MLS Newsstand - June 21, 2018

 
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Mexico's Carlos Vela is eager to help his country in this World Cup
Los Angeles Times – June 19, 2018
 
Carlos Vela’s relationship with the World Cup is complicated. Over the last eight years it’s included three starts, a tournament-ending injury, a long self-imposed exile and Sunday, after his most important game on soccer’s biggest stage, a death in the family.
 
A day after Vela helped key Mexico’s upset of defending champion Germany, he got news that his grandfather had passed away. But in his final hours, Vela was told, his grandfather had watched Mexico’s 1-0 win, which led to a touching message on Instagram.
 
“The last victory you were able to see, grandpa,” Vela wrote in Spanish. “I hope you were proud of me.”
 
How could he not have been?
 
Positioned in the center of the midfield, Vela quarterbacked Mexico’s potent counterattack, giving Germany fits before leaving in the 58th minute for defender Edson Alvarez.
 
“He was one of our best players today,” Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio said. “Carlos was the one who made the last pass for the shots we had, for the chances in the final third. He made a very big effort.”
 
Osorio, who has made no secret of the fact he would prefer his players stay in Europe, couldn’t have been pleased when Vela left Spanish club Real Sociedad for the expansion Los Angeles Football Club in January. But he has played well in MLS, leading LAFC with seven goals and contributing five assists while playing every minute of the team’s first 12 games.
 
“When a player is doing well mentally and is happy, then it shows on the field,” Vela said in Spanish. “When someone feels pressured or isn’t happy, then things don’t tend to go the way they should. Mentally and physically, I feel very well and I’m eager to perform at my highest level.”
 
In 2010, as a precocious 21-year-old, Vela started Mexico’s first two games in South Africa but came off with an injury a half-hour into the second one and didn’t play again. Then two months after the tournament ended, he began a self-imposed, three-year exile from the national team, refusing call-ups for the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 World Cup.
 
The hiatus never has been fully explained, but it started after Vela attended a team party that got out of control. Thirteen players were fined but only Vela and Efrain Juarez were suspended from the national team.
 
He wouldn’t play again for Mexico until a friendly in November 2014. Now a more mature Vela isn’t taking this World Cup for granted.
 
“Obviously after Brazil, when I wasn’t there, and South Africa, where I wasn’t able to enjoy the World Cup as I would have liked, it makes me want to enjoy this one as much as possible and help my country achieve something important,” he said. “That’s the goal that Carlos Vela has and I hope I can achieve it.”
 
Given his contribution against Germany, he already has.
 
Neymar leaves Brazil training
 
Neymar limped out of Brazil's training session in Sochi on Tuesday with pain in his right ankle.
 
The Brazilian soccer federation said the injury was not serious, adding Neymar left as a precaution and would be back in training on Wednesday. Neymar has been sore since the team's opening draw with Switzerland last week, a game in which he was fouled 10 times.
 
Ratings hit
 
Telemundo drew an average audience of 6.56 million viewers for Sunday’s Mexico-Germany game, making it the most-watched sporting event in the Spanish-language network’s history.
 
Across all platforms, including digital, Telemundo’s coverage had an average audience of 7.4 million and peaked at 8 million.
 
Fox Sports drew just more than 4 million TV viewers — 4.26 million across all platforms — for Mexico and nearly 4.1 million for Brazil-Switzerland later Sunday, the largest audiences for soccer on an English-language network since 2016. Both games were carried on cable outlet FS1.
 
Through Sunday, Fox Sports was averaging 2.24 million viewers a game, an audience the network says is 32% higher than ABC/ESPN got for the group stages of the last four World Cups combined, excluding U.S. games. The U.S. did not qualify for Russia.
 
 
Latif Blessing’s late goal propels LAFC into U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals
Los Angeles Daily News – June 20, 2018
 
LOS ANGELES — On the strength of second-half goals from Latif Blessing, Diego Rossi and Benny Feilhaber, the Los Angeles Football Club advanced to the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday night, earning a 3-2 victory over Sacramento Republic FC at Banc of California Stadium.
 
Blessing put the Black & Gold ahead for good in the 89th minute after sprinting to the mouth of Sacramento’s goal while Rossi charged down the right flank and into the box.
 
Rossi’s pass found the 21-year-old Ghanian, who went to the ground and rolled into the net with the ball.
 
The decisive goal capped a frenetic and sometimes sloppy effort in front of 8,750 fans, who witnessed their team fight off a stiff test from Sacramento, one of three United Soccer League teams to appear in the Open Cup’s Round of 16.
 
For Sacramento, the result marked a second straight Open Cup exit at this stage of the tournament. The Galaxy eliminated the club in 2017.
 
“Cup matches you have to earn,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “You don’t get anything for free.”
 
