MLS News
Montreal Impact Winning CONCACAF Wouldn't Have Altered MLS Landscape
MLS News
Thursday, 30 April 2015 18:52

The Montreal Impact were minutes away from a historic CONCACAF Champions League title. However, Club America showed its dominance in the final 45 minutes of the second leg in a 4-2 win in Montreal. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that MLS is still far behind Liga MX.

Even if the Impact won the Champions League, this wouldn't have done anything to boost MLS' reputation. Cynics would have labelled Montreal's triumph as "lucky" and would still say the league cannot be taken seriously.

Some of this criticism is fair. There are plenty of detriments in MLS. The low salary cap hinders teams' chances to compete in continental competitions. ESPN FC's Doug McIntyre claims that America's wages are 10 times higher than Montreal's.

The squad rotation from both sides showed the vast difference in salary. Right-backs Hassoun Camara and Victor Cabrera were injured; plus Eric Miller was inexperienced, so midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker had to start on the right side of defense.

Following goalkeeper Evan Bush's suspension, the Impact had to sign Kristian Nicht from Indy Eleven of the NASL. The team had to acquire Nicht because backup Eric Kronberg was cup-tied and third-choice Maxime Crepeau was recovering from injury.

The Impact squad as a whole isn't the greatest on paper, either. Besides Ignacio Piatti and Laurent Ciman, there aren't any notable names or designated players in Montreal's squad.

Reo-Coker is an ex-Premier League midfielder, and Marco Donadel barely played in Serie A after leaving Fiorentina. MLS journeymen Dominic Oduro and Dilly Duka as well as a relatively inexperienced Donny Toia were also in the starting XI.

This is a decent MLS roster with depth, but it's nowhere near good enough to compete against the most successful Mexican club of all time.

By comparison, America has two regular call-ups for Mexico in Paul Aguilar and Oribe Peralta. Ventura Alvarado, a U.S. international, is also a starter for Las Aguilas. Dario Benedetto is the team's second-best goalscorer, and the dynamic Darwin Quintero are just a few of the marquee members.

Ventura, Peralta and Paolo Goltz didn't even start the first leg against the Impact. Pablo Aguilar and Erik Pimentel slotted into the heart of the defense, with Michael Arroyo replacing Peralta up front.

Manager Gustavo Matosas was able to make these like-for-like changes because his team can buy players in a free market with no salary cap.

Matosas utilized his deep squad to his advantage, which is necessary in these competitions. U.S. international Herculez Gomez said as much on Twitter:

Despite having the superior roster, America was average at the Azteca and slow coming out of the gate in Montreal. However, Los Millonetas dominated from the 50th to 81st minute in the second leg and still cruised to victory.

If Montreal won, MLS may have been persuaded that its teams can compete in the Champions League on a lower budget than the Liga MX clubs. This series proved the opposite.

On paper, the Impact were huge underdogs against Pachuca, but if it wasn't for Cameron Porter's late goal, Los Tuzos would have advanced. The Impact became just the second MLS team to defeat a Mexican side in the knockout stage, per the official league website. 

However, Montreal barely edged past Alajuelense in the semis after it almost blew a 2-0 lead from the first leg. The Impact were close to elimination, but it also shows how incredible their run was as they were able to hold on in the tough atmosphere in Costa Rica.

The odds of this type of run occurring again are low. The league office must realize that it can't compete with Liga MX under the current system, which U.S. international Alejandro Bedoya stated on Twitter: 

If MLS wants to become a top league by 2022, as MLS commissioner Don Garber told ESPN.com, it not only has to raise the salary cap, but it also has to become more transparent and improve the TV ratings. The latter is arguably the most important aspect, because that generates more revenue.

This will lead to teams acquiring better players who will be able to achieve consistent results in the CONCACAF Champions League. For now, that isn't a realistic option.

 

Peter Galindo covers MLS and U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @GalindoPW.

