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October 23, 2019

MLS Cup Playoff Predictions: Round 2

Avatar October 23, 2019

We’re back for another round of MLS Cup playoff predictions, this time for the second round. We have four games to get to, with myself, Chops, and Peter Nolan picking them. Let’s go.

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NYCFC vs. Toronto FC

Harrison Hamm: TFC pulled away late from D.C. United in extra-time. The 5-1 score there probably overrates how well they played. Without Jozy Altidore or Omar Gonzalez, they’ll have a hard time beating NYCFC in New York.

Chops: I don’t think NYCFC has much of a home-field advantage here. Like Harrison, if Toronto had Altidore and Gonzalez, I’d be all “We the North.” But NYCFC has been too good this year not to beat an under-manned squad.

Peter Nolan: This is a deeper, more versatile New York team than previous editions and therefore I give the nod to tonight’s traveling “home” team. With Maxi Moralez pulling the strings and Heber and Vincent Castellanos available to lead the line I think NYC has enough firepower to outslug a Toronto side that packs a wallop as well, particularly if Jozy Altidore can make it back.

That is, of course, dependent on NYC keeping a lid on Toronto’s dynamic Alejandro Pozuelo.

Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake

Harrison Hamm: I’m not particularly sold on either team, but RSL played better than expected against Portland and Seattle put up four against FC Dallas, led by Jordan Morris’s hat trick. The Sounders’ defense is concerning. RSL will find a way to put the ball in the net and pick up an away win.

Chops: I feel like I should start buying into RSL. But I’m stubborn. And I like Seattle’s attack. Going with the Sounders.

Peter Nolan: RSL has been a surprise packet this season under interim coach Freddy Juarez and is a team to watch for in the future with former Academy coach Juarez leading a very young team. The future, however, is not now and with Jordan Morris leading an experienced Sounders side in front of a big Seattle crowd, I look for a home team victory.

Atlanta United vs. Philadelphia Union

Harrison Hamm: Philly narrowly escaped against the Red Bulls on Sunday, giving up three soft goals. Andre Blake can’t be a liability in Atlanta. As interesting as it will be to watch the Union try to control the game at Mercedes-Benz, it’ll be Atlanta United moving through.

Chops: I’m going to this game. I want Atlanta to win. However, I wasn’t thrilled with what I saw from ATL against New England. However however, I wasn’t thrilled with what I saw from Philly (defensively at least). It’s hard not to ride with Atlanta at home. Going ATL here.

Peter Nolan: The Union are tough, they’re on on the rise, and they’re tough to pick against. And Atlanta will be without defenders Michael Parkhurst and Miles Robinson. So, the pick must be Philadelphia?

No. I still think the defending champions, at home, will be too strong for the rising Union.

LAFC vs. LA Galaxy

Harrison Hamm: This is up there as one of the most anticipated games in MLS history. It should go similarly to other El Trafico games: The Galaxy will constrict the midfield and play through an energized Zlatan, while LAFC will try whatever they can to get Carlos Vela going. Unlike previous meetings, though, LAFC will pull out a victory.

Chops: Listen, do I think Galaxy is the better side? No. But Zlatan is to LAFC what Liverpool / Klopp are to Pep. They just rent real estate in their head. Zlatan finds some magic to derail LAFC only to lose the next round. But Galaxy here.

Peter Nolan: Bob Bradley’s LAFC has just completed the best regular season in MLS history, but we know that MLS Cup decides greatness in this league; just ask the Red Bulls. But the Galaxy have had their neighbor’s number this season and the Galaxy has Zlatan. It is easy to be seduced by the notion of Ibrahimovic leading the Galaxy to a historic victory over LAFC but I just can’t get there. Carlos Vela and company are just too good.

Christian Pulisic Subs In, Helps Chelsea Shock Defeat Ajax (VIDEO)

High Press 10 October 23, 2019

Christian Pulisic needs to earn some starting minutes for Chelsea, stat. The American came on in the 66th minute for Willian and did what he’s been doing all season: creating chances that lead to goals.

In the 86th minute with the game tied 0-0, Pulisic dribbled into the box and found Michy Batshuayi (who subbed in for Tammy Abraham) for the winner.

We’re big on body language, and it certainly looks like Frank Lampard is gaining confidence in Pulisic.

