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Champions League continues through semi-finals

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The UEFA Champions League Tournament has been whittled down to four remaining teams. Coincidentally, these four teams all hail from different domestic leagues in Europe. There’s Real Madrid, the two-time defending winners of the tournament from Spain’s La Liga. There’s Bayern Munich, who have won the German Bundesliga in 10 of the last 14 seasons. There’s Liverpool, the high-flying English Premier League club with a storied history in Europe. And finally, there’s AC Roma, the consensus underdogs representing Italy’s Serie A. Four teams, four different countries, and four very different paths to the semi-finals. This year’s Champions League semi-finals is shaping up to one of the best yet.

Let’s take a look back at how each of these four clubs arrived in the semi-finals of Europe’s most prestigious tournament. Real Madrid shockingly didn’t win their group, finishing behind Tottenham Hotspur, an English side, with 4 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss. As a result, they had to play against French powerhouse P.S.G., who won their respective group and were a favorite to win the tournament, in the Round of 16. However, Real Madrid easily disposed of the French champions, winning 3-1 in the first leg, and 2-1 in the second. Madrid’s crown jewel Cristiano Ronaldo scored three times across the two matches. While this would be considered an impressive feat for most players, this was another day at the office for Ronaldo. He is the competition’s leading scorer, having found the back of the net 120 times. Next up for Real Madrid was Italian powerhouse Juventus, which Real Madrid defeated in last years’ Champions League final. Real Madrid easily won the first leg 3-0, behind two Ronaldo goals, one being a jaw-dropping overhead kick that will be remembered for years to come. The second leg, however, brought the drama and intrigue that had been lacking in Real Madrid’s tournament run so far. Real Madrid were down 3-0 and looked to be heading to overtime after Juventus staged a fantastic comeback, but in added time, Real Madrid was awarded a penalty kick. Who else but Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up to take the kick? Ronaldo blasted the ball past Juventus’ backup goalie Szczęsny (the starter Buffon was sent off for arguing with the ref) and Real Madrid found themselves in their seventh straight Champions League semifinals on a 3-3 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich had a much easier path to the semi-finals than Real. The German giants did place 2nd in their group behind P.S.G., but this ended being a stroke of luck. Bayern faced a weak winner in Besiktas in the Round of 16, defeating them 8-1 over two legs. Bayern then had to deal with Sevilla, who had defeated Manchester United previous round. Many though Bayern would post a similar aggregate score against Sevilla to the one they did against Besiktas, but Bayern struggled. Bayern won 2-1 on the road against Sevilla and drew 0-0 at home. This was enough for Bayern to punch their ticket to the semis but was not the convincing performance many fans were looking for.

Liverpool found themselves out of reach of a Premier League title early this year. As a result, they were able to focus a lot of their attention on the Champions League. In December, manager Jurgen Klopp admitted that it looks like they could be “second, third or fourth this season.” However, he has remained optimistic about Liverpool’s Champions League aspirations, saying the following about the Europe’s elite teams.

“I think we belong there [with the elite], to be honest –– it should not be a big surprise,” said Klopp. Liverpool won their group win a meager three wins, but scored 23 goals across all six matches. This stat would foreshadow the dominance Liverpool’s front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino would display in the later rounds of the tournament. Liverpool began their campaign against Porto, winning the first game 5-0 and drawing the second 0-0. All members of Liverpool’s attacking trio scored in the victory. In the quarter-finals, Liverpool were facing Manchester City, the English champions, as a clear underdog. But the Reds didn’t flinch, winning 3-0 in the first leg at home behind a fantastic Mohamed Salah performance and 2-1 in the second leg, again lead by Salah.

Roma, who won their group, began their tournament run by winning on away goals against Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2. Many believed after this poor performance, Roma were doomed to exit in the quarter-finals against Spanish champions Barcelona. After losing 4-1 in the first leg at Barcelona’s Camp Nou, the matchup seemed all but over. Then, a magical night in Rome changed everything. Heavily favored Barcelona conceded early on in the second leg. Roma had hope. They scored against on a penalty kick in the 56th minute, and got their winning goal in the 82nd minute. The one away goal scored in their 4-1 defeat proved to be crucial, as Roma tied on aggregate score 4-4 but won on away goals.

It is easy to see that these four excellent teams all deserve to be in the semi-finals. Liverpool dominated their opposition, Bayern calmly smothered theirs, Roma staged a fantastic comeback, and Real Madrid flexed their muscles as the tournament’s most daunting side. Despite this, many people already picked out their favorites to win: Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. However, if there’s anything we should learn from the Champions League tournament, it is that being a favorite means nothing. In fact, it means even less this year considering Bayern Munich and Real Madrid were drawn to face each other. The other matchup, obviously, would be Liverpool versus Roma.

The first legs of these matches were played on Tuesday, April 24 and Wednesday, April 25. Liverpool and Roma were the first to play, and the match did not disappoint. Liverpool, once again carried on the legs of Mohamed Salah, cruised to a 5-0 lead within 70 minutes! Salah bagged the first two goals in the 34th and 44th minutes. Mane grabbed his goal in the 55th minute, and Firmino got two of his own in the 60th and 67th minutes, both assisted by Salah. Behind these performances, Salah has put himself in serious contention for the Ballon D’or, the most prestigious award an individual player can win. It given to the best player of the year in world football, which has been Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi for the past 10 years. So, with a 5-0 lead and perhaps the best player in the world on their side, Liverpool looked to be easily advancing to the finals. However, in similar fashion to their previous match against Barcelona, Roma got themselves a lifeline. This time, it wasn’t one but two goals, both scored past the 80th minute. Roma, instead of needing a 6-0 victory at home to win the match, only needs a 3-0 victory to advance.

Roma had a tall mountain to climb in the second leg, and seeing as they were able to win 3-0 versus Barcelona on the road, nobody wrote the Italians off. However, Liverpool’s prolific offense proved to be too much for Roma. Liverpool grabbed a goal from Mane in the 9th minute, and Roma responded thanks to an own goal from Liverpool midfielder James Milner. Liverpool scored again in the 25th minute by Georginio Wijnaldum, and again Roma came back with a goal of their own, this time from Dzeko. Roma did take the lead in the 86th minute with a goal from Nainggolan, and the drama increased when he scored again in the 94th minute. However, Roma still needed one more goal and had only 1 more minute to get it. They were unable to pull through, and Liverpool clinched their first final since 2005 on an aggregate win of 6-7.

