Outside the Box: 2020 Edition!

Happy new soccer year, have you made any resolutions surrounding the beautiful game?

Sheffield United didn’t start the year off too well as they went back to basics training at Stanley Park before their game against Liverpool yesterday.

A view across Stanley Park in Liverpool, with Anfield on the left and Goodison Park 2,300ft to the right
A view across Stanley Park in Liverpool, with Anfield on the left and Goodison Park 2,300ft to the right (Google Maps)

To put it into context, it would be like an MLS team opting to practice at Moss Park before playing FC Dallas. It’s a public park that separates Liverpool’s Anfield stadium and Everton’s Goodison Park, and a common walk to any of the pubs and stores surrounding the stadia. My lasting memory will always be getting off a bus after traveling to watch Luton play Liverpool in an FA Cup replay, and someone had dumped a couch in the entrance to the park. By the time we got back on the bus, someone had set it on fire. When English people joke about the nature of Liverpool, we’re not actually joking…

So back to Sheffield United trying to train for a Premier League game against a team who were about to hit a full year unbeaten in the league and 50 games unbeaten at home. Just warming up for practice the team immediately found out how public the park was as a dog waltzes up and cocks its leg over a training cone. Well if that’s not a Scouse welcome, I don’t know what is.

Consistently Consistent

Leeds United made it four consecutive decades (Argue which year really starts a new decade among yourselves!) where they finish on top of their division.

Dirty Leeds finished 1989 atop the old Second Division (Championship), and would finish in the same spot holding off Sheffield United on goal difference. That was also the year that Liverpool would last win the English championship until possibly probably likely this year.

David O’Leary’s side finished up the last millennium top of the Premier League but only two wins in their last eight games meant United barely held on to the third and final Champions League spot. They made a run to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, losing to Galatasaray as the murders of two Leeds fans in Istanbul overshadowed the games.

After financial trouble had seen the club drop into League One the ‘noughties’ ended on a high note with Leeds top of League One. Leeds overcame a run of just three wins in 16 games immediately after the new year to seal second and automatic promotion on the final day of the season. Leeds also became the first team outside of the top flight to knock a Sir Alex Ferguson-managed team out of the FA Cup as they got one over their old rivals at Old Trafford.

At Least You Tried

Over in Northern Ireland, Ballymena United’s Declan Carville was becoming the new Ryan Hollingshead at the end of 2019. The midfielder was brought on as a sub after regular goalkeeper Jordan Williamson received a red card in the second half of a loss to Coleraine on Boxing Day. With Williamson suspended and their other two goalkeepers injured, Carville volunteered to take the gloves again.

The 30-year-old was just four minutes from securing a clean sheet against fourth-place Glentoran when he blasted a kick out of his hands into the back of a teammate, leaving Robbie McDaid an easy finish. Then in the eighth minute of stoppage time, Carville went up for a corner before Glentoran’s Navid Nasseri chased the clearance back to Carville’s empty net.

I hope he gets the same love FCD fans have given Hollingshead ever since that night between the sticks in Toronto.

Shop & Play

We see a lot of youth club-owned fields in DFW. From Solar’s fields on the Frisco/Allen border to the Liverpool FC Borussia Dortmund International Academy in Carrollton. A youth club in Illinois has taken a different direction as Quincy United opens a training facility inside a mall.

It reminds me of when Valley View Mall was still clinging on to life a few years ago. Someone bought two units and knocked through the wall to have a boxing gym and soccer facility. It was the fencing from a kids pop-up skating rink as you see on Frisco Square with some green carpet and a warm-up area next to it. It wasn’t much but $5 to play for an hour with AC was hard to pass up. It was home to the most violent league I’ve ever seen, even the refs would get involved in the brawls!

CR7 o’clock

Cristiano Ronaldo is no stranger to showing off expensive things, but the title of most expensive watch Rolex has ever created now belongs to the Juventus star too. The Rolex GMT-Master Ice in 18 ct white gold with 30 carats of diamonds comes in at a shade under $500,000.

New Year, New Y’all

The first of the year is a nice time at your job. You might get a bonus, your vacation days may reset, or just a feeling of relief after some time off.

Not for the coaches of all of Ghana’s national teams as the Ghanaian authorities decided to wipe the slate clean and unexpectedly fired everyone from the men’s, women’s, and youth teams. A total of nine head coaches just got a lot more time. A penalty shootout loss to Tunisia in the Round of 16 at the AFCON capped off a bad cycle for all of the Black Stars’ teams.