LAFC’s victory slots it into a quarterfinal match in the Western side of the Open Cup bracket against Portland. In the Midwest, Houston will face defending champion Sporting Kansas City. The East features Philadelphia and Orlando City. And in the Mideast, Chicago will take on the only remaining USL team in the tournament, Louisville FC. All matches are scheduled for July 18.
 
Meanwhile, LAFC and Portland are already scheduled to meet in an MLS contest in L.A. on July 15.
 
LAFC faced Portland once, falling 2-1 in Portland in May.
 
“If you asked me which I’d rather win,” Feilhaber said, “I’d say the Open Cup right now. They’re just totally different. I think we’ll put our best team forward in both situations.”
 
The Black & Gold didn’t lack for chances against Sacramento, taking 21 shots (eight on target) while stringing together 610 passes and maintaining possession for 67 percent of the match.
 
The upstart challengers, among several USL clubs looking to become an MLS franchise, put six of their 12 shots on target and managed to keep up with LAFC’s offensive creativity throughout the 90-minute match, which would have been extended to 120 and perhaps a penalty kick shootout were it not for Blessing’s late clincher.
 
“He said his name is famous in this tournament,” said Feilhaber, who was teammates with Blessing on the Sporting Kansas City team that won the 2017 event. “After you say that you gotta score every game.
 
“I thought he played really well today. I just think he likes the sense of win or go home. He’s a guy who, when he’s motivated, he’s very good. Today I was very happy he was rewarded at the end because he did a lot of very good work.”
 
LAFC attackers weaved through Sacramento’s defense for the duration of the match.
 
Midfielder Lee Nguyen set the tone early, striking the crossbar in the seventh minute – the first of several balls that hit the frame of the goal – and came close to netting a one-timer five minutes later.
 
When visiting goalkeeper Josh Cohen wasn’t benefitting from balls bouncing off the frame, he saved several quality chances, including a penalty kick attempt from Feilhaber late in the first half.
 
Cohen dove to his right to swallow Feilhaber’s soft attempt, one of three saves he made against the LAFC captain, including a dangerous free kick in the 30th minute that was knocked away when Cohen leaped to his left to keep the ball out of the upper corner.
 
Sacramento grabbed the lead in the 35th minute. The visitors ran with the ball unabated down the left flank and Slovenian midfielder Jure Matjasic dribbled into the box without any pressure from LAFC defenders. Miller kept Matjasic’s shot out of the net, but the rebound found defender Elliot Hord, who put his team ahead with a shot past diving LAFC defender Joao Moutinho.
 
LAFC tied the score for the first time in the 58th minute when Feilhaber demanded the ball atop the box. The 33-year-old midfielder received a pass from Eduard Atuesta and drifted into the box, using his body to cut inside where he found himself open for the shot.
 
“I wasn’t thinking trying to get a goal myself in terms of atoning (for the missed penalty),” Feilhaber said. “It was just trying to get any goal for our team.”
 
Sacramento, however, responded almost immediately.
 
Exposing LAFC’s defenders, Sacramento’s Villyan Bijev worked his way around the top of the box to regain the lead, using two touch-and-go passes to free himself for a blast that flew past Miller.
 
Seven minutes later, LAFC equalized when Nguyen fed Rossi with a well-weighted pass on the ground that put the young Uruguayan in the box with a chance to score. He calmly knocked it around the Sacramento keeper.
 
“The mentality to keep going on a night where we had to work for it, and on a night where at times we were just unlucky – hitting some posts and that sort of thing,” Bradley said. “Overall, I thought we played good football. You advance in the Cup. You look forward to Portland on the 18th. Now we go back to the league and it should be a great game against Columbus.”
 
 
Teen phenom Alphonso Davies thrilled to bring World Cup to country that took him in
CBC.ca – June 19, 2018
 
Prior to last week, the biggest crowd Alphonso Davies had ever spoken in front of was a soccer team.
 
So it was a baptism of fire when the 17-year-old walked out on stage at the Expocentre in Moscow on Wednesday to address the over 200 delegates at the FIFA Congress and a world-wide television audience.
 
"Going into I didn't know what I was expecting," Davies said Tuesday after practising with Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps. "When I walked into the place I was shocked. I didn't think it was going to be that big.
 
"When I got on stage I was a little bit nervous. Once I started telling my story I got comfortable."
 
Davies' path to Canada
 
Davies has quite a story to tell.
 
His family fled Liberia to avoid a civil war and Davies was born in a refugee camp in Ghana. He moved to Canada with his parents when he was five and grew up in Edmonton.
 
Davies told the delegates how Canada accepted him and how proud he is to play soccer for his country. When it was announced the United Bid of Canada, Mexico, and the United States had been selected to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, Davies felt he had played a role in that decision.
 