Real Madrid and Bayern Munich delivered an equally as enticing first leg as Liverpool and Roma did. Bayern jumped out to a 1-0 lead after a goal from Joshua Kimmich in the 27th minute and it looked to be their night. The German team was dominating Real, creating more chances and holding more of the ball. However, just before halftime, left-back Marcelo drilled a volley from just outside the 18 yard box to level the score. Shortly after halftime, Spanish prodigies Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez combined to give Real Madrid the lead. Bayern once again were possessing the ball in Real’s half when a turnover gave the speedy youngsters an opportunity to punish Bayern. Vazquez flashed up the pitch and unselfishly passed the ball to Asensio, who calmly finished his chance. The score remained 2-1, and Bayern found themselves in very tight spot heading into the second leg.

The second leg was played two weeks later, and it did not disappoint. Bayern, who needed to score at least two goals, scored within the first five minutes: Joshua Kimmich headed home a cross from inside the box. However, Real Madrid were able to respond six minutes later with a header of their own. Karim Benzema, whose position in the team as a starter has been in question, scored the vital goal from inside the box. Just after halftime, disaster struck for Bayern. A slow back pass was played to Bayern keeper Sven Ulreich, who had been filling in all season for injured star Manuel Neuer. Ulreich ran towards the ball, slid as if to pick it up with his hands, but then pulled out at the last second, presumably realizing this would result a free kick for Real Madrid. He then attempted to reach his leg out to stop the ball, but it slipped underneath his legs. Benzema scored the easiest goal of his career with the empty net tap-in, and Bayern was in big trouble. However, shortly after, Bayern got one of two needed goals to advance to the next round. This one came from the Real Madrid player on loan to Bayern Munich for two seasons: James Rodriguez. After scoring, James did not celebrate, solemnly holding up his hands to show respect for his parent club. For the next 30 minutes, Bayern was knocking on Real’s door, but ultimately came up short. Real Madrid was through to their fourth final in five years with the opportunity to win their third straight title.

It could be argued that this year’s final of Real Madrid versus Liverpool has more intrigue than any final in recent years. First, an English team is in the final for the first time since 2012, when Chelsea made the final and won. Additionally, the most exciting player in football right now, Mohamed Salah, has his chance to put the pressure on Ronaldo and Messi for the Ballon D’or. A Liverpool victory and strong performance for Salah will put him in serious consideration for the award. There are numerous other reasons, like the David versus Goliath tale, Real Madrid’s three-peat, and Liverpool’s notorious European history, that this final will be one to remember. All that can be said is that May 26, the day of the final, cannot come soon enough.

Champions League Quarterfinals Continues

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The Champions League, the world’s most esteemed club football tournament, has started up again after a short, 3-week hiatus between the Round of 16 and quarterfinals. Looking back on my previous Champions League projections I can confidently say that my predictive ability is abysmal.

P.S.G., my favorite to win the tournament, did not stage the comeback I envisioned in their second-leg vs. Real Madrid: they continued their recent trend of underperforming in the Champions League by exiting in the Round of 16. My club, Tottenham, also didn’t manage to hold off Juventus as I said they would, with the Italian club scoring twice in 5 minutes to come back and beat Tottenham on 2-1. Manchester United also failed me by losing to Sevilla on their own pitch 2-1. Manchester City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Roma all advanced to the quarterfinals, making my Round of 16 predictions five out of eight. However, now the reset button has been hit. The quarterfinal provide a new opportunity for amazing games, jaw-dropping goals, and most importantly for me, better predictions.

The quarterfinal matchups are, like all knockout stage games, randomly selected from the pot of remaining teams. They are as follows: Real Madrid vs. Juventus, Barcelona vs. Roma, Bayern Munich vs. Sevilla, and Manchester City vs. Liverpool. Many believe that this draw favored all of the strongest remaining teams. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City were certainly looking like the top 4 teams heading into this round. A Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, and Manchester City semifinals seemed to be on the cards.

The first day of competition was April 3rd, on which Bayern Munich was playing Sevilla and Real Madrid was playing Juventus. Bayern Munich travelled to Sevilla’s stadium. They grabbed two crucial away goals from Thiago and Jesus Navas (a Sevilla player who scored an own goal) in a 2-1 victory.

The much more enticing matchup of the first day was Real Madrid vs. Juventus. These two teams have met in two of the previous three tournaments. In 2015, Juventus eliminated Real Madrid in the semifinals. Last year, Real Madrid got their revenge, defeating Juventus 4-1 in the finals. This year, it seemed like Real Madrid picked up right where they left off in 2017. Madrid kept a clean sheet and put 3 goals past Italian goalkeeping legend  Gianluigi Buffon, who is playing in his final season of club football. Two of those goals came from the king of the Champions League, Cristiano Ronaldo.

The first goal marked the 10th consecutive game Ronaldo scored in the competition, a record. The second goal marked the 119th goal Ronaldo has scored in the competition, another tournament record. However, these feats were not even the most impressive thing Ronaldo accomplished that night.

The second goal Ronaldo scored was undoubtedly the best goal he has ever scored, out of the 650 in his career. Real Madrid right back Carvajal drove down the far side of the eighteen yard box and chipped a ball high in the air towards the penalty spot. Ronaldo, who was running away from the net, leapt into the air, bringing his right foot around in a bicycle kick. He made contact with the ball, which looked to be about 9 feet in the air at that point. The ball soared into the side panel of the net, leaving Buffon standing still in the middle of the goal. Ronaldo calmly got up off the pitch, ran over to a crowd of Juventus fans, pointing to himself in typical Ronaldo fashion. The Juventus fans were seen applauding the 33 year-old Portuguese superstar after the goal. Ronaldo had finally got his signature moment, the one that would be constantly referenced when discussing his illustrious career. He had this to say about the Juventus fans: “This was one of the nicest moments. To be applauded by the Juventus stadium, where so many great footballers have played, is a top moment for me. It’s something that stays in your heart … I want to thank all the Italians who were here in the stadium and applauded me.”

