Until The Ribbon Breaks

until(2)Interview by Jon Langford

It’s been one year since the release of Until The Ribbon Breaks critically acclaimed debut EP A Taste of Silver. In the subsequent twelve months the Welsh trio have been almost constantly on the road, only pit stopping to work on their inaugural full-length record A Lesson Unlearnt (out January 20). The album delivers more of the same industrial soundscapes of Silver; celestial synths spread over drum machines, brooding guitars and dark, breathy vocals.

First Touch caught up with the band (Peter Lawrie Winfield (vocals, guitar), James Gordon (keys), Elliot Wall (drums)) during their recent press tour of New York City to chat music, lost family heirlooms and bodily injections in unpleasant places.

FT: Let’s begin with the story of the band name. How did it come about?

Pete: We had already made some of the music, but it had no name and we didn’t really even know what we wanted to do with it. I played some demos to a friend and he noted that it kind of jumped from genre to genre and asked if that was intentional. I explained that it was and that I wanted it to feel like when we used to make mix tape cassettes for friends. Then my friend said something like, “Oh yeah, those cassettes, we’d play them until the ribbon broke.”

FT: You began your musical life as a folky singer/songwriter back in the late 2000s. How did the transition to the more electronic sound of Until The Ribbon Breaks happen? Was it a natural evolution or a conscious decision?

Pete: The first music I ever made, when I was 15 or 16, was very simple hip-hop beats, but my parents were fans of great singer/songwriters like Paul Simon and Bob Dylan so I always loved both genres. The first music I did properly, I suppose, was singer/songwriter stuff, but still on the side I was always making hip-hop beats. So for the first time with this project I’m combining both.

FT: You mentioned Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, which other artists did the band grow up listening to?

James: My dad was really into Dire Straits, but there was always a lot of pop around too. Things like Prince and Michael Jackson.

Elliot: I grew up drumming to Michael Jackson on the dashboard of my dad’s car. Literally beating it to the point where I ruined the dash.

FT: Pete, I read somewhere that both of your parents are classical musicians. What instruments do they play?

Pete: My dad plays the cor anglais, which is like a big oboe, and my mum plays the oboe.

FT: Do you play the oboe?

Pete: No, I hate it [Laughs]. It was the sound I woke up to every day, so it’s like somebody else saying that they now play the alarm clock. To me, the oboe sounds like someone’s strangling a duck to death. My mum still plays for a living, so even now when I stay with her, I wake up to the sound of her practicing. I hate it.

FT: The oboe runs in the family, though. Didn’t your grandfather play on The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields”?

Pete: That’s right, he did.

FT: Any good Beatles stories you can share?

Pete: It’s not really a story, but apparently it’s very rare to have a signed photo of each of The Beatles from one particular era. So my grandfather, after playing in the session, had gotten a signed photo from each of them and he gave one of them to my dad’s sister, my aunt, and she sold it on eBay and it caused a massive family drama because everybody was like, “What the fuck? Now the other three aren’t worth as much because they’re not part of a complete collection!” It was supposed to be a family heirloom.

FT: Let’s talk about your debut album A Lesson Unlearnt. Where was it made?

Pete: It was conceived in Wales, but a lot of it was made in Norfolk with Rollo Armstrong. Some of it was made in New York, some of it was made in San Francisco and it was finished in L.A.

FT: Talk me through the band’s writing process. Does everybody contribute?

James: We all chip in. Pete’s exclusively the lyrics man, that’s what his background is and what he’s great at. I come in from more of a production point of view, writing and building the music. And Elliot is extremely useful in the studio because he has a very objective viewpoint.

Elliot: Yeah, I come in and say whether something’s shit or not.

James: Sometimes we’ll be working away at something specific, just fine-tuning a detail for days and days, and Elliot just walks in and goes, “That’s shit, boys.” [Laughs.]

FT: A lot of your lyrics, Pete, observe how society these days is detached from the real world because of technology. Is this something that disturbs you?

Pete: What I really hope doesn’t come across is that I’m being preachy, because I’m exactly the same. It’s more of an observational thing. I’m just surprised and confused that this is where we’re at as a society. I’m disappointed. You know, we have all this technology, and this is how we’ve chosen to use it.

FT: I’m with you, and I’m glad somebody’s taking a stand against the machines.

Pete: Yeah, you know you ride on the subway and you look around and everybody’s attention is on a mini computer.

FT: We all got along just fine before smart phones…

James: Yeah, back when we were kids you had to turn up on time at the place you said you were going to be, whereas now you don’t have to.

Elliot: At a restaurant the other night I saw a two-year-old sat with an iPad all night, as if the parents were saying, “There’s the iPad, now shut up.”

Pete: I was having dinner at a restaurant in L.A. recently and there was a whole family at the next table and the father had headphones on and an iPad and he was programming beats during the entire meal!

FT: You studied film at university, Pete. What are some of your favorite film scores?

Pete: My favorite all time film score is American Beauty. And I also love all of Hans Zimmer’s scores.

James: I like all Danny Elfman’s stuff, the original Batman score in particular. And John Williams, obviously.

FT: Any Spinal Tap moments on tour that you can share?

Elliot: That’s a good question and I wish I had a good answer.

Pete: Elliot’s missed the bus a few times.

FT: So you have to make your own way to the next city, Elliot?

Elliot: Yeah, that happens sometimes. [Laughs all around.] You know, alcohol gets involved and then…

Pete: I suppose my Spinal Tap moment was when we were playing a show with Delorean in L.A. and I had to have steroids injected up my bum. I had severe flu.

FT: What’s next for the band after the London Grammar tour in January? Will you be doing SXSW?

Elliot: Yeah, hopefully we’ll be doing SXSW. We played a lot of shows there last year. I actually had the same terrible flu when we were there that Pete was just talking about. I remember trying to get in the shower, shaking, and going, “Pete, I don’t think I can get my trousers off.”

Pete: I just remembered that we had a pretty big Tap moment at SXSW. James had set his gear up and somebody decided to rig the dry ice machine right next to it and as soon as we went on they just started blasting it at him to the point where he couldn’t play his keys because he couldn’t see them. I just kept hearing all these wrong notes and I looked over and I couldn’t see him!

James: There are two types of smoke machine. One that’s water-based and one that’s oil-based and I’ve discovered that you don’t want the one that’s oil-based pointing at a keyboard because if it is then you can’t fucking play it. I ended up kicking the smoke machine off the side of the stage in the end.

FT: What could we expect to find on Until The Ribbon Break’s rider?

Elliot: We’re pretty boring, really.

James: We like nuts, fruit and vodka.

Elliot: I always specifically ask for a pack of Haribo Tangfastics, which they never get me because I don’t think you can get them in the States. I’d love to get endorsed by them though. The weird thing is we don’t ask for beer because none of us drink it. But we’re Welsh so we’ll just take whatever’s there really.

FT: As you know, we’re a football publication, so are you guys football fans?

James: Not really. I’m from Exeter and they’re shit.

Pete: I support Cardiff City who are also shit.

James: I think the last football match I watched was the one when Gareth Southgate missed a penalty for England in Euro 96. [Laughs all around.] That’s stuck with me. I have Polish heritage so I always want to see the Poles do well, but they keep fucking up too.

Elliot: I’m into baseball now.

Pete: Are you fuck into baseball.

Elliot: I go to baseball loads!

Pete: Can you print that that’s bollocks, please?

Elliot: That’s not bollocks.

Pete: How many times have you been to baseball?

Elliot: Four times.

FT: Which team do you go and watch?

Elliot: The Dodgers.

James: Who’s your favorite player?

Elliot: I don’t know. He’s not a player, he’s a batter.

James: Give me one rule of baseball.

Elliot: I don’t know any rules, but I can tell you that it’s quite dangerous. [Laughs all around.]

*Interview ends with a 10-minute discussion about the world’s deadliest sports (and it turns out baseball isn’t one of them).

Until The Ribbon Breaks debut album A Lesson Unlearnt is out on January 20, 2015. Catch them on tour in the U.S. with London Grammar January/February 2015.

Band website:

Rubio Rubin

rubinBy Sean Bulvanoski

Players under 20 are hard to rely on for senior national team fixtures. Most players within that age range are still raw, undeveloped talents who have not shown the fortitude necessary to handle the stress of playing against players who are stronger and faster than they are. This is why U-23, U-20, and U-17 teams exist to give players a taste of international competition, without overwhelming them.

Therefore, it is always a great sign if 18 year old players like Rubio Rubin get called onto the USMNT, and an even better sign when they are in the starting roster on their debut like Rubio was. This means the head coach has confidence that they do not to need coddled by the youth teams in order to develop.

To those following Rubin’s career, it is no surprise that this young talent has found his way onto the USMNT roster. After being named U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year in 2012, his rising status signaled that the real question was not “if,” but “when” he would find his way onto the USMNT.

Born in Oregon, in 1996, to a Mexican father and Guatemalan mother, Rubio began playing soon after he could walk. Although he has always had the option of joining the Mexican national team because of his father, Rubio maintains that his future lies with the USMNT. In 2011 he joined the IMG Academy, and in 2014 he signed a four-year contract with FC Utrecht, which plays in the Eredivisie (Dutch first division). Since signing that contract he has appeared eight times and managed three assists. And, because of the openness of the Eredivisie and its reputation as a league that emphasizes offense, there is hope that Rubin will score several more goals.

For a player of Rubin’s age and talents, the Eredivisie is one of the best leagues for development. With competition in the league strong enough to challenge him but also dependent enough on rising stars to value his talent, he moat likely will not be relegated to spending a lot of time on the bench, fighting for minutes.  His fellow US soccer youth prospects, Joe Gyau and Julian Green, currently face this predicament in the Bundesliga.

