The MLS season is a little over halfway done. In other leagues the season table is everything. In the MLS it is a step to the much bigger playoffs. We have seen a shift in the league with the addition of the two expansion teams, and it has changed the league in multiple ways. The format is the same, with 34 matches making up the regular season. Due to other competitions, not all the teams have the same amount of matches played currently.
The top 6 teams from each conference move onto the playoffs, with the top 2 teams getting a bye to the Conference Semi-Finals. The top team in each conference during the regular season also gets a bid to the following season CONCACAF Champions League. Let’s jump into the table.
The Eastern Conference saw the addition of the two expansion squads, while the Houston Dynamo and Sporting KC moved to the Western Conference. That said, the conference has plenty to get excited about.
The top of the conference has DC United currently with 44 points from 26 matches. No other teams have played 26 games, but a handy 5 point lead isn’t hurting them either. In second are the NY Red Bulls, with 39 points from 23 matches. Tied for 3rd are the Columbus Crew and New England Revolution with 34 points. The Revolution have played one more game, giving the Crew a slight edge. Toronto FC sits in 5th with 31 points. Currently, the Montreal Impact hold the final playoff spot with 28 points, despite only completing 21 matches. Orlando also have 28 points, but have played 25 out of their 34 regular season games. NYCFC follow with 27 points, while the Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire bring up the bottom with 24 and 23 points, respectively.
The top two clubs, NY Red Bulls and DC United, seem to have a decent stranglehold on the top 2 spots right now. The New England Revolution might find themselves in a bit of trouble if their competitors begin to pass them as they become equal on matches played. The Impact have been flying under the radar, considering they had time taken up in other competitions. They have 5 matches in hand to DC United, and at least 2 on everyone else in the Conference. They may not look great sitting in 6th place, but they are undoubtedly in a pretty good position. No one is out of the playoff race yet, although the Union and Fire need to gain some points quickly if they want to stay within striking distance.
The West saw its conference shift with the realignment additions of Sporting KC and the Houston Dynamo. Both teams have settled in well, and are staying competitive in the Western Conference.
Much like DC United in the East, the LA Galaxy hold the top spot in the West, partially due to the fact that they have completed more matches than their peers. Even so, they lead with 43 points. Vancouver is just behind with 42 points. Sporting KC sits in 3rd with 40 points, although they have at least one game in hand against the rest of the Conference. Portland are 4th with 39 points, while FC sit in 5th with 38 points. From there, it is a 3 point gap to the Seattle Sounders in 6th. Houston are in 7th with 31 points, 4 below Seattle and 2 above 8th place. San Jose and Real Salt Lake are tied for 8th, although San Jose have two matches to play before being level with Real Salt Lake. The Colorado Rapids are bringing up the rear with 24 points.
The top 6 in the conference seem pretty set. I would be very surprised if Houston managed to unseat any of the current playoff teams. The real race it seems is where the playoff teams finish, who gets the byes and Champions League spot. The Galaxy have added star power over the summer, which could lead to a late push. Sporting KC has 4 games to catch the Galaxy, and their home games are basically like playing at a fortress. Seattle have struggled, but have the talent to beat anyone. This conference is still wide open, although Colorado seems down for the count.
We still have plenty of games left, with 8-13 remaining for each squad. Only time will tell as to who goes to the playoffs and who starts their winter vacation early.
While some might simply point to a miserable experience for anyone rooting for the USMNT as the main reason for disparaging CONCACAF after the most recent Gold Cup, the entirety of the tournament still showed that the international soccer in this region is broken…and needs fixing. Even as Mexico fans attempt to balance victory with the recent departure of their extremely expressive manager, the entirety of the area’s fan-base has to be aware that there are a host of changes that need to happen before the Gold Cup (or, even WC qualifying) rolls around again.
The issue that immediately springs to mind is the referees. Sure, there are very few decent referees at any level, but no region has given more credence to the possibility of fixed games and paid-off officials like CONCACAF. A baffling decision or two per tournament is a given, but two or three horrendous calls A GAME just screams for a readjustment. The best display of this was certainly seen in the Panama/Mexico semi-final. While social media and comment sections on websites show some viewers being blinded by fandom, the game was an atrocity. Panama should not have been reduced to 10 men, several yellow cards for simulation would have better suited the game over what actually happened, and the penalty in the dying embers of the game for an absolutely amazing defensive play (completely devoid of any penalty dictating issues) ruined the game and tainted the final.