The second day of matchups brought excitement as well. The two remaining English teams, Manchester City and Liverpool, faced each other at Anfield, Liverpool’s legendary home field. Anfield is known to have one of the best European football atmospheres. Liverpool have played some of their most memorable games in their storied history at the stadium: the 1991 comeback vs. Auxerre, the 2007 semi-final victory vs. Chelsea, the miraculous 3 goal comeback vs. Dortmund in 2016, and the legendary victory vs. Chelsea in 2005. Liverpool’s European history is one of the best out of any English club, but have underperformed in the Champions League in recent years.

Although it was Liverpool who ended City’s remarkable undefeated streak a few months ago, many analysts were picking City to be the ones to emerge victorious from this matchup. After all, Manchester City were one win away from wrapping up the Premier League title and showed no signs of slowing down. However, right from the start, it was Liverpool who set the tone for the game. Mohamed Salah, the undisputed signing of the season and potential player of the year in the Premier League, scored the first goal of the game in 12th minute. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain added a second 8 minutes later, and Sadio Mané scored the third after another 11 minutes. Manchester City were stifled the rest of the first half and all of the second, leaving the score 3-0 to Liverpool. Anfield has seen some fantastic European games in its history, but was the loudest its ever been, according to some Liverpool players. Although there isn’t much Liverpool can do about the Premier League title at this point, they still had given themselves a great chance to spoil Manchester City’s Champions League hopes.

Barcelona’s game versus Roma went as expected. Roma started off by blundering away two own goals. Barcelona’s Gerard Piqué scored the third goal a little later. Roma’s forward Džeko got one back for the Italian side in the 80th minute, but Luis Suarez all but put the game away with a goal of his own in the 89th minute.

The second legs of the quarterfinal matchups were as good, if not better, than the first legs. To kick things off, Roma completed a remarkable comeback vs. Barcelona, rivaling the one Barcelona made versus PSG in the Round of 16 last year. Džeko, in front of Roma’s massive home crowd, scored early one, making the aggregate score 4-2. For the rest of the first half, Ter Stegen, Barcelona’s goalkeeper, kept Roma at bay. However, in the 57th minute, Roma was awarded a penalty kicker. De Rossi, Roma’s captain, step up to the spot and delivered, sending the stadium into pandemonium. One more goal and Roma were through. The magical moment came in the 81st minute. After yet another sequence of miraculous Ter Stegen saves a couple minutes earlier, Roma broke though. A corner-kick was swung in towards near post of Barcelona’s goal and Kostas Manolas jumped in front of his defended, nodding the ball into the far side of the goal. The stadium erupted. Roma players swarmed Manolas as he sprinted towards Roma’s bench. Roma had accomplished a miracle to send themselves into the semifinals of the Champions League, against Spanish powerhouse Barcelona nonetheless.

Manchester City looked like they might have been able to complete a 3 goal comeback of their own in front of their home crowd at the Etihad, with Gabriel Jesus scoring in the 2nd minute. However, after stifling Manchester City’s offense for rest of the first half, Liverpool got their devastating goal, and who else but Mohamed Salah was the one to score it. Roberto Firmino smashed all hope of a Manchester City comeback with a goal of his own ten minutes later, and Liverpool punched their ticket to the Champions League semifinals. Manchester City’s awful week of losing 3-0 to Liverpool and 3-2 to Manchester United had somehow gotten worse.

Bayern Munich calmly quelled Sevilla at home, drawing 0-0. This was enough to get the German Champions through to yet another Champions League semifinal. Bayern hope to return to the final for the first time since 2013.

The most dramatic game of the quarterfinals looked to be Roma’s comeback vs. Barcelona. It seemed impossible that no other game could match the chaos the Italian side produced by defeating the soon-to-be Spanish champions. But, as is so typical in Champions League football, people were proven wrong again. The second leg of Real Madrid vs. Juventus proved to be just as intriguing, just as dramatic, and just as brilliant as Roma’s comeback. Juventus travelled to Madrid after losing 3-0, making most fans think of this game just as formality: Real Madrid had essentially already made their way into the semifinals. This, of course, was proven to be false. Mario Mandžukić, Juventus’ forward, scored in the 2nd minute of the game, showing everyone that Juventus would not go down without a fight. He added a second goal in the 37th minute, and it was game on. The match, which was back and forth all night long, continued on for some time. Real Madrid’s goalie Keylor Navas and Juve’s goalie Buffon were feeding off one another, making save after save after save. However, it was Navas who flinched first, coughing up a rebound for Blaise Matuidi to put away in the 60th minute. The impossible, a term that should never be used in football, had happened. Juventus were level, and all it took was one more goal to put them through to the semifinals.

The next 30 minutes passed along, each team throwing everything they had at one another. Real Madrid was playing for an opportunity to win a third consecutive Champions League title; Juventus for a chance to show that they shouldn’t be labeled as an underdog anymore. Buffon, who will retire after this season, was playing to keep his last run in the Champions League alive. Unfortunately for the Italian legend, the unimaginable happened. In added time, Real Madrid were awarded a penalty. Buffon, caught up in the passion and adrenaline rush that is football, screamed at the referee until he was given a red card and sent off. Real Madrid’s stadium had been exploding with noise until their hero stepped up to take the penalty kick. Ronaldo took one brief glance at the net, ran up, and smashed the penalty kick into the right upper-corner. He ripped his shirt off, ran to the corner, and fueled the screams of a hundred thousand fans. Real Madrid had won, and it was thanks to him yet again.

Each round of the Champions League this year seems to be better than the last. The Roma and Real Madrid victories provided enough excitement for an entire tournament, but the best is yet to come. Real, Roma, Bayern, and Liverpool are the remaining four. Spanish, italian, german, and english teams, respectively. A clash of each of these countries’ best is on the cards, and the football world will be waiting eagerly to witness it.

