Salah plays with a contagious joy on the pitch, and seems strongly grounded off of it. He’s helped propel Liverpool back to global elite status, regularly scoring Messi-like goals.
He’s adored by Liverpool fans who happily break out in their “MO SALAH!” chant whether he’s netting goals or is in poor form and needs a pick-me-up.
Salah, who hails from Egypt, is Muslim. He very openly showcases his faith on the field. Whether he’s changing antiquated opinions of the religion to the masses is still debatable–but he’s trying to and it’s not going unnoticed. Time Magazine has named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
Why Mo Salah Makes Time’s 100 Most Influential
HBO’s Last Week Tonight host John Oliver starts the Time piece by writing:
Mo Salah is a better human being than he is a football player. And he’s one of the best football players in the world.
Salah has particularly taken the lead on something he views as important within his culture: improving the treatment of women.
He tells Time in the feature: “We need to change the way we treat women in our culture.”
Surely having a 5 year-old daughter helps progress this point-of-view, as well as the general participation of girls in youth soccer.
Whether it’s his magical left foot or his willingness to speak out, Salah is definitely making an impact on and off the pitch.
After seven weeks of MLS, the Western Conference is nosing ahead of the East, reversing a trend from last year.
LAFC and the Seattle Sounders are likely the two best teams in the league (a case can be made LAFC is certainly the best), easily outpacing eastern leaders DC United and the Columbus Crew. With an undefeated Houston Dynamo, a CCL-free Sporting KC and spry FC Dallas, the West looks like it could produce a superior group of seven playoff teams.
At the bottom, however, the difference is stark, and could be spark an East revival. The floundering New England Revolution are the only bottom-tier East team that fits the profile of a true last-place contender. Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls will surely sort themselves out enough to accelerate up the standings. Hectic, draw-happy NYCFC could rise as well.
Five East teams are out of the playoffs as it stands, with each team having played between five and seven games: the four mentioned above, plus eighth-place Chicago Fire. Let’s go over each one, and evaluate whether they can overtake the playoff teams:
The Fire are a confusing team. They theoretically have at least some attacking talent, enough to win games and challenge good teams. Nico Gaitan arrived as a new DP talent not too long ago. With CJ Sapong playing either up top or on the wing as a target scorer, Chicago have versatility.
But watching them, it’s hard to discern what they’re trying to do, or any consistency to their approach. Aleksandar Katai’s role is ambiguous. The midfield can pass, but there is little connectedness, and the front four is all over the place. They have to sort themselves out before they can maximize their ability.
New York Red Bulls
Rumors of Thierry Henry taking the managerial job notwithstanding, the Red Bulls have underperformed to start the year. They’ve managed just one win from their first six games, and now will lose Kaku for (presumably) a significant stretch of games after he went a little bonkers in Kansas City.
One of their biggest keys to getting back on track is Cristian Casseres Jr. in midfield. The Red Bulls need strength and ball-winning out of his position. Stability there could rub off on the backline.
If the Fire are difficult to figure out, NYC are doubly so. Discerning what Dome Torrent is trying to do is impossible on a game-by-game basis. With five draws from six games, this is an oddball team. No one really knows what to expect from them.
It will be interesting to see how Torrent manages the playing time of his wingers. Alexandru Mitrita, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Medina and Valentin Castellanos are competing for the same minutes, and once Heber takes the starting forward job, none of them will be able to play as a false 9. Right now, it looks like Mitrita and Lewis are the favorites to start, though Castellanos had his best game in MLS last week in Minnesota.
Atlanta’s road win over New England will inspire renewed confidence in a Five Stripes team enduring a sluggish start to the season. Winning against the Revs is far from a difficult task, but there were positive elements to take.
Most notably, Ezequiel Barco produced a breakout performance. With Hector Villalba starting on the left side, Barco had space to maneuver and generate chances. His confidence looked as high as it’s been in MLS. More performances like that would be a boon for Atlanta as they deal with complacency and Pity Martinez’s injury.
New England Revolution
The Revs are a few classes below the rest of these clubs. Outside of a 2-1 home win over Minnesota on March 30, New England have very publicly struggled. Brad Friedel, looking a lot worse now than he did in the early days of his coaching tenure, blamed MLS’s structure for his managerial deficiencies.
The attack, as ever, is marginally good enough to get the Revs into the playoffs with a strong midfield and stout defense. Those things, reader, are not happening in New England. The midfield is a revolving door, particularly when Wilfried Zahibo plays, and the backline is leaky and mistake-prone. A high-energy press will nick them points, but teams figured the Revs out a long time ago, and they aren’t organized enough at the back to keep the ball out of their net.
Eastern Conference leaders DC United host still winless (with 5 draws in 6 games!) but hungry NYCFC.