Pulisic was dynamic throughout his time on the field. Along with the assist, he got two shots off, completed 90% of his passes and was dynamic on ball.

The 1-0 win over Ajax moves Chelsea atop Group H.

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Liverpool Starting XI and Player Ratings vs Genk (Champions League Matchday 3)

High Press 10 October 23, 2019

 

Not to be Captain Obvious, but this Genk vs Liverpool match-up matters.

Thanks to Napoli’s 0-0 draw at Genk, 2019-20 UEFA Champions League Group E is wide open. A win here and Liverpool should be able to cruise out of Group E.

It won’t easy though.

The Reds are without current Ballon D’or finalist Trent Alexander-Arnold and future Ballon D’or finalist Joel Matip. However, Mohamed Salah is back, which after what we witnessed on Sunday against Manchester United, is a very good thing.

While Liverpool “raced” out to an early lead behind a rejuvenated Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, it was rocky after that. Genk had legit opportunities. Liverpool were sloppy defensively again. Genk were unlucky to have a goal disallowed. It went to half-time 1-0. While Liverpool dominated possession 79-21%in the first 45 and outshot Genk 10/4 to 2/1, this isn’t a match the Reds look in control of at this point.

Second half was another story. Liverpool dominated and poured it on. They won 4-1 but this could’ve been 6-2. Liverpool had 17 shots on goal. That’s the Mo-effect.
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Liverpool starting XI vs Genk

Rotation galore!

With TAA and Matip out, this provides and opportunity for Dejan Lovren (who has looked solid recently) to get some valuable minutes. Instead of opting for Joe Gomez at right-back, Jurgen Klopp plugs in James Milner. Klopp loves Milly on European nights. Would’ve liked to have seen Gomez there as he’s looked better at wing-back than center-back since returning, but I’m not in training either. Maybe Gomez is struggling.

Surprise starts also go to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (🙌) and…wait for it…Naby Keita. Come on, Naby. You can do this. You got this.

 

Liverpool Player Ratings

Manager

Jurgen Klopp (7) –  The boss is rotating af today. This is going to go one of two ways: 1) we’re offensively going to blow Genk off the field, or 2) we’ll be offensive (sloppy, not-cohesive, etc.).

I like how Klopp managed this one. The midfield ended up looking like the shot in the arm we needed. He pulled a tired looking Robbo off early. He made sure to not wear out Ox (likely because he’s starting this weekend). And he got Origi on the pitch against he club he came up with as a junior. 

Goalkeeper

Alisson (6) – Did well to punch out a dangerous free kick in the 24th. Then great distribution a minute later that lead to some build-up that Mane couldn’t finish.

Nothing he could do on the Genk goal after Lovren hung him out to dry. Did well coming off his line to snuff out another in stoppage time. 

Defenders

James Milner (7) – Gets the nod at wing-back with TAA out. Should be serviceable / solid. 

Milner’s distribution is TAA-esque. Really, really good servicing. This Milner kid has a future in this league!

Defending is good too. Actually our best defender of the day. That’s not a good sign though.

Virgil van Dijk (5) – We have to hold VVD accountable here. Liverpool goes up early and again, the defending gets too casual and sloppy. Genk had two chances after Liverpool’s goal and should’ve tied it 1-1 but the goal was inexplicably disallowed. 

Dejan Lovren (5) – I’ve come full circle on the Dejan Lovren experience. I’m glad he’s on the pitch and getting some minutes. I hope that sentence doesn’t immediately age poorly.

Been stronger than VVD in the first half, though out of position a couple of times. His error led to the Genk goal though. Still ride with Dejan though.

Andy Robertson (5) – Kind of a meh showing from Robbo. Not a lot of possession (just over 7% total he’s usually around 9-11%). Just one tackle one. Not as effective going forward. Subbed off for Joe Gomez at the 62nd to get some well-deserved rest. 

Midfielders

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (9.5) – Still waiting on that “breakthrough” Ox performance, but feel like it’s coming. Maybe today?

And it is! Ox scores a vintage Ox goal in under 2 minutes.

Overall probably our most consistent player in the first half. Speed looks back and penetrating with confidence. His second goal (outside boot) was awesome. 

 

Subbed off in the 74th for Georginio Wijnaldum.