Champions League round of 16 begins

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European football’s most prestigious tournament, the Champions League, is in its most exciting stage, the Knockout Round of 16. There are 16 teams in this round, each playing another team in a two-legged matchup, one game at home and one game away. Matchups were randomly selected from a pool of eight winners from the group stage and eight runners-up from the group stage. The winner of the two-legged matchup is first determined by whoever wins the most games, then by aggregate score if record isn’t enough. If aggregate score is the same, away goals scored are weighed more heavily than home goals scored. If that is still not enough to determine a winner, then the second match will continue into extra time and penalty kicks. Winners move on in the tournament, losers go home.

The Round of 16 is considered, at least in my eyes, the best round of the tournament because it consists of 16 games over the course of February and March, and there is a strong likelihood of intriguing matchups across the board. Last season, the miraculous Barcelona comeback against PSG occurred in the Round of 16, along with Leicester City’s impressive victory over Sevilla to advance into the quarter finals. This year, the randomly-selected matchups are enticing: Juventus versus Tottenham, Real Madrid versus PSG, Manchester City versus FC Basel, Liverpool versus FC Porto, Bayern Munich versus Besiktas, Chelsea versus Barcelona, Manchester United versus Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk versus Roma. This Round of 16 features five English teams out of the five that qualified for the group stage portion; this had never occurred before.  In recent years, English teams have had rather poor showings in the group stage and knockout stages, but this season, there is hope that the Premier League can prove its status as “the best league” in Europe. There are three Spanish teams in the Round of 16, two Italian teams, two Portuguese teams, one Swiss team, one Ukrainian team, one French team, and one German team. It is impressive to see teams from the Swiss League (FC Basel) and Ukrainian League (Shakhtar Donetsk) advance to this stage, considering how the knockout round has historically been dominated by the English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

The tournament is about halfway through the Round of 16 and has already featured some fantastic fixtures for the neutral fan. Juventus and Tottenham played out a thrilling match, with Tottenham coming back from an early 2-0 deficit away in Italy. Perhaps the most anticipated match of the round was Real Madrid versus PSG. Both PSG and Real Madrid were expected to handily win their respective groups, but Real Madrid stumbled and ended up as a runner-up. This is a matchup that many expected to see later in the tournament. Although many people, myself included, believed Real Madrid’s faltering league form and PSG’s high powered attack would result in PSG’s victory, Real Madrid won comfortably at home 3-1. Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo once again displayed his ability to step his game up in the Champions League with two goals, bringing his grand, record-breaking total in the Champions League up to 116 goals. PSG clearly suffered from the absence of youth sensation Kylian Mbappe and captain Thiago Silva. The other two matchups during the first week of the Round of 16 were blowouts, both in favor of English clubs. Liverpool’s attacking trio of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah demolished FC Porto 5-0, while seemingly unstoppable Manchester City won 4-0 versus FC Basel.

Week 2 of the Round of 16 hosted the other four matchups. Bayern Munich unsurprisingly dismantled the Portuguese club Besiktas behind two goals from Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski, respectively. The always-entertaining Chelsea versus Barcelona match up ended up 1-1. Chelsea had defended valiantly all game, gaining the lead with about 30 minutes to go behind Willian’s strike. However, with 15 minutes to go, Lionel Messi tied up the game off of a defensive blunder from Chelsea. Chelsea will have a tall mountain to climb in Barcelona if they want to advance to the quarter finals. Manchester United drew 0-0 with Sevilla, failing to secure a valuable away goal. Roma versus Shakhtar Donetsk finished 2-1 in favor of Shakhtar, but Roma was able to score an away goal, putting them in good position for the second leg of the matchup.

While some of these two-legged match ups seem to be decided after the first game, Barcelona taught the footballing world never to count a team out, even after losing 4-0 on the road. That being said, I can confidently say Manchester City, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich will advance into the quarter finals. I believe that my team, Tottenham, will prevail over Juventus. I think PSG will stage a comeback versus defending champions Real Madrid. I predict Barcelona to advance over Chelsea, Manchester United over Sevilla, and Roma over Shakhtar Donetsk. For the record, my original predictions in November had Juventus exiting early, Bayern Munich and Barcelona going far into the tournament, and Real Madrid picking up their form, but PSG winning the entire tournament, Hopefully, for the sake of my credibility, my predictions come true.

European soccer transfer window ends

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The month of January is one of the most exciting in European football, but not because of anything that occurs on the pitch. January is the month of a “transfer window,” the period in which football clubs around Europe can sign players from the transfer market and make deals with opposing teams. It is essentially, in American sports terms, the trade deadline, except it only lasts one month. Once the window ends, players cannot leave or join other clubs. In European football, there are only two opportunities for teams to transfer players: the January window and the summer window, which spans from June until September. These exact windows are only present in European football: leagues on other continents having slightly different schedules when it comes to transfers. The January window is especially unique because it is situated right in the middle of the European football leagues’ seasons. This gives teams the opportunity to bolster their squad on the quest to winning league titles, or cup competitions. It provides the opportunity for teams to replace injured players, pursue players who have been enjoying good seasons for other clubs, and send away players who are not in good form. The biggest signings tend to happen over the summer, when no leagues are in season and teams have an opportunity to work their new signings into their lineups in preseason. However, this past January, there were a multitude of big money signings that shocked the footballing world.

In recent years, the amount of money spent by football clubs has been enormous. Just nine years ago, Cristiano Ronaldo, whom many regard as the best player in the world, was sold for 80 million pounds to Real Madrid by English club Manchester United. Prices have only gone up since then. In 2013, Welsh winger Gareth Bale was sold by Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid for 89 million pounds. In 2016, French Midfielder Paul Pogba was sold to Manchester United for 105 million pounds. Last summer, Neymar was purchased from Barcelona by PSG for 222 million euros. Although no transfers were quite that large monetary wise in this window, the January 2018 window had some exciting moves nevertheless.

