NYCFC Fail To Overcome Defensive Woes In Frank Lampard’s Debut

lamparddebutBy Michael Schwartz

On what should have been a triumphant day when all three of New York City’s brightest stars came together for the first time, the Montreal Impact spoiled the party by winning 3-2. Coach Jason Kreis’ side was once again plagued by defensive lapses that cost the team dearly.

“I think we’re just trying to be more coordinated,” said Kreis when asked about what concerned him the most about the defensive performance. “Both goals came I think in very similar fashions; long balls over the top. I though the connection between the goalkeeper and the back four was a bit unclear [especially] with the communication and the decision making on both goals.”

After his side repeatedly fell victim to seemingly innocuous long balls, Kreis talked about how there wasn’t enough coordination and pressure to stop the aerial passes. It was no doubt disconcerting to see New York City this far into the season be unable to handle simple long balls.

The defensive issues overshadowed Frank Lampard’s long-awaited debut after he first signed with the expansion club 373 days ago. The Chelsea legend, who was greeted with a loud ovation when entering the match in the 69th minute, just seemed relieved to finally make his first appearance.

“Well obviously good,” said Lampard when asked how it felt to get out onto the pitch. “It’s a fantastic stadium and I’ve been watching games here now and I have been in the city for more than a month. I’m feeling excited about it but also frustrated not to contribute as it was a big moment for me to play. I just want to play more now. It’s frustrating to play in a game that we end up losing and not quite feeling right. It’s up to me to put right on the main term now and as a team it’s up to us to play well and win games.”

In order for NYCFC to start winning more games, the backline must improve which is difficult considering that they lack chemistry and organization. For New York City’s goalkeeper, Josh Saunders, the clock is ticking and he feels his backline may need to pay more attention during the video sessions in order to rectify the errors.

“We need to be winning games,” said Saunders when asked how difficult it is for the backline to play well when they’ve hardly played with each other. “We need to be getting shots. It’s going to take time. But we don’t have time. We need points so we need to work harder and to be better. Our guys need to be a little more attentive in video. We’ll move forward including myself. We realize what the strengths of the [other] teams are and where they want to be. They [the video staff] showed us that during the week and we were kind of naïve to it today so tough.”

Entering the match, Andrea Pirlo earned his first start while Mix Diskerud was surprisingly left on the bench with Ned Grabavoy starting. New York started off promisingly with so much of the early possession circulating around Pirlo. Throughout the match, the Italian maestro attempted numerous long passes from midfield with mixed results. Pirlo certainly dictated most of the New York City’s build up play as he lead the team with 97 touches and 80 passes with an 81.3 completion percentage.

It was obvious that the other players have already put their trust into Pirlo due to his composure and vision. Asked if he believes he is earning the trust of new teammates, Pirlo responded, “Yes I like to pass the ball but as I said it takes time to create a closeness and to find the right mechanism as a team all together.”

While it’s encouraging to see Pirlo settle in quickly, it won’t matter how magnificent the Italian is if the defensive issues aren’t solved. Montreal started quickly when in the 6th minute, Laurent Ciman pumped a long ball for speedster Dominic Oduro who got past Jefferson Mena and dribbled through Saunders to score. Oduro’s goal continued the trend of swift attackers causing problems for New York City’s backline.

Coach Frank Klopas’ side continued to play well after scoring by taking advantage of New York City’s high defensive line. Whether through counters, long balls, or steady build up play, Montreal put New York City under pressure very often. Montreal opportunistically took advantage of some bad giveaways by New York City in their own half. In short, Kreis felt his team’s first half performance was quite poor.

When asked about what Montreal did well at in terms of breaking down New York City’s defense, Pirlo believed the Impact are a dangerous team. “Definitely we could have done better but they were very good at attacking and hitting us from behind,” said Pirlo. “And they had some great shots.”

While David Villa was often frustrated by Montreal’s organized backline, Klopas’ side continued to cause problems going forward. They were rewarded for their sustained pressure in the 32nd minute when Andres Romero hoofed another ball over the top for Ignacio Piatti to latch onto. The Montreal midfielder chipped the ball over Saunders for their second goal. It summed up how Mena and Jason Hernandez seemed out of position for most of the half and shared little understanding with each other considering it was the first time they ever played with each other.

Despite all of their possession, New York City looked lethargic and produced zero shots on target in the first half compared to Montreal’s six. The best moment came near the end of the half when Villa scored but his goal was correctly ruled off for being offsides.

In the second half, the Impact continued to defend well as New York City struggled to find any openings. It wasn’t until the 57th minute when New York City got their first shot on target when Pirlo produced a long ball to Tommy McNamara out wide whose effort went straight at the keeper. Pirlo also attempted a powerful long-range shot that just went wide.

New York City finally made their breakthrough in the 68th minute when McNamara got behind the defense and down was taken in the box for a penalty. Villa got his thirteenth goal of the season by burying his penalty just past Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush who correctly guessed the side the Spaniard was aiming for.

A minute after Villa’s goal, New York City fans had more reason to cheer when Lampard took the pitch for the first time. Kreis took a gamble being down a goal by taking off Andrew Jacobson for the more attack-minded Englishman. Unfortunately for Kreis, it was a gamble that ultimately didn’t pay off.

Despite conceding a goal and seeing Lampard come on, Montreal kept their nerve as they nullified New York City when they tried to move forward. Disaster then struck for New York City again when Piatti got in on goal and was taken down by Saunders in the 84th minute. Piatti made Saunders go the wrong way as he restored a two goal deficit.

The two goal lead lasted for barely a minute though as Villa and Angelino combined well to set up McNamara behind the defense. McNamara buried his shot and simply showed how clutch he was by being responsible for both goals.

McNamara explained after the match about how they were successfully able to get behind the defense with both goals. Calling getting behind the defense a “dangerous position”, it was something the New York City struggled with for most of the afternoon against Montreal’s organized backline.

