Bruins take care of business on the farm

PALO ALTO – The UCLA Bruins, led by future hall of fame Head Coach Chip Kelly, marched into Stanford Stadium with one mission: Win The Day. Kelly’s old motto from his time at the helm of the Oregon Ducks was on full display. This time dressed in brand Jordan apparel, swapping blue for his old green, but flanked my many familiar faces from his time in Eugene, Kelly donned his classic visor and was all business.

A narrow loss the previous week to the Fresno State Bulldogs was a thing of the past. As has always been Kelly’s style, the past is in the past and today is all there is, right now. Indeed, UCLA played like last week never happened. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson led the Bruins to two early touchdowns and a 14-0 lead. Not to be outshined, the Bruins’ defense held the Cardinal to no fewer than five three-and-outs. The game seemed to be one score away from slipping out of reach for the home team.

However, Kelly wasn’t the only future hall of famer in the house. Stanford Head Coach David Shaw is equally fantastic. His mastery of leadership led to sudden adjustments that got the Cardinal back in the game. A solid drive led to a score, and the game was within reach. However, Kelly and company would not be denied.

Before the first half ended, the Bruins would score again. At 21-7, the Cardinal marched down the field, but were held out of the endzone. A final attempt at a field goal bounced off the crossbar and seemed to sap whatever energy was left.

It wasn’t over though. By early in the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 21. The Cardinal had come back. Shaw’s adjustments were working. Kelly made his own adjustments though, and the Bruins exploded. Despite a field goal that got the Cardinal to 24, Thompson-Robinson stayed focused and delivered. First, a 75-yard bomb for a touchdown, then the defense held the Cardinal to 3. Then the Bruins engineered another drive for a score that put the game away. Kelly did indeed win the day.

Just like that, UCLA went to 3-1 and climbed ever so slightly in the rankings. UCLA dropped to 2-2 and remains a dangerous and underrated opponent.

UCLA returns home to Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California to host the Arizona State University Sun Devils on Saturday at 7:30pm. The game will be broadcast by Fox Sports 1.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, including NCAA football since 2007. Image taken by Ahsan Awan for American Presswire. Ahsan Awan can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi.


Cardinal impress in 24-35 loss to UCLA

PALO ALTO – The Stanford Cardinal may be the most underrated 2-2 team in college football. Saturday’s loss to UCLA was a blip on the radar for a future hall of fame coach, many legitimate future NFL prospects, and a fan base that understands that while winning is fun, football is just a game. When asked about the outcome, one fan who didn’t provide his name said it best, “it doesn’t matter who won the game, the real winners are those who go on to have a great life.”

There’s no question every Cardinal player has the opportunity to have a great life. Perhaps that’s one of the things that makes Stanford different. No matter what happens on the scoreboard, the growth and development obtained through participation, combined with the strength of the institution and the support of the community, is central to the creation of the highest percentage of successful leaders per capita in all of college football.

Stanford is special. From the professionalism of the staff to the quality of the facilities, there’s no place like it. That special feeling was in the air on Saturday when the Cardinal took to the field. Head Coach David Shaw didn’t look a day older. The man literally hasn’t aged in at least half a decade. On the other side of the field was another future hall of fame head coach, UCLA’s Chip Kelly.

Shaw is no stranger to Kelly, and vice versa. Shaw began his coaching tenure at Stanford in 2007. Kelly began his tenure at the University of Oregon at the same time. These two have met on the field many times. There are no surprises. Saturday’s meeting was just two of the greatest coaches in the game doing what they do best, causing one of the most exciting games in football. While Stanford won this meeting 35-24, students, fans and everyone in attendance were treated to the pageantry, magic and gridiron battle that makes college football so great.

The game started slowly for the Cardinal. After 5 three-and-out series, the Cardinal trailed 14-0. Being the future hall of famer that he is, Shaw made adjustments and the Cardinal responded. A solid drive ending in a touchdown many wouldn’t make on Sundays – in air, spun around, over the opponent’s shoulder pad; the perfect grab for 6! It was a thing of beauty, and it seemed like a momentum-turner.

For a moment, it seemed like Stanford found its stride and UCLA didn’t have an answer. They even tied the game at 21 heading into the fourth quarter. However, Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was not to be denied. At 18-29 for 251 yards, 2 touchdowns and zero interceptions, he looked great. The thing is, Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee was 19-32 for 293 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero interceptions, so he was right there in lock step; in fact, he was better.

The truth is these teams aren’t that far apart. As one UCLA coach explained, “Stanford Stadium is the least hostile in the Pac-12, maybe in the nation.” Don’t blame the 12th man. Stanford students showed up in force. In fact, this may have been a fan attendance record. Someone should’ve kept count.