Fabinho (7) – Needs to be careful. He’s bullying his way to two bookings. Otherwise, he’s been really solid. Fab is like the fulcrum of a game of rondo that Liverpool seems to be playing at times vs Genk.

Naby Keita (8) – Just don’t suck. Please. Assuming he gets the nod on right with Milner because of his defensive work rate? 

AND WHAT IS THIS??? Keita looks solid physically early on. Good on ball. He’s actually completed more passes than anyone (Fabinho included!). WE CAN BUILD ON THIS. DID I JUST TYPE AN “8” NEXT TO HIS NAME? I DID! Wow.

Forwards

Roberto Firmino (7) – Pulled out to the left early on. Bouncy / more lively than Sunday. Assisted Ox’s second. Gets the hockey assist to Salah on the Mane goal.

Sadio Mane (7.5) – Poor finishing on great build up and ball from Milner in the 25th. However, does well to finish one that put Liverpool up 3-0.

Assists on the Salah goal as well.

Mohamed Salah (7) – Feel much better about this match and all of the rotation knowing Mo is back. Hopefully he’s fit. Looks lively early. Kind of the same old from him though–great activity and effort with no final product. Did strike a free-kick from around 30 yards out well, just missing. Narrowly missed a header he should’ve buried in the 33rd. Annoying habit of getting dispossessed continues. And can’t connect a meaning pass to save his life right now. 

Then he did connect a pass! Perfectly weighted ball (after receiving it from Firmino) to Mane. But yeah, he’s selfish

Mane got one back to him at the end. Salah showed strength, touch, and spatial awareness along with a deft right footed finish to record his first UCL away goal in awhile. Worth noting he looked much more confident and composed after his goal.

Substitutions

Joe Gomez (5) – On early for Andy Robertson. Same impact as Robbo.

Georginio Wijnaldum (NR) – Came on in the 74th for Ox. Continues his ambition play with a rip after receiving from a penetrating Keita. 

Divock Origi (NR) – Good to see him come on — he came up through Genk as a youth. Didn’t get to do much. 

MAN OF THE MATCH

Can’t be anyone other than Ox. Even minus the two goals he’d have gotten it.

 

Chelsea Player Ratings vs Ajax (Champions League Matchday 3)

Avatar October 23, 2019
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Chelsea travelled to face Ajax in perhaps the most compelling of all 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stage matchday 3 fixtures. They ended up defying the odds to win 1-0 to hand Ajax their first loss of the UCL campaign. Frank Lampard opted for a pretty attacking side which took the fight to Ajax early on.

The hosts nearly caused a scare in the 35th minute.  when Quincy Promes tapped in Hakim Ziyech’s deflected attempt, but VAR ruled it out to keep things at 0-0!

Chelsea defended really well and looked set to take a point, but super-sub Christian Pulisic pulled back a brilliant cross to allow fellow sub Michy Batshuayi to score in the 85th minute!

That turned out the winner, giving Chelsea a crucial win to get back into contention of possibly winning the group!

Chelsea Player Ratings

Manager

Frank Lampard (7.5) –

Lampard took a big gamble playing an attacking formation against the lethal Ajax, but it worked a treat with his youngsters taking the fight to the hosts. He’s mastered the art of making his side operate as a fearless unit against the best, mixing his youngster’s zest and experienced players’ composure perfectly. Spot on with his substitutions which won him the game. Tactically outwitted the brilliant Erik ten Hag.

Goalkeeper

Kepa Arrizabalaga (6.0) –  

The Spaniard seems a bit unnerved by the occasion, making a poor pass almost leading to a chance in the 11th minute. Finally gets to make a diving save just before the hour mark off Blind’s shot. Largely untested otherwise. 

Defenders

Cesar Azpilicueta (6.5) –  

Azpilicueta is playing a very defensive role to help his younger counter-parts. Lost track of Promes in the 35th to see him score, but fortunate to see it called off by VAR.  Made up for it with a stunning goal-saving block minutes later! Proved why he’s captain with a composed performance which included many decisive challenges to parry danger. 

Fikayo Tomori (7.5

The youngster nea7.5rly scored from a corner early on and bailed out Kepa’s mispass in the 11th to deny Ziyech. Unfortunate to see his Ziyech’s shot deflect off him leading to a goal, but lucky for it to be disallowed.  