Since refs don’t grow on trees, CONCACAF definitely needs to put more of a focus in this arena or even research what it would take to convince FIFA to allow non-CONCACAF region refs to officiate major games in the region.
The second problem is the scheduling and thought process behind several of the games for the most recent Gold Cup. A tournament as short as the Gold Cup shouldn’t span more than a few stadiums, and certainly shouldn’t have teams spending most of their off-days in airports/airplanes. The semi-final also showed some serious lack of foresight by whoever was planning the games. With the gates opening at 5 pm, the first game starting at 6, the second game starting at 9, and the high likelihood of fans imbibing a massive amount of alcohol between the gate opening and the second game, the ridiculous nature of the crowd as seen by anyone watching/attending was to be expected. Perhaps taking a cue from events with alcohol tickets to limit drunkenness…or just separating the games…is it really that hard?
There are far too many issues with CONCACAF, and the current turmoil with some of the higher ups shows that there might be some time before any problems are truly resolved. While fans want to start seeing the countries from the region compete at the highest stage, it genuinely feels like fixing some of the issues closer to home might be the best springboard to execute that…right?
In one of the most odd transfer stories in recent history, Fabian Delph now finds himself part of something that will certainly go down in transfer lore. The move will see the England international suiting up for Manchester City in the upcoming season, and a positive step for a player whose potential seems to be growing with each positive performance.
With what started as a full-on story about a player finally saying no to the money bags over at the Etihad and choosing constant first-team football instead of joining a ridiculous wealth of the midfield for City has now turned on its head. While some would not have understood why Delph would stay with Aston Villa over the Champions League football and title chase over with Manchester City, Delph did not have to make this move to achieve notoriety. Delph is starting to become a regular on the English first team, his stock is on the rise, and his position as a midfield engine is something that every major European player is in the market for.
However, the lure of the blue moon turned out to be just too much for Delph.
With a transfer fee of $11 million, Delph’s move has a lot of positive upside for the Citizens. A relatively cheap move for the blue side of Manchester, Delph could command a similar amount on the transfer market (if not more) even if City choose to hold onto their newest midfielder until after he turns 30…a financially viable move. Delph also helps a glory-hunting team like City to bring in another British player to satisfy the league requirements on home grown players as James Milner departs for Liverpool. Also, at 25, Delph still has plenty of time at the height of his game and even 2 or 3 years where he can grow into his prime.
For Delph, the benefits are obvious. Trading up big-time in nearly every single aspect, the move to Manchester City is not surprising. The battle for getting into the Europa League is over, and the Champions League appearances are going to start racking up. While Villa were within touching distance of a medal at the end of last season, Delph will now find himself involved in possibilities for winner’s medals around nearly every turn. The only worry will be getting his time on the pitch with so many other midfield options for his new club.
Only time will tell who is the ultimate winner in this transfer, but all of the initial signs seem to point towards City gaining a rising star and Delph making a big leap up in the food chain.
Who do you think wins in this transfer? Should Delph have stayed with Aston Villa?
New Balance has upped their ante in the sports world by jumping into football full bore. They have a couple of different shoes that we have featured on The Instep, while also sponsoring multiple clubs and athletes to increase exposure. The American company has obviously seen football as a valuable entity, and they are investing in the sport.
As Drew pointed out in an earlier post, New Balance has a couple different silos that they are releasing. The Visaro is more of a playmaker boot, while the Furon is designed for more straitline speed boot. New Balance has already secured some pretty big names who will be wearing their boots. Aaron Ramsey has been the focal point of their marketing campaign for the shoes, and the Welshman has been wearing the Visaro for months.
Some of the other footballers who will be wearing New Balance boots are Adnan Januzaj, Samir Nasri, Fernando Reges, Vincent Kompany, Jesus Navas, and Marouane Fellaini. They represent some of the biggest clubs in the Premier League, and the world. They will also have Tim Cahill and Nikica Jelavic in their boots in other leagues around the world. In addition to some of these awesome players, they have decided to sponsor some clubs and national teams.
