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For most countries, a total of one point and one goal scored from five games would represent nothing but complete disaster. However, American Samoa are not most countries, and the spirited performances of the islands’ youngsters at the recent Oceania under-20 Championship in Fiji have offered hope for the team’s future – not least due to the emergence of promising forward Ryan Paaga.

The American Samoans’ performances and results in their opening two games will have particularly pleased coach Rupeni Luvu, providing hope that Thomas Rongen’s legacy with the senior team, one of higher professionalism and fitness levels that led to the team almost emerging from their preliminary qualifying group for the World Cup, can be replicated by all of the islands’ teams. Luvu’s boys kicked off the tournament in the Fijian capital with a 4-0 defeat, against the hosts and eventual winners, all the goals coming in the first half. Fiji would go on to qualify for the FIFA under-20 World Cup finals (with New Zealand automatically qualifying as hosts), making this result seem almost respectable.

However, very few would have foreseen American Samoa holding Papua New Guinea, coached by Oceania Footballer of the Century Wynton Rufer, to a draw two days later. The underdogs drew first blood through Sinisa Tua in first-half stoppage time, but they could well have had a penalty after just five minutes when Paaga went down under PNG goalkeeper Koniel Vagi’s challenge after racing through on goal. PNG’s blushes were somewhat spared by Frederick Simongi’s equaliser on the hour but despite having Rafael Rocha sent off late on for scrapping with a PNG substitute, American Samoa held on for a historic result: it is the first time they have avoided defeat in an under-20 game.

Keeper Maiava leads the team's pre-game huddle (pic: Brian Vitolio)

Keeper Maiava leads the team’s pre-game huddle (pic: Brian Vitolio)

Unfortunately, Luvu’s charges ran out of steam somewhat in the second half of the tournament, going down 4-0 to Vanuatu on 27th May and 5-0 to the Solomon Islands two days after that, although two of the Solomons’ goals were scored in the last 15  minutes. In their final game against New Caledonia, American Samoa were thrashed 9-0, though five of those goals were leaked in the second half as tiredness kicked in. That result may taint the success of the Papua New Guinea game, but it is clear that progress has been made: with the portly but likable Frederick Maiava between the posts, the under-20s set a national record for the longest time without conceding – 103 minutes across the second half of the Fiji game and the first hour against PNG.

Ryan Paaga epitomises this progress as much as anyone. Athletically gifted and with the raw skill to trouble defences, Paaga was American Samoa’s biggest goal threat throughout the tournament and can consider himself unfortunate not to have returned home with a first international goal to his name. If promising sportsmen like Paaga offer the biggest opportunity to the Football Federation American Samoa (FFAS), they also represent the biggest threat. The seventeen-year-old is equally gifted at rugby sevens and it is clear that the FFAS will have to do battle with the islands’ other sports federations to secure his services for future internationals.

Indeed, Paaga says the FFAS wasted little time in drafting him into the squad for Fiji upon his return from a  rugby tournament in Hong Kong, but he regrets that his sporting versatility makes it difficult to focus on one code in particular: “When I came back from Hong Kong the soccer federation contacted me to select me for this team…[I’ve] never really played soccer much…it’s tough for me because so many people want me to play rugby for their team, so I don’t get time to practice my soccer skills as much.”

Paaga has attracted interest from Samoan media for his American football exploits (pic: Samoa News)

Paaga has attracted interest from Samoan media for his American football exploits (pic: Samoa News)

Aside from the impressiveness of Paaga performing the most difficult role at the tournament – lone striker in a team that often strings every other outfield player across their own penalty area – so admirably, it shows that the FFAS faces almost a sporting cannibalism from the islands’ other governing bodies. Last year fellow forward and then-seventeen-year-old Shalom Luani starred as the senior team claimed their first ever international win, a 2-1 success over Tonga, and Luani’s two goals in the three-game World Cup qualifying series made him the country’s joint-top all-time scorer. The parallels to Paaga are uncanny, and Luani’s time is similarly divided between football and American football, though recently it seems the second sport is dominating his engagements.

Luani moved to Chabot College of California in 2012 and Paaga has also admitted his desire to win a scholarship to the U.S. mainland. Though it would be wrong to stand in the youngsters’ way as they seek to further their careers in a more competitive environment, the diaspora of the islands’ talent represents a big headache for the FFAS; getting players back from the mainland to play in friendlies or qualifiers is difficult financially and logistically.

For now at least, Luvu and FFAS chairman Tavita Taumua will be pleased that the leaps achieved by Rongen are now being replicated at youth levels. A  pairing of Paaga and Luani in attack would trouble any defence in the region and, with a blend of experience and promise behind them, is surely the way forward. It will be years before American Samoa can truly challenge for World Cup qualification, but if regular games are scheduled, and if the FFAS can promote football above the islands’ other sports, the 31-0 loss to Australia in 2001 that has haunted this team for so long can finally be consigned to the history books.


They celebrated in the streets of Gibraltar when the national team was finally admitted to UEFA. There may be only 30,000 people living on the Rock, but it felt like every one of them had descended into the narrow streets and the main square as young and old, player and fan stood side by side, almost all bedecked in the team’s red and white strip as the music blared and the confetti fell.

For all involved it marked a happy end to a prolonged, tiresome struggle for international recognition that began in 1999 when the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) made its initial application to UEFA. 13 years of Gibraltarian frustration, UEFA backtracking, referrals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Spanish stubbornness followed, with Gibraltar’s neighbours threatening to pull out of international competition if UEFA welcomed the territory into Europe’s footballing fold.

There’s a huge irony in the fact that it took Gibraltar – with a football association formed in 1895, easily predating those of Spain, France and Germany, amongst others – so long to be officially recognised when they have one of Europe’s longest football histories. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Rock welcomed several Spanish clubs, the pinnacle being a famous 2-2 draw with Real Madrid in 1949.

The battle at times seemed so hopeless that some could have been forgiven for believing they would never see the day when UEFA finally relented and admitted Gibraltar. Indeed, as recently as 2007, Steve Menary, after chronicling Gibraltar’s lengthy application process in his book Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot, concluded: “Spain, it seems, has won again and Gibraltar will not be allowed in.”

Gibraltarians take to the streets to celebrate UEFA acceptance

Gibraltarians take to the streets to celebrate UEFA acceptance

 

Yet, in May 2013, after the Court of Arbitration for Sport had twice ruled in the GFA’s favour, Gibraltar’s provisional UEFA membership was ratified and they became Europe’s governing body’s 54th member. There is still understandable frustration at the ridiculous length of time it took for admission to be granted and the petty politics that complicated the process, but the overriding feeling in Gibraltar is one of elation at the chance to compete against the continent’s finest in the coming years.

Bursting onto the international scene in 2001, current captain Roy Chipolina has seen it all from up close. Announcing his arrival in the Gibraltar side with a brace on debut against the Orkney Islands at the Island Games aged 17, the defender soon established himself as a vital cog in the Rock’s team. In 2007, he was part of the side that took gold at the 2007 Island Games, and four years later he scored in the impressive 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands, themselves members of FIFA since 1988, which proved to the world that Gibraltar was capable of competing on a bigger stage. In January 2013, he even represented his homeland in the Futsal Euro qualifiers, scoring in a dramatic 7-5 defeat of San Marino. There are, therefore, few people better qualified to comment on the territory’s bitter struggle for international recognition.

Indeed, it was Chipolina who led the team out for their first UEFA-sanctioned friendly against Slovakia in November, when 500 Gibraltarians made the 250 mile trek to Faro, Portugal (Gibraltar’s Victoria Stadium deemed unfit by UEFA) to witness a superb 0-0 draw. Chipolina, partnering Danny Higginbotham in the heart of defence, was reported by Eurosport to have delivered a rousing speech after hearing Gibraltar’s national anthem played “for the first time at the highest level.”

Coach Allen Bula has wasted little time in supplementing a mainly local-based squad with talent from abroad. Gibraltar have already enlisted the help of several current or ex-professionals, including Danny Higginbotham (now retired from club football but formerly of Manchester United, Southampton and Stoke City), Preston North End full-back Scott Wiseman, Wrexham defender David Artell, and midfielder Liam Walker, who recently joined Israeli outfit Bnei Yehuda after leaving Portsmouth. Bula has left no stone unturned in his search for eligible players, with forwards Adam Priestley and Reece Styche plucked from Farsley AFC (of the Northern Premier League Division One North) and Forest Green Rovers’ reserves respectively.

Yet Chipolina maintains that some of the national team’s home-based players are equally gifted: he has previously said veteran striker Lee Casciaro and midfielders Joseph Chipolina (a distant relative) and Brian Perez are capable of playing at a professional level. For Joseph Chipolina, comfortable either at left-back or as a winger, this seems particularly plausible: last year the 26-year-old impressed in a week-long trial at Leyton Orient, as well as attracting interest from Livingston.

Roy also believes Anthony Hernandez, who scored on his international debut against the Faroes aged just 16, and has already spent time on trial at Middlesbrough, is one to watch in the future. There are parallels to be drawn with Gibraltar’s last wonderkid, defender Jason Pusey, who signed a 3-year contract with Atlético Madrid after finishing his GCSEs in 2006, yet faded into obscurity and has now returned to local football on the Rock.

The hopes are that Hernandez, unlike Pusey, will now have a chance to develop on an international stage with regular, competitive games; Menary’s depressing footnote in 2007 that “any idea that Jason Pusey may have of pursuing an international career with the place that he grew up in are dead” is thankfully no longer applicable to Hernandez.