Another benefit of the Eredivise is that its teams value the nurturing of young talents. Unlike Manchester City and Real Madrid, who can afford to pay their players more and can generally outbid the Dutch clubs, clubs like FC Utrecht are forced to be “selling clubs.” These selling clubs identify young talent and develop them, planning to later sell their talented players at a big profit. Two notable stars who have emerged from the Eredivisie after being bought for a small sum and developed are Luis Suarez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Many within the FC Utrecht management believe Rubio Rubin will join these stars as a player who will command a large sum when buying clubs come knocking. A savvy selling club like FC Utecht is sure to make a concerted effort to insure that Rubio Rubin gets as much game experience and coaching attention as possible. He is a worthwhile investment.

Of course, Rubin will need to continue to make sure that Eredivisie’s investment pays off.  A diminutive forward, Rubio Rubin will have to put on some weight in order to body-up to the elite level talent he hopes to one day share the field with. His slight figure and small stature (He is 5’9) mean that his aerial ability is not one of his strong suits. However, he is blessed with natural speed and, through his strong 1v1 skills, he can create opportunities. At the moment, his passing is still not as crisp as his coaches might like. Since the Dutch playing style puts a unique emphasis on passing and creating space through ball movement, Rubin should get enough training and practice to show great improvement in this area.  Rubin has said that his favorite player is Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and there are many similarities in their respective playing styles. Whether he becomes an American version of Chicharito depends on whether he develops into the player that FC Utrecht predicts he will become.

There is always fear that young players will fail to reach their potential because of poor coaching, lack of playing time, club turnover, and even homesickness. Raw talent is the building block on which great players are born, but there are always players who remain undeveloped raw talent. A very fast player with great ball control is useless if he has little game-awareness and consistently fails to complete the right pass. Fortunately, Rubio Rubin seems to have the mental strength to overcome the many pitfalls young American talents have encountered in the past. Over the next four years of his contract, the Eredivisie should be able to mold him into a talented and technically skilled player.

At the moment Rubin is on the right path, but he walks a tight rope. Assuming that FC Utecht gives him lots of playing time and that Rubin absorbs his coaching well, he should be primed for a big move to a club in a better league.  If he fails to make that big move he could get stuck in the Eredivisie. If so, his development will regress.

While the Eredivisie is a great league in which to develop, just as Jozy Altidore found, a player needs to test himself against tougher competition in order to expose the flaws in his game. For Rubio Rubin to rise to the level of the player he can become, he will need to parlay his time at FC Utrecht into a lucrative transfer to a club in the Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga, or English Premier League. He will also need to choose the club that best fits his playing style. Whether he breaks through that glass ceiling will depend on the decisions he makes from this point until the aftermath of the 2018 World Cup.


Sean is Co-Founder of The93rdMinute

The Rooney Rule

bowlerBy Bill Thomas

All is not well with the English game. A recent study found that just 19 out of the top 552 coaching positions in club football are occupied by figures from black or minority ethnic (BME) groups. That’s 3.4%, in spite of the fact that more than a quarter of players come from that background and have done for decades now.

We are at a point of crisis on this issue now, not least because nothing has changed in the last ten years. If you had looked at things a decade ago, you could have quite reasonably argued that time would change things, that as more BME players hung up their boots, the number in senior coaching positions would inevitably rise. A decade on and nothing – nothing – has changed, a point powerfully made by the report launched by the Sports People’s Think Tank in the Houses of Parliament earlier this month.

Put simply, is it really possible that only Chris Powell, Keith Curle, Chris Hughton, Paul Ince, a couple of others, of all those BME players that have played over the last 30 or 40 years and then gone into coaching are good enough to even get a chance to manage a club and nobody else?

In all logic, that makes no form of sense. It is wholly inconceivable that in the 40 years since black footballer started making an impact, barely a handful of them have amassed the credentials to be a football manager. Meanwhile, their white counterparts are falling into jobs left, right and centre. And yet the authorities want to tell you there is no issue here, nothing to see, move on. Seriously?
So it is that thoughts have turned to the implementation of what is known in the USA as the “Rooney Rule”. No, it’s not a requirement for all potential coaches to give their children names beginning with the letter K, or making it compulsory for them to have hair transplants. Instead it is simple a call for transparency when it comes to the interview process for senior coaching roles and, beyond that, to ensure that BME candidates at given the chance to get in the room and have an interview for these jobs, something which doesn’t seem to be happening now.

Before anyone gets carried away with this, before certain political parties get overly excited, let’s make it perfectly clear. The Rooney Rule would not require clubs to appoint BME candidates. It would merely stipulate that they make up 20% of those interviewed, just as they do on the field. It’s a distinction that Darren Moore, of the few BME coaches working in the Premier League, as a development coach at WBA, is keen to underline.

“My feeling is that the Rooney Rule can’t hurt anyone. A lot of people are saying it imposes quotas and forces clubs to employ BME manages and coaches, but it doesn’t. All it says is that as part of your interviewing process, you will need to interview a BME candidate as part of it, that one in five candidates should be of an ethnic background. You’re not saying that a particular individual should get the job. You are just saying he should be able to get in the building for an interview! When you look at the numbers, it looks as if even that isn’t happening.

“Of course, once you do your interviewing, it might be that there are better candidates and fair enough, let them have the job then. But what it does do is remove one area of suspicion, because at least these candidates have had the opportunity to get in the room with the chairman or the chief executive or whoever it may be, and make their case. Basically, what we are saying is that it creates the equal opportunity that we are striving for throughout society, that’s all it boils down to.

“I’m grateful to be in the position that I’m in, and the roles that I’ve had previously, here and at Blackburn Rovers. For years, back when I was playing, I always aspired to get into coaching after I finished, it’s the next best thing to playing. Going back 15 years to when I was at Bradford City, I got involved in youth football there, I’ve done my coaching badges, I got fully qualified over the course of maybe ten years and I’ve always wanted to put myself in a position where I was qualified for all the jobs that came up. But when I look at people who came through the game with me, I understand how lucky I am

“We are at a point where the system needs to be challenged, just because of the logic really. You look at the percentage of BME players in the game now and over the last 30 or 40 years, the numbers who have done their coaching badges and yet we still only have two or three managers and head coaches from the BME ranks. That doesn’t really add up does it?”

It certainly doesn’t. While some can play the race card all too easily, it doesn’t take Einstein to work out that we do have a problem within the game, one that is looking increasingly institutionalised.

Nor does it help when clubs can appoint BME coaches from abroad, the likes of Jean Tigana and Ruud Gullit, whose wider reputation and easy, urbane sophistication made them ideal managerial material, but no more so than a host of similar British based coaches you could name. You’d almost think that by virtue of being foreign, they made it easier to ignore their race. That can’t be the case surely…

“The difficulty with it all is that it’s hidden,” notes Moore. “If somebody shouts racial abuse at a game, you can throw them out, take them to court or whatever. But here, nobody is saying that they won’t have a BME coach or manager, not openly, but none are getting appointed.

“The bodies like the PFA, Kick It Out, Show Racism the Red Card are doing their bit, diversity and awareness programmes that are being delivered to the 92 clubs and they are trying to deliver them at board level, at management level. It is important to let people know about the pursuit of equality in the game, across the board.

“That is very central with such a diverse game in terms of ethnicity, sexuality, religion because we all know the pitfalls of saying or doing the wrong thing, even if it is without any real intent. It is vital people are aware of what they can and can’t say, particularly as football is so much in the public eye. The quicker we can get everyone buying into this, the better, because it means people are better educated, help them better understand the need for equality and diversity and that in itself can start to bring change.”

What we have though is a game that is, like much of British society, resistant to change. But across the country, attitudes have shifted over the years such that the public is now well ahead of football in this regard. We supporters want a game that looks more like the world that we actually live in, at all levels.
“Change tends to take a long time to come in this country,” agrees Darren. “With something like this, there are various authorities and governing bodies that need to agree so inevitably, it’s a slow process, but I think it will come because the system clearly isn’t working as it stands. There seems to be a lot of wider support for it from the public, people are wondering why it’s taken so long to get it over the line, and from there, I think it will happen.

‘It has been a very slow process and when you look at the fact that the numbers have barely changed in ten years, I think you reach a point where you have to look at doing something about it. It seems beyond belief that we are still having this conversation and we are starting to look like a very backwards game when you look at where America is.

“If ever you want an example, it’s what has happened because of the Rooney Rule. The numbers of black coaches have increased massively there as a result and that shows that if you just get a chance to put your ideas across, you can convince people to give you an opportunity and then go on and have success.

“I don’t see why clubs and owners over here wouldn’t want to give themselves the chance to benefit the same way, to widen their options and maybe make a better appointment as a result. Rather than giving a manager his 10th club, maybe you might find somebody out there who has a fresh outlook and might offer something different. Or at least be confident in the knowledge that they looked as widely as they could before making their appointment. I don’t see how anybody loses there.

“Apart from anything, I think it would create a sense of hope. I’m sure there are a lot of people who are qualified who aren’t even bothering to apply for jobs because they just feel there’s no hope of them getting a hearing. If the Rooney Rule came in, they’d feel as if they had half a chance of getting an interview and then trying to make something happen from there. If you get in the room, at least you get a hearing, you can put your ideas and your vision to a club and then you back yourself to be successful. But you can’t do that if you’re not getting an interview.”
Which brings us back to the Rooney Rule. In principle, it’s extremely hard to see just where the objections could come from, but that doesn’t stop people trying to head it off at the pass, albeit in seemingly well-meaning fashion. The Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Scudamore, argued last week that there’s no need for it after the top division added three BME places to its Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme.

