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Major League Soccer

What does the future hold for the MLS after the intense New York derby clash?



Major League Soccer, often shortened to MLS, is a relatively new concept, founded only 23 years ago compared to the 122 of The Football League, and this has been evident for some time. However, more recently the standard of play has improved and the caliber of players being introduced to the league has heightened. If the league had been around since the late 1800’s, then World football could be an incredibly different story.  The league holds teams from both America and Canada in the ‘Western Conference’ and the ‘Eastern Conference’.

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The MLS has grown in size over recent years, with more and more people choosing their allegiance and supporting a side, and the love for these teams is growing exponentially through the growth of their fan base. There have been cases of fan fights and marches, the like of which have not necessarily been a part of the aesthetic of the league until now.

The latest New York derby, between New York Red Bulls and New York City, sometimes referred to as the ‘Hudson River Derby’ ended with a 7-0 win for the older side, the Red Bulls. Both sides, in retrospect, are brands and have various ‘sister-clubs’ or subsidiaries around the world which in the opinion of many is not something that should be present in modern football. The result of this game, and events before and after it can, however, show the world a number of things about the still fledgling league and its future.

In scenes reminiscent of British football, hooliganism is beginning to rear its head within American and Canadian football. Last year there were fights in New Jersey, and this year was no different with two arrests made before the game and local police intervening between the rival fans. Violence should not be condoned or promoted in any sense of the game, but one thing that this shows is that football, or soccer, is finally being embraced by the American public as the most watched sport in the world. It can also be argued that they have realized that if they can win the Women’s World Cup that with enough support at the grassroots level and professional, they can become a world-beating nation in the future.

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It needs to be considered that perhaps the fans are not passionate about their side and are just looking for a scrap, however, the passion that is beginning to surface within MLS will rival that of Baseball or the NFL by the end of the decade. Stadiums are getting closer to reaching capacity and fans that are watching are becoming more and more like that of the rest of the footballing world.

The migration of big name players into the MLS has always been around as far as I can remember, but with household names gracing the league both in the past and present, the league is gaining more and more exposure across the world. At the derby, New York City fans voiced their displeasure towards England and Chelsea legend Frank Lampard, who made his first appearance this season as a substitute. This comes after news earlier in the week surrounding his huge wages compared to the rest of the squad. When it is put into consideration, the number of appearances Lampard has made, along with the ‘extended loan’ he took at Manchester City, it is evident that he has not put the local fans first, regardless of any injury troubles he may have had.

While the league at the moment allows for world-class players to extend their career in a league that is perhaps not as fast paced as others, there are odd cases of development for young players coming through the ranks. Something that clubs need to do in the future to make a move away from being known as a ‘retirement home’ of sorts, and develop players that can have long careers in the league, or aside from that make a break into European football which is a larger market.

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The 7-0 drubbing of New York City equals the biggest defeat since the creation of the MLS and has created a lot of attention for the league. With fans becoming interested from areas outside of the American continent, alongside the home based fans becoming more attuned to their national league, the MLS is expanding slowly but surely into an entertaining league, yet it doesn’t quite hold the stature of other leagues in modern football.

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Exclusive: Reto Ziegler – Europe’s journeyman opens up on fresh FC Dallas challenge

The Boot Room caught up with FC Dallas defender Reto Ziegler.



Reto Ziegler
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If you take one look at Major League Soccer as its 2018 season begins to get into full flow, you’d most likely find yourself surprised at the number of ex-Premier League players who currently ply their trade there.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be the name on the tip of everyone’s tongues following his extremely well-documented move to Los Angeles Galaxy last month – even more so after his scarcely believable two-goal heroics on debut in the LA derby – but the MLS’ Premier League link runs deeper than that.

Whether it be the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard or Bastian Schweinsteiger who chanced their arm in America towards the end of their careers or someone like Bradley Wright-Phillips, making a name for himself at New York Red Bulls, the MLS is undeniably growing global interest year by year.

The latest player to be swayed by the lure of the MLS during the recent off-season is that of European football veteran Reto Ziegler, who made the switch to Texan outfit FC Dallas in January.

