need to win the league, or even finish second, for the season to be impressive. OK, it certainly helps, but sometimes it is more about how you conduct yourself over the season. Over the past few years Ipswich Town have made very little noise, but they have been working their way slowly up the table in the most responsible manner possible. Instead of trying to buy their way to promotion, Mick McCarthy has aimed to assemble a squad made up of players no one else wants combined with smart deals in the loan market.

There is only one player in the Ipswich squad, defender Tyrone Mings, who McCarthy paid a fee for, and even that was only $10,000. Despite the lack of significant investment, Ipswich have built a strong, stable team that is improving year on year. Losing to their closest rivals in the playoffs may take a little shine off this season, but from the outside looking in, they really have achieved something impressive this season. It seems unlikely other teams will be following their lead (especially as QPR seem to be trying to break FFP for a second time), but it is nice to see responsible spending can mean success.

Whilst every team is theoretically aiming for those top six places and possible promotion, for many merely staying up is worth celebrating. Rotherham United entered the season as one of the favourites to make a quick return to League One. Instead they secured safety with games to spare. What really made Rotherham stand out though was their loyalty to manager Steve Evans. In a year when managers were changed more frequently than underwear, Rotherham stuck by Evans and were rightly rewarded.  In fact, Rotherham were the only team in the bottom half of the table to end the season with the same manager that started it, and that is almost as impressive as staying in the division.

A special mention should also go to Birmingham City. A tenth place finish may not be what is expected of a club that was in the Premier League just four years ago, but it does signal a new beginning for a club that has had more than a few downs since returning to the Championship. Financial problems, transfer embargos and an owner in jail are just some of the issues they have faced over the past few years.

After avoiding a drop to League One on the final day of last year, it certainly looked like they wouldn’t be quite as fortunate this season. But, since the arrival of Gary Rowett in October things have finally started looking up for City. There may still be a way to go before promotion is a realistic target, but finally fans have a reason to be slightly optimistic and, after the past few years, I’m sure they will take it.

So there is it, the good, bad and ugly review of the 2014/15 season. And with that, it’s time to focus on what’s ahead and start looking forward to what the next year has in store.

Rangers Finally On The Mark

FTglobe_purpleBy Brian P. Dunleavy

Rangers appointed the club’s fourth manager in less than a year, formally announcing the hiring of Englishman Mark Warburton on Monday.

Warburton, who most recently served as manager at Brentford, will be joined in the dugout by former Ibrox defender, and club captain, Davie Weir. Weir has served as Warburton’s right-hand man in London for the past two seasons, helping him lead Brentford to promotion from England’s League One to the Championship during their first season there. The Bees finished fifth in the Championship in the duo’s second season in 2014-2015, but lost to Middlesbrough in the semi-finals of the promotion playoffs.

Still, despite this recent run of success, it is worth noting that Warburton has relatively little management experience, particularly in a crucible such as Glasgow. After retiring as a player in 1988, he worked as a trader for a decade before getting back into coaching with Watford. He eventually was raised to the “controversial” (at least in British football) role of Sporting Director with the Hornets.

(Rangers will be the first club he has worked for that don’t have an insect-related nickname, although Mike Ashley might consider the Glasgow giants ticks; more on that in a bit.)

During his time as sporting director, Warburton somewhat famously admitted he would “row with [the manager]” daily. He may need to tap into that experience with tension in his new job, given the apparent discord between the club board and technical staff—not to mention the club and its supporters—over the past several years.

Outgoing gaffer Stuart McCall’s time in charge could hardly be called a success—third place in the Championship table and failure to gain promotion via the playoffs is not good enough at Rangers—but that he was unceremoniously shown the door after restoring at least some stability on the pitch says something about the club’s leadership. McCall’s predecessors—Ally McCoist and (interim) Kenny McDowall—had the team heading toward a mid-table finish (on top of poor results in the Scottish Cup), and both aired their grievances with the club’s board in the press (and, to be fair, vice versa).

McCall, though, played the role of company man admirably; yet, the club’s new leadership—under the direction of the “fit and proper” Dave King—decided to go in a different direction.  Given that the fates of McCoist, McDowall and McCall show that nostalgia is a non-factor, how much rope will the club give Warburton and Weir? Will the board attempt to weigh in on player personnel decisions, as it reportedly did following the Ashley loan agreement? Does the new management team have the players it needs to finally get the Ibrox side back to the Prem?

