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Mercado Marks Emotional Senior Day With Goal In OSU’s 2-0 Win

in Futbol by
DSC09172

Madison Mercado began her last game at the Cowgirl Soccer Complex in storybook fashion Sunday afternoon.

One minute into Oklahoma State’s Big 12 matchup with Kansas, forward Courtney Dike slid a ball to Mercado at the top of the box, where she kicked off Senior Day with an early goal. The Cowgirls added a second goal in the 44th minute, bookending the first half with goals in their 2-0 victory.

“It was a great feeling,” Mercado said. “On Senior Day, (it was) very emotional, especially with everything that’s been going on. It was very rewarding.”

Mercado’s goal was her fourth of the season and the 17th of her career, and it provided OSU with the spark it needed at the beginning of the game.

“It was awesome,” Cowgirl coach Colin Carmichael said. “It was a great goal. We knew that was going to be a tight game. They are good; they are in a very similar situation as we are. They needed wins in the Big 12. So (the win) was big for us, and Maddie’s goal got us going.”

The emotional lift the Cowgirls got from Mercado’s early goal was extremely important, especially after the accident Saturday morning when a vehicle plowed through a crowd of spectators at OSU’s Homecoming Parade, killing four and injuring 44.

“We talked to our team (about it) this morning,” Carmichael said. “It’s tragic. You can just feel the vibe in Stillwater is just sad right now. And our team is no different.”

The Cowgirls (9-7-2 overall, 2-3-3 in Big 12) said they were motivated to do whatever they could to honor the victims.

“We wanted to win not only for ourselves, but we wanted to honor all the families,” sophomore forward Niki McKnight said. “If we were in their shoes we wouldn’t know what to do, so all we can do is hope and pray for the best.”

McKnight scored the game’s second goal when Kansas’ keeper Maddie Dobyns mishandled the ball in the box, spilling it to the feet of McKnight for an open goal just before halftime.

“It’s nice,” McKnight said. “We’ve been looking for that game-changer that can get us back on a roll. We’ve been deserving (wins), we’ve been working hard and playing well, things just haven’t been in our favor.”

McKnight’s goal was her second of the weekend, for she scored the tying goal against West Virginia on Friday night before the Mountaineers earned a 2-1 victory in overtime. Oklahoma State wasn’t sure whether McKnight would be able to play this season due to offseason surgery on her right knee, but since returning to action on Oct. 7, she has given the team a valuable offensive threat off the bench.

“We knew, when healthy, that kid is just a good player,” Carmichael said. “Whether she’s up front, in the back, in the midfield, it doesn’t matter. She’s a very good soccer player…When we got her back and played her up front, we thought it might add some goals, and certainly that has been the case.”

The Jayhawks (8-8-1, 3-4) caused Oklahoma State problems with their aggressive pressing, often switching to a three-at-the-back formation to outnumber OSU in the midfield. Kansas finished with 13 shots, four of which forced saves from Cowgirl goalie Michela Ongaro.

“Kansas put some pressure on us there in the first half,” Carmichael said. “We scored a little bit against the run of play to make it 2-0.”

The Cowgirls sat back and let the game come to them in the second half as they looked to maintain their two-goal advantage. Although Kansas threatened, OSU had the better of the chances on the counterattack, and it was able to hold for the victory, giving its six seniors a final home game worth remembering.

“At 2-0, we obviously went a little more defensive in the second half trying to hold that lead,” Carmichael said. “Overall, (I’m) just really pleased that we won, and really pleased for the seniors to end at home with a win. That was great.”

MORE THAN A GAME

Hearts were heavy at the beginning of Oklahoma State’s Big 12 matchup against Kansas on Sunday afternoon, and the tears were flowing after the final whistle.

On Senior Day, the Cowgirls set out to honor the victims of the Homecoming Parade accident Saturday morning when four people were killed and 44 were injured.

“It was more than a soccer game today,” Mercado said. “It was big for Senior Day, and we wanted to honor those who lost their lives and the families affected in the tragedy yesterday.”

Oklahoma State wore black wristbands, some with the words “Stillwater Strong” written on them, to honor the victims and their families during its 2-0 victory against the Jayhawks.

“We wanted to honor all the families,” sophomore Niki McKnight said. “If we were in their shoes, we wouldn’t know what to do. All we can do is pray and hope for the best for those families.”

The team found out about the accident during its pregame walkthrough Saturday morning. Saturday night, sophomore midfielder Lana Duke texted her teammates about doing something in solidarity to show their support, and the entire team was on board.

“It was insane,” senior Madison Mercado said. “We were just all shocked and devastated. Our homecoming is America’s greatest homecoming. People come from everywhere just to come here and have a good weekend, and for that to happen, it’s just shocking and heartbreaking.”

The accident had a direct impact on the Cowgirl program, for two children who acted as ball kids Friday night were injured.

“OSU is such a tight knit family, and we were hurt by it as much as everybody else was,” Mercado said. “It was very emotional. We talked about it, and we wanted to come in and play our hearts out for everybody.”

Carmichael said he was not involved in any discussions regarding the status of Sunday’s game but agreed with the decision for both the soccer match and the football game Saturday afternoon to be played.

“You can kind of make people smile for the next 90 minutes, and use that emotion in a positive way,” Carmichael said. “As a coach, I think that is the right thing to do. The result is insignificant in relation to what happened. However, it does allow people to focus on something positive for a little while instead of the tragedy that happened.”

The Cowgirls did their best to lift the spirits of the Stillwater community, but by the end of the game, emotions were evident for a different reason.

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For six seniors – Mercado, Allie Stephenson, Kelsey Bass, Delaney Kiely, Lauren Reyes and Madeline Wood, all of whom played Sunday – this was their final game at the Cowgirl Soccer Complex. Mercado marked the special day with a goal in the second minute, and all six players collected bouquets and hugs from the coaching staff after the game. Most held back tears while others couldn’t help it.

“I was just balling my eyes out a few seconds ago,” Mercado said. “It has hit me. It’s just crazy how fast it goes. You know, you come in as a freshman and everyone tells you that. My sister [former OSU player Melinda Mercado] told me. But you don’t realize it until you are at your last home game and you are at your last game. It’s very emotional.”

Mercado, whose favorite memory at OSU is making it to the Big 12 Tournament final and the NCAA Tournament in 2013, said she will miss being around her teammates.

“You form such a close bond with everybody,” Mercado said. “You’re with them 24 hours a day, basically. And they are such great girls. And we have formed such a close bond. I’m going to miss them the most.”

Above all else, Sunday’s game was about coming together as a family for the Cowgirls and the Stillwater community.

“We were playing for the seniors,” Carmichael said. “We were playing for ourselves. But we were also playing for the community and the OSU family.”

Sterling Soars, Klopp Debuts, Chelsea Stabilizes And McClaren Survives

in Futbol/PL Recaps by
raheemsterling

Manchester City continue to score goals for fun, Jurgen Klopp manages his first game for the Reds and the Blues end a three-match winless streak in all competitions.


 

MCIBOU

Even without Sergio Aguero, who injured his hamstring while on international duty with Argentina, this was the kind of performance that we’ve come to expect from City this season. Against the new boys of Bournemouth, Manuel Pellegrini’s men were dominant in possession, fluid in their attacks and lively on the move. In the absence of Arguero and David Silva, City stuck Wilfried Bony up top and record-singing Raheem Sterling in the hole behind him. The result was five goals between the two of them, with Sterling netting his first hat trick in a baby blue shirt while Bony stuck a pair in the back of the net.

Jesus Navas was, surprisingly, not a determinant to his team’s 5-1 victory, as he was quite engaged and supportive on the right-hand side. Bournemouth were a promising bet to maintain in the Premier League beyond this season, but injuries to most of their key players, including their most expensive summer signings, have dampened the mood and their competitiveness. To be fair, they were always going to be smashed by City at the Etihad, injuries or not, but it’s a bit dispiriting to see one of the league’s more entertaining and positive sides have to live with a weakened cast in their first season in the top flight.

EVEMUN

Everton had its moments in this game, and the Toffees came out strong after halftime looking to erase United’s 2-0 lead. But this was always a game for the Red Devils to take all three points from. Everton had a slight majority of possession and occasionally pieced together some good build-up, but United were more decisive and dangerous when they got the ball forward. Ander Herrera played a major part in that. The Spanish midfielder got the start behind Wayne Rooney while youngster Anthony Martial spent most of the game playing wide on the left.

Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin, who scored the game’s opening goal, controlled things in the middle of the park for Louis van Gaal’s side, completing 95% of their 114 passes. Herrera also added a goal and an assist, giving him a strong case for more playing time, which may mean more substitute appearances for Dutchman Memphis Depay, who was not used in this game.

CHEAST

When your team is struggling to get results, then Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa is exactly what the doctor would order. The Lions haven’t won a game since defeating Bournemouth 1-0 in their season opener and they had lost four in a row heading into this game. Of course, even as the Blues got their first league win since defeating Arsenal a month ago, they only put one goal past the awful Brad Guzan (their second was an Alan Hutton own goal) and they even ceded possession to the 19th ranked team in the Premier League.

NEWNOR
Managing with his job seemingly on the line, Steve McClaren’s men came out and delivered one of the more entertaining performances of the season. It helped that Norwich City were game in turning this into a wide-open contest with little attention paid to stopping the other team from scoring. Chances were created, opportunities were taken and breaks were frequent as Magpies put six past John Ruddy, matching the goal total that they had in their previous eight matches combined.

The Canaries were actually in this game for a half, as Dieumerci Mbokani provided an equalizer when Newcastle only had one goal and Nathan Redmond got one back before halftime to make the score 3-2. But fueled by summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum, Newcastle would blow the game open in the second half. Wijnaldum had one of the most impressive performances of the season in any league, scoring four goals and providing an assist. He scored with his head, on the break and with tremendous touch, showcasing the deft skills that made his $22 million price tag seem like a pretty nice bargain. Moussa Sissoko notched three assists in this contest, helping make sure that McClaren would have a job for at least another week.

TOTLIV
Speaking of manager’s on the hot seat, Jürgen Klopp managed his first game at Liverpool since taking over for Brendan Rodgers. The performance didn’t match the energetic and entertaining reputation that his coaching style carries, but on such a short turnaround for both he and the players who had been on international break, a point away at White Hart Lane isn’t the worst debut result. Belgium international Divock Origi started up top for the Reds and hit the post, but chances were sparse other than that. Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele looked like the best player on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, bossing the midfield with nine tackles, six interceptions and three clearances, as well as 91% pass completion from his holding midfield spot.

WATARS

For the first 45 minutes, Arsenal didn’t possess the same kind of precision and aggression that they showed in the opening 20 minutes of their victory of United, but Watford didn’t have enough to make them pay for it. The Hornets were game for a half, but their front two of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo wasn’t sharp enough when they had their chances, and Arsenal came out of the lockerroom with a strong intent to dominate the game. Alexis Sanchez, who cannot be stopped at the moment, got the scoring started in the 62nd minute, and within a 12-minute span, Arsenal would add two more. Olivier Giroud, who was subbed on in the 64th minute, scored in the 68th, and Aaron Ramsey ended his BPL goal drought with the Gunners’ third in the 74th.

WBASUN

In a matchup between two of the Premier League’s least exciting teams, the most enjoyable moment came when West Brom striker Salomon Rondon ended up catching Sunderland’s DeAndre Yedlin in midair before twirling him around like it was a part of a Dancing with the Stars routine. In terms of the result, Saido Berahino, who once proclaimed he would never play for West Brom ever again, scored the game’s only goal on a very poor piece of work by Black Cats’ keeper Costel Pantilimon. Sunderland still hasn’t won a game nine games into the season and I take any odds that Sam Allardyce becomes the second Black Cats manager to be fired this season at some point.

CRYWHU

This was a pretty surprising result given that Palace has been in the kind of form where you’d expect them to defeat West Ham at home, but really it’s no surprise when the Irons go on the road and beat a good team this season. When you’ve beaten Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City on the road, then a 3-1 result at Selhurst Park doesn’t seem so miraculous. Things might have gone differently for Palace if it weren’t for some immature mistakes by young striker Dwight Gayle, who started this game up top for Alan Pardew. Not only did Gayle take off early on Yohan Cabaye’s 25th minute penalty, forcing Cabaye to beat Adrian a second time from the spot, but he also got two pretty clumsy yellow cards, leaving Palace with 10 men for the entire second half.

West Ham deserve credit, though, because their attacking play was quite good when Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini were invovled. Payet got himself a goal while playing out wide whilst Lanzini, who has now made his move to London permanent, played behind Diafra Sakho and collected a goal and an assist. The Irons now sit fourth in the league behind City, Arsenal and United. That’s some pretty familar company up top. But right behind them? In 5th and 6th sit Leicester and Crystal Palace, neither of whom are accostomed to fighting for Champions League spots. The beauty of this season is that West Ham, Leicester and Palace all look like they have an outside shot of staying in the European picture for the remainder of the season, even though Chelsea are a lock to get back into the mix at some point.

SOULEI

Another 2-0 deficit, another two-goal comeback for Leicester City. For the third time this season, the Foxes erased a two-goal deficit, earning a draw for the second time in such matches. The Saints dominated the first half and notched two goals as both of their centerbacks – Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk – scored headers off of set pieces. But once Claudio Ranieri injected his most dangerous player to start the second half, the entire game changed.

Riyad Mahrez and Nathan Dyer came on together after the break and provided Leicester with pace and creativity which they lacked with Shinji Okazaki and Jeffrey Schlupp in their place. Mahrez and Dyer each collected an assist, with both feeding in-form striker Jamie Vardy, who currently leads the league in goals (9) by three over Wijnaldum and Sanchez. The Foxes nearly missed out on securing any points when Vardy just missed a chance to put away a gorgeous ground cross that Mahrez fired into him in the 82nd minute. Luckily for the Foxes, Vardy would make due one minute into stoppage time to earn the draw.

SWASTK

After starting off the season on fire, Swansea haven’t been quite as sharp over their past five games. They’re winless in the past five, dropping away matches to Watford and Southampton and this home tie against Stoke. You could argue that the Swans were the better team in this game, or at least that Stoke didn’t deserve all three points, but a penalty call in the fourth minute allowed Bojan to give Stoke the lead almost from kickoff, and the Potters would park the bus from there.

Swansea could have earned something from this game, but, like Stoke, they were incredibly sloppy with their passing in the midfield, and they didn’t often come close to connecting on final passes that would have created good chances. Then again, Swansea would have at least a point if Jonjo Shelvey’s brilliant effort from a tight angle inside the box had bounced in off the post instead of right back to him. Stoke has now won three games in a row, moving them a few spots above Swansea in the BPL table, which isn’t something I saw coming after the first few weeks.

Charged Up Dike, Mercado Make Headlines Against Drake

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Stillwater, OK – Madison Mercado and Courtney Dike might have been able to beat Drake University by themselves Wednesday night.

Mercado and Dike, who have played together since their high school days, combined to create all of Oklahoma State’s goals in its 3-0 nonconference win against the Bulldogs at the Cowgirl Soccer Complex.

When Dike wasn’t scoring, she was creating chances for Mercado. When Mercado wasn’t scoring, she was returning the favor for Dike. Dike scored two goals, both assisted by Mercado, and Mercado scored off an assist from Dike.

“We just had an eye for each other this game,” Dike said. “We played together in club my junior year (of high school). It started from there. We’ve always had really good chemistry, and I think it came out again tonight.”

In the summer of 2012, Dike and Mercado partnered up on the OFC ’94 prep squad and won a state championship together. A year later, Dike joined up with Mercado again when she enrolled at Oklahoma State, and they’ve started 48 games alongside each other at OSU.

“We worked well together,” Mercado said. “We’ve played together since club, so we have that connection. And I feel like all season we’ve been trying to get that, and get it right. And this game we just did.”

The Cowgirls (6-6-2) worked on providing better service for Dike during practice on Tuesday, with Carmichael instructing his players on how to feed her the ball closer to the middle of the field. On Wednesday night, that work paid off.

“They played great,” Cowgirl coach Colin Carmichael said. “With Courtney, we talked this week about keeping her more central and not having her run as wide as much, and that seemed to help. Maddie was just buzzing around the field; she just looked full of energy tonight. It’s good to have those two on the scoresheet.”

Dike kicked off the scoring for the Cowgirls in the 10th minute with a tap-in from the edge of the 8-yard box. Dike received a throw-in inside the 18-yard box and held up play before turning her shoulder and finding Mercado, who played Dike through on goal with a flick that set up her former club teammate for an easy finish.

“It’s great for our confidence,” Mercado said. “We needed this game to get flowing. Everybody’s playing. People are scoring. It was good for us, especially with how tough our schedule has been.”

Dike went from scorer to provider two minutes after the start of the second half. After junior defender Christina Jean-Charles’ pressure forced a Drake giveaway on the edge of its box, Dike collected the ball and sent in a ground cross to Mercado, who turned and delivered a one-touch chip of the keeper with her right foot.

“We’ve been working on crossing and finishing and being clinical in the 18,” Mercado said. “(Courtney) gave me a great ball and I finished.”

Mercado came close to scoring the game’s final goal, but her 58th minute strike from 15 yards out was parried away by Drake keeper Brooke Dennis. But par for the course on Wednesday night, Dike was there to tap home the rebound.

The Cowgirls controlled the game, keeping the majority of possessions and getting off 22 shots. Dennis was forced to make nine saves and had to organize her defense against 12 OSU corners. Although Oklahoma State could have converted a couple more of its chances, the Cowgirls’ offensive performance was an improvement on their recent form.

“We were definitely the more dominant team today,” Dike said. “We finished not as much as we’d like, but it’s still a positive. Getting those three goals in the back of the net, regardless of the shots. We’re just going to build from here and hopefully be better next game.”

After starting off Big 12 play with two losses and two draws, Wednesday night’s nonconference matchup gave the Cowgirls a chance to rebound and to build confidence for the back half of their conference schedule.

“I think we came out knowing we needed to win this game, just to get back to .500 and be back in everything,” Dike said. “I think we came out and did what we needed to do. And scoring a couple of goals builds confidence no matter who you are playing, so I think we needed that.”


THINK PINK NIGHT

If you were looking for America’s brightest orange Wednesday night, you wouldn’t have found it on the field at the Cowgirl Soccer Complex.

Oklahoma State traded its traditional black and orange jerseys for pink tops in support of breast cancer awareness during its 3-0 win over Drake University. game against Oral Roberts, with proceeds

The Cowgirls have been holding breast cancer awareness nights as frequently as possible since the 2009 season. Bridget Brown, then a senior defender on the team, brought up the idea of having a “Think Pink” night and did the legwork to help get the event started.

“She had seen it done at other places,” assistant head coach Karen Hancock said. “And she wondered if we could maybe do it. I looked into it and found out that we could.”

Brown, who is currently a registered nurse working in Tampa, Florida, said that nobody in her immediate family had been affected by breast cancer, but that her best friend’s mother battled with the disease. With her academic focus being the medical field, Brown was the perfect person to get an event like this off the ground.

“I had always seen other professional sports team wearing pink to raise awareness,” Brown said. “I figured the more awareness we could provide about breast cancer, maybe then the more hope and inspiration we could instill in those affected by the disease.”

October has been National Breast Cancer Awareness Month since 1985, and several sports leagues and teams across the country have taken a leading role in promoting the movement. The “Think Pink” jerseys the Cowgirls wore on Wednesday will be auctioned off Friday night during Oklahoma State’s game against Oral Roberts, with all proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen organization fund.

Hancock said that Brown’s work ethic and dedication to community service was what made this event possible.

“Bridget was a go-getter in many ways,” Hancock said. “Not only on the field, but off the field. She was a ‘Senior of Significance’ that year, not only for athletes, but for the whole student body. And part of that was her drive to get this going.”

Brown was one of 45 recipients of the Senior of Significance Award for the 2009-10 academic year, becoming the fourth Cowgirl to earn the award. The award is handed out annually to a small portion of the graduating class that “excels in scholarship, leadership and service for the OSU campus and Stillwater community.”

Brown was a team captain and played every game for the Cowgirls during her senior season, but it was her accomplishments off the field that have had a lasting effect on the program. Although she now lives over 1,000 miles away from Stillwater, Brown is excited to know that her legacy lives on.

“I think it is awesome that the coaches and players are motivated to continue to hold this event and continue to raise awareness,” Brown said. “Makes me feel proud to be a Cowgirl.”

BENCH GETS INVOLVED

After securing a 3-0 lead against the Bulldogs, Colin Carmichael and his staff began resting its starters and inserting sparsely-used reserves into the game. For those players, this was the reward for challenging the starters every day during practice.

“The reserve players deserved to play,” Dike said. “We’ve had a rough season so far, playing really good teams. Everyone’s been working really hard, and I’m glad everybody got a chance to play today.”

Several of the team’s veteran players said that it was fun to see some of their lesser known teammates get a chance to shine.

“It was awesome,” Mercado said. “They deserve it. Nobody gives them credit for how hard they work. They’re in practice working their butt off every single day, just like we are. They are so important to this team, just like everybody, and they deserved to play tonight.”

Carmichael said that he hoped to involve as many reserves as possible in the match whenever the situation called for it.

“Those kids work so hard all year, and they don’t get the reward of a Courtney Dike and an Allie Stephenson,” Carmichael said. “It’s the right thing to do. Those kids earn it, and they deserve it.”

Sophomore Katie Howard and junior Madeline Wood both saw their first official action as members of the Cowgirls. Backup goalkeeper Ashton Hierholzer made her second appearance of the season after replacing starter Michela Ongaro for the final 15 minutes of the game.

KIELY SITS OUT

Senior defender Delaney Kiely sat out a game for the first time since her freshman season due to a minor injury.

“She took a little knock on Sunday against Texas,” Carmichael said. “It was more precautionary. We expect to have her back Friday.

Kiely was an active bystander on the OSU sideline, for she spent the whole game instructing her team from the bench.

“I can’t wait to get her back on the field, because I got tired of listening to her in the second half,” Carmichael said. “She actually said that before the game, that this was going to be a nightmare. She was real positive, and she was yelling encouragement all the time. That’s what you expect from one of your leaders.”

LAURENE STEPS IN

With Kiely out, sophomore Laurene Tresfield stepped into the starting lineup. Tresfield was active all game, frequently stepping up into the midfield to make challenges and clearing several balls from the backline.

“I thought she played great,” Carmichael said. “She really did. She didn’t miss a beat.”

It was Tresfield’s ninth start of the season, but only her fourth at her natural position of center back.

“She’s actually a defender, but when she came here, we had a need in the holding midfield,” Carmichael said. “We’ve played her as a defensive center mid. So she probably felt more comfortable tonight than she has for the whole season. She looked great.”

Photo courtesy of OSU Athletics.

Left At The Altar

in Futbol by
lvg1

Manchester United started off the summer as one of the most active – and shrewd – clubs in the world. By the time the Reds crossed the pond and arrived in the United States for their Guiness-backed preseason tour in late July, the team had already signed Bastian Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich ($22 million), Memphis Depay from PSV ($31 million), Morgan Schneiderlain from Southamtpon ($38 million) and Matteo Darmian from Torino ($19 million).

But as the minutes tick by and we get closer and closer to the close of the summer transfer window, the grade on Louis Van Gaal’s report card continues to drop. Since Van Gaal sealed the aforementioned moves, which were all viewed as pretty good pieces of business, he’s had to sell Angel Di Maria to PSG ($67 million) at a $13 million loss after the Argentine spent just one season at Old Trafford, and the David De Gea situation has completely evaporated, with Van Gaal dropping the Spanish star for new-signing Sergio Romero while also refusing to sell De Gea to Madrid. Now it seems like Romero may be United’s first-choice keeper all season long while also not capitalizing on the sizable fee that they could have gotten from Los Blancos for the Spanish international.

What’s worse is that United have swung and missed on several top talents, the most damning of which was former Barcelona forward Pedro Rodríguez, who was instead scooped up by defending champion Chelsea because United, one of the world’s three richest clubs, haggled over a $30 million buyout fee that Barcelona were never going to budge on. On top of Pedro, whose presence would have added a perfect balance to the Red Devils’ attack, United have also been rebuffed on offers for Sergio Ramos, Thomas Muller, Gareth Bale and, most recently, Neymar.

While they seemed to have a real shot at snagging Ramos away from Madrid early on in the transfer for window, now it seems like United are making bids for untouchable players just so that nobody can accuse them of sitting on their hands as Pedro spurned them for the Blues and as bitter rivals Manchester City splurged for Wolfsburg talisman Kevin De Bruyne (this on top of their previous splurge for Raheem Sterling, England’s most expensive player ever, just over a month ago).

At the very least, United’s new signings have looked decent in the early portions of their respective United careers. Schneiderlin has been solid in midfield and has done a good job organizing play, Darmian has looked a capable Premier League defender and Romero has been excellent in goal, allowing just one goal in five matches between EPL and Champions League play. Memphis netted a brace and assisted on two in United’s 7-1 thumping of Club Brugge over two legs in the Champions League playoff round, although he’s still looked a bit shaky in league play as he attempts to adjust to life in the Premiership. Schweinsteiger has been less impressive as he attempts to finding his footing in a United shirt. The former Bayern man has yet to play more than an hour in any of his five appearances this season, and at his age you have to wonder if there will ever be a point where he will be a consistent member of Van Gaal’s Starting XI. 

Speaking of that Starting XI: If the start of the season is any indication, there’s little reason to believe that United will be a serious title challenger during this campaign. If the transfer window closed with the Premier League season kicked off, than maybe United would be closer to the the rest of the pack, but with Chelsea snagging Pedro and City adding De Bruyne, it would appear as if the top two finishers from last season have set themselves up for another mano-a-mano race for the title.

Through three league games, United have only mustered one goal – a decently taken finish by Adnan Januzaj, whom Van Gaal promptly criticized in the postmatch press conference, in the sides’ 1-0 win at Aston Villa. Their other two results were a 1-0 win at home against Tottenham opening day thanks to a Kyle Walker own goal and a scoreless draw against Newcastle last week despite finishing with a sizable gap in possession (66-34) and shot attempts (20-7). The flip side, of course, is that the Red Devils have yet to concede a goal in league play, which is a testament to the fine form of Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Darmian, Romero and Daley Blind, who has handled the switch to centerback quite well thus far.

rooneyBut with the creativity and talent that Van Gaal has in his lockerroom, as well as the amount of cash he has to spend to bring in some attackers that can get him goals, one goal out of three games is not an acceptable output. After experimenting with Depay as the #10 against Spurs and then surprising us all with the insertion of Januzaj into the line-up against Villa, it’s clear that Van Gaal isn’t 100% comfortable with his team selections. Pedro would have solved a lot of issues for LVG, as he would have instantly earned a starting spot on the right flank, allowing Mata to slide into the #10 role, where his lack of pace would be less of an issue and where his vision and passing would shine brightest, Depay to play on the left-hand side, which allows him to cut in on his right foot, and for Rooney to have a bit more support up the field.

But with Januzaj in the hole and Mata forced wide, Rooney hasn’t had much joy linking up with his midfielder partners, and the English international was struggling mightily to get off the mark as the lone striker before fetching a much-needed hat trick against Club Brugge on Wednesday. There were hopes of Rooney surpassing 20 league goals this season now that he’d have the lone striker spot all to himself, but based on current form, it seems like United will need a more creative and pacey player on the right to help Rooney reach that mark.

With the kind of money that he has at his disposable, it is entirely possible that Van Gaal has a blockbuster transfer up his sleeve as the deadline nears. If the Dutchman were able to swing a move for Schalke’s Julian Draxler or Southampton’s Sadio Mané before the final tick of the clock, then perhaps United’s season will be upswing by New Year’s.

But short of a major move in the coming days, United will be entering the fall portion of their schedule having been outshined in the transfer market by major rivals City and Chelsea. And with a lack of homegrown talents sprouting up, if the Red Devils want to return to the glory days they experienced under Sir Alex Ferguson, that has to change.

City Start Hot

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city

West Brom 0 – Manchester City 3

Armed with the opportunity to take the top spot in the table after less than convincing opening day showings from the likes of United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, Manchester City went the Hawthorns and put together an utterly dominant performance that left the Baggies looking like a Sky Belt side. West Brom put on a very negative performance, sitting back and giving City the ball without every troubling themselves to pressure them up the field. City easily counteracted that tactic as their midfield maestros Yaya Toure and David Silva dominated in the pockets of space between West Brom’s defensive lines. Toure netted a brace, including a tremendous strike from outside of the box, but I’d expect David Silva to be credited with the first goal as it was his flick near the six-yard box that secured the goal. Either way, both players were fantastic, and even as the rest of the TV-rich Premier League snaps up talent from all over Europe, it’s City’s duo of Silva and Toure that commands the middle of the park like no other pair when they are on form.

The other key storyline was the City debut for Raheem Sterling, who is, at least at the moment, the most expensive signing in the world for the 2015 summer transfer window. Sterling’s pace and positioning made a great chance for him near the end of the first half, but he spoiled the finish when he failed to curl the ball around the keeper. Nonetheless, Sterling and leftback Aleksandar Kolarov seemed to have a great understanding down the left hand side. The Serbian international was one of the best players on the pitch as his forays forward were always dangerous, and he nearly netted himself a goal off of a gorgeous piece of play that slid him in on goal at a nifty angle, but he just overhit the ball on the finish. Ricky Lambert worked hard in his debut for the Baggies, but with club-record signing Salomon Rondon coming over from Zenit, you have to wonder how Tony Pulis will end up balancing the playing time between his three capable forwards (Saido Berahino being the other).

All-in-all, it was a strong start for City, and they’ll have a chance to build on their top-of-the-table form in a Sunday afternoon tilt against Chelsea at the Etihad.

Newcastle United 2 – Southampton 2

This was an entertaining tie between two teams that spent most of last season flirting with positions nobody would have pegged them for – relegation for Newcastle and a Champions League spot for Southampton. Perhaps Southampton deserved better seeing as Cisse’s equalizing goal when the Magpies were down 1-0 was chested in three inches in front of the goal following a lucky deflection off the cross, but Georginio Wijnaldum’s header on a counter-attack that put Newcastle up 2-1 was all class, giving the Geordies’ $22 million signing a debut performance to remember. Southampton would draw even with a fabulous header from Shane Long that was made by a tremendous cross from dangerman Dusan Tadic. We didn’t see much of Newcastle new boy Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the return of Jay Rodriguez for Southampton after a year off due to injury was a welcome sight. Both of these sides seem to have the quality to make some noise in the league this season, and they kicked the season off with a cracker of a match.

Stoke City 0 – Liverpool 1

In what may have been the most drab of the opening day contests in the Premier League, Liverpool seemed to play as if they didn’t know they bought a $51 million striker. Christian Benteke wasn’t given much of a chance to show off why he was worth that kind of money in his debut for the Reds as his support players failed to provide him with any kind of service. Adam Lallana and Jordan Ibe were particularly poor as wide midfielders, and Brendan Rodger’s new pairing in the middle of the park – former Man City man James Milner and new captain Jordan Henderson – failed to have a remarkable impact on the game. Even lively #10 Philippe Coutinho had a performance that lacked much substance, but it was his moment of clarity and clairvoyance that provided Liverpool with all three points on the afternoon. The diminutive sparkplug smashed a screamer from way outside of the box in the 86th minute to rescue the match from becoming the first scoreless draw of the season.

The Potters were a bit worse off than I was expecting for their home opener. Stoke have injected a fair amount of creativity and industry into the side over the summer but their big-name signings didn’t quite gel against Liverpool. That said, more help is on the way as former Bayern Munich winger Shaqiri is prepared to make a move to the Britannia Stadium after initially rebuffing Stoke’s inquiries earlier in the summer. Placing Shaqiri alongside former Barcelona man Ibrahim Afellay in the attack with Chelsea loanee Marco Van Ginkel supporting in midfield, Mark Hughes’ men should enjoy a lot more entertaining performances than their no-show on Match Day 1.

westham

Arsenal 0 – West Ham 2

In what was easily the most surprising result of the weekend, the Hammers went into the Emirates and held down Arsenal’s star-studded attack, pouncing on their chances to take three points from a title contender away from home. A hype-filled pre-season for the Gunners, which included a Community Shield triumph over Arsene Wenger’s arch-nemesis, built up to a letdown performance in their league opener during which their passing wasn’t precise and their inspiration was lacking. A fantastic free kick from West Ham’s $15 million man Dimitri Payet found the forehead of Cheikhou Kouyate and then the back of the net in the first half, and centre forward Mauro Zarate added the insurance with a tremendous strike from outside the box in the 56th minute.

What’s perhaps most dispiriting for the Gunners is that a world class keeper probably would have kept both shots out of the back of the net, but an out-of-form Petr Cech found himself out of position and off balance on both goals, perhaps succumbing to the nerves that came with his first Premier League start for the North Londoners. Once West Ham got on the board, Slaven Bilić’s side happily sat back and let Arsenal come onto them, keeping their shape for the full 90 minutes while only allowing Arsenal a couple of clear chances. West Ham’s new centreback combo of Winston Reid and recent addition Angelo Ogbonna, who arrived from Italian giants Juventus for $12 million over the summer, was fabulous, keeping Arsenal’s dangerman Olivier Giroud from causing any havoc in the box, and 16-year-old (YES, 16) Reece Oxford, who completed 95% of his passes in his top flight debut while out-shining Arsenal’s defensive midfield combo of Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin, gave the Hammers stability in the middle of the park against an Arsenal side that lives to slice teams open.

West Ham look a good side that can push for a high place in the middle of the table if their injury luck improves (they are already without striker Enner Valencia due to ankle and knee ailments). Arsenal are still a sure-fire bet for a top-four finish, but if Wenger was looking to quell the idea that they still need to buy a world-class striker and more help in defense, his side failed him on Match Day 1.

Manchester United 1 – Tottenham 0

In a game that featured the league debuts of sexy new signings like Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, it was the less heralded signings of Matteo Darmian and Sergio Romero that made the biggest difference in the league’s opening contest. Schneiderlin was fine in midfield, but Schweinsteiger couldn’t do much as a 2nd half substitute and Memphis was generally awful. Romero, on the other hand, did well to hold his clean sheet with a few fabulous saves, and Darmian looked really good on that right hand side. United did deserve a goal in this game even if Kyle Walker was credited with the own goal that got Untied the three points, but this was not a performance that Louis Van Gaal will be happy about. LVG’s famed “philosophy” is all about possession, creativity and industry, and we saw very little of that against Spurs. In fact, Tottenham actually enjoyed the (slight) majority of possession, which is a bit of a surprise for a match at Old Trafford.

This game probably deserved to end in a draw, but Tottenham’s #10 Christian Eriksen spoiled an early chance with an over-hit dink over Romero and the chances were few and far between after that. Spurs would have to be the move encouraged side even in defeat as they played one of the league favorites even away from home after a nightmare of a week scheduling wise that had them playing a mid-week friendly in Munich on Wednesday before returning to England for the first kickoff of the season on Saturday afternoon. Toby Alderweireld, who anchored Southampton’s defense last season and was bought from Atletico Madrid for $17 million over the summer, looked excellent in defense, and Spurs as a whole looked really solid at the back.

amaviBournemouth 0 – Aston Villa 1

Bournemoth’s debut in the top flight of English football was an entertaining one, and it’s already clear that this is a side that will play on the front foot as much as possible this season. Villa were in the middle of the pack in the Premier League as far as possession went, but they were on the wrong side of a 60/40 split away at Dean Court. Bournemoth bossed the midfield, kept Villa danger men Gabby Agbonlahor Jordan Ayew, a summer acquisition from French side FC Lorient, off the ball and seemed a comfortable side in their first Premier League tie, but they squandered a few tight chances and a single moment of excellence from Villa’s new center forward Rudy Gestede spoiled the home fan’s opening day celebrations.

Villa could have done more to win the ball back in this game for me, but for a team playing its first league game since selling danger man Christian Benteke, they did well to get three points away from home. The Lions went shopping in France over the summer and brought what appear to be two gems back to the Premier League. Midfielder Jordan Veretout is the obvious one. The 22-year-old cost around $10 million from Nantes, and after finishing last season as one of the best creators in Ligue 1, he looked like he’ll do the orchestrating for Villa’s attack this season. Veretout played in the middle of the park and drifted wide at times, completing 87% of his passes and keeping play alive whenever Villa did have the ball.

Villa’s other impressive newcomer was my man of the match on the day: left back Jordan Amavi. The 21-year-old Frenchman arrived from Nice for $12 million over the summer and immediately gave Aston Villa a creative and dangerous threat down the flank that also has the pace and work rate to track back and defend. Amavi was the sole source of joy for Villa for a 10- to 20-minute stretch in this match, as his eye-catching work on the ball allowed the Lions to foray up the pitch down the flanks. Amavi also mixed in a couple of juicy crosses and he was incredibly confident on the ball, and at the age of 21, he looks like he has the room to grow into one of the best left backs in the Premier League.

Bournemouth should improve once they get their new signings in tune with the rest of the squad. 10 of the 11 names in the starting XI were returning faces for Bournemoth, but it would seem as if they’ll need the inspiration and creativity of a player like Max Gradel, who spent some of his early years on loan at Bournemouth before making a permanent move there from Saint-Etienne this summer, to maintain a spot in the top flight heading into next season. Once there is some familiarity with the new faces, Bournemouth’s exciting, diverse play should, at the very least, cause a thrill during the clubs first tour of the Premier League.