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Montreal Impact Faced an Uphill Battle in CONCACAF, but Should Be Proud
MLS News
Wednesday, 29 April 2015 21:19

The Montreal Impact's dream run in the CONCACAF Champions League came to a crashing halt on Wednesday. Montreal was beaten 4-2 in the second leg of the final by Mexican side Club America and 5-3 on aggregate. The Impact had a tough test, and they should feel proud of their achievements regardless of the score. ESPNFC's Tom Marshall quotes America head coach Gustavo Matosas:

America, one of the biggest teams in Mexico, possess several quality players. Oribe Peralta, Dario Benedetto, Darwin Quintero, Paul Aguilar and Ventura Alvarado are just a few of the standouts in the squad.

The financial gap is also incredibly wide. America's wage expenditure is approximately 10 times higher than Montreal's, per Doug McIntyre of ESPN FC.

This is exactly why Mexican clubs have won the CONCACAF Champions League every year since the new format began in 2008. The Liga MX teams have better players and can spend a lot more than MLS sides and teams in Central America. Sportswriter Nicolino DiBenedetto had this to say:

Because the Mexican sides don't have the tight restraints of a salary cap or a book full of roster rules, the depth is much stronger than the Impact, and even the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy, who are the big spenders in the United States.

Montreal's lack of depth created many problems; among them was its goalkeeping conundrum. Kristian Nicht, who was playing for the NASL's Indy Eleven, was signed by Montreal on Monday. Regular starter Evan Bush was suspended, backup Eric Kronberg was cap-tied and youngster Maxime Crepeau was hurt and inexperienced.

Nicht looked out of his element, which is understandable. He just arrived a couple of days ago and was unfamiliar with his defense, which was evident by the number of times he stayed on his line and strayed out of position.

Another problem for Montreal was Nigel Reo-Coker, a central midfielder, starting at right-back. Impact head coach Frank Klopas had to make this switch due to Hassoun Camara and Victor Cabrera being unavailable due to injury, per Sportsnet's John Molinaro:

Eventually fatigue caught up with Reo-Coker and his teammates. He was out of position when the Impact conceded the first goal and was at fault for the second as well.

While the Impact had to rely on Nicht and Reo-Coker in the second leg, America also had to deal with some key absentees in the first match, but had significantly stronger options.

U.S. international defender Ventura Alvarado was hurt, as was fellow center-back Paolo Goltz and Peralta. The latter came in as a substitute and scored America's only goal in the 1-1 draw.

Nonetheless, Matosas had like-for-like replacements for every one of those players, while Klopas had to scramble to complete his lineup.

Even with the clear gap in quality, Montreal had plenty of chances. Ignacio Piatti had a brilliant opportunity in the first half to double the hosts' lead, but he was stopped by America goalkeeper Moises Munoz.

The Argentinean also missed a beautiful chance in the first leg, but opted to chip the ball instead of placing the shot. It ended up wide, and Montreal drew 1-1.

Montreal played an expansive, counterattacking style, and it worked throughout the first half. America defenders had to foul Piatti, Andres Romero, Dilly Duka and Dominic Oduro to slow down the momentum.

However, despite America's shambolic defending, Montreal's was equally poor; its opponents took advantage, whereas the Impact failed to do so. 

Credit Montreal, though. The Impact became the first Canadian team to make the final and the second MLS team to do so since Real Salt Lake in 2011. 

It was a tremendous, exhilarating run, especially considering the player turnover during the summer and their horrid domestic season in 2014. It's disappointing that it had to end in heartbreak.

 

Peter Galindo covers MLS and U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @GalindoPW.

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Montreal Impact vs. Club America: Date, Time, TV Info and Live Stream for Leg 2
MLS News
Wednesday, 29 April 2015 00:00

Montreal Impact will continue their quest to become the first-ever Major League Soccer team to sample glory in the CONCACAF Champions League, as they host Club America in the second leg of the tournament final.

These two teams played out a tense 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Estadio Azteca, with Ignacio Piatti opening the scoring for the Impact early on, but the Mexican side gave themselves a lifeline thanks to an Oribe Peralta header in the 89th minute.

