Cleat Geeks

Six Alarm Fire: Chicago Fire vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.  –  After a long break, the U.S. Open Cup has returned, as the last remaining non-MLS team in the competition looks to continue their Cinderella story against the Chicago Fire in the quarterfinal round of this historic tournament.USOpenCup

For those unfamiliar with the American professional soccer scene, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is a single-elimination tournament where virtually all amateur and professional soccer teams in the United States have an opportunity to compete for America’s national championship. The winning team receives a $250,000 cash prize and an automatic berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, a competition that determines the best team in North & Central America.

The importance of this competition cannot be understated, as it affords even the lowest soccer teams in the country the opportunity to compete against the largest and most successful clubs America has to offer. It is the third-oldest domestic soccer competition in history.

Let’s start with the visitors – the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because this team bears the same name as the old “Fort Lauderdale Strikers” that played against the likes of George Best and Pele in the North American Soccer League during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Interestingly, this current incarnation of the Strikers also plays in the NASL; however, this incarnation is a second-division league that has no relation with the original league.

FireVSstrikersThe Strikers have had a difficult road to this stage in the competition, having to beat MLS mainstays D.C. United on penalties during the Fourth Round before upsetting MLS newcomers Orlando City SC by a 2-1 margin on June 20th. During league play, the Strikers have not been nearly as successful, as they currently sit in eighth place and well out of the NASL Playoffs.

The Fire have played two matches in this year’s U.S. Open Cup, needing penalties to defeat NASL side Indy Eleven in the Fourth Round and taking care of Eastern Conference rival Columbus Crew SC in the Round of 16. David Accam scored three goals in two Open Cup matches prior to tonight’s match.

David Accam was a man on a mission during the first half, as he put the ball in the back of the net on a PK during the fifth minute of play before setting up newly-acquired forward Michael de Leeuw for an easy touch into the goal to give Chicago a comfortable 2-0 lead at the halftime break. On the visiting side, the Strikers were plagued by a lack of discipline, as a 30th-minute yellow card and a silly foul from the keeper led to the Fire seizing control of this match right from the start.

The second half was kicked off by 22-year old midfielder Khaly Thiam, who netted his first Open Cup goal and just his second in a Fire shirt with a rebound in the 51st minute. Thiam joined the Fire on loan from Hungarian first-division club MTK Budapest FC and has proven invaluable during his short time in the Windy City. The Strikers’ day got worse in the second half, as Gale Abossoumonde was shown his second yellow in the 70th minute, putting his team a man down for the remainder of the contest.

During the post-match press conference, Fort Lauderdale Strikers head coach Caio Zanardi was grateful for the opportunity to advance this far in the tournament, saying “It was a great moment for us to be here in the quarterfinal after beating D.C. United and Orlando City.” He also explained his team’s lackluster performance by saying: “We have played more than six games in a row and we are very tired, but it was a great moment for us.”

However, Strikers goalkeeper Diego Restrepo was not so easy-going about the defeat: “We’ve been traveling the country back and forth playing games, but this is a profession…we’re proud that we got this far, but we’re not going to swallow this one for awhile and we wish we could have it back and start over again.”

Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic was in a much better mood following tonight’s victory – “We’re very happy, very excited, I think the performance was very good from our team.”

DavidAccamLockerRoomIn the locker room following the match, David Accam spoke highly of his team, especially of his new teammate and attacking partner, 29-year old Dutch striker Michael de Leeuw, saying “The guy (de Leeuw) is a good striker [and] I think we are getting a good feel for each other.”

Even though they lost this match, the Strikers can leave with their heads held high  – and a $15,000 check courtesy of the United States Soccer Federation. As for the Fire, they advance to a semi-final contest on August 10th, where they will take on fellow Eastern Conference bottom dwellers New England Revolution. The winner of that match will take on the winner of the other semi-final, which features the LA Galaxy and FC Dallas.

The Strikers return to NASL play on Saturday when they host Minnesota United FC, while Chicago will look to carry their momentum into MLS play when they host USMNT star midfielder Lee Nguyen and the New England Revolution this Saturday night at Toyota Park.

Six Alarm Fire: Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact

One of the most heartbreaking finishes in the 2016 Major League Soccer season came on Saturday night at Toyota Park, when Impact midfielder Ignacio Piatti put the ball in the back of the net with just seconds remaining in stoppage time to give the Eastern Conference-leading Montreal Impact a 2-1 victory over the Fire.