CBC's Chris Brown on how the North American bid beat out Morocco. 3:35
"It means a lot," he said, the braces on his teeth showing in his smile. "Going to Russia, talking to the FIFA council, it's a great privilege. I'm glad they picked me to do that and share my story."
 
Poise under pressure
 
Many people have commented on Davies' poise under pressure, and one person who wasn't surprised by his performance was Whitecaps' head coach Carl Robinson.
 
"I thought he handled himself impeccably," Robinson said. "I thought he showed a lot people what I see on a daily basis, his character, his energy.
 
"I think he delivered a speech that many will be talking about for years to come."
 
Davies' whirlwind trip to Moscow came during a two-week break in MLS play. In Vancouver's final game he scored a goal and set a franchise record by assisting on three others as the Whitecaps defeated Orlando City SC 5-2. That resulted in him being named the MLS player of the week.
 
Breaking records
 
Davies played his first MLS game when he was just 15. He is the youngest player to score a goal in the CONCACAF Champions League, Canadian Championship, and United Soccer League. He earned his first call-up to the Canadian senior national team in June 2017, shortly after receiving his Canadian citizenship.
 
At the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Davies became the youngest goal scorer in the history of both the Canadian men's national team and the tournament. He had three goals at the tournament and won the Golden Boot as leading scorer.
 
At five-foot-11 and 160 pounds, Davies has speed and size. He handles the ball with grace and can dance around defenders. As his talents grow it's considered only a matter of time before he leaves MLS for a European team.
 
Robinson appreciates the skills Davies possesses but also understands the responsibility the Whitecaps have to development him both on and off the field.
 
"I know what's ahead for him," Robinson said. "I know the good, the bad and the ugly. He's going to have to experience it all and go through it all. There is not a right way or a wrong way of dealing with it. I'm trying my best to prepare him for what is laying ahead."
 
'Canada took me in'
 
Davies admitted he was intimidated when he first began playing against older, more experienced players.
 
"When I first started I knew that age doesn't matter, but it kind of does a little bit," he said. "If you have the talent to play at that level, you should be playing.
 
"Now I feel I can compete with them. I can play really well against and with them."
 
There are plenty of paths open to Davies. The one he knows he wants to travel is the road that leads him to playing for Canada in a World Cup in the country that gave him a home.
 
"It would mean a lot," Davies said. "When I was younger Canada took me in. Being able to represent my country in a World Cup would be an amazing experience."
 
 
The Chicago Fire become the latest Chicago nominee for ESPN’s Humanitarian Team Award
WGN – June 20, 2018
 
CHICAGO – As efforts on the field continue for the team in their pursuit of the playoffs in the MLS and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Chicago Fire’s efforts off the field have earned them an award nomination on Tuesday.
 
The club was selected as a finalist for ESPN’s Humanitarian Team of the Year award for 2018 along with three other professional and amateur teams. The winner will be announced during the network’s Sports Humanitarian Awards on July 17th in the Los Angeles.
 
Also nominated for the award are the Anaheim Ducks, and the US Women’s National Hockey Team.
 
A primary reason for the Fire’s selection is their “P.L.A.Y.S.” program, which is run through their foundation. It stands for Participate, Learn, Achieve, Youth Soccer, and has created opportunities for a number of elementary school children in Chicago Public Schools.
 
According to the Fire, over 2,500 students have taken part in the program since it began in 2013. More information on the program can be found by clicking here.
 
Chicago is no stranger to the award, having had a winner and a finalist in the past three years. The Chicago Bulls won the award in 2015 and the White Sox were a finalist in 2017.
 
Now it’s the Chicago Fire who get the chance to keep the tradition going.
 
 
Atlanta United sets U.S. Open Cup attendance record, loses game
Atlanta Journal-Constitution – June 20, 2018
 
For the second consecutive season, Atlanta United failed to advance past the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup.
 
A goal from Nemanja Nikolic was enough to push Chicago past the Five Stripes 1-0 on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in front of a record crowd.
 
With a chance at winning their first trophy over after two tournament games, Atlanta United will turn its attention back to MLS, where it leads the league with 33 points. Atlanta United will host Portland (6-3-4) on Sunday. The Timbers are unbeaten in eight games. Atlanta United was knocked out of last year’s tournament by Miami, 3-2.
 
“That’s football,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said. “We created enough chances at minimum to tie the game -- I think we deserved that.”
 
The only thing that may not be considered disappointing about the rather lackluster performance by Atlanta United was the game set a U.S. Open Cup attendance record with 41,012 tickets sold and distributed. The previous record was 35,615, set at the 2011 U.S. Open Cup final between Seattle and Chicago at CenturyLink Field. Atlanta United also holds MLS attendance records for a single game (72,035) and season (48,401).
 