Scudamore told the BBC, “Clearly we don’t have enough coaches from BME backgrounds. What we have to do is get more and more black coaches, a pool of talent that can be available to select the top coaches from. Hopefully the measures we now have mean we will not need a Rooney Rule”.

The problem is, that ignores the reality. There are already umpteen BME coaches with the right qualifications to do jobs right across the board, be it at the bottom end of League Two or at the top end of the Premier League. But they are not being given the opportunity, not least because the process of appointing football managers has long been a shadowy business, conducted behind closed doors. Plenty of times, clubs don’t even interview, they anoint.

“That is how it’s worked in the past,” admits Darren, “but I don’t think in the modern game that that is sensible, regardless of the ethnicity question. As a big business today, involving so much money, that seems an old fashioned way of doing things. If a normal company lost its chief executive or its managing director, they would go through a proper interview process to find the best replacement.

“It is a bit different in football because of the high profile nature of the industry, because you want to get a replacement in quickly because the games are coming thick and fast, you want players focused on the games not on speculation and also you want to stop the media circus going on. That makes it hard to go through a full interview process sometimes, but better to wait an extra week and get the right candidate than hurry up and get the wrong one.

“The other issue is that a lot of times, candidates for jobs don’t want to be identified because they might already be in work somewhere else. In that sense, it might be hard to prove that you have complied with the Rooney Rule but it must be possible to find a way around that, so it still remains behind closed doors but one of the authorities can still monitor it all.

“In reality, when a manager goes, it’s a decision that has been coming for a few weeks and, harsh as it seems, the reality is that behind the scenes, people have been talking about a change, about alternatives, candidates have been identified. It’s not nice, but we all know how the game works, that’s just the reality of it.”

Change has to come, not simply for the good of the individuals but for the good of the game. We’ve already lost one generation of talent – can we afford to lose another?

“You look through the game at people who have been lost to it,” says Darren. “Look at Cyrille Regis who coached here for a time and then, after he left, eventually gave up on it and went into being an agent instead because he was struggling to make progress. Look at the standing he has within the game, his vast experience, the way people look up to him, yet he couldn’t break through. And there are many more people like him who are in the same boat. And the game needs people like Cyrille Regis at all levels. You need to talk to people like this because they can cut through it all and simplify the game.”

As a game, football is always asking just why it is that it is so hard to get members of the nation’s ethnic minorities to come and watch the games. Well, here’s a thought. If you have a game where you are happy enough to let those minorities go out and do the toiling in the fields but one where you won’t ever let them manage the plantation, maybe you simply have a game where they don’t really feel welcome?

Rising To The Challenge

PP_logoBy Paula Marcus

It may seem that the frustration and worry associated with an international break is purely for those people that support clubs in the top division. But the Premier League fans aren’t the only ones praying their players come throughanother round of international fixtures unscathed.

One of the real highlights of the Championship is the large number of exciting young players that currently feature in the divisions. Whilst many of these come through the loan system, and have parent clubs in the Premier League, this isn’t always the case. International call ups for Championship players are no longer a rarity, and before the last World Cup there was even talk that a player from the Championship may feature for England. Whilst that may not have happened, it doesn’t mean that the Championship hasn’t had a hand in moulding some of the current England side.

Just looking at the last England Squad that faced Slovenia, there are only three players selected that spent their whole careers in the top flight, including 100 cap man Wayne Rooney. From the 24 man squad, 15 players have spent time in the Championship, with the remaining six players featuring in Leagues One and Two. Whilst Milner may have only featured six times for League One Swindon Town, most of the players spent at least one season in a different division.

There are three ways for a player to spend time outside of the Premier League. The first, and most common, way is through the loan system. Of the current England team, ten players were sent out on loan to gain much needed matchday experience (and of these eight dropped down just one division). One of the newest England call-ups, Saido Berahino may have come through the youth system at West Bromwich Albion, but half of his career appearances come via loans to Northampton Town (League Two), Brentford (then League One) and Peterborough United (then Championship).

Like Berahino, Gary Cahill was a product of a top flight academy, having spent four years at Aston Villa after AFC Dronfield. Cahill gained first team experience with a season long loan to Championship side Burnley, where he made his professional debut and 26 further appearances. During his time there he was named both player and young player of the year, something that would have given him much needed confidence as he returned to his parent club.

The second way, and probably the hardest, to feature for the top two divisions is to play for a side that earned promotion. There are five such players at the moment who fit into that category, although most of this is due to Southampton’s fine youth system. Both Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw signed for Saints at a young age and went on to make numerous appearances for the club before promotion to the top flight and eventual England call ups (and moves to so called bigger teams). Another player to come through that youth system was Arsenal’s Calum Chambers, although he failed to make an appearance for Saints before their promotion.

The fourth player with a Southampton link to feature in the current England side is a great advert for lower league football and hard work. After being released from the Liverpool youth team at 15, Rickie Lambert worked his way up through the three tiers of the football league before eventually reaching the top flight with promotion in 2012.

The third and final way to make the jump to top flight players is to stand out enough to earn that big money move. Both Joe Hart (Shrewsbury) and Chris Smalling (Maidstone) started their careers in the lower leagues before attracting the interest of Premier League sides. Likewise, Theo Walcott managed a single season for Southampton before his £5 ($8) million move to Arsenal.

The final player to be included in this list is perhaps the best example of what international call ups mean to lower league sides. Teams like Manchester United and Chelsea barely notice when their players are picked for the England side (or any international side for that matter). After all, if you are English and playing for a big side, it is assumed the call up will come. But for Championship sides, and the smaller Premier League sides, that isn’t the case.

When Nathan Clyne made his England debut against Slovenia Saturday, Crystal Palace fans were the proudest supporters around. Whilst Palace may currently be a top flight side, Clyne was a product of their youth system. He won accolades and plaudits in his two years in the Championship before earning a move to Southampton. Even though his international debut came whilst playing for a different side, Palace fans still acknowledge the vital role that they had in developing a player that would eventually play at the highest level.

Stories like Clyne’s are great for the Championship, and show players that you don’t have to come through the academy of a Premier League team to play in the top flight. It is also one of the major reasons ideas like ‘B’ teams should be avoided at all costs. Championship clubs are more than capable of spotting talent and bringing players through in the right way, as well as progressing and developing players through the loan system.

With just three of the current England squad featuring exclusively in the top division, it would be interesting to see how many of the remaining 21 players would be selected without the use of the Football League to gain much needed experience.


Listen to Paula’s latest Championship podcast.paula_02

Diaz Rescues Pancyprians

cosmoyellowBy Jay Mwamba

New York Greek Americans’ second reign as Manning Cup holders lasted only one match last Sunday. On bye to the quarterfinals, the U.S. amateur champions bowed out 11-10 in a dramatic sudden death penalty shoot-out with Hellenic rivals Pancyprian Freedoms at St. John’s University.

Goalie Rafael Diaz was the Pancyprian hero in the titanic battle that had finished 1-1 in regulation time. He not only converted one penalty, but also pulled off two saves in the shoot-out including the decisive stop that sent the Greeks packing.

With the win, eight-time Manning Cup holders Pancyprian advanced to the semi-finals of the Statewide competition scheduled for December 7.

“We paid the price for missing too many chances, including twice in the penalty shoot-out, one completely inexplicably!” fumed Greek coach Stavros Zomopoulos.

His men had fallen behind to a fifth minute Yannick Reyering goal and would not draw level until five minutes from time when Kene Eze struck.

“Their keeper made some key saves, but we also were unlucky,” added Stavros. “We build up the pressure and finally equalized.”

In his estimation, the Greeks should have prevailed in regulation. He cited a Keith Detelj shot that went narrowly wide and Peter Touros’ effort cleared off the line.

While the superb Diaz and misses by the normally lethal Chris Megaloudis and skipper Shaun Foster would conspire to hinder the holders, Pancyprian would put on a clinic in the shoot-out.

Jeff Matteo, John Koutsounadis, Andreas Chronis, Michael Palacio, Julio Cesar Dos Santos, Billy Antoniou, Taso Polydefkis, Panayiotis Onisiforou, Katsanos, Diaz; Matteo and Koutsounadis, again, would score in that order.

Pancyprian await the United FC vs. New York/AC Glen Cove winner in the last four.

Greek Americans defeated Manhattan Celtic 4-0 in last season’s final to lift the Manning Cup for just the second time in their 68-year history. The first was in 2009.

Fans of Pancyprian and Greek Americans won’t have long to wait for a rematch. The two clubs clash again next Tuesday night [Nov. 25] at St. John’s in the U.S. Open.

Pancyprian set that up by dispatching Real Westchester of the EDSL 3-1 at St. John’s, four days before their Manning Cup duel with the Greeks. Reyering, Julio and Polydefkis tallied in that one.

In the other bracket in the Manning Cup, CSL league champs Lansdowne stormed into the semis after a 5-0 blitz of New York Rovers at Tibbetts Brook Park.

Ander Steele [two], Kendon Anderson, the prolific Daryl Kavanagh and Sikele Sylvester fired the 2013 losing finalists into the last four.

Standing between Lansdowne and a second trip to the final in three years for the Yonkers Irish are the Clarkstown Eagles-Central Park Rangers [CPR] winners.

Clarkstown also hit five past the HASL’s Serbia without conceding a goal to book a quarterfinal date with CPR.

Bledi Bardic [two], Drilon Berisha, Edmir Arucevic and Mike Defonte connected for Eagles on Randalls Island.

CPR, meanwhile, went past Stal Mielec 1-0 in the Round of 16 on an own goal off a Kwesi Mills cross.

CSL Second Division joint leaders New York Ukrainians advanced to the quarterfinals after a
2-1 decision over the LISFL’s New York Olympiakos at Bushwick Inlet.