The 32-year-old former Switzerland international has certainly seen his fair share of the world since breaking into the Grasshopper first-team back in 2002 – across the previous 16 years Ziegler has featured for 12 different clubs across six European countries – but he insists that he’s up for the fresh challenge as FC Dallas attempt to reach their fourth Conference Finals in the past five seasons.

Speaking exclusively to The Boot Room, Ziegler said:

“It’s a nice change for me. It’s nice to play in the MLS and especially with Dallas.

“For me, the best opportunity was the MLS. Also for my family. I feel happy on the field and off the field. This is most important for me.”

Despite only being seven matches into his FC Dallas tenure it has already been an eventful time for Ziegler, seeing his new side fall to a shock two-legged defeat in the last-16 of the CONCACAF Champions League before leading from the back as Dallas sit unbeaten in the Western Conference.

“We are disappointed [to bow out of the CONCACAF]. It was one of our goals so we are a bit disappointed for that. But on the other hand in the MLS we are still unbeaten, we are really close to winning the games. It’s just a lack of concentration in front of the goalposts.”

Whilst the last-16 defeat to Panama minnows Tauro FC in the Champions League was a bitter blow before the domestic season began, there’s no denying that FC Dallas have bounced back.

Five games, no losses, and nine points – it’s a solid base to build on.

Four consecutive home matches to start the campaign brought three battling draws against Real Salt Lake, Portland Timbers and Colorado Rapids, with a resounding win over 2016 MLS Cup champions and 2017 MLS Cup runners-up Seattle Sounders and the latest win over New England Revolution moving them up to fifth in the early standings, four points off the top.

It is early days of course, and there’s an awful lot of MLS football to be played out between now and when the final positions in the ladder are done and dusted later in the year, but Ziegler seems confident that this current crop of players have the ability to produce something special.

 “We want to play in the front. The coach and the team, in the last year, they always play a major part of this league and in the first positions. I don’t want to be arrogant and say we want to be champions, but we have the quality to do that.

“It’s a team that plays football I really like. We keep lots of possession, we don’t play long balls, we have a good squad. I am really pleased with that.”

Having said that, the former Swiss international is by no means getting carried away with the potential that FC Dallas possess in their ranks.

With three draws coming in their opening five MLS games it’s been a case of nearly but not quite at times for the Texan outfit, and this is something Ziegler says they need to improve if they have dreams of going for glory at the end of the season.

“We need to win games.

“We didn’t score the goals but if you saw our games we create a lot of chances – but we didn’t score. We have to change and if we can change that I am sure we can beat each team here in the MLS.”

There is no denying that their finishing was more clinical away at New England this weekend though, with 22-year-old midfielder Jacori Hayes capping off an eye-catching display with a 76th-minute winner.

It was Hayes’ first goal for the club since being drafted back in early January – where he was selected in the first round – and Ziegler admitted that he has been impressed with the talent that he has come across in training from both Hayes and the other youngsters at FC Dallas.

“We have very good young players. It is not easy to get into the first-team. The step from the youth-team to the first-team is not easy.

“But we have a lot of quality in here. I think, if the team begins to win games, the coach will give the chance to these young players. You will see that we have really good quality here.

Saturday’s hard-fought victory over New England Revolution – a side that hadn’t lost in ten previous encounters at the Gillette Stadium prior to kick-off – was one that showcased everything that this current FC Dallas side is about, being well-organised and compact at the back and strong in midfield.

This foundation in defence has been the story of their season so far, and it’s been impressive.

After five games of the regular MLS season no other side can boast having a better defensive record than FC Dallas, who have conceded just three times in 450 minutes.

And this is partly down to the budding partnership that Ziegler is beginning to form with FC Dallas stalwart and US international Matthew Hedges.

The 28-year-old has made over 150 appearances for the club since making his debut six years ago, quickly making a name for himself as one of the best central defenders across the MLS.

With the MLS experience that Hedges has – being crowned MLS Defender of the Year in 2016 after a standout season – mixed with the global experience that Ziegler can bring to the table, there’s a ready-made recipe for success down at the Toyota Stadium, and this defensive partnership could be key to how the year pans out.

On a more personal level, it has been quite the career for the 32-year-old, to date.

From starting out at Swiss side Grasshopper, to stints at Tottenham and Juventus, before short-term periods spent in Turkey and Russia at Fenerbahce and Lokomotiv Moscow, respectively, and then returning back home to FC Sion in his native Switzerland, it has been anything but boring for Ziegler.

During this time it’s not just his club that has changed though, but also his position.

From being a young left-midfielder at Wigan Athletic to a rejuvenated centre-back at FC Sion, it appears that it’s taken until late in his footballing career to find out just where Ziegler truly thrives.

And – as seen in some strong performances in the heart of defence for FC Dallas already in the infancy of this MLS season – it’s in this more central role that has seen him offer his full potential.

Reflecting on his shift to the middle of the back-four, he said:

“It was not my decision, but the coach at that time with Sion needed a centre-back. I played there, got man-of-the-match and we won the Swiss Cup. When we went to the Europa League, we played Liverpool twice and we drew twice, and I played this position.

“I feel really comfortable in this position. I was awarded best centre-back in Switzerland. It was a surprise for me because when you play ten years at left-back you do not expect to change positions.

“But I have a lot of fun in this position. It’s a position where I can help my team-mates and be a leader, that’s why I was captain also back home. I enjoy myself in this position.”

And whilst Ziegler’s transition into a more central position has proved successful in recent years, he’ll face his sternest test yet when LA Galaxy and Zlatan Ibrahimovic come to town in a few weeks.

“Of course I am looking forward to playing against him [Ibrahimovic]. He is one of my favourite strikers. I played against him when he was at Inter Milan and with AC Milan.

“Now I am a centre-back – this time I really have to defend against him. I’m looking forward to that.”

With FC Dallas making a strong start to the MLS season hopes are already beginning to grow that this could be their best chance of claiming that elusive MLS Cup title for a fair few years.

After just five games of the regular season it already appears that Ziegler has made himself at home at FC Dallas, and if success is to follow in the upcoming months you can almost guarantee that the former Swiss international will play a vital role in the heart of the defence.

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Where does Andrea Pirlo rank amongst the greats of his generation?



Andrea Pirlo

If you asked any football fan to list the top players of the century, there is surely no doubt that Andrea Pirlo would be near the top on the majority of them. 

Having announced his retirement from the game aged 38 earlier this month, the Italian has amassed over 20 winners’ medals, including the Champions League in 2003 and 2007, and the World Cup in 2006.

He has been named Serie A Player of the Year on three separate occasions as well as being named in the FIFPro World XI in 2006, and the UEFA team in 2012.

Pirlo was instrumental in guiding Milan to the 2005 Champions League final, although they lost on penalties – he stated that he considered quitting after that game given the way Milan lost the match, having gone 3-0 up, showing his passion and will to win.

He was then was voted the third best player at the following year’s World Cup as Italy won the competition.

As a player, Pirlo never relied on physicality, and was not a heavy goalscorer, with his highest tally in any campaign being for Milan in 2002/03, where he scored nine goals.

That was only his second season at Milan, having been transferred from close rivals Inter for £10 million.

His move coincided with the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti, who was one of the biggest influences on Pirlo’s development as a player.

Under Ancelotti, Milan and Pirlo won the Serie A, Champions League, Coppa Italia and the UEFA Super Cup all in a four-year spell.

In terms of his playing style, it was his passing that set him apart from the majority of players, as well as his vision, which made him into one of the world’s greatest deep-lying playmakers.

Probably the two closest comparisons to Pirlo in terms of modern-day players are Xavi and Andres Iniesta, both of Barcelona.

Pirlo nearly joined Barcelona under Pep Guardiola in 2010, but Milan refused to sell him despite the Italian’s reported interest in the move. Had he made the move to Spain, Pirlo could have added another dimension to what was already an unstoppable Barcelona side.

He, instead, made the move to Italian giants Juventus, where, despite being at the age of 33 when he signed in 2011, was still a star performer for a side that has dominated Italy for years.

He won four consecutive Serie A titles with the Bianconeri, and carried on playing for his national team until Euro 2016, albeit less regularly towards the end of his career.

His non-selection for that competition by the now-Chelsea manager Antonio Conte signalled the end of his international career, with his record standing at 116 games, 13 goals for his country.

The peak of Pirlo’s career came before his move to New York City last year, although he still made 60 appearances for the club up until his retirement.

In terms of where he ranks amongst the greatest of this generation, you could argue for numerous players to take that accolade.

Pirlo and Xavi were match winners and were crucial in any success their team had – you could argue that Xavi had the toughest task in being the man, alongside Iniesta, entrusted with transforming Barcelona into a tiki-taka style team under the stewardship of Guardiola.

However, Pirlo was unable to settle fully at Inter, leaving to join rivals Milan, and even despite his impact on the club over the years, the Rossoneri board let the Italian go on a free transfer in 2011, where he continued to thrive at Juventus.

The likes of Lampard and Steven Gerrard, as well as Zinedine Zidane, cannot be underestimated based on their contributions to their clubs, but overall Andrea Pirlo would rightly be near the top of any list of the greatest midfielders of this century.

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Major League Soccer

Why it’s right place, right time for New York City’s Jack Harrison



In his controversial book Outliers author Malcolm Gladwell makes the point that one of the major factors behind success is being in the right place at the right time.  Of course, there is no denying that there are always other factors at play. In the case of a career in football, being in the right place at the right time can only be useful if it is exploited by performance.

New York City FC’s 20-year-old winger, Jack Harrison, is one of the most talked about players in North America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) at the moment. In 2016 Vice Sports produced a feature on the English-born player entitled “This British 19-year-old is the future of MLS”.

Indeed, a lot has been said by the media concerning the performances of Harrison over the past two years. He is currently on eight goals and five assists in 18 games since the start of his second season in New York.  But his story is not just about numbers.

The English-born fan favourite is known for getting his home crowds out of their seats with scintillating runs, creativity and exciting dribbles. When Harrison is in possession of the ball he has a dogged determination to move it as directly towards goal as possible, making short work of his opponents along the way.  A 2016 MLS Opta Spotlight revealed that the young winger was among the most direct dribblers who possessed the highest ball carrying distances in the league.

Naturally, there are those who point to his success at New York City and ask what’s next for the exciting starlet.  More than just being the “future of MLS”, Harrison has what it takes to realistically aspire to Europe’s top leagues.  Such is his talent that, according to Empire Of Soccer NYC coach Patrick Vieira recently expressed surprise that Harrison has not yet been called to the England Under-21 squad. Others have suggested he would be an asset to the United States Men’s National Team, for which he is eligible to play in a few years.

While the pundits and reporters seem to have exhausted the discussion of how Harrison’s performances promise him a bright future, few have looked at how he is perfectly poised in the right place, at the right time, to exploit his current success.

MLS is certainly not considered to be the best league in the world although its quality and popularity in North America has risen in recent years. Nevertheless, being at the New York club gives Harrison an edge over many other talented young players in the United States and in Europe seeking to realize their potential.

One reason for this, is that NYC currently boasts outstanding talent. Since joining the team, Harrison has been playing alongside international legends like ex-Barcelona and former Spanish international David Villa as well as Italy’s renowned playmaker Andrea Pirlo, formerly of Juventus and AC Milan. Frank Lampard of England and Chelsea fame was also a teammate.  Even in the world’s top clubs it is usually only the most elite of young players who have the opportunity to play alongside such famous names.

Also in this team is Venezuela’s Rangel Herrera. The 19-year-old, who played a critical role in taking his country’s Under-20 team to a World Cup final. The experience on and off the pitch that Harrison stands to gain from recognized teammates of this caliber cannot be overstated.