Tomori proved his impressive game-reading skills by maintaining superb positioning, allowing him to make seven clearances and numerous effective challenges to keep the dangerous Ajax quiet.

Kurt Zouma (7.0)-  

Zouma seems unflinching to the Dutch side’s threat, making some solid challenges and blocks early on. His poor positioning almost allowed Promes’ opener, but VAR saved his blushes there in the 35th! Despite an unnecessary late booking, Zouma was dominant with strong tackles and harried clearances to keep Tadic & co quiet. 

Marcus Alonso (6.0) –  

The left-back doesn’t look comfortable against Ajax’s swift breaks at all. Lucky not to concede an early penalty after Van De Beek’s shot hit his arm. Being constantly outwitted by Ziyech’s trickery in the flanks. Ineffective heading forward, but his dummy allowed the winner to happen. 

Midfielders

Jorginho (7.0) –  

Not getting enough freedom to dictate the game as he usually likes doing. Being heckled by the Ajax press. The Italian’s hunted down Ajax’s attacks with vigour, making some key recoveries and interceptions. Added a lot of protection defensively, making some key stops to deny Ajax chances at goal. Mature performance from the #5.

Mateo Kovacic (6.0) –  

Kovacic is almost like Chelsea’s silent warrior in midfield, chipping at Ajax’s heels to make incisive interceptions. Composed with his distribution, finding space to charge his side forward.

Willian (6.0) –  

Willian started the game a bit flustered by his role, but since recovered to create a few chances with clever penetrative passes to open the play in the first twenty minutes. Instinctively played a glorious pass to Hudson-Odoi before the half-hour mark, only to see it scuffed. Couldn’t create anything really threatening and subbed after the hour mark. 

Forwards

Tammy Abraham (5.5) –  

Tammy’s not getting enough room to get into the promising positions and seems a bit frustrated by that. He’s using his physique well to unsettle Ajax’s defenders and winning back possession. Didn’t get any action inside the area and cut a frustrated figure throughout before being subbed out. 

Mason Mount (6.5)–  

Precise with his corners which nearly met their markers before the first ten minutes. Played a smart link-up with Hudson-Odoi in the 14th but his shot was saved well. Showing great determination to drive forward and linking together moves with some creative passes. Linked well with Pulisic leading to the goal. 

Callum Hudson-Odoi (5.5)- 

The teenager looks Chelsea’s most explosive package on the ball, having made a few exciting dribbles in the early minutes. Played a clever one-two with Mount in the 14th to force an issue. Lacking the final cutting-edge to finish moves. Blasts a shot into the side-netting in the 27th. Some of his set-pieces were nice, but Hudson-Odoi was wasteful otherwise. 

Substitutions  

Christian Pulisic (7.5)-

Pulisic came on with just under half-hour remaining and showcased his explosive nature in the 71st when he zipped past a few bodies and created a wonderful chance for Batshuayi. Created a better one two minutes later when his attempted shot allowed the Belgian a free shot on goal he scuffed. 

Dribbled past multiple bodies and took a shot which blazed just wide in the 81st. Influential for the goal after bewildering Dest and putting in a pitch-perfect pass to allow Batshuayi to tuck in. Probably his best performance in a Chelsea shirt. Should start at the weekend. 

Michy Batshuayi (7.0)-

The Batman received the lion’s share of chances after coming on, but wasted a golden opportunity to score the opener in the 73rd when he blasted a shot over from close range.Didn’t miss in the 86th when he bombed a shot into the net to score the winner. 

MAN OF THE MATCH

Tomori was brilliant at the back throughout, but Pulisic’s impact means he deserves to be man-of-the-match today.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Napoli in January?

Chops October 23, 2019

At this point, it’s looking less and less likely that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will stay in MLS next year.

And why should he? In his 37/38 aged season, he’s proven capable of scoring at elite levels. He netted 30 goals in 30 games this year. He scored 22 in 27 last year. Often, the goals are spectacular.

We’ve already written why Manchester United should get Zlatan in January. However, Zlatan though has intimated he’d like a return to Serie A. And particularly his fondness for what Diego Maradona did at Napoli. He may get his Serie A wish.

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Napoli express interest in Zlatan

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis is a Zlatan admirer. He said he’s interested in acquiring Zlatan.  He also said that ultimately the decision to join Napoli is up to the big Swede.