Chipolina (far left) during celebrations in the main square

Chipolina (far left) during celebrations in the main square

Despite being drawn in a tough group for Euro 2016, including Germany, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, you get the impression that Chipolina and his team-mates fear no-one. The defender, a customs officer for the government for over a decade, will be looking to make sure Gibraltar give their opponents a thorough interrogation no matter how many star names are in their team.

I was recently fortunate enough to have the chance to put some questions to Roy, and the captain proved very accommodating – as his answers demonstrate.

**********

How important was it to finally be admitted to UEFA after decades of trying and how elated were the players?

For Gibraltar being admitted into UEFA was nothing more than making a dream a reality!  It was a very emotional and jubilant day.  After such a long battle which began way back in the mid-1990s Gibraltar has become the well deserved 54th member in UEFA.  For us, the players, the opportunities that come with being in UEFA are huge and we are just glad to be part of it.

 How special was it to be the first man to captain Gibraltar in an official UEFA game?

It was a great honour and the proudest moment of my football career to lead my country out into our first international match.  It was a very emotional day and one that I will cherish forever.

Is it true that you gave a rousing speech in the dressing room before the Slovakia game and if so, what did you say?

No, not really.  We are a very close bunch and with Gibraltar being so small, most of us have played alongside each other from a very young age.  We are like a family.  The senior players, most notably Al Greene, Daniel Duarte and myself, are usually going around motivating the rest of the team before a match but as you can imagine the team didn’t need much motivation for this match.  We had been waiting many years for this moment.  The whole squad knew how much this match meant not just to us but to the whole of Gibraltar!  We usually rally together just before kick off and this is what we shared before kick off.

What was the atmosphere like in the dressing room after the draw with Slovakia? The players must have been delighted with the result.

The atmosphere was electric and the team was buzzing.  It was very emotional not only for the players but the backroom staff too.  Just being able to represent your country in an official international friendly was a dream for all of us but to get a draw against such a respected footballing nation like Slovakia in our first match was surreal.  Well, let’s just say, it felt like a victory!

Roy (shirtless) shows his passion

Roy (shirtless) shows his passion

Which language is used in team talks and in the dressing room? Do most players speak both English and Spanish?

Our main language is English but most of us can speak English and Spanish fluently. Our team talks are always done in English but we tend to speak our own dialect which is actually a mixture of English and Spanish (Llanito). People are usually amazed when hearing us talk as we jump from English to Spanish within the same sentence at the blink of an eyelid.  It’s unique.

What is the team’s relationship with the community like? Do you think the bond with the public of Gibraltar is stronger because of the small population and your underdog status?

Being that our population is just 30,000 the team’s relationship with the community is a special one, and I think one which isn’t matched by any other nation. It’s as if they are part of the team. We are such a small community that you literally know everyone. Add in that football is followed religiously here in Gibraltar and you get some tremendous support. Though we are considered underdogs I can assure you that the expectations of the people in Gibraltar are very high.

You may not have drawn them for Euro 2016, but how special would it be to play against England?

Being that England is the nation I have supported and the league I have followed since I was a young boy it would be a dream to step out at Wembley and face the mighty England.  It’s every boy’s dream to play at Wembley and I am no different.

Did you agree with UEFA’s decision to keep Spain and Gibraltar apart for the Euro 2016 draw?

I will leave any political issues to the politicians.  I am just extremely happy that UEFA has finally given me the same opportunity as all the other 53 members, and that is, to be able to represent my country on the international stage.

Does having to play ‘home’ games in Portugal somewhat negate home advantage? What are the chances of being able to play home games in Gibraltar in the future?

At a press conference with manager Allen Bula

At a press conference with manager Allen Bula

I suppose it does.  The following we get in Portugal won’t be as much as if games were to be held here in Gibraltar but after our great experience in Portugal and the warm welcome we received by its people I am sure it won’t be long before we make Portugal our home from home.

There are plans to begin the construction of a new stadium at Europa Point. It’s a three-year project and I envisage that if everything goes according to plan, we should be able to use the facilities of the new stadium for the next round of World Cup qualifiers, provided we are given the awesome privilege of becoming FIFA members by then.  This indeed would be the icing on the cake! You can watch a video on YouTube called ‘Europa Point Stadium’ which gives a good insight.

How long do you plan to continue playing? Do you have any plans for post-retirement?

At the moment I would like to concentrate on playing for the Gibraltar national team for as long as possible.  I have no plans of hanging up my boots any time soon but I do hope that in the future I am able to attain my coaching badges so that I am able to carry on being a part of the building and improving football on the Rock.


[Note: interview originally conducted in 2012]

Franziska Klingelfuss may not be a household name, even in her native Switzerland, but the experienced goalkeeper has both benefitted from, and contributed to, the women’s game in Switzerland during a distinguished 14-year playing career.

The fact that Franziska played in the male youth team of second-tier side FC Aarau – a club who count former Chelsea Champions League-winning boss Roberto Di Matteo, ex-Middlesbrough defender Emanuel Pogatetz and Oceania Footballer of the Century Wynton Rufer among their former players – until her teenage years could be counted as both an advantage and disadvantage to her career. On the one hand, often being the only girl on the pitch in a testosterone-fuelled sport highlighted the difference between Franziska and her team-mates and could have made it hard to fit in – but the confidence gained from proving herself  as good as, and better than, many of her male counterparts was surely invaluable.

Unsurprisingly, recognition from further afield followed: in 1996, she was selected for the under-16 Aargau regional team, representing the canton’s population of 600,000; two years later, Franziska progressed to the Swiss under-18  women’s national team – a huge achievement given she was plying her trade far down the Swiss league ladder at the time.

At Schlieren in 2006-07 (photo: fussball-fussball.ch)

At Schlieren in 2006-07 (photo: fussball-fussball.ch)

Although her practical inability to move to a top-flight women’s club – deemed necessary in order to progress further in the Swiss FA youth setup – unfortunately ended her national team career in 1998, Franziska went on to enjoy a successful career that began at Aarau and also took in two spells at FC Baden as well as stints at FC Schlieren, FC Domat-Ems and CB Laax.

A persistent and painful back injury has limited her playing time in recent years – the goalkeeper has been without a club since 2010, but, having looked into back treatment, Franziska refuses to throw in the towel: she is yet to officially retire, and with luck, will soon be back on the field.

Klingelfuss has taken advantage of that spell on the sidelines to further a promising coaching career that began in 2001 as the goalkeeper coach for SC Schöftland’s 8-16 year olds. Franziska has since passed on her expertise to the new generation of Swiss footballers in a number of roles, including training youngsters at the annual FC Aarau football camp, and helping local girls by coaching Aargau’s under-14 regional team.

2004 was the exception to this rule as Franziska took up a role as match reporter and commentator for third division men’s team FC Gränichen, but she has since returned to coaching by helping to nurture FC Aarau’s 5-7 year old “Brügglikids”.

Modest and thoughtful in equal measure, Franziska offers a fascinating insight into the life of a female footballer in Switzerland; although the women’s game has improved in recent years, it still has some way to go.

NAME: Franziska Klingelfuss

POSITION: Goalkeeper

COUNTRY: Switzerland

CLUBS: 1996-98 – FC Aarau; 1998-01 – FC Baden; 2001-04 – FC Aarau; 2004-05 – FC Baden; 2005-07 – FC Schlieren; 2007-09 – FC Domat-Ems; 2009-10 – CB Laax.

 

*****

What was the best moment of your career, either playing for a club or the Swiss under-18 team?

To play in the Swiss under-18 team was great – I was 16 and playing in the lowest women’s league in Switzerland at the time. Normally only the players from the Nationalliga A [Swiss top flight] and maybe sometimes from the Nationalliga B [second division] get a call-up, so I was very proud, although it was just for one year.

Then the coach from the Swiss under-18 team told me that I needed to move to a club in a better league to stay in the under-18 team. It was hard for me, but at this time I couldn’t change teams because of school – if I had moved to a club in a higher division, I would have had to travel for more than an hour to get to training, and that was too much. So I stayed in the lowest league for the moment.

But it was also great to play in the clubs I’ve been. For example, with Schlieren [2005-07], we played in the 1.Liga [Swiss third division]. During the championship we won all of our 16 games; we scored 75 goals and only conceded 8 goals. That was great for me as a goalkeeper! We were promoted to the next league, Nationalliga B. In this great season we also reached the semi-final of the Swiss Cup. That was extraordinary for a team from the 1.Liga.

Which team did you enjoy playing for most, and do you have any funny stories/anecdotes from your time in football?

First, to play with the boys was cool. Once I had to play with the Ea-Juniors; this was the better team that I played for and the trainer was a little bit strong. So I was very nervous – both when I went to the meeting and in the first minute of the game. But after it was great: we won the game 3-0 and the trainer was very happy and friendly to me.

Then playing for Baden was excellent, because there I had the best goalkeeper coach ever in my career. We worked very hard but we understood each other; he was there for me if I had some questions or a private problem. We worked seriously together but we could also laugh together. We stay in contact, even now.

Also, playing for Schlieren was awesome. I said earlier that in my first year there we won ever game in the championship. And in the second year at the end of the season we finished in third place even though we were in a higher league.

As an anecdote, I can say that I hated football when I was young! My father always went to watch the games at FC Aarau with my brother. And I would never ever go with them. Then in school there was a boy I knew whose father was a coach at FC Aarau. So once I went with him and from this moment I played football.