Martino continued his pattern of starting the lesser-used players with striker Romario Williams, midfielders Hector Villalba, Kevin Kratz and Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu (making his first start), defenders Sal Zizzo and Miles Robinson, and goalkeeper Alec Kann among the starting 11.
 
Their lack of chemistry was evident in a mostly flat first half after the first 10 minutes. Chicago, which used several of its starters including Nikolic and Bastian Schweinsteiger, had the better chances, but Kann kept the game scoreless with several strong saves.
 
Martino said he wasn’t surprised that Chicago put out a strong lineup. Because they are in seventh with 19 points in the East, winning the U.S. Open Cup may be their chance at success this season. Chicago has won the tournament four times, but its most recent title came in 2006.
 
“We know they are in a difficult place in the league and might want to give everything they have in the U.S. Open Cup,” he said. “At the end of the day that’s not why we lost the game. I don’t think you can say the result was a factor of the difference between the two teams. Even though we put out some younger players, we know they have an experienced team but it was fairly even.”
 
Chicago broke through in the 54th minute on a tap-in by Nikolic. Aleksandar Katai drew defenders to him on the left before laying it off in the middle to Schweinsteiger, who passed it to Luis Solignac down the left. His pass across was met by Nikolic.
 
In an attempt to spark the moribund offense, Martino subbed in Ezequiel Barco and Julian Gressel in place of Vazquez and Kratz in the 62nd minute.
 
The offense did start to see sparks, but they didn’t create the roaring flame that has carried it to the most goals (33) in the league this season.
 
“It’s unfortunate that it took us getting scored on to really start pushing the game and looking dangerous in the attacking third,” Kann said. “Once we did that it was unfortunate that the ball didn’t bounce the right way to get it tied up and push it to extra time.”
 
Atlanta United came close in the 72nd minute when a shot from Villalba bounced off the face of Chicago’s Dax McCarty and then went off the post for a corner kick.
That was about it.
 
Even with the two regular starters in the lineup, Atlanta United failed to have consistent chemistry in attack. Combination passes fizzled out before pulling Chicago apart. Runs were stopped as passes were made. The defense wasn’t tested too often. Atlanta United took 14 shots, putting just four on goal. It created just six chances.
 
“We could have had a goal or two early in the game and kind of settled our nerves a little bit,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, we were off by a couple of inches or two. That’s just the nature of the game sometimes.”
 
Atlanta United’s last good chance came in stoppage time when Wheeler-Omiunu stole the ball near midfield, carried it forward and found Barco, but his cross was easily caught by Richard Sanchez at the near post.
 
Villalba tried his luck on the opposite side of the goal, but his cross was parried by Sanchez and no Atlanta United player could catch up to the ball.
 
Almiron tried a looping header seconds later. Sanchez was there again.
 
“I thought we played well,” Villalba said. “Maybe we were missing that final touch on a few of the goal-scoring situations. Maybe we needed to press a little more and make us feel out homefield advantage more.”
 
 
Colorado Rapids to host Boca Juniors for a friendly match in July
Denver Post – June 19, 2018
 
Boca Juniors are coming to Colorado.
 
The Colorado Rapids will face the Argentine pro team in a friendly match at 7 p.m. July 24 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
 
“We are excited to be hosting such a historic team as Boca Juniors,” Rapids executive vice president and general manager Pádraig Smith said in a news release. “They are one of the best known clubs in the world and we’re thrilled to give our fans the opportunity to be part of this terrific matchup.”
 
In their 113-year history, the Boca Juniors have claimed 18 international titles, six Copa Libertadores and 44 national titles — including the last two.
 
The Rapids are currently 2-9-3 in the 2018 Major League Soccer season, ranking last in the Western Conference.
 
Tickets for the game go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday at AltitudeTickets.com.
 
 
D.C. United get travel break, shot at U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals
Washington Times – June 19, 2018
 
Patrick Mullins let out a sigh of relief and leaned back in his chair in the bowels of RFK Stadium on Tuesday, grateful he wasn’t traveling once more.
 
As D.C. United’s new stadium, Audi Field, is being built in Buzzard Point in the District, the 26-year-old forward and his teammates have faced a whirlwind schedule. Ten of United’s 12 MLS matches so far have been on the road. The other two were played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, and the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland.
 
United’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup matchup against Orlando City SC on Wednesday, which is being held at the SoccerPlex, offers a respite from a cross-country grind in the few remaining weeks before Audi Field’s expected opening July 14. A win in the knockout competition could help D.C. toward a second-half push up the table.
 
“A lot of guys would’ve been just kind of deflated if we had to go travel for this match,” defender Steve Birnbaum said. “A positive result tomorrow would kind of trampoline us into the New England game [on June 30], give us some confidence going into that game. Because, right now, it’s all about confidence.”
 