Only time will tell, as it will apparently take time for Rangers to sever financial ties with the likes of Ashley, who reportedly required the Ibrox side to take on five Newcastle United loanees in January as part of a £5 million loan agreement. Ashley owns United as well as retailer Sports Direct, in addition to a nine percent stake in Rangers. Earlier this week, the club’s shareholders voted to delay repayment of the loan and renegotiate terms.

With his new employer’s history of business dealings such as these, Warburton should take heed.

Red Bulls To Host NY Cosmos In US Open Cup

nycosmos_logoThe New York Red Bulls will host the New York Cosmos (NASL) in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 on July 1, at 7:30 p.m. The matchup was determined this morning in a draw held by U.S. Soccer after the remaining 16 teams were grouped geographically at the conclusion of the fourth round on Wednesday evening.

The Red Bulls were drawn geographically into a group with the Cosmos and MLS rivals Philadelphia Union and D.C. United. The Union will host D.C. for the other match in the East group, and the winners of the two matches will meet in the quarterfinals in July.

Based on the results of the draw, the winner of the Red Bulls-Cosmos draw will host the quarterfinal round matchup.

“I’m trying to stay focused,” said Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch. “One game at a time here, but now that the news comes out… I watched the game last night, it was a charged game with emotion and competitiveness. I thought it was an entertaining game. We’re happy to know it’s at home, but we know it will be a big challenge. It’s funny, they don’t have any games until that game, and we’ve got three. We’ll have to now take it game-by-game for us, but I know we’ll be ready for the Open Cup.”

 

Great Expectations

?????????????Tim Hall’s View From 101

2014: Four goals scored in three games, advance to the knockout stage by finishing second place in the “Group of Death” against two teams with a legitimate chance of winning the entire tournament and a very game and athletic African side bent on playing spoiler. Lauded as heroes and representatives of the true American spirit.  

2015: Four goals scored in three games, advance to the knockout stage by winning the “Group of Death” against two teams with a legitimate chance of winning the entire tournament and a very game and athletic African side bent on playing spoiler. Questions abound about their age, health, style, and tactics.

It goes to show that there is a massive difference in the level of expectations for the US Men and the US Women when just a year apart, what was cause for celebration for the gents is just the beginning of hand wringing season for the ladies. When the men bowed out against Belgium in extra time in the round of 16, that likely jibed with most people’s expectations for the Yanks in Brazil: good job to get out of the group, maybe get to the quarterfinals with a lucky break, anything past that is sprinkles on the sundae.

The US Women however have created and shaped the expectations around themselves over the past two decades of play that they are a juggernaut that can go out and dominate virtually any team in the world. Indeed, the group stage of the Women’s World Cup is merely just three warmup games, the friendlies after the sendoff friendlies, before the real work begins in knockout play.

Except, they aren’t. It’s easy to think back to World Cups past and remember moments like the Megan Rapinoe-to-Abby Wambach goal in the 122nd minute against Brazil that “saved the USA’s life!” in the words of commentator Ian Darke. When you think of the joy and wonder of those moments, it becomes much easier to view the slog of the group stage as though in a hazy dream. But strip away the cheesecloth, and the facts simply don’t hold up the illusion of a crushing offensive force marching toward their destiny.

The United States scored four goals in the 2015 World Cup group stage. Admittedly that’s not ideal for a team that would like to cruise through, but soccer is ultimately a results-oriented business, and the US won their group and have moved on. Looking back to four years ago, the US scored six goals in group play, which is obviously better, but it was still only good enough for second place in their group. 2007 saw the Stars-and-Stripes score just five goals in group play, but end up with the same +3 goal differential as they did in this year’s edition of the tournament.

In fact, to get that feeling back that the US was scoring for fun, you have to go all the way back to 2003, which, coincidentally was the last time the World Cup was held on American soil, back to when the Yanks hung eleven goals in the three group games. So, why then all of the worry now about the squad’s lack of offensive output when they haven’t actually been that team for twelve whole years? Expectations are a funny thing like that.