In England’s Premier League, widely regarded as the most competitive league in the world, there was a lot of shuffling among the top clubs. The Premier League was at the center of almost every large deal in this window, with over 554 million pounds’ worth of deals taking place. Liverpool FC, who currently are fighting for a top four spot had quite the window, selling their best player, Brazilian center attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho to FC Barcelona, for a club record price of 106 million euros. To offset this big talent loss, Liverpool also purchased center back Virgil van Dijk from the mid-table English team Southampton for 75 million euros, making van Dijk the most expensive defender in the history of football. Van Dijk is nowhere near being regarded as the best defender currently in Europe, but considering his relatively young age at 26 and the way transfer prices have escalated over recent years, 75 million euros is a reasonable price for his talents. League leaders Manchester City also had a busy transfer window, purchasing center back Aymeric Laporte from La Liga side Athletic Bilbao for 57.2 million euros to complement John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi in their back line. Arsenal FC, to the delight of many fans who have been urging the club to go out and spend money for years, participated in some pricey deals as well. The Gunners purchased striker Pierre Emerick Aubameyang from the German club Borussia Dortmund for 56 million euros, while also performing a swap deal with English giant Manchester United, sending Chilean winger Alexis Sanchez to the Reds in return for the Armenian winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Other notable transfers include long time Arsenal players Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud leaving for Everton and Chelsea, respectively, and Tottenham Hotspur signing Paris Saint-Germain winger Lucas Moura. Chelsea also signed Ross Barkley from Everton.

The other top leagues around Europe, the La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, and Serie A were not nearly as active as the Premier League. There are a couple reasons for why this may be the case. In some of these leagues, like the Serie A, most clubs don’t have the financial standing a multitude of Premier League clubs hold. As a result, these clubs cannot spend as much money in the transfer window. Additionally, in leagues like La Liga, the Bundesliga, and Ligue 1, the title has essentially been decided by this point, with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and PSG as the likely winners of each league. Other teams in their leagues feel that it is not worth it to spend a lot of cash to jump only a few spots in the league table. In La Liga, there was obviously the massive signing of Philippe Coutinho by Barcelona, but otherwise, the league was rather quiet in the transfer window. In the German Bundesliga, Dortmund signed center back Manuel Akanji from FC Basel with no other teams completing any deals worth over 10 million euros.

As none of the other top five leagues had active windows, I will focus my analysis on the Premier League’s January and how certain additions and losses for the top clubs will impact the league going forward. Manchester City is comfortable in first place with Manchester United holding down second place by five points. At this point, it seems that Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Arsenal will be battling for spots in the top four, which qualify teams for next years Champions League, Europe’s premier competition. Obviously for Liverpool, losing Coutinho hurts. He is one of the world’s top playmakers, but considering Coutinho was bound to leave in the summer, selling the Brazilian for 106 million euros to a team that is not going to compete for a league title in England seems like a good alternative. Coutinho had been linked to a transfer to Barcelona for some time, and there were rumors swirling that he wanted out of Liverpool for a period as long as five months. Signing van Dijk for 75 million pounds seems questionable at first glance, but with prices for players as high as they are now, the deal was definitely in Liverpool’s best interest. Waiting to sign van Dijk even a few months could have cost Liverpool millions of pounds. However, City buying younger center back Laporte for around 57 million euros was a bit of a head scratcher. The team already has three able center backs on its roster in veteran Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi, and John Stones. Despite this, it never hurts to have another option at center back. The signing of Laporte highlights City’s clear intention to see out the league and make a push for a Champions League title. All of those extra games require a rested, healthy back line.

The most notable deal of the transfer window was undoubtedly the Sanchez-Mkhitaryian swap between Arsenal and Manchester United. I think both teams benefited. Sanchez was either leaving for nothing in the summer or for something in the winter. His situation was comparable to Coutinho’s. Sanchez had wanted out of Arsenal for a while now because of Arsenal’s lack of success, and would certainly not have signed a new contract in the summer, allowing him to walk free. Arsenal was able to get a comparable winger in Mkhitaryan in return. Mkhitaryan was not seeing much time at Manchester United after consistent feuding with United manager Jose Mourinho, and will slot right into Arsenal’s starting 11. Sanchez joins an already world class attacking line at Manchester United, and seems to be poised for success after a couple promising games for United already. Arsenal acquiring Aubameyang is also huge for the club; Arsenal is poised for a bright future with Aubameyang paired with Lacazette up top, along with Mkhitaryan on the wing and Ozil, who just signed a new contract, at attacking midfield.

Do I think any of the Premier League signings will change the fate of this season’s title winner? No. Manchester City are too good. However, the race for the remaining three spots in the top four has gotten a lot more interesting, and hopefully, for the neutral fan at the very least, the title race will be a lot more intriguing for years to come.

Analyzing the World Cup draw

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On Dec. 1st, soccer fans from all corners of the globe gathered around their televisions to watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup draw, held at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia. For many, the World Cup is more than just a soccer tournament. Because it is the most watched sporting event in the world, the tournament provides a platform for cultural expression, and for a nation to represent itself in front of the entire world.

“The tournament has a way of enabling citizens to puff out their chest; of giving them license to say ‘this is our team’ and having some pride in their nation, and no other sporting event does that because no other sport truly embraces so many people from every corner of the globe,” explains Nigel Reed, a soccer journalist for CBC Sports.

During the selection show for the 2018 edition of the World Cup, the 32 qualified teams were drawn into eight groups of four teams. The teams were chosen from four pots based on their October 2017 FIFA rankings. Pot one contained the seven highest ranked teams in the tournament, plus the tournament host, Russia, pot two consisted of the next eight teams in the ranking, and so on. Each group received one team from each pot.

In addition to the mandatory placement of Russia into Pot One, the draw conditions stipulated that no group could include more than two UEFA (European) nations or more than one team from CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North and Central America and the Caribbean), CONMEBOL (South America), OFC (Oceania), or AFC (Asia).

This year’s draw produced many interesting results but surprisingly no clear “group of death.” A group of death is a group in which the number of strong teams is greater than the number of qualifying places, meaning at least one strong competitor will be eliminated. In the 2014 World Cup, the United States was drawn into the group of death along with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana.

Below is a breakdown of the eight groups from this year’s draw.

Group A: Russia (#65 in the FIFA rankings), Uruguay (17), Egypt (30), Saudi Arabia (63)

The 2018 World Cup will kick off June 14th with an uninspiring matchup between the two lowest ranked teams in the tournament, Russia and Saudi Arabia. In the tournament’s weakest group, a strong Uruguay attack featuring world-class strikers, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, is expected to lead La Celeste to the Round of 16. The second spot in the knockout stages will likely be determined in a three-way battle between the host nation, Russia, playing for the pride of an entire nation, an underrated Egyptian team starring, Mohamed Salah, one of the world’s most in-form players who currently plays for Premier League giant, Liverpool FC, and the little known Saudi Arabia squad.