Alagie “Alas” Janneh tapped in the winner from an Adam Maliniak cross [82nd], after Olympiakos [56th] had canceled out David Alkasimi’s toe poke of an opener [55th].

Shamrocks, Ukrainians’ co-leaders in then CSL second tier, bowed out of the Flamhaft Cup 2-1 away to 10-man South Stars of the EDSL.

Midfielder Sean Doran opened the scoring from an early free kick [10th] when his low drive went through the legs of the Stars goalkeeper.

But the hosts hit back twice before the interval and held on for the win even after they had a man ejected in the 65th minute.

In a rematch of their drawn league game seven days earlier, NYPD FC and Doxa SC again tied 1-1 after 90 minutes in the cup, but penalties would favor the latter this time.

”The entire first half was nonstop back and forth with opportunities for both teams,” reported Doxa’s Frank Bouklis.

Kyle Hurst drew first blood for the Cops on the hour. That lead would hold until four minutes from time when Kurt Cameron fired in a rebound, forcing penalties from which Doxa emerged triumphant 4-3.

Chris Norelli – off an Alberto Sanchis assist — Dylan Golden, Mike DeChristopher and Tomer Abikzer scripted the CPR reserves’ 4-0 win over New York Croatia ‘B’ at McCarren Park.

At Evander Childs High School, Lansdowne Bhoys’ second unit came from behind to thrash Sporting Astoria ‘B’ 4-1 and reach the quarterfinals of the D’Arpino Cup.

Timmy O’Driscoll [two], Stephen Devlin and Brendan Hansbury tallied.

Doxa’s reserves were 4-2 penalty winners as well in the D’Arpino after outshooting the LISFL’s Forest Park following a 2-2 draw.

Doxa trailed twice but Akay Nuredini and Emir Delijanin – the latter from the penalty spot after he’d been fouled – brought them back in the game on both occasions.

A Greek derby now awaits Doxa in the next round, against Pancyprian’s seconds.

Bogdan Matsushenko [two] and Grigol Andriadze [two] crafted United FC’s 4-0 drubbing of CD Iberia’s reserves on Randalls Island.

Manhattan Celtic reserves’ evicted Hampton United 3-1 at Brooklyn Bridge Park on goals by
Francis Ellis, Barrie Taylor and Hans Julia.

Former holders Hoboken FC qualified to the quarterfinals of the New Jersey State Cup with a
1-0                 win over Jersey Shore Boca in Bayville.

“The match was a defensive struggle and was 0-0 until the 117th minute when Hoboken FC scored as a result of a Jersey Shore Boca own goal,” reported Gm Bill Marth. “This is the fifth time in the last six years that Hoboken advanced to the quarterfinals.”

Invincible in the CSL where they are 7-0-2 atop the Metro Div. One [East] log, CPR Reds suffered their first defeat of the season in all competitions – albeit on penalties. They succumbed 3-0 to West leaders FC Gwardia after a 1-1 draw at Bushwick Inlet.

Reds’ Eric Pierot and Marcin Trzaska of Gwardia exchanged goals in regulation time.

But it was all Gwardia in the ensuing shoot-out with Wojciech Targonski, Mateusz Chlost
and Marcin Januszko connecting from the spot for the Poles.

“The Gwardia goalkeeper really won the game for those guys with several big saves in regulation and shutting out the Reds in penalties,” was Blake Berg’s take.

Mohammad Basir Mashriqi got the only goal of the match in Brishna’s victory over Mr. Dennehy’s.

NYC Vllaznia came away from upstate Sloatsburg Community Field savoring a 10-9 sudden death penalty win over Missile FC.

Regulation time had finished 3-3 with Salvatore Finazzio [two] and Mohamed the Vllaznia scorers. Jo Valentin [two] and Jackson Eugene replied for Missile

Wilson Tilme had Grenadier Zenith’s face-saver in a 4-1 drubbing by Gotham Argo.

“The team put up a valiant effort but the elements were against us,” said Jacky Felix. “Gotham were very disciplined. They were not the same team we beat last year. Good luck to them.”

Short-handed Brooklyn had a consolation goal from Dash Martin in an 8-1 defeat by Metro Div. Two leaders FC Spring Valley Huerto United.

“We only had nine players,” said player-coach Chris Vega.

Elsewhere in the Strumpf Cup, FC Bravehearts’ Jaime Rodriguez and Diego Soto were on target in a 4-2 loss to Los Galacitos.

Manhattan Kickers Premier edged CPR Old Boys 3-2 on Randalls Island, courtesy of
Stu Kaiser, Antonio Ruiz-Giminez and Richie Webb.

Greek Americans were another team to experience the agony of defeat from penalties.

Diego Velasquez and  Tommy Bouklis scored in a 2-2 draw with Integral, but the Long Islanders prevailed in the shoot-out.

Eintracht, meanwhile, had a goal from Dan Ceabuca in a 2-1 loss  to Port Jefferson .

Emre Tetik’s  trey [21st, 32nd, 70th] handed Ridgewood a hard earned victory over New York Dynamo in a rescheduled Metro Div. One at Kaiser Park.  Dorin Dican [40th] was the other scorer.

“A three-goal advantage at half time was the product of a solid performance,” said assistant coach Ovi Ordean. “BUT considering our inability to play consistently well throughout the match, that was not great news.”

Indeed, Ridgewood conceded twice after the break and as fears rose of another collapse akin to the meltdown against FC Gwardia two weeks ago, Tetik completed his hat trick to calm nerves.

“Overall, this was a good effort by our guys,” summed up Ordean.


Crunch Time

esclogoBy Tim Hall

The New York Red Bulls return to action following the international break with a two-leg Eastern Conference Finals series against New England Revolution, with the winner advancing to the MLS Cup finalagainst the winner of Seattle and Los Angeles.

For New York, and indeed for New England, the key to winning the series may be to replicate the formula that got them through their last round. For New England, as the higher seed, it was hanging four road goals on Columbus before coming home and cruising to victory. For New York as the lower seed, it was securing a shutout victory at home, then scoring an insurance goal on the road in the return leg. Vitally important for New York will be how the midfield matches up against….

Stop the music.

Asking soccer fans for a bit of perspective is like trying to harness the power of fireflies, but, it’s important to stop every now and then and review how we got to this point, when the Red Bulls are in the conference finals, three games away from lifting the first MLS Cup in team history. Beyond that, the mood has changed, whereas fans in previous years may have been waiting for the anvil to drop (and may still be waiting, and may ultimately be rewarded for waiting), there is at least an overall feeling of good-natured optimism, or at least the sense that we’re in with a shot here. But is there a genesis for this, a turning point that got us walking down this victory road?

It’s difficult to review this season for New York without wrapping it up and tying it back to last year, when the Metros won the regular season. And when one looks back on 2013 as it related to the current campaign, there are two moments that seem to stand out above the rest.

The first was something none of us in the fanbase actually saw, only heard reports about and were left to speculate on. In August of last year, with the Red Bulls in what has become their traditional mid-summer slump, head coach Mike Petke and star Thierry Henry got involved in a pull-apart argument. Both men have been tight-lipped over exactly what was said to kick off the brawl, but it turns out now to look to be a pivotal moment in the fortunes and history of the club. After the argument, New York would go unbeaten in their next nine games en route to securing Supporters’ Shield, the first significant piece of silverware in franchise history.

Some years from now, when Henry is retired and Petke is more secure as the long-term choice as manager of this club, we may look back on that day as a battle for the very soul of this team. Mike Petke is the common man, the man’s man, the realest guy in the room. The local boy, the hard-nosed, no-nonsense defender turned manager. Thierry Henry is undoubtedly talented and gifted, and undeniably arrogant. Make no mistake, Henry’s arrogance is well-earned and is a feature of his game more than a flaw. Bottle up some of Thierry Henry’s arrogance in atomizers and it would fly off the shelves of the world’s top boutiques.

But this was a battle of who would get to dictate the future of the team as a whole, and its attitude. This was the point where New York’s team would either be the black Hummer with tinted windows riding through Manhattan of the superstar, or the lunch-pail, mass transit ethic of the coach. It certainly appears, some fifteen months later, that if we had to declare a winner in that training ground dust-up, Mike Petke would be the one having his hand raised.

Consider 2014’s Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips. Making his debut for New York in the game just before the Henry/Petke superbrawl, BWP got off to a slow start, and for many of the fans it appeared that he would join the likes of John Rooney and Digao as Red Bulls players whose talents may have been hoarded by the legacy of their more famous family members. Wright-Phillips was, however, given the chance to prove himself consistently in practice and in games, and this season tied the Major League Soccer single-season goals record. Now, it’s quite easy to forget that BWP is a second-generation superstar.

Or consider Peguy Luyindula, the player who was brought in to be BWP before BWP. Luyindula showed considerable promise as a forward partner for his compatriot Henry, but missed sitter after sitter. No bother. The Frenchman was given the all-American chance to work hard and earn his place, and has repackaged himself as a very dangerous attacking creative midfielder.

It isn’t all about opportunities taken, however. There is the story of the Red Bulls other big ticket signing Tim Cahill. Unsatisfied with Cahill’s performance since returning from this summer’s World Cup, Mike Petke has relegated the Australian to the role of super sub to make way for Luyindula’s resurgence as a midfield maestro. Many managers around MLS would be terrified to make such a move, knowing that so much of the salary cap is sitting on the bench unused. But Petke felt that this was the best lineup for his team, and it has produced results. In what may be a somewhat fortuitous break, Cahill was bushwhacked in practice for his national team over the weekend, and may not necessarily be 100% anyway for the New England series. Rather than be a panic-inducing scenario, the Red Bulls are prepared for it.