In Swiss Cup action for Schlieren in 2005 (fussball-fussball.ch)

In Swiss Cup action for Schlieren in 2005 (fussball-fussball.ch)

And I’m proud that I never received a single yellow or red card in the 19 years I played!

At what age did you first start playing football and for which team?

I started to play football at the age of 9. And I played for FC Aarau with the boys. This was for the Eb-Juniors team.

What was it like being the only girl in a boys’ team at youth level? Were the boys jealous or did they respect you for being as good as them?

For me, the boys and the trainer, it was normal that I played with the boys. They saw that I could play football [just as well as them] – sorry, I don’t want to be arrogant, but it’s true!

But the other teams that we played against always laughed when they saw that my team played with a girl in goal. They always said something like: “we will score 10 goals against you, because you have a girl in goal”. Sometimes it was hard for me, because I just wanted to play football. Luckily we won most of the games and after the game the players from the other teams said nothing at all! Most of the time the other trainers come to me to say that I had played well. That was great.

How has women’s football in Switzerland developed in recent years? How big is support for it in Switzerland – how many people watch each match?

I think at the moment it’s better than ever for the women’s  football in Switzerland. In my time we never, ever received money for playing – on the contrary, we had to pay an annual subscription so that we could play for the club!

Now it’s better. I don’t know how much [money] they get, but at some clubs – for example FC Zurich and Grasshopper Club – the players receive some money. Zurich have a couple of ex-national team players in Inka Grings and Sonja Fuss; I think they get a lot of money, because they are professional players.  I think that they are the only professionals in Switzerland, so it’s great that they are playing in the Swiss league –  they can push football in our country, and because of them Zurich always has a lot of people who watch their games: last season there were sometimes more than 500 people there, and that’s a lot in Swiss women’s football!

In my time it was impossible to be a professional footballer. We always had to go to school or to work [as well as playing]. If you had to go to the national team you had to take holidays off work so that you could go. Today it’s better, most of the players work 60% to 80% of the time. And most of the time they get time off from their employer if they had to go, for example, to the Swiss national team.

Also, a few years ago an academy was created in Huttwil for the biggest female talents in Switzerland. They can train there twice a day, going to school at special times, and they live in Huttwil with a host family. These players often stay at the academy for two years, playing for a local club at the weekend.

The Huttwil academy aims to bring through a new generation of Swiss footballers (bzbasel.ch)

The Huttwil academy aims to bring through a new generation of Swiss footballers (bzbasel.ch)

How do you think the women’s game in Switzerland compares to other countries in Europe and worldwide? Is there a reason why the Swiss women’s team have never qualified for the World Cup?

In Switzerland women’s football is not professional – there is less money. And it’s too hard for the players to work 80% of the time or go to school for the whole day and juggle that with playing football 5 or 6 times in one week.

For many years, the same group of players were being selected for the national team –  the coach liked them even they were not the best players from Switzerland.  Now we have a new coach in the Swiss national team and she has changed some players. I think it’s better now, but it will take some time for them to play how the coach would like.

With our youth national teams we’re always better [than at senior level]; at the moment our under-20 national team is at the World Cup in Tokyo.

Who is the best player you have played with and against, and the best team you have faced?

The best player I have played with was Sheila Loosli. She was a Swiss international for many years. She was 34 years old when I played with her. She has two daughters and was a member of the police. We trained 3 or 4 times each week and she was always there. It was very impressive.

The best team I have faced? Let me think… I’d say a representative team from the USA. With Baden I played in a tournament in Italy and in the final we had to play against an American team. We had no chance and we lost the game 4-0. It was so impressive to watch how they played. They were all very strong and focused.

Have you had other jobs in football to earn money, seeing as the clubs you played for didn’t pay you?

Yes, I have done the following things:

  • August 2001-June 2003: Boys’ goalkeeper coach for FC Schöftland, 8-16 year olds
  • July 2001-July 2006: Coach at annual football camp for FC Aarau
  • August 2003-June2005: Boys’ goalkeeper coach for FC Rudolfstetten, 8-12 year olds
  • August 2004-August 2006: Match reporter and commentator for FC Gränichen (Men’s 3rd division)
  • August 2006-June 2007: Goalkeeper coach for Aargau regional under-14 girls team
  • August 2012-present: Coach for FC Aarau, 5-7 year olds

 

Thanks to Franziska for her time.


[Note: this interview was conducted in June 2013 for TQM Magazine.]

As Torquay United’s season reached a crucial point in their battle against relegation, I caught up with midfielder Craig Easton, currently in his first season at the club, to discuss his career so far and plans for the future.

Craig Easton is not your stereotypical professional footballer.  While at Livingston in 2004, he confessed to the club’s matchday programme, “It sounds really boring, but I am quite into my gardening”. He’s also articulate – in 2012, he wrote a 10,000-word essay entitled The Future of Scottish Football, exploring his country’s tactics and youth coaching.

His off-field hobbies differ from those of his Torquay United team-mates, then, and so does Craig’s CV: with over 250 appearances in the Scottish Premier League (the country’s top division, commonly known as the SPL) and having captained Scotland at under-21 level, the midfielder is a pretty high-profile signing for fourth-tier Torquay.

In a way, it’s not surprising Easton has enjoyed a successful career in football: born in Bellshill, near Glasgow – the same place as footballing greats Sir Matt Busby, Ally McCoist, Billy Shankly and Jock Stein entered the world – Craig also comes from a family of footballers. His father represented Livingston United at junior level, while his brother, Stewart, has played for Airdrie and Elgin City.

Craig started his career at Dundee United, graduating from the club’s successful youth team in 1996. A league debut followed soon afterwards, and as early as July 1997 he was representing Dundee United in international competition. Craig’s first UEFA Cup game couldn’t have gone better: a 9-0 trouncing of Andorran minnows CE Principat in which he came on as a substitute.

Easton (left) scoring for Leyton Orient against Fulham

Easton (left) scoring for Leyton Orient against Fulham

Easton continued to make a name for himself at Tannadice in the following years, and was a regular in the starting line-up from 1997 until his departure in 2004. That departure was brought about by the arrival of Ian McCall as manager, whose reign saw Craig somewhat fall out of favour.

By late 2003, the midfielder had decided not to sign a new contract with the club when his current deal expired, and in April 2004 McCall confirmed that Easton was free to leave at the end of the season. Of course, McCall’s verdict was irrelevant; as Craig himself said at the time, “It was clear I wasn’t going to be in the manager’s plans, so when the club said they didn’t want to offer me a new deal, it came as no surprise.”

However, the news did upset many supporters, and a May 2004 statement on the club website paid tribute to his popularity: “News that Craig Easton is to leave the club at the end of the season has sparked a flood of mail in appreciation of his contribution to the club, both on and off the park…Off the park, he has attended countless events on behalf of the club and has always been amongst the first to volunteer to help out when required.”

United’s SPL rivals Livingston offered a fresh start, and Easton immediately justified the club’s interest in him by scoring on his debut against Inverness.  He went on to play in 30 of Livingston’s 38 league games, even scoring the crucial goal that saved them from relegation on the last day of the season – sending Dundee, his first club’s rivals, down at Livingston’s expense.

Despite this, Livingston declined to renew Craig’s contract, and he spurned interest from mid-table Motherwell to move south and join Leyton Orient of the English fourth division. It was there that Easton would meet Martin Ling, then Orient’s manager, who would eventually bring the player to Torquay in 2012.

His first season in England couldn’t have gone better. Almost ever-present in the league as Orient won promotion to League One, the third division, on the last day of the season (with Craig scoring again), Easton also opened the scoring at Craven Cottage as Orient pulled off a huge shock to knock Premier League Fulham out of the FA Cup in January 2006. Unsurprisingly, it meant a lot to Craig, who revealed after the match, “I would put that down as my greatest achievement and my most enjoyable moment in football so far.”

Easton’s appearances the following season were slightly decreased, playing two-thirds of Orient’s games in League One, and in June 2007 he opted to join Swindon Town of the same division. His first season with the Robins yielded his highest ever goal tally for a single season – six goals in League One. However, it was a similar story to at Orient, as Craig’s second campaign saw him used more sparingly and in a variety of positions. He made fewer appearances still in 2009-10, and at the end of the season he rejected a new deal with Swindon.

Graduating from Staffordshire University

Graduating from Staffordshire University

It was while at the County Ground that Craig was approached by the editor of a newspaper in Scotland to write a column about his life as a footballer. Although the editor initially planned to ghost write the column himself – as is often done when journalists interview players for similar features – Craig asked for the opportunity to practice his writing skills, and this step would eventually lead to his enrolling on a Journalism and Broadcasting degree course at Staffordshire University. He would graduate from the course with a first-class honours degree.

Craig subsequently signed for Southend United, immediately being named club captain, scoring his first Shrimpers goal shortly afterwards against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the League Cup. It was a return to regular playing time, with 38 appearances in all competitions, but at the end of the 2010-11 season the player rejected a reduced contract and found himself a free agent once more.

What followed was a return to Scottish football after six years away, but unfortunately Easton’s six-month deal with Dunfermline Athletic was not a homecoming to remember.  Struggling with injuries, Craig managed just three games for Dunfermline before his contract ended in January 2012.

Many players would no doubt have been disheartened by such a downturn of fortunes, but Craig continued to search for a route back up the football ladder, and, thanks to their Leyton Orient connection, was handed a two-week trial by Torquay boss Ling towards the end of the Gulls’ successful 2011-12 campaign.