Here are some of the highlights from that engrossing game:

With a sell-out crowd set to be backing Montreal at the 65,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, expect a raucous atmosphere to be conjured for this one. Here’s all the information you need on where to catch the clash and a closer look at how both sides are faring on the cusp of this one.

 

Date: Wednesday, Apr. 29

Time: 8 p.m. (ET)

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go (U.S.)

TV Info: Fox Sports 2 (U.S.)

 

Impact Looking to Make History

The form of Montreal in this tournament is staggering. For the last two seasons they’ve been the worst team in MLS football, winning just seven of their last 47 domestic matches. But this competition has stirred something in them and now they’re on the brink of achieving history.

As noted by the team’s goalkeeping coach Jack Stern, the entire division is supporting the Canadian side in their pursuit of glory:

Coach Frank Klopas has done a superb job guiding his team this far and ahead of the tie admitted this is a group who are relishing their mantle as underdogs, per NBC Sports:

We know we are the underdog, but we’ve been the underdog since the beginning of the tournament and we are still here. 

In your career, whether as a coach or a player, you may not get another chance like this, so it’s important that we enjoy the experience as much as possible.

Club America face a massive challenge if they’re to get through this tie and lift the trophy. After the aforementioned draining first leg between these two sides, they were tasked with tackling Chivas Guadalajara in the Mexican Super Clasico last weekend—a high-octane 1-1 draw—prior to the second clash with Montreal. As such, it’d be no surprise to see a leggy-looking Club America side take to the field.

Although the Impact have made themselves favourites with that vital away goal in the Azteca, it would be somewhat naive to completely rule out Gustavo Matosas’ side, as they bid to win this title for the sixth time in their history. After all, they boast a plethora of classy players capable of turning the game in an instant.

One of those players is the man who broke Montreal hearts last time out, Peralta. As we can see here, the Mexico international is certainly a player who knows where the back of the net is:

The Impact will be without their first-choice goalkeeper for this match too. Evan Bush will miss the game due to suspension, prompting the club to draft in Kristian Nicht on a free transfer. The 33-year-old is a very experienced ‘keeper, but it’s going to be intriguing to see how he handles the pressure of coming into the side to debut in such an important match.

As noted by Doug McIntyre of ESPN, the Impact were just about able to get the deal over the line in time:

Ultimately, this flurry of change between the sticks will contribute to the Impact falling at the final hurdle here. Bush was absolutely superb in the Azteca and the links he’s built up with his defence have been absolutely vital in this side’s progression. Subsequently, not having him in situ will be a major blow to their chances.

Club America haven’t performed to their maximum in the previous two games and tiredness could be a factor here should the match run beyond 90 minutes. But with the pressure on, expect Matosas’ side—who were far superior in general play in the first leg—to turn things around in Canada.

Prediction: Montreal Impact 1-2 Club America

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MLS Power Rankings After Week 8: The East Takes Hold of the Top 3
MLS News
Tuesday, 28 April 2015 18:31

Week 8 of the MLS season has concluded after an action-packed weekend. Several teams earned vital wins, while others continue to struggle. 

The Seattle Sounders defeated their fierce rivals the Portland Timbers at CenturyLink Field on Sunday night. Clint Dempsey's goal was the difference in a 1-0 win. 

Toronto FC ended its four-game losing streak by shutting out Orlando City SC, who have yet to win a match at home.

The New York Red Bulls managed to stay undefeated by tying the LA Galaxy, but was it enough to keep them at No. 1?

Here are the MLS power rankings after Week 8.

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MLS Player Rankings: Consistent Kamara Takes Top Spot After Week 8
MLS News
Tuesday, 28 April 2015 01:14

There is no doubt we love to focus on the performances of the superstars in Major League Soccer like Kaka, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. 

But there are plenty of players who are worthy of our praise that aren't earning a ridiculous amount of money each week. 

One of those under-the-radar players earned the top spot in our weekly list of the top 20 players in the league. 