With all the stars that New York City now has, it’s quite amazing how a relatively unknown player like McNamara who couldn’t get into the team for the first half of the season has been consistently crucial with so many goals scored of late. When asked how good it felt to finally have all three designated players together, McNamara said that “it feels good because you can feel the buzz of the fans. You saw it last week when Pirlo came onto the pitch and you saw it this week when Lampard came onto the pitch. You hear it every time David scores a ridiculous goal. I think that the energy with the three of them out there created within the stadium is kind of focused into the rest of the team. I think it will make a big difference over the course of the season.”

During stoppage time, New York City tried to find a late equalizer but didn’t seriously threaten Montreal outside of two shots by Villa on the left that were straight at the keeper. As the final whistle blew, it was another result to rue for Kreis and his players.

It’s interesting to note New York City’s schedule as the club only has one home game during the final month of the season.  The scheduling situation is no doubt done to accommodate the main tenant of Yankee Stadium, the New York Yankees, who are likely going to be competing in the playoffs during October. For New York City, a team that is trying to make a late playoff push, having so few home games at the end of the season could be a hard obstacle. That’s why dropping home matches like against Montreal could prove so costly down the road.

Overall, New York City will only make the playoffs if they improve at defending and everyone including Lampard knows it. “A few things,” said Lampard when questioned about what the teams needs to get better at. “I really think it’s a collective thing. I think we obviously need to stop conceding goals and that’s something to work together on the training ground week to week. I actually don’t want to sound too downbeat. Personally I want to get fitter. Andrea Pirlo has just turned up in time for nearly two weeks which is a long time. David Villa is scoring goals and the team is coming together. I think there is [something here to] make us able to become a real strong team and then if you look at us, if we can just win a couple of games back to back, then we will have a real shot of making the playoffs.”

Celtic FC Answers

1 – Which team did they beat 9-0 in the SPL in November 2010?

Aberdeen

2 – What nationality was ex-manager Jozef Venglos?

Slovakian

3 – Who was in goal when Celtic won the European Cup?

Ronnie Simpson

4 – In which year did Jock Stein become manager?

1965

5 – Which English born forward was their leading scorer in the 2012-2013 season with 29 goals?

Gary Hooper

Andrea Pirlo’s Debut Provides Glimpse Of Positive Impact

PirloBy Michael Schwartz

Around the 10th minute of New York City’s 5-3 victory over Orlando City, the Third Rail began to chant “We Want Pirlo!” The calls for Andrea Pirlo were soon followed by various other sections. The commotion grew until seemingly everyone finally had their wish granted when the Italian took the field for the first time. It was a moment that perfectly summed up the euphoria as the “Pirlo Party” finally began. 

When Pirlo was first linked with a move to New York City, there were some concerns about his age, pace, and ability to quickly settle in with a new team and league. And while those concerns won’t go away after one performance, the impact the Italian can have on the field was on full display.

Pirlo’s passing ability and intellect were aspects that most expected would positively impact the midfield. Yet, to be able to see it for the first time really showed how crucial he can be with New York City. Players such as David Villa talked after the game how he’s able to produce passes that no one else is capable of. Pirlo makes the whole team better moving forward by being able to generate accurate, incisive passes.

“He’s a special player,” said Coach Jason Kreis in regards to Pirlo. “A guy that sees passes most of us don’t. He can really open up the game. What I saw right away was the team opening up and using every ounce of space out there because they felt he could find them. He made a big difference for us and that’s his first match after four days of training with the team.”

Angelino was impressed with Pirlo’s composure and how his steadiness leaves everyone at ease. “Pirlo makes everything look so easy,” said Angelino. “We were a little more relaxed because obviously he can keep the ball and came deeper to get on the ball. It shows his personality.”

There is no doubt that Pirlo has been slowed by age and it seemed like having a diamond formation with both him and Frank Lampard would be overrun by younger, quicker opponents. Yet, a 4-2-3-1 formation allows Pirlo and hypothetically Lampard to be effective when surrounded by other more explosive players. The emergence of Kwadwo Poku, the continued improvement of Mix Diskerud, the consistency of Andrew Jacobson, the technically skilled form Tommy McNamara, the explosiveness of Angelino, and the clinical abilities of David Villa will all be needed in order for Pirlo and Lampard to excel. After all, soccer is a team game and everyone will be needed in order for New York City to make a serious run at the end of the season.

Even though New York has been a slow moving team for most of the season, Coach Jason Kreis can get the best out of his older designated players with the right formation and the proper balance with faster footballers. After putting up 4 against Toronto and now 5 on Orlando, Kreis must be pleased at how his attack is starting to consistently break down opposing defenses unlike earlier this season when they struggled to score.

When asked how quickly it could take for someone like Pirlo to adjust to playing in a different league, Villa talked about how the adjustment can be complicated for anyone. In over 30 minutes on Sunday, Pirlo looked comfortable with the breakneck tempo of the second half as he made a huge impact on the ball. How long the Italian can still play at a high level is hard to say but he showed that he can be effective in MLS.

The fact that he settled in so seamlessly in his debut indicated that he may not need that much time to start playing at a high level. Age and injury may slow him down but for now there is hope that the Italian can quickly become a leader for NYCFC moving forward.

There was some controversy surrounding reports that City Football Group overruled the coaching staff with taking another older player over a younger option. And while there are benefits to having someone a team can build around for years to come, having Pirlo (and eventually Lampard) may just be the short-term boost the club needs to have their fortunes quickly turned around.

Of course New York could have been benefitted with a younger DP to complement what they already had or getting someone that addressed a more pressing need. Yet, at the end of the day, Pirlo has shown that his overall qualities can still make him a huge difference-maker in New York City’s midfield. His abilities as a maestro with the ball add more dynamism to NYCFC’s attack.

In a year where Kaka, Steven Gerrard, Pirlo, Lampard, Villa, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Didier Drogba have all joined MLS, perhaps the league will still be stereotyped as a “retirement league.” But considering the brand power combined with the skill of these players, MLS probably won’t care about the stigma all that much.

Fool’s Gold

esclogoTim Hall’s View From 101

Every other summer the countries of North and Central America along with the Caribbean get together for a little soccer tournament called the Gold Cup, our continental championship. It also serves as a good reminder, just like our region’s World Cup qualification process, of exactly how much we hate each other, if not on a geopolitical scale, then at least on a football field. CONCACAF is like if your Thanksgiving dinner was preceded by every single aunt and uncle’s individual national anthem. 