UCLA hosts Arizona State University on Saturday. Stanford hosts #3 Oregon. The Ducks struggled through the first half against the Arizona Wildcats in Eugene. That was in front of a home crowd. Sure, Stanford Stadium may not be hostile on Saturday, but it’s different. For one thing, it’s real grass. The Ducks are used to playing on artificial turf. More importantly, however, it’s Stanford. It’s David Shaw. It’s the jumbo line and an offense capable of putting points on the board. Last but not least, it’s the pageantry, magic, and poise founded in the knowledge that football is just a game.

No pressure. The Stanford Cardinal host the #3 Oregon Ducks at 12:30pm PST. The game will be televised on ABC.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, including NCAA football since 2007. Image taken by Ahsan Awan for American Presswire. Ahsan Awan can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi.


Stanford, Shaw ready to host Kelly, UCLA

PALO ALTO – Life on The Farm is nothing to complain about. Along with being one of the world’s premier academic institutions and an unrivaled incubator of innovation and entrepreneurialism, Stanford University also boasts some of the finest athletic facilities in the world. Whether you’re playing water polo or football, you can’t go wrong choosing to be part of the Cardinal family.

David Shaw knows this. The former Cardinal wide receiver (1991-1994) has been a Stanford football coach since 2007. He’s been the head coach since 2011. He has a 92-37 win/loss record, three Pac-12 conference championship titles and five Pac-12 north division titles. Say what you may about the Cardinal, but there’s no question the 49-year-old Shaw remains one of the best in the business. A lot more can be said about Coach Shaw. Maybe it’ll find its way into the lead up to his Hall of Fame induction speech one day.

Most experts and pundits agreed that Stanford was entering a rebuilding year. Talent turnover and new blood at critical positions was labeled a strike against the Cardinal’s prospects. A disappointing opening loss to Kansas State seemed to prove them all right. Then came then #14 USC. Through total domination of the Trojans, Coach Shaw and his players engineered and executed one of the most compelling statements of the season: the Cardinal are a force to be reckoned with. They reiterated that the following week with an even more convincing thrashing of SEC member Vanderbilt University.

At 2-1 with a pair of convincing road wins, including one over a top-15 ranked conference opponent, Stanford should be ranked.  Chip Kelly’s UCLA Bruins remain ranked after a loss to an unranked Fresno State team, and the Bruins’ two previous wins were over unranked NP5 University of Hawai’i from the Mountain West Conference, and unranked Louisiana State University from the SEC. With the Bruins heading up to Palo Alto this weekend, Coach Shaw’s Cardinal has the advantage of playing at home. Stanford Stadium can hardly be called hostile, but home is home, and that matters.

129 games into his time at the helm of the Cardinal, David Shaw has amassed 92 wins. He has won more than 71% of the time. He has gone up against Chip Kelly many times over the past decade, and throughout his time as a Stanford coach in any capacity. There should be no surprises, just two very good football coaches leading two very talented teams.

The Stanford Cardinal host the #24 UCLA Bruins on Saturday, September 25 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, CA. Kickoff is currently scheduled for 3:00pm PST, and the game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network. Following that, the Cardinal host the #3 Oregon Ducks at 12:30pm PST. That game will be televised on ABC.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, including NCAA football since 2007. Image taken by Ahsan Awan for American Presswire. Ahsan Awan can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi.


Cristobal, Ducks ready for conference play

EUGENE – The Oregon Ducks are ready to begin Pac-12 conference play. After three out-of-conference games, the Ducks are 3-0 and ranked #3 in the polls. The last time this happened was 2014. Oregon went on to win the next game, their Pac-12 conference opener, and went on to finish with a #2 ranking after falling to Ohio State in the 2015 national championship game.

Seven years and a couple of head coaches later, here come the Ducks. After a somewhat nerve-racking opening game against a very dangerous and talented Fresno State team that just upset the UCLA Bruins, Oregon traveled to Columbus, Ohio to meet their old national championship foe, Ohio State. In that game, running back Ezekiel Elliott was unstoppable. This time, the tables were turned. Oregon’s CJ Verdel was the one no one could lay a hand on. Oregon won not only the game, but also the distinction of being a team that seemed to have found its heart and stride through the commitment of its players and the culture created by its staff; in particular, head coach Mario Cristobal.

A word about Coach Cristobal – there is no finer coach in college football, possibly in all of college sports. Say what you will about Alabama’s Nick Saban being the most decorated, there’s no disputing that. Coach Saban has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest of all time. Those who know him knew this was his destiny when he was at Michigan State. His time at LSU was just a segue to the place where he will surely be honored with statues and monuments in the future. Cristobal knows this, he’s been there.