US Soccer has a similar list of vacancies due to a ridiculous rule of making every coach move to Chicago when their job is to hold camps in California or Florida and scout around the nation.

Mean Machine

Ah, what a movie. Before Matthew Vaughn gave us Kingsman, he took The Longest Yard and made it about a better sport with Jason Statham playing a Scottish psychopath goalkeeper to compliment former footballer Vinnie Jones playing a former footballer.

A promotional image for Mean Machine (Paramount Pictures)
A promotional image for Mean Machine (Paramount Pictures)
Green Street 2: Stand Your Ground (Lionsgate)

I’m purposely not mentioning Green Street 2 because it was crap. I can assure you that London does not look like this very American scene to the right. Anyway those movies don’t give us a picture of prison games being particularly pleasant, but minimum security prisons in the UK do let inmates participate in leagues. Mexico, on the other hand, seems to be far closer to the movies.

A New Year’s Eve game at the Cieneguillas men’s penitentiary in Zacatecas saw 16 people killed after an argument over a potential penalty led to weapons being drawn. Smuggled in guns, knives, phones, and drugs were seized after it took Mexico’s National Guard and local police three hours to end the riot between rival gangs, the Zetas and Gulf Cartel.

The VAR review into the penalty is still ongoing.

What’s On

As we count down the last two weeks of the MLS off-season we get a lot of cup action in and around Europe as well as the MLS SuperDraft next Thursday. Every FA Cup tie is on ESPN+ but I’ve picked a couple of highlight games as well as the draw show. The draw (at least in England) is a spectacle in itself and something I’d love to see the US Open Cup adopt.

The new Spanish Super Cup could be fun or boring depending on how teams take it. It’s the finalists for the Copa del Rey and the top two from LaLiga playing a tournament format in Saudi Arabia.

Friday, January 3:
2:00PM – Sevilla v Athletic Bilbao (LaLiga) – beIN SPORTS Connect

Saturday, January 4:
6:00AM – Rochdale v Newcastle Utd (FA Cup) – ESPN+
9:00AM – Getafe v Real Madrid (LaLiga) – beIN SPORTS Connect
9:00AM – Oxford Utd v Hartlepool Utd (FA Cup) – ESPN+
11:30AM – Wolves v Manchester Utd (FA Cup) – ESPN+
11:30AM – Bournemouth v Luton Town (FA Cup) – ESPN+
11:30AM – Manchester City v Port Vale (FA Cup) – ESPN+
2:00PM – Espanyol v Barcelona (LaLiga) – beIN SPORTS Connect

Sunday, January 5:
5:30AM – Brescia v Lazio (Serie A) – ESPN+
8:00AM – Chelsea v Nottingham Forest (FA Cup) – ESPN+
8:00AM – Crystal Palace v Derby County (FA Cup) – ESPN+
10:00AM – Liverpool v Everton (FA Cup) – ESPN+
11:30AM – Sporting v Porto (Liga NOS) – GOLTV
12:15PM – Gillingham v West Ham Utd (FA Cup) – ESPN+
1:45PM – Roma v Torino (Serie A) – ESPNEWS

Monday, January 6:
5:30AM – Bologna v Fiorentina (Serie A) – ESPN+
8:00AM – Juventus v Cagliari (Serie A) – ESPN+
8:00AM – AC Milan v Sampdoria (Serie A) – ESPN+
1:35PM – FA Cup Fourth Round draw – ESPN+
2:00PM – Arsenal v Leeds Utd (FA Cup) – ESPN+

Tuesday, January 7:
2:00PM – Manchester Utd v Manchester City (English League Cup) – ESPN+

Wednesday, January 8:
11:45AM – Lyon v Brest (French Cup) – beIN SPORTS
1:00PM – Valencia v Real Madrid (Spanish Super Cup) – ESPN Deportes
2:00PM – Leicester City v Aston Villa (English League Cup) – ESPN+
2:00PM – PSG v Saint-Etienne (French Cup) – beIN SPORTS

Thursday, January 9:
11:00AM – MLS SuperDraft – Twitter
1:00PM – Barcelona v Atletico Madrid (Spanish Super Cup) – ESPN Deportes

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