On the club side, the biggest team they are sponsoring is Liverpool. They also sponsor Stoke City in the Premier League. Bury FC in England’s Football League One and Celtic FC in the Scottish Premiership are also going to be sporting New Balance jerseys. They also have Porto in Primeira Liga, Sevilla FC in La Liga, and Club Sport Emelec in the Ecuadorian Serie A. The national teams that they will be sponsoring are Costa Rica and Panama. Panama and Costa Rica will be wearing these New Balance at the Gold Cup this summer.
Liverpool is obviously a huge get for New Balance, and will be very important to exposing the Newbie brand to the footballing world. As for other teams in the Prem, they have Adnan Januzaj and Fellaini on Manchester United, while Vincent Kompany and Samir Nasri are at Manchester City. Considering they are some of the biggest names in the Premier League, it is exciting for the brand as a whole to have that level of talent promoting the New Balance name.
New Balance isn’t new to the shoe game overall. They have long been an American favorite, especially with their New Balance numbering system, namely the 990 model. They have sponsored other sports teams in the past as well. Australian football, cricket players, cycling, and tennis have all seen New Balance as a sponsor at one point or another. They even sponsor a host of skateboarders too! The company has grown so much in the past 40 years, but they recognize they have plenty of room to grow more. This jump into the football scene will really be an exciting saga to follow.
You can look at all of the latest New Balance products right here.
If you’ve been paying any attention to the Summer transfer buzz, you’ll know that David De Gea has apparently been on the brink of a blockbuster move to Real Madrid for weeks. If the Spanish keeper does leave Manchester United, the Red Devils will lose their two-time player of the season, and many fans are worried that Ed Woodward and Louis Van Gaal won’t be able to find an able replacement for the 24-year-old. As much as I would hate to see De Gea leave Old Trafford, I do believe that there are goalies on the market that may be able to partially fill the void left between the pipes, and here they are.
For some, Lloris is the ideal replacement for De Gea. He is a proven Premier League winner with Tottenham. There would be no learning curve to the English game because he’s been in the thick of it for the past three seasons, and he has star power. The French international has played in World Cup and European Championships so he is no stranger to the big stage and high expectations. However, with all of these positive attribute comes a very high price. Some papers have reported that it would take as much as £25 million to even tempt Tottenham into letting their star keeper leave White Hart Lane. Depending on how much United get from their expected sale of De Gea, this price could be very affordable, but having already spent a big chunk of change to bring in Memphis Depay this window, I’m hesitant to believe United will spend so much two summers in a row.
Having played under Van Gaal already for the Dutch national team, Cillessen seems like a logical signing for the Red Devils. The 26-year-old already knows how the United manager operates and has shown that he can thrive under Van Gaal’s system. There are a couple big problems though, the Ajax keeper just recently signed a contract extension that keeps him at the club until 2018 and it doesn’t look like manager Frank De Boer has any interest in letting his goalie leave. Even if Cillessen did move to Old Trafford, he would have to quickly adapt to the highly physical nature of the Premier League, and David De Gea showed just how tough a transition that can be on a keeper. While Cillessen may come at a somewhat cheaper price than Lloris, I think that if United are going to spend big on a goalie they should spend the money on one that already knows the English game.
It seems like a lot of United fans have forgotten that we have two Spanish international goalies on the squad right now. Sitting behind De Gea is former Barcelona shot stopper Víctor Valdés and that’s a pretty impressive name to have as your backup. Valdés helped his former employers to six La Liga titles, two Copa Del Ray championships, and three, yes three, Champions League titles. There are no other goalies on the market that can post that type of résumé. Best of all, he’s already on the team so it’s not going to take some astronomical fee to sign him. The Spanish keeper played just one full game for United last season against Hull City, but during that match he showed fans that he still has some gas left in the tank. While he may not be able to replicate the miraculous saves De Gea made last season, I don’t know any other keeper in the world can, and Valdés provides priceless experience to a squad looking to regain their winning ways.