Photo by: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Photo by: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Fire snatched a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute when team scoring leader Kennedy Igboananike took a Gilberto pass and turned it into a perfect finish past Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush, ending the Fire’s three game scoring drought.

Going into halftime, the Fire maintained that 1-0 lead; however, the tide would turn with the entrance of Ivorian superstar Didier Drogba for the Impact.

Drogba’s impact (pun intended) was felt almost immediately when he scored his first goal of the season 10 minutes into the second half.

The match went back and forth through most of the second half until the previously mentioned goal from Piatti was put past Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson after time had expired and stoppage time was almost complete.

SectorLatinoI got a unique perspective of Saturday’s match, standing with the notoriously rowdy supporters group, Sector Latino. This group is small, but they are welcoming and always standing and cheering for the Men in Red.

The Fire are off this week before hosting Eastern Conference foe D.C. United next Saturday at Toyota Park, while Montreal look to stay atop the Eastern Conference standings with a showdown versus Canadian rivals Toronto FC next Saturday.

Six Alarm Fire: Chicago Fire vs. Philadelphia Union

The Chicago Fire picked up its first win of the 2016 regular season with a 1-0 victory over longtime Eastern Conference rival Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon. The victory marked the second consecutive shutout for the Fire, as well as Veljko Paunovic’s first win as Fire head coach.CHI-v-PHI

The match got off to a slow start, as the first half ended with neither team scoring a goal. Union midfielder Warren Creavalle was shown a yellow card at the 13th minute. This yellow card proved costly, as he was shown a second yellow card at the 47th minute and was promptly sent off. That was not the only yellow card that was shown in the first half, as Brazilian U-20 star and Chicago defender Rodrigo Ramos was also booked in the 37th minute.

Kennedy-Igboananike,-Chicago-Fire,-in-CHIvMTLJust five minutes after Creavalle was ejected from the match, Fire striker and Nigerian international Kennedy Igboananike took a pass into the box and turned it into a beautiful finish to the far post, giving the Fire a 1-0 lead.

Igboananike almost scored a second time in the 66th minute, but was called “offside” just as the ball hit the net.

The Union would not give up hope of a comeback, as Union players fired nearly 20 shots at Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson; however, only three of those shots were on-target, and all three ended up safely in the hands of Lampson.ChicagoFireMattLampson

Lampson recorded his second clean sheet in his first season in Chicago, while rookie center back Jonathan Campbell has led one of Major League Soccer’s best defensive units – the Fire have allowed just one goal in its past three matches.

An area to improve for the Fire would be at the forward position – Chicago has scored twice in three matches, as the Fire have been kept in games largely through the efforts of the club’s stout defensive play.Harry-Shipp-and-Kennedy-Iboananike-celebrate-for-Chicago-Fire-vs.-Montreal

The Chicago Fire will look to keep their three-match unbeaten streak alive as they travel to the Big Apple to take on second-year side New York City FC at historic Yankee Stadium. That match will be televised live on Fox Sports 1, with kickoff scheduled for April 10th at 7PM.

The Union will return to Philadelphia for a Friday night showdown against another second-year side in Orlando City SC.

With no NFL will St. Louis get an MLS Team?

mlsShieldlogoAfter watching the Rams flee to Los Angeles last month, a group of business and sports leaders in St. Louis plans to evaluate the possibility of bringing a MLS expansion team to their city.

Who wants the St.Louis area to have a MLS soccer team? Well, the Blues and the Cardinals, that is who. The group of investors headlined by St. Louis Cardinals president Bill DeWitt and Blues CEO Chris Zimmerman expects to conduct privately funded studies to weigh the pursuit of bringing a soccer team to town in the years ahead.

MLS commissioner Don Garber met with St. Louis Sports Commission chairman Dave Peacock earlier this month and welcomed potential interest from the city in a statement on Wednesday.

“We know St. Louis is a tremendous soccer market and are pleased to see many prominent business and sports leaders becoming involved in the efforts to bring a Major League Soccer team to the downtown area,” Garber said. “We look forward to working with the group to further evaluate St. Louis and see if it is ready for an MLS expansion team.”