Cristobal spent three years at Alabama before coming to Oregon. He spent five years as the head coach at Florida International before that. Not only does he know how to lead and what to do, but he has learned from the best, and that is evident in how his program has evolved in Eugene. In his fourth year at Oregon, Mario Cristobal has won the Pac-12 conference championship twice. He has won the Pac-12 north division title once. Let’s not forget, he won a Sun Belt conference championship over a decade ago (2010), and he – himself – is a two-time national champion and four-year letterman from the University of Miami. The point is, Mario Cristobal is a winner and a champion, he knows what it takes, and his players at the University of Oregon are on board with his way.

While injuries to some key players continues to be an issue, the Ducks appear ready for Arizona. Quarterback Anthony Brown left the game versus Stony Brook with a foot injury but appears ready to go. Ty Thompson stepped up in that contest and proved he’s more than capable of running the offense. Given his productivity, it’s hard to imagine he won’t see time under center again soon. With dynamic duos at both running back and quarterback, a strong receiving corps and an offensive line that has demonstrated the ability to hold off one of the best defenses in college football, Oregon’s prolific offense should fare well this weekend.

While missing key defensive starters like Kayvon Thibodeaux and Justin Flowe, the Ducks have shown they can play and win. Conference play is always a different challenge, but with the advantage of home field, the Ducks should continue to be effective.  Add the return of students and the increased confidence in safety measures implemented due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Autzen Stadium is sure to be a difficult place for the Ducks’ opponents.

The Oregon Ducks host the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday, September 25 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. Kickoff is currently scheduled for 7:30pm PST, and the game will be televised on ESPN.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, including NCAA football since 2007. Image taken by Craig Strobeck. ©2021 Craig Strobeck and approved for use by American Presswire. Ahsan Awan can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi. Craig Strobeck can be found on the web and on Instagram as @cstrobeck.


UCLA Football wins, Chip Kelly is back!

WESTWOOD – Chip Kelly is back! With a 12-21 record entering his fourth season as the Head Coach of the UCLA Bruins football team, the doubters have been silenced as the energy and electricity of UCLA football has returned. After dominating the University of Hawai’i 44-10 to start the season, the Bruins hosted the LSU Tigers in Rose Bowl Stadium in a game many believed would be just another win for the SEC.

Kelly went up against LSU once before. On the tenth anniversary of that unfortunate defeat when he was the Head Coach of the Oregon Ducks, he got his revenge. Having now had sufficient time to transform the talent pool at UCLA to execute his dynamic offense, Kelly led the Bruins to an incredible 38-27 victory at home in Pasadena. The Bruins shocked the nation, and soon after leveraged social media to make it clear they found their swagger.

Kelly also got his voice back. Regarding the shock and surprise after winning, he said exactly what any true fan or follower of Chip would expect, "There wasn't anybody surprised in our locker room… I don't care where you're ranked… nobody cares. So whatever. It is what it is…” Yes! That is exactly THE Chip Kelly known and loved by many probably since the day he was born.

They say leadership trickles down from the top. Focus, attitude, commitment and drive – Kelly leads how he lives, and it’s clear his Bruins get it. The Bruins play a dangerous Fresno State team tonight in Pasadena. Another convincing win will certainly cement what has quickly become the general belief among many: the Pac-12 south division is UCLA’s to lose, and the while the Pac-12 conference championship will be played at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada in December, it is highly likely that winning will require beating UCLA.

The UCLA Bruins host the Fresno State Bulldogs on Saturday, September 18 at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California. Kickoff is currently scheduled for 7:45pm PST, and the game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, including NCAA football since 2007. Image taken by Shirley McCombs-Swayne. ©2021 Shirley McCombs-Swayne and approved for use by American Presswire. Ahsan Awan can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi. Shirley McCombs-Swayne can be found on Instagram as @shirleymcswayne.


Timbers, Thorns Define Portland Sports Culture

PORTLAND – Portland, Oregon – The Rose City – is home to many things. Some say it’s where you can find the best craft beer and the greatest assortment of food trucks anywhere in the world. Many are quick to identify Portland as home to some of the world’s most influential corporations such as Nike and Intel. However, anyone who knows Portland also knows it’s a passionate sports town. From the NBA’s Trailblazers to MiLB’s Hillsboro Hops, NCAA sports at the University of Portland, Portland State University, Lewis & Clark University, nearby Salem’s Willamette University, or major statewide powers The University of Oregon and Oregon State University, people of all kinds of sports allegiance live in or around Portland.