Birnbaum was drafted by D.C. in 2014, a year after United secured their third U.S. Open Cup title. He heard all about it when he arrived in camp, from former midfielder Lewis Neal’s goal to former goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s saves. That Cup run was part of United’s 13 trophies, the most in American soccer.
 
Since 2013, though, D.C. hasn’t passed the round of 16 in the competition, which began in 1914 and pits professional and amateur teams in America against each other in the tournament.
 
“I’ve been around this league for a while, the Open Cup for a while, and I don’t think I’ve ever had an easy go out of it,” Mullins said. “There’s something about it I think everyone feels like they have a real chance to go on and win a trophy.”
 
A victory Wednesday would send D.C. into the quarterfinals for the first time since 2013 and could offer the same kind of respite from regular-season struggles the team saw five seasons ago. That year, United won the Cup despite winning just three of 30 MLS games.
 
With a heavy dose of away fixtures this campaign as D.C. waits on its home field to be ready, the club has fallen to last place in the Eastern Conference with two wins, though coach Ben Olsen’s side has played fewer matches than any other team in the MLS.
 
With more bye weeks loaded into the front half of the schedule than usual, United hasn’t been able to closely follow a standard week-to-week training regimen.
 
“You’re starting to feel it a little bit, and fortunately we’re feeling it towards the end of this,” Olsen said. “That’s been a tricky part of this season, not just the away games, it’s the rhythm. These bye weeks keep chopping into your rhythm.”
 
Mullins said it’s difficult to build consistency without games every weekend, like players are used to.
 
But Wednesday’s Open Cup match against Orlando offers a much-needed break from a grueling league schedule and could push United forward in the hunt for a trophy.
 
“The coaches made it pretty explicit to us that this was a high priority,” Mullins said. “I think our focus, our energy and our mindset are to get a win tomorrow and make sure we keep this run going.”
 
 
TFC rewards goalkeeper Alex Bono with improved contract
Toronto Sun – June 20, 2018
 
Toronto FC has rewarded goalkeeper Alex Bono with a new contract.
 
The 24-year-old from Baldwinsville, N.Y., established himself as the club’s first-choice ‘keeper in 2017 and helped the team to the MLS championship last season.
 
The new deal comes amidst speculation of European club interest in Bono, who won his first U.S. cap in a recent 3-0 win over Bolivia.
 
Bono was making US$102,200 this season, according to the MLS Players Association. That’s less than backup Clint Irwin, the former No. 1 who is earning $221,312.
 
Bono was selected in the first round, (sixth overall) in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by Toronto FC.
 
He has played 60 regular-season and playoff games for Toronto with 19 shutouts.
 
 
Carlos Vela’s dispassionate success represents growth for El Tri
The Athletic – June 19, 2018
 
The Mexican national team​ achieved one​ of the most remarkable milestones in its history this past​ Sunday, defeating​​ reigning World Cup champion Germany 1-0 in its opening game at Russia 2018. And while the focus has been on the dramatic goal scored by Hirving “Chucky” Lozano in the 35th minute, the lasting legacy of the match might be the coordination and skill of the supporting players who surrounded him.
 
Despite months of constant criticism from local media and fans for Mexico’s coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, the Colombian had a well-conceived plan that revolved around an uncharacteristically tactical approach. The team was able to make fast transitions between defenders and attackers that ultimately assisted Lozano’s shot past German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer on a speedy counter-attack.
 
To continue reading The Athletic click here
 
 
‘Our team will go as our central midfield goes’: Medunjanin, Bedoya central to Union’s hopes
The Athletic – June 19, 2018
 
CHESTER,​ Pa. – Auston Trusty had​ dressed in​ the Union locker room last Saturday night and was making​ his rounds​​ of goodbyes to teammates when he stopped at Haris Medunjanin’s locker. Still shirtless and resting between media obligations, the Bosnian midfielder motioned the 19-year-old defender to an empty chair next to him to continue a conversation from about an hour earlier.
 
In the 51st minute of the Union’s 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16, Trusty stabbed at a knocked-on header by Red Bulls forward Carlos Rivas 40 yards from goal. He whiffed, allowing Derrick Etienne to dash in on goal. Trusty brandished his remarkable recovery speed to dispossess Etienne before he could get a shot on goal, but the defender was demonstrably upset with himself as the ball went out for a needless corner. His chorus of self-recrimination was broken when Medunjanin, gesticulating wildly, jumped in, offering direction and constructive tips – a “do this, not that” type of guidance – to the young defender.
 
To continue reading The Athletic click here
 
 
Orlando City goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar completes chemotherapy treatment for bone cancer
Pro Soccer USA – June 20, 2018
 
Orlando City goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar completed his final round of chemotherapy Tuesday, participating in a bell ringing ceremony to mark the end of six months of treatment for Ewing Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
 
Stajduhar, 20, was diagnosed in November 2017 and placed on the season-ending injury list. While undergoing treatment, he’s been involved with club practices and last month was cleared to participate in diving drills.
 