MLS Matchweek 8 Game Odds
|Friday, April 19|
|FC Cincinnati -115||Draw +280||Real Salt Lake +280|
|Toronto FC -160||Draw +320||Minnesota +390|
|LA Galaxy -125||Draw +290||Houston Dynamo +310|
|Saturday, April 20|
|Chicago Fire -160||Draw +310||Colorado +420|
|Philadelphia Union -145||Draw +290||Montreal +380|
|Orlando City -175||Draw +340||Vancouver +430|
|Atlanta United -155||Draw +300||FC Dallas +400|
|New England Revolution +145||Draw +250||New York Red Bulls +175|
|Columbus Crew -170||Draw +320||Portland Timbers +430|
|San Jose +260||Draw +280||Sporting KC -105|
|Sunday, April 21|
|DC United -115||Draw +270||NYCFC+290|
|LAFC -140||Draw +310||Seattle +340|
Odds and Ends
- Yes, LAFC are the best team in MLS. However, some of LAFC’s placement as top team is because Seattle have two games-in-hand. Seattle at +340 this season against anyone is a bit long. Some value in Seattle at that price or the +310 draw.
- Speaking of draws, call it a hunch, or call it “they’ve literally drawn 5 of 6 matches to date,” but NYCFC at +270 for an even end results is a good price.
- New York Red Bulls traveling to New England are basically getting the exact same odds as Atlanta United did last week. ATL dominated. NYRB at +175 is tasty.
- And speaking of the Five Stripes, are they really back yet? If they’re win over New England wasn’t so much a sign of things to come as it was simply “New England sucks,” then Dallas at +400 or the draw at +300 are good prices.
Before Tuesday, my plan for this piece was to react to all four of this week’s Champions League quarterfinal results.
But before Tuesday, Juventus planned to be in the semifinals, and it was perfectly reasonable to expect the UCL final four to consist of some combination of the usual suspects.
What I’m trying to say is that my plans changed after Ajax went out and obliterated another financial powerhouse. Once again, it was hard to tell – if you could look past the favorites’ iconic jerseys – who was David and who was Goliath. Though Ajax won the second leg just 2-1, they could have easily scored four or five second-half goals.
So Lionel Messi’s dismantling of Manchester United and Tottenham’s thrilling win over Manchester City are going on the backburner. Instead, I’ll become the latest to gush about the young Dutch club, which has already been the subject of one fawning tribute after another.
And I now think I was actually underestimating them. Before they knocked off Juventus, the win over Real Madrid could have been dismissed as Ajax merely handling a flawed team missing Cristiano Ronaldo in the worst way. But no matter how vulnerable Juventus may have looked in the round of 16 first leg against Atlético Madrid, they are a veteran, proven squad led by the UCL’s all-time leading scorer.
The reasons to discount Ajax, for those who remain unconvinced, can’t possibly still include any variation of, “Who have they beat?” They’ve now played 16 (!) Champions League games since last July, including qualifiers. Their record in those matches is 9-6-1. More impressively, in six games against Real Madrid, likely Bundesliga champ Bayern Munich and runaway Serie A winner Juve, Ajax is 2-3-1, with a combined score in those games of 12-9.
Ajax was not the least bit impressed by their Serie A foe in the quarterfinals. Not by the Italians’ on-field pedigree, and not by their massive financial advantage. As ESPN.com’s Gabriele Marcotti pointed out, “The €112 million Juventus spent on acquiring Ronaldo is €20m more than Ajax’s annual revenues. The team’s wage bill is €4m short of what the five-time Ballon d’Or winner makes before tax.”
Not worried about a thing
Apparently, the PA system at Amsterdam Arena played Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” at halftime of the first leg vs. Juventus – no word on whether that’s a staple or a one-time thing. Either way, it was apt, as Ajax answered Juve’s opener in that game, which came just before halftime, immediately after the break.
On Tuesday, Juve scored first on a header by Ronaldo in the 28th minute, which would have broken a lesser team’s spirit. But Ajax equalized just six minutes later on a goal by Donny van de Beek.
When people talk about how fearless this team is, yes, they’re referring to Ajax’s overall approach and particularly their offensive flair. But more importantly, Ajax refuse to go into the tank after falling behind. They needed 15 minutes to equalize after falling behind 1-0 in the round of 16 first leg against RM. They’ve made a habit of staying collected and relaxed, no matter the score. The composure it takes to shake off a goal and respond quickly is something much more experienced teams often lack on the biggest stage. At this point, it seems safe to say that Ajax’s unwavering sense of calm, whether because of or despite their inexperience, would impress even Bob Marley himself.
Substance complements style
Plenty has already been said about all the opportunities Ajax created with their precision passing, and rightly so. But the way they stifled Ronaldo and Juventus after halftime was remarkable, even if it went somewhat unnoticed because of their dazzling play when in possession.
Matthijs de Ligt and his teammates along the back line and in the midfield won 50-50 ball after 50-50 ball against one of the most physical teams in Europe. We were well aware before Ajax knocked off Juventus that the Dutch club was young and flashy. Now we can add stubborn and stout to the growing list of adjectives for Ajax, which does not lack anything other than the proper amount of respect – they’re currently road underdogs for leg one of the semifinals at Tottenham.
If you’re a believer in Ajax now, finally, look at their +410 at FanDuel Sportsbook NJ — these kids can play.