Looking back through the years we can actually find a few good reasons why the goal scoring outbursts have slowed down. Back in 2003, the US were drawn against Nigeria and very easily cruised to a 5-0 win. In 2015, drawn again against Nigeria, the result was a tidy, professional, but not at all ‘cruising’ 1-0 win.

But without a doubt the easiest and best point of comparison have to be Sweden, who, for reasons that must defy all logic and mathematical probability, have been placed in the same group as the United States in each of the last four World Cups. This would normally be a good place to make a joke about FIFA corruption, but, let’s face it, nobody at FIFA headquarters cares enough about the women’s game to put in the effort to corrupt it. Instead, let’s have a look at how the new quadrennial tradition has ended each time:

2003: US 3-0 Sweden

2007: US 2-0 Sweden

2011: Sweden 2-1 US

2015: US 0-0 Sweden

Now, it can be argued that the US have come back to the field since their win in 1999, and certainly there is a case for that, since the Stars-and-Stripes haven’t had the same unbeatable mystique since those days of Mia Hamm and the like.

But the larger truth is that Sweden, and every other nation in the world, got plum tired of getting run over by the US every four years. The global investment – both in time and energy as well in that great equalizer, money – have increased dramatically in the last fifteen years, and nations where a women’s team has been an afterthought, if a thought at all, now are devoting resources to seeing their team at least put forward a competitive showing. And unlike 2003, where the United States was arguably the one and only favorite, now multiple countries turn up with a reasonable chance to take home the prize. This tournament alone, you could have made a case for the US, Germany, France, Brazil or the Swedes as favorites, and that doesn’t even include the hosts Canada, the holders Japan, or the former champion Norway.

Steel sharpens steel, and 24 years after the first Women’s World Cup, it is starting to pay dividends in a more competitive tournament, and a more competitive game around the world.

But if you need to have a little bit of hope for the United States going into the round of 16, take solace in these numbers from group play through the years:

2003: 1 goal allowed, +10 goal differential

2007: 2 goals allowed, +3 goal differential

2011: 2 goals allowed, +4 goal differential

2015: 1 goal allowed, +3 goal differential

 

Even though we can look at the current roster for all their offensive talent and understand their ability to go out and score goals in bunches if need be, the defense through the years has remained rock solid. And as we always say in sports, offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.

So, with this, First Touch will be heading into summer hiatus, off to our undisclosed island in the Caribbean for a few weeks. Hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the World Cup along with Euro qualifiers, Copa America, the continuing MLS campaign, and all the wacky mid-summer cash grab friendlies. My own personal thanks, as always, to editor and Grand High Poobah David Witchard for the space and the freedom to work and improve as a writer. And from all of us, thank you ever so much for reading this column and all of the other wonderful work in First Touch, because without you, it’s all meaningless. This, specifically, may still be meaningless, but at least you’re sharing it with me. It’s greatly appreciated.

Cosmopolitan League Enjoying Irish Resurgence

cosmoyellowBy Jay Mwamba

There was a period several years ago when the future of Irish clubs in the nation’s top amateur league seemed bleak.  Aging squads, a decline in the arrival of fresh talent from Ireland and departures back home had begun to hurt Irish teams in the CSL.

St. Barnabas, a club formed by Irish immigrants in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx, bore the brunt of this dilemma. Depleted, the Saints folded at the end of the 2000-2001 season after finishing in mid-table in the top flight.

Lansdowne Bhoys and Shamrock were also impacted by the changing times. The latter voluntarily dropped down from the second tier to regroup in Metro Div. Two in 2006, while the Bhoys struggled in the First Division after a meteoric rise from Metro Div. Two.

Flash forward to today. Irish clubs rule the roost in the CSL.

Six of the silverware at stake in the recent 2014-2015 CSL campaign were scooped by Irish teams.

There was the Shamrock Over-30s’ double that established Paddy McCarry as one of the winningest coaches in the league in recent memory. He led his senior Rocks to both the division title and league championship – the latter their second since 2012.

In Metro Div. One, the Lansdowne thirds clinched the East title. The Lansdowne reserves lifted the D’Arpino Cup while Shamrock’s second unit bagged the Saunders Cup.