Prediction: 1st place: Uruguay, 2nd place: Egypt, 3rd place: Russia, 4th place: Saudi Arabia

Group B: Portugal (3), Spain (8), Iran (34), Morocco (48)

Group B will likely come down to a battle between the reigning European Champions, Portugal, and the 2010 World Cup Champions, Spain, although Morocco should not be underestimated having gone undefeated in its qualifying group. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s 32-year-old star striker and one of the best players in soccer history, will be especially motivated as this could be his final chance to take home the World Cup crown. However, I believe Spain’s balanced attack and strong defending will propel the La Roja over the Seleção.  

Prediction: 1st place: Spain, 2nd place: Portugal, 3rd place: Morocco, 4th place: Iran

Group C: France (7), Peru (10), Denmark (19), Australia (43)

France will be licking their chops with this favorable draw. Peru, although highly ranked, lacks the star quality to compete with France, and Denmark is too reliant on star Christian Eriksen. However, expect a strong battle for second place between Peru and Denmark, two nations that play with a lot of heart and grit. Australia, already the weakest team in the group, is currently without a coach and will find it hard to adapt to a new system before the tournament begins.

Prediction: 1st place: France, 2nd place: Denmark, 3rd place: Peru, 4th place: Australia

Group D: Argentina (4), Croatia (18), Iceland (21), Nigeria (41)

The closest group to a “group of death,” Group D features four highly competitive teams. Lionel Messi, the world’s best player, leads an Argentina team that should claim the group. Croatia, Iceland (the smallest nation to ever play in the World Cup with a population size of around 330,000), and the best pot four team in the tournament, Nigeria, will duke it out for the second place in the knockout round.

Prediction: 1st place: Argentina, 2nd place: Croatia, 3rd place: Nigeria, 4th place: Iceland

Group E: Brazil (2), Switzerland (11), Costa Rica (22), Serbia (38)

Neymar and Brazil will roll through this group in an attempt to recover from their 7-1 loss to Germany on home turf in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup. The Switzerland – Costa Rica match will likely determine the second team through to the Round of 16. Will the creativity of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri propel the Swiss through to the next stage, or will the strong goalkeeping and leadership of Real Madrid star Keylor Navas lead Costa Rica to yet another World Cup upset?

Prediction: 1st place: Brazil, 2nd place: Costa Rica, 3rd place: Switzerland, 4th place: Serbia

Group F: Germany (1), Mexico (16), Sweden (25), South Korea (62)

Group F is a strong group, but one that the reigning World Cup champions and current top ranked, Germany, should have no trouble navigating. Mexico cruised through qualifying using a rotating squad, but will face a difficult test in Sweden, which defeated 2006 World Cup Champions, Italy, in a playoff without their star striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who retired from international soccer in 2016.

Prediction: 1st place: Germany, 2nd place: Mexico, 3rd place: Sweden, 4th place: South Korea

Group G: Belgium (5), England (12), Tunisia (28), Panama (49)

Group G should be a two-way shootout between Belgium and England. Belgium has put together its best squad in history, but will have its hands full with a strong England team trying to put past World Cup failures behind it. Expect Tunisia and Panama to put up good efforts, but the two nations will likely be relegated to fighting it out for third place.

Prediction: 1st place: England, 2nd place: Belgium, 3rd place: Tunisia, 4th place: Panama

Group H: Poland (6), Colombia (13), Senegal (32), Japan (44)

Group H is the most open group of the draw. Despite being a top seed, Poland lacks technical quality outside of striker Robert Lewandowski. Colombia will hope to repeat its 2014 World Cup heroics on the back of Radamel Falcao, and Lewandowski’s Bayern Munich teammate, James Rodriguez. Senegal’s hopes rely on raw talent and the extreme athleticism of Liverpool star Sadio Mane. Even Japan, featuring Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, is a threat to move on to the next round.

Prediction: 1st place: Colombia, 2nd place: Senegal, 3rd place: Poland, 4th place: Japa

Group L (not an official group): Chile (9), Italy (15), Netherlands (20), USA (27)

This group of nations will be extremely disappointed to have missed out on the 2018 World Cup. Italy is a 4-time World Cup champion and has not missed a World Cup final since 1958, Chile is a 2-time defending Copa America champion, the Netherlands were World Cup runner-ups in 2010, and the United States missed the finals for the first time since 1986 despite the rapid emergence of 19-year-old wunderkind Christian Pulisic.

Regardless of how the groups pan out, the 2018 World Cup will without a doubt be full of upsets and emotion. Some stars will emerge, others will crumble, and nations will battle for one of the most coveted titles in the world

Checking in on the Champions League

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Europe’s top soccer tournament, the UEFA Champions League, is well under way. The Champions League puts the best teams from a multitude of different European soccer leagues (England, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, etc.) against each other in one tournament. There are several stages to the Champions League. Teams must first qualify by either winning their domestic league or placing very high in their league table. This is dependent on the quality of the league each team comes from. For example, only the winners of the Belgian league qualify but the top four English teams qualify, due to the competitive nature of the English Premier League. Overall, there are 32 teams divided into eight different groups of four. The teams in these groups will all play one another twice, and the two teams with the highest number of points (3 for a win, 1 for a draw) advance. This leads to the knockout stage, in which the 16 remaining teams compete the traditional tournament format, with the winner moving on. Currently, the tournament is 75 percent through the group stages.

The groups of the Champions Leagues are extremely influential in the results of the tournament. Since they are randomly chosen after the 32 teams qualify, the quality of teams in each group can vary immensely based on the sorting. This year, a terrifying “Group of Death” is composed of Tottenham Hotspur (England), Real Madrid (Spain), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), and Apoel Niscosia (Greece). The first three teams in this group are world class teams: Tottenham and Dortmund are some of the top teams in their own countries and Real Madrid is arguably one of the best teams in the world, winning three out of the four last Champions Leagues. Currently, the table has Tottenham in first, Real Madrid in second, Dortmund in third, and Nicosia in fourth.