Easton impressed sufficiently to be awarded a permanent deal in June 2012, with Ling hailing the 34-year-old as “the ideal type of character for our squad. He was a massive part of my successful time at Orient…I just know I can trust him.”

Adapting well to life on the English Riviera, Craig was a mainstay in the Torquay side early in the season, and helped the club to a comfortable mid-table position by Christmas, with the play-offs firmly in sight.

However, things took a turn for the worse after Ling was forced to return to London to recuperate from a mystery illness early in 2013, leaving the club to slide down the table under assistant manager Shaun Taylor before Alan Knill was appointed caretaker manager in late February.  Torquay struggled to stay in the division, only securing their safety on the last day of the season against Bristol Rovers.

Craig was unable to help his team-mates in their relegation battle as much as he would have liked towards the end of the season – owing to a calf injury that kept him on the sidelines since March – and he was released by Ling’s successor Alan Knill at the end of the season. The midfielder will now look for his eighth club of a distinguished career, and it will be interesting to see what follows when he eventually hangs up his boots: will he pursue a career in journalism or coaching?

********

Craig generously gave up his time to answer my questions about his career and plans after retirement.

Which has been the highlight of your career: scoring against Fulham, captaining the Scotland under-21s, winning promotion with Orient, or something else?

I’m really proud of all the highlights you’ve mentioned. Captaining my country is very special and something I’ll never forget. I’ve got to say that winning promotion with Orient is the greatest achievement in my career.  The atmosphere in that game was amazing, and to do it in front of my wife and both our Mums and Dads just made it one of the best days of my life.

What are the best and worst parts of being a professional footballer?

The best part is a bit of a cliché; doing something I love and the only thing I ever wanted to do since I can remember.  I absolutely love being a footballer.  However, I don’t think people really understand what really goes on, especially at our [Torquay’s] level.  There’s no financial security, and that’s more of an issue as you get older.  Football’s a profession where how hard you actually work doesn’t necessarily reflect how you’re treated by those in charge.

At Plainmoor in 2012-13

At Plainmoor in 2012-13

Do you have any funny anecdotes you can share from your time in football?

Dave Bowman [Craig’s team-mate at Dundee United] was one of the funniest/maddest players I’ve ever played with.

He enjoyed having ‘banter’ with the cleaning ladies Rose and Ann. One day we returned to find Rose, stuck in a bin with her legs and arms sticking out the top and Bow trying to roll her down the corridor. Another time we found her inside one of the industrial dryers in the kit room with Bow threatening to turn it on. I know this might sound harsh, bordering on harassment, but it was hilarious and wee Rose was a great sport.

What is the best game you have played in? The worst?

It’s difficult to narrow down a single game, so I’ll give you a top 3 in no particular order.  Dundee United v Aberdeen in the semi final of the League Cup was one of my first games when I broke into the Dundee United first team as an 18-year-old.  I scored my first professional goal and we won 3-1.  There’s two Leyton Orient games that stick out: the promotion game against Oxford and also the FA Cup game against Fulham when we won 2-1 at Craven Cottage.

My worst game?  There’s too many to mention!  Probably any game where I’ve picked up an injury.

How many more years do you want to play for, and do you see your future in journalism or coaching after retirement?

I would say as long as I feel fit enough I’ll keep going and barring the little injury I’ve got at the moment, I feel as fit as at any point in my career.  I would love to stay in football.  I want to coach and ultimately manage at the highest level possible.  I’ll always write, so an ideal scenario would be to continue writing about football whilst managing.

What made you study journalism at Staffordshire University? Did you consider becoming a journalist as a teenager?

I never really considered doing anything other than playing football, although I did well in my exams at school.  I suppose, looking back on it now, English was one of my favourite subjects and I did like writing, so I’m not surprised that I’m enjoying the print side of journalism the most.  At Swindon, I was approached to do a ‘Diary of a Pro’ piece for the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, my local paper back home. I asked if I could have a go at writing it myself;  I really enjoyed it and things just snowballed from there.  I then managed to get on the PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association] course a couple of years later.

Was there a mix of footballers and normal students on your journalism course?  If so, how did the other students react to having professional players on their course?

We did a similar degree to other students, although we crammed it into two years and our classes were separate.  That was because most of our work was done on a distance learning basis.  There were about 15 of us in the class, either pro footballers – mainly from the lower divisions – or ex-players.  We attended Uni in Stoke once a month and for a week in the close season before the beginning of each semester to do most of the practical work. We very rarely crossed paths with the other students, but I did meet one who’s a fellow Scot and we’ve become really good friends and are currently working on a project together.

How have your team-mates reacted to your slightly unusual hobbies for a footballer off the pitch (gardening; writing)? Are there any other budding writers at Torquay?

I’m not sure they knew about the gardening until now!  I’m not into it as much as I used to be because I’m living in a rented property, but I love being outdoors and going for walks and swimming in the sea.  I got a wetsuit for my birthday because it got a bit cold in the winter. That’s what I like about living here – it’s a very outdoorsy area.

[Torquay defender] Aaron Downes is a good writer.  He was in my class on the course and we’re hoping to maybe work on something together in the future.

What are the differences between life in Torquay and life in Scotland?

Obviously the temperature’s a bit different to start with!  The amount of rain we’ve had down here in the last year has made me feel right at home, though.  It’s a very similar sort of lifestyle, especially compared to when I lived in Dundee.  I love being close to the sea and going for walks and exploring the area.  There are so many lovely places to visit, and Dartmoor reminds me a lot of Scotland.  I know this area pretty well as we used to come to Devon and Cornwall most summers when I was growing up.  My Dad used to drive down with the caravan – it used to take us 12 – 14 hours!  My first ever holiday with my wife was when we went to Torquay on the bus together as teenagers.  I have a great affinity with this part of the country.

What were you like as a teenager at school?

I was hardworking and enjoyed some subjects more than others  – P.E., Physics, Economics and English were some of my favourites.  I didn’t hate it, but I couldn’t wait for it to be over so I could go home and play football.

You have made a career in a very competitive environment. What advice would you give teenagers to help them achieve success in their chosen field?

I would just say, give it everything you’ve got.  Things might not always work out how you would like and you’ll probably have some disappointments, but don’t have any regrets that you could have worked harder.  Sometimes you may have to be single-minded and sacrifice things to achieve what you want to, and not just follow the crowd.

What has been the most motivational thing (words or action) you have witnessed from any of your managers?

Martin Ling gave a few brilliant team talks in my time at Leyton Orient, but the biggest motivator I’ve come across in my career has been Terry Butcher.  When he was at Dundee United I remember him getting us going before a game against his old team, Rangers, at Ibrox.  He was ranting and raving and telling us that they were overpaid prima donnas and how we were just as good as them on our day.  By the time the whistle went, we were ready to run through walls for each other and we ended up winning 2-0.

Finally, what are your views on the Scottish independence referendum next year?

I want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.  I’m proud to be Scottish, but also proud to be British.  I feel we already have a big say in how things are run in our own country and would be weakening our global position by severing our ties with the rest of the UK.

You can see more of Craig’s writing at http://eastonblog.wordpress.com/

 

 


Thanks to all the deadline day frenzy involving Marouane Fellaini, James McCarthy et al, Joel Robles’ arrival at Goodison has almost been forgotten already, but the goalkeeper looks to be a shrewd signing by Roberto Martinez. Though first-choice custodian Tim Howard has been a fine servant of the club over the past seven years, as the popular American approaches the end of his career, it’s reassuring to see that Martinez already has a worthy replacement lined up.

Robles entered English football fans’ consciousness in January with an impressive loan spell at Martinez’s Wigan Athletic – so impressive, in fact, that the 23-year-old ousted Ali Al-Habsi (a veteran almost ten years his senior) as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper. However, the Getafe-born shot-stopper is much better known in his home country, having been a part of the Spanish national youth set-up since he was 16.

Joel the giant: the lanky Spaniard feels he’s made for the English game (pic: Premier League)

Joel joined Atletico Madrid’s academy in 2005 and eventually became a regular for the club’s reserve side, but sought a move abroad earlier this year when first-team opportunities remained limited. His time at Wigan was fruitful and culminated in an FA Cup winner’s medal as he helped the Latics surprise Manchester City in the final.

The player cites his physical attributes as key to his success, and at 6ft 5”, it’s easy to see why. Robles believes his huge frame will help him deal with aerial challenges in one of Europe’s more physical leagues. Handed a 5-year deal by his compatriot Martinez, it’s clear Everton see the ‘keeper as a fine prospect and – with the possible exception of McCarthy – Robles is perhaps the summer signing likely to be turning out in royal blue for years to come.

Arguably the biggest challenge for Robles will be to avoid repeating the fate of his back-up predecessor, Jan Mucha, who was consigned to the bench throughout his career at Goodison. The Slovakian was released this summer having made just two league appearances in three years in Merseyside, but Robles looks better equipped to seriously challenge Howard for game time, with the American another year older and Joel already boasting experience in the Premier League.

Indeed, Martinez has described the Spaniard as “someone who is going to give us great protection and fight with Tim Howard – and push him all the way.” For that level of competition, the £650,000 Martinez paid Atletico Madrid seems a bargain. Joel concurs: “It is a great honour to work with Tim – he’s a great, great goalkeeper and I am looking forward to learning a lot from him.”

Bergara’s presence should allow Robles to settle quickly (pic: ceroacero.es)

The player has also been quick to emphasize the importance of being reunited with Wigan goalkeeping coach Inaki Bergara, who also worked under Martinez at Swansea and followed him from the DW Stadium this summer. “I am delighted to be back working with Inaki again – he is a great professional and a really nice guy,” says Joel. The feeling is clearly mutual – Bergara has already professed his belief that Robles “has lots of potential” – and this relationship could prove pivotal to Joel’s success at Everton.

Howard may have seen off many a back-up over the years, but it looks like Robles could finally be the worthy replacement the club have been searching for. With bundles of talent and a long career ahead of him, don’t be surprised if Joel is one of the first names on the Everton team-sheet in a few years’ time.


FORMER Derby County winger Giles Barnes never fulfilled his obvious potential in England, but he is certainly showing signs of doing so across the pond. Pushed forward to play up-front by Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear, his club are reaping the rewards: Barnes’ brace in the 3-1 defeat of the Seattle Sounders was arguably the standout performance of the round and the goals made him Houston’s joint-top scorer this season.

This was Clint Dempsey’s first start for the Sounders, but it was the Houston Dynamo attack who stole the headlines in this clash. They didn’t take long to grab the lead: on 16 minutes, Will Bruin forced his way through the Seattle defence and drew ‘keeper Michael Gspurning before cutting back to strike partner Barnes, whose shot beat two defenders on the line.

Barnes lets fly during his impressive two-goal salvo against Seattle (pic: Sports Illustrated/CNN)

Four minutes later, Barnes spectacularly bettered that effort with a strike that would be crowned Goal of the Round. Picking the ball up 30 yards from goal, the 25-year-old took one touch to set himself and drove a thunderbolt into the top corner of Gspurning’s net. The Austrian custodian saved well from Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis to keep his team in the game on 30 minutes, before Dempsey’s first meaningful contribution saw him link up well with Mauro Rosales and force Tally Hall into a decent save.

Seattle improved after the break and pulled one back on 65 minutes when Shalrie Joseph headed in Marc Burch’s free-kick – helped by Hall’s bizarre decision to try and block the effort with a star-jump. However, Houston refocused and sealed the win 10 minutes later, Bruin netting from close range after Warren Creavalle had thumped a header against the bar. Sounders’ Lamar Neagle almost halved the deficit again late on, but he could only hit the post.

Perhaps the only man who rivalled Barnes’ performance this round was LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane. The Irishman’s stunning hat-trick powered the Galaxy to a 4-2 win at home to Real Salt Lake. Goalless at half-time, six second-half goals transformed this game from bore draw to an end-to-end thriller. There’d been little to write home about until Joao Plata’s 53rd minute opener, the Salt Lake midfielder nutmegging Galaxy ‘keeper Jaime Penedo after Ned Grabavoy’s clever flick. Perhaps shocking the hosts into action, the lead lasted just three minutes: Keane was given room to turn Carlos Salcedo (not to be confused with the similarly-named ex-Fulham defender) and curled into the bottom corner.

From the Galaxy’s next attack, Real defender Chris Wingert was forced into a brilliant chested clearance off the line to deny Landon Donovan’s chip, but Salt Lake were rocking and could only hold out until the 67th minute. LA sub Sean Franklin found himself in acres of space on the right, and his cross picked out Keane, who was on hand to touch the ball past a static Nick Rimando. Eight minutes later, it was three: Donovan’s corner from the left was met by 6ft 5in defender Omar Gonzalez, who saw his header flash past Rimando and immediately turned to taunt his marker, Nat Borchers.

With five minutes to play, Keane rubbed salt into Salt Lake’s wounds with a classy fourth, collecting Franklin’s through ball and lobbing the onrushing Rimando to complete his hat-trick. Galaxy’s onslaught continued, and Kenny Mansally had to slide the ball off the line to prevent Todd Dunivant from adding to the scoreline. The visitors did restore some credibility five minutes into injury time when Robbie Findley poked home, but RSL boss Jason Kreis will be disappointed with his side’s haphazard defending.

If it all happened in the second half in that game, the action was packed entirely into the first in the Portland Timbers’ 2-1 win over FC Dallas. The Timbers took advantage of RSL’s slip-up to cut Real’s lead at the top of the Western Conference to three points. Diego Valeri missed a great chance to put the hosts in front 20 minutes in, but the midfielder made amends six minutes later, sending over a corner from which Ryan Johnson drew first blood. Dallas took just 60 seconds to find a reply as Mauro Diaz capped some neat build-up play with a cool finish.

The action continued to come thick and fast, and on 33 minutes the Timbers had their winner. Again, Valeri was at the heart of things, prodding a pass into Darlington Nagbe, who finished with aplomb. With Portland having at least two games in hand on most of their Western Conference rivals, Caleb Porter’s men will be quietly confident of success this year.

Diego Valeri starred in Portland’s win over FC Dallas (pic: MLSSoccer.com)

It all went according to the form book in Montreal, where the third-placed Impact claimed a 2-1 victory against bottom club DC United in the Eastern Conference. Andres Romero almost made the breakthrough for the hosts with just three minutes on the clock, but DC’s Bill Hamid made a good block, and 60 seconds later United had to clear off the line from Felipe. It appeared DC were living on borrowed time, and Montreal duly got their goal on 43 minutes, veteran striker Marco Di Vaio finding the top corner after Felipe’s dummy had taken out two defenders.

Di Vaio missed an even better chance on the hour after running onto DC defender Daniel Woolard’s underhit backpass, but the Italian dragged wide when clear through. The perpetually impressive Luis Silva had the visitors’ first real opening soon after, skipping past a challenge and stinging Troy Perkins’ palms from range. On 81 minutes, Silva went one better, unlocking the Impact defence with a clever ball, and Conor Doyle bent a quality finish around Perkins and into the top corner for the equaliser.

Their joy was short-lived: two minutes later, Montreal grabbed a deserved winner when Patrice Bernier launched a ball into the left channel for Di Vaio to run onto and the 37-year-old expertly cut inside Dejan Jakovic before arcing the ball into the far corner. At an age where most of his peers have retired, Di Vaio is now well and truly in the running for the MLS Golden Boot.

The New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire were separated by just a point coming into their clash at the Gillette Stadium. The Fire’s Mike Magee squeezed a shot against the post on 17 minutes after good work from beefy Ecuadorian Juan Luis Anangono, but it was the Revs who took the lead shortly after half-time with one of the more unique goals you’ll see all season.

Striker Juan Agudelo – set to join Stoke City in January – ran onto Chris Tierney lofted through ball and improvised a brilliant back-heeled lob over advancing Fire ‘keeper Sean Johnson. Chicago defender Bakary Soumare looked to have saved the day with his acrobatic clearance near the goal-line, but ref Edvin Jurisevic ruled that the ball had crossed the line. It was an excellent finish from Agudelo, but he loses points for describing the goal as “a little South American swag”.

The Revs squandered a great chance to confirm the points on 88 minutes when Jose Goncalves squared for the unmarked Kelyn Rowe but the midfielder somehow contrived to miss the open goal. Rowe’s blushes were spared in injury time when he slotted home from a similar situation, this time after Saer Sene’s shot had been spilled by Johnson. The game was marred by an ugly confrontation after the final whistle involving players and coaching staff from both clubs in which the Fire’s Soumare and the Revs’ Sene were both sent off.

Federico Higuain’s second consecutive brace helped the Columbus Crew to defeat Toronto FC 2-0. Columbus got a deserved opener on 19 minutes as Bernardo Anor’s shot was well saved by Joe Bendik but Higuain was on hand to pounce on the rebound. The overworked Bendik had to be at his best to stop Anor and Dominic Oduro from extending the lead before half-time, but his saves counted for little as the Crew wrapped up the win in the second half.

Toronto ‘keeper Joe Bendik’s heroics counted for little as his side were outclassed by the Columbus Crew (pic: Toronto FC)

On 67 minutes, Higuain sealed the deal in style, wrapping his foot around the ball to chip Bendik – despite the ‘keeper barely being off his line. They may be neighbours in the Eastern Conference – occupying eight and ninth place respectively – but there’s a big gulf in class between these two sides based on this showing.

Further up the Eastern Conference, high-flyers New York Red Bulls and the Philadelphia Union cancelled each other in one of those MLS rarities, a goalless draw. This was the league’s first 0-0 for a month, and with the Red Bulls welcoming Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill back from injury, few would have seen it coming. The Union came closest to claiming the points when Sebastian Le Toux smashed against the bar, while Jonny Steele was the hosts’ brightest spark, narrowly missing two chances late on.

The Colorado Rapids enjoyed a 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps, but it was the visitors who began brightly, with Rapids custodian Clint Irwin forced into saves by Russell Teibert and Kenny Miller early on. After riding that storm, Colorado took the lead on 36 minutes, Deshorn Brown taking advantage of slack marking from Lee Young-Pyo to head debutant Vicente Sanchez’s cross in at the far post. The Rapids made sure of the win on 79 minutes thanks to Edson Buddle’s heavily deflected shot which wrong-footed Caps ‘keeper David Ousted.

Sunday’s only game saw the San Jose Earthquakes nick a surprise win over Eastern table-toppers Sporting Kansas City. Kansas’ Jimmy Neilsen produced a superb one-handed reaction save to prevent Clarence Goodson from opening the scoring on 25 minutes, but he could do nothing about the winner early in the second half, Chris Wondolowski burying a header from Steven Beitashour’s cross.

San Jose survived a strong penalty appeal just minutes later when Beitashour enveloped Kansas’ Soony Saad in a bear-hug to stop him from reaching a loose ball, but they held on for an impressive win. Sporting clearly don’t enjoy this fixture: they haven’t won at San Jose since August 2000.


“There was a Clint Dempsey sighting for the Clint Dempsey Sounders in Toronto, (also known as Dempsey, Ontario) who played Clint Dempsey minutes and beat the Team-That-Doesn’t-Have-Clint-Dempsey.”  So surmised Big D Soccer’s Alfredo Cuvi, reflecting on the US national team star’s debut for Seattle Sounders in their 2-1 win at Toronto FC – and simultaneously poking fun at the media hype that has surrounded the attacker’s return to the MLS.

No matter what else happened in last weekend’s fixtures, Dempsey’s debut was destined to overshadow it. It’s tempting to accredit the Sounders’ win to their new signing’s influence, but in truth his team-mates already had the job half-done by the time the ex-Tottenham forward made his entrance. Toronto’s Jonathan Osorio went close just two minutes in, but the hosts handed Seattle the lead on 16 minutes when a poorly-executed offside trap allowed Brad Evans to pick out Eddie Johnson at the back post, the Sounders frontman nodding back across goal for Mauro Rosales to score.

Clint Dempsey showed flashes of brilliance on his Sounders debut (pic: The Guardian)

On 34 minutes, Johnson’s strike partner Obafemi Martins was forced off with an injury, prompting Sigi Schmid to hand Dempsey a premature first appearance.  Five minutes later, the Sounders doubled their lead: the ungainly Lamar Neagle forced his way down the left before firing in a cross that Toronto defender Doneil Henry bizarrely drag-backed into his own net. Sounders’ Djimi Traore probably felt some sympathy towards Henry: Traore’s own famous blunder while playing for Liverpool has still not been forgotten.

Whatever Ryan Nelsen said to his Toronto charges at half-time, it worked – the hosts pulled one back just 30 seconds after the restart when Andrew Weideman’s cross ran through to Osorio on the opposing wing, and the 21-year-old kept his cool to finish well. Toronto visibly grew in confidence and the impressive Osorio headed a Bobby Convey cross just wide before substitute Robbie Earnshaw hit the post.

Just when his team looked like conceding the equaliser, Dempsey produced the piece of magic that neutrals had been waiting for, beating three men with elastic ball control before curling a shot that Joe Bendik tipped around the post. However, the real drama was saved for the last minute of injury time when the hosts’ Jeremy Brockie beat the Sounders’ offside trap and found himself clean through on goal – only for Marcus Hahnemann to make a fine stop.

Perhaps the surprise result of the round occurred in Columbus, where the Crew saw off Eastern Conference high-flyers New York Red Bulls 2-0. Top of the table going into the game, the Red Bulls were missing Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill (both injured) as well as head coach Mike Petke (suspended), but they were still unusually below-par. Columbus dominated the first half but their visitors survived until half-time with their clean sheet intact. However, the Crew were not to be denied and stepped up a gear after the break.

The first goal arrived on the hour when, after Markus Holgersson had shoved Chad Marshall at a free-kick, Federico Higuain smashed a penalty straight down the middle. Fifteen minutes later Higuain confirmed his status as Columbus’ star man with a delightful chip over Luis Robles after being set free on the right. Things could – and should – have been even worse for the hapless Red Bulls when man-mountain Jamison Olave hauled down Bernardo Anor in injury time as last man back, but ref Allen Chapman appeared to take pity on the visitors, by then long resigned to defeat.

Eastern Conference bottom club DC United have shown encouraging signs in recent weeks, but they fell to a 2-0 loss at the Philadelphia Union. DC fielded the youngest starting XI in their history – average age 23 – but it was Philadelphia’s veteran striker Conor Casey who grabbed the headlines here. The Union were on top from the start against a weary United, who’d played away in the Open Cup in midweek. Bill Hamid brilliantly tipped over from Jack McInerney to deny the hosts the opener, but Casey opened the scoring on 35 minutes, stabbing home after Sebastian Le Toux’s flick-on.

Conor Casey’s brace helped Philadelphia see off DC United (pic: MLSSoccer.com)

DC came within inches of an equaliser on 58 minutes when Collin Martin’s shot was cleared off the line by Sheanon Williams but Casey confirmed the win with a late second, the 31-year-old shinning Fabinho’s cross beyond Hamid. DC are fast becoming synonymous with giving youth a chance, and 17-year-old sub Michael Seaton made history by becoming the first MLS player to be born after the league’s first season in 1996.

In the Western Conference, the Vancouver Whitecaps claimed a 2-0 win against the San Jose Earthquakes. A dreary first half was soon forgotten when Nigel Reo-Coker surged down the right to tee up Camilo Sanvezzo on the hour, and the ex-West Ham midfielder was also involved in the clinching second on 74 minutes later. Reo-Coker swung and kicked thin air in an attempt to connect with Russell Teibert’s pass (he’ll claim it was a dummy) but the ball ran through for fellow Brit Kenny Miller to fire home from the edge of the box.

Peter Vermes’ Sporting Kansas City took advantage of the Red Bulls’ slip-up to go top of the Eastern Conference with a 3-0 victory over the New England Revolution. Defender Kevin Alston made an emotional return to the Revs’ line-up, having not featured since April after being diagnosed with leukemia. Unfortunately, it was a day to forget for Alston, who was outjumped by Kansas’ Kai Kamara for the hosts’ first two goals, one midway through the first half and the other just after the break.

New England’s task was made even harder on 64 minutes when Dimitry Imbongo was shown a second yellow for flailing an elbow, but they overcame the setback continued to gamely commit men to attack. However, controversial referee Baldomero Toledo effectively ended the game as a contest on 86 minutes when he reduced the Revs to nine, ex-Crystal Palace midfielder Andy Dorman dismissed for tackling from behind. Toledo even sent off New England’s Stephen McCarthy in injury time, and although he later reduced the punishment to a yellow, it’s safe to say he won’t be on the Revs’ Christmas card list this year. Kansas completed the win through Benny Feilhaber’s curling free-kick from McCarthy’s foul.

Both the Chicago Fire and the Montreal Impact saw midweek action – in the Open Cup and Concacaf Champions League respectively – but you wouldn’t have guessed it as the two sides produced an entertaining match. The Fire took just 6 minutes to open the scoring when Joel Lindpere’s curling effort took a heavy deflection off Alessandro Nesta and wrong-footed Troy Perkins. Seventh-placed Chicago doubled their lead on 22 minutes, Dilly Duka dancing through some weak challenges – Nesta again failing to cover himself in glory – before poking past Perkins.

The Impact improved after half-time and halved the deficit on 58 minutes with Felipe Martin’s sweeping first-time shot from the edge of the area; having only entered the fray a minute earlier, Felipe lived up to his club’s name. Montreal dominated the closing stages but were unable to find an equaliser, and Chicago almost punished them when Quincy Amarikwa’s deflected effort looped up and over Perkins, forcing the ‘keeper into a world-class save. Ex-Everton defender Matteo Ferrari thought he’d equalised with a 93rd minute header, only for Fire striker Chris Rolfe to head off the line.

Saturday’s final game saw Real Salt Lake preserve their position atop the Western Conference with a 1-0 defeat of the Houston Dynamo. The game’s defining moment came when Adam Moffat fouled Olmes Garcia in the box at the end of the first half; the prolific Alvaro Saborio converted the penalty. Switching from their regular 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 formation, Real took a while to find their stride but were worthy winners, with Joao Plata hitting the bar.

Three of the best: Donovan (far left) celebrates his hat-trick against Dallas (pic: soccerbyives.net)

Sunday is known as the day of rest, but clearly nobody told FC Dallas and LA Galaxy, who put on a great show in a frenzied 3-3 draw. Dallas had gone five games without scoring but took just 14 minutes here to stop the rot. Some clever movement at a corner confused the Galaxy defence and gave Matt Hedges room to head beyond Carlo Cudicini. The Galaxy levelled in first-half stoppage time when Robbie Keane lofted a superb ball over Dallas’ centre-backs for Landon Donovan to run onto and score his 150th MLS goal.

The hosts bounced back to regain the lead just a minute after the interval, Blas Perez sliding the ball past Cudicini from another set-piece (though replays later showed him to be offside).  Once more, the Galaxy took time to muster an equaliser, but again, it was Donovan who came up with the goods on 72 minutes, blasting a half-volley into the net after Marcelo Sarvas’ knock-down. Not content with that, Donovan completed his hat-trick ten minutes later; a loose ball came the striker’s way and his finish was instinctive. Dempsey may be the MLS’ best-paid player and newest star, but on this showing he’ll have some job to oust Donovan as the league’s favourite son.

However, Dallas refused to lie down and on 85 minutes they restored parity again. Perez scored his second from yet another set-piece – crashing home a volley after the original free-kick had been headed away – but again replays showed his team-mates had been offside and interfering with play. The hosts almost claimed all three points in injury time when Jackson wobbled the woodwork from distance, but it would have been harsh on the Galaxy.

Western Conference strugglers Chivas USA held the Colorado Rapids to a 1-1 draw in another dramatic contest. Chivas got off to a flier thanks to Carlos Alvarez’s early goal, but they were lucky not to concede on 27 minutes when Steve Purdy handballed in the box, only for Dan Kennedy to save Deshorn Brown’s penalty.

Chivas’ lead was put in danger again six minutes later when Gabriel Farfan was dismissed for standing on Shane O’Neil’s shin, but instead of capitalising on their numerical advantage, the Rapids were reduced to 10 themselves just after half-time when Tony Cascio received his marching orders for two yellows. Seemingly trying to outdo that, Chivas had another man sent off soon after when Tristan Bowen spat at Rapids defender Chris Klute in full view of the linesman.

The Rapids finally made their advantage count on 80 minutes, sub Martin Rivero heading the equaliser on his first appearance in two months. Chivas’ poor discipline and the low attendance – just 8,221 at the StubHub Center – will only add to the growing pressure on the MLS to replace struggling Chivas with one of the several franchises waiting in the wings.


THE 23rd week of MLS action threw up some interesting fixtures: first vs second in the Eastern Conference, bottom vs second-bottom in the Western Conference, and two hotly-contested derbies. There were also goals seconds after kick-off and – as has become a regular occurrence this season – late drama in stoppage time. The culmination of the US national team’s Gold Cup campaign has seen many clubs’ star players return to MLS action, and this weekend’s fixtures were all the richer for the added quality.

We start in Kansas, where first-placed Sporting KC tried to defend their hold on the Eastern Conference against second-placed New York Red Bulls. Predictably, this game was full of drama. The Red Bulls took the lead on 27 minutes thanks to Jonathan Steele’s low shot, but Kansas levelled in first-half injury time when Kei Kamara reacted quickest to pounce on the loose ball after Luis Robles had parried a Soony Saad shot.

Lloyd Sam shone in the Red Bulls’ win over Sporting KC (pic: tvasports.ca)

Red Bulls coach Mike Petke introduced ex-Charlton Athletic winger Lloyd Sam on 63 minutes, and it was a decision which turned the game around. The substitute’s first action was to play Fabian Espindola through to score from a tight angle, and six minutes later, Sam confirmed his status as a supersub when he added a fine goal of his own to make it 3-1. Goalkeeper Robles started a quick counter-attack by launching the ball half the length of the pitch; the impressive Steele centered and Sam beat the last man and Kansas custodian Jimmy Neil.

The hosts’ Dominic Dwyer halved the deficit on 92 minutes from a Kamara cross, but despite a ridiculous ten minutes’ stoppage time, Kansas couldn’t find an equaliser. New York’s Thierry Henry celebrated more than most at the final whistle, perhaps still bitter from his controversial red card in this fixture two years ago.  This win sees the Red Bulls overtake their opponents into first place, opening up a two-point lead at the top of the table.

With Kansas slipping up, third-placed Montreal Impact hoped to take advantage in their visit to lowly DC United, but it was the Washington strugglers who bagged all three points here. Luis Silva, who has quickly emerged as DC’s best player since joining from Toronto in July, scored his third goal in as many games for United, opening the scoring on 19 minutes following a period of sustained pressure from the hosts. On 52 minutes, the Impact levelled after right-back Jeb Brovsky’s clever one-two with Davy Arnaud outfoxed the DC defence and put him through on goal.

However, United were not to be denied and they regained the lead with 20 minutes to play when Derby County loanee Conor Doyle scored his first senior career goal, and it got better for Ben Olsen’s men: they added a third in injury time when Doyle broke clear; with Montreal’s defence nowhere to be seen, and with Jared Jeffrey in support for DC, Doyle had a two-on-one against Impact ‘keeper Troy Perkins. He made no mistake, unselfishly feeding Jeffrey to tap into an open net and crown an excellent result for the Eastern Conference’s bottom club.

With a raft of promising youngsters coming through, Silva in excellent form, and the talismanic Dwayne De Rosario back from injury, things are certainly looking up for DC, but Montreal supremo Marco Shallibaum will be concerned by his team’s poor run: they have now won just once in their last seven games.

The Chicago Fire kept their play-off hopes alive with a 2-1 win at the Philadelphia Union. Estonia international Joel Lindpere’s cross from the left was missed by everyone and ran through for Patrick Nyarko to open the scoring on 9 minutes. The Union responded well, with Danny Cruz and Sebastian Le Toux both going close, before defender Sheanon Williams equalised on the hour with surely the strangest goal of the season. Trying desperately to get on the end of a Le Toux free-kick, Williams performed an accidental slow-motion forward roll, and the ball followed his forward movement with perfect symmetry, carrying it into the net via his studs.

However, Williams’ amateur acrobatics counted for nothing when the Fire’s prolific Mike Magee swept home the winner against the run of play, making him the league’s top scorer with 14 goals. It was harsh on Philadelphia, who had carved out the game’s best openings, but Chicago held on for a precious three points.

Real Salt Lake needed just 80 seconds to open the scoring away to the Colorado Rapids, Kyle Beckerman crossing for the unmarked Ned Grabavoy to take advantage of an already disorganised Rapids backline. However, RSL’s defence was equally slow to react eight minutes later when Clinton Irvin’s goal-kick was flicked on; Real’s centre-backs fatally allowed the ball to bounce, giving the speedy Deshorn Brown time to nip in and slide an equaliser.

RSL shot-stopper Nick Rimando was in fine form against Colorado (pic: nesncom.wordpress.com)

The action continued to come thick and fast, with RSL taking the lead once more on 20 minutes. Robbie Findley was floored by Rapids defender Drew Moor, and – after debate as to whether the game should be abandoned due to the swirling winds overhead – Alvaro Saborio converted the penalty. Saborio and his team-mates needed goalkeeper Nick Rimando to make three fine saves to protect their lead, but even he was helpless to prevent Colorado’s equaliser on 70 minutes through substitute Jaime Castrillon’s header. The draw meant the Rapids won the Rocky Mountain Cup – contested annually by these two clubs – as they had won and drawn against Real in the first two games. The triumph represents the Rapids’ first Mountain Cup win since 2006.

The Houston Dynamo lifted themselves back into the Eastern play-off places with a 3-1 defeat of the Columbus Crew. In yet another early goal, Houston’s ex-Derby midfielder Giles Barnes used his pace to break clear on 10 minutes before falling under Chad Marshall’s challenge; Brad Davis made no mistake from the spot. Honduras international Boniek Garcia set up the hosts’ second after half an hour, robbing Agustin Viana on the half-way line before breaking forward and feeding Will Bruin, who finished well – so confidently, in fact, you wouldn’t have guessed it was Bruin’s first goal since May.

Columbus pulled once back with 75 minutes on the clock when Houston defender Kofi Sarkodie scored an unfortunate own goal, prodding the ball into his own net in an attempt to stop Crew substitute Ryan Findley doing the same. The visitors then missed a great chance to draw level as momentum swung in their favour, Justin Meram spotting the unmarked Bernardo Anor at the back post, only for the Venezuelan to side-foot wide when it looked easier to score. Houston made them pay with five minutes remaining when Cam Weaver arrowed a fine effort into the top corner with the outside of his boot to seal the victory.

Having helped the US national team to Gold Cup success last month,  San Jose Earthquakes frontman Chris Wondolowski transferred his midas touch to domestic action, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over Chivas USA in a meeting of the Western Conference’s worst two sides. Chivas – thirteen points adrift at the foot of the table – missed two good chances before San Jose opened the scoring in the final few seconds of the first half. Steven Beitashour’s inch-perfect long ball was nodded back across goal by Victor Bernardez, and Wondolowski hardly had to break stride to head into the roof of the net.

Chivas thought they’d grabbed an equaliser through Mario De Luna’s header on 58 minutes, only for the linesman to rule it out for offside, and things got worse for the California outfit when they had former Fulham man Carlos Bocanegra shown a straight red for a robust tackle on the Earthquakes’ Shea Salinas. Referee Armando Villarreal showed no hesitation in whipping out the card – the tenth red he’s shown in 23 games as an MLS official. The hosts made sure of the win late on when Salinas’ shot was parried by Dan Kennedy and Wondolowski coolly chipped home the rebound. The Earthquakes’ clean sheet – only their third of the season – will likely please interim manager Mark Watson as much as the win.

Clint Dempsey is unveiled as a Sounders player before Seattle’s win over FC Dallas (pic: komonews.com)

High-profile Seattle Sounders recruit Clint Dempsey has spoken of his excitement at being back in the MLS, and he’ll be even more eager to get started after watching from the stands as his team-mates secured a comfortable 3-0 win over FC Dallas. Over 39,000 were present at the CenturyLink field – a figure no doubt swelled by Dempsey’s attendance – and they were not disappointed as the Sounders flew out of the traps to open up a two-goal lead within 25 minutes. The first arrived with nine minutes played as Obafemi Martins headed Mauro Rosales’ free-kick over his shoulder and into the net, despite having his back to goal. Around a quarter of an hour later, Martins’ strike partner Eddie Johnson doubled the Sounders’ advantage after breaking away from the Dallas defence too easily and latching onto Brad Evans’ through ball.

Dalllas improved in the second half but Evans sealed the win from the spot in the 94th minute after Lamar Neagle had been felled by David Ferreira – it was no more than Ferreira deserved for his awful bleach-blonde mullet. An impressive performance from the Sounders, but they should have points deducted for showing a dreadful video of Dempsey “rapping” as part of his unveiling as a Seattle player.