However, there’s another kind of very special and incredibly passionate fan in Oregon, and especially in Portland, and that is the professional soccer fan. MLS’s Portland Timbers FC and the NWSL’s Portland Thorns are without a doubt Portland’s most popular professional sports teams. Their shared home, Providence Park, is an amazing venue in part due to its location and structural uniqueness, but also because the legions of passionate fans who attend the matches are unwavering in their support.

Nowhere in North American professional sports of any kind will you find a more passionate fanbase. Nowhere else in North America will you find such grand displays of loyalty. From massive tifos to seemingly never-ending songs and chants, the fans in Portland, and at Providence Park in particular, never disappoint. The Timbers Army is one of the finest support groups in all of sport. The Thorns side Riveters are equally extraordinary. In fact, the Rose City Riveters are without a doubt the greatest support group in all of women’s sports, professional or otherwise.

The Portland Timbers are currently one back below the redline, in eighth place with 24 points, only 2 points behind division rival San Jose. They compete at Seattle today in a match where a win moves the club up over the line. The western conference leading Sounders will surely prove difficult to defeat in their own home. For what it’s worth, San Jose hosts the Colorado Rapids, currently in third place in the western conference, on September 4, so the fight to stay above the redline could go on for some time. Nevertheless, the Timbers must win if they want to get into the playoffs.

The Portland Thorns present a different story. They’re the league leader. They’re in first place with a 5-point margin. They also compete tomorrow. With a relatively light 3-match September, and a moderate 5-match October, it’s likely impossible to keep the Thorns out of the playoffs. Furthermore, given just how good they are, odds favor the Thorns making a strong championship run. Their 10-match streak without a loss goes back to late June.

What are the odds that Portland becomes home to both 2021 MLS and NWSL champions? At this point, that’s tough to say; however, it very well may not be worth betting against. If you ask the fans of either of these clubs, many of whom are the same, they’ll tell you – no – they’ll show you! Experience either a Timbers or Thorns match in Portland and you’ll know the answer. You’ll know the odds.  No matter what they are, you’ll feel the passion, commitment and love this city and its people have for these clubs. Have a look.

The Portland Timbers host the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday, September 15 at Providence Park. Kickoff is currently scheduled for 7pm PST. The Portland Thorns host the Washington Spirit on Saturday, September 4 at Providence Park. Kickoff is currently scheduled for 7:30pm PST.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, including professional soccer and MLS since 2014. All images taken by Richard Kolbell for American Presswire and ©2021 Richard Kolbell for American Presswire subject to unlimited use under license unless otherwise noted. Ahsan Awan can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi. Richard Kolbell can be found on Twitter as @bokoripa and on Instagram as @richardkolbell.


On the pitch and in the owners' suite, Inter Miami makes changes

FORT LAUDERDALE – Miami! From Homestead and Key Largo in the south, north beyond Biscayne Bay to South Beach, the Design District, up through Hollywood, and into Fort Lauderdale – keep going north to Pompano, Deerfield, Delray, and Boynton – the beach towns flanking Boca Raton are iconic and storied.  And so it is that Fort Lauderdale, nestled in between Miami and Boca has become the center of South Florida’s soccer world. It is, at least for now, home to Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami CF. As the South Florida Miami-Dade metroplex has grown over the years, so too has the greater community collectively joined under the umbrella of what is unequivocally one of the world’s most incredible cities, Miami!

It is here that Iconic footballer David Beckham placed his club, right in the middle, in Fort Lauderdale. Make no mistake, Beckham, who is also co-owner of British fourth division League Two’s Salford City FC, isn’t the only notable figure in the owners' suite. Inter Miami CF boasted no fewer than four billionaire owners when the club launched operations. Two came from the Mas family, owners of MasTec. The other two were SoftBank’s iconic CEO, Masayoshi Son and his very close SoftBank chief executive colleague, Marcelo Claure.

Pay particular attention to the tense: were. That’s important because just yesterday it was reported that the Mas brothers are seeking to buy out their SoftBank co-owners in a deal that may value the franchise at $600-650 million. Sportico’s most recent valuation of Inter Miami CF is $525 million, so the Mas brothers, reportedly offering a mix of cash and financing backed by Goldman Sachs, appear willing to pay a premium to secure Son and Claure’s reported 48% stake in the club. It has also been reported that they may seek to allow a small number of limited partners to join the group in the future. Whether that happens remains to be seen.

The Mas brothers are considered more than capable of delivering on a final stadium project that is currently known as Miami Freedom Park, so it’s possible – if not likely – that Inter Miami CF’s time in Fort Lauderdale is limited. Don’t let that deter from the experience though.