And not unlike holidays with your family, each country and each tournament brings its own set of circumstances and foibles. For instance, Cuba, the sketchy relative who is always the first suspect any time anything goes a bit askew, a question you will forget by the time the next one rolls around and you begin the process all over again.

Since it became an actual tournament unto itself in 1991 and not an extension of World Cup qualifying, the Gold Cup has always been held in America, having only shared hosting duties three times since. And, as you may have been aware, the relationship between the US and Cuba as it relates to travel has been a bit frosty ever since we surrounded their island with submarines carrying nuclear weapons. So the Gold Cup offered one of the few times Cubans could legally come to the United States, and naturally every two years they would qualify for the tournament, send a team over in the name of football diplomacy, and then promptly lose a quarter of the team to defection. No different this year.

However, sunnier days are on the horizon, as the US and Cuba have begun to normalize their diplomatic relations with one another, so hopefully things will improve for the Cuban people and we can get past what has been an uncomfortable topic around the CONCACAF dinner table for a decade now.

Speaking of which, if you’re from a family where all the children around the kids’ table were roughly the same age twenty years ago, you probably understand what it’s like to go home for the holidays now and see those same kids all grown up. Whether anyone is intentionally making it that way or not, there’s a lot of pressure, to have the good job, the good car, the spouse and the house and the 2.5 children of their own.

Similarly, the countries of the Caribbean and Central America have been fighting that battle themselves to pull themselves up into the favorite child role, and unlike your brother the successful doctor, there is a fair amount of competition for the seat at the grownup table. You’ll remember last summer when an upstart Costa Rican side went all the way to the quarterfinals in the World Cup in Brazil, and there pushed a heavily favored Dutch side all the way to penalties before finally bowing out.

This summer showed that the rest of the region has a lot of promise as well. Trinidad and Tobago actually won their group over the more respected Mexican and Guatemalan sides, playing the former to a wild 4-4 draw in the final match of the group. Panama survived a group with the US and Honduras and made a run all the way to the semifinals. And Jamaica won their group handily, beating those Costa Ricans in the process, then got by Haiti and the heavily favored Americans to make the final.

It’s a good reminder that in CONCACAF nothing is given, everything is earned, and at some point you will have to play a World Cup qualifier on a steamy summer night in Trinidad, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Jamaica, El Salvador or wherever, where the field will be soggy and the grass a foot high and you will know true misery.

Of course, for all the progress of the smaller countries (and the lack of progress by Canada, the unemployed loser country of the CONCACAF family), there are still only two haves among the have-nots: the United States and Mexico, the divorced couple who despise each other but still act civil around one another for the sake of the kids. Let’s start with the US, a team that looked frankly uncreative for the entire tournament but managed to get through to the semifinals on sheer talent alone. Clint Dempsey won the Golden Boot for the tournament, thanks in no small part to a hat trick in a 6-0 drubbing of the aforementioned Cubans in the round of 16.

But the US is supposed to beat the Cubans just like the adults are supposed to beat the kids at the annual basketball game before dinner, and maybe that’s the problem: the Americans expect to be finalists every time, the Gold Cup is simply a series of warmup games until a US/Mexico final. Failure to keep that appointment has led to calls for manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s head. Those will fall on deaf ears for a while yet. US Soccer has committed to Klinsmann through the next World Cup cycle, and barring something unforeseen, there he will stay.

However, at least the US handled themselves with some decorum, because then there’s Mexico. Yes, El Tri won the Gold Cup, congratulations to them. What follows is not so much sour grapes as a constant complaint. That 4-4 draw against Trinidad and Tobago? That was only accomplished by the Soca Warriors scoring on a stoppage time corner kick where the taker was being pelted by cups and bottles from the stands. And that was just a player, heaven only knows what was being thrown around in the stands. And then there is the homophobic slur that Mexican fans continue to do on opposition goal kicks.

Oh, and those calls to fire the coach that finished in fourth? Well, one manager did get fired in the immediate aftermath of the Gold Cup: the one who won. Mexico head coach and Moe Howard haircut enthusiast Miguel Herrera celebrated his team’s win in continental play by punching a journalist in the airport and saw the axe.

There has to be a time when the verbiage changes with how we refer to playing Mexico. They aren’t just shouting something that doesn’t actually translate directly to English, they are screaming a slur in unison. The crowd isn’t “hostile” or giving their team “a home field advantage.” They are openly dangerous and only emboldened by a confederation either too afraid or too impotent to do anything about them. You’ll notice no other team in all of CONCACAF routinely requires the services of riot police. And that is not even to speak for the reckless, often violent play from the men on the pitch.

Mexico is the drunken relative of this confederation, and it has progressed well past the point of ‘cute funny sideshow’ and into the point of ‘danger to themselves and others’. It would be time to stop inviting them over for Thanksgiving dinner, but they always know where it’s being held, and nobody else has the heart or the spine to stand up and say “enough”. And so Gold Cups and World Cup qualifying will continue to be a depressing, soul-draining experience. But at least they’re only once a year.

Protect And Save

celticBy Brian P. Dunleavy

Former Celtic and current Scotland national team manager Gordon Strachan took a lot of heat last fall when he told the Scottish press that, essentially, some teams in the country are, as the U.S. government might say, “too big to fail.”

Strachan, of course, was lamenting the fact that, at the time, three of Scotland’s biggest clubs—namely, Hearts, Hibernian and Rangers—were languishing in the Championship, thereby damaging the competitive balance, and the reputation, of the country’s top flight. The coach supported league reconstruction that would essentially guarantee the presence of certain clubs in the Premiership. As Rangers and Hibs each set to embark on their second consecutive season in the second division, Archie Macpherson, like many others, says he agrees with the former Aberdeen and Scotland dynamo.

“Strachan’s not daft,” the BBC broadcasting legend and author tells The Full Scottish. “Every league reconstruction that takes place in Scottish football is manipulative, because self-interest is one of the greatest motivators of all. And it should be.”