We said at the top that there were two key moments last year that have led us to the feeling of, if not confidence, then preparedness for this upcoming tilt with New England. The first was the Petke/Henry scuffle, but that one was more about the team, the locker room. The other was one for the fans.

After securing the Supporters’ Shield in the final regular season home game of 2013, someone handed Mike Petke a live microphone and let him shoot. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of Petke’s company, even for a little while, you know this may or may not have been a strategically good idea, but it was always going to be an entertaining one.

Petke, in the midst of that raucous celebration, said words that still echo in the minds of Red Bulls fans over a year on, and words that have as much meaning now as they did then. “I wanted one thing only: to give you guys a team you could be proud of. I think we accomplished that.”

Thinking of those words from 2013, and looking back over all that’s been accomplished in 2014, all the late game heroics to steal points, the first regular season win in New England in a decade, the first playoff series win in the Red Bull Arena era, the first time ever knocking the hated rivals DC out of the playoffs, it’s safe to say that no matter what happens from this point forward, yes, this is a team we can be proud of.

College Final Returns To Cary


WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.

By Pat Glodkowski

On December 14th, the final of the Division 1 Men’s College Cup Finals returns to WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.

Depending on the teams that make it, the stadium could be graced by a solid presence like that of PPL Park the year prior, which featured Notre Dame against Maryland. With the West looking strong, we may not get a huge fan turn out, but we could get a hell of a game, in return.

The first of these Cups started in 1959, and had only eight teams featured in the tournament. The final featured St. Louis and Bridgeport, ending 5-2 in the former’s favor. The competition has made a lot of headway since those early years, growing gradually over time. In its current form, the tournament consists of 48 teams that vie for this coveted trophy.

The team that won the very first competition has had a slew of success that followed their first successful campaign. St Louis went on to win the College Cup 9 more times, with half their total count coming from the first 7 years of the tournament. It seems like the best thing to ever come out of St Louis. Although, the hype around their school has faded as they have not clinched the title since 1973. Nonetheless, they hold the most trophies of any school. Followed by them are Indiana (8) and Virginia (6), whose glory days are much more recent.

These schools are found in the majority of statistics such as most wins, most appearances, and win percentages. Typically schools like UCLA, Clemson, San Francisco, and Maryland all pop up in these ranks, along with the three aforementioned. A discrepancy in these stats that needs to be addressed is College Cup appearances. One may wonder why that stands aside from all time appearances. According to the NCAA, the College Cup is the portion of the tournament for the final four teams. Therefore, the semi finalists as well as the finalists are the only ones considered to have been part of the College Cup that year. Just another intricacy of the NCAA.

As for the structure of the tournament, the teams are selected based on actual performance and perceived performance. To address the first part, the top 23 Division I conferences have their champions receive automatic qualification to the end of the year tournament. These conferences include the common names like the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, Pac-12, and the Ivy League. The team who won the conference tournament usually grabs these automatic qualifier positions.

That leaves 25 spots open to be accounted for. These “at-large teams” are selected by a committee of representatives from the sections the NCAA divided the country by. They assess teams across the country on a range of criteria. One of the more important criteria is the RPI system that the NCAA uses. Although I believe that the NSCAA rating system is superior, the RPI is clearly very important. The teams then get put into a large bracket, with the 16 top teams getting first round BYEs. The other teams are then grouped together and placed on the bracket according to geographic proximity.

Some of the teams that have taken the top 16 spots are the usual suspects on the radar. Syracuse, Virginia, UCLA, Washington, Clemson, and Indiana among other top programs have made the cut and are given a break. Although these teams won’t be in action, this years cup starts today, on November 20th. Tons of schools are still out there that will be playing, that are sure to excite. That in mind, it’s time to pick your team, bust out the brackets with your friends, and hope for some exciting soccer.

Where Have All The Centre Halves Gone?

bowlerBy Bill Thomas

Most of the world’s resources are finite. One day, there’ll be no oil, we’ll run out of gas and coal. There are only so many diamonds, so much gold out there. But we are in danger of seeing another precious seam run dry too, the closure of a different kind of mine. Where have all the centre-halves gone?

Time was, legend has it, that in the way of fast bowlers too, if ever you needed yourself a tough, bruising centre-half, all you had to do was nip to the local coalface, shout down into the bowels of the earth and they’d send you one up. One bath later and there’d be a new giant in the number five shirt. Those days are gone, not least because there are no coalmines left in this country any longer, though that’s another, sadder story.

All the same, the facts cannot be denied any longer. The art of playing at centre-half is a dying one. Cast your eyes about the Premier League if you want some proof.

Exhibit one, Manchester United. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand both left Old Trafford at the end of last term, but it was clear for a couple of years before that that they were coming to the end of the line. Yet such has been their inability to replace them satisfactorily that against Crystal Palace, they fielded Paddy McNair and Daley Blind in central defence.

Exhibit two, Arsenal. Really, where on earth do we start? Since those golden years that stretched across the likes of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Steve Bould and Sol Campbell, nothing. Year upon year upon year, lots of sparkling, attacking football from the Gunners has been consistently undone by a central defence that’s holier than Vatican City, but not in a good way.

Exhibit three. Tottenham Hotspur. Fazio, Kaboul and the ever riotous Chiriches. No further evidence is required on this front m’Lud, they’re banged to rights.

Exhibit four. Liverpool. Last season, the extraordinarily prolific Suarez and Sturridge disguised a multitude of defensive sins. This season, in their absence, the inadequacies of Skrtel and the newly signed Lovren have no hiding place.

Exhibit five. Chelsea. One of the few teams to have a solid leader in the middle in John Terry, though it is significant that he is 34 next month. For all Abramovich’s millions, finding a successor, even a partner, has ben far from easy for Chelsea, Gary Cahill perhaps the most successful option. For all that he is an England regular, the 29 year old Cahill is still no John Terry though.

And so the sorry tale goes on throughout not just this land, but the world game – can I just remind you of the power and the glory of David Luiz, a £50million international centre-back in these days of famine if you will.

So why should it be that centre-halves no longer stalk this land? In part, the gradual changing of the rules over the last 20 or 30 years has contributed to their demise. The days when the more rudimentary defenders could make up for a lack of pace and, indeed, skill, by simply wielding a big club and scything through any forward that came their way are long gone. How many times have you heard a pundit refer to a defender from yesteryear and say that if he were playing today, he would get red carded each week?

In that sense, the overall game has advanced, albeit at the expense of one of its old trades though, as an aside I preferred the old days of the full blooded challenge to the current world where sly shirt pulling is allowed as a legitimate defensive tactic instead.

Off the back of the changes in the game, central defenders are now given fresh requirements. No longer is a “they shall not pass” mentality enough. It has been replaced with “they shall not pass but we must be able to”.

Yet do we really have a better spectacle as a consequence? Teams boosting their passing and possession statistics by having two central defenders who pass the ball side to side to each other before eventually wellying it up front when under pressure?
Teams playing three centre-halves and two holding midfielders in front so they can have safety in numbers? Has that really helped?

This isn’t to decry the concept of playing out from the back. I’m sure the game would be all the better if it were populated by a backline of Beckenbauers, Moores and Hansens but there’s a reason why such footballers still stand out 30 or 40 years and more after they made their names. They were from the genius class, and God tips out very few of them, just so as to maintain the universal balance.

And yet defenders must now be able to knock the ball around with the same graceful ease and intelligence of a Pirlo. Frankly, it’s not going to happen is it? If they could, they wouldn’t be defenders for as Bill Shankly used to say to his backline, “If you could play, you’d be midfielders. Win the ball and give it them, they’ll play”.

The change in the game is mirrored by a change in society too. No longer is there dignity in hard labour, doing the graft at the back because if you do that, you are just left in anonymity, you are given no profile and, in consequence, you don’t get the megabucks either. Nowadays, everybody wants to be a player, to go on the mazy run that goes viral on youtube and gets you a new contract and an additional zero on your payslip.

You can’t blame anyone for wanting that, but just as an ever more superficial society now looks down its nose at workers who cleans the streets, sluice the sewers and generally oil the wheels that make the world turn, so in footballer we give scant respect to the defender who puts his head in where the boots are flying, preferring instead the midfielder who flits in and out of a game, a bystander for much of it, but doing one thing that illuminates his profile, the “Match of the Day” player that the game is full of, the one with a great showreel but who does precious little for his team over the full 90 minutes.

The game is ever changing, for the better in many cases. But if we lose the old fashioned centre-half in the process, one of the great sights of the game, it will be a loss we will come to regret.

Cosmos Finish Season Empty Handed

CrossIslandCrewBy Cesar Trelles

For about an hour this past Saturday night against The Scorpions, Cosmos fans were starting to think that for all of the struggles that the team had faced in 2014, they might actually make it back to the Soccer Bowl.

Mads Stokkelien gave Cosmos a first half lead through  a header that he snuck inside the right post. When Scorpions came back three minutes later to tie the match, the Cosmos still felt that they had a chance to make it back to the Soccer Bowl. That hope was given to them midway through the second half, when it was revealed that in the other playoff match that was taking place, the fourth seed Ft. Lauderdale Stikers, had defeated the #1 seed Minnesota United in penalty kicks.

All the Cosmos needed to do was score one more goal to put them ahead of the Scorpions and they would not only be back to the Soccer Bowl but they would even be headed back to Shuart Stadium to host the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers in the Soccer bowl in front of their fans.

That’s when the reality of 2014 finally set in.

After battling for 90 plus minutes in regulation time, the Cosmos went into overtime with the Scorpions. Two 15 minute halves are what kept the two sides from going into their very own penalty kick square off.