St. Louis is one of the traditional hotbeds for soccer in the United States. The city and its suburbs hosted one of the top leagues in the country in the buildup to World War II and produced several players for the 1950 World Cup team, but the area never secured the necessary investors to join MLS when the league started in 1996. It still remains one of the vibrant hubs of soccer in the country with Brad Davis, Tim Ream and Taylor Twellman among the high-profile products from the area in recent years.TaylorTwellman

The calculus changed when the Rams left town last month. The prospect of landing another professional sports franchise, complete with another new stadium to revitalize downtown, intrigues local leaders.

Any effort is expected to take several years. MLS is already committed to expanding to 24 teams by the end of the decade. Minnesota United and Atlanta United FC are likely to join the league next year, while Los Angeles FC and a David Beckham-led group are slated to join them in 2018.

St. Louis is on the list of potential contenders when the league expands to 28 teams in the ensuing years. Sacramento and San Antonio are the other cities most frequently linked with MLS, though other municipalities have also expressed interest.

Parts of this article were written by Kyle McCarthy

What Is Holding Major League Soccer Back?

No matter where you are in America, you have probably heard of Major League Soccer (MLS), the top-flight professional men’s soccer league in the United States and Canada. You hear of international superstars like Kaká, David Villa, Steven Gerrard, and Frank Lampard leaving some of the most competitive and most lucrative leagues in the world to come play in the United States, a country where soccer has taken a backseat to other sports like American football, baseball, and basketball for the better part of a century.

But even with these superstar signings, the MLS is still a second-tier league at best when compared to the giants of professional soccer like the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, and the Spanish La Liga.

With the money American sports owners have, why haven’t they invested it, in order to make their clubs more competitive, which would then make the MLS itself more competitive?MLS_logos

 

1. There Is No Incentive To Be Competitive

The United States is one of the only countries in the world not to feature promotion-and-relegation in its league system. For those of you who do not know what that is, here is an example: the MLS club that finishes last in the league would be demoted (a.k.a. “relegated”) to the second-tier league., which in the U.S. and Canada is the North American Soccer League (NASL); in return, the NASL League Champion would be promoted to the MLS, taking the place of the team which was demoted.

This system encourages club executives to invest in their clubs so they do not slip through the League system, losing fan support and money in the process; however, MLS clubs do not feel this sense of urgency. No matter how few points a club accrues over the course of the season, executives can rest easy knowing their club will remain in the top-flight league year after year.

The argument for maintaining this closed membership is that American soccer leagues in the lower divisions, namely Division II and Division III, are so far behind the MLS, it is simply not feasible to introduce it to the pyramid; however, the reverse could not be more true. Only three of the NASL’s eleven clubs averaged less than 5,000 fans per game in 2015 and the top half of the League averaged well over 8,000 fans per game. While this is small in comparison to the MLS’ 21,000 fans per game average, the difference between the two leagues in terms of attendance is comparable to most other domestic leagues, including those in England, where soccer is king, regardless of level.

Even the United Soccer League (USL), America’s third-tier league, has a solid fan following: over a third of the league’s clubs average over 5,000 fans per game, with one, Sacramento Republic FC, averaging well over 11,000 fans per game.

If an MLS club has a poor first half, executives can easily conduct a “fire sale” and rebuild from the ground-up, knowing full well that their spot as a top-flight club will remain no matter how badly they perform on the field.

 

2. Salary Cap

MLS-Logo2No other top-flight professional soccer league in the world imposes the strict salary cap that Major League Soccer has. The salary cap, coupled with the single-entity business model the MLS operates under, has prevented MLS clubs and the League as a whole from attracting top-level domestic and international talent.

But what about guys like Kaka, David Villa, and Giovani Dos Santos – those guys are some of the most talented players in the world and they play for MLS clubs.

And while that is true, it’s because those players, along with over sixty other MLS players, are categorized as “Designated Players”. This rule allows clubs to sign players to contracts over the salary cap as long as they cover what the MLS will not.

Even Major League Soccer realizes that the salary cap is ineffective and continues to hold the league back, which is why they implemented this rule to allow clubs to swiftly move around the salary cap. If this rule was not in place, Major League Soccer would most likely have dissolved years ago, simply because the clubs would not have the quality internationally-recognized talent they have now.

