A New Era at Birmingham City FC


With a new ownership group that looks to be serious about rebuilding the club, we take a look at the recent transformation of Birmingham City FC that has fans optimistic for the club’s future. 

A great awakening is happening at Birmingham City Football Club. For the first time in a long time, there is optimism in the blue half of the United Kingdom’s second largest city. A long-awaited takeover, a flashy new shirt that turned some heads, and a superstar investor-partner that got the attention of a global audience.

For many years now, Blues fans have been resigned to watching the exploits of their city rivals Aston Villa, waiting for something, anything, to happen to their own club. Periods of enjoyment have been few and far between, often done so vicariously through superstar academy graduate Jude Bellingham’s exploits in Germany and now Spain.

Finally, things are happening. And those things are pretty special.

tom wagner birmingham city fc

The first domino fell with the announcement in May that American hedge fund Knighthead Capital, lead by its co-founder Tom Wagner, was to purchase a majority share of just under 46% of the club. That figure is expected to grow in the coming years.

Wagner even set up Shelby Companies Limited — a nod to the wildly popular TV series Peaky Blinders, which has become a ubiquitous symbol of Birmingham — to complete the purchase.

The takeover crucially included full purchase of Birmingham City’s tired home ground, St. Andrew’s.

In an open letter to fans, Wagner promised to deliver “transformational improvements for the good of the club and the good of the city.” Early commitments have included massive stadium repairs, as well as investment in the men’s and women’s teams, the facilities, and the overall club culture.

Blues fans must’ve thought they were dreaming.

“The club has needed this for many years,” said Shane Ireland, a season ticket holder and former Birmingham City writer at the Birmingham Mail. “It has been neglected for so long that at times it seems like a takeover would never happen. This is a fanbase that has been ground down, season after season.”

He’s not exaggerating. The past decade and beyond has been mired by a horrorshow of mismanagement and malpractice by a labyrinth of questionable ownership groups, businessmen registered in Caribbean tax havens, and even a mysterious figure known simply as “Mr. King.” 

Performances on the pitch weren’t much better. At times watching Birmingham City was like riding a rickety ferris wheel in a run down and haunted amusement park. At least now it seems that the clowns have vacated the premises.

As Ireland points out, fans can finally be optimistic.

“The new owners have set out a vision that seems clear, and everybody connected with the club is excited about the future,” he said.

But the trauma of previous takeovers has fans’ feet firmly planted on the ground. So it made all the more difference that Wagner and Knighthead wasted no time in signaling their intentions.

The announcement that California-based streetwear brand Undefeated was to become the club’s new principal partner and sponsor came just weeks after the takeover was fully completed at the start of July. The partnership will see Undefeated, mainstays of the Los Angeles streetwear scene, take a role in creative direction on future merchandise and other marketing projects.

Having previously partnered with brands like Air Jordan, Disney and the NFL, Undefeated’s continued foray into the football world (the brand also teamed up with the United States women’s national team ahead of the 2023 Women’s World Cup) was a strong indication of Knighthead’s intention to elevate the status of the club. Brand new home and away kits for the men’s and women’s teams accompanied the announcement. Undefeated’s iconic five-strike logo taking center stage on the blue and red shirts took fans — and the internet — by storm.

tom brady birmingham city

If a new owner with bold intentions piqued some interest, and a shiny new creative partnership turned some heads, then last week’s reveal that seven-time Super Bowl-winning NFL legend Tom Brady had become a minority investor in Birmingham City Football Club was a high-voltage shock to the system.

“So here’s the deal,” beams an enthusiastic Brady in his official announcement video. “I’m officially coming on board with Birmingham City Football Club.”

The steely bassline and drum beat from the Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?” echoes in the background. Do I wanna know? Yes, yes I would like to know what on Earth is happening here.

“It certainly made me smile,” Ireland said. “Brady is obviously one of the biggest names in U.S. sports and from a marketing point of view alone, it’s a positive thing to have him involved.”

The details of Brady’s investment are very scant, but the most important aspect of the partnership is his role as chairman of a new advisory board, where according to the club, he’ll “apply his extensive leadership experience and expertise across several components.”

Wagner called the move a “statement of intent” and a demonstration of Knighthead’s desire to “set the bar at world class.” Brady’s even followed Wagner in dropping the hard “H” in Birmingham. That’s a positive start.

Skepticism in the wider footballing world about Brady’s involvement inevitably followed, and it’s something that is not lost on Ireland.

“We all know Tom Brady didn’t suddenly become a Birmingham City fan overnight,” he said. “But considering what Knighthead’s aims are — to strive for a ‘world class’ culture across the club — having somebody like Brady on board makes sense.”

In the meantime, there are present issues that Knighthead will need to address urgently, namely bringing St. Andrew’s back up to a passable standard. Several years of neglect under previous owners have turned the ground into a representation of the club itself.

“For a Championship club to have over a third of the ground shut for so long due to being unsafe is, quite frankly, embarrassing,” Ireland said.

The list of repairs is long, and according to Ireland they include weeds growing around the seats, poor customer service, and a lack of hot water.

So while the big picture looks promising, and the Undefeated and Brady partnerships are solid indicators of direction, returning the club’s traditional home to a source of pride is the yardstick by which fans in the short term will judge the owners’ early tenure. It appears to be their top priority, and the improvement in general atmosphere and mood amongst fans is palpable.

The release by Birmingham-born grime artist Jaykae entitled “Bluenoses,” which includes a video featuring the city’s skyline and sights, captures the essence of what it means to be a fan of Birmingham City, and represents a change to an overall outlook of hope for the future. It has been widely endorsed and shared by the club.

Development of the city, particularly around the areas of Digbeth and Small Heath, areas which straddle the ground, has altered the outward perception of the city as a great place to visit, with a proud history and tradition of community. An acute understanding of that tradition is one thing that has endeared this new ownership to the fans.

“There is undoubtedly a tangible level of excitement that has been missing for several years,” Ireland said.

That excitement came to a major swell after Birmingham City defeated recently-relegated Leeds United in their 2023-24 home opener. Ireland, along with 20,000-plus fans, were there to take in the victory that may usher in the start of a new era — one that breaks dramatically with a decade of turmoil and rekindles that sacred connection between club and city. It has been hard-earned.

A Vibes-Based Preview of the English Premier League, Pt. 2


Our vibes-based preview of the 2023-24 English Premier League season continues with the top 10 finishers in the league table from last year. 

It’s time for the big hitters. Yesterday we examined the vibes from the bottom seven English Premier League clubs and the three newly promoted sides to get an idea of their outlook for the upcoming 2023-24 season. Now, we take a look at some of the perennial favorites, resurgent underdogs, and dormant giants who aren’t so sleepy anymore.


fulham fc

Fulham surprised many people last season when they not only stayed in the Premier League, but finished in the top half of the standings. A perennial yo-yo side between the EPL and the Championship, Fulham found a way to stay in the league following promotion, and with quite a few positive signings this summer, the club is looking to continue rising in the table.

Outside of their current success, Fulham also holds the title of London’s oldest football club, dating back to 1879. Craven Cottage, their home ground, still has an old-school vibe (although the current renovations are updating the amenities) that should certainly be on any football stadium nerd’s bucket list as one of the last remaining stadiums of its kind.