One point though why Zlatan to Napoli feels like a real thing rests in this quote from De Laurentiis:

“I met him, not as a footballer, but as a normal person in Los Angeles because we shared the same hotel. I invited him to dinner with his wife and children and we had a great night.”

It would be incredibly naive to not think some level of discussion about joining Napoli was had at that dinner.

Anyway, if Napoli don’t beat Red Bull Salzburg today, expect Zlatan to lead the Italian side to Europa League glory in 2020.

Champions League Group E: Why Today Is Most Important Day for Liverpool, Red Bull Salzburg, and Napoli

Chops October 23, 2019

The second half of 2019-20 UEFA Champions League matchday 3 group games begin at 12:55pm ET today.

This season’s “Group of Death”–Group E–features three teams ranked in the top 14 of FiveThirtyEight’s Global Club Rankings (ClubElo agrees as well, with all three in the top 19). This will be a tightly bunched group at the top with razor thin margins separating who advances. The match-ups today between Genk vs Liverpool and Red Bull Salzburg vs Napoli have particular weight to the eventual group outcomes.

Here’s why.

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Napoli’s away draw to Genk opened the group up

Thanks to a BS call against Andy Robertson leading to a late penalty and win, Napoli took firm control of Group E on matchday 1. All they needed to do was hold serve at home and manage a win at Genk.

That didn’t happen. They drew 0-0 at Genk.

While oddsmakers still have Napoli heavily favored (-1000!!!) to advance out of Group E with Liverpool (-2500), that all could change quickly if Red Bull Salzburg (+285) take care of business at home. Amazingly, RBS and Napoli are basically even according to oddsmakers in this match.

The line: Red Bull Salzburg +145 | Draw +275 | Napoli +170

To be fair, the line is more or less in line with FiveThirtyEight’s match probability.

However, Napoli has not been very good on the road in Europe the past 14 months. They’ve won exactly 0 of 4 away games in Champions League competition. They won 1 of 3 away games in the Europa League after that.

Also! They played Red Bull Salzburg in the Round of 16 in the Europa League last March. They lost 3-1 away to a not-as-strong-as-they-are-today RBS side. And that match didn’t have an Academy Award winning halftime speech from Jesse Marshe either (NSFW).

Both squads know how important this match is, because…

…Nine points probably gets you out of the group

Last season’s “Group of Death” also contained Liverpool and Napoli. Here’s how it ended up:

Nine points is a pretty good delineation marker for advancing to Champions League knockout rounds. In the past three UCLs, only twice has a team with less than 9 points advanced (Benfica with 8 in ’16-17, Lyon with 8 last year).

In a group with three legit teams, 9 points and you’re probably good (unless you’re Napoli last year). 10 and you’re golden.

If Liverpool win at Genk, they’ll get to 6 points. Liverpool will win at Anfield against Genk, which gets them to 9. From there, it’s just an away draw at RBS or draw at home vs Napoli and they’re 100% advancing.

So for RBS and Napoli, this match really is everything. If Red Bull win and move to 6 points, Napoli may find themselves in a painfully close third place finish for the second year in a row.

Too bad a Zlatan to Napoli transfer can’t happen sooner.

Tottenham Are Back! Or Maybe Red Star Belgrade Just Suck? And Other Things We Didn’t Learn During Tuesday’s Champions League Matches

High Press 10 October 23, 2019

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Today’s 2019-20 UEFA Champions League matchday 3 fixtures taught us nothing. It was basically all chalk. The teams that were supposed to win all won (even if some struggled).

Here’s a quick rundown of the action.

Tottenham beat Red Star Belgrade 5-0 and it means nothing

Mauricio Pochettino has steadied the ship at Tottenham! Harry Kane is back! Tottenham won at home 5-0.

Actually, Red Star Belgrade is ranked around Norwich level (aaaand Spurs have struggled with those teams lately, but still…). Spurs have talent. They should win. Kane had one utterly vintage finish (against non-existent defending). Son in particular looks back in form again. Look at this run and clinical finish (against non-existent Red Star defending).

Pochettino is still elite and still should probably be sacked. Red Star isn’t very good. Spurs had 4.2 xG in this one but it felt like 8. Let’s see how Spurs do at Liverpool this weekend.