“For me, it’s always been about just getting back on the field and trying to play and do what I love, as much as possible,” Mason told ProSoccerUSA.com. “That’s the only thing that I focus on and that really matters to me, just getting back on the field and playing as much as possible and doing my thing.
 
“I try to act and carry myself like it’s not a thing. When Justin [Meram] came in for preseason, when he got signed he was with us for a couple of days and then he found out. When I said it, he was like, ‘Oh, really?’ When people are surprised that I’m going through treatment and stuff like that satisfies me.
 
“It makes me feel good because I know I’m carrying myself and taking this well enough where people don’t know it’s actually happening if they’re looking from the outside in.”
 
Stajduhar, clad in a suit, made his final walk into the Orlando Health Pediatric Cancer Unit to a round of applause. He posted the walk on Instagram, along with the news he had finished his treatment.
 
 
Toronto FC’s advanced stats point to need for defensive improvement
Pro Soccer USA– June 20, 2018
 
Toronto FC’s use of advanced statistics is no secret.
 
The Reds hired Devin Pleuler, formerly of stats company Opta, as its manager of analytics at the beginning of the 2015 season, when TFC coach Greg Vanney and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko began in earnest their makeover of a failing team. Pleuler added “senior” to the beginning of his title a few months ago, giving a hint to his continued prominence in the club’s decision-making processes.
 
Pleuler is rarely given permission to conduct interviews, however, and neither Vanney nor Bezbatchenko — though both can safely be described as progressive thinkers — makes a habit of sharing details regarding their use of analytics. But this has been an unusual season in Toronto, and Tuesday afternoon Vanney leaned on one such metric while diagnosing the problems that have left his team five points out of the playoffs and plotting the road to recovery.
 
“We know that we’ll create opportunities,” Vanney said. “We’ve done a good job of that. I think in terms of our expected goals, we’re probably one of the top in the league for expected goals this year. But we’ve conceded too many goals through this process, and that’s ultimately where we’ve dropped some points along the way.”
 
Expected goals uses historical data to measure the likelihood of a shot resulting in a goal. It is useful because players and teams can go through hot and cold streaks in their finishing (and see their opponents do the same); the quality of the chances they are creating and facing, independent of how many of them are actually taken, can more reliably illustrate how well a team is playing.
 
Different models of expected goals exist, but most seem to back up Vanney’s assertion. According to Opta, Toronto’s chances have been worth approximately 29 goals this season. In reality, the Reds have only scored 23. That is one of the reasons the defending MLS Cup champions sit a lowly 10th in the Eastern Conference.
 
To compound that shortfall, Toronto’s opponents have finished at a better rate than expected. Opta has them just over 21 expected goals against; Toronto has conceded 27. The difference between Toronto’s expected goal differential and actual goal differential is greater than any other MLS club, according to American Soccer Analysis’ expected goals model, last updated before last week’s 4-4 tie against D.C. United.
 
There is likely a degree of bad luck there. But it has also been hard to ignore a pattern in the way TFC is giving up goals and losing games: by allowing quality chances early as a result of its own mistakes and then struggling to fight back into the game against deep, risk-averse defenses.
 
“Being stingier defensively as a group, also aware in how we lose possessions, is really important,” Vanney added. “We’ve been losing possessions in bad areas and putting ourselves in tough situations. That’s what I mean by being stingier: not putting ourselves in these bad situations sometimes, and giving ourselves an opportunity to get the first goal, get the second goal and build off of those things.”
 
Against D.C., Eriq Zavaleta took an extra touch on the edge of his own area and allowed Darren Mattocks to steal the ball from him before scoring. He is certainly not alone in being guilty of a costly error this year.
 
“Just a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes, starting with myself and others,” Zavaleta said. “At the end of the day, what we can take solace out of is that we’re scoring goals. We’re doing enough to win games. But myself and the rest of us have to do a better job of keeping the ball out of our net. That’s something that we’re obviously going to focus on. It’s something that made us so successful last year and I think everybody knows that’s what makes championship teams.”
 
Zavaleta said a strong wind blowing towards the TFC net in the first 45 against D.C. made it difficult for the Reds to get out of their own half.
 
“But in terms of the overall run of the season, in terms of the uncharacteristic mistakes, I don’t think there’s a reason,” he continued. “It’s just been uncharacteristic. It’s been poor coincidences and something that obviously we need to clean up if we want to win games. It’s something that we didn’t do last year and it’s something that we’re on the training field working on today, working on every day and making sure we can clean up. Because you can’t win games if you make mistakes like that.”
 