TL;DR: A historic club which has struggled in recent years but seems to be turning a corner. Being a London club gives Fulham some added coolness without the big money of Arsenal and Chelsea.

Players to Watch: Calvin Bassey, Raúl Jiménez, João Palhinha, Antonee Robinson


brentford fc

Do you admire the Scandinavian lifestyle? Do you love efficiency, human-centric design, and a dose of humbleness that is rare in top-flight football? Well, Brentford is the team for you. A small club that has punched well above its weight since it secured its maiden voyage to the Premier League, Brentford is in possession of intelligent scouting, a handsome Danish manager, and a community atmosphere that makes for a wonderful home ground.

As with anything that is inspired by Scandinavian living, this is a team that has strength in the collective and does not typically rely on a single star (although Ivan Toney is turning into a star in his own right). That is not to say that they don’t have high-quality players, but more so that the team is constructed with a priority on balance, cohesiveness, and contributions from every part of the lineup.

TL;DR: A super fun new team to support that is trying to out-think its rivals because it can’t out-spend them.

Players to Watch: Ivan Toney, Rico Henry, Nathan Collins, Mikkel Damsgaard


tottenham hotspur

Tottenham had been on an incredibly successful run (by their standards) and had genuinely seemed like they would break through and win a trophy, but it feels like that opportunity has passed them by. Harry Kane, arguably the most prolific striker in EPL history, is reportedly headed to Bayern Munich after a dramatic will-he-won’t-he-stay summer, and the club is now without its talisman and all-time leading goalscorer.

Tottenham have done everything they could to become a “big” club. They built a new stadium, invested largely in the squad, and have become an exciting brand from a fashion perspective. With Kane now gone, becoming a Tottenham fan at this moment seems high risk, low reward.

While they underperformed last season, they still have some immensely talented and exciting players throughout the roster. Heung-Min Son, new addition James Maddison, and Dejan Kulusevski would all be leading men at other PL clubs, so the question is, what happens to Tottenham before the transfer window shuts?

TL;DR: A big club that is at an inflexion point. If you choose to support Tottenham, be ready for some heartbreak, year after year.

Players to Watch: Heung-Min Son, James Maddison, Dejan Kulusevski, Manor Solomon

Aston Villa

aston villa

When Jack Grealish moved from Aston Villa to Manchester City, many people questioned how long the Birmingham-based club would stay in the Premier League. However, Villa have shrewdly re-invested Grealish’s transfer fee, and new manager Unai Emery has injected new life into the club, which is playing European football for the first time in 13 years.

Incredibly, the team seems to have only gotten stronger with the additions of Pau Torres, Moussa Diaby, and Youri Tielemans. These moves show the clear shift in how people in the world of football perceive Aston Villa, as all three players were highly sought after, yet Emery convinced them to join his project.

TL;DR: A team on the rise which has huge hype-train potential in the coming years. Buy in while you can still afford to.

Players to Watch: Moussa Diaby, Jacob Ramsey, Ollie Watkins, Emiliano Martinez

Brighton and Hove Albion

brighton and hove albion

Brighton and Hove Albion is who I would give my strongest recommendation for anyone looking for a club to support. It’s a team that has no right to be as good as it is in comparison to its budget, and that is what makes it such an exciting team to start following.

Since Brighton’s promotion to the Premier League, they have slowly and methodically become one of the best scouting teams in the world while also playing an exciting brand of football under Robert De Zerbi. Add in their small-town feel, and you get a team that is hard not to root for.

If you look at their recruitment strategy, their main objective is finding young, undervalued players while sprinkling in exceptional veteran presences to help lead the young starlets. The addition of James Milner, who is currently third all-time for PL appearances is a testament to this.

TL;DR: A true David-versus-Goliath club that continually finds young talent and brings them to stardom. An exceptionally fun club to root for.

Players to Watch: Kaoru Mitoma, Evan Ferguson, João Pedro


liverpool fc

Liverpool have the most devoted fans in the league. It is hard for me to admit that, but the passion and intensity that they consistently show is astounding. Currently, Liverpool are at a crossroads, as the stars that led them to their first PL title in decades are starting to decline, and they have to deal with the difficult task of replacing them with new, more unproven, young players.

In the past few seasons, they have added Luiz Díaz, Darwin Núñez, and most recently, Dominik Szoboszlai. These first two have shown flashes of brilliance but have been hampered by either injury or inconsistency, whereas Szoboszlai is a completely new addition to this Liverpool side.

TL;DR: A team with an incredibly passionate fan base and a strong squad with proven talent, but question marks about if it has recruited well enough in the past few years to keep up with Manchester City and Arsenal.

Players to Watch: Mohamed Salah, Virgil Van Dijk, Dominik Szoboszlai, Trent Alexander-Arnold

Newcastle United

newcastle united

Newcastle United, historically, are an extremely relevant club in the English game. But, after years of mismanagement, they fell into obscurity, easily being the biggest club in the Championship. A few seasons ago, they were acquired by a Saudi Arabian group that vowed to transform the club, and so far, they have delivered on those promises. They have invested heavily in the squad, the training grounds, and improving the image of the Magpies.

While many people question the ethics of such an ownership group, they have completely rebuilt a decaying empire and returned a passion to some of the most intense fans in England. With the new investment potential, there is no reason why Newcastle can’t reach the levels of Manchester City in terms of dominance, which is something that many clubs should be scared of.

Pick this team if you want to be a bandwagon fan of the future but still want the club to have an original group of passionate fans while disregarding ethical dilemmas.

TL;DR: Another Saudi-backed mega-project with huge potential, history, talented young players, and a manager who looks to be a potential world-beater.

Players to Watch: Sandro Tonali, Alexander Isak, Anthony Gordon, Tino Livramento

Manchester United

manchester united

Manchester United…what is there to say? The most well-known club in the world, with plenty of success littered throughout its history. But since Sir Alex Ferguson left a decade ago, United have struggled to maintain the on-field success that made them so commercially successful off of the pitch.

Erik Ten Hag was appointed to manager last year, and in his first season he returned optimism to the club. He made changes that many managers before him couldn’t make, like letting Cristiano Ronaldo walk, and promptly signing Casemiro, Antony, and Lisandro Martinez, all of whom had a big impact on bringing Champions League football back to Old Trafford.

This off-season has been no different, as Ten Hag continued to build his project with the signings of Mason Mount, Andre Onana, and Rasmus Hojlund.

Off the pitch, things are complicated, as the club is allegedly going to be sold within the next 12-18 months, which brings some uncertainty to ongoing efforts as the current owners, the Glazers, seem unlikely to fully back the investment of a project that won’t be completed before they sell the club.

TL;DR: A huge club that has gone through a rough patch but is seemingly trending in the right direction. They have huge stars, proud fans, and a global cache that is highly regarded.

Players to Watch: Marcus Rashford, Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes, Alejandro Garnacho, Amad Diallo



There’s been a lot of banter around Arsenal since the demise of their Invincible Squads of the early 2000s. But, with the appointment of Mikel Arteta as manager, the club has rebounded, coming ever so close to winning the 2022-23 EPL title before Manchester City overtook them in the closing weeks. The Gunners are packed with young superstars that are hungry to bring glory back to North London.