Real Madrid beat Galatasary 1-0 and it means nothing

Galatasaray had three real chances early on that could’ve made this one interesting. But they didn’t convert. Real Madrid should’ve found the net a couple more times but didn’t. They’ll take a 1-0 road win. The Zinedine Zidane roller coaster continues.

Good to see Eden Hazard starting to look like Eden Hazard. Wonderful build-up with Karim Benzema here. The pass back to Toni Kroos (and dummy by Benzema) is great soccer.

Juventus beat Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 and it means nothing

Juventus found themselves down 1-0 to Lokomotiv at home until the 77th minute. Then Paulo Dybala, who is looking like Juve’s best player this season, bails them out with goals in the 77th and 79th minute. This strike is just plain stupid.

Juve find themselves atop Group D at 7 points and a +4 goal differential to Atletico Madrid’s 7 points and +3.

 

Kylian Mbappe is just absurd, which we already knew

Kylian Mbappe started the game against Club Brugge on the bench. Not that they necessarily needed him. PSG was going to beat Club Brugge, even with the game in Belgium.

However, PSG were only up 1-0 when Mbappe came in at the 52nd minute. Just over 30 minutes later, Mbappe had himself his sixth hat-trick.

Also, Mauro Icardi (who had a brace) seems to have the center forward spot on lockdown at PSG. Edinson Cavani should just buy his plane ticket to Miami and join David Beckham’s MLS squad already. The build-up to this Icardi goal is fun to watch.

PSG remain perfect in Group A. With Real Madrid in their current form, PSG could go 6-0-0.

Atletico Madrid won 1-0 at home against Bayer Leverkusen because of course they did

A late Álvaro Morata goal (within 7 minutes of subbing in) gives them a boring win. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Yawn.

Manchester City were sloppy early then crushed Atalanta 5-1 which is what we all knew they’d do

This game showcased everything we knew about Manchester City. They’re dangerous af offensively and shaky defensively.

City’s sloppy and careless defending spotted Atalanta a 1-0 early lead. Then their offense went into overdrive.

Sergio Aguero recorded a brace (one off a pk). Raheem Sterling recorded a hat-trick. And Sterling looks awesome. He’s in scary good form right now.

Their injury woes pile up though, as Rodri went out with a knock. City are evil, but their players don’t deserve the injuries they’re sustaining.

Regardless, they’ll continue to cruise through Group C with a perfect record because for the 8th year in a row they somehow managed to get the easiest possible draw 🤔.

Bayern Munich won a tough road match thanks to Robert Lewandowski

Olympiakos at home is going to be difficult. Bayern Munich on the road can struggle and Robert Lewandowski is a goal scoring Terminator sent from the future. All of that adds up to a tough road win for Bayern Munich where Lewandowski nets a brace. So clinical.

Bayern now sit comfortably atop their weak Group B with a perfect 3-0-0 record. Tottenham, in second with 4 points after 3 matches, will probably advance with them.

Shakhtar Donetsk played Dinamo Zagreb

And it ended in a 2-2 draw because of course it did.

Playoff Preview: New York City FC vs Toronto FC

Peter Nolan October 23, 2019

Who: NYCFC vs Toronto FC
When: Wednesday, October 23rd @ 7:20pm ET
LineNYCFC +100 | Draw +260 | Toronto +255

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Like a subletting New Yorker, NYCFC has been forced to vacate their “home” – Yankee Stadium – because their landlord needed the place. So back across the RFK/Triboro Bridge to CitiField it is for the Eastern Conference Champions.

New York came to Queens Tuesday morning, one day ahead of Wednesday night’s single elimination playoff match versus Toronto FC, to re-familiarize themselves with the pitch and stadium. They haven’t called this “home” since Decision Day 2016.

For New York manager Dome Torrent, who was not yet with NYCFC when the franchise first played at the home of the New York Mets, the change in venue was a non-issue. Although Torrent noted the “the grass is perfect, it is really good,” Pep Guardiola’s long time lieutenant quickly switched gears, saying “I don’t want to waste time about the stadium because it is what it is.”

Similarly, the New York boss expressed a lack of concern with the pitch dimensions, often a contentious issue at Yankee Stadium. “I think it’s the same size,” Torrent noted when asked about the size of the CitiField surface, before underlining his previous point.

