Julian Gressel: ‘It all started with a GoPlay tour’

Smiling from ear to ear, new Atlanta United Superdraft pick Julian Gressel came to see us in Los Angeles and told us “it all started with a GoPlay tour”.

It was music to our ears. What an incredible endorsement.

Less than a year after his Spring tour to Italy with Providence, it was evident the experience had stuck with the Germany-born midfielder. He might have been forgiven for forgetting his Rome trip; he had after all just been the eighth pick in the first round of the MLS Superdraft.

He was just starting out life as a pro in the MLS, but his 10-day trip to Europe was fresh in his thoughts and that of his college coach Craig Stewart, who guided the Friars to another stellar season.


The fact GoPlay managed to make a lasting impact on Gressel, coach Stewart and the Friars boys is an honor and what a season they had on the back of it.


“It feels great, it feels like a great honor and I’m very excited about it,” Gressel told GoPlay, when asked about being a first-round pick.

“I wanted to be a professional soccer player and I knew I could achieve it by going to Providence and spending four years there learning.

“I went there with the idea of becoming a professional after my time with Providence. To get an education and to play soccer were the major reasons for me to go there.”

Gressel, who was described by Atlanta United as “the most pro-ready of the possible picks out there in the top 10”, enjoyed a brilliant season with the Friars.

Atlanta United president Darren Eales said: “Julian is a player who we feel is ready to contribute after a very successful college career and his versatility made him appealing.”

Gressel, 23, made 21 appearances for the Friars in which he scored 15 goals and notched six assists in the 2016 season. Gressel, who was product of the SpVgg Greuther Fürth academy, was also named a NSCAA First Team All-American and was a Mac-Hermann Trophy semifinalist.

‘To be honest I think that’s where it all started for Providence last spring’

We asked Gressel just how the experience in Italy, where the Friars visited the AS Roma Academy, helped the team’s togetherness, he added: “We went on a trip to Italy and yes I think it definitely did.

“To be honest I think that’s where it all started for Providence last spring. It shaped our team identity, it shaped who we were in the past year and helped our culture a lot.

“It was something special. You could tell that GoPlay cared about us and what we did there and we just had a great time. We were just well-taken care of.”

Coach Craig Stewart, who has aided his development over the last four years, said: “Julian came in very mature player coming over from Germany but I think he has continued to take his game to the next level every year.

“It took a lot of hard work to do that but he has been very determined to do accomplish his goals and I’m delighted he’s been picked in the first round of the draft.”

‘It helped our culture a lot’

During his senior year, five of Gressel’s 15 goals came as game-winners, including the lone goal in the Friars’ 1-0 victory over St. Johns to win the Big East regular season title. Gressel also scored twice in a 5-4 victory over No. 1 seed and previously unbeaten Maryland in the NCAA Tournament, in which the visitors managed to overhaul a 4-1 deficit.

The Friars were down 4-1 with 21 minutes on the clock to the tournament favorites only for Gressel to power home from close range to start an unlikely comeback. Another three goals completed a stunning fightback and moved Providence into the last 16.

There they saw off Creighton 2-1 before eventually losing in the quarter-finals to North Carolina 1-0 in a double overtime thriller at Fetzer Field. There was no disgrace in defeat against the No 10 ranked team in the country though and the Friars finished their 2016 season with a 15-7 record.

There’s no doubting that the powerful Gressel was an integral part of a successful Friars side and he has accumulated no shortage of honors.

He was named Big East Co-Offensive Player of the Year (2016), First Team All-Big East (2016), Big East All-Tournament Team (2016, 2015, 2014) and Big East All-Rookie Team (2013). He also helped the Friars to the NCAA Tournament in three of his four seasons, reaching the Semifinals of the NCAA College Cup in 2014. The Friars also won the Big East Tournament in 2014.

Good luck in Atlanta from all at GoPlay Sports Tours.


GoPlay Tours Announces Partnership with Charles River Rugby Football Club

GoPlay Tours, a division of ACIS, is pleased to announce its sponsorship of Charles River Rugby Football Club, beginning with the 2017 spring season. “GoPlay Tours is committed to building its brand via engagement with dynamic, forward-thinking organizations.” said Business Development Manager Marc Amigone, “As the only Boston-based rugby club with both men’s and women’s sides, Charles River is uniquely positioned to be effective brand ambassadors for the company. We look forward to helping them build on the club’s over 40-year legacy; and as they take rugby’s message of teamwork, inclusivity, and community to new frontiers.”

“We are excited and proud to have GoPlay Tours onboard as a corporate sponsor for Charles River,” said Alex Zadel, Charles River Women’s President. “Whenever you have a company that wants to affiliate its brand with your club it serves as a testament to both the value of what has been built and also the faith that members of the business community have that they will be well-represented on and off the field. We look forward to marking this as the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship.”