In Part 3 of our exclusive interview with Macpherson, the long-time voice of Scottish football shares his thoughts on how the game can recover some of its old magic and, perhaps, once again taste European glory.

 

All’s Well?

During the 1985-1986 season, Macpherson was part of a chorus in the Scottish press that campaigned to save Motherwell from relegation. At the time, the Steelmen were in dire straits financially, and the club chairman at the time, Ian Livingstone (coincidentally Macpherson’s solicitor), feared the team might not recover were it relegated.

In the end, of course, league reconstruction kept Motherwell in what was then known as the Premier League for the following season. Even then, Macpherson advocated for a “franchise system”—similar to the one that exists in North American sports—in which “certain clubs are not allowed to disappear.”

He explains, “Who are the clubs that get bums in seats? With all the good will in the world, if you take Inverness, Ross County, St. Johnstone, Kilmarnock and Hamilton, they may get 10,000 spectators between them on any given match day. It’s true everywhere: the bigger the names, the bigger the crowds.”

 

Major League Teams

Macpherson is careful to emphasize that he is not calling for a complete elimination of the promotion/relegation model, merely a re-tinkering of it that takes into account “more than just how many points a team had the previous season.” He notes that, as of a few weeks ago, Hibs had sold only 6,000 season books for 2015-2016, when the club once routinely sold more than 12,000. There are other issues on the green side of Edinburgh, including an on-again, off-again, supporter revolt, but the numbers don’t lie.

“The fact that Hibs will not play Hearts, at least in the league, this season will diminish interest in Edinburgh,” Macpherson explains. “There are not too many clubs in Scotland that you’d say, ‘We have to build a firewall around them.’ But we should make more of an effort to protect the bigger names.”

In Macpherson’s view, the SPFL should put systems in place (think Argentine football with River Plate and Boca Juniors) to keep the clubs with “big, urban supports”—Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United—in the top flight, or at least make it more difficult for them to be relegated out of it. Keeping the big teams in the Premiership, he believes, would improve the game’s standing, both in terns of supporter attendance and television viewership, which would in turn yield a more lucrative television contract. The present television contract, he notes, is “ludicrous, embarrassing, buttons compared to the English [Premier League].” Until such changes are made, he adds, Scottish clubs will have no incentive to spend—and no money to spend from ticket and television revenue—to sign quality players and compete both domestically and in Europe.

“For most of our clubs in Europe, it’s been a revolving door of late,” Macpherson says. “They’re in, and they’re out. With the league languishing and diminished competition, the clubs are not going to spend a lot of money on players. They can’t, because there is not a bountiful harvest at the end, even if they do.”

Macpherson’s first foray into fiction, Silent Thunder, was published last year by Ringwood Publishing. It is available on Amazon.

NYC Ireland Beat Current Champion Gambia To Reach Cosmos Copa Final

Cosmos Copa NYC Ireland 2015 QuarterfinalsNYC Ireland have reached the final of this year’s CosmosCopa tournament for the first time since 2009 and will look to win their first Championship when they take on NYC Colombia at Hofstra University on Sunday, following the NY Cosmos match v Ft. Lauderdale Strikers at 5pm.

After disposing of NYC Ukraine 2-0 in the quarter finals, the Irish then faced current holders Gambia in a tense semi final at Randalls Island on Sunday. The two sides could not be separated after normal time and so the result was decided in a penalty shoot out.

“It’s been a long, hard struggle trying to get to the finals,” NYC Ireland coach Austin Friel said.

Gambia took the lead in the first half through a long range effort from Yankuba Janneh. Goalkeeper Alex Condell kept Ireland in the game with a string of good saves and then late in the second half the Irish were awarded a penalty which Ian Sweeney duly converted.

“The Irish players worked tirelessly hard to get back into the game and they deservedly equalized,” Friel said.

Connell came up big once again during the shoot out to save Gambia’s fourth penalty. John Dineen stepped up to score his effort and send the Irish through to the final.

Colombia booked their place in the final for the first time with a 4-2 win over 2013 champions France.

“It’s very exciting. It took lots of work to get all the players together, and we are very happy,” NYC Colombia president Guillermo Lillo said.

QUARTER FINAL RESULTS

NYC France 4 NYC Greece 3
NYC Ireland 2 NYC Ukraine 0
NYC Gambia 0 NYC Argentina 0
Gambia win on penalties
NYC Colombia 1 NYC El Salvador 1
Colombia win on penalties

SEMI FINAL RESULTS
NYC Colombia 4 NYC France 2
NYC Ireland 1 NYC Gambia 1

Chelsea FC Questions

keano1 – Who managed Chelsea to their first League title in 1954-55?

2 – What was the main feature to appear on Chelsea’s crest until 1952?

3 – Who was their manager when they won the Premier League in 2004-05 and 2005-06?

4 – Who was Chelsea’s last English born manager? He was in charge from 1988-91?

5 – Which English side beat them 8-1 in 1953?

 

ANSWERS

Chelsea FC Answers

Chelsea FC

1 – Who managed Chelsea to their first League title in 1954-55?

Ted Drake

2 – What was the main feature to appear on Chelsea’s crest until 1952?

The head of a Chelsea pensioner

3 – Who was their manager when they won the Premier League in 2004-05 and 2005-06?

Jose Mourinho

4 – Who was Chelsea’s last English born manager? He was in charge from 1988-91?

Bobby Campbell

5 – Which English side beat them 8-1 in 1953?

Wolves

Goal Scoring Heroics Mask Defensive Frailties In Andrea Pirlo’s Debut

NYCFC vs Orlando 7-26By Michael Schwartz

On a day when the man of the hour, Andrea Pirlo, entered the pitch at Yankee Stadium, New York City was boosted by the pieces coming together on offense. Defense however continues to be a pressing issue the team must address as New York City won by a score of 5-3 in a pulsating thriller over Orlando City.  

When asked by First Touch about how impressed he was with the offense, Coach Jason Kreis said, “I’m really excited about what we’re seeing from the attacking end of the field. We have had so many dynamic movements we’re seeing around the goal creating scoring chances. That excites me.”