In conclusion, yes I will be a very sad man if David De Gea decides to follow the route of Cristiano Ronaldo and leave for Madrid, but I also believe that there are several viable options to replace him, and one of those is already on the squad.
Written by: Hunter York
On a warm, muggy, and overcast Indiana Saturday night, this writer found himself watching some good ole American soccer. You must be thinking, “there is no MLS team in Indiana” and you would be right. But there is a NASL team. Indy Eleven is Indianapolis’ North American Soccer League team that has now been in existence for 2 seasons. The NASL is the 2nd tier of US soccer, with the USL residing below them. It’s no secret that the American soccer system does not have a promotion/relegation system like many other leagues in the world. So the 2014 NASL champions, the San Antonio Scorpions, will still be in the NASL this season. The league itself only has 11 teams in it at the moment but there could be some expansion in 2016 to bring in a total of 13 more clubs into the mix. The NASL was founded in 2009 and began play in 2011 with 8 teams after a season that combined the NASL and USL for a Division II league in 2010. The league has no connection to the original North American Soccer League even though it is run about the same way. The playoff championship game is called the Soccer Bowl and is held in the location of the higher seed in the final in a one game playoff.
The NASL has a different schedule than most people are accustomed to with a Spring season as well as a Fall season with an extended break from mid June to early July in between them. The NASL is no amateur league by the way. All of the players in the league are professional players and many have come from high profile clubs and some have even played in some more notable tournaments.
For instance, Indy Eleven midfielder Kleberson, was on the 2002 Brazil World Cup roster and even helped the country lift the coveted trophy. The Brazilian even had a stint with Manchester United from 2003-2005. He now plays midfield for the sophomore club and has quickly become a fan favorite around Indianapolis. Another name USMNT fans might know is Miguel Ibarra. The striker plies his trade for Minnesota United and is now a rising star in the national team stage. Minnesota United are of course making the jump to the MLS in 2018 and have made quite the buzz in bringing the MLS to Minnesota.
The fans do not seem to mind the “lower” level league as many of the matches in Indy and all over the league, sell out regularly. Indy has a special section called the Brickyard Battalion to help bring in a lively atmosphere to the match. Many of the clubs around the league have these types of supporter groups that the club itself endorses. A club might take note of the New York Cosmos, whom Brazilian superstar Pele once played for. The Cosmos sit at the top of the NASL table and have enjoyed success on and off the field with their style of play and style off the field with popular jersey and clothing sales. Former Real Madrid legend Raul now plays for the New York-based club and has been lighting it up so far. Having stars like Raul, Ibarra, and Kleberson seems to have added credibility to the league and is attracting many around the country to notice that there is more than one league in the country.
The quality of the league is growing and many fans have been calling for a system that would allow for some more diversity in the top flight in US Soccer. Many of these NASL teams play MLS sides in the US Open Cup and have some heated matches that cause the MLS teams to step up their games to squeak out matches. Could the increase in the competition cause a promotion/relegation system between the two leagues? The NASL thinks it would and want to potentially introduce the idea to the American soccer system. I personally believe it would help US soccer grow and bring some younger talent to both leagues as well as credibility.
The NASL is a growing league and is attracting more and more talented players from around the world to come play in United States and is helping US Soccer grow in general. I highly encourage anyone with a NASL side near them to head on down and check them out! I personally am a huge Indy Eleven supporter and love watching the boys in blue play. You will be surprised at the quality of players and the kind of soccer atmosphere you can only get here in the states.
It is now as unofficially official as you can get. Manchester United has won the Memphis Depay Sweepstakes. The Dutch winger has come to terms and will move to Old Trafford this summer. PSV will receive somewhere in the realm of 22 million pounds for their young star. PSV has even confirmed the move on their official team twitter page, putting rest any worry that this was just a rumor.
Depay will have a cast of characters who he already knows when he arrives in Manchester. Louis van Gaal was his national team manager, putting him on the World Cup team this past summer. Robin van Persie and Daley Blind are a couple players who have already played and trained with Depay. It is not simply a “good ol’ boys” reunion, as Depay has some major skills, and even some time to develop.