Sure, they are accurately being labeled as bottlers after blowing such a large lead last season, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t an excellent club to attach yourself to. Arteta seems to have that deranged, genius energy that makes Pep Guardiola so great, and I wouldn’t put it past Arteta to finally bring silverware back to the Emirates stadium.

TL;DR: Another massive club who are pushing for titles. The narrative says they will get agonizingly close, but that is the fun part, right?

Players to Watch: Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Declan Rice, Jurrien Timber, Gabriel Martinelli

Manchester City

manchester city

Manchester City are the current bullies of the league. They have won five PL titles since 2017-18 and finally got their hands on the Champions League trophy last summer after so many years of trying. They looked to be out of the Premier League title race last season, and while Arsenal helped them by dropping points, City came back with an incredible run of form to help secure their third straight league title.

The team has a reputation for having fake fans, as the Etihad can look empty, sound quiet, and generally be an underwhelming atmosphere. Thankfully for fans of other teams, that is the only thing keeping Manchester City from world dominance, as they have a team of the world’s best players. Erling Haaland looks like he will break every goal-scoring record, Kevin De Bruyne is a wizard, and Jack Grealish brings pehaps the best vibes in the league.

All this to say, they also have the current best manager in the world in Pep Guardiola. Everywhere he has gone, he has won trophies. While his reactions and press conferences can create some top-tier memes, it is hard to disregard the quality of football that he demands from his players. Painfully, as a Manchester United fan, I must admit that they play beautiful football.

TL;DR: Arguably the most complete football team in history, but with a perceived lack of fans. A dynasty to end all dynasties.

Players to Watch: Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Josko Gvardiol, Ederson, Rodri

A Vibes-Based Preview of the English Premier League, Pt. 1


With the 2023-24 English Premier League season upon us, we present a two-part preview that explores the vibes of every team in the world’s most popular football league. 

After what felt like an impossibly short off-season, the English Premier League will return in its full glory this weekend. We could take a more traditional route and preview what to expect and predict title winners and relegation favorites, but we’re more interested in the vibes each club gives off. In two parts, we examine all 20 EPL clubs’ waviest ballers, questionable owners, and ambitious managers.

Luton Town

Luton Town: What is next for Kenilworth Road, one of the Premier League's smallest stadiums? | UK News | Sky News

One of the most unlikely teams to grace the Premier League pitches, Luton Town FC is perhaps best known for its unique home ground, Kenilworth Road. The 10,000-capacity stadium is the smallest in Premier League history, and sits smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

While the club has started building a new stadium that will open at some point in 2024, the 2023 season for Luton Town will be historic and memorable for many reasons, not least because of how different the Premier League will look from inside a landmark ground like Kenilworth Road.

In terms of their roster standard, many people are earmarking the Hatters as the odds-on favorites to be relegated, as their Transfermarkt value sits lower than many MLS squads. This offseason has seen them add a few pieces with untapped potential, like ex-Manchester United wunderkind Tahith Chong.

TL;DR: Luton Town is perfect for footy hipsters wanting a Cinderella story with a quirky, dive-bar-like atmosphere.

Players to Watch: Issa Kaboré, Tahith Chong, Carlton Morris

Sheffield United

sheffield united

Sheffield United have enjoyed a few spells in the Premier League in their illustrious history. And while past iterations of The Blades have had a blue-collar/Brexit Football vibe with their heavily domestic squad makeup, this iteration of Sheffield United relies more on creativity and finding unsung international gems.

The likes of Anel Ahmedhodzic and Iliman Ndiaye have been huge finds for Sheffield, the latter a product of their academy system that was playing with the Instagram Football team Rising Ballers just four years ago.

Canadian fans will know the club also features a young player who is a potential dual-national, Daniel Jebbison. While it remains to be seen if he will continue to hold out in hopes of an England call-up, there is the potential of a Canadian footballing star who will fight for Premier League minutes in 2023-24.

Another sparkling vibe that Sheffield United is bringing to the Prem this year is their sponsor-less home jersey with big, bold, vertical stripes that could easily feature on a fashion week runway. As always, the teams that feature near the bottom of the Premier League table appeal to the more “hipster” crowd when it comes to foreign fans, and this team is no different.

TL;DR: A team that finds “misfit” parts and brings fight, passion, and a hint of sartorial style to the pitch. All while having a blue-collar feel.

Players to Watch: Anel Ahmedhodzic, Iliman Ndiaye, Rhian Brewster, Bénie Traoré, Daniel Jebbison


vincent kompany

Burnley has returned to the Premier League after a season in the Championship, and they have undergone the classic summer glow-up that many people had (or wish they had) between their junior and senior years of high school. A long stretch in the Premier League ended after the 2021-22 season, and Burnley decided to rebrand with a spicy new logo, a splashy manager signing in Vincent Kompany, and a commitment to becoming more than just the Burnley that struggled to stay in the Premier League year over year.

Kompany has brought toughness, ruthlessness, and a spirit around the club that could easily convince you that they have been consistently near the top of the Premier League for decades.

Add in exciting young players like James Trafford, Jordan Byer, and Lyle Foster, and you have a squad that looks to punch above its weight right out of the gate, which will endear themselves to the new Premier League fans that will tune into their first match of the season against Manchester City, the former club of their manager.

The vibes are high at Burnley FC, and now might be the ideal time to hop on the bandwagon because as long as they hold onto Kompany, this team looks like it’ll grow to be something more than they thought was possible just a few years ago.

TL;DR: A team coming off a dominant Championship season that has added some big pieces to ensure that they not only stay in the Premier League, but push for mid-table success. A great team to attach yourself to if you want to see a club that grows with your fandom.

Players to Watch: James Trafford, Anass Zaroury, Lyle Foster, Zeki Amdouni



Everton is one of the few remaining clubs never to have been relegated from the Premier League, but in the last few seasons, they’ve flirted heavily with the removal of that distinction. The Toffees have seen fan revolt, lack of investment, and a revolving door of players and coaches. In moments when it seems like things are turning around for the Merseyside club, they seem to always be dealt a hammer blow.

In the modern Premier League era, Everton has struggled to keep hold of their star players, with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Richarlison, and John Stones all moving on in search of “bigger” challenges. If things don’t change soon, Everton will continue to suffer this unfortunate fate.

TL;DR: Everton is for the people who don’t like winning and like to complain about how great they could be if only everything went the opposite of how it typically does for the club.

Players to Watch: Amadou Onana, Arnaut Danjuma, Demarai Gray, Dele Alli

Nottingham Forest

Who is Nottingham Forest football club owner Evangelos Marinakis and what's his net worth? | The US Sun

Nottingham Forest is a bit of an odd one. They are owned by Greek businessman Evangelos Marinakis, whose business interests have occasionally been questioned for their legitimacy. This hasn’t stopped the club from spending big to make sure it succeeds at the Premier League level, to the point where their team often looks different year over year. Just last summer, the club broke the record after signing 21 new players, many of whom barely saw action on the pitch.

The most recent transfer window has been quieter, with the list of departures heavily outweighing the list of incoming players as manager Steve Cooper looks to create some stability.

TL;DR: A questionable owner gives Nottingham Forest a villain vibe. Choose them if you fall on the chaotic evil side of the spectrum.

Players to Watch: Morgan Gibbs-White, Brennan Johnson, Danilo, Anthony Elanga, Neco Williams


Michael B. Jordan Attends Bournemouth Game, His First As Part Of New Ownership Group – Deadline

Bournemouth is another fun club that has somehow become a part of the Premier League fabric. A small club in all regards, its home ground Vitality Stadium holds just over 11,000. However, Bournemouth have recently been purchased by an American group, with Michael B. Jordan listed as one of the part owners (Wrexham, eat your heart out). This new investment led the Cherries to a surprising finish in the league table, as many thought they were the odds-on favorite to be relegated in 2022-23.

Bournemouth is another club you could expect to fight to stay in the Premier League each season, and while this might stress out some fans, others enjoy the rush. It’s pretty much the opposite of what Everton fans go through each year.

TL;DR: A small club that punches above its weight (apologies for the Michael B. Jordan/Creed wordplay). It provides a few moments of magic every season and fits into the football hipster category of fandom.

Player to Watch: Dango Outtara, Marcus Tavernier, Justin Kluivert

West Ham United

Plenty more to come' from West Ham signing Gianluca Scamacca | FourFourTwo

West Ham is the first of the “big boys” on this list of Premier League clubs. Not first as in the winner, but the first that we have discussed. They play at the Olympic Stadium in London, have some big-name players, won the Europa Conference League, and have historically been a place that brings excellent midfielders through their academy (Declan Rice and Frank Lampard are two examples).

In terms of on-field performance, they have always been inconsistent, and that looks like it will continue with the departure of Rice to crosstown rivals Arsenal. Off the field, they aren’t necessarily cashing in on the fashionable London locals, as their kits and off-field collections have rarely caught the eye of the fashion heads that follow PL football.

Unfortunately for the Hammers, they haven’t brought in many players to up the vibes, and even worse, sold one of their players who brought flair on and off the pitch. With the recent sale of Gianluca Scamacca, they seem to have chosen to cut their losses on a big transfer after only a single year. But optimistic Hammers fans will say, “At least we still have Lucas Paquetá.”

TL;DR: Big stadium, big fanbase within London, mediocre recruiting and scouting.

Players to Watch: Michail Antonio, Jarrod Bowen, Lucas Paquetá

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves' Portuguese revolution - The Athletic

Wolves moved up to the Premier League in 2018 with one of the best newly-promoted rosters of all time, as they had partial ownership by Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes. This partial ownership brought players of Champions League quality to Molineux Stadium while they were trying to escape the Championship.

And while that era was great for the club, it seems like it is going through a rebuild and selling off many of its talents to help balance the books. Gone are the likes of Raul Jimenez, Ruben Neves, and Nathan Collins, while the only big deal so far this summer was making Matheus Cunha’s loan to the club permanent.

TL;DR: Interesting connections to a Portuguese super-agent, so there are potential wunderkinds signing with the team for a few seasons before moving on to bigger clubs.

Players to Watch: Matheus Nunes, Max Kilman, Sasa Kalajdzic, Matheus Cunha


Todd Boehly 'wants to buy' Ligue 1 club less than a year after £4.25bn Chelsea takeover - Mirror Online

Chelsea have been one of the most successful Premier League clubs in the past two decades, with legends like John Terry, Didier Drogba, and Eden Hazard all donning a Blues kit in that span. However, the club is coming off one of its most embarrassing seasons, spending large chunks of the 2022-23 year at risk of relegation. New owner Todd Boehly basically played Career Mode and bought every player who had a good highlight reel on YouTube.

Many of the lavish player purchases seemed to lack clear direction for the club, and many from the outside questioned who was making the footballing decisions. Throw in coaching turnover (because of a petulant Boehly), and Chelsea were the laughingstock of the Premier League. Fast forward through summer, and things are looking slightly brighter in London for the Blues. They have brought in Mauricio Pochettino, sold many of their aging, overpaid stars to Saudi Arabia, all while Boehly seems to have taken a step back to allow football people to make footballing decisions.

If you are looking to “buy low, sell high” on a team, now might be the only time to do that with Chelsea, as their ownership group has deep pockets that they are clearly happy to use. You can also expect that they will push hard to make Chelsea a fashionable club to help with their commercial viability in the long term.

TL;DR: A sleeping giant. If you want to avoid the bandwagon fan moniker but still support a big team, Chelsea is the club for you. The only downside, the owner gives off Ted Lasso vibes in the worst way imaginable.

Players to Watch: Christopher Nkunku, Reece James, Mykhaylo Mudryk, Enzo Fernández

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace is one of those teams that always seems to have a mid-season crisis where they can’t seem to score a goal or earn points, yet they somehow stay in the league year after year. In terms of squad makeup, they have arguably the waviest roster in the whole league, and the club even partnered with Footballer Fits to highlight its sartorial prowess.

On the pitch, Crystal Palace also have tended to recruit tekky players in their attacking positions. While Wilfried Zaha has moved on, players like Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise are carrying the torch forward as they terrorize opposing defenders with some of the sauciest moves the PL sees on a weekly basis.

However, where Crystal Palace recruits lots of young talent, they have Roy Hodgson as their manager. And while he has had an excellent career, it creates some confusion as to the direction the team is heading. Are Crystal Palace trying to play an old-school style? Or do they want to evolve and move on to bigger things?

TL;DR: A fashion-forward club with some of the waviest young ballers in English football. But they have an old-school manager who might hold these players back from expressing themselves on the pitch. Proceed with caution when choosing to support them.

Players to Watch: Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise, Marc Guehi, Chris Richards

Part two of our vibes-based preview, featuring the top half of the EPL table, drops tomorrow. 

The Tailgate Experience: At the Arsenal-FC Barcelona Showdown in LA

In front of a crowd of over 70,000, Arsenal and FC Barcelona took to SoFi Stadium to square off as part of the Soccer Champions Tour. The Urban Pitch Podcast Crew was on the scene to take in the vibes for another episode of The Tailgate Experience!

As more European clubs continue to cater to their rapidly growing American audiences, preseason competitions like the Soccer Champions Tour will only continue to expand. In some of the largest and most notable stadiums across the country, teams like Real Madrid, Juventus, Arsenal, and Barcelona square off in matches that are equal parts preseason tune-ups and lucrative marketing opportunities.

arsenal barcelona sofi

arsenal barcelona sofi

More often than not, the games are relatively uneventful, with reserves and loan players getting the bulk of the minutes. But when Arsenal and Barcelona squared off at SoFi Stadium on July 26, there was no shortage of fireworks. Plenty of main squad players took to the pitch in a 5-3 Arsenal victory that saw some tenuous moments between players and some banger goals.

But we’re not here to report what happened on the pitch — we’re all about the culture in and outside of the stadium.

arsenal barcelona sofi

arsenal barcelona sofi

Out of the 70,223 in attendance, there seemed to be a pretty even balance between Arsenal and Barcelona fans. Because of the stadium’s strict tailgating rules, it wasn’t the typical soccer match pregame festivities, but there were still throngs of people hanging out, bantering, and drinking in the massive mini-city that is the area outside of SoFi Stadium.

We were on the scene to capture some of those unique vibes, talking to passionate supporters in the latest episode of the Tailgate Experience!

Photography by Allen Paez for Urban Pitch. 

Luciano Acosta is the Frontrunner for MLS MVP — Could He Fit With the USMNT?


The 29-year-old Argentine could become a U.S. citizen as early as the end of the year. Where would Luciano Acosta fit in Gregg Berhalter’s squad?

The United States men’s national team has a long tradition of being the home of many dual nationals. Some of the best players in the country’s history have come from foreign soil and have found a home in the U.S.

To name a few, Tab Ramos (Uruguay), Earnie Stewart (Netherlands), Yunus Musah (England), Hugo Perez (El Salvador), and Thomas Dooley (Germany) have all represented the United States despite being born in foreign countries, and their contributions have been valuable for the national team program.

If there is one thing USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter can hold his head high over, it is his recruitment of dual nationals to the program. Haji Wright, Folarin Balogun, Malik Tillman, Antonee Robinson, Sergiño Dest, and Gabriel Slonina have all chosen to represent the USMNT in the last four years.

Now the U.S. program has its eyes on Luciano Acosta, the FC Cincinnati attacking midfielder who was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and comes from the famed Boca Juniors academy. Acosta made his way up to the senior side in 2014 and was a sporadic starter, managing two goals in 25 games.

Before his move to MLS and DC United, he spent a season on loan to Estudiantes where he scored one goal in 27 games. It was at DC United where Acosta earned his stripes, often the lone highlight of a few poor Ben Olsen teams.

 Acosta’s Rise in DC

While DC United struggled more often than not, Acosta excelled in MLS play, and eventually formed one of the best partnerships in the league with former Manchester United star Wayne Rooney. When the English striker joined the club in 2018, Acosta had his best season, scoring 10 goals in 34 games, and the fans eventually dubbed Rooney and Acosta, “LuchoRoo.”

Acosta’s play would eventually and surprisingly put him under the microscope of PSG. He was seen as an option following an injury for Neymar, and PSG sent DC United a $10 million offer. Since the transfer window was closing, it was a rush against time. Acosta was set for his medical, but when DC United wanted more money the deal was canceled.

It was reported that Acosta, when told he had to leave for his medical at PSG, was in a near daze. He was about to transfer to one of the highest spending teams in the world.

When the 2019 season started, Acosta was not himself, clearly unhappy that his deal with PSG fell apart. By the end of the season with his contract up, he left DC United and went to Liga MX side Atlas.

Cementing Himself at FC Cincinnati

After returning to MLS after two seasons in Mexico, Acosta returned determined to make his second stint in MLS a long term one. At FC Cincinnati, Acosta has shown a growing maturity and is the team captain.

As of the all-star break, Acosta has eight assists and 12 goals in 22 matches, his best output ever in the league. He is a candidate for the MLS regular season MVP award and can still win a treble as the team is the Supporters’ Shield leaders, a candidate for MLS Cup, and in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup.

His years in MLS have been key in offering the opportunity to play for the USMNT. He already holds a green card and is in the application process to become a U.S. citizen.

Where Does Acosta fit on the USMNT?

A skillful player who plays down the middle of the field, Acosta could be an option should Gio Reyna be injured. Both play a similar role in the midfield, and although Reyna could play winger, Acosta can option as a withdrawn forward and depending on formation, could be a substitute for Christian Pulisic in some capacity.

Acosta would be a welcomed breath of fresh air as an additional attacking option, a pure creator who has a knack for goal. Acosta has 53 goals in 209 MLS matches.

Acosta has admitted to speaking with Berhalter, and if the chance should arise for him to get a call-up, the American manager has a new option that can help his cause.

Acosta in the end would be a good problem to have, as the U.S. can have a natural playmaker sub in for Reyna or Pulisic when called upon.

Luciano Acosta is the symbol of the American dream. A chance to come to a new country and assimilate. If he does don the USMNT jersey, it would have been well earned and gives the program a bit of Argentine viveza that Acosta has brought to MLS fields.

Standout Performances of the Women’s World Cup Group Stage

With the group stage in the books, we take a look at some of the best individual and team performances from the 2023 World Cup so far. 

If you haven’t tuned into this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, boy are you missing out.

It’s been a brilliant opening stage for the biggest tournament in the women’s game. Already there have been a variety of noteworthy results and performances, from late heroics and individual brilliance, to stunning displays of dominance. This iteration is also one for the underdogs so far, with giants falling out of the group stages and upsets wherever you look.

It was extremely difficult to whittle two weeks of non-stop action into a succinct list. But nonetheless, these are the pick of the bunch.

Project “Blue Lock”

The second goal in Japan’s 4-0 win over Spain took a whopping three passes before Riko Ueki planted it past Misa Rodriguez.

This was the theme of a game where Japan had only 23% possession and generated a measly 0.91 xG, yet somehow they handedly defeated their formidable Spanish opponents. This game was as brutal a lesson as it gets on the principle of counterattack.

What made this outcome all the more shocking was the form of Spain entering this matchup. The eight goals scored and zero conceded in their games with Costa Rica and Zambia had many touting Spain as the most impressive team of the tournament through two matches. Japan entered this game with a supreme game plan courtesy of manager Futoshi Ikeda, and their airtight defending and merciless finishing ensured that their coach’s five changes paid off.

Japan’s performance was remarkable on more than just a tactical and team level. Hinata Miyazawa dropped one of the best individual displays of the group stages. In just 45 minutes of play, she had a hand in three goals, scoring two and setting up the third. All that with just 29 touches.

Miyazawa now sits atop the golden boot race with two braces in three games.

The Nadeshiko will enter the round of 16 as the only nation to win all three of their group games without allowing a goal. It certainly bodes well for them going into their clash with Norway.

The Reggae Girlz Turn Group F on its Head

Entering the tournament, turmoil and dysfunction burdened the Reggae Girlz. In an open letter, the players cited a lack of funding, proper training camps and support from the Jamaican Football Federation for what was set to be their second World Cup appearance in a row.

This makes what followed in the group stages even more impressive.

They opened their tournament with a hard-fought 0-0 draw against France, a performance that showed grit, resolve and defensive prowess that was lacking in their 2019 campaign. That showing four years ago saw them concede 12 times in three games, and their match with France went a long way in redeeming that performance.

They followed up their shutout of France with an imposing 1-0 victory over CONCACAF debutantes Panama in a game where Jamaica probably should’ve had three or four goals.

The cherry on top though was their epic finale with Brazil.

The Brazilians knew entering this fixture that they needed a victory to ensure they progressed, with the Reggae Girlz needing only a draw. Their showing against France proved to be the blueprint for this matchup as Jamaica dug in and refused to be broken down.

Their midfield trio of Vyan Sampson, Drew Spence, and Atlanta Primus were all excellent throughout the first two games, and they stepped it up another level against Brazil.

Coach Lorne Donaldson’s game plan meant that this trio would have to work endlessly to reduce the spaces in the middle of the park and hound Brazil’s playmakers. The task was daunting, but Jamaica’s engine room was disruptive enough on the day.

The standout? Goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer. Eight saves, each of them crucial, and a Player of the Match award to boot. Her presence in goal has been immense for the Jamaicans, and she has yet to concede a goal. If they are to extend their Cinderella run, Spencer will have to continue her heroics.

The Colombian Late Show

There’s not many things in football that top a wonder goal the caliber of Linda Caicedo’s. Well, except maybe a 97th-minute winner. Luckily for Colombian fans, they didn’t have to choose between the two.

What Colombia produced in their 2-1 victory over Germany was incredible. Firstly, there was Caicedo’s goal.

Still only 18, the Colombian forward goaded two German opponents before sliding her way between them effortlessly and sending a rocket into the top corner. Germany were stunned by one of the game’s breakout stars, but they did not let heads drop.

This was a team who had experience and an abundance of talent all over the pitch. Surely they’d find a way back. They did just that when Alexandra Popp stepped up for a penalty on the cusp of 90 minutes, which she subsequently dispatched.

At that moment, you wouldn’t have blamed Colombia if the wind was knocked out of their sails and the game petered out. Manuela Vanegas had other ideas however, and with the game’s final meaningful action, her perfect header from Leicy Santos’ corner sealed a famous win for Colombia, and put them firmly in position to top the group.

South Africa at the Death

South Africa sat on the outside looking in with one game to play in Group G. Banyana Banyana were without a win in their World Cup history and staring down the barrel of a tough closing fixture with Italy.

What ensued was almost certainly the most enthralling match of the World Cup so far.

The Azzurre required only a draw to advance, a task that Arianna Caruso would set them on their way to completing with her 11th-minute opener from the spot. Midway through the first half, they would prove architects of their own downfall with Benedetta Orsi’s own goal, which shifted the mood of the contest.

South Africa would take the lead with just over 20 minutes remaining via Hildah Magaia before the Italians pegged them back shortly after with Caruso’s second.

At this point, there was nothing to lose for the women in yellow, and their bombardment of the Italian stronghold would eventually prove successful. With 97 minutes played, it was Thembi Kgatlana who stole the headlines after some wonderful wing play from Magaia, who turned provider.

The referee’s final whistle meant a famous 3-2 victory for Banyana Banyana and progression to the knockouts.

Samba-Ball Takes Center Stage

Ary Borges. There’s your headline.

A hat trick on her World Cup debut. Two in the first half, her third to finish off an already demoralized Panamanian outfit. The cherry on top was her audacious assist for Bia Zaneratto’s goal, arguably the goal of the tournament so far and the epitome of Brazilian football.

The football on display was nigh on tear-jerking, the Borges performance was awe-inspiring, and the Brazil fans dared to dream of going all the way. Unfortunately for them, this level of fluidity in attack proved difficult to recreate in their following two games.

In the end, the Brazilians went out behind Jamaica and France, but it would be a massive oversight to leave this performance off the list. Marta, the greatest player in the history of the sport, had her last dance on this stage, but the youth and talent of their squad make it hard to bet against a sensational Seleção resurgence in the years to come.

Morocco. Just, Morocco.

FIFA’s No. 72-ranked team, Morocco was on the receiving end of a 6-0 hammering from Germany in their opening game of their first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup.

It was easy to dismiss the tournament debutantes, and perhaps the Moroccans could’ve went home with their heads held high if they were at least competitive in their next two matches. They certainly did that, and much more, against all odds with nothing but effort and heart fueling them.

Like Jamaica, it’s impossible to speak about just one of their games.

Following their humbling first match, the Atlas Lionesses picked themselves up and went to business against the South Koreans, a team ranked 55 places above them by FIFA. Ibtissam Jraidi scored the country’s first-ever Women’s World Cup goal after just six minutes — a deft header into the far post sending the fans into delirium. They fought admirably for 80-plus minutes and were rewarded with a victory that seemed impossible just days prior.

Going into their final group game against tournament standouts Colombia, the Moroccans knew that even a win (unlikely as that may have been) would not have been enough without a German slip. Nevertheless, Morocco came out like a team possessed and took the battle to a Colombia side that was one of the tournament’s best.

Their moment would come in first-half stoppage time when Jraidi was bundled over in the box, and a penalty was given. Ghizlane Chebbak’s penalty was saved, but Anissa Lahmari was on hand to tap home the rebound.

Colombia tried everything but simply could not find a second-half equalizer, meaning a second 1-0 win on the bounce for the Atlas Lionesses.

Their job was done, the match was over, and attention turned to the Germans. After an incredibly anxious wait, the Moroccan players erupted when news filtered through of Germany’s misstep. It was a moment that will undoubtedly go down in the history of the women’s game.

In the end, the team at their first ever World Cup topped the Germans, who had never failed to reach the last 16. Improbably, impossibly, Morocco went through, and Germany went home.

The 5ASIDE Crew Joins the Urban Pitch Podcast


East meets West on the latest episode of the Urban Pitch Podcast, which features the guys from the 5ASIDE Podcast!

It’s a link up a long time in the making. Our East Coast counterparts at 5ASIDE have been holding it down as one of the waviest podcasts in the game, and they made it out West to come by and kick it with us.

Featuring content creator extraordinaire Elisha Edouard, the Wavy Footy crew Josh Agyei-Gyamfi, Gabriel Guisado, and Khendrick Beausolei, and fashion designer Sebastian Caillat, 5ASIDE has quickly become one of the most engaging soccer podcasts out there, and we sat down and discussed everything from their origins and backgrounds in soccer to the Women’s World Cup and future of soccer culture in the United States.

You can watch the entire podcast on YouTube, or listen to the audio on streaming services including Apple and Spotify.

The Lionel Messi Effect: Could the Legend’s Arrival Price Out ‘Real’ Fans?


The 36-year-old World Cup winner has been an instant hit for Inter Miami and Major League Soccer, and while Miami currently has the hottest ticket in town, will the high prices turn away hardcore fans when things cool down? 

When Lionel Messi scored his game winning goal against Cruz Azul in the dying minutes of Inter Miami’s first win in months, it was a proud day for the club and Major League Soccer. Things like Inter Miami’s shoddy defending and the fact that Messi was playing with the worst collection of teammates in his career were looked over as American soccer could savor the moment that they had fought for for three years.

Messi was finally playing in MLS, and the tickets for his first game were through the roof. The sellout crowd of nearly 21,000 spent up to $5,000 to get in the door, and strange offers for tickets within the $10,000 range were never confirmed as sold. Despite a magical night where the worst team in MLS was able to win with a soccer icon, with the likes of LeBron James and Kim Kardashian in the stands, the question for hard core fans was still very much in their minds, how long is Inter Miami going to milk the Messi effect?

The Messi Effect is Being Felt Across the Board

With all of Messi’s away MLS matches already sold out or selling out at four times the ticket value, one could consider that normal. It’s not often the greatest soccer player to ever live plays a possible full 90 in Charlotte. Also, in 2024 MLS will most likely adjust its schedule to make sure some of their major markets like Seattle or Portland or traditional markets like Kansas City and Salt Lake City get a chance to at least witness Messi once in his possible three years in MLS.