And at the top, the Lansdowne’s firsts produced an encore performance against Pancyprian Freedoms in a rematch of last year’s final to retain the CSL championship. They won 2-0.

 

IRISH RENAISSANCE

So how did these Irish sides come from the brink to rule the CSL? By revamping their front offices and casting a wider net for players, according to officials.

“From a Lansdowne perspective, the process of winning back-to-back championships and the D’Arpino cup this season started six years ago,” said VP Aiden Corr.

There were administrative issues and rosters comprising mostly GAA [Gaelic football] players.

“We were heavily reliant on the [GAA players] for years but their commitment was elsewhere, especially near end of the CSL season when picking up points is vital,” noted Corr. “Without a core of soccer lads we knew we would struggle to compete.”

Corr was instrumental in bringing in William McGory — now club president — and other officials.  Kevin Grogan also came on board as coach and began the Bhoys’ transformation from stragglers to contenders in the First Division.

New players joined stalwarts Declan Reilly and Conor Hunter and in 2012 the rebuilding process paid off.  Lansdowne won its first division title and reached the CSL championship final where they succumbed on penalties to New York Greek Americans.

The Irishmen continued to retool the next season. Player Austin Friel replaced the departed Grogan and midfielder Stephen Roche — a penalty scorer for the Greeks in the 2012 championship game — was one of several new signings.

Roche would captain Lansdowne to its first championship in 2014.

“The results have spoken for themselves over the last five years and the improvement has been immense,” remarked Corr. “We have been involved in [different] finals and semi-finals in each of these years.”

There has been a trickledown effect from the Lansdowne revival. As new blood has come in, veteran players such as Declan Reilly, Keith Murphy, Dessie Beattie and Johnny McGeeney have dropped down to the reserve and Metro teams improving both dramatically.

 

SHAMROCK REVIVAL

Shamrock’s return to the top flight completes the club’s revival a decade after their demotion and nine years after they opted to regroup in the league’s de facto fourth division.

“The slowdown in immigration from Ireland to New York during the boom in the Irish economy certainly affected the Shamrocks but after the 2012 season, new members started to emerge buoyed by the league success of the Over-30s,” said the Rocks’ John Riordan.

He also noted an administrative overhaul in summer 2013 and a revamp of the club’s PR and social media presence that aided in the player recruitment that was vital to the club’s return to the upper echelon.

“Change is never easy but the old guard were supportive and patient as the new committee explored new ways of raising funds and widening the player base,” added Riordan. “…And thanks to the incredible dedication of our coaches Glen Wrafter, Stevie Doyle, Paddy Mc Carry and Eddie Gilmartin, our fortunes began to change for the better.”

Wrafter and Nikle Guzikan went on a recruitment campaign for the first team. Among their acquisitions was Ivorian Mo Fafana, the Rocks’ top scorer during their promotion run this year.

Still, there’s a heavy Irish presence in all Shamrock teams. According to Riordan one of the best signings of the year was Colum McComish, a huge addition the club.

Under the infectious dynamism of club president/Over-30 goalie and assistant coach Sean McMullan, the Rocks hope to keep on improving and expanding. Plans are afoot to add two teams and recruit new players for their First Division campaign.

OLD TIMERS

In a league where the Over-30 talent is almost as good as you can find in many open age set-ups, Shamrock towered shoulders above the field.

Coach Paddy McCarry attributed this to the panel [roster] of excellent players at his disposal.

“I would say this season more than any other since I have been manager we had a panel of excellent players,” said McCarry. “I have players that can play in more than one position and play very well.”

It also helped, he added, that Over-30 turnout was excellent with the exception of one game when he was missing six starters and only had 11 players. Shamrock lost 5-0.

Standouts included the aforementioned club president and Over-30 assistant coach Sean McMullen who was a beast between the posts.

In front of him was a defense that McCarry rated as the best in the league. It comprised Antoin Diver at right back, Keith Buckley at left back, center back Adrian Morrisey and sweeper/captain Bingo O’Driscoll.

In the middle of the park, Brendan Donoghue, Stephen Ampuero and Tomas Maher were workhorses. Then there was the attacking fervor of Alex Berne, the Rocks’ Players’ Player of the Year, and dead ball specialist Danny Parkin.