Continue reading on to see who took the No. 1 position away from Giovinco in the Week 8 edition of the MLS Player Rankings. 

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5 Lessons Learned from the New York Red Bulls' 1-1 Draw Against the LA Galaxy
MLS News
Monday, 27 April 2015 18:13

The New York Red Bulls may be somewhat frustrated with the 1-1 draw they earned against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday, but they certainly put forth a performance they can be largely proud of.

The Red Bulls dictated the pace of the game from the opening whistle, again putting their game plan of high pressure on display early and often. They were undone in the ninth minute by a moment of brilliance from 18-year-old Bradford Jamieson IV, but they allowed few other opportunities for the Galaxy.

New York managed to find an equalizer in the second half, but no more. Bruce Arena's team clearly and understandably was content with leaving Red Bull Arena with a point, which made New York's task of finding a game-winner incredibly difficult. The Galaxy deserve credit for executing their game plan well.

But for Jesse Marsch's Red Bulls, six matches have now passed, and the 2015 season is beginning to take shape. Sunday's match against the Galaxy came with some valuable lessons with regard to what is going right and wrong in Harrison.

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Tactical Review of LA Galaxy's 1-1 Draw with New York Red Bulls
MLS News
Monday, 27 April 2015 08:48

The New York Red Bulls entered Sunday's clash with the Los Angeles Galaxy as Major League Soccer's lone unbeaten side. 

Sunday's contest at Red Bull Arena was seen as the first major test of the new high-tempo system manager Jesse Marsch installed during preseason. 

The Red Bulls dominated the possession battle but left the field wanting more after playing to a 1-1 draw with the defending champions. 

Let's take a look at some of the key tactical decisions that shaped the match.

 

Red Bulls' Press and Tempo Set the Tone

The Red Bulls began the match by putting a ton of pressure on the ball. Whenever a Galaxy player received the ball, a slew of white shirts attacked him and forced the player into a quick decision. 

“They didn’t allow us to get comfortable in the back," Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said. "When I looked up, I saw four or five white shirts sprinting toward me. The only thing that I saw fit to do was play it back to Jamie (Penedo) or up to Gordon and (Jamieson). They did well with that." 

When they were in possession of the ball, the two Red Bulls center-backs pinched up toward the halfway line, while the full-backs were looking for space in the attacking half. 

However, the high line left the Red Bulls susceptible to counterattacks if the Galaxy timed them to perfection. 

The Galaxy got the best of the Red Bulls defense early in the match on a counter, but after that the hosts controlled potential threats well. 

 

Jamieson Breaks Free for LA's Lone Strike

In his second career start, Bradford Jamieson IV scored on a terrific individual effort in the final third. 

The New York defense handed Jamieson a ton of space at the start of the move, which allowed the youngster to gain momentum and sprint over to the left side of the box. 

All Jamieson had to do after that was fool Chris Duvall and place his shot into the bottom-right corner of the net. 

"All I know is that I’m gonna cut the defender," Jamieson said of his thought process leading up to the goal. "I was watching the way (Duvall) was moving his hips, and he came pretty hard, I cut him and I went for the shot. I tried to put it hard into the right corner." 

The lone dangerous attacking spurt of the match for the Galaxy exposed some of the flaws in the Red Bulls' new system. Dax McCarty tracked back into the box but reached Jamieson just as he started to cut to his left. 

Had McCarty reached the 18-year-old more quickly, he may have been able to shut down the move and keep the momentum on New York's side for good. 

"Getting the early goal for them changed the match a bit. It meant that we were pushing and they were sitting back," Marsch said after the match. 

 

New York Opens Up Right Flank for Early Chance

The Red Bulls failed to attack the right flank through the first 11 minutes, but when they finally spread the field out, a terrific chance opened up in front of goal. 

Sacha Kljestan moved over to the right wing and darted down that side of the pitch in search of a hole in the Galaxy defense. 

He found just that as he breezed past Stefan Ishizaki and fired a cross in toward Bradley Wright-Phillips. The 2014 Golden Boot winner connected with the pass, but Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo was in the right place at the right time. 