“Believe me, it’s not important for me,” the coach said. “I don’t want to talk about the size because we have to play here, no excuse.” As airplanes roared overhead on their way to LaGuardia Airport, Torrent continued, “we have to be able to win the game, if not, it is not about the stadium.”

NYCFC vs Toronto FC match preview

Although New York finished atop the Eastern Conference, Torrent’s side picked up just one point from Toronto during the season, drawing 1-1 on September 11 in the Bronx and losing 4-0 in the fourth match of the season.

In fact, Toronto could be said to have to NYC’s number. The Canadian club drubbed NYCFC in 2016 by a 7-0 aggregate that included a 5-0 beating at Yankee Stadium.

Toronto’s home win this season is particularly memorable for the stunning MLS debut performance that game by TFC Designated Player Alejandro Pozuelo. The Spaniard scored a brace against NYCFC, although Torrent already knew all about his countryman.

Torrent noted that midfielder Pozuelo played as a “false nine” in the 1-1 draw, when he scored one penalty kick and missed another. He could play there again if striker Jozy Altidore is unavailable.

Regardless of position, “Pozuelo is a good, good player,” Torrent said. “I know this player in Spain, when he played at (Real) Betis and Rayo Vallecano and he is good, good player, everybody knows.” “But,” Torrent said confidently, “we have good players as well.”

Midfield battle will be key

A couple of those players were made available to talk after stretching their legs on the green grass of CitiField including team captain Alex Ring. The versatile midfielder will be on the spot against a TFC midfield led by Pozuelo and former USMNT captain Michael Bradley.

Ever forthright, Ring believes “that the team that wins the midfield has a big chance to win the game.” When asked about playing at CitiField, Ring echoed his manager, stating, “same thing, it’s grass, it’s not artificial, we don’t need to talk about the pitch.”

NYCFC rested and ready

New York is the better rested of the two sides. They’ve been off since the end of the season while Toronto topped DC United 5-1 in extra time, having completed regulation play level at 1-1.

TFC advanced minus striker Jozy Altidore and center back Omar Gonzalez. Both players are listed as questionable while New York has no players on the injury list.

Striker Heber is coming back from a layoff and looked well during training. So are Keaton Parks and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. Torrent feels all three are ready to go. However, the coach hedged a bit on Heber, who did not play in his sides’ postseason closed door scrimmage versus Chicago Fire.

“Heber is ready to play,” Torrent began before adding, “I don’t know if he starts, maybe he plays, 30 or 40 minutes, I don’t know, but he is ready to play, he’s not injured.”

So, will Toronto add another win over New York to its collection? For Torrent regular season results mean little. Torrent pointed out that in the most recent contest, New York was missing six players, including Heber and Maxi Moralez.

Now in his second year in the league, Torrent sounded like a seasoned MLS coach when he said, “ When you play the playoffs it is a different competition. It is not the same as the league because if you make one mistake, you are out.”

Biggest Ballon D’or Finalist Snubs

Chops October 23, 2019

Yesterday, the 30 male and 20 female Ballon D’or finalists were named in an excruciatingly and unnecessarily long announcement process.

Seven (!!!) Liverpool players were named. Only one player in the entire Bundesliga was named (!!!).

So yes, there are some things out of whack. With that in mind, here’s a look at the biggest Ballon D’or snubs for both the men and women’s finalists.

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Ballon D’or finalists (men)

But first! Here’s a list of the 30 men finalists.

  2019 Ballon D'or Finalists  
Virgil van DijkMohamed SalahSadio ManeGeorginio WijnaldumAlisson
Trent Alexander-ArnoldRoberto FirminoLionel MessiCristiano RonaldoKylian Mbappe
Raheem SterlingKevin De BruyneRiyad MahrezBernardo SilvaSergio Aguero
Antoine GriezmannPierre-Emerick Aubameyang Karim Benzema Frenkie De Jong Matthijs de Ligt
Joao Felix Eden Hazard Kalidou Koulibaly Robert Lewandowski Hugo Lloris
Marquinhos Son Heung-Min Dusan Tadic Marc-Andre ter Stegen Donny van de Beek

Pleasant surprises here include non-de Jong and de Ligt Ajax players (Donny van de Beek and Dusan Tadic) and defenders (Kalidou Koulibaly and Trent Alexander-Arnold).

Ballon D’or finalists (women)

Here are the 20 women finalists.