From his vantage point in net, Alex Bono believes a pristine new pitch at BMO Field and the recent or imminent returns of several key defenders will spark an improvement.
 
“Like Eriq said, sometimes we’re a little bit careless, we’re a little bit sloppy,” Bono reflected. “Obviously we had the pitch to deal with a little bit at the beginning of the season at BMO, and obviously that’s well on its way back to being the quality it was last year. Once we get full bodies back, once we work on it in training a little bit more and as those guys start to come back into the team, you’ll see a lot more confidence, a lot more precision coming out of the back.”
 
 
Orlando City defeats D.C. United in penalty kicks, earns first win without Jason Kreis
Pro Soccer USA – June 21, 2018
 
BOYDS, Md. — Orlando City SC interim coach Bobby Murphy led the Lions past D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 on penalty kicks.
 
“I would lie if I said there weren’t some nerves coming intoit on my part,” Murphy said. “The players deserve a lot of credit. The people around me deserve a whole lot of credit for making sure we were ready to go.”
 
Murphy and his team faced 120 minutes of rain delay, 120 minutes of regulation, two extra-time halfs and penalty kicks during Orlando City’s victory. The teams played to a 1-1 draw before the Lions pushed ahead 4-2 in penalty kicks Wednesday at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
 
“There was a lot thrown at us tonight and I thought the guys handled it really well,” Murphy said. “We dug in and held firm.”
 
Appointed to right Orlando’s course, Murphy’s first order of business was to make sure the team did not concede another goal.
 
“We had to stop the bleeding in terms of giving up goals,”Murphy said. “That was the primary thing.”
 
The solution to the leaking defense was to shift formation and the use all three international center backs on the Orlando roster. Jonathan Spector, Lamine Sané and Amro Tarek made up the back line while the rest of the lineup fell into a makeshift 3-5-2 formation. Orlando trained just two days in this three back formation.
 
“I have three international center backs, so I went with three international center backs and then just built them from there,” Murphy said, “I cannot remember one time this year when we had our ideal eleven healthy and on the field together. I think we are getting close to there.
 
The new formation included typical starters like Spector, Sacha Kljestan, Stefano Pinho and Justin Meram.
 
“I spoke with each of the guys individually,” Murphy said. “They all wanted to play in this game and they all thought it was important.”
 
Despite having another game in three days, the typical starters asked to play against United.
 
“Any time a new coach comes in, everybody just has a little bit more sense of urgency and maybe a little bit more energy,” Kljestan said. “I want to be on the field all the time. I don’t like taking games off.”
 
Orlando wasn’t able to hold United scoreless, and conceded a goal in just the sixth minute of play.
 
With the game resuming at the 5:10 mark after the weather delay, United went on the attack and streaked down the left side of the pitch. Forward Darren Mattocks exposed Orlando’s newly-minted back three while midfielder Luciano Acosta volleyed the ball in for the opening goal.
 
Meram, Pinho and Chris Mueller added to a quick counter attack for Orlando, supported by Kljestan in the midfield. This allowed Orlando to quickly respond on a wild play up the middle. Kljestan tapped a quick short pass to Meram, who hit the ball with just enough power to slip through the open arms and legs of United goalkeeper Steve Clark.
 
That was the last goal for almost an hour and a half.
 
“It wasn’t as pretty as we would like to have played,” Orlando keeper Earl Edwards said. “Having three center backs of that caliber to hold things down in front of me and get the result was big time for us.”
 
Heading to overtime in a 1-1 stalemate, both teams ran on fumes. United defender Chris Durkin received his second yellow of the game in extra time, dropping United down to 10 men.
 
Orlando advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup after one round of penalties, but at a hefty cost. Players like Kljestan, Spector and Meram played well past the 90-minute mark. The Lions’ next league match is just three days away on Saturday at home against the Montreal Impact.
 
“It certainly won’t be easy to get home tomorrow afternoon, then have a short training on Friday and be ready to play Saturday,” Kljestan said Wednesday night. “But we also know our backs are against the wall. If there is a time that we really need to dig deep and grind out a result, that would be on Saturday. [It is] a big opportunity for us.”
 
 
Dining on cau cau, dreaming Madrid: 10 Things About Orlando's Yoshi Yotun
MLSsoccer.com – June 21, 2018
 
After arriving from Swedish side Malmo FF last summer, Yoshimar Yotun has emerged as one of Orlando City SC’s most important players this season.
 
The central midfielder from Peru, however, faces what he thinks is the most important year of his life, on and off the pitch.
 
Yotun will more than likely feature for the Peruvian national team in this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, and he’s also looking to lead the Lions to their first-ever MLS Cup Playoffs appearance.
 
MLSsoccer.com sat down with Yotun to talk about his life and career and what’s to come on the road ahead.
 
Here are 10 things you may not know about Yoshi Yotun.
 