 

3. Lack of Domestic Talent

35natxzDespite being the world’s wealthiest and most developed country, U.S. soccer talent still lags behind the talent that comes out of smaller, less developed countries like Mexico, Spain, and Ivory Coast, just to name a few.

But why? MLS averages more fans per game than the NBA and NHL, so there is definitely the interest and funds required.

The answer is painfully simple – there is no benefit to improving domestic talent when you can just sign international talent.

But what about the kid who dreams of playing for the Chicago Fire or LA Galaxy or some other MLS club? He works hard each and every day, honing his skills in order to become the greatest soccer player in America. And when he does, he realizes that the only clubs that are showing interest in him are international clubs…but why?

While Americans have definitely warmed up to the idea of soccer in the United States, the idea that America can field a truly domestic league that can field internationally-competitive teams is simply unfeasible.

What would change the idea that Americans can’t play top-level soccer? A deep run in the World Cup.

How do you win the World Cup? Have the best players in the world playing together.

Does America have the best players in the world? No.

If we invested the time and resources, could we develop the best players in the world? Without a doubt.

 

There are plenty of great aspects to Major League Soccer; in fact, many would argue that there are more positives to MLS than there are negatives. And while this may be true, the fact that the top-flight league in the world’s wealthiest and most developed country is not competitive when it comes to international soccer is pitiful.

This must change if soccer ever plans on becoming more than a novelty in the United States.

Cleverley to join Everton

Tom Cleverley has agreed to join Everton on a five-year deal.tomCleveley

The 25 year-old will move to Goodison Park on a free transfer when his current contract with Manchester United expires on July 1st.

Cleverley spent last season on loan at Aston Villa and played in last week’s FA Cup Final defeat to Arsenal.

The midfielder also has 13 England caps to his name.

The move to Merseyside will see Cleverley reunited with Toffees manager Roberto Martinez, after the pair worked together at Wigan Athletic.

Martinez told Sky Sports: “We are extremely delighted to be welcoming Tom to Everton and I can think of many reasons as to why our fans will enjoy Tom representing our football club.

“The most important one is that he is a perfect fit for what we are trying to build here as he has so much experience of playing in the Premier League and he still has his best years just ahead of him.

“At the age of 25 and a player who is representing his country, Tom has experienced winning trophies and having big roles in demanding teams. Having worked with him previously, I know the type of character he is and I know that, with the Everton fans’ support, we will get a very special footballer joining our already exciting team.

“It says a lot also, when someone like Tom is available on a free transfer and he can pick his next club out of many options home and abroad, that he has chosen to play for our football club. That’s the perfect start to his career here at Everton.”

DEFOE SET FOR SUNDERLAND SWITCH

Jermain Defoe’s proposed transfer to Sunderland from Toronto FC moved closer today after the England international passed his medical at the Stadium of Light.

The part exchange deal hinges on whether the MLS will ratify Jozy Altidore’s move in the other direction. The American striker has managed just 2 goals in 70 games for the Mackems, who have the second lowest goals tally in the Premier League.

32 year-old Defoe has netted 11 goals in 16 games for Toronto in his first season in the MLS and has scored 124 goals in 381 Premier League appearances for Portsmouth, West Ham and Tottenham.

It is rumoured Defoe will sign a three and-a-half year deal and be paid $70,000 a week and manager Gus Poyet will be hoping he can fire Sunderland away from the relegation zone.

Altidore’s move to Toronto FC isn’t set in stone however, the MLS operates a player allocation policy, which means that the Canadian side don’t necessarily have first refusal on the player.

SUNDERLAND TO OFFLOAD ALTIDORE

Sunderland flop Jozy Altidore is on the verge of a return back to the MLS, with Toronto his most likely destination.

The American striker has managed just 2 goals in 70 games for the Black Cats following his $6.5 million move from AZ Alkmaar 18 months ago, and coach Gus Poyet is looking to take him off the wage bill at the Stadium of Light.

The 25 year-old has been in good form for the USA, scoring 12 times in his last 24 appearances, and those international performances have sparked interest from Toronto FC, as well as his former club New York Red Bulls.

It seems as though Sunderland’s asking price for the striker, along with his wage demands, have put off the Red Bulls, however the Canadian franchise are still holding out hope of doing a deal for the former Hull City, Villarreal and Alkmaar man.

The Toronto Sun newspaper described the possible transfer as ‘one of Major League Soccer’s biggest off-season signings.’

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