Memphis Depay is only 21 years old, but already has a couple successful pro seasons under his belt. He is the leading scorer in the Eredivise this season, and has already participated in the Champions League and the Europa League. He captured the Eredivisie title with PSV this season, and the U-17 Euro Championship in 2011, so he knows how to win at a high level.
Manchester United won the battle for Depay’s services over a host of other giant European clubs. PSG was rumored to be interested in the winger, while Liverpool emerged as an early leader. When Manchester United had announced they had gotten Depay, multiple fans had taken to social media to rub it into the faces of their Liverpool rivals. It is one of the bigger competitions for a player between the two in a long time.
With Depay coming in as a forward, it is interesting to see what happens with the other attacking options at Manchester United. Chicharito is on loan at Real Madrid, but is scheduled to return to Old Trafford this summer. There are rumors of him wanting a full-time move to Spain, so this might be a way to help that move. Nani is another winger, and has been on loan at Sporting CP. He too is scheduled to return, but Louis van Gaal hasn’t mentioned a word about him. Robin van Persie is getting up there in age, and won’t be around forever. This might be a time to move the striker while he still has value.
Man United has the option to buy Radamel Falcao at the end of the season, which is completely up in the air. Injuries and poor form have hindered the Colombian all season, all with a massive salary. He simply hasn’t performed up to expectations, and with a young forward added to the equation, it will be hard to justify either keeping or buying Falcao. Needless to say, United has a stockpile of talent at forward, and will likely be looking to unload some salaries this offseason.
Some people might be wondering where Memphis will fit into Louis van Gaal’s system. He uses his right foot primarily, and has been used as an inverted winger most of the time. He loves to cut to his right and give his powerful right foot a chance to do some major damage. He also has a bit of a reputation when it comes to having the ball. He has a much higher rate of shooting the ball compared to assists, otherwise known as being selfish, or being a “ball hog” if you will. It has worked out so far, so there is hope that it will continue to work out at Manchester United.
Too many times, football fans hear about the “next big thing” and never see that player come to the forefront. Americans have had this experience relatively recently. Freddy Adu, a kid who was dubbed the “next Pele,” was hyped up to be the greatest revelation America had ever seen. Media took hold and pushed Adu to turn professional at just age 14. Millions tuned into his debut, and eventually, he dropped out of the spotlight and almost out of the game altogether. There are multiple players who have followed this same trajectory, but now some young players are trying to buck the trend.
Brek Shea is one of those players. He grew up in a state that adores American football. Texas lives and breathes it, so it is relatively surprising that the state produces some of the top soccer talent the United States has to offer. Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, Omar Gonzalez, and Lee Nguyen are just a few examples from the Lone Star State. Shea grew up in Texas and honed his game at the US Developmental Center in Bradenton, Florida. He was a staple in the youth system for the United States, growing his reputation.
Shea rode that wave of hype into the 2008 MLS SuperDraft after signing a Generation Adidas contract straight out of high school. He ended up selected 2nd overall to FC Dallas, where he began his pro career. For the next 4 years, Shea was a utility man for FC Dallas, playing almost every position on the field outside of goalkeeper. He made 98 appearances, scoring 19 goals in his time at the club. He did show enough raw potential for European clubs to express interest. He ended up accepting an offer from Stoke City in the Premier League.
This was the move that threatened to derail Shea’s career. It did, for a time. Shea only made 3 appearances for Stoke, and a handful of others on loan to Championship clubs Barnsley and Birmingham City. Shea has lamented about his decision to go to Stoke, saying that he wished that he had waited for a better fit. Any way you put it, Shea’s time in England was a huge letdown. It was the type of letdown which many players never recover from. Then came his chance.
The MLS added two new expansion franchises, giving multiple players a chance to begin or resurrect their careers. NYCFC went with more proven players, while Orlando City decided to take a chance on Shea. Another important manager, Jurgen Klinsmann, has monitored the move with extreme interest. The USMNT is in severe need of a left back in the wake of DaMarcus Beasley’s international retirement. There are very few pure left backs in the United States player pool, so Shea has begun to give the position his best shot.