Founded in 1973, the Charles River Rugby Football Club, affectionately dubbed “The Rats”, was formed by a group of rugby players from Tufts University and the Boston Rugby Football Club. In striking green and orange jerseys that quickly became the club’s trademark, the Rats achieved many early successes, including winning the Portland RFC Invitational and advancing to the Annual New England Tournament semifinals. The Rats continued to attract new players and build on each year’s accomplishments over the next decade, thus solidifying themselves as a fixture in the New England rugby community.

In 2005, the Rats added to their pack with the formation of their Charles River Women’s team. Since their founding, the Lady Rats have grown quickly over their first decade, gathering new players and skill, while keeping the same “serious but don’t take ourselves too seriously” River mantra. The ladies advanced to the USA Rugby playoffs in 2014 and 2015, finishing in the top 16 in the country in 2015.

Charles River Rugby Football Club is a registered 501c3 non-profit organization.

Follow the Rats online

Visit the club Website – http://charlesriverrugby.com/

Follow them on Instagram
Women’s Team – @CRWRFC
Men’s team – @CharlesRiverRugby

Follow them on Twitter
Men’s team – https://twitter.com/CharlesRiverRFC
Women’s team – https://twitter.com/CRWRFC

Like them on Facebook
Men’s team – https://www.facebook.com/CharlesRiverRugby
Women’s team – https://www.facebook.com/CharlesRiverWomensRugbyFootballClub

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NSCAA Convention 2017: An Uber with a heavyweight boxer, meeting a Hypersexual Electrosoul band

An Uber with a heavyweight boxer, a meeting with a Hypersexual Electrosoul band, a chat with an England legend and sightings of various other soccer stars, including past and present USMNT coaches – it could only be in Los Angeles.

GoPlay Tours made their third trip to the NSCAA Convention earlier this month and on the vibrant West Coast of America it did not disappoint with chance meetings, established connections and new contacts all pointing to our most successful trip to date.

The LA Convention Centre in Downtown provided the perfect venue, and forget the scaremongering from soccer’s East Coast, because people came, saw, connected and were inspired.

Usually an East Coast event, there were fears LA would fall flat on it’s face, but LA delivered. 2017 provided the annual soccer coaching get together with their second highest attendance in the event’s 71-year history. Only last year’s Baltimore jamboree topped the estimated 10,500 attendance.

Over 6,500 coaches came saw, connected and learnt more about the beautiful game and GoPlay loved every minute chatting to MLS first-round draft picks Miles Robinson and Julian Gressel to congratulating the All-American kids on Saturday afternoon.

GoPlay’s annual launch party on Wednesday night was ideally located at Tom’s Urban – a haunt the majority of the convention attendees got to know well by the end of the weekend. Almost 200 guests joined us for free drinks with ACIS President Peter Jones addressing the noisy crowd with his plans for 2017 and beyond.

Our new partnership with Celtic’s International Soccer Academy was announced and our guest was the Hoops’ NSCAA star clinician Willie McNab, who had an early start on Thursday presenting a session on the ‘Celtic FC Way’.

We also ventured into sponsorship of the annual Saturday night coaches 4×4, which went off without a hitch, bar an odd broken hoarding or so.

But it will be our chance meetings and valued connections which we will take away from LA.

Meanwhile, an opportunity to mix with the Hollywood uber-cools was too good a chance to pass up and GoPlay headed to west Hollywood’s Soho House.


The private members club did not disappoint with a venue overlooking Sunset Boulevard and while they might have recently rejected Kobe Bryant – the door staff were only to happy to allow GoPlay’s English, Irish and American contingent.

There is no photography in this place to protect the place’s vibrant crowd.

Famous England striker Lineker was hanging out and after a brief chat the BBC soccer presenter wished us well – our cue to leave him alone. A short, but polite chat, which will be more memorable to us than him.


We also came across 260lbs heavyweight boxer Johnny Rice via an Uber ride home. A man who recently sparred with Dominic Breazeale, Rice was an engaging host on the way back to Downtown. Eloquent and confident the big man told us how he feared nobody and that undefeated UK star Anthony Joshua was no match for himself.

We wrapped the night up with our 12th burrito of the weekend – there’s no denying the Mexican influence in the City of Angels. And after bringing down the curtain on another convention we headed to Santa Monica.

A walk along to Venice Beach was capped off by a Blue Moon or two at Ye Olde Kings Head and there we bumped into a couple from the band Low Country Kingdom. Who you might say? Well with some luck these guys are going to be big – they deserve it after accepting our hospitality.