In regards to what needs to be improved on defense, Kreis flatly responded, “How long do we have?”

Talking about the number of new defenders now including Jefferson Mena who also made his debut, Kreis believes that time and effort is needed to reduce the number of defensive lapses. “I’m very concerned and I think we have a lot of work to do,” said Kreis. “We have to continue [improving] because we’ve got a lot of new players on the field. This game we added three new defenders to our back four that weren’t on the team a month ago. For [Mena] it was his very first match and he wasn’t fit enough to play as many minutes as he did. With all that considered, when all the pieces come together and we continue to work very, very hard to get things under control defensively, I think we’re going to be pretty good.”

Despite New York City’s rousing (and worrisome) overall performance, the day was always about Pirlo who made his debut in the 57th minute. The Italian immediately made his impact felt with a sublime chip that nearly floated perfectly to Andrew Jacobson who was making a run into the box. Pirlo had his way in terms of often being one step ahead of Orlando’s midfielders and setting various attackers up forward.

Wearing a sharp dressed suit with an NYCFC pin stuck on his chest, Pirlo handled the barrage of media questions after the match with the same collective manner he embodies on the pitch.  When asked about what he feels the team needs to improve at right now, Pirlo responded, “Frank [Lampard] needs to come back. We have a lot to do of course. Every team can always improve and that’s what we want to do.”

The fact that Pirlo made his debut before the Englishman is simply hard to imagine. Kreis spoke reassuringly of Lampard’s rehabilitation but there is no doubt that his continued absence is frustrating for everyone.

For both Pirlo and Lampard, it’s reasonable to accept that it may take some time for them to get settled in MLS and gain chemistry with the team. When asked whether the incoming legends will be able to settle in quickly with MLS, striker David Villa asserted that while football in any country is difficult, the quality of these two players will help them forward.

“Playing in every league, in any league is complicated,” said Villa. “Soccer is complicated. But this is Pirlo and Lampard. They are special and have been special throughout their careers. And you see that [with Pirlo] he just got here on Tuesday and look what he did today in half an hour. His half an hour was fantastic.”

As the season begins to wind down, it was a big game for New York and Orlando City due to playoff standings. New York gained some valuable ground as they are now tied with Coach Adrian Heath’s side. Heath was suspended from the match and perhaps his presence was missed by Orlando in the hostile confines of Yankee Stadium.

Despite being an 8 goal thriller, the first half of the match couldn’t have been duller. It was a stuttering start as hardly anything significant happened for most of the first half. Mena made his debut in the 14th minute after Chris Wingert was subbed off. Mena started off well but the lack of physical preparation as noted by Kreis perhaps started to show in the second half when the game opened up.

While Cyle Larin had a goal disallowed and Kaka missed a free kick, the Third Rail started leading calls for Pirlo to come on. In a half riddled with theatrics and bad touches, the City Beats band was giving more reason for fans to cheer than the actual team.

As the first half was about to end quietly, Angelino lofted a ball into the box for Villa who created space and buried his shot. With the first shot on target for either team, Villa catapulted his struggling side ahead. It cannot be understated how vital it’s been that Villa has found his stride. The Spaniard has been carrying this team on his back with 12 goals this season including six in the last four matches.

“I’m always trying to score because it’s important,” said Villa when asked whether he’s getting more comfortable scoring on MLS defenses each week. ‘In the last couple of weeks I have been scoring more and all that matters is that it helps the team.”

In the second half, Larin, the first overall MLS Super Draft pick, kicked things off in the 50th minute after fighting off Mena and blasting his shot past Josh Saunders. The Canadian showed great dribbling and ball control to elude Mena when setting up his shot.

New York City then responded 3 minutes later with a wonderful team goal. Tommy McNamara crossed the ball low to a wide open Javier Calle who made no mistake in tucking away his opportunity. McNamara, who continues to impress and maintain his place in the starting lineup, feels the offense has been clicking more in the last few matches. Even with Pirlo and Lampard coming in, the young American doesn’t worry about what formation would work best for everyone as he believes Kreis can figure it out.

The woeful defending continued as the match opened up and turned into a track meet. Larin got his second goal off a swift counter that New York City’s backline was too slow to react too. Carlos Rivas, Kaka, and Larin were all combining well and giving the backline much to be concerned about. The defense continues to be the Achilles’ heel of this team for now as like against Toronto , NYCFC struggles to contain speedy attackers.

In regards to the defensive issues, Mix Diskerud revealed that he believes the defense needs to step up in reducing the number of goals conceded. While pleased with the number of goals created, the Norwegian-American believes defending is a responsibility that needs to be shared by the whole team rather than just the backline.

New York City quickly responded again in the 67th minute when Pirlo set up Kwadwo Poku who got what would turn out to be the first of three assists. The Ghanaian fed the ball to Villa who side-stepped Aurelien Collin, and then unleashed a powerful shot that deflected off an Orlando defender into the back of the net.

New York City scored again four minutes later as they were truly ripping Orlando’s three man backline apart. Poku found McNamara wide open off a counter who blasted his shot into the top corner. Villa’s clinical ability and New York’s build up play was outstanding as they produced incisive passing that was too much for Orlando to cope with.

Yet, despite being up 4-2, the lead was far from safe. After Saunders had to make a spectacular low diving save to prevent a goal, Larin completed his hat-trick with a chipped shot from outside the box. It was anxious times for New York City as they looked unable to hold a lead.

While Sean St. Ledger had a diving header go wide off a cross towards the end of the match, Villa had a goal disallowed for being off sides. In stoppage time, it was nail-biting time as Orlando won a free kick just outside the box. As Kaka stepped up, it felt like déjà vu all over again after the Brazilian got an equalizer off a deflected free kick in the very first match of the season.

However, the soccer gods were kind to Kreis and his men as Kaka’s free kick ricocheted off the post. The ball was cleared to Poku who ran nearly the length of the field on an impressive counter to set up Mix Diskerud with an open goal. In a moment where devastation turned into euphoria, Poku’s fitness and energy was something to behold after making such a run in stoppage time.