Up top, McCarry relied on Sean Riley, who banged in 12 goals, and Turkish ace Tayfun Gokmen with eight. McCarry rates the Turk as the quickest man in the CSL.

The coach also had props for his other squad members, including Ari Seidenstien, Matteo Staiglich, Ali Reza, Richard Brennan, Pablo Graham and Ruairi Lavery.

Next season, the Shamrock vets will be aiming not only to retain the CSL title but also add the Fritz Marth Over-30 State Cup to their trophy room.

NY Cosmos Knock NYCFC Out Of US Open Cup

cosmos_NYCFCIn a front of a crowd of 11,446 and in a game full of dramatic twists and turns, the New York Cosmos came away victorious in the inaugural East River Derby against MLS side New York City FC. The Cosmos erased a two-goal deficit in the second half before defeating New York City FC 4-3 in penalty kicks in their U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round tie to remain undefeated in competitive play in 2015. 

“The guys performed,” said Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese after the match. “We found the two goals and at the end. The thing I’m most proud of is that we kept on fighting.”

The Cosmos saw most of the possession and scoring chances in the opening minutes of the game. Raúl came close to putting his name on the score sheet in the 13th minute, but his shot from winger Walter Restrepo cross went just wide off the outside netting.

New York City FC would take the lead in the 24th minute through an acrobatic effort from striker Kwadwo Poku. RJ Allen’s cross into the box popped up in the air, and with his back to goal, Poku connected with an overhead kick to put the visitors in front 1-0. The goal came against the run of play and was NYCFC’s first shot attempt of the match.

NYCFC would continue to press but failed to register another shot on goal as they took a 1-0 lead into the break.

Although trailing, Savarese said the team was relaxed in the locker room and confident heading into the second half.

“After the talk at halftime the team came into it with a different mentality,” Savarese said. “We believed that we were going to be able to win the game.”

But it was NYCFC that would extend its lead with Poku scoring his second of the night in the 57th minute, collecting a ball from Pablo Alvarez and firing past Jimmy Maurer. Alvarez’s pass looked to have found Poku in an offside position but the linesman’s flag stayed down.

The Cosmos would make a key second-half change when Leo Fernandes came on as a substitute in the 63rd minute to replace Sebastian Guenzatti, and the Brazilian midfielder made an immediate impact for the Cosmos. Just two minutes into his shift, Fernandes connected on a cross from Hunter Freeman to cut NYCFC’s lead to one. Freeman’s cross was flicked on by Lucky Mkosana in the box. Fernandes got ahead of his marker and beat NYCFC goalkeeper Eirik Johansen in goal.

With less than 10 minutes to play goalkeeper Maurer kept the Cosmos alive, making a huge one-on-one save on Mehdi Ballouchy, who took a ball from Poku and moved in on goal all alone. Maurer threw out his leg to deflect the shot wide.

As the clock neared full time it looked like the Cosmos’ run in the U.S. Open Cup was over, but Lucky Mkosana tallied in the 90th minute to level the score at two. Once again it was Freeman with a cross from the right wing, as Mkosana took one touch to settle and another to find the back of the net.

Maurer put in an Emirates Cosmos Man of the Match performance, but even he was impressed with the strong play from Mkosana.

“Lucky’s a monster, man,” Maurer said. “He’s so fast, so strong, but he’s such a good player too. He holds the ball for us; he gives us outlets. Those assists, those goals – he’s been killing it. There’s not enough you can say about him.”

Mkosana nearly put the Cosmos ahead just a minute into extra time, with his shot beating Johansen low only to hit off the post, as Restrepo blasted the rebound over the net. A few minutes later it was Mkosana again getting a shot off, but Johansen was there to make a strong save for the visitors.

Despite the Cosmos’ early pressure, it was NYCFC who could have taken the lead in extra time when Patrick Mullins was pulled down by Hunter Freeman in the box. The referee pointed to the penalty spot and Pablo Alvarez stepped up for the kick, but his shot rattled off the crossbar to keep things all square at two in the 98th minute.

Maurer came up huge again in the second period of extra time, making a diving stop on Ned Grabavoy. As Maurer’s save deflected across the box, Fernandes got his body in front of the rebound to make sure the match went to penalty kicks.