The 12th-minute move marked one of the few occasions in which New York put pressure on the right flank. 

"They had a lot of possession, but we never felt threatened," Gonzalez said. "The one chance with Bradley Wright-Phillips in the beginning was good, but Jaime saved us." 

 

Insistence on Left-Flank Matchup Narrows Field 

Marsch said in his post-match press conference that he inserted Sal Zizzo into the starting 11 because he liked the matchup against Galaxy right-back Dan Gargan. 

The manager's confidence in Zizzo combined with Lloyd Sam's fitness level to lead the Red Bulls' attack primarily through the left side of the pitch. 

"Sal’s been very good in training, and he’s been very good when he’s played for us. We think he’s dynamic and he’s aggressive," Marsch said. "We liked the matchup of Sal versus Gargan." 

Although they looked dangerous in the buildup, the Red Bulls left the home fans wanting more through one half of play. 

Whenever Zizzo troubled Gargan, Gonzalez tracked over to the wing and denied a potential scoring opportunity. Gonzalez also pointed out that the Galaxy made sure to rough up the host side from the start. 

“It was a lot of stop-and-go, but that’s because we were trying to be aggressive and not let them get into a rhythm," Gonzalez said. 

The Galaxy game plan worked for the majority of the match, but the Red Bulls were able to create something in the box early in the second half. 

 

Sam Breaks Free and Begins Scoring Move

Sam admitted after the draw that his matchup with former Leeds United teammate Robbie Rogers on the right flank was a difficult one. 

“I was just trying to get some space in the game. It was difficult to get space at times," Sam said. 

“He had a lot of energy going forward. I would turn around, and he’s already on his way to our box. He’s very lively, and he’s a good technical player. He’s just a bit more physical than he used to be," the winger said of Rogers. 

Sam finally got the best of Rogers in the 58th minute when he moved into the middle of the pitch, fought off the defender and passed to Zizzo on the left side of the box. 

Zizzo crossed in a ball that Wright-Phillips deflected off A.J. DeLaGarza and on to the head of Felipe, who directed the shot into the net. The lucky deflection off the noggin of Felipe handed New York a deserved equalizer. 

"I would give more credit to Felipe on the goal for actually being there," Sam said of the goal. 

"(Felipe) covers so much ground, he breaks up so many plays, he’s a connecter, he’s an attacker. His engine is at a very high level. It was another good performance (for him)," Marsch said. "I know he’ll be happy he got on the board, even though it was a weird play."

 

Both Sides Take Positives from Draw

The Red Bulls were easily the better side on Sunday, but their inability to break down the Galaxy back line is something they'll need to work on for the future. 

Despite not finding a second goal, Marsch was happy with the club's overall performance. 

“That’s a very good Galaxy team on the field. I thought we controlled the game from the opening whistle, and for 90 minutes I thought we were on top of the match," Marsch said. "Overall, I thought all the little tactical details for us to be on top of the match were good. The guys pushed and pushed and got the equalizer. We were a little bit unlucky not to find the lead.”

“I thought our reactions, awareness and movement as a group were all very good," Marsch said. "In a lot of ways, the first half might be one of our better halves of the season. These are positives. I feel like we continue to move ourselves along." 

Gonzalez also expressed his delight with the result, which handed the Galaxy their second road point of the season. 

“It’s more than we’ve gotten in the past. To get a point away from home, we were very pleased with it. It’s better than leaving with zero," Gonzalez said. "I thought we all defended well as a team, and that’s one of the reasons why we got the point.”

In the end, the New York pressure did dominate most of the match. But the Red Bulls were up against a well-organized side. For New York to earn wins against other top opponents this season, it will have to spread the field out more and put the defense under more stress. If it can do that against the likes of New England and Columbus in the Eastern Conference, it could be headed for a spot at the top of the East. 