In the 115th minute, Diego Restrepo fired off of a shot from the left side of the goal that Cosmos goalie Jimmy Maurer deflected and saved. However the ball would then deflect off of Cosmos defender Carlos Mendes and go into the net for the Scorpions second goal. Shock and disbelief set in for the Cosmos but they continued to battle for the next five minutes plus injury time. Marcos Senna would get one last chance with a free kick from just about 20 yards away in the 120th minute but his shot would be saved by Scorpions goalie Josh Saunders to end the Cosmos scoring chances and end their season.

Their final match of the year was kind of symbolic of how their 2014 fall season went. Down the stretch in the fall season the Cosmos still had a legitimate shot at finishing higher in the standings as opposed to finishing in sixth place. On several occasions they would go up on their opponents but the standings show proof that their matches would usually end in the Cosmos giving their leads up. A league leading eight draws left them stuck in sixth place. If it wasn’t for their strong spring season, the Cosmos might have found themselves left out of the 2014 playoffs.

A main reason for their lack of wins of course was attributed to lengthy injuries to some key players like Marcos Senna, Roversio and Diomar Diaz. However head coach Giovanni Savarese was one that was always proud of the depth that his team had. That depth might have to be questioned in the off season because one thing is to have depth, another thing is to have depth that produces results. The Cosmos depth did not provide results this year.

Then there is the question of age. Players like Marcos Senna (age 37) and even defenders like Carlos Mendes (age 35) and Ayoze (age 34) may be starting to show some signs of wear as the defenders were not as sharp in 2014 as they were in 2013.

Will the offseason bring some younger quality additions to the Cosmos? We already know that one of their additions, Raul, will not exactly be bringing youth to the team. Sooner or later the Cosmos will have to start brining some youth if they are expected to stay competitive for years to come.

For now however 2014 has come to an end. Even though the Cosmos did not earn any hardware during the year, the season was a memorable one. 2014 saw the Cosmos play in their first ever US Open Cup. In that tournament they defeated their cross town rivals the Red Bulls. 2014 also marked the first full season that the Cosmos have completed in the NASL. The first of what Cosmos fans hope to be many more seasons in the future.

The 2014 may have come to an end on the field but the Cosmos are not finished as an organization. The team picked up on Monday and resumed their training and will stay in shape throughout the off-season and will likely take part in off-season friendlies. The front office will also be looking to make the team stronger with key acquisitions with the hopes of making it back to the Soccer Bowl in 2015. I will continue to keep you up to date here in this column with any and all news out of Cosmos Country!

Cross Island Crew Tidbits:

• The North American Soccer League Championship final will be on Saturday November 15th, 2014 at 7:30pm. The San Antonio Scorpions will host the Fort Lauderdale Strikers for the title of NASL Champion. The match can be watched on ESPN 3 or ONE World Sports.

• Cross Island Crew Supporters Scarves are available for sale for $20. For information email crossislandcrew@gmail.com or visit www.crossislandcrew.com

EPL Latest


Everton’s James McCarthy (right) jumps for a header ahead of Sunderland’s Liam Bridcutt.

By Jack Simpkin

As the Premier League gives way to the third international break of the European football season, the usually consistent teams over recent years have continued to disappoint and the surprising performers in the league so far have given us no reason to suggest they might be falling away just yet.

Chelsea came from 1-0 down to beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield in Saturday’s early kick-off to extend their unbeaten run to 17 matches, a new club record. Emre Can had given the hosts an early lead when his shot took a fortuitous deflection off Gary Cahill but the centre-back made up for his mistake when he equalized five minutes later, volleying home at the back post from a Cesc Fabregas corner. Chelsea’s front man Diego Costa then scored the winner on his return to EPL action after an injury had seen him sidelined for the past few weeks.

Jose Mourinho will have most of his players leave on international duty but he will be hoping that doesn’t disrupt his side’s league form when they play next on the 22nd of November at home to West Bromwich Albion, who went down to Alan Pardew’s ever-improving Newcastle United this weekend.

The Magpies have now well and truly put their torrid start to the season behind them with this 2-0 win, making it four victories in a row. Ayoze Perez scored for the third game running with a wonderful back-heel from the edge of the area that found the bottom corner before captain Fabricio Coloccini secured the three points in the second half with a powerful header. Pardew will be confident his side can extend their winning streak to five after the break when his side goes up against Queens Park Rangers at Saint James’ Park.

QPR did local rivals Chelsea a big favor this weekend as they held their title rivals Manchester City to a 2-2 draw at Loftus Road. The champions were forced to come from behind twice. Ranger’s top goalscorer Charlie Austin gave them a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes and a Martin Demichelis own-goal gave them a 2-1 lead in the second half but Sergio Aguero responded on both occasions with two well taken equalizers to salvage a point. Manuel Pellegrini will be expecting all three next time around when City host Swansea at the Etihad.

Gary Monk’s Swansea City are on the up though as they came from a goal down to beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, they are now in fifth place separated by only goal difference with West Ham who are currently occupying the last Champions League spot. Alexis Sanchez netted his eighth league goal of the season to put the visitors in the lead but Swansea scored twice in three minutes to steal the points. Gylfi Sigurdsson scored a brilliant free-kick after 75 minutes and sensing an opportunity, Monk sent on striker Bafetimbi Gomis to try and find a winner, which he did with only his third touch with a brilliantly placed header.

Arsenal have got a stiff challenge next as they welcome Manchester United to the Emirates after the international break for one of the oldest rivalries in English football. Man United overcame Crystal Palace at Old Trafford this weekend as they were expected to do, but it did take them longer then they were hoping for to find the goal. Off the bench, Juan Mata found the net from distance just after the hour mark to the relief of the 70,00 United fans who won’t be overly impressed with Louis van Gaal start at the club. Palace are now only above the relegation zone on goal difference.  They will need to pick up some points soon but they face Liverpool next, so it won’t be easy.

The season’s surprise stars Southampton won again this weekend at home to Leicester City. Shane Long scored twice in five minutes in the second half to keep the Saints fans dreaming of maybe some European football next season. A lot has been said about their impressive start to the season and rightfully so, but after their game against Aston Villa when the Premier League returns, Ronald Koeman’s side will be really put to the test with consecutive games against Man City, Arsenal and Man United.

Next for Leicester is a must win game at home to Sunderland because they are struggling in 18th place at the moment and if they want to avoid relegation straight back down to the Championship, then these are the types of games they must be winning.

Tottenham went down 2-1 at home to Stoke City on Sunday. First half goals from Bojan and Jonathan Walters secured the three much-needed points for Mark Hughes’ men. Nacir Chadli scored a fantastic volley to give the home fans hope on 77 minutes but after Kyle Naughton was sent off with five minutes to play, there was no way back and Spurs’ poor run to the season went on. Mauricio Pochettino will be looking for some better fortunes for his side when they return from the international break, starting with a trip to Hull.

One of Tottenham’s challengers for a Europa League spot this season is Everton, but they are doing just as bad as Spurs at the moment, exemplified by their disappointing 1-1 draw with Sunderland this weekend. Seb Larsson gave the hosts a deserved lead with a wonderful free-kick and Everton then had to rely on a penalty from Leighton Baines with 15 minutes to spare to salvage a point. Roberto Martinez’s side are sitting in tenth so for now and it looks like its going to be a season to forget for Everton fans unless they can really pick up some form when the EPL returns later this month.

They will get things back under way with a home tie against fourth placed West Ham United, who could only manage a 0-0 draw at home to Aston Villa this weekend. The Upton Park fans would probably have been expecting another win but Sam Allardyce will know as well as anyone that so long as his side continue to pick up points, the Hammers will continue to be moving in the right direction.

Finally, Burnley finally found their first EPL win of the season, beating Hull City thanks to an Ashley Barnes header five minutes into the second half in front of packed Turf Moor stadium. Sean Dyche won’t like that he has to wait a couple of weeks now before his side will be back in action but next up for the Clarets is a trip to Stoke, where they’ll be looking to build on that all-important first win.

Klinsmann Looks To College Talent Pool


USMNT train in London.

By Pat Glodkowski

By now, most US soccer fans have heard of the Stanford striker Jordan Morris. He was put on the radar for fans when he received a call up for the national team that travelled to Prague to play the Czech Republic earlier this semester.

Although he did not feature for that match up, he is now traveling with the USMNT to the British Isles to possibly debut against Colombia or Ireland. The sophomore deemed his meeting with USMNT Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann “surreal,” when the two sat for their first meeting. A player from the college system has not been called up to the national team since 1995 when UCLA player Ante Razov made the cut. The reemergence of the collegiate selection was unforeseen, but is encouraging for college programs.

Klinsmann is a huge proponent of shipping out American players as early as possible to teams in Europe. He made his opinion known when top American stars like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley made a return to the domestic league. Moreover, Klinsmann got into a row with MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, over the matter as Garber took personal offense to the criticism that the US gaffer put forth. Nonetheless, Klinsmann stayed firm with his statement, believing that top-flight European football is the only way these American players will improve.

The USMNT Coach also does not believe in the collegiate system as a proper form of preparation for a professional career. Sure, everyone can jump on board for the youth players to obtain a good education, but it takes too much time away from playing soccer. As I commented earlier this season, too many differences between college soccer and professional soccer exist to make collegiate play a good stepping-stone.

First, they do not abide by FIFA rules. Second, they play only during the late summer and fall. Most American soccer officials, including a handful of college coaches agree that players looking to obtain professional contracts have to abstain from going to college.