Heading into the penalty shootout, Maurer said he was rather confident and excited.

“You just have to go with your gut whichever way that you’re feeling, and you just push 100 percent,” Maurer said. “Anytime as a goalkeeper you get to PKs, you’re just excited. It’s finally a chance to be the hero.”

And a hero he was. After Chris Wingert and Mads Stokkelien traded goals to open the penalty kicks, both Maurer and Johansen made big stops to keep the penalty score 1-1. Ballouchy scored for NYCFC and Fernandes fired his shot over the net, as the visitors took a 2-1 lead.

Mix Diskerud converted to put NYCFC ahead 3-1, before Mkosana pulled one back for the Cosmos.

Maurer made another huge save on Mullins to keep the match going, and Adam Moffat found the back of the net to level the score 3-3 in penalties after five shooters aside.

Maurer’s epic night continued as he made his third save of the shootout, stoning Shay Facey on NYCFC’s sixth kick. Hunter Gorskie then stepped up to the spot and buried his shot, sending the Cosmos into the fifth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

After defeating the New York Red Bulls last year in the Open Cup and now beating New York City FC, Coach Savarese believes the Cosmos are a threat every time they step on the pitch, no matter the opposition.

“I think the most important thing is that they take us seriously,” Savarese said. “They know that we are capable of big things, and that we can compete with anyone.”

In the Round of 16, the Cosmos could potentially face another Major League Soccer side. The date and location of that match will be announced at Thursday’s U.S. Open Cup draw.

 

Draw For Cosmos Copa NYC Involves 32 Nations

copadrawThe New York Cosmos officially announced the results of the group stage draw for the seventh annual grassroots tournament Cosmos Copa. On Monday night, 32 amateur international soccer teams from around the tri state area discovered who their opponents would be this summer.

The group draw was done World Cup style, with ping pong balls determining which group teams ended up in. Each of the eight groups comprise four teams who will play each other in a tournament format similar to the World Cup.

Leading the draw was former New York Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing, who currently serves as an ambassador for the club.

“This is a formal tournament for what really is grassroots in New York,” Messing said. “These are our people, this is our city. I’m very happy the Cosmos are involved.

“We’re obviously the greatest melting pot in the world,” Messing said of New York. “As big as the Cosmos are, these are our people, this is our city.”

“I believe it’s a great experience against high-level competition. You get to play against the best players in New York,” NYC Paraguay president Dario Cabanas said. “That’s a great experience for any player.”

The Cosmos will again team up with staff from its official charity partner, Street Soccer USA (SSUSA) to produce the tournament, including facilitating the day-to-day operations of Cosmos Copa.

SSUSA is a non-profit organization that uses the power of soccer to help at risk and homeless youth and young adults dramatically transform their lives. They utilize the power of sports, in this case soccer, to promote player development not merely on the field, but in every aspect of life.

The Cosmos Copa group stage kicks off on July 4 at Randall’s Island with the draw in full as follows:

2015 COSMOS COPA GROUP STAGE

 

Group A: Senegal, Greece, England, Kosova

Group B: Haiti, Guinea, Holland, Ukraine

Group C: El Salvador, Peru, Ghana, Guyana

Group D: Poland, Mexico, Colombia, Spain

Group E: Ireland, Paraguay, Japan, Jamaica

Group F: France, Uruguay, Chile, Honduras

Group G: Gambia, Ecuador, Antigua, Scotland

Group H: USA, Albania, Argentina, Croatia

 

Copa America – Answers

1 – Which country has won the most Copa America tournaments?

Uruguay 15

2 – Who are the current champions?

Uruguay

3 – Which country was originally slated to host this year’s tournament in Chile?

Brazil

4 – in what year did the USA last appear in the tournament?

2007

5 -  Where and when will the next edition of Copa America be held?

USA 2016

 

USA 2016

NYCFC Begin To Flex Some Muscles

Photo by NYCFC.com

Photo by NYCFC.com

by Michael Schwartz

As David Villa finished off an intricately-built opener in New York City’s 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact, some of the fans in section 233 couldn’t believe what they had just seen. “We scored first, we scored first” chanted the fans in a testament to how rare it was to see NYCFC actually take a lead for once in the first half.          

These moments sum up the hope most NYCFC fans share in that perhaps their struggling expansion side is starting to turn the corner in the process of becoming a legitimately competitive team. Their first victory at Yankee Stadium since the home opener in mid-March, New York City’s positive results are rewarding patient supporters that have waited for this team to overcome their early struggles.

Of course, there are still plenty of aspects Coach Jason Kreis’ side needs to work on. Despite seemingly having more possession and control of the match, New York City couldn’t muster a single shot on target before Villa scored in the 31st minute. They continued to waste an endless number of crosses and corners that often sailed over everyone. And Montreal’s late goal in the 88th minute through a Wandrile Lefevre header was a soft goal to concede that may have resulted from New York City growing too complacent towards the end of the match.

Yet, Kreis must be feeling relieved to gain some encouraging results after going for so long without a win. The longtime MLS coach should have been pleased with New York’s elaborate first goal which was the result of quick, purposeful decision-making in the final third. Seeing Mehdi Ballouchy having the vision to see the run being made by Villa before passing it across the goal for the Spaniard is something for New York to hold onto as they have often struggled to break down defenses.

After missing a barrage of early chances in the second half (Patrick Mullins showed plenty of effort but will likely rue missing the sitter provided for him by R.J. Allen), Kreis once again made effective substitutions by bringing on Mix Diskerud and Kwadwo Poku. While Diskerud capped off a memorable week for both club and country by scoring what turned out to be the winner, the impact Poku had can’t be overstated.

While you can call him raw and inexperienced, the fans love Poku because he simply makes things happen once he comes onto the field. With his speed and strength, his ability to take advantage of exhausted opponents was on full display almost immediately after entering the action in the 75th minute. Watching the Ghanaian wrestle the ball off a defender, glide across the box, and then find Diskerud who buried his shot was thrilling partially because one could see it coming.

Another heartening aspect to take away from the win was seeing New York kill off a match in stoppage match rather than trying to desperately hold out for the win. After creating more shots and dictating most of the match, it would have been disappointing to see New York frantically hold on to the lead. Therefore, seeing New York be rewarded for going forward late with Villa’s pass eluding a Montreal defender before finding Poku who put the ball assuredly into the back of the net was refreshing to see. Admittedly the defender could have done better stopping that pass but it’s fair to say NYCFC was due for a little good fortune after the rough start to their inaugural season.

Besides scoring three goals for their first time ever, the central defensive partnership of Jason Hernandez and Shay Facey should also be noted. While Facey looks far more competent in his more familiar role as a center-back, Hernandez put on a man-of-the-match caliber performance alongside him. With Chris Wingert back at left back and Allen playing well on the other side, New York put together one of their strongest defensive displays of the season despite the late goal conceded. While they still look vulnerable at times, it was the kind of defensive performance that can give the whole team more confidence going forward.

So with having taken 7 out of a possible 9 points in their last 3 matches, it’s safe to say there is room for optimism. New rumored additions has also lifted the mood of supporters as there is speculation that anywhere from five to ten new faces could walk through the doors during this summer. While Frank Lampard’s eventual arrival is eagerly anticipated, New York City’s options at the full back positions have been boosted with the arrivals of Andoni Iraola and Jose Angel Tasende.

After making 510 appearances over 12 seasons with Athletic Bilbao, Iraola is an accomplished right back that is versatile enough to play a number of positions. A constant for the Basque club for more than a decade, the 32-year-old also made seven appearances for the Spanish national team. He will no doubt relish the opportunity to play with Villa after having tried to thwart the legendary goal-scorer in numerous matches.

New York City also added another Spanish fullback with Jose Angel Tasende from Manchester City’s U-21 academy. Nicknamed Angelino, Tasende is a Spanish left back that started playing for the U-21 side before his 17th birthday. A quick, attacking fullback that can provide quality crosses, New York City could use the talented defender considering Wingert’s age and Connor Brandt’s inexperience as a left-back. A dead-ball specialist that can take corners and free kicks, Angelino could turn heads in the Big Apple.

With new additions and the team starting to play well, it’s a great time for New York City to find their form as they have two massive games coming up. After traveling to take on Toronto F.C. in their next MLS game, NYCFC will be looking for some payback in a much-anticipated rematch with the Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium.