Part 1 of November’s finest in CONCACAF took us around the states, down to Costa Rica, and back to Mexico. Part two takes us to a few new destinations before returning stateside with Major League Soccer and taking another look at the happenings on the southern side of the Mexican/American border.
Bradley finally gets a win
Though there weren’t any CONCACAF teams present, and while this event took place in South Wales, Bob Bradley’s first win as Swansea manager is certainly an achievement that is appreciated quite a bit in North America, especially in the United States. It didn’t come easy for Bradley. The absolutely insane 5-4 victory over Crystal Palace to close out the month of November was his sixth Premier League match in charge of the club. The game was far from easy as well. It saw a 1-1 half-time scoreline. It saw a 3-1 Swansea lead. It saw a late comeback from Palace that was as rip-roaring as it was downright hilarious, the Eagles being aided by the cruelest of own goals and deflections. Christian Benteke, the much maligned Palace striker scored what seemed to be the winner for the visitors from London with just moments left in the ninety. Benteke somehow managed to put his attempt (which was a scramble effort that came from no more than a few yards out) off of both posts before it barely crossed the goal-line. Bradley watched on in bewilderment, wondering how his first win had just been snatched away. Then came the heroics of Fernando Llorente, who Bradley had thrown on as a substitute in the 66th minute. Llorente scored the equalizer and a 93rd minute winner. The final whistle sounded as the Swansea supporters, players, and of course the manager rejoiced. It’s gonna be a long and strenuous fight to avoid relegation for Swansea, but getting this first win could be a huge momentum changer for Bradley. He is now the winningest American manager in Premier League history.
Bradley gets a goal. Montreal gets a win. But what about the lines?
We head up to Canada for this one, French Canada to be more precise. It was supposed to be the biggest night in the MLS histories of both Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact. A capacity crowd of over 61,000 was on hand to take in the first leg of the semi-final tie between the sides at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Sadly for those fans, they had to wait around thirty minutes after the scheduled kickoff time for the match to get underway. The lines of the eighteen yard boxes were both two yards undersized. The game was delayed as the grounds-crew repainted the white boundaries on the artificial turf service. Thousands in the stadium and thousands more on the internet commented on the farcical display. It was something most of us had never seen. Eventually, the match got underway, and maybe it was worth the bizarre build up. Montreal jumped out to a big early lead, but late goals from American internationals Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley saw Toronto lose 3-2 on the night, still very much in contention for a spot in the MLS Cup Final.
Champion Cosmos otra vez
The New York Cosmos won their second consecutive NASL Championship on November 13. A thrilling penalty shootout after a cagey and defensive 120 minutes saw the Cosmos get past Indy Eleven, that shootout going 4-2 in favor of the New Yorkers. With the stability of the league very much in question, the consistent winning of the Cosmos is not at all in question. Manager Giovanni Savarese is proving to be one of the brightest young minds in football management in the United States. The former Swansea and New York/New Jersey Metrostars maestro has made a marvelous transition to coaching, and was even rumored to be among the names the United States Soccer Federation was considering for the USMNT job after the sacking of Jurgen Klinsmann.
Playoffs, the best friend of mediocrity
When the final whistle sounded at Estadio Caliente in Baja California at the conclusion of Club Tijuana and Leon’s enthralling second leg playoff tie, it meant the number one seed had again been knocked out of the Liga MX playoffs by the post season’s lowest entrant. Earlier in the month, FC Dallas were knocked out by the Seattle Sounders in the first round of the MLS playoffs. Dallas was the best team in the league throughout the exhausting MLS regular season, all while playing some of the most attractive soccer the league has seen in sometime under the wise tutelage of Oscar Pareja, another man who was pegged as a potential replacement for Jurgen Klinsmann. One 3-0 loss on the road in Seattle in the first leg and it all came crashing down. One bad game undid eight months of hard work. The similarities between Seattle’s takedown of Dallas and Leon’s knockout of Xolos are actually quite interesting. Each was the eight seed dispatching of the one seed over two legs. Each saw the eight-seeded team win 3-0 at home in the first leg. Both eight-seed teams were arguably the most in form teams in their respective competitions going into the playoffs. Both eight-seed teams wear green. Both of the one-seeds wear red and white.
The playoffs bring entertainment, excitement, and of course ample cash flow. But the fact of the matter is, they promote mediocrity. Few countries around the world use a playoff system to decide the champion of their domestic soccer league. Both the U.S. and Mexico seem obsessed with the playoff model. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon, so I suppose we should just stay on the edge of our seats, as MLS and Liga MX treat soccer like the basketball courts of the NCAA Tournament. You could very well argue that Dallas and Tijuana should have just had their you know what together for these big matches. Or you could argue that a table never lies, and that a table is the only way the rightful champion of a league should be decided.
Rival Twins. Still Sisters.
You may have caught wind of one of the most touching moments of the soccer year that has been here in 2016. Twin sisters Sabrina and Monica Flores, both hailing from New Jersey, squared off in a FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup knockout match in Papua New Guinea.
Both players were eligible to be selected by both Team USA and Las Tri. Sabrina was selected for the U.S. Monica wasn’t. Monica was however selected to suit up for Mexico, which she most definitely did.
The Mexican team played an incredible game, Monica Flores included, holding a 1-0 lead until two late American goals saw the Yanks win 2-1, a heartbreaking loss for a spirited and determined Mexican side.
Monica broke down into tears following the loss. It was her sister who immediately came to her side to hug and consul, creating one of the most priceless and lasting images from this wild month of soccer.