Their current home is DRV PNK Stadium. It sits just across the road from an executive airport loaded with private jets and other aircraft. It’s a short drive from the major commercial airport and international cruise terminal. The seats are pink and white like the flamingos and white sands Florida is known for. The digs may be temporary, but they’re a beautiful sight. The pitch itself may be the healthiest in the league. South Florida’s humidity and often daily rain showers make the pitch perfect in ways other field maintenance crews can only dream of. It’s truly world class.

Forget politics, forget ownership, American Presswire officially launched coverage of Inter Miami CF because the atmosphere and facilities are amazing, the club plays exciting soccer/futbol, and the entire staff, from the executives to the interns, are so incredibly professional – everything about Inter Miami CF is awesome! One more reason for initiation of coverage: during our coverage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the prelim stage was held at DRV PNK, and we were present. It was there, on the pitch, that we met one of South Florida’s finest sports photographers, Chris Arjoon. Not only are his images iconic works of art, but his deep knowledge of the sport, and his appreciation of every aspect of the operation, make him a priceless resource. His social media handles are included below. Follow him. Now let’s talk futbol/soccer!

Inter Miami currently sits below the redline in tenth place with 23 points. Atlanta, Columbus, and DC United all have 27 points. With 6 wins, 5 draws and 9 losses, along with an August record that includes 3 wins, 2 draws and a loss. The club may indeed be showing the signs of life needed to make a successful stretch run toward the postseason. Imagine that. After a somewhat rocky start, Inter Miami could be a dark horse contender. September will be a real test, but if the club can match their August outcomes, they may just find themselves entering an extremely heavy final stretch from a position just above the line. Wouldn’t that be something, Inter Miami in the playoffs.

After losing 0-2 on the road at NYCFC dead in the middle of August, something changed. The club outscored Chicago to post a 3-2 victory just four days after their road loss. Coach Phil Neville said the will and character of the club had “finally changed.” Some wondered if perhaps his seat was warming ever so slightly based on wat was widely perceived to be underperformance and unfulfilled expectations. Whether there was any truth to that or not, the club responded brilliantly. Rodolfo Pizarro, Victor Ulloa, and Gonzalo Higuain banded together, seized control of the match, and delivered the go-ahead goal that sealed the win. A united front was born on August 18.

Just three days later, the club seized victory again. This time, the opponent was Toronto FC. Pizarro was again the point man of a scoring attack that was unstoppable. Defeating Toronto 3-1 and doing so just three days after a gritty 3-2 victory, Inter Miami was backing up its words. Things did indeed appear to have finally changed. “We knew there was a lot riding on it,” Neville said. He continued by pointing out the fact that the club notched back-to-back wins at a critical time.

Then came the MLS All-Star break. Often a momentum sapper, the great concern was that Inter Miami would return flat, especially after Pizarro’s incredibly emotional trip west as Inter Miami’s first MLS All-Star. Not only is he Inter Miami’s first all-star ever, but he also came from the Liga MX side and had plenty of all-star praise and achievement there. Switching sides is always emotional.

Only six days after their last match, and with an all-star weekend inserted in between, Inter Miami returned to the pitch yesterday on the road in Orlando. The club earned a draw, and while they didn’t win, they also didn’t lose. For what it’s worth, it was a scoreless draw, and its possible the men up front needed rest. It’s also possible that Pizarro’s need for rest altered the chemistry on the pitch. Pizarro’s yellow card in the second half may have reduced his aggressive style, but it may also have been the result of general fatigue. Pizarro was subbed out only a few minutes after drawing the card.

Despite not winning, Neville was satisfied. About the outcome, he said, “we’re pleased.” After the brutal late August schedule Inter Miami has had, who wouldn’t be pleased with a road point and a draw? However, September isn’t going to be any easier. In fact, it’s probably more difficult. October looks to be even more difficult. Indeed, there’s work to be done to finish with above the redline.

Inter Miami’s next match is on Saturday, September 4, on the road in Cincinnati. The club returns home to DRV PNK to host Columbus on Saturday, September 11. Both matches are currently scheduled for 8pm EST kickoffs. Both matches are winnable and starting September with six points would definitely confirm that things really have changed for the best.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, including professional soccer and MLS since 2014. All images taken by Chris Arjoon for American Presswire and ©2021 Chris Arjoon for American Presswire subject to unlimited use under license unless otherwise noted. Ahsan Awan can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi. Chris Arjoon can be found on Twitter as @picsbrit and on Instagram as @brit__pics.


Sacramento: From The Outside Looking In

SACRAMENTO – The Pacific division of the United Soccer League’s Championship tier is both competitive and complicated. Currently led by Phoenix Rising, and with Orange County, Tacoma, and San Diego all in a distant 2-3-4 clump that could separate after the next match for any of them, the next club down is Sacramento Republic FC. Sitting in fifth place with 22 points, the boys in old glory red are five points behind fourth place, seven points behind second place, and a very distant sixteen points behind Phoenix.

USL announced the 2021 playoff structure on April 20 of this year. The top four clubs from each division will get in and play single-elimination style with the top two clubs in each division earning hosting rights. Sacramento is currently on the outside looking in. One place back below the line, but also five points back. Getting into the top four will not be easy.

Sacramento hosts division rival San Diego on Saturday, August 28, in what can only be described as a must-win match. The homecoming for former Republic FC owner Warren Smith is certainly exciting; but make no mistake, there will be generosity on the pitch. A win by the Loyal could propel them into second place, thus opening the door to the opportunity to host. They want that.

A Republic FC loss would indeed make things much more difficult for Sacramento. A widening gap to rise above the line is not what you want to see entering a brutal September stretch that includes matches at Tacoma, home-and-home versus LA Galaxy II, at Las Vegas, on the road at Mountain division leader El Paso, and at home hosting a San Antonio squad that, while hovering just off the bottom of the Mountain division, has nearly the same total points as Republic FC does.

Remember when SRFC was “Built 4 MLS” – it was once a trending social media hashtag. Those days appear long gone. The celebration of approval to join MLS was thwarted when billionaire NHL Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle pulled out. The coronavirus pandemic played a role. The sharply escalating cost of to build the new stadium in the railyards was a factor. That went from an estimated $300 million up to $400 million. Infrastructure costs nearly doubled from $27 million to $47 million. The limited partners failed to raise and deliver roughly $60 million needed to continue. Don’t forget the MLS franchise fee. What was once reportedly $50 million went up to $200 million, and that was not paid. However, things didn’t end there. To proceed, Burkle and his partner Matt Alvarez needed acquire the majority stake from SRFC’s majority owner, Kevin Nagle. That too was never completed.

Naturally, to the casual fan, the answer seemed simple enough: just find another deep-pocketed billionaire looking to become a pro sports franchise owner. If only it was that simple. Unfortunately, following the ownership and investment breakdowns in Sacramento, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the league had moved forward with vetting several alternatives: Phoenix, Las Vegas and – you guessed it – San Diego! Right about now, if you’re thinking Warren Smith is a genius, you would be correct.

However, just one week ago, Garber said MLS is “really intrigued” by Las Vegas as a potential market. What’s not to be intrigued by? Las Vegas has proven to be a sustainable home for both the NFL and the NHL. It certainly has long-standing NCAA presence. The NBA has run its summer league there for some time and may very well by eyeing both NBA and WNBA franchise placement there. MLB may be eyeing similarly, and they already have a MiLB AAA franchise there. USL-C has the Las Vegas Lights there. With USA Rugby and World Rugby hosting matches there, it may only be a matter of time before an MLR franchise lands there. Let’s also not forget the recent success of the Gold Cup final. CONCACAF proved it can host a major soccer championship match for a sell out crowd in an NFL stadium, never mind a soccer-specific one at roughly one third the total capacity. The truth is, Las Vegas is the sports capital of the world, and that has nothing to do with gambling. Why wouldn’t MLS want to have a franchise there?

It’s clear that the stakes are rising. In July, it was reported that the billionaire Wilf family, owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, bought MLS’s Orlando City SC for $400-450 million. They sold a limited partner minority stake to the billionaire DeVoss family, owners of the NBA’s Orlando Magic.

Meanwhile, NYCFC is majority owned by City Football Group, owners of iconic English Premier League side Manchester City. Their minority owner is Yankee Global Enterprises – think MLB’s New York Yankees and the Steinbrenner family. All billionaires.

Who’s next? Could the billionaire Glazer family, owners of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and EPL side Manchester United, buy into MLS? It wouldn’t be difficult for them to eye the USL Championship side’s Atlantic division co-leader (alongside the Pittsburgh Riverhounds), the Tampa Bay Rowdies. They could just as easily see a fantastic opportunity in Las Vegas.

San Diego doesn’t have its ownership whale yet though. Warren Smith and Landon Donovan have Andrew Vassiliadis on board, but they need more. Rumors have swirled for some time that Taiwanese Canadian billionaire Joe Tsai might be interested. As an Alibaba Group co-founder, he certainly has the finances. He also owns the National Lacrosse League’s San Diego Seals, and he has a 49% stake in the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. In case owning a professional box lacrosse franchise seems weird, make a note, Joe Tsai played lacrosse at Yale University. Furthermore, in case you don’t know what box lacrosse is, and you wonder what NLL is relative to the Professional Lacrosse League (PLL), the difference is simple: PLL is full field, typically outdoors. NLL is played in arena, typically indoors. If you’re thinking NFL versus AFL, you’ve got it! Box lacrosse is like arena football, but it’s lacrosse, and it’s very entertaining.