Klinsmann is a critic opposed to the college path that still seems traditional of many American athletes. He warns student athletes that their chances professional careers are severely limited. The German is not the first to bring it to light. Statistics speak for themselves. Only a select few players, far less than one percent, manage to make the cut for a professional contract. With that in mind, it is surprising that he called up Jordan Morris to play for the team. It is one thing to have a chat with Morris to discuss his future, but to flat out tell a 20 year old in college he can play for the senior team is quite special.

The debate over homegrown players that take the professional route or the college route still rages. Clearly, US Soccer scouts still keep their attention on college soccer. However, they do it through a medium. There are plenty of players around the world worthy of call-ups, and so looking at colleges becomes a difficult task. Most scouts want to focus on players already signed with teams, rather than follow younger talent at schools.

Perhaps this call-up is the momentum college soccer needs to fight back against critics of the traditional system. College athletes still have the attention of scouts as proven by Klinsmann’s move for Jordan Morris. We may be seeing a general move to take these students out of their comfort zone and push for an earlier start to their professional careers. Most student athletes fear of the future. They worry if their athletic capabilities will pan out, if a college education is necessary in order to have some sort of fallback, if they will be able to feed themselves in the future. During the initial conversation between Jürgen Klinsmann and Jordan Morris, those fears were apparent. However, this boost in confidence seems to be doing wonders for the Stanford sophomore as this assurance by the national team coach may push him to delay finishing his education at Stanford.

Morris believed that at the very least he had to put his foot in the door. He mentions that attending Stanford “was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed,” and so he reasonably enrolled in the institution. However, he did follow up saying that now that he’s in the school “it will be easier to return” anytime he wants. Giving this situation the future may see more students spending some time in school and leaving mid way, should their be an express backing by a highly-esteemed coach.

College soccer has been the traditional way domestic teams have found some of their core youth players. Sure, a good portion of their developmental years was but aside to collegiate teams, but it offers these students a safeguard against the real world. They are not to blame. Getting a scholarship to player soccer in Stanford is not something that should be thrown away by any player. As they mature in their college years, the players will be given the time to explore their different options and confirm whether or not their passion lies in the sport. Morris surely provides inspiration for other collegiate players, and may increase the rate of students forgoing to continue their education for professional contracts.

GOALKEEPERS (4): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Hamburg), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution)

FORWARDS (6): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Jordan Morris (Stanford), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Pancyprians Thrash Celts

cosmoyellowBy Jay Mwamba

Ageless veteran Julio Cesar Dos Santos, 40, wound back the clock with a superb hat trick in Pancyprian Freedoms’ 6-1 drubbing of Manhattan Celtic on Randalls Island.

The Brazilian goal poacher was joined on the score sheet by Phil Bannister, Yannick Reyering and Taso Polydefkis as the undefeated Greek-Cypriots improved to 7-0-2 [23] atop the CSL First Division West standings.

Joe Cooper got Celtic’s consolation.

“Despite our shorthanded squad we played well and efficiently,” said manager George Halkidis. “Celtic, despite their energetic play, were simply outmatched.”

Celtic’s young coach Matt Kane concurred. “We were outclassed,” the 23 year-old admitted. “It made the team recognize that despite our good run of form we still have a long way to go to mix with the top teams.”

Pancyprian’s reserves won 1-0 on Kosta Meleties’ strike.

With the mid-season break looming, second place New York Greek Americans scored a vital 1-0 win over stubborn Central Park Rangers at the Metropolitan Oval to stay within distance of Pancyprian.

Kene Eze came off the bench to break CPR hearts [78th].

“CPR fought tooth and nail and were very well organized, defended the small field with numbers and proved very hard to break down,” said Greek coach Stavros Zomopoulos. “Our depth, and the fact that we have options on the bench to change the course of a match, won it for us.”

The Greeks [6-1-1, 19] trail Pancyprian by four points with a game in hand.

Stavros’ second unit prevailed 4-2 in their top-of-the-table clash with the CPR reserves to take a one point lead [4-1-3, 15].

Jimmy Shalom, Pete Touros, Adam Marcu and Mario Gagliano connected for the hosts, with Tyler Webster and Andi Loloci replying for Rangers.

“It was the usual mix of veteran leadership and our strong youthful additions that brought the quality and energy to win it,” Stavros summed up.

In the East, defending champs Lansdowne Bhoys crushed New York Croatia 7-2 at Tibbetts Brook Park to climb into second place.

Skipper Stephen Roche, Kendon Anderson and Karamba Janneh each netted twice, while the influential Daryl Kavannagh added a goal.

The result upped the Bhoys’ record to 5-2-1 [16] three points behind leaders NYAC in what is shaping into a two-horse race for the division title.

Lansdowne’s reserves were equally rampant, thrashing the Croatia reserves 11-0.

Timmy O’Driscoll [three], Rory O’Neill [two], Ciaran Murphy [two], Declan Reilly, Richie Hartnett, Brendan Hannity and first team coach Austin Friel tallied.

East leaders NYAC blanked NYC Rovers 3-0, thanks to Jake Mann and Michael Valencia [two]

Junior Spinks marked his return from a knee injury with both goals for the NYAC reserves in a 2-0 victory.

“It was a huge win, allowing us to reel Rovers back in a bit after their torrid start,” said coach Bill Saporito.

For the second time this fall, United FC won back-to-back games in a 72-hour period to confirm their return to form.

First, Patrick Termens [two], Mohammed Mashriqi [two] and Frank Alesci were on target in a 5-4 squeaker over Clarkstown Eagles 5-4 at the Aviator Sports Complex, a week ago Thursday. Then three days later at the same ground, Paul Nitolli [52nd] got the only goal of a tough match with Hoboken FC.

Said United’s Alex Zaretser: “Hoboken played very well in the back [and] their goalie played an excellent game. But hard work prevailed.”

“The game was fairly even,” echoed Hoboken GM Bill Marth. The reserves tied 0-0.

Bljerdi Bardic scored his 11th and 12th goals of the season for visiting Clarkstown Eagles in a 4-1 trouncing of Stal Mielec at McCarren Park.

Edmir Arucevic got the other two, while Grzegorz Kruk was the Stal scorer.

“Former Clarkstown forward Dritan Sela had a great game for the well-organized Stahl Mielec,” observed winning manager Oliver Papraniku.

His reserves lost 3-2 to goals by Lukasz Olszowka, Krzysztof Daniszewski and Piotr Dublicki.

Division Two joint leaders New York Ukrainians and Shamrock remain neck-to-neck on the standings after both posted emphatic wins.  Ukrainians blasted NYPD FC 5-0 while the Rocks blew out Sporting Astoria 6-0.

David Alkasimi [two], Adam Maliniak, Alagie “Alas” Janneh and Alper Yilmaz were on target for Ukrainians at McCarren Park. This after NYPD’s reserves had won 1-0.

Later, under floodlights on Randalls Island, Mohamed Fofana banged in four of Shamrock’s six goals against Astoria to put the Irishmen level on points [19] with Ukrainains.

Nikle Guzijan and Santiago Rigby were the other Shamrock scorers.

Astoria’s rocky outing came four days after they dropped a 3-2 decision to NYPD in midweek at Evander Childs High School.

Hot reserve scorer Johan Quinde got both Astoria goals.

“…New division, new experience, new beginning,” quipped Astoria boss Ed Romero whose side is now rebuilding.

Jesse Rose notched New Amsterdam United’s face-saver in a 7-1 drubbing by New York Supreme at Laurel Hill Park in New Jersey.

Bobby Akumah, Stephen Oduro [two] Amanfo Assibu, Joe Attakora, Prince Yeboah and Victor Navarro led the goalfest.

Also in Division Two, Manhattan Kickers and Doxa FC tied 0-0 at Van Buren High School, while ailing champions CD Iberia triumphed only for the second time, 2-1 at the expense of Polonia.

Lorenz Seebacher and Ben Annis secured the Kicker reserves a 2-1 result, and the Iberia-
Polonia curtain raiser finished 3-3.

Unbeaten Metro Div. One [East] pace-setters CPR Reds dropped a rare point in a 1-1 tie with New York Ittihad on Randalls Island.

Ittihad needed a penalty off a deflection to cancel out Declan Heffernan’s 55th minute goal and deny the Reds full points.

“A well earned stalemate for both sides,” remarked the Reds’ Blake Berg, whose [7-0-2, 23] lads lead Lansdowne Bhoys metro by seven points.

Lansdowne, with two games in hand to the Reds, hammered Gotham City 4-1 at Tibbetts Park to complete a hat trick of victories by Lansdowne teams at the weekend.

Johnny McGeeney [two], Keith Power and Dessie Beattie connected.

Karimullah Mashriqi and Mohammad Basir Mashriqi led Brishna to a 2-1 win over West frontrunners FC Gwardia at Flushing Meadow.

Mateusz Chlost had Gwardia’s lone response.

At the Greenbelt Recreation Center, Missile FC and Mr. Dennehy’s tied 2-2 tie.

Missiles’ Alexis Lens and Jackson Eugene exchanged goals with Dennehy’s Terrence Ahoua and Shawn Dos Santos.

Elsewhere in Metro One, Albert Ruci scored for NYC Vllaznia in a 4-1 loss to Gotham Argo.

Gotham’s scorers were Ikechi Nwanko, Sam Atwood – from Ryan MacLennan’s assist — Felipe Luz and Mike Lim, who was fed by Huan Hguyen.

Elton Lalaj was the CSL’s top scorer last weekend after bagging half of lowly FC Partizani’s haul in a 10-0 annihilation of Metro City Fury. The rout ended the Metro Div. Two side’s winless run this fall.

Iglir Arapi got four goals and Eni Zejnati one.

“This was the second biggest win in our 10-year history; 11-0 was the biggest in 2007,” noted Zejnati, recalling their destruction of NYC Infinity All Stars seven years ago.