It does no harm to his resume that, as reported by, an internationally revered figure like Frank Lampard has publicly praised Harrison calling him a “revelation”. According to the Telegraph, last year, a very telling endorsement also came from David Villa, who said “I’ve spent a lot of years in this game, and he has something important that only a few players have.  When he has the ball at his feet, you get the sensation something is going to happen.”

In a Men In Blazers interview , Harrison made special mention of Lampard who mentored him during his time at NYC. Lampard offered support while they were both recovering from injury. He imparted personal advice to the young man on resilience and self-confidence that he himself had received from Jose Mourinho years before.

An ESPN article quoted Harrison on the the impact of David Villa on his personal growth as a footballer. “Just watching him, you learn so much,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done that already last year, and I’m hoping to keep improving.”

The young footballer’s exposure to such a high level of talent, professionalism and maturity gives top clubs who are looking at him something else to appreciate beyond his performances on the pitch. Many promising young players owned by Manchester City, NYC’s sister club in the City Football Group, have not had the opportunity to play alongside and learn consistently from world class players like Villa, Lampard and Pirlo, even though Manchester City is a much bigger club. Even fewer of them have had their marketability enhanced by public compliments from famous teammates.

Harrison also profits from the Patrick Vieira factor. As fortune would have it, Vieira replaced former NYC coach Jason Kreis before the start of the 2016 season when Harrison arrived at the club as a rookie.  Although New York City represents Vieira’s first senior level coaching job, there is a lot he can contribute to Harrison’s career.  Firstly, he brings his own valuable playing experience as a revered French footballer who played and trained under coaching icons like Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Fabio Capello at AC Milan and Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan.

The new coach has brought his winning mentality to New York City and has pushed Harrison to relentlessly pursue improvement. “Jack still has parts of his game he needs to develop,” Vieira was quoted as saying by“He needs to learn more about himself as a player, as a person and as a man as well and he will need time to do that.”

The World Cup winning Frenchman also brings something extra. In his previous position he was in charge of Manchester City’s footballing academy, considered to be one of the best in the world. At the time his duties involved communicating the club’s playing philosophy to younger players. Under the previous Manchester City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, this was a philosophy similar to that of current City boss, Pep Guardiola, involving possession and exciting passing.

The playing qualities of this philosophy are sought after by some of the best clubs in Europe.  Jack Harrison, while far removed from the elite academy of Manchester City, is receiving that same training and approach to football through Patrick Vieira, who has brought his City experience to the club. If and when Harrison is ready to make a move to Europe he could fit almost seamlessly into the system of Manchester City or the European clubs to which City loans its players. Indeed, he would be ideal for consideration by progressive clubs that embrace a possession-based game.

The City Football Group gifts Harrison with an impressive network of clubs in Europe, including soon-to-be sister club Girona FC in La Liga and a number of other sides in Holland, France and Spain, to which City are loaning players. Being a part of this group offers him the perfect springboard for a leap to the big leagues.

In keeping with the theme of right place and right time it is interesting to note that destiny brought Jack Harrison to NYC because of an unlikely twist in his story that took place years ago. From the age of six to the age of 13 Harrison was part of the Manchester United youth academy with well-known players like Marcus Rashford and James Wilson.

As his mother explained in the short documentary feature Jack Harrison:Road To City, she saw greater opportunities for his education in the United States and pointed out to him that very few players who attended the academy made it to a successful level. Her argument ultimately convinced the young man and she moved him to the United States for his schooling.

Ironically, Harrison left what others would have considered the perfect place for his footballing development, but through continuing effort as a teenager he eventually found himself at New York City, a team with nowhere near the reputation of Manchester United, but offering him the same and possibly even more in terms of his future development. It is a position that he might not even have arrived at had he stayed in Manchester.

Harrison still has a long way to go to becoming world class.  It is a fact of which he is well aware and it is something that his coach Patrick Vieira has emphasized to him.  But through hard work, fortune and a decision made by his mother years ago, he has found himself in the right place at the right time to make use of great opportunities. With further perseverance, the correct decisions and a bit of luck, the Englishman in New York can go so much further.

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