Shea has long been known to be a speedy winger, but has never really set a position for himself. His most common spot has been in the midfield, but with Klinsmann’s new plans, it seems left back is his position of the very near future. In fact, Shea has committed to the position at Orlando City as well, citing his national team career as a large factor. He has gotten lucky to cash in on the position change, with Klinsmann calling Shea up for multiple national team camps and friendlies.
2015 has been very kind to Brek Shea. Klinsmann has given Shea the chance to impress, and he has not disappointed. In his three appearances in 2015, Shea has two goals, including an absolutely brilliant free kick against Switzerland. He played all of the matches at left back, looking surprisingly competent for a player who has recently just switched to the position. Sure he got beat a few times, but even the best outside backs get beaten sometimes. He will be in San Antonio as the US takes on Mexico in a friendly, and it will be interesting to see if Shea gets playing time, or if Klinsmann will go with more Mexican-based players.
The past few months have been a whirlwind. Somehow that wind has propelled Brek Shea back into the limelight, almost willing his career back on track. For a 25-year-old, it was critical to see the field with regularity again. Thus, we have a nice little Brek Shea Revival.
The countdown is becoming a little more real. The 2015 Women’s World Cup is less than 60 days away, making it feel more real with each passing moment. The USWNT had been struggling to get results in friendlies, and have been looking to reverse the trend before the showcase event this summer. The team played New Zealand this past weekend in St. Louis, but still have three more friendlies to get into form.
There is a positive trend for the USWNT right now. Despite a draw in the group stage of the Algarve Cup, they were still able to advance to the Final. There they defeated France 2-0 to claim the title. Its not all sunshine and rainbows though, as the team has been exploited and given up multiple goals at critical stages in the game. Now that major players have recovered from nagging injuries, Jill Ellis’ squad is beginning to play like the contender that they are.
The women’s side of football is a little different, as many players will take off their domestic seasons in order to prepare for the World Cup. For the US, Abby Wambach is taking this approach. Who knows if it will pay off, but it is certainly something to watch for as we embark upon a short journey to Canada this summer.
They did have a game recently in St. Louis against New Zealand. In fact, they broke the all-time record for attendance for a friendly. 35,817 spectators were on hand to witness second half dominance from the US in a 4-0 victory at Busch Stadium. A 4-0 margin is very encouraging, especially considering that New Zealand have also qualified for the Women’s World Cup and are considered by many to be a dark horse in the tournament. Either way, The Kiwis didn’t have a single shot on goal, a promising sign that the US defense might be improving.
With Hope Solo back on the team and playing, it seems that Jill Ellis has one position locked up for the World Cup. The front line is pretty set as well, having a multitude of attackers to choose from. In fact, she cannot get them all on the pitch. Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux, the list seems to go on and on. Either way, the forward position is also pretty set for the World Cup. Ellis has been experimenting with different midfield combinations, and has been tinkering with the back line as well. The team has a mix of veterans and youth that are sure to get some playing time, including Tobin Heath, Morgan Brian, and Megan Rapinoe.
Speaking of Rapinoe, the New Zealand match represented her 100th cap for the USWNT. This is quite the accomplishment for any international player, and Rapinoe deserves a round of applause for her contribution to the team. She will be one of the critical pieces if the US is going to advance deep into the tournament this summer.
The US has three more friendlies to get everything ironed about before heading to Winnipeg for their first group game. Throughout the month of May, The US plays Ireland and Mexico in California, while having their final friendly against South Korea in Harrison, New Jersey. Mexico and South Korea will also be headed to Canada for the World Cup, but Ireland failed to qualify. Avoiding injuries and major letdowns will be a huge part of these matches.
The US have their first group match in Winnipeg on June 8th against Australia. The next match is four days later against Sweden, also in Winnipeg. The Swedes are led by former USWNT coach Pia Sundhage, who led the US to a runner-up finish in the last edition of the World Cup. After Sweden, the final group match will be against Nigeria in Vancouver. If they place in the top two of their group, they will automatically progress to the knockout stages. If they finish 3rd, they will have to wait for Groups E and F to finish play. If they are one of the four best 3rd place teams, they will progress to the knockout stage. The bottom two 3rd placed teams will be eliminated. This expanded format will be a first for the Women’s World Cup, so it will be very interesting to see how it is played out.