Mola SC knocked off SC Eintracht 2-0 on goals by Kanijah Lucien and Gianluca Palanca to claim second spot.

Mola [6-1-1, 19] trail flawless Spring Valley Huerto United [8-0, 24] by five points after the latter blanked New York Galicia 3-0.

NYC Metro Stars dropped to third place after a 3-2 stunner against New York Bravehearts on Randalls Island.

Jonathan Jacob, Nnamdi Iwu and Guillermo Arbaleaz saw off the Stars, who played with ten men for the first 20 minutes.

Elmar Batres and Irishman Wayne Doyle, who blasted in a 30-yard free kick, replied for Stars.
“A good performance given the fact we had no subs and were down ten men for a good portion of the first half,” said Doyle.

Wilson Tilme [three] led Grenadier Zenith’s 5-1 rout of AO Brooklyn at Bushwick Inlet.

Williams Dorelien and Stevens Pierre Gilles also netted, while Nick Cirrincione had the AO consolation.

“Both teams played without their starting keepers and Roland Andre stood tall for us in   goals, making several spectacular saves to assure us the win,” said Jacky Felix.

“Good team, Grenadier,” Brooklyn’s Chris Vega commended the winners.

In another dramatic collapse in the CSL, Williamsburg International blew a 3-0 lead in the last ten minutes to tie NYC Illiria 3-3 on Randalls Island.

Williamsburg were cruising until the 80th minute, thanks to an own goal and strikes by Logan Roos, and Andreas Moudatsos, when the unthinkable happened.

“We lost the middle of the field and capitulated, giving up three goals in the final 10 minutes,” lamented Charles von Rosenberg.

Shpendi Agaj and hitman Ergi Janku [two] shot Illiria back into game to salvage an unlikely point for the hosts. For Janku his second goal brought his fall tally to ten.

A depleted Shamrock Over-30 side suffered its first loss in the CSL, crashing 5-0 to champions Manhattan Kickers Premier at East River Park.

Ari Dolegowski [25th], Mark Supple [30th] Stuart Kaiser [60th, 75th] and Nick Bill [85th] tallied for the hosts.

“We had a weakened starting 11 and paid the price for it. I can’t fault the 11 that were there,” said coach Paddy McCarry who was missing more than half his regular side.

Danny Rodriguez’ hat trick provided the biggest shock of the Over-30 division on the day, a 3-2 BW Gottschee win [their first of the season] over former champs Manhattan Celtic Legends at Pier 5.

Over confident Kickers Over-30s left East River Park sighing with relief after nearly undoing hotshot Jack Vivonetto’s handiwork in a 4-3 squeaker against Megas Alexandros.

Vivonetto had struck all four goals in the opening 30 minutes before he was subbed off with his fall account at ten goals in nine matches.

Big mistake.

The suddenly cavalier Kickers then proceeded to ship three goals before the final whistle blew.

“Fortunately, we weren’t exactly Arsenal in disguise,” remarked Eddie Yee Woo Guo. “I would have been [peeved] if we gave up our win like Arsenal did!”

Manhattan Celtic Bhoys Over-30s beat Guyana Veterans 2-0 on goals by Youcef Mami – from Chris Spencer’s assist – and Souleymane Diallo [penalty].

Hoboken FC moved into a three-way atop the Over-3- Div. II table after beating Nieuw Amsterdam 4-1 at Sinatra Park.

Kerry Hall had two goals — one set up by Hans Aponte — while Juan Aponte created for Tom Ahn and later scored off Jason Gayle’s assist.

John Graham was the Amsterdam marksman.

In Over-35 action, Barnstonworth Rovers’ Brent Lyons and Colvin Hutchinson both notched hat tricks in an 8-4 mauling of short-handed SC Eintracht.

Akil Jordan and Richie Purger chipped in with a goal apiece.

Peter Maris, Dan Ceabuca, Jean Paul and Jeff LaRue replied for Eintracht only had ten players.

And Then There Were Three..and Seattle

esclogoBy Tim Hall

And then, there were four.

After an interminable regular season and needlessly complicated opening rounds to the playoffs, Major League Soccer has whittled down the contenders to hoist MLS Cup to the final four, and not to claim that the results have been rigged (they were rigged, we’re just not claiming that), the four teams remaining offer tantalizing matchups no matter which permutation should ultimately be the final.

Everyone loves a good knockout competition, and with all the star power and storylines on offer, there will undoubtedly be a large number of eyes from around the world who are taking their first look at Major League Soccer over the coming weeks. Since MLS fans have some sort of complex and have gotten it in their minds that it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to “grow the game” or “grow the league”, it seems only right that we welcome the latecomers with an exhaustive guide to each of the four remaining contenders and why you might pull for them the rest of the way.

New York Red Bulls: We start here at home with the Metros, who, despite having big name players and carrying the flag for the world’s greatest city, may be viewed as the rank underdogs to win it all. The storylines for New York are seemingly endless. First, there is head coach Mike Petke, one of the most beloved defenders in club history, suddenly entrusted before last season to manage the team. To some onlookers, it seemed he was thrown into the position to appease the supporters, but also set up to fail. But all he did in his first year was win the regular season, bringing the first meaningful silverware to one of the league’s most beleaguered fanbases. To tack on MLS Cup a year later would certainly cement the last two seasons as one of the dynastic runs in league history.

As for the players, rumors continue to swirl around Thierry Henry concerning his potential retirement or move to greener pastures. The Frenchman himself has said nothing and kept on being the magnificent Henry fans around the world have applauded in amazement. The other big name player on New York’s roster, Tim Cahill, may also be on his way out at season’s end, though in far less glamorous fashion.

The Australian currently finds himself in a “super sub” role, which would be wonderful were this Europe, but in the salary cap structure of MLS is not a good use of resources. The league’s Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips has continued his torrid pace into the playoffs, and, as we’ve mentioned before, would be the league’s Most Valuable Player in a walk were he Brad Phillips from Toejam, Arkansas, and not the progeny of Ian Wright.

New England Revolution: If there’s one more tortured fanbase in MLS, it is New England’s. Still playing in a cavernous American football stadium with no plans for a home of their own anywhere on the horizon. This season did perhaps signal a turnaround from that history for the Revs, signing American international Jermaine Jones midseason to give them an air of real legitimacy. Jones has partnered with presumptive MLS MVP Lee Nguyen to create a formative lineup.

MLS playoffs are so frequently about who finds the right form at the right time. New England started the season guns a’ blazing, but went on an 8-game losing streak smack dab in the middle of the campaign, only to turn it back around and become one of the hottest teams in the league again. Can this run continue with New England securing their first championship, or will the midseason demons return and leave the four-time runners-up holding the bouquet at the altar yet again?

Los Angeles Galaxy: LA are the class of the league, winning the title four times. The argument can be made, quite effectively, that MLS has played fast and loose with its own rules to keep the Gals a powerhouse, but credit to former US manager Bruce Arena for taking full advantage of the situation.

The big story for Los Angeles is the impending retirement of former US captain Landon Donovan, who has made it abundantly clear that he is not leaving the game due to a decline in skill, posting a hat trick in the game that sent Galaxy sauntering past Salt Lake and into the final four. Surely the Hollywood ending has Donovan carrying MLS Cup off into the sunset. Luckily for Landon, he still has the tools around him to avoid carrying the load all by himself. Chief among them is Robbie Keane, now playing for his tenth boyhood team and single-handedly disproving the notion that MLS is a retirement league for foreign players.

Seattle Sounders: And then there are Seattle. What can we say about the Sounders that wouldn’t be censored? Their star player is American international Clint Dempsey, who is also an aspiring musician, in the broadest sense of the term. Clint Dempsey is to rap music what Clint Dempsey is to impressionist art, or cabinet making, or artisanal cheese.

Seattle wears green, because if they wore white, their creampuff, Casper, milquetoast, white bread supporters would make the stands look like a Ku Klux Klan rally. If the highlight of American expansionism is people reaching California’s golden shores and realizing their dreams, then the lowlight is people reaching Seattle and not having the good sense to K-turn their covered wagons and get the hell out of there.

This is a culture of people so devoid of ideas that, noticing that it rains 300 days out of the year, opt to kill themselves in droves rather than leave. The last good bit of creativity produced in Seattle came from Kurt Cobain’s shotgun. As a fanbase, they were born on third base and are convinced they hit a triple, only they wouldn’t call it a triple, they’d call it a “treble”, so desperate to co-opt British culture since they are without one of their own that doesn’t involve pumping heroin into their arms. Even their most famous tourist attraction is a needle, and their second is men throwing fish, and not even in a tongue-in-cheek, Pythonesque manner. “Ooh, he threw a salmon 30 feet, let’s get his autograph!”

Among their owners is Drew Carey, the “comedian” whose three claims to fame were being fat, wearing glasses and having a flat-top haircut, and he couldn’t even get being fat right. They employ a marching band, that most American of musical outfits, because they are famous for being fat and loud and not actually saying anything. The Sounders as a whole are the entitled, BMW-driving, lacrosse-playing college frat boy named Chet, and even though he may seem cool to outsiders, we all know Chet slips Rohypnol into girls’ drinks at parties. Screw Chet, and screw the Sounders.

So, there you have it, three worthy teams and Seattle. Choose wisely, and enjoy the rest of the playoffs.

Birmingham City Answers

keano1. Which former Newcastle United and Fulham player became manager in June 2012?

Lee Clark

2. What is the name of their ground?

St Andrew’s

3. Which competition did they win in 1991 and 1995?

Football League Trophy

4. Who did they sign from Valencia for 6 million pounds in 2010?

Nikola Zigic

5. Who did they beat 2-1 to win the 2011 League Cup final?