After a mostly uneventful first half, the game truly came to life in the second half with a goal-fest. In all, 7 goals were scored after halftime which is the most in any MLS half this season.

New York’s goal-scoring is reassuring for Diskerud who believes that Lampard and Pirlo will be able to acclimate quickly with the team and American culture. “I think we have a group of players that understand soccer very well in terms of keeping the ball and getting forward,” said Diskerud. “I think we’re a good group and we get integrated pretty well. Frank already speaks English and Pirlo has a lot of fellow Italians here so he can eat as much pizza as he wants.”

 

The View From 101

esclogoTim Hall’s View From 101

Tuesday saw the New York Red Bulls take on the Philadelphia Union in the quarterfinal round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the American equivalent to England’s FA Cup and similar tournaments around the world. If there was ever a match that seemed predestined and predetermined to be “one of those games” it was this one. 

Let’s first set the scene by examining the Red Bulls’ recent run of form. Back-to-back wins, first at home against New England and then away in an ugly, scrappy game down in Orlando had put the Red-and-White back within touch of the top of a very even Eastern Conference with games in hand over leaders DC United. As always in Major League Soccer, job number one is getting to the playoffs, and then letting the chips fall where they may, and for right now the Metros look poised to accomplish at least that.

However, it became apparent as Saturday’s game rolled on that the Florida humidity was taking a toll on the Red Bulls. Tired legs and tired minds were able to gut out the performance against the expansion side, but a quick turnaround loomed back home in the Open Cup.

Why did that quick turnaround loom? Well, the Red Bulls had previously committed to play a series of matches which were cash grab preseason friendlies for European teams but which sat right smack dab in the middle of the summer stretch for MLS teams. Why agree to this? Because they called it the International Champions Cup and put a trophy at the end, that’s why (and, of course, the money as well.) However, the Red Bulls also managed to advance to the quarterfinals of the Open Cup, and put in the bids to host those games, given assurances from US Soccer that being double-booked with their friendly wouldn’t be an issue and they could move their Open Cup game around with some flexibility.

Unfortunately for them, Philadelphia, the opposition for this Open Cup game, also had a preseason cash grab friendly scheduled. Negotiations ensued, with New York offering financial considerations, and Philadelphia countering with a demand to host the game themselves. In the end, the decision was made to hold the match at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday at 4pm. Yes, 4pm local time. In July.

Anyone who has watched this franchise for long enough should know the basics of what happened next, but for the sake of completeness: Philadelphia went down a man in the first half but hung tough and scored the opener in the second half. New York scored the equalizer at the death to force extra time, and then turned the Philadelphia net into a shooting gallery in the added thirty minutes, to no avail. Penalties came, Philadelphia won, New York yet again does not win Open Cup.

Now, you might think that’s the end of the story. Knocked out of the competition, heartbreak, lovable losers, woe is us. But no. It is just the beginning. Because when the final PK went in, it meant the start of a New York summer tradition, as true as Shakespeare in the Park or Manhattanhenge. It was time to find the scapegoat and burn them at the stake. It was time for the Blame Game.

The obvious ones to blame would be Philadelphia. What jerks! To refuse to give in to our schedule, and then to beat us? How gauche! But, as we all know, reverse the situation and we’d have done the same right back to them. It’s what you do when someone you don’t like needs your help: you put them over the barrel and take all you can get. And, besides, it’s not like New York played in the 90 degree heat while Philly had people following them with umbrellas and air conditioners.

Of course, what Red Bulls fans and supporters do better than anyone anywhere is to line up and form a circular shooting gallery. Why weren’t more people at the game that happened in the middle of a workday? Why weren’t more people who did show up at the game not singing and jumping in the 90 degree heat? What’s wrong with that club? Why can’t the clubs work together ever? Why do some do this and others do that? Why didn’t you wear your lucky shirt? It’s all your fault!

One group of supporters has managed to see through the paradigm. They call themselves Red Bull Out and are convinced that all the ills of the world would be cured if Red Bull GmbH would just sell the franchise to someone else. This, of course, being the same Red Bull that built the shiny stadium where the team plays, brought in legends like Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel, and shepherded the team to its first meaningful trophy in 2013. Never mind the fact that the Red Bull Out faction sure has been quiet since the team got off to a good start and is competing for the top spot.

It’s a fair point, though. Red Bull did schedule these friendlies which caused the schedule congestion. But, they are a business, their job is to make money and get eyeballs on their product.

Of course, the Red Bull Out group can’t even escape the whirlpool because, had all of them been at the game singing and jumping up and down, that surely would have been enough to inspire the players to try harder or shoot straighter or something.

What of the players, then? Bradley Wright-Phillips shanked the opening penalty in the shootout to put RBNY behind the 8-ball from the get go. What’s he done lately, aside from matching the league record for goals scored last year, and leading the team in both goals and assists this season? Lloyd Sam scored the goal to force extra time, but he also had a PK saved, so blame him. Luis Robles just went to second on the all-time consecutive games played list for MLS, but the stalwart goalkeeper couldn’t save more than one shot in the skills competition, so he’s a bum as well.

Spare some blame for coach Jesse Marsch as well. Manager of a team that is always accused of not taking Open Cup seriously, he sent out a first choice lineup that had won the last two games. Foolish man. Doesn’t he realize he should have sent out the reserves? And wouldn’t those reserves be better if Sporting Director Ali Curtis wasn’t asleep at the wheel? How dare he not go out and sign some hypothetical player to a team that is in contention for MLS Cup without that player screwing up the chemistry? And back to blaming Red Bull for a second, why won’t they spend all of their money on the investment they lose money on annually? Don’t they realize bringing in the most expensive player possible will lead to wins, because money always equals success?

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s just a loss. It happens. Only one team wins a knockout tournament, everybody else loses. It’s a fact. Maybe it’s nobody’s fault. Maybe there’s no curses or hexes or bad mojo. Maybe there’s no need to play the blame game.