Another “Group of Death” has AS Roma (Italy), Chelsea (England), Atletico Madrid (Spain), and FK Qarabag (Azerbaijan). Similar to the irst group of death, three of these teams have been historically very successful in the Champions League. Chelsea and Roma are two of the top teams in their respective leagues and Atletico Madrid has been the tournament’s final twice in the last four years, both times losing to Real Madrid. Roma is on top of this table, with Chelsea in second, Atletico in third, and Qarabag in fourth.

There are six more groups, each riddled with very capable soccer clubs, but there a few names more recognizable than others. Manchester United, one of the most recognizable names in English soccer, is on top of their group, having won all four of the games they’ve played. One Swarthmore student, Oliver Steinglass ’20,  is a fan of Manchester United, and was asked a few questions on the English club’s Champions League chances:

Obviously, tensions are high with most Manchester fans these days. Both clubs, United and City, are playing exceptionally well. With good play comes high expectations, so there’s good reason for Oliver’s bold predictions and sensitive nature.

Manchester City is flying high in their group, having won all four of their games. Also in City’s group is Napoli, the top team of the Italian League table. They, however, are struggling in third place with only one win. The English club Liverpool is narrowly in first in their group, with Spain’s Sevilla in hot pursuit. Barcelona, another world famous club, is sitting atop their group through four games. Juventus (Italy), last year’s runner-up, is right behind Barcelona in that same group. Finally, giant clubs Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) (France) and Bayern Munich (Germany) are locked into a tight race for first place in their respective group.

The round of 16 will be finalized in December with the first games of the stage played in February and March. The knockout stage will conclude with the finals on May 26, 2018. As of November 5, 2017, it’s tough to pick out a winner. Both Manchester clubs have been excellent, but with their focus also on their own league race back in England, it’ll be tough for the teams to field fresh players for Champions League games. The two Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid, are always in the running. However, after Real Madrid’s recent shocking 3-1 loss to Tottenham and lackluster play in the Spanish league, one can wonder how they expect to turn their play around. Meanwhile, Barcelona have been excellent, despite losing their young star Neymar Jr. to PSG, who are also making noise in Europe. Juventus and Bayern Munich also can’t be ignored: both teams have always been historically successful in European play. Additionally, it’s tough to ignore Tottenham after their defeat of Real Madrid and fantastic play in a “Group of Death”.

As for me, a fan of Tottenham, I would love to see my club win. However, despite their victory over Real Madrid, it’s hard to imagine that other massive clubs won’t pick up their form. I don’t think Manchester United has enough to win the league, and Manchester City certainly cannot keep up their amazing form. Barcelona will go far, and I’m sure Real Madrid will sort themselves out in time for the knockout stage. I expect Juventus to exit early and for Bayern to go deep into the tournament as well. However, it is PSG who I think will win the entire tournament. The team that consistently falls short in the tournament will finally have their dream finish.

It’s tough to liken the Champions League to any other sports tournament. It doesn’t meet the World Cup in terms of passion; nothing does. However, one could argue that the Champions League puts on display the best soccer teams on planet, and that the Champions League Final is the pinnacle of soccer for a given year. After all, the top club teams attract the top players each year: national teams are set from birth. Either way, it’s guaranteed that true soccer fans will feast their eyes on the tournament over the next seven months.

Volleyball and Women’s soccer takes on the postseason

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With fall break having come and gone and going and the second rounds of midterms fast approaching, fall sports have begun winding down. As teams begin to hang up their jerseys and look to improve in the offseason, Volleyball and Women’s Soccer have a chance to compete for a Centennial Conference Championship.

Both of these teams have previous experience in playoffs. Women’s Soccer made it to the semifinal round, and Volleyball was the runner up in the Championship last year. Both teams have been working hard and putting everything they have into the final weeks of their season.

Volleyball is hoping to claim their first-ever Centennial Conference Championship this year. Seeded second in conference, the team hopes to make a strong run in the postseason. Last season, they came within a match of winning the Championship but were ultimately beaten out by Johns Hopkins. This year, Volleyball is working hard for a different outcome. The team has been doing everything in their power to prepare themselves for their upcoming game this Saturday against Muhlenberg. Emily Kibby ’19 elaborated on her team’s preparation.

All the training that we’ve been doing all season and the competition that we’ve faced has been leading up to now. This week is about focusing on what we can do well and making sure that we take care of ourselves so that we can play our best on Saturday,” said Kibby.

The team also stresses the importance of a healthy team environment off the court. For example, this Halloween the whole team dressed up as broccoli, decking themselves out in green morph suits and broccoli earrings. Creating a fun team culture has been an integral part of Volleyball’s current success. Their ability to be united off the court has played a big role in their positive team chemistry that has helped them win on the court. This amazing team atmosphere can be attributed to their five seniors who have dedicated the past four years to their team. Elise Cummings ’19 shares the impact the seniors have had.

“Our seniors have each played a huge role in taking Swarthmore Volleyball to the next level these past four years. I know I speak for everyone who has had the opportunity to play with these five when I say that I consider it a privilege to have shared the court with them. There is no one I would rather have to lead us to a championship this weekend.”

Led by these five instrumental seniors, the Garnet face Muhlenberg this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Although the game will be at Johns Hopkins, it can be viewed through the athletic website on the live feed. If they win that game, they play the winner of John Hopkins and either Franklin and Marshall or McDaniel Sunday at 1 p.m for the Centennial Conference Championship.

Women’s Soccer looks to claim its second-ever Centennial Conference Championship this weekend. Seeded second, the team hopes to make a strong run in conferences. Last season Johns Hopkins halted their conference run in the semifinals, but Swat Soccer is looking to come back strong this year. Instead of focusing on the championship, women’s soccer is playing in the moment and trying their hardest to win each game. Yasmeen Namazie ’19 expanded on this win-every-game mentality and how it is a different mindset from last year.

I think that this year we have been more fixated on the present than looking at games in the future. We have really emphasized a one game at a time mentality. Every game matters at this point; it’s win or go home.”