 2019 Ballon D'or FinalistsFemale 
Alex MorganMegan RapinoeSam KerrTobin Heath
Lucy Bronze Rose Lavelle Ada Hegerberg Amandine Henry
Nilla Fischer Sofia Jakobsson Kosovare Asllani Dzsenifer Marozsan
MartaPernille Harder Lieke Martens Sarah Bouhaddi
Vivianne Miedema Wendie Renard Sari van Veenendaal Ellen White

Ballon D’or biggest snubs (men)

So who’s missing from the list? There’s actually not too many.

For someone to be snubbed, that means someone else is clearly not as deserving. We’ll get to that in a minute. The snubs are:

  • Andy Robertson, Liverpool: As important as his wing-back mate Trent Alexander-Arnold to Liverpool’s success. He had 13 assists across all competitions and was regarded as the best left-back in Europe by season’s end. Also captain’s Scotland’s national team.
  • Ederson, Manchester City: Played all EPL and UCL games for Manchester City and gave up only 1 more domestic goal than Alisson.
  • Jadon Sancho, Borussia Dortumnd: The Bundesliga is criminally under-represented on the list. Sancho was the best player on the second best team in the league. He also made the Three Lions national squad. Also, the Bundesliga has fewer representatives (1!!!) than Ligue Ugh! How is that possible?
  • Luis Suarez, Barcelona: In an off-year, he tallied 21 La Liga goals and six assists. But it’s the press who votes and he’s not likable to them.
  • Hakim Ziyech: Ridiculous he’s not on the list. 16 goals and 13 assists in the Eredivisie and a total John Wick’ing of all UCL opponents.
  • Memphis Depay: He was awesome for Lyon (10 & 10). He did great in the UCL. And he was a rock for the Netherlands.

So who gets bumped for these six?

  • Hugo Lloris, Tottenham: Underrated as a goalie for sure. But Ederson was better.
  • Gini Wijnaldum, Liverpool: See, I’m not a total Liverpool homer! While Gini was a driving force for Dutch international success, Robbo was more vital to Liverpool’s overall success.
  • Marquinhos, PSG: If the Bundesliga only gets 1 finalist, how does Ligue Ugh have more? It’s basically MLS with one super elite all-star squad. Defending Ligue 1 talent isn’t the same as doing it day-in, day-out in La Liga or the Premier League. That was highlighted in the UCL, as Marquinhos’ overall performance dropped against Liverpool, Napoli and Man U. Give this spot to Depay.
  • Kevin de Bruyne, Manchester City: When healthy, I think KdB is the best player in the Premier League and top 5 in the world. He wasn’t very healthy last season. Ziyech was healthy had more of an impact.
  • Riyad Mahrez, Manchester City: Caveat: I think Mahrez will be deserving of a top 30 selection after this season. He was more of a bit player for City last season. Would you really rather have Mahrez over Suarez?
  • Karim Benzema, Real Madrid: This one hurts as I think Benzema is underrated. But his stats were no different than Suarez’s. He didn’t play internationally. And game-to-game Sancho had more of an overall impact.

Ballon D’or biggest snubs (women)

This one is more or less on point. Or better put: it’s harder to make a case for removal of some over others. The couple of notable snubs would be:

  • Lindsay Horan, Thorns / USA: Third in the NWSL in goals in 2018 (13) and more or less the best central midfielder in the world. She’d get the nod over Tobin Heath.
  • Eugénie Le Sommer, Lyon / France: Thin margins here but Le Sommer had an equal impact at Lyon as her teammate Dzsenifer Marozsan. She accomplished more at the international level too.

 

Why Liverpool vs Manchester United Meant Nothing and Champions League Preview: A New High Press Soccer Podcast

High Press 10 October 23, 2019

Getting this up a day late, but here’s the latest High Press Soccer Podcast. Listen below or subscribe and download from Apple’s Podcast Center.

Covered in this episode:

  • Liverpool and Manchester United drew 1-1. Liverpool were unlucky. United played hard and were lucky. The game meant nothing.
  • Barcelona is back on top of La Liga! And they’re their to stay.
  • The UEFA Champions League is back this week. Watchability rankings for the week.

Listen to “High Press Soccer Podcast Episode 34: Liverpool vs Man U and UCL Preview” on Spreaker.

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