NYC Ireland & Greece March On To Cosmos Copa Quarter Finals

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NYC Greece Celebrate

NYC Ireland overcame a tough Round of 16 fixture against Senegal, beating the African team 2-1 on a hot, sticky day at Randalls Island last weekend.The Boys in Green will now face Ukraine in the quarter finals after they knocked out Chile on penalty kicks.

Most of the eight matches were tight affairs, with four of them being decided on penalties. The exceptions were NYC Argentina, who thrashed Mexico 5-1 while El Salvador beat Ecuador 4-1.

In one of the most exciting matches of the day, NYC Greece came from 2-0 down against Jamaica to tie the game and win on penalties.

Former NY Cosmos forward Stefan Dimitrov missed a penalty for the Greeks in the first half, but redeemed himself in the second half by tying the game with a well taken free kick.

“I took it a little unprofessionally and not too serious,” Dimitrov said of his first half penalty kick. “I apologized to the guys at halftime and said I’d make it up to them.”

“It’s exciting. This is the most exciting game in the world, in my opinion, and it showed today,” Dimitrov said. “We had to fight and push to the end.”

Next up for NYC Greece is a quarterfinal matchup against NYC France who saw off previous winners NYC Haiti 4-2.

The USA also bowed out on penalty kicks after a tense 0-0 draw with Colombia.

With these results, the quarterfinal matchups are set. The quarterfinals will take place on Saturday, July 25 at Randall’s Island. All games will start at 5 p.m. Here are the matchups:

Greece vs. France
El Salvador vs. Colombia
Ireland vs. Ukraine
Gambia vs. Argentina

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celtic Out Of Their League?

thBy Brian P. Dunleavy

Archie Macpherson loves Scottish football as much as anyone, but he takes a dim view of its future.

In fact, the long-time voice of the Scottish game for outlets such as the BBC and Eurosport believes Celtic need to abandon the Premiership and move to the English league if they hope to maintain their status as an important club.

“There is no future for Celtic as an ambitious club with a global following if they cannot get out of Scottish football,” Macpherson tells The Full Scottish. “That has to be their top priority.”

In Part 2 of our exclusive interview, the legendary commenter and author discusses the current state of the Scottish game, Celtic and their respective future prospects.

 

 Lost Appeal

Macpherson has devoted much of his life’s work to covering Scottish football and documenting its unique history (see his book, Flower of Scotland?, published by Highdown in 2005). These days, though, he finds himself answering the same question from both journalists and fans across Europe: Why the empty seats at matches in Scotland?

“And the answer is, simply, some of the appeal has been lost,” Macpherson says. “The opening game for Celtic this season is against Ross County. Now with the best will in the world, how does that compare to Everton-Chelsea or Arsenal-Manchester United?”

Unfortunately, going forward, Scottish football faces an uphill climb, even in the most optimistic of scenarios. As Macpherson notes, “all the big players [are] coming to England, and the English league is now being pumped into TV sets” all over the world. With Celtic its only recognizable “brand” outside Scotland, the Scottish Premiership simply can’t compete with its counterparts south of the border and elsewhere in Europe.

“It is perfectly possible that neither Rangers nor Hibs will be promoted next season,” Macpherson laments about the prospects of the two Championship clubs. “If that is the case, the competiveness of the game [in Scotland] will be further diminished. Don’t tell me Rangers will definitely be back in [the top flight]. Everybody said Rangers would be promoted last season and they weren’t.”

 

Missing Rivals

According to Macpherson, Scotland’s top flight has suffered on the field in recent seasons due to lack of competition for the Hoops. As the commenter notes, he saw several matches in 2015-2016 where a “lack of drive” was apparent among the Celtic players.

“People say Aberdeen gave Celtic a run for their money last season, but they had no real challenge,” he says. “There was no question Celtic would win the league last season and there’s no question they’ll win in a canter this season.”

But Macpherson also believes the lack of competition has had effects off the pitch as well. Supporters no longer feel the passion for the game they did right up through the 1970s and 1980s, and the lack of Rangers-Celtic (or “Old Firm”) matches in recent seasons hasn’t helped.

“Dare I say it, the Celtic support miss Rangers,” Macpherson notes. “They want to play and beat Rangers. That’s their raison d’etre. Every boy in Scotland was brought up with only one game that really matters and that’s the Old Firm. And that’s gone, maybe forever.”

In the past, any move to the English league for the Old Firm has always been seen as a package deal. However, Rangers’ recent financial problems have likely changed that equation, according to Macpherson.

“Rangers simply don’t have the wherewithal now,” he says. “Celtic must go and go alone. Now some people will automatically say, ‘That’s quite cuckoo lad,’ but you can never say never in football, especially for a huge club like Celtic.”

Europe or Bust

Of course, Celtic executives have in recent years placed greater emphasis on the club’s performance in European competition, what with the domestic prizes (Cups aside) a virtual forgone conclusion. However, as Macpherson sees it, the second-class status of Scottish league has adversely affected the Hoops’ continental prospects as well. Their less-than-dominant performance over Iceland minnows Stjarnan (the 6-1 aggregate flattered them) in their first round of Champions’ League qualifying speaks volumes. They will face Azerbaijani side Qarabag in the next round.

“Celtic doing well in Europe has become increasingly difficult because they have to play three qualifying rounds just to get in now,” Macpherson says. “Bit of a lottery that. That’s why Celtic need in there with all these big global brands, like all the big clubs in England. They have to keep beating the drum to get into a bigger pool.”

 

Flower of Scotland? is available on Amazon and from Highdown. 

In Part 3 of The Full Scottish interview, Macpherson offers his thoughts on what Scottish football can change in order to survive.

Why The Arrival Of Andrea Pirlo May Signal The End Of The Midfield Diamond

Pirlo Image

Andrea Pirlo arrives at NYCFC. Photo by NYCFC.com

By Michael Schwartz

After 20 matches into their inaugural season, New York City FC finds themselves in a seemingly unprecedented stage. After struggling to find their stride for most of the campaign, NYCFC will have to go back to the drawing board in order to figure out how to get the best out of Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo.