1. World Cup bound
 
Peru wasn’t supposed to be the last team to qualify to the World Cup, says Yotun.
 
But that was the case in November 2017, when the Blanquirroja topped New Zealand 2-0 on aggregate to clinch the last World Cup berth in home soil.
 
“It was a very special night, it was a game many players wanted to play in because we entered the match with the weight of our country on our shoulders,” said Yotun. “Having not qualified to the World Cup in 36 years, and to play a play-off to clinch the last spot for the tournament, it wasn’t what we wanted, there was so much adversity, but we worked through it and made it a special night.”
 
Peru are in Group C at Russia 2018 with France, Australia and Denmark.
 
2. Incoming baby
 
On the pitch this summer, Yotun will be looking to help Peru go far in the World Cup. Off the pitch, however, he and his wife Alessandra are expecting a baby boy in June and they couldn’t be happier.
 
“It’s a special time for me and my family,” said Yotun. “This year is starting to become a good year for me personally for three main motives: I’m going to the World Cup, the birth of my son and the goal of helping put Orlando in the playoffs with a new group.”
 
Yotun said he won’t be there for the birth of his son since he’ll be playing in Russia, but his wife understands that soccer sometimes takes you away from your family.
 
3. He married his high-school sweetheart
 
Orlando City’s metronome is much more than a talisman. He’s a family man.
 
Yotun met Alessandra when he was 15 years old and the two have traveled different parts of the world together.
 
“We met at a young age and since then she’s been part of this crazy, but great adventure that taken us to live in places like Brazil and Sweden and now here in Orlando,” said Yotun. “She’s always by my side, we have a great relationship that’s seen us be blessed with two children.”
 
4. Respecting the legends
 
When asked who his favorite players were growing up, Yotun didn’t hesitate in paying respect to some Peruvian national team legends, as well as Brazilian great Ronaldinho.
 
“I grew up in a great soccer era with Claudio Pizzaro being an integral figure for the national team, but had the opportunity to play against the phenomenon Ronaldo toward his last days, so I’m glad I had the fortune to play against some great players,” said Yotun.
 
5. He enjoys his Peruvian dishes
 
Yotun is no stranger to the Peruvian food scene in Central Florida, occasionally visiting South American restaurants with his family on his off days.
 
When asked what his favorite homeland dish is, Yotun answered cau cau, which is a traditional tripe stew usually served with rice and strips of tripe and garnished with onions, chilis and potato chunks.
 
But another dish Yotun sometimes enjoys eating is the traditional lomo saltado, steak with onions, tomatoes and French fries sautéed and served on top of a bed of white rice.
 
6. He dreams big
 
Yotun doesn’t know what the future holds for him. He’s contracted to be at Orlando City until the end of 2018, but if there’s one team he dreams of playing for, it’s the 12-time European champions Real Madrid.
 
“I’ve accomplished all of my dreams, playing in the UEFA Champions League, Copa Libertadores and now playing in the FIFA World Cup,” said Yotun. “But one my dreams, and only God knows, I’m a huge fan of Real Madrid and I would like to put on one day that white jersey. These are only dreams, but dreams can be turned into reality and we will see what happens.”
 
Yotun will have a chance to showcase his talent in this summer’s World Cup with Peru, a stage that’s usually seen underrated talents make a name for themselves.
 
7. Enjoying seeing MLS grow
 
Ask many South American players in Major League Soccer, and they would more than likely tell you the league is growing fast. Yotun agrees and calls it the best decision he’s made in his career.
 
“I’ve been following MLS since I was playing in Sweden, and I knew it was a league that was growing at a rapid rate,” said Yotun. “The level now is very good with a lot of competitive teams – Toronto FC for example made it far in the Concacaf Champions League, and with the continuity of increased competition, it’s the best decision I’ve made.”
 
8. Togetherness
 
Asked about his closest friends in the squad, Yotun didn’t want to single out any of his teammates at Orlando City.
 
The midfielder says he talks to all of his fellow Lions, but sometimes enjoys hanging out with his fellow Latino players like Cristian Higuita, Jose Villarreal and Pierre Da Silva.
 
9. Still getting a hold of English
 
Yotun credits his two years in Sweden for helping him English. He’s still learning in the United States, he says, but understands the commonalities of the language, and also credited his English-speaking teammates on helping him speak and understand the language.
 
10. He likes his naps
 
When Yotun was asked if he follows or plays any other sports, he jokingly responded: “Is taking naps considered a sport?
 
“I don’t watch or practice any other sports,” Yotun continued. “On my days off, I try to rest. To be honest, I have the perfect family because they enjoy taking naps as much as I do, so usually in the afternoon I have a siesta for one or two hours with my family and in the afternoon. … then when I wake up, I fulfill my job as a father.”
 
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