As for the Galaxy, they did what they needed to do in order to depart Red Bull Arena with their heads held high. Without Robbie Keane in the lineup, they were unable to attack on the counter as much as they would've liked, but the one clear chance they created was all they needed to score. 

Once Keane returns and Steven Gerrard eventually arrives in the summer, the Galaxy will have some battle-tested young guys like Jamieson ready to contribute off the bench.

If he continues to produce like he has in his first two matches, Jamieson will fill that role perfectly toward the end of the year. 

 

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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MLS Team of the Week: Altidore, Barnes Score Twice in Wild Week 8
MLS News
Monday, 27 April 2015 06:59

Most of the odd qualities that make Major League Soccer its own unique brand of the beautiful game were on display in Week 8. 

Each of the nine matches played across North America this weekend witnessed at least one goal. Four teams hit the back of the net on four occasions during a wild Saturday night. 

The scoring outbreak across the league started on Saturday night, and it extended into Sunday thanks to Jozy Altidore, who scored a pair of strikes for a Toronto FC side in need of a victory. 

Two other players found the back of the net two times in Week 8, which kept our stress levels at a minimum during the selection process for our MLS Team of the Week.

Continue reading to see which players found their way into our list of the league's best 11 from Week 8. 

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Cristiano Ronaldo Reportedly Targeting MLS Move to Los Angeles
MLS News
Thursday, 23 April 2015 02:33

Cristiano Ronaldo wants to head to Los Angeles once his Real Madrid contract expires in 2018, according to Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated.

Wahl first reported Ronaldo's alleged interest in a switch to Major League Soccer during March. He has revealed extra information, writing, "Ronaldo has now decided the city where he wants to be: Los Angeles."

Two teams are likely to be situated in the City of Angels by the time CR7's Bernabeu contract comes to an end, detailed by Wahl:

It could be the Galaxy or LAFC, and while talks have yet to take place between Ronaldo and any MLS teams, L.A. is Ronaldo’s preferred destination. Meanwhile, I’m told it’s looking more likely every day that LAFC won’t start play until 2018. That means we could see Ronaldo debut for a new team in a new stadium that year.

So-called "franchise players" have become commonplace for MLS' biggest teams, and indeed, those just entering the league structure.

New York City FC and Orlando City are currently working through their debut seasons with David Villa and Kaka taking the headlines at the respective clubs. Both players are legends of the European game and have the power to pull in a larger global audience.

Los Angeles Galaxy are used to luring high-profile players from across the globe. Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will join the team at the end of the Premier League season, while Galaxy skipper Robbie Keane headed to the club after a distinguished career at sides including Inter Milan, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Celtic.

David Beckham, one of football's most famous names, helped pave the way by joining Galaxy in 2007.

Ronaldo's potential arrival in the U.S. would likely outrank the rest. He's won every trophy worth winning in Europe and is rightfully considered one of the sport's best ever. Representing Manchester United and Real Madrid gains great traction abroad, meaning he could be the perfect face of LAFC, when the franchise finally launches.

He remains one of football's most marketable stars and, with 39 goals in La Liga this season, is still at the top of his game. Like Thierry Henry, who joined New York Red Bulls when his ageing legs began to show, a move to America could keep the Portuguese player scoring goals for a prolonged period of time.

No club, no matter how big, would turn down the chance to sign Ronaldo. The 30-year-old will likely receive a plethora of offers when he next becomes available, so any suitors will need to work extremely hard to convince him of their project.

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MLS Power Rankings Entering Week 8
MLS News
Wednesday, 22 April 2015 20:23

MLS is already seven weeks old and teams are beginning to demonstrate their potential.

The New York Red Bulls and Vancouver Whitecaps lead the Eastern and Western Conference, respectively, with D.C. United, the New England Revolution and FC Dallas hot on their tails.

The MLS Power Rankings will determine how strong every team is so far in 2015. Criteria is mainly based on every game played this season, but recent form is also taken into account.

If a particular club has had a better run of form than its opposition, it will be higher in the rankings.

Here is the first installment of the MLS Power Rankings after Week 7.

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