The Philadelphia Union are one of the Eastern Conference's early season surprise contenders, and a lot of that comes down to the goal scoring exploits of Jack McInerney. The 20-year old forward leads Major League Soccer with seven goals from just 10 games played, winning the league's Player of the Month award for April in the process. McInerney has played to such a level in 2013 that he is beginning to draw early comparisons to Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.
MLSsoccer.com's Samantha Yarock caught up with McInerney and teammate Amobi Okugo at a recent post-training visit, and picked up some pointers on how to replicate McInerney's recent scoring ventures inside the penalty area.
And don't worry about Jack; he recovered from Samantha's rocket shot to the chest just fine, by scoring the only goal of the game in the Union's 1-0 victory at Chicago this weekend.
Welcome to a new series on MLSsoccer.com, where each week we'll take a look at some of the best images from the week that was in Major League Soccer. Here's a look back at the best shots from May 11-12, and check back every Monday as the series continues.
Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath (center) skies to take the ball off the head of Chicago's Gonzalo Segares during the Union's 1-0 win at Toyota Park.
Felipe's 39th minute goal wasn't the game-winner for Montreal against Real Salt Lake last weekend - far from it, in fact, in what turned out to be a 3-2 thriller - but the Brazilian celebrated in style, playing up to Impact fans behind the corner flag.
The backflip goal celebration is nothing new to the world of soccer, but it's always spectacular when it gets thrown out on the field. Seattle Sounders forward Obafemi Martins broke out the celebration during Seattle's 4-0 romp over San Jose.
We already knew Vancouver Whitecaps forward Darren Mattocks (right) could jump over the top of MLS defenders, but we had yet to see him jump chest high on Omar Gonzalez and throw a freeze frame pose at us. Now we have.
Don't lose focus of that ball, Bobby Shuttlesworth. Stare right on down that tunnel and don't break eye contact.
I'm just praying that Columbus Crew midfielder Matias Sanchez stuck the landing on this splitting dismount, and didn't rip the seat of his pants.
Well, see what had happened was.... FC Dallas midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson (left) really wanted to win the ball, but then Dwayne De Rosario told him, "Shoulder ride's over, pal," and dropped him like a sack of potatoes.
Portland Timbers midfielder Rodney Wallace (right) is in the form of his life of late. So much so, that he's carrying the entire Timbers team on his back right now. Literally, and figuratively.
This is Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City in a nutshell, right here. Mechack Jerome (left) wins the ball in the air, gets upended and slams heavily to the ground. Sporting got slammed to the ground a few times, but won, 1-0.
When I was a 10-year-old boy growing up on the east side (of the suburbs) of Kansas City, I had as many of the latest NFL player cards by Topps as I could con my poor mother into buying for me. She couldn't walk me down a checkout lane without my begging mercilessly in hopes I'd land my latest prized Barry Sanders or Dan Marino card.
Well, beginning in July, it'll be Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane gracing the latest set of Topps player cards, as the Sports Business Journal reported on Monday that Major League Soccer and the trading-card company have signed a six-year deal that is set to launch at or around the 2013 MLS All-Star Game in Kansas City.
— Dan Courtemanche (@courtemancheMLS) May 13, 2013
I think the biggest question on everyone's mind, though, is this: Who will headline the "Designated Player Flops" special collectors series to debut a couple years down the road? Denílson? Jéferson? Luis Ángel Landín? Or the most recent, Kris Boyd?
You'll obviously want to load your kids' stockings and birthday cards with pack after pack of these hot, new MLS Topps player cards. The actual cards haven't yet found their way onto eBay as of yet – as everything does ahead of release these days – but be sure to snag your 2013 MLS Team Checklist for the low, low price of one American dollar today!
What do you think? Will you be tempted to buy your soccer-playing child a pack or two, in hopes that it will increase their level of knowledge and interest in MLS?
There might not be a "Most Interesting Man in MLS Award" at the conclusion of each and every Major League Soccer season (there should be, by the way), but if there was, Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen would be a worthy finalist for the award, year after year. And Nielsen got just that much more interesting on Tuesday afternoon when The Guardian's Paolo Bandini announced that he has been working in partnership with the 35-yeard old Danish keeper to write his second autobiography, Welcome To The Blue Heaven.
— Paolo Bandini (@Paolo_Bandini) May 14, 2013
— Paolo Bandini (@Paolo_Bandini) May 14, 2013
Just ask anyone who's spent more than five minutes with Nielsen; they'll tell you the only thing more infectious and inspiring than his net-minding on the field, is his friendly and lovable personality off it. Needless to say, this is a book that you're going to want to get your hands on and breeze right through.
The official release form Ascend Books, publisher of Welcome To The Blue Heaven, states the book will range from topics, but not limited to, Nielsen's past gambling addiction that almost cost him his career, the trials and tribulations it caused amongst his family, the woman - his wife - that stuck by his side and helped him piece his life back together, and a whole new lease on life and career found in - of all places - the United States' Heartland, that has seen him become one of the club's all-time fan favorites and finally a Cup-winning captain.