Garnet Soccer has been working hard every day in order to prepare for their conference championship tournament. When asked about their upcoming semifinals matchup against Haverford, Claire O’Brien ’18 gave some insight on how the team has been preparing.

“We have been preparing by staying focused and continuing to build on what we’ve done all season. We are continuing to work hard to stay sharp on our game skills and get our school work done since we’ll likely be away traveling most of the weekend.”

Swat Soccer takes on Haverford this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Like Volleyball, their game is away at Johns Hopkins but can be viewed on the athletic website’s live stream. If they win Saturday, they will play for the championship at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Swarthmore sports seem poised for a strong playoff run this fall. These two teams have worked extremely hard in the regular season in order to ensure a bid into conferences, and they are now continuing this hard work into playoffs. Volleyball looks to capitalize on their stellar senior class and their inspirational leadership in their pursuit of their first Centennial Conference Championship. Women’s soccer plans to use their win-each-game mentality to advance past semifinals and win the championship. Hopefully, both teams will come back to Swat with a Championship trophy and a bid into NCAA Playoffs.

U.S. men’s national soccer teams fails to qualify for World Cup

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For the first time in 31 years, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team failed to qualify for the World Cup after its poor performance in the Confederation of North, Central, American and Caribbean Association of Football (CONCACAF) qualifying hexagonal. To the disappointment of many U.S. fans, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Omar Gonzalez,  and Christian Pulisic, all big names in the world of soccer, will not be making an appearance in Russia next summer.

The team’s failure was solidified on the night of Oct. 10,  in a near-empty Caribbean arena just slightly larger than Swarthmore’s attempt at a stadium. After conceding two goals in the first half, one of which was an accidental own goal, the U.S. simply made too many other mistakes to fully recover. The game concluded with a soulless 2-1 defeat to the already-eliminated Trinidad & Tobago, loser of eight of its previous nine games.

U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, who scored the own goal, responded to the loss with frustration and sadness.

“We let down an entire nation today,” he said. Coach Bruce Arena also commented on the outcome of the match.

“We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal. That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated.”

Not all shared the disappointment of the U.S., though. Former CONCACAF president and Trinidad-born Jack Warner called his country’s defeat of the U.S. the happiest day of [his] life, adding that nobody in CONCACAF likes the U.S. Warner, a former FIFA vice-president, already has some poor history with the U.S., due to his alleged involvement in corruption in the sport and consequently being a main target of the U.S. Department of Justice.

However, surprisingly enough, the loss to Trinidad did not by itself guarantee the United States’ failure to qualify. Instead, it was a combination of unfavorable events that resulted in the unfortunate outcome.

The CONCACAF hexagonal is the fifth and final round of the World Cup qualifying process that began back in January 2015. It is a six-team round robin tournament from which the top three teams qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth place team plays an intercontinental playoff for a spot. Going into the final matches, the U.S. was in third place, and all they needed to guarantee qualification was a draw against Trinidad. Panama and Honduras were the other teams in the mix.

When the U.S. lost the match, the team was even more devastated to find out that both Panama and Honduras had won their matches, pushing the U.S. to fifth place and elimination.

“Everything that could have possibly gone wrong did, in this stadium and in two other stadiums across the region,” commented team captain Michael Bradley.

Gonzalez also spoke after the elimination about the loss and his own goal.

“It’s one that will haunt me forever. It’s the worst day of my career … What was supposed to be a celebration is now … I don’t even know what to say. It’s terrible,” said Gonzalez.  

“If you don’t look at yourself after this individually,” he said, “I think you’re f—ed up in the head,” said disconsolate forward Jozy Altidore.

Rightfully so, Coach Arena took responsibility for the outcome of the hexagonal.

“We should not be staying home for this World Cup,” he said. “And I take responsibility for it. We didn’t qualify for the World Cup that was my job to get the team there,” said Arena

Missing the World Cup will likely put the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) on a tighter budget in years to come. The revenue lost from not going to Russia next year will affect salaries for staff members who might already be on the fence about the decision of leaving after this year’s mishap. At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the USSF collected a total of $10.5 million — $1.5 million for participating and $9 million for advancing to the round of 16.

Playing in a World Cup also attracts sponsors, and although the U.S. team has already locked down many of them, its absence at next year’s World Cup will definitely make it harder to forge new sponsorship relationships in the future.

David Carter, executive director of the Marshall Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, commented on the topic of sponsorships.

“[Sponsorship] contracts typically have some contingencies where the amount of money is scaled back. There might be some sort of calibration that will take place so these partners are paying something commensurate with what they are truly getting.”

The current status of the U.S. soccer team has larger consequences than just missing this one World Cup, however. The U.S. team’s next World Cup game will take place during Thanksgiving week more than five years from now. And that’s the best case scenario. Teenage wunderkind Christian Pulisic will be 24, several years into his career. Tim Howard, whose last World Cup was without a doubt a legendary performance, will likely leave U.S. soccer with the lasting image of one of his worst performances. And never again will Clint Dempsey and captain Michael Bradley step on soccer’s biggest stage.

Furthermore, the subpar performance of the U.S. soccer team has highlighted and brought to attention several other issues with the U.S. soccer landscape, especially for youth players. Under criticism now is the subtle pay-to-play culture that’s made soccer a sport played primarily by upper-middle class white kids.

Doug Anderson, the chairman of U.S. Soccer’s diversity task force saw a broken system in America. He saw well-to-do families spending thousands of dollars each year on club soccer for their children, while thousands of gifted players in mostly African American and Latino neighborhoods get left behind.

“People don’t want to talk about it., The system is not working for the underserved community. It’s working for white kids,” said Anderson.

Some believe that the struggles of the U.S. team can be attributed to the lack in the ability of certain demographics to afford the high prices of the elite soccer clubs that send kids to the national team. One former U.S. soccer official shares this opinion about the future of the country’s soccer team.

“How good would we be if we could just get the kids in the cities?” he questions.

The failure of the U.S. men’s national team to qualify for the World Cup this year was already a disappointing outcome for American sports. Now, with further issues concerning race and socioeconomic backgrounds, we are sure to hear more negative news about United States soccer, both professional and youth, in the near future.

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