Currently 9th in the Eastern Conference with three points separating them from a playoff spot, Coach Jason Kreis’ side must turn things around fast as they approach the final third of the season. In what could be a tightly-contested struggle to make the playoffs, New York City need to figure out how to accommodate two major additions while still addressing the various issues that have plagued them so far.

While Lampard’s arrival is long overdue, Pirlo comes into the fold with much fanfare surrounding what impact he’ll have. There is little room to doubt that getting Pirlo is a positive for the club’s brand equity in terms of attendance numbers, television ratings, and merchandising sales. Both Lampard and Pirlo will be needed to quickly become habituated with a new team, country, and league in order to lead the team forward.

As of now, Kreis has tried to utilize his diamond formation with mixed success. Due to the skill sets and weaknesses of Pirlo and Lampard, New York City may need to consider deploying a different formation in order to get the best out of their new high profile arrivals on a regular basis.

New York City should consider sacrificing a forward in order to deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation where Pirlo plays behind Lampard. Due to Pirlo’s defensive deficiencies and aging physical abilities, the Italian should partner up with Andrew Jacobson. Jacobson has been one of the few consistent stalwarts of Kreis’ side and would help make up the lack of defensive coverage Pirlo would provide in terms of his lack of physicality, aerial ability, and capability as a tackler. Jacobson could serve as a stabilizing force for allowing Pirlo to dictate games with his passing and technical ability.

Due to Pirlo’s arrival, Lampard cannot be used as a defensive midfielder. Lampard’s ability to set up attackers and being in great positions to score goals should see him play behind David Villa as a central attacking midfielder.

This leaves the two wider positions alongside Lampard which is more up in the air. Based on who’s been selected most often, Mix Diskerud and Tommy McNamara would be left to play out wide. While they would both be out of their preferred positions due to their lack of  pace, McNamara’s positive form means he can’t be taken out of the starting eleven right now. With Diskerud away on the Gold Cup, Mehdi Ballouchy or even Kwadwo Poku could take on the other wide role. While Ballouchy is more experienced playing out wide than Diskerud, leaving out the popular American once he returns would cause an uproar.

Of course if NYCFC wanted to continue trying to play at their best with the diamond, perhaps they should have given more thought about adding Didier Drogba. After being a permanent fixture in MLS transfer gossip rumors, the Ivorian is now being seriously considered by the Chicago Fire and the Montreal Impact.

While many were skeptical that Drogba would want to play in MLS this far into his career, Atul Khosla, Chief Operating Officer of the Chicago Fire, publicly stated on Twitter that they have been negotiating with Drogba’s representatives for the past 3 weeks. While the Fire have the advantage to getting him through the Discovery List, Drogba may end up going to the Impact after owner Joey Saputo stated that the Chelsea legend was drawn to the French culture of Montreal.

Since NYCFC and more specifically City Football Group seem to be most interested in adding superstars with tremendous name value, Drogba could have been an ideal addition for NYCFC. After scoring some important goals in Chelsea’s pursuit of the Premier League title, Drogba would have addressed arguably a more pressing need for NYCFC than Pirlo does.

Due to Adam Nemec’s poor form, NYCFC have lacked a complementary forward alongside Villa who can hold up play and win balls in the air. A much stronger finisher than Nemec or anyone else New York City has, Drogba would have attracted more attention from defenders leaving Villa with more freedom to operate. Currently, Kreis has been most dependent on Patrick Mullins who has shown impressive effort but can’t be relied on yet as a regular scorer.

Yet, NYCFC have moved forward with Pirlo who may not be a perfect fit in the diamond but can improve the overall midfield if utilized in the best formation. While Pirlo is undeniably a glowing addition for NYCFC on the business side of things, it remains to be seen how profound his impact will be on the football side of things.

Of course there are still many questions with the team outside of just Pirlo and Lampard. Will the team continue to be let down by their backline issues especially in regards to the center backs? Can Jefferson Mena be a savior for the team at the back? Can Kreis get the best out of all these new additions in terms of utilizing the right formations and effective man management skills? Will New York have anyone other than Villa to rely on with consistently scoring goals? Will NYCFC make any other additions that could help the team down the stretch?

These are but some of various questions surrounding this team right now. Hope springs eternal for NYCFC fans as two new legends of the beautiful game will take the field at Yankee Stadium for the first time soon.

Yet, at the end of the day, time is starting to run out on NYCFC who are running out of room to make any more excuses.

Tight Race Predicted For 2015/16 EPL Title

firsttouchonline

With the way the summer transfer window is currently playing out, the upcoming English Premier League season title race is becoming one of the most fascinating in years.

Last season’s title race was hardly even a race, as Chelsea seemingly had the championship in the bag right from day one. They eventually broke the Premier League records for most consecutive days spent at the top of the table (268) and days spent overall (274). The Blues were never truly threatened, and finished eight points clear of second place Manchester City.

But this year’s race should be infinitely more interesting and competitive. City, Arsenal and Manchester United have made good use of the transfer window to strengthen their squads in preparation for a proper challenge of Chelsea’s crown. Arsenal finally got the goalkeeper they’ve been missing for so long in Petr Cech, City just made Raheem Sterling the most expensive English player ever, and United bought a brand new central midfield pairing – and don’t appear to be done spending yet.

The odds over at international soccer betting site topbet.eu show that England should indeed have the most competitive championship race of all the European leagues. The EPL’s “Big Four” are all priced below +500, which means they all have a very realistic chance to claim the title. Compare this to the other top leagues in Europe, where, apart from Spain’s two-horse race, each league is dominated by just one powerhouse club.

The defending champions are rightly still the favorites, but their status as such will be under threat if they continue to remain silent in terms of transfers. Their loan of Falcao and signing of backup goalkeeper Asmir Begovic have been their only notable transfer thus far. Granted, they don’t have too many problem areas in their squad. But with their rivals getting stronger by the day, there’s always room for improvement.

As the old saying goes, it’s much harder to stay at the top than it is to get to the top. That’s certainly been true in the Premier League, where it’s been six seasons since a champion successfully defended the title. Chelsea will find out just how hard it really is this season, as their much-improved rivals have built/bought squads capable of bringing down the Blues.