What. A. Month!
From California to Catalonia, March of 2017 will surely go down as one of the most memorable months of soccer the world has seen in some time.
As we took it all in from our gorgeous SoccerNation perch in San Diego (with the occasional airplane trip to other fine footballing locales), the soccer gods continuously blessed us with atmospheric theater and drama that was both riveting and relentless.
We say “best of”, which could be left to some varied interpretation, for as beautiful as March was, there were moments within when the game we love certainly reared its ugly head.
Here are five stories that had us buzzing from an incredible month that was, an eclectic international list with some strong local flavor sprinkled in from America’s Finest City.
MLS kicks off Season 22
With so much expansion talk and with the hopes of twelve cities hanging in the balance, it was almost easy to forget that there was an actual season getting underway. The 20 teams currently playing in MLS all have realistic ambitions of success, and you’d be hard pressed to pick a championship favorite (though the defensively shaky Loons of Minnesota United may be an outlier in that particular conversation).
Love it or hate it, parity reigns supreme in this league. If the last two MLS Cup winners hailing from the Pacific Northwest have taught us anything, it’s that whole lesson about the finish being more meaningful than the start. But the opening month of league play hasn’t lacked for entertainment, whether in the sunshine or driving snow.
As for the on-field quality, San Jose Earthquakes midfielder and Panama international Anibal Godoy has been on fire, scoring what has to be the finest goal in the league thus far in an enthralling 3-2 win for San Jose against Vancouver Whitecaps.
Or maybe you’re more into tasty chips. No need to fret. Anibal has got you covered with this delightful finish against Montreal Impact.
As for the expansion saga, San Diego took another major step towards luring MLS to America’s Finest City, with FS Investors (and their new friend Landon Donovan) leading the way and helping to collect over 108,000 signatures in less than two weeks to send the much publicized Mission Valley stadium initiative into the hands of City Council. Stay tuned to SoccerNation.com for all the updates on @SoccerCitySD and MLS expansion news.
Referee strike halts Liga MX
What was supposed to be the 10th round of league fixtures in the Clausura season ended up as the weekend that Liga MX went dark.
After Club America’s Pablo Aguilar and Toluca’s Enrique Triverio were both given what the Mexican Referee’s Union saw as slap on the wrist suspensions for physically attacking match officials (ten and six games respectively), the union took the ultimate stand, announcing that the refs would be going on strike until more substantial penalties were handed out.
With a publicity stain to the league already settling, and a full round of nine regular-season matches postponed, the league and the Mexican Federation had no choice but to listen to the ref’s, and proceeded to give Aguilar a one year ban, with Triverio receiving six months.
While the ref’s have come back, and most players have seemingly got the message to keep their hands to themselves, the saga of the suspensions looks to be far from over. Club America have publicly stated that they will be taking Aguilar’s case and appealing it to a FIFA sanctioned court as soon as possible.
(Watch the Copa MX incident in Tijuana that put Pablo Aguilar in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons)
Barcelona with a comeback for the ages
Plain and simple, March 8th, 2017 will go down as one of the most extraordinary nights in the modern history of European football. It featured the greatest comeback in Champions League history, and seven minutes that may define the career of Neymar.
With Barcelona having already climbed a mountain to take a 3-0 lead on the night and get back into the tie with Paris Saint Germain, a tie in which they trailed 4-0 after the first leg in Paris, it looked like dreams were crushed when Edinson Cavani put home a dagger in the second half. Cavani roofed a crucial away goal that took the aggregate to 5-3 PSG, meaning Barca would have to score three more times to go through.
It all looked dead and gone as the 88th minute approached. But in the blink of an eye, Barca’s favorite Brazilian put the world on his back, scoring twice and assisting Sergi Roberto’s improbable 95th minute winner, a goal that sent the Camp Nou and millions around the world into absolute bedlam.
USMNT have a six pack in San Jose
Scintillating. Wet. Glorious.
In the first World Cup Qualifier played in the Bay Area in over twenty years, the United States Men’s National Team put on a show for their fans and onlooking press core. They were also performing for their new coach, a familiar face to U.S. supporters, Bruce Arena, who was heading the first competitive match of his second tenure, having taken over for Jurgen Klinsmann.
The “Bruce Arena Resurrection” took place in a steady California rain on March 24th, the U.S. scoring six goals and keeping a clean sheet against CONCACAF foes Honduras, the Yanks picking up their first points of the hexagonal in the process after losses to Mexico and Costa Rica saw the end of the Klinsmann era.
It was generations intertwined at Avaya Stadium, as 34 year-old Clint Dempsey scored a superb hat-trick, with two of the goals coming off assists from 18 year-old wonderkid Christian Pulisic, the highly touted youngster nabbing a goal of his own to join Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Lletget on the score-sheet.
Though a relatively calm 1-1 draw in Panama followed (featuring another Pulisic to Dempsey goal scoring connection), the U.S. team looks to be back with a head of steam as they move further on the “Road to Russia 2018”.
(Relive the events of March 24th one more time… or as many times as you’d like.)
Local Footy! NPSL kicks off. Liga MX in full swing. PDL season fast approaching.
As San Diego’s soccer community continues its quest for an MLS expansion franchise, there is plenty of other LIVE soccer in which citizens can indulge.
Albion Pros kicked off their second season in the NPSL this month with a 4-1 victory over new boys Oxnard Guerreros. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing since for the San Diego side, Albion losing back-to-back road contests with Riverside Coras and FC Arizona, the first losses that Albion have suffered in regular-season play since their inception last year.
Head Coach Ziggy Korytoski and his Albion squad still have plenty of time to get their campaign back on track, and continue to use Buccaneer Stadium at Mission Bay as a true soccer fortress.
The Xolos of Club Tijuana (at time of publishing) sit in 4th place in the Liga MX table, and look to at the very least be a playoff contender. Club America come to TJ on April 7th in the most anticipated fixture of the season, coincidentally coming less than a month after Xolos knocked Las Aguilas out of the Copa MX inside the Estadio Caliente, and Pablo Aguilar played his role in sending Mexican soccer into a week plus of pure chaos.
We now sit just over a month away from the kickoff of the USL-PDL season, with two San Diego based sides starting their season with a bit of mouthwatering head-to-head competition. May 6th at the Army-Navy Academy in Carlsbad, it’s the new look So Cal Surf hosting San Diego Zest FC. Stay tuned to SoccerNation for all the build-up.