In Portland, Oregon, the Timbers had to settle for a 1-1 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps in a feisty Cascadia derby that saw 30 fouls and six yellow cards. With the teams separated by just two points in the Western Conference, this game was always likely to be close, and so it proved. The Timbers survived a penalty scare just 10 seconds in when Kekuta Manneh went down under Pa-Modou Kah’s challenge, and on 33 minutes the hosts had a claim of their own ignored by ref Radu Petrescu after Darlington Nagbe collapsed in a heap under the attention of a group of Caps defenders.

The first goal arrived on 49 minutes, Timbers targetman Ryan Johnson heading home from Diego Valeri’s cross, but with 20 minutes to play, Caps’ Jordan Harvey restored parity from Camilo Sanvezzo’s corner to ensure it ended all square.

Sunday’s only fixture saw Ryan Nelsen’s Toronto pull off an impressive victory at the New England Revolution. Matias Laba’s 2nd minute goal was the difference between the two teams. Winning the ball on the half-way line, Laba produced a fine solo effort, slaloming past two challenges and finishing at the second attempt. The Revs came back strongly, and only goal-line clearances from Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley preserved Toronto’s lead. New England’s Andrew Farrell was unlucky not to get an assist from his brilliantly improvised overhead-kick cross, but with the hosts’ attack seemingly having an off day, the Canadians were able to hold out. Incredibly, this win marks the first time Toronto have won and kept a clean sheet since July 2012 – and that was also against the poor old Revs.


TOTTENHAM Hotspur’s Clint Dempsey is set to make a surprise return to the United States after the club announced they had reached an agreement with MLS outfit the Seattle Sounders. Dempsey, 30, has been playing in England since joining Fulham in 2006, but only moved to Tottenham last summer.

After playing youth football in his native Texas, Dempsey started his senior career with the New England Revolution and was near-ever present in his first season in the MLS in 2004. He spent two further years at the club, posting a record of better than a goal every three games in both seasons, before being signed by Fulham for £2 million – making Dempsey the US’ most expensive export to England.

Dempsey made a name for himself during five years at Fulham (pic: mirror.co.uk)

At Fulham, the midfielder enjoyed the best years of his career, somehow managing to improve every season and earning praise for his versatility and all-action style. Fittingly, his best performances in a black-and-white shirt came in his final campaign at Craven Cottage in 2011-12, when he netted 17 times in the league and 23 in all competitions.

Having established himself as one of the Premier League’s best goalscoring midfielders, Dempsey earned a £6 million move to Tottenham in the summer of 2012. Once more, the transfer shattered records in his homeland, making the Texan the US’ highest-paid footballer of all time. Despite relative success in his first season at White Hart Lane, Dempsey’s place in the side’s starting line-up – he had mainly been employed as a second striker by Andre Villas-Boas – was put into doubt by Spurs’ acquisition of Valencia forward Roberto Soldado.

Looking for guaranteed playing time, and perhaps missing the US after so long away, Dempsey appeared to entertain the notion of returning to the MLS. Earlier this week, rumours on Twitter claimed the US national team captain had been spotted in San Francisco, waiting to board a plane to Seattle, and some overly-enthusiastic Sounders fans even waited for his arrival at the airport in Washington.

However, Dempsey never arrived, which, combined with Sounders forward Eddie Johnson dismissing suggestions Clint would sign with the club, sparked a media frenzy as the US tried to second-guess where Dempsey would appear next. The attention he was afforded – rarely seen in America for footballers – demonstrated Dempsey’s stature in the US, but MLS fans were devastated to hear rumours that he was, in fact, flying out to Los Angeles to join up with Everton’s pre-season tour.

“What do you mean there’s no place for me?” Dempsey has left Spurs for regular game time (Pic: bettor.com)

But the speculation turned full circle when ESPN claimed the Sounders were on the verge of completing the player’s signature, and that was confirmed this afternoon when Spurs issued a statement on their website announcing that Dempsey would “return to MLS.” The BBC say the Sounders will match the £6 million Spurs shelled out for Dempsey a year ago, while several media outlets suggest the midfielder will become the MLS’ highest paid player at $5 million per year, overtaking his fellow ex-Premier League attackers Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry ($4 million and $3.75 million per year respectively).

Dempsey’s much-heralded arrival will provide a welcome boost to the Sounders’ attacking roster – the club are currently languishing in seventh position in the nine-team Western Conference, four points adrift of the play-offs.


There are some parts of the American take on the beautiful game that just won’t be transferred to England. Strapping cameras to referees is one, the MLS SuperDraft – where players are traded, assigned and picked from colleges – is another, and finally, there’s the annual MLS All-Star game between the league’s 20 best players and a club from another country.

Since switching from the East vs West format in 2005, the MLS had chosen a British team every year as the All-Stars’ opponents, but this year, Italian giants Roma broke that trend by travelling to Kansas City to play against the cream of America’s footballing crop, coached by Kansas boss Peter Vermes. The involvement of a non-British club follows the increasing glamour the All-Star game has attracted; while the likes of Fulham and West Ham United were early opponents, Manchester United, Chelsea and now Italian sides are becoming open to the idea (no doubt attracted by the revenue opportunities associated with the game).

Vermes and MLS Commissioner Don Garber had picked a strong squad including the likes of Thierry Henry, Marco Di Vaio and Landon Donovan,  and while Roma brought their star-studded first-team – among them captain Francesco Totti and fellow Italy internationals Daniele De Rossi and Federico Balzaretti – the most familiar name to US football fans was national team midfielder Michael Bradley, who has been playing in Europe since 2006.

Strootman slots home Roma’s opener (Pic: USPresswire.com)

There’s been much debate in the US as to whether the league would be better served by a return to the East vs West format of the past, but there’s still plenty of interest in this fixture: the 21, 175 who turned up to Kansas’ Sporting Park was the highest attendance in the stadium’s history.

Vermes opted for an experienced front-line, pairing Henry and Di Vaio (combined age 72) while Roma named Totti, Bradley and new signing Kevin Strootman in an impressive line-up.  To the crowd’s dismay, Roma controlled the tempo from the start and took just four minutes to open the scoring; exploiting the All-Stars’ high defensive line, Strootman collected a through ball before beating Peruvian ‘keeper Raul Fernandez in the hosts’ goal (via an unfortunate deflection off Kansas defender Aurelien Collin.

The All-Stars struggled to recover from that early blow, and just three minutes later Roma almost doubled their lead. Totti, picking the ball up deep in his own half, curled an exquisite 30-yard pass in behind All-Star left-back Corey Ashe for Alessandro Florenzi to run onto, but the 22-year-old’s shot slid just wide. Vermes’ men were dealt another blow on 24 minutes when Graham Zusi, playing just behind the strikers, was forced off with an injury; he was replaced by Vancouver Whitecaps’ Brazilian magician Camilo Sanvezzo.

With the Italians continuing to dominate proceedings but failing to add to their lead, half-time arrived with the score still at 1-0. Just seconds after the restart, however, they made the All-Stars pay: Ashe once more failed to track Florenzi’s run, and Balzaretti’s centre from the left was clinically converted by the unmarked midfielder.

The All-Stars almost managed an immediate reply when Thierry Henry took on three defenders on the left before crossing towards Chris Wondolowski, but the San Jose Earthquakes frontman just failed to connect with the delivery. The hosts’ best chance arrived 20 minutes later, when an unwise short goal-kick from Roma allowed Landon Donovan to pinch possession back; the ex-Everton man rounded the last defender but fired straight at Morgan De Sanctis from close range.

Roma celebrate with the All-Stars trophy after their win (Pic: Goal.com)

It was a miss they were made to pay for. From Roma’s next attack, Bradley released the impressive Strootman with a brilliant one-touch pass, and the Dutchman’s pull-back was turned in by Junior Tallo. Rookie full-back DeAndre Yedlin – on as a substitute for the hapless Ashe – came close to pulling one back on 85 minutes, playing a delightful one-two with Wondolowski but skying the final effort at goal.

However, the All-Stars didn’t have to wait long for their goal. In the first (and only) minute of injury time, Sanvezzo curled a fine free-kick onto the head of fellow sub Omar Gonzalez, and the LA Galaxy defender summoned up enough neck power to beat De Sanctis’ deputy Bogdan Lobont and restore some credibility to the scoreline.

The final whistle blew soon after on an interesting contest that will divide opinion on whether the MLS is as close to Europe as it thinks it is. Make no mistake, Roma strolled to victory here, but, as Jeff Carlisle notes for ESPN, “[given] that the MLS players had a grand total of one training session, and that the Roma players are all eager to impress new manager Rudi Garcia, it was no surprise to see the visitors run out to a 3-1 victory.”

League Commissioner Garber used the game’s interval to announce plans to expand the MLS to 24 teams by 2020 (it currently has 19, with New York City FC set to join in 2015). That demonstrates an ambition that can only help the MLS close the gap on Europe’s elite in the near future, and, as Carlisle adds, “a loss in the All-Star Game isn’t going to change that.”

All-Stars: Fernandez (Rimando 45); Besler (Gonzalez 45), Beltran, Collin, Ashe (Yedlin 66); Johnson, Beckerman (Magee 45), Davis (Donovan 45), Zusi (Sanvezzo 24); Henry (C) (McInerney 57), Di Vaio (Wondolowski 45).

Roma: De Sanctis (Lobont 63); Torosidis, Benatia, Castan, Balzaretti; Pjanic (Marquinho 63), Bradley, Florenzi (De Rossi 63), Strootman; Totti (C) (Ricci 87), Tallo (Caprari 80).

Referee: Hilario Grajeda.

Game MVP: Alessandro Florenzi.

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