12
Dec

Liga MX 2013 Apertura Final: Leon v Club America Preview

Intrigue permeates through the first leg of the Liguilla final. This spectacle hardly needs reinforcing given the attention lavished upon the battle for the Mexican title, but this pairing between Club América and Club León somehow manages the feat.

The story lines paint a picture worth following. América is poised to lift its record 12th championship and win back-to-back titles under departing manager Miguel Herrera. León is primed to intercede with its mixture of emerging talents and savvy veterans.

It is a clash of old and new with one clever twist: Herrera directed Mexico to the World Cup using a combination of core players from both teams. He integrated Rafa Márquez, Luis Montes and Carlos Peña into the base of his title-winning side to form the foundation during his interim spell in charge. The results produced a comprehensive victory over New Zealand in a two-legged World Cup playoff in November and provided a template for the upcoming trip to Brazil.

Herrera will turn his attention to El Tri’s excursion after this tie, but he must lead Las Aguilas past his future charges to fulfill his last remaining objective before he departs. The budding relationship between the involved parties adds an extra layer of familiarity to a series where every slight edge matters.

The two teams enter this affair on fairly level pegging. León’s incisive attack — fueled from midfield by Montes and Peña and topped by Mauro Boselli up front to produce 12 goals in four Liguilla matches — poses a massive threat. América leans on its direct play from back to front and its resolute defensive core (on display in the 2-0 home victory against Toluca to keep the title defense in charge) to pressure and stifle the opposition.

In a final with such narrow margins between the adversaries, the outcome could turn on Herrera’s considerable knowledge of his three national team players or their ability to probe the weaknesses of the system they implement on international duty. The first leg may not play out according to that plan, but the mere presence of those links bodes well for El Tri as Herrera finishes up his duties with América and prepares to build his squad for the World Cup.

—Images provided by Getty.

30
Nov

Liga MX Apertura Liguilla: Quarters Preview - Second Legs

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Liga MX provides higher-seeded teams with a considerable advantage at the quarterfinal stage of the Liguilla. The usual away goals tiebreaker applies first, but the second criterion to separate the sides involves sending the higher seeded side through if both teams remain deadlocked.

The structure places considerable emphasis on strong away performances. Three of the top four seeds — not you, Cruz Azul — delivered by securing two or more goals in those critical first leg affairs. Their exploits leave them in a promising position to book a place in the semifinals. The job isn’t done yet, though.

As an added bonus of the neutrals, the operating principles ensure the open fare from those first legs (18 goals in four matches) should continue. The lower-seeded sides must recover those goals lost at home and snatch an extra one or two to advance to the last four. Expect the goals to flow once more as these eight sides tussle for the right to continue their campaigns for another fortnight:

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23
Nov

Liga MX Liguilla quarterfinals, first leg preview

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The chase to dethrone Club América kicks off in earnest this weekend. Las Aguilas sit atop Liga MX after winning the Liguilla during the Clausura, but seven challengers to the throne emerged during the Apertura in a bid to end their reign over the next few weeks.

The potential usurpers will take heart from the FMF’s decision to adopt America as its de facto national team during the past month or so. The prospect of knocking off the holders increased when coach Miguel Herrera and 10 of his players shifted their focus to El Tri’s World Cup bid.

It is still a mighty assignment to knock them from their perch, though. The first step along the difficult path for the champions and their potential conquerors: navigating through tricky first leg ties this weekend.

(5) Toluca – (4) Cruz Azul (Saturday, 6:00p.m. ET)

Do the Red Devils have one last attacking explosion left in the arsenal? José Cardozo’s side scored three or more goals on five separate occasions during the Apertura. A sixth would place them in good stead ahead of a difficult return trip to Estadio Azul. Anything less could place their hopes of a semifinal place in some doubt given the seasoned opposition.

(6) Morelia – (3) Club León (Saturday, 8:00p.m. ET)

Can Morelia choke off the supply lines to Mauro Boselli? The former Wigan man functions as the only reliable threat in a capable, but somewhat impotent, León side. Morelia isn’t a particular resolute side, but it must use its defensive resources to limit Boselli’s involvement and pile the pressure on the likes of Luis Montes and Carlos Peña to contribute more than approach play from midfield.

imageStop Boselli, and you can stop Leon

(8) Tigres – (1) Club América (Sunday, 6:00p.m. ET)

Are the champions up for the fight? Miguel Herrera and a significant contingent spent much of the past month focused on carrying Mexico to the World Cup. They returned from a trip halfway around the world in midweek before commencing the disjointed preparations for this tricky test against talented, yet underachieving, Tigres. The first leg represents a genuine opportunity for Tigres to snatch a result as Las Aguilas settle back into the domestic scene. The home side must take it in order to fuel its upset bid.

(7) Querétaro – (2) Santos Laguna (Sunday, 8:00p.m. ET)

How will Pedro Caixinha manage Oribe Peralta? Peralta lifted Mexico to the World Cup with his goals over the past week or so. The burden placed upon him internationally and the lingering concerns about his balky knee raise questions about how the clever Santos boss will use him in this first leg. Caixinha can afford to leave Peralta in reserve and play Javier Orozco (a natural target man) in his place at the outset. The one caveat: the rest of the side must lift its level accordingly to ensure that potential selection decision does not place the hopes of a semifinal berth in peril.

imageWill Peralta’s hot form with El Tri translate over to the Liga MX playoffs? (Images: MexSport)

23
Nov

MLS Conference Finals: Second Leg Previews

Scheduling complications left MLS to inject a two-week break into the normally congested postseason. The extended respite fell at a rather inopportune juncture for the four remaining sides and for the league itself. Any momentum – real, perceived or otherwise – dissipated with the protracted break.

It is down to all involved parties to generate the rhythm created during the early stages of the postseason ahead of this decisive weekend. The situation offers little room for error. The precarious state of both ties – Houston and Sporting Kansas City enter the return leg level after a scoreless draw, while Real Salt Lake visits Portland with a 4-2 aggregate lead – leaves just about any sequence of events on the table.

The final outcome rests upon how these sides react to their protracted layoff and shoulder the pressures inherent in these do-or-die situations. It is incumbent on these teams to discern the answers to the questions ahead – including the one key query outlined below – and secure their places in MLS Cup by Sunday night.

Sporting Kansas City – Houston (Saturday, 7:30p.m. ET – series tied 0-0 on aggregate)

Can Sporting keep its mental and tactical balance? Sporting will hope to dump the Dynamo out of the postseason at the third attempt in front of an expectant Sporting Park. The home side must change the dynamic from the last couple of playoff meetings – applying pressure from the start, permitting the frustration to distract when it does not yield results and watching the visitors break them on the counter – in order to complete the task. Comportment and discipline serve as the keys to success. Sporting must push earnestly without losing faith in its ability to garner results or its shape when it searches for goals. If Peter Vermes’ outfit can remember its core principles, then it could finally vanquish its playoff demons.

Portland – Real Salt Lake (Sunday, 9:00p.m. ET) – RSL leads series 4-2 on aggregate)

Can Portland reduce Kyle Beckerman’s influence on the game? Beckerman serves as the critical cog in RSL’s finely tuned possession engine. He always floats into the proper spots to provide an outlet and moves the ball quickly and efficiently. His tidy presence in front of the back four allows RSL to generate its cadence on the ball. In this fraught scenario, RSL must find its fluidity at different points in the game to maintain its control over the tie.

image Beckerman is the man who pulls the strings for RSL (Image: USA Today)

Portland must find a way to disrupt Beckerman’s ability to function as a conduit during those crucial sequences by closing down his time and space on the ball. If Beckerman cannot exert his usual influence on the proceedings, then RSL – and Javier Morales, in particular – will struggle to combine effectively, move higher up the field for extended stretches and relieve the tension created when the Timbers commit their usual numbers forward. And those operating principles could open the door for a great escape by the home side.

13
Nov

Five points: Mexico v New Zealand, World Cup Qualifying Playoff

Mexico’s place in the World Cup should not rest upon success in a two-legged playoff against New Zealand. This tiresome process should have ended long ago. It has not for a host of reasons. And the ongoing series of failures ensures El Tri still has work to do to secure a place in Brazil next summer.

It is not an easy task, either. New Zealand offers committed and organized opposition. Mexico once again boasts a significant edge in technical ability, but it must close the difference in other, more rudimentary departments in order to see off the All Whites and travel to Wellington next week with a hefty advantage in tow.

Interim boss Miguel Herrera expects his charges to emerge victorious at Estadio Azteca. If they adhere to the game plan and note these five points along the way, then they should finally meet expectations and place both hands on a World Cup berth before leaving Mexico City:

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28
Jul

Loud silence permeates Soldier Field before Gold Cup final

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Photo: Jamie Trecker/FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker, FOXSoccer.com

CHICAGO

The Lakeshore Segway riders caromed through Soldier Field’s plaza. They wobbled and weaved, but didn’t hit anyone. There was almost no one to run in to.

This was the Gold Cup final at Soldier Field, an event CONCACAF and the city of Chicago both hoped would fill the lakefront on this unusually chilly July afternoon. Instead, both were to confront the reality that this soccer game was to be a quiet one.

Two hours before kickoff, the sponsor’s tents sat vacant; the speakers at 7UP’s pavilion were turned down so as not to deafen. A group of Panamanian fans posed for the local Univision channel, a rare splash of color on an otherwise quiet afternoon day. Tickets were freely available for $30 – the scalpers that showed up didn’t even make an effort – and some sponsors were simply passing them out to early arrivers.

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Photo: Jamie Trecker/FOX Soccer

The reason? Mexico didn’t make the final, and that killed whatever walkup crowd might have showed up. Chicago has an enormous Latino population, and it is overwhelmingly Mexican in origin. One of the biggest communities of Mexican emigrants sits just twenty blocks west of Soldier Field, with Pilsen and Little Village comprising the largest concentration of Mexican ex-pats outside of Mexico City itself.

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23
Jul

Copa Libertadores Final: Atletico Mineiro searches for miracle vs. Olimpia

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By Kyle McCarthy, FOXSoccer.com

Atlético Mineiro assembled its array of stars for exactly this moment: the chance to claim its first Copa Libertadores title at the Mineirao on Wednesday night.

Every single one of those luminaries must produce in order to turn that dream into a reality after a 2-0 first leg defeat to Olimpia a week ago. Atlético flailed around for much of the night in Paraguay and watched as the home side snatched a potentially decisive late goal through Wilson Pittoni to cobble together a decent advantage ahead of the return leg.

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17
Jul

Copa Libertadores Preview: Ronaldinho seeks elusive club title

By Kyle McCarthy, FOXSoccer.com

Ronaldinho returned to Brazil with one rather glaring omission from his staggering list of honors. And now the Copa Libertadores is within his grasp.

The veteran schemer will lead Atlético Mineiro into uncharted territory in Asuncion on Wednesday night. Both he and his club hope to emerge triumphant in this competition for the first time at the end of this two-legged tie. It will not prove an easy brief to fulfill with three-time champions Olimpia standing in the way of Libertadores glory.

“We have no greater wish than to bring the title to Atlético,” Ronaldinho Tweeted on Monday.

Atlético enters the final as slight favorites after engineering a great escape in the second leg against Newell’s Old Boys in the semifinals a week ago. Guilherme struck in the sixth minute of stoppage time to draw level on points in the series. Ronaldinho then converted the winning penalty to ensure Galo booked its place in the final.

The ample talent with Atlético’s ranks – including Brazilian internationals Bernard (expected to depart for a major European club after this tie concludes), Jô and Réver – warrants significant attention, but the Paraguayan outfit possesses the resolve to create significant problems for its lauded competition. Olimpia proved its mettle by securing its place in the final with a 1-0 defeat against Independiente Santa Fe in Colombia last Wednesday and underscored its ability to claim the title by holding out under significant duress in the waning stages of that affair.

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Ronaldinho seeks his first Copa Libertadores title (Photo: Victor R Caivano/AP Images).

Ever Almeida’s side must produce similar heroics over these two legs to set the stage for another Libertadores triumph in these trying circumstances. The contrast in styles – Atlético with its array of attacking weapons, Olimpia with its reliance on organization and shape – presents the possibility for an intriguing final if the two sides play to their strengths over the two legs.

Those technical concerns, however, fall well down the pecking order of priorities for the former Barcelona star. His focus – as always – remains on the overriding objective and the prospect of adding this elusive title to his protracted level of success.

4
Jul

Americans Abroad, 2013-14 Outlook

Gold Cup action begins this weekend on FOX Soccer, but several high-profile stars for the United States will be missing out, attending their clubs’ training camps in Europe instead. But Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Co.

Next summer, the stakes will be even higher, and our Americans abroad will surely be back on board in Brazil. But first, they’ll need to navigate their way through the 2013-14 season.

For a season outlook on each overseas player, click here.

22
Jun

2013 Confederations Cup, Weekend Preview - Six Things to Watch

By Jamie Trecker, FOXSoccer.com

RECIFE, BRAZIL

The Confederations Cup group stage wraps up here this weekend with the top of the group at stake in the Group A, and all to play for in Group B. Here’s a quick look at six things you must pay attention to this weekend:

Can Nigeria upset Spain?

The African champions sent a young team to this Confederations Cup and that may prove their undoing: while they have plenty of desire and power in the likes of Brown Ideye and Ahmed Musa, their defense has shown their inexperience. Against a Spanish side that seems to be rolling from strength to strength, this seems like a tall order on Sunday for the Super Eagles. One positive is manager Stephen Keshi: he’s managed to make this at times unruly bunch gel, so if anyone can get this team ready to go, it’s him.

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