MLS’ over-expansion has made it difficult to think that Messi will play in all of the West Coast venues by the time his two-and-a-half-years are done in the league. However, MLS should know how to adjust things to take advantage of a situation. In his first half-season, Messi will go out West only once before the regular season ends, against LAFC.

From $200 kit sales to a percentage of Apple TV, to high priced tickets for his U.S. Open Cup semifinal in Cincinnati, Messi and company are making a killing as the Messi Express in MLS begins to leave the station.

For Ignacio Martinez, member of Inter Miami’s supporters’ group Vice City 1896, he and the hardcore fans know the club needs to take advantage of the new situation it has with Messi.

“Very high prices, but we understand why,” he said. “We also understand that the league sets the prices, and the team does whatever possible to lower the cost for their supporters.”

Most of all, Martinez is hoping that ticket costs for 2024 can be readjusted so the club does not hurt the fanbase that has been there from the start, and he said the supporters are in communication with the club on ticket prices and other matters “on a daily basis.”

Taking Advantage While Keeping the Core

After Messi was subbed off during Inter Miami’s 4-0 win over Atlanta United, droves of fans went for the exits with 15 minutes left. Sure it was a Tuesday night, sure many fans were also tourists who didn’t want to leave too late in a foreign country at night, but also it sent a bold statement: How many fans are going to DRV PNK Stadium​ to support Inter Miami and how many are going to watch Messi?

For Martinez, all Vice City can do is show passion for the team. The rest is what it is.

“The team can’t really control that, everyone saw how these people were leaving right after Messi got substituted,” Martinez said. “We know that some will stay after he leaves. We’re here for Inter Miami and no player is bigger than the club they play for.”

Other Inter Miami fans are not as understanding. Major concerns from fans that have been with the club from day one are arising, as Inter Miami prices have skyrocketed, with some tickets as high as $400. A family of 4 would spend as much as $1,600 for a soccer game in the United States, basically paying World Cup prices for an MLS match.

Against Orlando City in the Leagues Cup Round of 32 game, tickets on Ticketmaster are as low as $147 and as high as $450. The average MLS ticket according to Ticketmaster is between $40-$50 in 2023.

When it’s all said and done by 2025, and Messi has made more money than he could ever had hoped for at 38, Inter Miami is hoping that they will be in the position of local basketball team the Miami Heat, winners of at least one MLS Cup and few other trophies, all while having a rabid fanbase that eventually learned to care about Inter Miami.

It has been a game plan tried before, but its success rate is questionable. Pele’s arrival to the New York Cosmos in the NASL was lighting in a bottle, but shortly after he left, the league collapsed and the Cosmos never drew the numbers they had while Pele played for them. David Beckham saved MLS from folding in 2007, but the Los Angeles Galaxy had always drawn well over 20,000 fans when winning. The problem was no one wanted to watch an MLS game on television at a national level. The league’s TV audience had always been low and Beckham and the arrival of the new type of spending did little to increase TV audiences.

Enter Messi, once again entrusted to put Major League Soccer among the elite. His mere presence has already made MLS owners think of adding a designated player slot and raising the salary cap, and it has Apple wanting more Messi-like players scattered all over MLS clubs to make the league more than a one-show pony for its global audience. Apple has recently stated that MLS League Pass has passed the 1 million subscribers mark, and that since Messi signed with MLS, 300,000 new subscriptions have occurred.

MLS has thrived in its near 30 years, from a 10-team joke to a healthy league with nearly 30 teams and over 20 soccer-specific venues. It now has a healthy transfer market where the league buys and sells players, and is favored by a healthy United States men’s national team that has Americans playing not only in the best leagues in Europe but starters on some of the world’s best teams.

It will most likely take a decade to truly measure what the signing of Messi means to MLS and soccer in the United States. Messi’s arrival also coincides with the 2026 World Cup which will mostly be played in the U.S. It’s a World Cup that the powers that be hope names like Christian Pulisic can stand out more than even a Messi, to finally put a strong American face to the world’s game.

Until then it’s a rocket ship ride for Inter Miami and MLS as Messi, who will be very relevant around the world as he will also represent Argentina in critical World Cup qualifiers in September and a Copa America in 2024. Messi is the conductor and inviting everyone on board his legendary train, let’s just hope MLS and Inter Miami don’t forget about the fans who were there way before LeBron James ever sat in the VIP.

Genoa: The Best Football City You Haven’t Been to Yet

Perhaps the most underrated destination in Italy, we get a glimpse of Genoa and the two clubs that call it home: UC Sampdoria and Genoa CFC.

It’s approaching midday on a damp spring morning and I’m café-hopping in Genoa’s historical center. I’ve spent the last few hours upping my caffeine intake, downing one espresso after another as I desperately attempt to combat the effects of a red-eye flight. My strategy has limited success, but as I stumble around one of the oldest cities in the world, a nagging question manages to worm its way into my sleep-deprived brain: Why have I never been here before?

genoa sampdoria

genoa sampdoria

genoa sampdoria

We think we know Italy, don’t we? For whatever reason, most of us have a clear image in our minds of what Italy is like and what a trip to the peninsula should entail. Pizza. Pasta. Wine. Gelato. Vespas. The imposing Coliseum and the idyllic Amalfi Coast. All those things are great and are perfectly valid reasons to visit Italy, but they give just a small flavor of a beautifully diverse and chaotic country.

Away from the Italian cliche, Genoa never seems to make it into the conversation. Admittedly, had I not found a one-way flight ticket for £16 then it wouldn’t have entered this one either.

Genoa has the history and beauty to match Europe’s most famous cities, which makes it baffling that nobody seems to want to come here. It has been one of the Mediterranean’s most important ports for over 2,000 years, and it’s one of oldest continually inhabited cities on Earth, which helps to explain why gloomy, winding alleyways lead to grand renaissance palaces, and why there’s a distinctly chaotic feel to the place that you don’t get in Milan or other Northern cities.

genoa sampdoria

genoa sampdoria

The historical center, to the untrained eye, resembles other old Italian cities, until its creep up the hill from the docks is halted by the Strade Nuove. Built by the Genoese aristocracy during the height of the Republic of Genoa in the 16th and 17th centuries, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is a collection of streets jam-packed with late-Renaissance palaces, baroque architecture, and museums full of priceless artwork. The main palaces along the Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, once inhabited by the five ruling families of Genoa, are now museums, although one is now bizarrely a branch of Deutsche Bank. Shielding my PIN from a watchful marble cherub is not something I’ve ever experienced at my local Halifax.

Below the grandeur of the Strade Nuove is what locals call the carruggi, a labyrinth of dark and twisting alleyways hiding shops and bars hemmed in by residential buildings. For centuries, the neighborhood was a hotbed of disorder, with sailors drawn to the abundant watering holes and brothels. Even today, you can channel your vices in the more secluded streets.

Genoa is a city that’s seen it all, something which can also be said of its two major football clubs. Genoa CFC and UC Sampdoria have both experienced the dizziest highs that football has to offer, but for much of their histories, it’s been the crushing lows that fans have become accustomed to.