Sporting Kansas City forward Kei Kamara was first to break the news of Nielsen's book, tweeting out a picture of his copy last week, followed up by this picture with the subject at hand, and the first ever signed copy of Welcome To The Blue Heaven:
— KEI KAMARA (@keikamara) May 11, 2013
There's only one thing that could be a more interesting time than Nielsen's autobiography itself, and that's the Jimmy Nielsen book tour, which kicks off later this month and into the summer at various Kansas City retailers.
You can order your copy of Welcome To The Blue Heaven on Amazon, for $24.95.
ESPN may have finally exhausted its full allotment of Barclays Premier League television broadcasting rights – they'll relinquish that hold to the NBC Sports Group in the fall – and the broadcasting behemoth may only have one more World Cup to televise before FOX Sports takes over in 2018, but that doesn't mean the Worldwide Leader is looking to get out of the soccer business anytime soon.
ESPN announced on Tuesday morning that the network will launch a brand new, highlights-driven soccer studio show called "ESPN FC" later this year, set to hit cable boxes on August 11. The 30-minute show, which will air Sunday through Friday each week, will be shown primarily on ESPN2 six days a week, with the Sunday edition spanning an hour. ESPN FC's daily scheduling has not yet been announced, but soccer fans around the United States will be hoping for a prime, mid-morning or early evening time slot.
ESPN recently rebranded its online soccer coverage with a change from the old ESPN Soccernet to the new ESPN FC iteration, and the broadcast side will focus primarily on the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, Spain's La Liga, the US and Mexican national teams and, of course, Major League Soccer.
Some of the regular contributors to ESPN's digital and television soccer coverage – and potential on-air personalities for ESPN FC – include the likes of Derek Rae, Tommy Smyth, Shaka Hislop, Gabriele Marcotti and Janus Michalik. ESPN also boasts a stable of MLS-centric commentators and analysts such as Adrian Healey and former MLS-ers Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman. With Premier League and World Cup rights going the way of other broadcasting companies, MLS could be in a position to move closer to the forefront of ESPN's soccer coverage, both on television and digitally.
ESPN and ESPN2 have been a longtime official television broadcast partner of Major League Soccer since the league's inaugural season in 1996. The current broadcast agreement between MLS and ESPN runs until the end of 2014, with the network carrying 20 2013 regular-season games.
Stay tuned for further news regarding ESPN FC in the coming weeks and months. Who would you like to see spearhead this new venture for ESPN?
UPDATE: SI.com's Grant Wahl on a potential time slot...
Hearing ESPN's daily soccer show starting in August will not be a wee-hours broadcast and will be shown at an easy-to-view time.
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) May 14, 2013
We already know the British tabloids can be over the top and insensitive when it comes to issues they don't understand, but perhaps no one in the American soccer community knows that better than US national team and Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard.
The World Cup veteran and national team fixture since 2007 has gone from being called "disabled" and "retarded" by the British press when he moved to Manchester United in 2003 to something of a club legend and cult hero for current club Everton, all in the space of a decade.
Not only has Howard learned to cope with the Tourette's syndrome that accompanied him his entire life, but he's now raising awareness among children. The message? Tourette's hasn't defined Howard, and nor should it define them.
In the April-May issue of Neurology Now, Howard spoke at length about his life with Tourette's from his childhood struggles to life in the spotlight as a Manchester United and Everton star.
Said Howard of being a little boy with TS: “From the age of 9 to 15, it was just this chaos of different tics, and they were pretty strong. I would just begin to figure out how a tic worked with my body, and, bam, six months or a year later, a new tic would come.”
“On the field I wasn't Tim who had TS or Tim who had tics. I was Tim who scored goals or scored baskets or hit home runs.”
These days, Howard keep the goals out, but you can't help but admire him for pressing on and passing his message onto others with similar challenges.
Howard isn't the only professional athlete who thrived despite the sometimes nasty disorder. Former Major League Baseball player Jim Eisenreich had a 15-year career in the big leagues, while former NBA player Chris Jackson, who Howard himself cites as a role model in his early years with TS, was a first-round draft pick in 1990 and enjoyed a 15-year career in America, Europe and Asia.
Statistics are often overlooked in soccer, and we here at MLSsoccer.com think that's too bad.
So each Monday, we'll be bringing you five of the most telling stats following the previous weekend's round of games. They might be about the individual game itself, a team's recent run of results or an individual player lighting it up. This week, we've got all three.
Here's five key stats from Week 11:
- 25 players have scored 3 or more goals in MLS 2013 so far. Five of the 25 – exactly one-fifth – are Portland Timbers players. [Mike Donovan, @TheMikeDonovan]
The five players are Ryan Johnson, Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe. The New York Red Bulls come in a close second with four players (Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Fabián Espíndola and Jámison Olave). To make up for those two hogging all the three-goal scorers, Chivas USA, Seattle, Vancouver, Colorado, D.C. United, Chicago and New England have a combined zero. Ouch.