Everton 2 – Watford 2

Drawing at home freshly-promoted Watford is not exactly the most convincing way to start off what is a crucial season for “the Martinez way.” Everton dominated possession as you’d expect, notching close to a 70/30 split, but Watford were the more dangerous team on tilt all afternoon, creating chances on the counter and converting their opportunities in front of goal. The Hornets kept their shape well for the majority of the game, but a Ross Barkley screamer knotted the game at 1 in the 76th minute, and an awful mistake on the edge of the box led to an another equalizing goal for Arouna Kone in the dying embers of the game. Everton look like a side without any kind of spark. Without Leighton Baines, Barkley was the only player that moved play along into semi-dangerous areas, and striker Romelu Lukaku almost never got on the ball before he was able to hold up play on the edge of the box and create the equalizing goal for Kone. Martinez has spent virtually no money in the summer, with his only two key signings being former Man United midfielder Tom Cleverley on a free and a permanent deal for Barcelona product Gerard Deulofeu, who spent the 2014 season at Goodison Park on loan. Considering the fact that the only transfer rumors that Everton are in involved in would mean the departure of wonderkid John Stones, this looks like it could be another punchless season for the Toffees.

Leicester City 4 – Sunderland 2

In what was a shockingly inviting contest, Leicester City seemed to maintain the strong form that they closed last season in, mopping up a Sunderland side that looked totally over-matched in the first 45 minutes. Riyad Mahrez was the danger man for the Foxes as the Algerian international might have had the most impressive individual performance of the opening weekend. He netted a brace (likely the only one in the league thus far if David Silva gets his way), he played key passes, he put the ball on the net, he got by defenders and he forced a few fouls. It was a complete performance that deserved a 10 grade even though he was subbed off in the 77th minute. The Foxes also got a stellar performance from midfielder Marc Albrighton, who kicked off his second season in Leicester with a magnificent one-goal, two-assist performance. With Mahrez causing trouble on the left and Albrighton running things on the right, Sunderland got completely overrun early in the game and they never really had a chance once they got down 3-0.

Norwich City 1 – Crystal Palace 3

What was a pretty up-and-down, interesting contest was marred by a bit of controversy. The Canaries had what they thought was a magnificent equalizing goal when striker Cameron Jerome raised his boot and flicked in a goal in the 70th minute, but it was disallowed as the referee deemed that he had raised his boot to a dangerous height. It’s true, his boot was pretty close to a defenders head as he went to strike it towards goal, but for me, you can’t make that call when there is no malicious intent and the kick produces such a pretty goal. But Norwich City would have to do without, and before the final whistle blew, Palace talisman Yohan Cabaye etched his name on the score sheet with a debut goal after arriving from PSG in the summer. Despite the home defeat, Alex Neil’s men looked pretty good at times, but you do get the feeling that their return to the Premier League may be short lived. Palace look to be a much improved side thanks to the addition of Cabaye, and with 22-year old English winger Wilfried Zaha looking better and better, the Eagles should be in for a fun season in Alen Pardew’s first full year managing his former club.

Swansea

Chelsea 2 – Swansea City 2

In what was my favorite tie of Match Day 1, the Swans went in the home of the defending champions and played superior football to that of the Blues, though they did have to settle for a point at Stamford Bridge. Of course, a point at Stamford Bridge is nothing to sneeze at for any team in the Premier League, and the way that Swansea played should be even more encouraging for Gary Monk. You could argue that neither of Chelsea’s goals were deserved, as Oscar’s free kick snuck past Lukasz Fabianski as the Polish international waited for a touch from the onrushing attackers that never came.and as Willian’s cross flukely deflected off of Federico Fernández for an own goal.

Swansea, on the other hand, got a class goal from newly signed Andrew Ayew and a well-deserved penalty earned and converted by striker Bafetimbi Gomis to get the result. The former Marseille man impressed with his composure and savvy in front of Thibaut Courtois’ goals when a parried header fell to his feet; the Frenchman himself hit the ground, but he was able to get up while maintaining possession and then had the wherewithal to tuck the ball into the opposite corner. Courtios would later abandon his net when Gomis found his way through on goal in the second half, leading the Belgian keeper to stick a foot out and trip Gomis in the box, notching a penalty and a red card. Although he constantly found himself in offside positions, Gomis was always threatening Chelsea’s back four with his runs and it seems as if another double-digit goal campaign is in the cards for the former French international.

But as good as Ayew and Gomis were, Swansea’s goal scorers weren’t the top performers on the pitch for me. Those honors go to creative Ecuadorian winger Jefferson Montero and English midfield maestro Jonjo Shelvey. Montero was a terror for Chelsea to contain all afternoon as he used his pace and flair to fly past Branislav Ivanovic, cutting inside to create opportunities for his teammates. You could argue that both goals could be created to Montero even though he didn’t get an official assist for either. It was Montero’s cross into the box that eventually fell to Ayew on the first goal, and it was Montero’s presence that played Gomis on for his charging run towards Courtios when he earned the penalty. Because Montero was causing so much trouble for Ivanovic down the flank, William often had to drop back to fill in for Ivanovic, and given his lack of defensive awareness, he unwittingly played Gomis on and allowed him to surge towards goal without the hindrance of the offside flag.

Shelvey ran things all afternoon from the center of the park. With Chelsea playing a bit higher of a line than we’re used to seeing, Shelvey was always looking to pick out long balls to Gomis over the top, Shelvey was credited with six key passes, tied for the most in the Premier League after the first round of matches, and 12 long balls against Chelsea, which is an absurdly good performance against one of Europe’s top defensive sides. Gary Monk’s side has always played an attractive brand of football, and after seeing how well they got on against Chelsea, there’s no reason to believe this won’t be a season to remember for the Swans.

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