Obviously, Tsai seems like an instant leading potential to majority own the Loyal and get them to MLS. Of course, don’t count out the Glazers, not that they’ve shown any interest in MLS, Las Vegas, or San Diego at all. Nevertheless, in case that didn’t open the door enough, a wise guidance would be not to count out any billionaire. The operative qualifier, however, remains the same. It is increasingly apparent that MLS ownership is perhaps best suited for billionaires, if not restricted to that class altogether.

That brings things back to Sacramento, on the outside looking in, below the line and looking up, and straining to remain relevant in an environment that appears less friendly to their interests. On the pitch, the boys in old glory red need to win. They need to beat San Diego tomorrow, and they need to win in September. In the front office, Sacramento needs to find a new lead investor. With former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez joining the effort to find a new backer, it’s clear that Sacramento hasn’t given up hope.

There’s an old saying, leadership trickles down from the top. It will take a series of exceptional performances and tremendous focus and discipline for the unit on the pitch to overcome the uncertainty of the unit in the clubhouse. For the fans, there’s only one thing to do: just keep showing up and cheering. On a seven-match streak without a loss, there’s plenty to be excited for and cheer on. The cub has certainly put office issues aside and played well for some time. If that continues, perhaps people the likes of the Glazers, the DeVoss family or others may be open to having a look. Sacramento hosts the San Diego Loyal at Heart Health Park on Saturday, August 28 at 7:00 PM. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN+.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, and has been covering professional soccer, including USL and Sacramento Republic FC, since their debut in 2014. All images taken by Ahsan Awan for American Presswire and ©2021 Ahsan Awan for American Presswire subject to unlimited use under license unless otherwise noted. He can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi.


Earthquakes Cross The Line

SAN JOSE – The Earthquakes have finally crossed the line. Sitting in seventh place with 26 points, head coach Matías Almeyda appears to finally be settling in as more than just a coach. He is now becoming an effective manager. Adjustments to the roster, rotations in the lineup, and a new twist of potentially unorthodox assignments on the pitch are showing the signs of brilliant potential the club invested in by hiring him. While the MLS Is Back bubble tournament of 2020 seemed to prove his ability to succeed in the league, the 2021 season showed mixed results. The month of June was bad. A scoreless tie in Austin, a brutal defeat in Orlando and an ugly loss at home to the LA Galaxy – no one was happy. Then came July.

The club acquired Brazilian center back Nathan from Swiss Super League side FC Zurich. They parted ways with general manager Jesse Fioranelli. Change was in the air. Over five matches in July, the Earthquakes never lost. Four ties in a row paved the way to a road win over division rival Seattle on the road. Suddenly things began to look different.

Entering August, the Earthquakes traded defender Florian Jungwirth to the Vancouver Whitecaps. The club then acquired forward Jeremy Ebobisse from the Portland Timbers. While defender Jackson Yueill was away for some time with the United States Men’s National Team on the Gold Cup tournament tour, and with forward Cade Cowell called up briefly for national team duty, it seemed the Earthquakes would again suffer critical roster depletion during an important stretch. However, for the second month in a row, the Earthquakes haven’t lost. While July featured four ties and one win, August featured three ties and two wins. That 100% increase in the win column is highlighted by a win over LAFC at home and win over the LA Galaxy on the road.

For those paying attention, that’s a 10-match unbeaten streak through the MLS All-Star break. The club must now return its attention to the pitch as a busy month begins. September features six matches, four of which are at home. The two on the road are both in Texas, versus FC Dallas on September 11, and versus Austin FC on September 18. The tail-end rematches with LAFC and Seattle, both at home, will complete the most challenging test yet for this evolving club.

Almeyda is aware of the transformation. “We have been improving for a while now,” he said, and while he and the entire club probably feel they should have won more matches that they ended with ties, Almeyda is clear that he really likes how the team is playing. “We recovered our identity,” he continued. Once on the outside looking in, the Earthquakes now sit in a playoff-eligible position that, if the season were to end today, would match them up against an opponent they can not only beat, but that they have proven they can compete with, if not defeat, on the road. Almeyda knows this, the players believe this, and the fans now feel this.

The Earthquakes compete at home on Saturday, September 4 versus the Colorado Rapids. That match kicks off at 7:00pm PST.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, including professional soccer and the San Jose Earthquakes since 2014. All images taken by Ahsan Awan for American Presswire and ©2021 American Presswire. He can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi.