- With Sunday night's victory against the Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City have now handed MLS opponents their first loss at a new stadium at six different stadiums: BBVA Compass Stadium, BMO Field, Qwest Field, Rio Tinto Stadium, Robertson Stadium (Houston Dynamo) and Spartan Stadium (San Jose Earthquakes). [Sporting Kansas City]
Quite rude of them to crash house parties in such a manner, really.
- Jack McInerney's game-winning goal against the Chicago Fire on Saturday was his 15th goal in 30 appearances since John Hackworth took over as Philadelphia Union head coach for Peter Nowak last June. [Philadelphia Union]
Jack Mac has done everything in his power to earn a US national team call-up for this summer's Gold Cup. It would be more than a mild shock if his early season form doesn't translate to his first senior team cap. Are you paying attention, Jurgen?
- Following their 3-2 road loss to the Montreal Impact on Saturday, Real Salt Lake have yet to win in Canada in the club's history, moving to 0-6-4 in 10 matches across all competitions north of the border. [Real Salt Lake]
The math is in their favor, though; only one Canadian team resides in the Western Conference, so they'll avoid Toronto FC and Montreal for a second (and/or third) time in the regular season as well as the playoffs, barring an MLS Cup meeting.
- The San Jose Earthquakes have won just one of their past eight games, a stretch that includes three losses. During their Supporters' Shield-winning 2012 campaign, the fewest games they won during an eight-game stretch was four, and that run was without a loss.
For context's sake, the 2012 stretch came during the final eight games of the season with the Supporters' Shield already won and San Jose resting starters for the playoffs. Granted, it's still early in the season, but the Earthquakes are well behind their 2012 pace of 1.94 ppg (1.17 so far in 2013), which is a difference of 26 points over a 34-game season.
Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below.
In case you haven't heard, Sporting Kansas City ended the Houston Dynamo's 36-game home unbeaten streak with a 1-0 victory at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday night. The 73rd-minute goal, which came courtesy of Sporting KC defender Aurélien Collin, ended the Dynamo's MLS record streak that spanned 22 months of play in all competitions.
Immediately after the game, a clever little bug in the Sporting KC communications department took to Twitter to gloat about ending the Dynamo's reign of terror in H-Town.
Sorry about your streak @houstondynamo. It was fun while it lasted.
— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) May 13, 2013
The "streak" also pertains, coincidentally, to a another streak of five matchups, dating back to September 10, 2011, the last time Sporting defeated the Dynamo. That particular stretch included a 2012 regular-season loss, two draws and a pair of playoff eliminations in back-to-back years at Sporting Park. Sporting did manage to defeat the Dynamo, 1-0, in the second leg of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals, but were knocked out 2-1 on aggregate.
Houston, however, had the last Twitter laugh of the night, just as they did in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs.
— HoustonDynamo (@HoustonDynamo) May 13, 2013
Sometimes, supporters groups' tifo displays are designed to look really cool, to recognize a player's career-long contributions to the club or even to intimidate that day's opponent with a massive pregame display that covers the entire end of a 70,000-seat stadium.
And other times, the displays transcend the sport of soccer altogether, making a statement about life in general.
On the same day a match in Italy – one that happened to involve United States national team midfielder Michael Bradley's club team, AS Roma – had to be momentarily halted because of racist chants aimed at opposing AC Milan players, the Timbers Army chose to spend their Sunday afternoon taking a stand against another sensitive social issue in the sports world: homophobia. The 5,000-person section used roughly 4,500 colored cards to create the display, according to Timbers Army 107 Independent Supporters Trust board member Abram Goldman-Armstrong in an e-mail exchange with MLSsoccer.com on Monday.
The display spanned six sections at JELD-WEN Field and featured a banner in the center reading simply "Pride, Not Prejudice." The Timbers went on to put three goals past the Chivas USA defense, picking up yet another impressive home victory to extend their unbeaten run to nine games.
— Eric Beard (@BeardEric) May 13, 2013
"The Timbers Army has had a 'zero-tolerance for intolerance' policy since its inception in 2001,'" Goldman-Armstrong told MLSsoccer.com. "Our display in honor of the International Day Against Homophobia demonstrates our commitment to making certain all people are welcome at the beautiful game, on the pitch and off of it.
"As the language San Jose's Alan Gordon used to attack captain Will Johnson shows, homophobia is still a real issue in North American sports. As supporters, we must do our best to show that there is no room for such bigotry in our sport. Sunday's display is an indication of that sentiment."
The Timbers Army will be the first of many independent supporters groups across MLS to lend their support to the "Pride, Not Prejudice" cause this week, as many groups have agreed to unveil their own unique stands against homophobia prior to their club's home game that falls closest to the 2013 International Day Against Homophobia on May 17.