After four days of soccer, soccer, soccer it was a refreshing chance to not talk shop and these electrosoul dudes were great company. Let’s hope they don’t forget us when they’ve made it big – we certainly won’t.

Thanks LA. It was a blast and we look forward to doing the same in Philly in 2018.

GoPlay Tours Elite Tournaments Partnership

GoPlay Sports Tours and Elite Tournaments Announce New Partnership

We are pleased to announce that GoPlay Sports Tours is now the exclusive International Travel Partner of Elite Tournaments. Elite Tournaments is an event management firm that facilitates youth sporting tournaments around the country. Their mission is to provide professionalism to youth and adult sporting events through organizational efficiency, specialized management, and operational proficiency.

Founded in 2000 as a small family business, Elite Tournaments has organized countless youth soccer events for numerous different clubs, colleges and international and professional organizations. The company oversees more than 55 tournaments a year across the United States. Elite Tournaments’ staff includes former high school and college coaches, referees and standout players whose own experiences inform the company’s professional approach to event management. Elite Tournaments prides itself on organization and communication with tournament stakeholders in order to create successful events and lasting relationships.

In addition to their normal tournament schedule, Elite Tournaments will be running the NSCAA College Showcase- LA at the Silverlakes Complex in Norco, CA in conjunction with the 2017 NSCAA Convention.

We firmly believe that travel changes lives, and our mission at GoPlay Sports Tours is to offer travel opportunities to as many people as possible. This partnership will allow us to continuously increase our outreach and help us fulfill the dreams of those who wish to travel.

With the GoPlay Sports Tours and Elite Tournaments partnership, we hope to expand the horizons of U.S. soccer by incorporating our global connections. We look forward to many years of a prosperous relationship.

Please visit www.elitetournaments.com for more information about Elite and see how they run the best tournaments in the country. Click on their Contact Us page if you are interested in having Elite run one of your tournaments!


Phelan comments more damaging than Snodgrass dive

Robert Snodgrass’ dive on Saturday provoked heavy condemnation, but Hull boss Mike Phelan’s comments were far worse than his player’s actions who was “trying to get out of the way”.

The Scotland international’s cheating was so blatant that it prompted a tweet from the player himself to apologise. Whether it was sincere or just to save his embarrassment is debatable.

But Snodgrass’ dive was so obvious it left Crystal Palace defender Scott Dann fuming and Palace boss Alan Pardew branding it “embarrassing”.

Snodgrass later  admitted “it was never a penalty” – how could he offer any other explanation with Match of the Day and the ensuing analysis looming later that evening?

Snodgrass tweeted: “Apologies from my end, it was never a penalty. But I genuinely thought the defender was going to slide, so I tried to ride the tackle.”

But as misjudged as Snodgrass’ actions were in the heat of battle, Hull boss Phelan’s comments were astounding and a major reason why the English game will struggle to eradicate cheating.

We’re told the Premier League is the best league in the world: it’s honest and there’s no play acting etc. But, hold on. Last week England man Dele Alli won a dubious penalty with a dive and this week Snodgrass – another British player – conned the referee to gain an advantage.

The EPL our kidding themseleves if think cheating doesn’t happen and from British players too. It does, and if they want to stamp it out then football figureheads, like Phelan, need to come clean.

The former Manchester United assistant manager’s comments were dishonest and leave a question mark over the integrity of the game.

“I have dealt with football players all my life, some who are blown over by the wind and some who take massive knocks, but do not got penalties. It will be highlighted. That is the job of pundits, the media,” said Phelan.

“But I shouldn’t think that detracts from an excellent performance; a team performance. We possibly got lucky in that situation and I am sure Crystal Palace were aggrieved by it.

“But I am not going to argue with my player or say anything that will turn his head or make him feel down about it. I need a Robert Snodgrass. He has to get on with his job. He will put up with whatever comes his way. My team, my players and my staff are behind him.”

To claim that Hull “possibly got lucky” underplayed the whole incident, but more importantly it was damaging to the game. To defend his player to the hilt is understandable, but when the integrity of the game is at stake then it’s time to take a step back and show some courage.

Snodgrass’ actions were wrong and should have been quickly condemned. There was no reason to deride his man, who is clearly one of the Tigers’ stars, but he should have been made aware that it cannot be tolerated. A few public words to that effect would have sufficed from Phelan, but instead he insisted the club was behind him.

An intimation that Hull City approve of cheating is surely not what Phelan was trying to portray but that’s pretty much the picture that has been painted.

There can be no retrospective punishment for Snodgrass’ actions. Why in this tech-laden age is bizarre, but that’s another argument. So Snodgrass and Hull have benefitted, not from a refereeing error, but from a piece of cheating, which has been sanctioned by Phelan and the club.

Snodgrass, who accused Sheffield Wednesday’s Fernando Forestieri of ‘cheating’ last season, later tried to explain just why he had dived in the box under Dann’s attempted challenge.

“You feel as if you need to ride the tackle. Probably, when I look at it, it will maybe look worse. But, from my side, I thought the defender was going to come in and slide.

“That is what I was trying to say to him (Dann). I was just trying to get out of the way of his tackle, but he never tackled, so that is probably why it looks bad.”

He was also asked whether he was an honest player.

“Of course, that is what it is all about. I have never been one for going into that position, so that is what I tried to say to the lad.

“I am not that type of player. I said that to him. But, obviously, emotions are running high, he is thinking, ‘Well, I’ve not touched you’. But I am thinking, ‘Obviously, I’m trying to get out the way’. It is up to the referee to make that sort of decision,” added Snodgrass.

To recite the cliched “I’m not that type of player” was an unfortunate oversight from the 29-year-old, just as his dive was at the KC Stadium.

However, the lack of contrition from Phelan, after considering the bigger picture, surely cannot be accepted.

The Football Association are currently coming under attack because of their antiquated structure and the fact their are not representative of the association. Accused of being “elderly white men who do not represent anyone but block even the most minor of changes” they have more on their agenda at the minute, but this is an incident they should be getting involved with.

Reprimanding manager’s for criticising referees pales into insignificance, but surely protecting English football’s integrity should be top of their priorities?

If manager’s are not going to be honest then the FA should step in and remind managers like Phelan of his wider responsibility.

Matthew Briggs

Bob Bradley deserves his chance, but he’s still looking for a connection

When Bob Bradley made history in October and became the first American to manage in the English Premier League he, more than anyone, knew he would have fight harder than ever to prove himself.

Fast forward almost two months and, with his first win behind him, he knows that is still the case more than ever.

At his first press conference Bradley, who was born in New Jersey, made it clear he knew what the protocol was going to be.

“With football in the US, we have always known we needed to earn respect. It’s the number one thing. For a club to have any chance of being successful, you have to have connection with supporters and community,” admitted Bradley.

And with three points bagged, albeit only just in the topsy-turvy 5-4 win over struggling Crystal Palace, the 58 year-old again emphasized that a connection with the fans was crucial.

“We have some good guys and they are good to work with every day,” beamed Bradley at The Liberty Stadium on Saturday

“I’ve enjoyed what each one is all about and I try to create an environment where everybody is part of something – the players, the staff, everyone. I am trying to find a way of connecting to the supporters too.”

It’s a connection that unfortunately due to his New Jersey accent and, more comically, his fashion sense is yet to take hold.

Match of the Day host and former England striker Gary Lineker recently pulled Bradley up on his ‘jumper’.

It was water off a duck’s back though for Bradley, as was the fun poked at him on social media for his American pronunciation of Alan ‘Pardoo’.

“I’ve already heard I’ve failed the dress test. My daughters told me they thought a pair of black slacks and a nice black sweater was fair enough, but obviously Gary Lineker didn’t,” said Bradley after defeat in his first game against Arsenal.

“I thought a jumper was something a little girl wore to kindergarten!”

Although that was light-hearted, Bradley has and will have to face up to more sinister attacks aimed at the American stereotype with a common Twitter phrase being “he’s out of his depth”.

Far from it.

Taunts and jibes on social media are far from a balanced overview of the Swansea fans, but it’s safe to safe generally there was not too much cheer when Bradley was handed the reins on October 3. There was a feeling of apathy.

With two American owners at the helm in Wales it was an obvious starting point for his detractors, but Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien admitted to not knowing and never meeting Bradley before his interview, which reportedly went very well. What’s more they were adamant that Bradley was the best man for the job and with Ryan Giggs the other major candidate it’s hard to disagree.

Would Manchester United and Wales legend Giggs had to put up with jibes about his appointment being down to his playing exploits at Old Trafford? Certainly not from the mainstream media, who had tried their best to get Giggs the job. But with no coaching experience to his name, Bradley’s resume must have stood out a mile from Giggs’ list of winner’s medals.

And looking deeper into Bradley’s achievements it’s not hard to see why Kaplan and Levien hung their hats on their compatriot.

His management career started in 1981 but he rose to prominence with a near five-year spell at the helm of the US national team, where he boasted a win percentage of 52.5%.

That was eclipsed by his time in charge of the Egypt national team, where he became a respected figure after his efforts to galvanise the country in the aftermath of the uprising that engulfed Cairo. He was also in place when the Egyptian Premier League was suspended in the aftermath of the Port Said Stadium riot of 2012, where 74 people died and 500 were injured. He has seen and experienced hard times.

It was then Bradley showed his compassion and leadership facets, visiting the injured and loved ones of the deceased. He had after fully immersed himself in the Egyptian way of life and he just missed out on 2014 World Cup qualification, losing in the play-offs to Ghana, finishing with a 67% win percentage.

Bradley then led Norwegian club Stabaek to the Europa League before joining French club Le Havre in November 2015 and just missed out on promotion to Ligue 1 by a single goal.

He was torn to leave the French side but a move to the EPL was a dream he could not turn down and he’s convinced Saturday’s remarkable home win will be the turning point for the Swans’ season. More of the same will help get the fans on his side, but for a manager that built his teams on firm rocks, the 5-4 scoreline last time out was not what Bradley is about.

His USA team was strong and resolute and his expertise was squeezing more from inferior players, and with that in mind he seems a good fit for the Swans, who sold two of their best players from last season Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams to leave them with a modest squad.

In the summer they did not really replace the pair, although Fernando Llorente scored twice in the last few seconds to sink Palace and Bradley is hoping the Spanish focal point can be the man to step up and fire them to safety.

If Llorente can find his feet, and he has admitted to struggling to adapt, then Bradley has a chance of leading his team to mid-table. But Bradley deserves a fair go at proving he can do the job.

Forget his Americanisms and referring to a penalty as a ‘PK’, the goalkeeper as a ‘net minder’ and the Premier League as the EPL, Bradley has established himself as a hard-nosed manager and not ‘an American manager’ as he pointed out from day one but ‘a football manager’.

And as he admits, his slacks, jumpers, accent and Americanisms won’t matter if he starts turning over positive results: “If we win, no one will care.”

Oliver Burke on top of Bundesliga after broadening horizons

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

While young Scottish international Oliver Burke’s ignorance could be excused for not knowing who French author Andre Gide was, the unlikely pair certainly hold the same values.

There were plenty of sneers and noses turned up when 19-year-old Burke moved from Nottingham Forest to Red Bull Leipzig in the summer. It was almost cast as a crime in some English quarters when Burke opted to chance his arm in the German Bundesliga and turn down the lure of the English Premier League.

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Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal were all tracking the Melton Mowbray prospect, but it wasn’t the right fit for Burke who decided to head for a club founded just seven years ago, but a club very much on the up.

John Hartson, who played all his career in the UK, was baffled, he could not believe it and pointed the finger at his agent.

“He’s gone over to Germany and I can’t understand that, to be honest with you. I think that stinks of agents more than anything else.

“How much German football do we all see? We see highlights of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and that’s about it.

“The Premier League is the place to be. I thought that was the next step for him,” said Hartson.

It wasn’t though, and just what foundation Hartson had to suggest that Burke may not progress in Germany because the exposure of their rival European league in the UK was poor was a somewhat small-minded approach.

Burke, who is trying hard to learn the German language, cannot be accused of having a closed mind. The Scottish-born right winger is enjoying life and the culture in a new country and at the top of the Bundesliga to boot.

Don’t be mistaken; this is no fairytale story. The £13million deal to take Burke from Forest was the biggest ever involving a Scottish player. It’s not a rags to riches story, but a tale of boldness, and the desire to experience something new.

And just three months later Burke is already reaping the rewards after RasenBallsport Leipzig, to give them their full name, moved three points clear at the summit.

They remain unbeaten since their promotion to the top flight and if they can topple Freiburg on Friday they will march six points clear of Bayern Munich on the back of four straight promotions up the German ladder.

Burke might well be congratulated for snubbing the EPL’s elite and good on him for refusing to join the 40-plus players out on loan ‘developing’ at other clubs – the Chelsea model.

“For a young man I don’t want to go somewhere that is a big club but, really, am I going to play? Am I going to progress? Or are they just going to stick me out on loan, which happens a lot at English clubs nowadays,” Burke told the Daily Mail in September.

“You can only look at your Chelsea, and see the amount of talent they have, but they’re all on loan, not getting used.”

His decision though is paying dividends.

“It’s obviously proved everybody wrong and now I’ve really shown that I’ve come to a fantastic club. I don’t really need to say much really – look at where we are,” Burke told The Set Pieces.

“It’s been very positive. Every day I’m learning something new and I can only get better at this club,” said Burke.

Burke will be the first to admit he has plenty to learn and he’s far from the finished article, but he has moved on considerably from the teenager that was loaned to Bradford in 2014/15.

Then 17, he was sent north to pick up some first-team experience in the third tier of English football, but after two appearances and two defeats he returned to Forest having failed to show much of the potential that Forest suspected he heralded.

Burke though returned to the City Ground even more determined to improve and the following season he made 23 appearances, scoring twice, and his performances were getting noticed. Scouts from all over England were tracking the powerful forward and when he scored four times at the start of this season, Leipzig had seen enough to make him their joint-record signing.

He’s been far from a first-team regular for the upwardly-mobile German new boys. So far he has played only 193 minutes, making just one start, but he has made an impact.

His only start at Cologne saw him find the net, while he has provided two assists, but he knows he has plenty to learn.

“I have the right people around me and I’m still at a young age.

“It’s all about learning now and becoming a better player. I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”

Comparisons to Britain’s greatest ever football export – Gareth Bale – maybe premature but Burke’s future is a bright one despite being axed by Scotland recently.

Gordon Strachan dropped the youngster from the squad for the recent 3-0 defeat by Slovakia, just days after subbing Burke in the 1-1 draw with Lithuania. It will prove as a reminder to Burke that his journey has only just begun, but one player who made a similar move in 1996 – former Scotland skipper Paul Lambert – is convinced Burke is on the right path.

At the age of 25, Lambert moved from Motherwell to Borussia Dormund and he recently told the Daily Mail he is sure Burke will benefit from a similar move.

“He has been ambitious in going over there and I’m full of admiration for him. The easiest thing for him would’ve been just to stay in England.

“OK, he might not have played as many minutes as he would have liked so far. But he’s at a team that is absolutely flying, second in the Bundesliga.

“They are wiping out everything that’s in front of them, and, trust me, he will learn more there in six months than he would in a couple of years in England.”

Burke, who signed a five-year contract, will be hoping for a longer stay than that but all the signs are that if he decides to move on, his football education in Saxony will have stood him in good stead.

Matthew Briggs

No decision to make; USMNT and Klinsmann’s fight has gone

USMNT captain Michael Bradley was as diplomatic as he could have been in the wake of two damaging World Cup qualifying defeats this week, but even then his feelings were evident and coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s time looks to be up.

A 2-1 reverse to Mexico in Columbus was followed up by a 4-0 mauling by Costa Rica to leave Jurgen’s men bottom of their qualifying hex.

All is not lost with four automatic qualifiers from the group and two of the hardest games down. USMNT are still fancied to reach Russia in 2018 but whether Klinsmann will still be at the helm is very unlikely.

Whether it was a 3-4-3, which Klinsmann claimed or a 3-5-2, the switch from the usual 4-4-2 left the USA vulnerable and it was no surprise when Mexico pinched the points at the death. The change – the first time Klinsmann has used a three-man defence in competitive action – in such a big game was a gamble that did not pay off and Bradley afterwards admitted that Mexico’s spacing gave the USA clear problems and made it difficult to defend.

“The way they space themselves out and do a few things tactically, means that you have to have clear ideas about how you’re going to go about dealing with it,” said Bradley.

“I thought in the second half we were able to, just by virtue of rearranging ourselves and a little bit more intensity, get after them a little bit more and really close things down and really tilt the bar in our favor.”

The USA’s switch back to a 4-4-2 in the second half, whether it was prompted by Bradley and co. or not, gave USA a footing back into the game, but afterwards Klinsmann made it clear where he thought the blame lay.

Klinsmann called out Bradley and Jermaine Jones for not playing well enough in the first half and the very fact that he has decided to point the blame at the players may well be his final call because his goose looks cooked.

The second-half performance in Tuesday’s 4-0 defeat by Costa Rica was described as a ‘chaotic, ragged performance’, by MLS Soccer and raises the question whether Bradley and the rest of the players have given up on the German coach.

There has been tension between Bradley and Klinsmann recently with Bradley keen to play as a defensive midfielder, while Klinsmann has preferred to use him as box-to-box No. 4. Regardless of the history between them his second-half showing – matched by many of the USA side – was gutless.

“On a night like this there is no point in trying to look at it any other way,” Bradley said after his team’s second straight loss. “We have to be big enough and strong enough to say we weren’t good enough.”

When asked why the US weren’t good enough, Bradley paused for another 15 seconds before claiming the team wasn’t ready for “what the game was going to be about”.

Again hardly a glowing tribute to the coach, who afterwards admitted it was the most painful defeat of his reign.

“This is the defeat that hurts the most in my five years here, there’s no doubt about it,” Klinsmann told reporters as he took full responsibility for his team’s inability to bounce back from the Mexico setback.

“We had some chances but I think they gave us a psychological knock with that goal right before halftime,” he added.

“There’s always things you look back on and think you should have done differently,” Klinsmann said when asked about his game plan. “It’s not about the system.

“It’s about the willingness to fight back, and after the second goal they didn’t have that power or that drive to get back into the game.”

Has the fight gone from Klinsmann? Those comments suggest exactly that and a coach that is unable to rally his players usually finds himself dumped and pretty quickly.

His mood after Mexico was downbeat but he managed to post a thank you to fans for their support. His mood after the loss to Costa Rica was darker and his Twitter account has been silent ever since.

The trust and close bond between coach and the players looks to have disintegrated.

Asked whether time was up for Klinsmann, US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati would not be rushed into a decision.

“We won’t make any decisions right after games,” said Gulati inside the Estadio Nacional.

“We’ll think about what happened today and talk with Jurgen and look at the situation. Obviously it’s not a good start to the Hex, and today in particular was not a good performance.”

Unfortunately for Klinsmann though there doesn’t look being much of a decision to make; the media have also decided he must go, and Gulati’s decision has almost been made for him.

Koeman blunder ruthlessly exposed by Conte’s flexible Chelsea

Chelsea would have swept away just about anyone put before them on Saturday night but Ronald Koeman’s decision to match-up Antonio Conte’s line-up was his worst yet as Everton boss.

Ahead of the game it was certainly a bold move against a Chelsea side who had won their previous four games, including a 4-0 demolition job on Manchester United, but in the aftermath of Everton’s 5-0 defeat it now looks naive.

A switch to 3-4-3 is paying dividends for Conte – a manager whose success in Serie A with Juventus was built on three at the back. Five straight wins, 16 goals scored and none conceded and a performance on Saturday evening which befitted the Bonfire Night date.

“This was the best 90 minute performance I have ever seen in the Premier League,” said legendary commentator John Motson.

“It was a great game, a good performance,” claimed Conte in the immediate aftermath – however after some time to reflect the Blues boss rightly upgraded the display and after being asked to use an Italian word – ‘fantastica’ was his considered response.

Conte was right to crow too because Chelsea were simply breathtaking, but Koeman’s attempts to nullify the hosts with a like-for-like formation was suicidal. Not since the opening day of the season had Everton gone with a back three and although they managed a draw against Spurs on that day they were never going to get a repeat once Eden Hazard had put Chelsea ahead.

Playing a three-man defence and a rearguard with limited pace too against Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro was always going to be risky and it proved more than that as Chelsea’s three frontrunners tore Koeman’s men apart.

Playing against two strikers a back three can be very effective, because it gives you a man over in defence while you can then try and outnumber the opposition in midfield. Playing three vs three though, and away from home when you are likely to see little possession is and was a very different story.

Everton had seen only Spurs concede fewer goals ahead of the Stamford Bridge clash but it soon became clear that switching from a back four to a back three was not as easy as it may seem.

Koeman afterwards claimed the formation was irrelevant because Chelsea’s pressing, hard running and quick passing would have prevailed whatever, but his 3-4-3 failed to give his men a footing in the game.

The Dutchman switched to a back four on 36 minutes with the arrival of Kevin Mirallas and he will point to the fact that his men fared no better to prove the point that the system was not a factor.

However, starting a back four would not have left his defenders three on three against a revitalised Chelsea.

Hazard looks like the player he was the year before last and much of that has to do with him being further forward and able to vacate any defensive duties. It’s no coincidence the Belgium star now has seven goals this term, eclipsing the six he grabbed last season after admitting he has got his football mojo back again.

“I am enjoying playing now, my position is a bit different from before, I go inside more and I try to shoot,” he said after scoring twice on Saturday.

Costa, who also netted leads the scoring charts, looked a yard sharper and is thriving on two quick players either side of him, while Pedro looked like the player he was at Barcelona for years – rampaging up and down the right flank.

Koeman will point to the absence of the suspended Idrissa Gueye. He leads the division on tackles won (44) and was a big miss at the Bridge but Chelsea would have found a way through with or without Gueye.

For Chelsea David Luiz put in another rock-like display in the middle of the back three.

His return to the Bridge was met with some scepticism and he was surely not Conte’s first choice as he returned somewhat out of the blue on transfer deadline day. Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli was rumored to be Conte’s preferred target, but the Brazil defender was the man drafted in and he has been molded into a reliable kingpin.

His ability to bring the ball out of defence was always undeniable but the fans and pundits that once sniggered at his lackadaisical tendencies have been forced to take note of his improvement – a man coached the right way.

Ahead of the season in his first Chelsea press conference Conte placed his emphasis on being flexible.

“When I was in Italy I liked to say that the coach is like a tailor,” he said. “You must build the best dress for a team, and respect their characteristics and talents. Then you decide. In the past I started seasons with one idea and then changed it because I saw this system wasn’t good. Three at the back? Four at the back? It’s not important.”

And he’s done exactly that with Chelsea – aborting a back four after the mauling by Arsenal to adopt a three-man defence which has suited his squad thus far.

The Italian tactician, who has long-term plans and is soon hoping to bring his family to the capital, employed an attacking 4-2-4 formation at Bari between 2007-09 and he won the Serie B title in the latter of those two seasons, before using the same line-up with two high-playing wingers at Siena en route to another Serie B promotion two years later.

The 46 year-old attempted to play a similar way at Juventus before the arrival of Arturo Vidal and then he went to a 3-5-2 system to suit the Chile star, which brought him three successive Serie A titles.

He’s modified that again at Chelsea. Employing a 3-4-3 line-up and his ability and willingness to be flexible will be a major advantage as Chelsea bid to get back to where they once were.

Matthew Briggs

Traditional soccer match reports nearing extinction

When the English Press Association published a story last week suggesting that automated reporting could be introduced before the turn of the year there were sighs of disbelief from within the publishing industry.

At least PA editor-in-chief Pete Clifton confirmed that robots would not be used to “cover fires and for court reporting,” but that was little to comfort to the industry, which has seen some pretty big changes over the last decade.

Clifton claimed they were ready to start experimenting with automated sport and news stories to support their current newsroom. Essentially, the robots are coming.

“It will be more a case of offering an extra level when it comes to short market reports, election results and football reporting,” Clifton told the Society of Editors conference in Carlisle last week.

The news may have come as a surprise to some, but the real shock is not that the PA want to use Metal Mickey to write reports, more that they still concluded that football reports are relevant. It may seem crazy to think that traditional match reporting is a thing of the past, but that’s the way we are heading and quickly.

The original match reports filed from journalists at games are labor intensive and ultimately expensive. And while it was a necessity in the past we are now staring at a digital era where their relevance is debatable.

They are not high traffic drivers in the digital era and why would they be?


Who wants to and who has the time to read through paragraph after paragraph of detailed copy from the afternoon’s encounter when we have already seen countless images, info-graphics, stats, gifs, vines and videos of the game’s defining moments? Everyone that seemingly matters are demanding 10-second clips of action so they can continue to browse their Twitter and Facebook feeds looking for monkeys riding motorbikes.

We already have a picture of the match in our heads even before match reports start hitting websites at 5pm and well before newspapers go to print. Browsing key stats, watching streamed live action and viewing social media comment from fans at games has already left a lasting memory – there’s simply no need to wade through 4000 words. And with player and manager video and audio reaction now readily available, often before match reports are published, it makes them almost superfluous when they eventually land.

Social media has essentially given everyone the platform to report and offer opinion, be it both good and bad and that presents the current generation with all they need. The ability to take pictures and record video on phones has revolutionized the way fans consume games. The recent Liverpool v Manchester United clash saw a clip of Liverpool fans more focused on taking pictures and filiming Jose Mourinho than watching the on-the-field action.

On-the-whistle analysis, player ratings and ‘five things we learnt’ are all preferred places to click. People are now searching for bespoke content and they want it quick too. The days of readers reading about their team’s result are gone. There are now so may other mediums for the younger generation to immerse themselves in that match reports seem almost antiquated.

The growing rise of E-Sports and FIFA, the all but obsessive use of mobile phones and tablets mean that younger fans consume football in a totally different way to how they did even five years ago.

That’s a problem that has started to infiltrate live TV coverage of football too. Only last week UK broadcaster Sky announced a 19% drop in their live viewing figures for Premier League football. A somewhat worrying statistic and while one key factor is almost certainly due to the increasing price, illegal streaming of matches on mobiles and tablets is also a major reason.

In the USA pay television has been in decline for the last few years. ESPN for example had a peak in their subscriber base in 2011 – with 100 miillion subscribers. But they have lost 10 million since then with four million of those subscriber losses coming since July 2015.

The NFL has also seen an 11% decrease in viewing figures year on year and they are almost undoubtedly battling to engage the younger audience. Why subscribe to monthly service when you rarely watch it in its entirety, and, if you are technically savvy enough, it’s out there for free?

The desire to solely concentrate on a full game is at best waning and almost gone. The younger generation are busy. They’re consuming sport on the go and usually while watching or doing something else (those monkeys again). The emergence of YouTube and Netflix and the like are having a huge impact on traditional television.

Ken Early’s brilliant Irish Times column reported that Nielsen claimed 18-24 year-olds are spending 38% less time watching television than they did in 2010. And while Sky’s subscriber base is still believed to be growing, albeit slowly, they are surely soon going to see the same pattern as their counterparts across the pond?

So if broadcasters are struggling to capture the imagination of the younger fans then publishers might as well write their match reports on blackboards with chalk or send them by carrier pigeon that’s how outdated they are in these ’10-second times’.

Matthew Briggs