SRFC Quails Salty After Seemingly Self-Inflicted Loss

SACRAMENTO – Wearing their new all-white California Quail kits, Republic FC, embracing their unofficial nickname, the Quails, under the leadership of Head Coach Mark Briggs, took to the pitch last night versus division leader Phoenix Rising FC. New jersey, newly branded stadium, a revenge match after last season's playoff-ending goal by Solomon Asante that was clearly a hand ball; but most of all, defense of history -- Phoenix had never beaten Sacramento on the road. Moreover, Phoenix Rising had never scored a goal in Sacramento. Their last one was during Sacramento's inaugural USL season in 2014. Then Arizona United SC, Phoenix Rising FC simply didn't exist. Of course, Sacramento would go on to win the championship that year, and they would begin their quest for elevation to MLS with a star added to the kit.

Perhaps this season was a star-worthy season. Perhaps it still is. At 2-2 with 6 points in 4 matches, Sacramento isn't out by any means. Sitting fourth in the standings with upcoming matches versus the two teams below them on the board, the boys usually dressed in old glory red have the potential to create real separation between the top and bottom four within the division by the end of the week. Albeit a bit early to be separating with any safety, a pair of wins would certainly ensure Republic doesn't fall too far behind the leaders, if not land them right up there with them.

Heading into Saturday evening though, Republic was 2-1. Six points could've become nine. That was the plan. Unfortunately, that plan never had a chance. Sacramento never got anything going. Phoenix looked every bit in command from the opening kick. Short of calling the match a disaster, it certainly felt like a waste of time. The lineup was off. The energy was off. Despite the physicality (31 total fouls), the intensity was non-existent; that is, it was non-existent on the pitch. Mark Briggs was perturbed, to say the least. He seemed salty and annoyed. He said the night was disappointing, but to be a fly on the wall in the post-match locker room would surely have been a popcorn the crunch of which couldn't mask what must have been a colorful conversation.

The worst part about the loss isn't that Republic lost. It's not even that Phoenix won. The worst part is the sense that Sacramento didn't fight. The match never got aggressive. The disciplinary summary reflects that. Three yellow cards on Phoenix, ZERO on Sacramento. The home team did not fight. While Sacramento notched 16 fouls, Phoenix tallied 15. The physicality of play was essentially even. Sacramento just never pushed the limits. Sacramento also logged half as many shots, and not a one was on target. Despite dominating the corner seven to one, everything else was even.

According to Phoenix Manager Rick Schantz, the key to the match was tempo control. Phoenix demonstrated strength and maturity  by balancing tempo on the road. They didn't dominate, they didn't log lopsided minutes in either direction. They maintained possession 48% of the match versus Sacramento's 52%, but their passes were accurate 75% of the time versus Sacramento's 71%. That led to twice as many shots (13), 4 on target (versus Sacramento's 0). Phoenix had a balanced attack, a solid match plan, and they executed like a team on a mission to contend for a championship.

So what went wrong for Sacramento? Phoenix's lone goal cam in the sixty-second minute. They got their third yellow card just five minutes later. Then came the substitutions. Sacramento sent midfielder Tucker Bone in for striker Dariusz Formella. They took out defender Shannon Gomez and replaced him with Jordan McCrary. They also replaced midfielder Fatai Alashe with striker Cameron Iwasa. All of that happened by the 70th minute. In the 87th minute, Republic replaced striker Kharlton Belmar with striker Julian Chavez.

Perhaps the issue is the lineup. Perhaps some of those coming off the bench should be starting on the pitch. Perhaps some of those who are underperforming should be dealt with differently. Many an armchair manager has a theory about what would work better, who would work better, but none of them are on the pitch working with the club day after day. Mark Briggs is a solid leader. His plan is equally worthy of trust. The starting IX simply need to fight harder, draw contact, draw cards, get shots on goal, get shots on target; and of course, they need to find the back of the net.

That last point is perhaps the most important. Republic FC needs to find the back of the net, and they need to do it more than their opponents. They'll get their chance twice this week. Sacramento begins a two match home stand at Heart Health Park welcoming USL's newest championship level club, Oakland Roots SC, on Wednesday, Just 2 at 8:00 PM, and then Orange County SC just three days later on Saturday, June 5 at 8:00 PM. Both matches will be broadcast live on ESPN+, KQCA My58, and Estrella TV. The June 5 match versus OCSC will also be broadcast live on SiriusXM satellite radio.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, and has been covering professional soccer, and Sacramento Republic FC, since their debut in 2014. All images taken by Ahsan Awan for American Presswire and ©2021 American Presswire. He can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi.