Category: MLS

Goalkeeper Bill Hamid to leave D.C. United at end of season

Portland Timbers made easy work of D.C. United to book a playoff spot after missing out in 2016.

D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid will not return to the team next season.

Hamid, 26, told the Washington Post he is in search of new opportunities in his quest for new challenges in the sport.

“I want to push myself and see how far I can go because I know I have the work ethic and the hunger to take myself very far in this game. I know I can make it to the next level,” he told the paper on Wednesday.

The United States international has plans to sign with a club in Europe, with The Post reporting Midtjylland of Denmark are the favourites to land him.

Bill Hamid joined D.C. United in 2009.

“I think you are going to find out in the next 48 hours,” he said of his next club. “I am extremely excited for what’s next. It’s a big opportunity.

“It’s a big stepping-stone to what can come later on in my career.”

A native of Annandale, Virginia, Hamid has spent his entire career with United, joining with the academy as an 18-year-old in 2009.

Hamid has made 184 regular season and nine playoff appearances for the club. He helped United win the 2013 U.S. Open Cup, and was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2014.

He has been capped three times for the U.S.

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Dissecting FC Dallas' fall from MLS Cup contender to playoff outsider

Seattle secured their ninth consecutive trip to the MLS postseason, while Dallas no longer control their playoff destiny.

There was a strong feeling of optimism that permeated throughout FC Dallas media day, as reporters huddled into the team store back in late January at Toyota Park in Frisco, Texas.

Team president Dan Hunt and head coach Oscar Pareja spoke about the season ahead, their ambitions for an MLS title clearly stated. The signing of Paraguayan forward Cristian Colman was complete (the No. 9 they’ve been missing!). Speedy Ecuadorian full-back Anibal Chala had joined (a classic Pareja South American signing!). Veteran midfielder Javier Morales signed from Real Salt Lake and would provide ample cover for playmaking wizard Mauro Diaz while the latter continued to rehab from last fall’s Achilles injury (they won’t miss a beat!).

On the heels of a U.S. Open Cup title and MLS Supporters’ Shield crown, no wonder all the talk was about bringing home the club’s first ever MLS Cup.

Nine months later, the narrative has changed significantly. One match remains in the 2017 MLS season and not only are FC Dallas an afterthought in the title race, it may miss the playoffs altogether.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where things took a wrong turn. Everything started so positively. There was a preseason trip to Argentina where they played nine games in eight days, which served as preparation for the club’s 5-2 aggregate victory over Arabe Unido in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Even the CCL semifinal defeat to Pachuca had its positives. Yes, the Mexican side had advanced with a last-minute goal in the second leg, but Dallas had gone toe-to-toe with the Tuzos, a rarity in the one-sided nature of the Liga MX-MLS rivalry.

The Texans started the MLS season with a 6-0-3 record. Pareja was signed to a long-term deal in late March. Midfielder Kellyn Acosta was called to the national team, and thrived, notably in the U.S.’s 1-1 draw at Mexico in early June.

The peak came in a July 1 3-1 home victory over East-leading Toronto FC. Sitting atop the Western Conference toward the end of July, there was every reason to think that 2017 would belong to FC Dallas.

Inexplicably, the bottom then dropped out with a shocking 10-match winless skid. A defense that had been sturdy in the first half of the season suddenly started leaking goals, 23 total in that 10-game spell.

Kellyn Acosta
FC Dallas have been in a tailspin since the summer, when Kellyn Acosta was linked with a move to Europe.

What happened in Big D?

“It’s been a lot of things,” said defender Walker Zimmerman to ESPN FC. “Lineup changes, guys on international break, injuries … We just lacked that continuity.”

But these are the same things that just about every other team in MLS experiences, especially during a Gold Cup summer. Drill down a bit more, and the real problems are there to see. Forward Maxi Urruti was so good in the first half of the season, scoring 11 goals through the first week of July. But in the 15 games since the 4-2 July 4 win over D.C. United, the Argentine has just one goal, essentially mirroring Dallas’ fall and further exposing the struggles of Colman, who has just two league goals.

Likely not helping was the transfer talk involving a number of the team’s starters. There was Acosta’s talk of possibly moving to Europe mid-summer, and also the potential deal of sending Urruti and winger Michael Barrios to Argentine club San Lorenzo, which ultimately fell through. While Zimmerman refutes the notion that it was problematic — “It didn’t affect the locker room, all those players stayed focused” — such uncertainty can be unsettling.

Amid everything, there has been the injury struggles of Diaz. A player who was in the MVP discussion last year before suffering an Achilles injury against Seattle in October, he has yet to return to the difference-maker that guided FC Dallas to two trophies in 2016. The Argentine missed three games in August with a knock, further complicating his journey to a full recovery.

Despite all the aforementioned hurdles, there is still hope. A win over the LA Galaxy on Sunday and dropped points from San Jose against Minnesota would mean that Dallas is in.

“For sure there is pressure, but that’s a good feeling,” Zimmerman said. “We know we have to perform. We’re staying positive. We feel like if we can get in, we have the team to make a run to MLS Cup.”

But should the Earthquakes take care of business and FC Dallas end the season on the outside looking in, it’ll be a “U.S. in Trinidad” kind of disappointment felt in Frisco, making for a much longer offseason than anyone ever expected.

Arch Bell covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .

Columbus Crew won't give refunds for 2018 season tickets amid move plans

Alejandro Moreno reflects back at his time with the Columbus Crew and breaks down their potential move to Austin, Texas.

Columbus Crew SC will not give refunds to season-ticket holders for what might be the team’s last season in Ohio before a possible move to Austin, Texas.

Returning season-ticket holders had already been charged at least part of the amount of their ticket plan for next season when club owner Anthony Precourt said this week that he would need to see a “dramatic change” to keep the team in Columbus beyond 2018.

Fans who did not want to automatically renew their tickets had to opt out before Sept. 18, according to the membership plan laid out on the club’s website.

A club spokesperson confirmed to ESPN FC on Thursday that no refunds would be available for the funds already collected by the club for the 2018 season. The refund policy was first reported by local TV station NBC4.

“There are not going to be refunds issued for season tickets for the 2018 season,” the Crew spokesperson said. “We are playing at MAPFRE Stadium in 2018.”

Season-ticket holders could have elected to pay their entire bill for 2018 before Sept. 15 of this year, or choose from a three-month, six-month or monthly payment plan. According to the club’s website, the deadline for the second installment on the monthly plan would have been just hours before the news of the potential move broke on Monday night.

Anthony Precourt
Anthony Precourt is exploring a plan to potentially move Columbus Crew SC to Austin, Texas.

Columbus’ website says: “In the event you fail to make any timely required payments, Crew SC reserves the right to either (a) withhold your tickets for upcoming events until payment is made and the account is in good standing or (b) terminate the Membership, with any payments made prior to the termination date forfeited by you.”

Precourt has been frustrated at the team’s inability to increase revenue streams in terms of overall attendance, sponsorship and season tickets. With one week to go in the regular season, Crew SC’s attendance ranks 20th out of 22 teams.

The owner intends to explore concurrent paths towards a new stadium in both Columbus and Austin — a plan that has the support of Major League Soccer — but Columbus mayor Andy Ginther said the Ohio city will not support public funding for a new venue.

In a letter to season-ticket holders on Tuesday, Precourt expressed optimism for the 2018 season, but admitted concerns over the Crew SC’s long-term future.

“Although the club continues to address a series of historic challenges related to our ongoing business operations, we have specific concerns as we strive to realize our full ambition of becoming a standard-bearer in Major League Soccer,” his statement said.

“The facts and findings surrounding the health of the club dictate that we urgently expand and explore all options to preserve the long-term sustainability of the club — including remaining in Columbus.”

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Phoenix Rising high in push for MLS place

Under the baking Arizona sun, the players of United Soccer League (USL) side Phoenix Rising sweat through training, pushing their limits to see how far they can go in this year’s USL play-offs, starting this weekend against Swope Park Rangers.

Despite their best efforts in the league, the nature of the closed division means the players know they cannot win promotion to Major League Soccer (MLS), no matter how they fare in Kansas on Saturday.

But in the air-conditioned boardroom of the club’s training complex there is more hard — albeit less sweaty — work being done to try and turn their top-flight dreams into a reality.

The Phoenix outfit, a little more than a year old, is one of 12 teams vying for a place in the next MLS expansion, with the first two of those likely to be named in mid-December for entrance in 2020, and the next two some time in 2018 (to enter the league in 2021).

Under the leadership of Club Governor Berke Bakay, and with a diverse ownership group that includes former Chelsea and Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba, acclaimed American DJ, record producer, rapper and singer Diplo, and Pete Wentz from rock band Fall Out Boy, there is real optimism that in the coming years the club will be competing in the top league.

“I think it is just a matter of when and not if. I can’t imagine Major League Soccer without having one of the largest cities in the United States being part of that,” Bakay tells KweséESPN in Phoenix.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant; I’m very humbled by the whole experience and I cannot talk to the timing of it, but it will happen.”

Bakay has been leading the charge to MLS since his ownership group acquired the Arizona United club, re-branded it Phoenix Rising in 2016, and found a new home in Tempe within the metropolitan boundaries of the city.

A ‘pop-up’ stadium was quickly erected and the club has been an instant hit with locals, averaging over 99 percent capacity at its 6 200-seater temporary home in 2017.

Bakay says they are only starting to scratch the surface of the team’s potential though, and admits that personalities and razzmatazz aside, there have to be compelling reasons why MLS will invite Phoenix Rising to join the league. He believes the club has them.

“A year ago none of this was here, including our stadium which was built from the ground-up in 52 days,” Bakay says. “I don’t know where else you could achieve that when you think about the permitting and everything else that goes into it, so it shows we have great support.

“We will build a permanent stadium on this site, subject to our MLS bid, and once we get the confirmation that we are in the league, we will start building it. I am not sure of the capacity yet — we are still professionally assessing the requirements — but I would think it would be around 23 000.”

Bakay says the stadium is a crucial part of their future, but they have a number of other factors in their favour.

“If you look at what gets you there [into MLS], it is really about having the right market. You need the right ingredients,” he says. “Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the United States and out of the 12 bidding cities it has one of the largest, if not the largest, media market, which is very important for what it can do for the other teams because obviously it brings the value of the media contract up.

“Our attendance figures are close to 400 percent higher from a year ago, we have brought in world stars such as Didier Drogba and Shaun Wright-Phillips, and it is a treat for our fans to be able to really enjoy them.

“A soccer-specific stadium is a must for MLS. We have the best location available in the Phoenix market that is shovel-ready to go. I feel like we have all the right ingredients and we are working towards making that dream a reality.”

One of the biggest negatives against Phoenix’s bid is the heat of the Sonoran Desert, but the club maintain this is essentially a non-issue.

That’s because it is a ‘dry heat’, and has none of the stifling humidity of Houston or Orlando, and that shaded areas in a stadium, or at night matches, would actually provide a much more comfortable fan experience than at many current MLS venues.

Bakay says bringing MLS to Phoenix is about what the club can do for the local community and enhance the brand of the city.

“I grew up in Istanbul and have always been a fan of Galatasaray. I have a great admiration for the sport. For me it is a perfect combination, now that I live in Phoenix, to be able to do something great for the community and bring professional soccer to the city,” he says.

“It is one of the fastest growing sports in this country, so to be able to bring that in a professional level in Phoenix really excites me.”

The capture of Drogba, a former Galatasaray player, as both a co-owner and player for the club has been a major coup.

“It’s amazing to call someone your partner who has been on the cover of Time magazine and been named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world,” Bakay says. “As recently as three months ago ESPN picked him as among the top 100 most famous athletes in the world and he is the only one from Arizona.

“Think about that: you’ve got [American] Football, baseball, ice hockey, basketball, you’ve got a lot of professional athletes in Arizona, but he’s the only one to make ESPN’s list.” 

Drogba says he saw the potential of the project immediately and, with his playing days winding down, jumped at the chance to look at a new career path in football.

“It’s an amazing project here, to build a team from scratch and apply for an MLS license. I am learning a lot about the other aspects of the game, which is important,” Drogba tells KweséESPN.

“I played before in this league [MLS] with Montreal [Impact] and I had time to understand the league and the challenges, and to see how this opportunity could become a big one. That’s why I came here, to try to make history.”

Drogba has brought with him French coach Patrice Carteron, whose Midas touch led the side to the USL playoffs this season after a difficult start.

“It’s a fantastic project. The energy is fantastic, the board members are very ambitious and very optimistic. I work in very good conditions,” Carteron says. “Here we are building everything to prepare the club to go to MLS as soon as possible.”

He says all the work that the coaching staff put in now is not only for this year, but with one eye on a future in MLS, as he looks to develop the squad without the win-at-all-costs mentality.

Carteron adds: “In Europe, every game is very important and you have to win in because everything is about the result. We are thinking differently now because we are starting to think about the future; we are thinking about many seasons from now.

“The philosophy is totally different, we are in a closed division, and it is not as if we had to reach one of the top two places to get into MLS.”

Aside from Phoenix, the other cities in contention for the four MLS places are Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, St. Louis, Sacremento, San Antonio, San Diego, and Tampa/St. Petersburg.

Vancouver Whitecaps, Sporting Kansas City face a nervous Decision Day

Matt Besler discusses Sporting Kansas City’s mindset as they continue to push for a playoff spot.

A few weeks ago, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City were safe bets to snag the top two seeds (and the valuable first-round byes) in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference. Each team was playing consistently well, at least by the standards of this ramshackle West, and each held bonus matches in their respective hands.

Ahead of Decision Day (whip-around coverage starting at 4 p.m. EST on Sunday on ESPN/WatchESPN), circumstances have shifted.

The ‘Caps still technically top the table but anything other an outright win at rivals Portland will open the door for either the Timbers or the third-place Seattle Sounders (or both) to leapfrog them and move straight into the conference semis. Sporting’s situation is more dire, needing victory at even-more-desperate Real Salt Lake or face the possibility of an away Knockout Round elimination game for a third straight year.

Portland TimbersPortland Timbers
Vancouver WhitecapsVancouver Whitecaps

8:00 PM UTC

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Vancouver is playing for legitimacy, to prove that they are more than just the beneficiary of a down year in the West. Kansas City wants to put a cherry top of an era that, for all of the consistent success and mostly minor trophies, still feels slightly unfulfilled for a group of veterans approaching the back ends of their primes.

It would be harsh on the Whitecaps to say that they’ve fallen off. A slow start to the season, in which influential Peruvian Yordy Reyna was out for months due to a foot injury, is more to blame on their currently precarious position than recent form. After all Vancouver has been one of the league’s hottest teams since the Fourth of July, including a seven-match unbeaten run stretching through most of August and September.

With Reyna back in the fold, first-year designated player signing Fredy Montero leading the line with 13 goals and a robust back line that has allowed the third-fewest goals in the West, the Whitecaps are well-rounded and tough to break down.

“I’m very lucky. I’ve got a good bunch of guys who come to work hard every day in training,” ‘Caps coach Carl Robinson told ESPN FC. “I’ve been able to stretch a lot out of them… We don’t have any superstars, not like some teams, but we’ve got a lot of depth.”

The ‘Caps are coming off a huge, glaring missed opportunity at home against the underwhelming Earthquakes last Sunday. A win would have locked up the No. 1 seed in the West but Vancouver missed a host of chances to put the game away and surrendered a one-goal lead late. Instead of celebrating a breakthrough in front of a triumphant home crowd at BC Place, they must now travel to one of the most intimidating venues in the league and emerge with all three points to ensure a bye.

“I think it shows how far Vancouver have come,” said Robinson, unshakably cheery as always. “Was it disappointment last weekend against San Jose? Yes it was. But I look at that as a positive thing.”

Yordy Reyna’s return to the lineup has been a boost for the Whitecaps.

Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber was less rosy about the way his team have played recently. Sporting really have swooned down the stretch. SKC, of all teams, know the value of earning, at the very least, a home playoff game.

In each of the last two postseasons, they’ve lost on the road to the eventual MLS Cup champions. Those unpleasant memories kept them sharp when others slacked off during the dog days of spring and early summer. But all those banked points have been of little consolation during Kansas City’s ongoing four-match win-less streak, including a home loss to Vancouver and a scoreless draw against Houston this past weekend despite firing off 27 shots.

“I think we’re disappointed in some of the things that we haven’t been able to accomplish,” Feilhaber said. “It’s really frustrating to have gotten two points out of the last four games. We probably could have won all four of them, to be honest.”

Given Kansas City’s veteran core (Feilhaber, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler) and a seemingly wide-open road to the league championship game, it remains fair to question the wisdom of trading last season’s leading goal scorer, Dom Dwyer, to Orlando in late July. It’s probably even more a pressing inquiry now given SKC’s subsequent struggle to find the back of the net.

Feilhaber, for his part at least, suggests otherwise.

“Honestly, I don’t think that’s affecting it at all, to be completely honest with you,” Feilhaber said. “Dom was great for us, but Dom missed his share of opportunities for us, too. It kind of comes and goes, but this has been our biggest problem throughout my five years here.”

Real Salt LakeReal Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas CitySporting Kansas City

8:00 PM UTC

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Kansas City have always been good defensively, he said — this season they have the stingiest back line in the conference — and have long been lauded for their collective mentality.

“We just need to be better in front of goal,” Feilhaber said. “I don’t know that there’s any other way to put it.”

Salt Lake aren’t going to make it easy on them. These two teams have bad blood going back years. Most date the animus back to a preseason game that ended in an all-out brawl back in 2011, two years before Sporting bested RSL on penalty kicks to lift the MLS Cup.

“We’re probably the biggest rival each other has, in terms of real rivalry instead of just created by distance from each other,” Feilhaber said.

The type of rival, in other words, that is the last team you want to see lining up on the other side of the field in a must-win situation with precious seeding on the line. Both Kansas City and Vancouver had multiple chances to avoid such a scenario, but here they are, and Decision Day will be all the more intriguing for their profligacy.

Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.