On Saturday, Atlanta will be the locale for the NASL Soccer Bowl, the title game of North America’s second division. The Atlanta Silverbacks will play host to the New York Cosmos at Atlanta Silverbacks Park. The Silverbacks have developed a strong side thanks largely to US Soccer legend Eric Wynalda, the club’s technical director. And attendance has been impressive.
But what I am hearing from multiple sources is that Major League Soccer is getting closer and closer to naming an Atlanta team, and all indications are it will not be the Silverbacks. Despite the success the club has achieved, they are likely to be pushed into the dustbin of history. This is a direct contradiction of recent MLS decisions to elevate successful lower division clubs and brands to the top flight. Perhaps the Silverbacks don’t quite have the cache of the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and Orlando City (Lions) but it would be unfortunate if the brand died.
The much-hyped Seattle-Portland MLS playoff match was a disappointment. Football lines and somewhat subdued supporters ruined the atmosphere as did an uneven match. I have been told that in some quarters Sounders supporters feel superior to Portland supporters and don’t view the derby with the same enthusiasm the Timbers fans do. However despite this, I have no hesitation to say Portland will put on a great show in the return leg, with the supporters being in full voice and at a soccer-specific venue.
If you read the Mexican press as I sometimes do, you’ll find a lot of blame for the woes of El Tri, the Mexico national team being aimed at European based players. Not long ago Mexico had a league that paid so well that it was less lucrative to go to Europe unless you were an absolute standout player like Hugo Sanchez or Rafa Marquez. But by the mid 2000s, this was changing with Mexican players not only going to Spain, but to France, Holland and Germany as well. By the early 2010′s players were popping up in England, Portugal, Scotland and Italy also. This has created a cultural divide on the national team and the solution seems to be to name a squad made up almost entirely of domestic based players. Mexico hopes that what they give up in quality they gain in squad cohesion for the do-or-die playoff with New Zealand. We will have much more on this story next week during the international break.
The over the top reaction to Diego Costa in Brazil mirrors the Brazilian media’s inability to understand the power of European club football and culture on the sport. When Costa said Spain has given “everything he has,” he is not speaking out of school but simply addressing a new reality that idealists and nationalists don’t want to accept. For Costa, a player who has bounced around from club to club and spent several loan spells at smaller clubs than Atletico Madrid, he should be commended for perseverance and using the Spanish league system to make him into a top class footballer. Quite frankly, Brazil has little to do with his development into a top professional and his decision to represent Spain is one I support.
In the Premier League, it’s worth noting Newcastle spent virtually nothing in the summer transfer window but got a better result against Chelsea at home than Tottenham did, who spent over a £100million on new players. Alan Pardew is much maligned but it seems like whenever his back is against the wall at multiple jobs, he’s gotten results (with the exception of his failed tenure at Charlton).
Speaking of Spurs, the whole Hugo Lloris situation leaves a very bad taste in my mouth about the state of English football. My personal experience as a league official with the North American Soccer League was to take any indication of a head injury seriously. At the NASL we adopted a strict concussion policy, which was modeled after what Major League Soccer had already developed. I have no hesitation in saying if Lloris’ injury had occurred in the top two divisions of North American soccer, he would have been subbed out and whisked away to some place for observation and tests, not be given a hero’s standing ovation by traveling fans almost a half hour later. I understand the culture around the English game but feel at some point common sense and player safety/health must be considered.
I genuinely fear time is up for Chris Hughton, one of football’s gentleman. Norwich spent big this summer on players who were not exactly under the radar signings. The Canaries failure to mold into an effective side with the hodgepodge of players now at Carrow Road is quite surprising to many observers, myself included.
Manuel Pellegrini’s dropping of Joe Hart led directly to 210 minutes without conceding a goal for Manchester City this week. Costel Pantilimon did not have the confidence of former manager Roberto Mancini and his staff, but it may be a different story with Pellegrini. Rumors are persisting that the Blues will launch bids for Iker Casillas of Real Madrid and/or Fraser Forster of Celtic. But is either really a better long-term option than Hart or Pantilimon?
Sam Allardyce has persisted with the 4-6-0 formation for West Ham. It is not yielding much in the way of chances any longer but the Hammers aren’t conceding goals either.
In the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund ran rampant on Friday over Stuttgart. BVB’s attack and depth are stronger than last season and I have little doubt they can challenge (but perhaps not overcome) Bayern for the title.
In the Championship, Leicester City got a measure of revenge for last season’s wild ending against Watford at Vicarage Road with a 3-0 win.