Genoa played a pivotal role in the uptake of football in Italy, and is the oldest Italian team still active. Founded in 1893 as Genoa Cricket and Athletic Club by English sailors, a few years later football became the club’s primary sport thanks to English doctor James Richardson Spensley (not he of Football Italia fame). The English heritage of the club is still felt today, although the appearance of the St. George’s cross on the club badge is unrelated. St. George was the patron saint of the old Republic of Genoa, and the flag was in use long before England adopted it.

Neighbors Sampdoria were founded some five decades later in 1946, following a merger of local teams Sampierdarenese and Andre Doria. Despite arriving late to the party, Il Doria are arguably better known than their older sibling outside of Italy thanks to an iconic kit and a Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini-inspired Scudetto triumph in 1991.

The relative recency of that success has helped too.

Genoa are the fourth-most successful team in Italian football history with nine league titles, although the last of those came in 1924. Samp came agonizingly close to winning the European Cup in 1992, losing 1-0 to Barcelona in the final at Wembley, while the Coppa Italia they won in 1994 was the last trophy that made its home in Genoa.

Last season, half of the shared Stadio Luigi Ferraris rejoiced while the other half mourned. Genoa, playing in Serie B for the first time since 2007, secured a return to the top flight under the guidance of former Italy striker Alberto Gilardino. Meanwhile, Sampdoria passed them on the way down after finishing rock bottom of Serie A with just 19 points from 38 games.

genoa sampdoria

While Genoa’s resurgence wasn’t entirely a surprise – early on in the season supporters adopted the #onlyoneyear hashtag in reference to their promotion aspirations – their exploits created a feeling of optimism and excitement rarely witnessed at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in recent years. That was evident when I was in town for promotion-chasing Genoa’s home match against Reggina in late March.

I didn’t think my trip to Genoa could get much better. I’d spent three days losing myself in labyrinthian streets, my jaw dropping with each architectural delight I stumbled across. I’d caught the train to Camogli, an idyllic seaside town whose multicolored houses and staggering views make it hard to believe you’re not seeing life through an Instagram filter. I’d made an admirable dent in my book-it list of local cuisine — fresh pesto, cuttlefish and peas, freshly caught calamari, Ligurian rabbit, tripe stew, focaccia. But then I saw the Gradinata Nord.

genoa sampdoria

genoa sampdoria

Well, I heard it first. The iconic turret-like stairwells in each corner of the Luigi Ferraris vibrated with each drum beat, each explosion, each clap, and each syllable that bellowed out from Genoa’s most vocal fans. When I reached my seat above them, I spent a good 10 minutes watching the scene unfold, thousands of arms raised above heads, hundreds of flags waving to create a moving sea of blue and red.

When eventually I remembered to snap a few photos, there was still 45 minutes until kick-off. Just before the teams came out there was a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that would give Liverpool fans a run for their money. More flags, more pyro and more deafeningly loud explosions. With the rectangular shape of the stadium — as opposed to the classic Italian bowl — putting fans right on top of the action, you’d do well to find a better atmosphere anywhere in Italy.

Veteran journeyman striker Massimo Coda, back in the side after a month-long injury layoff, scored the game’s only goal just before halftime, sparking wild celebrations as the promotion dream edged just that little bit closer. Genoa spurned several chances to wrap up the points in the second half, and inevitably the visitors threatened to punish them. Finally, the referee put the home fans out of their misery and Genoa had earned three huge points against a promotion rival. My ears ringing, I set off on the 30-minute walk back to the city center, weaving through the throngs of revellers and swarms of scooters.

Under the management of Gilardino, the future certainly looks bright for Genoa. The former striker only took charge in December when he was promoted from the Primavera side, but the way he was able to harmonize a squad containing youth and experience — former Netherlands midfielder Kevin Strootman was key — was impressive. According to Fabrizio Cardone, co-host of La Lanterna Podcast, Gila could be Italy’s next coaching success story.

“He’s been the true surprise of Serie B,” Cardone tells me. “He’s a mastermind of tactical solutions, which many have started to compare to [Atalanta coach Gian Piero] Gasperini at the start of his career at Genoa. Both promoted Genoa to Serie A.”

But as often is the case in Italian football, off-field issues are threatening to bring everything tumbling down.

Much has been made of Sampdoria’s ownership issues, with the club in a state of flux since the arrest of club president Massimo Ferrero on financial charges in 2021.

Despite Genoa’s promotion, a calm surface belies a vicious undercurrent. United States-based private investment firm 777 Partners bought the club in 2021, and by all accounts have done a decent job. Less encouraging is that the firm’s co-founder, Josh Wander, stands accused of controlling another enterprise that conducted a pattern of racketeering activities, including kidnapping, bribery, extortion, and dealing in a controlled substance. None of the allegations have yet been proven in court.

As seems to be the way in modern football, unsavory characters and ulterior motives cast an ominous shadow. But without wishing to sound flippant, nothing will dent the optimism and excitement that will inevitably grip both sides of Genoa when the first weekend of the season comes around. Genoa is a fantastic city home to two sleeping giants of Italian football – next time you decide to get your calcio fix, you could do a lot worse than head to La Superba: The Proud One.

Photography by Alex Brotherton for Urban Pitch.

The Best Kits From the Napoli-Lete Era


As SSC Napoli enters a new kit sponsor era, we take a look back at the best kits from the 16-year Lete era. 

On the heels of their first Scudetto in 33 years, SSC Napoli is on the brink of a new era. A core of promising talent will now have a new manager in Rudi Garcia, and the club will also have some aesthetic changes as well. In addition to the symbolic title-winning badge the club gets to don on its kits this season, it’s receiving a new sponsor, which is particularly significant for a club like Napoli.

As football fans, we have images of the iconic sponsors of Mars and Buitoni during the Diego Maradona days seared into our brains. But bringing it a bit closer to the present, and for me especially, the sponsor of Lete has been just as prominent, for better and for worse, during my life as a football fan.

napoli kit 2023-24

Napoli’s new kit is beautiful, though. It’s one of their strongest in recent years, whether it has the Lete box or not. From the tricolor trim on the collar and sleeves, to the the subliminal all over print, it’s a delightful home shirt fit for the champions of Italy.

The big red box of Napoli’s previous sponsor had been emblazoned across the chest of Napoli shirts since 2006-07, back when they were just starting their resurgence after some dark days down in Serie C. An interesting journey followed, with Lete front and center on the blue shirts. Marek Hamsik, Edison Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain, Dries Mertens, Jorginho, and many more stars donned the shirts during this era, and with the new kit taking them in another direction, it’s only right to pay our respects to these kits and pick out some of the best.

2011-12 Home

napoli 2011-12 kit

Manufacturer: Macron

Macron is a kit manufacturer that doesn’t get talked about often. They were Napoli’s kit brand from 2009 until 2015, and this home is definitely the pick of the bunch from their Neapolitan portfolio. In a Serie A dominated by Juventus and Inter, Napoli qualified for the Europa League this season, and the likes of Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Gokhan Inler donned this Macron number as they went on to win the Coppa Italia for the first time since the Maradona days. The shirt features a standard collar and a white line in the trim, along with a pattern on the shoulder to finish it off. Don’t get me wrong, this kit will not blow you away, but looking back at Napoli’s kit history of the early to late 2000s, it’s up there at the top.

2014-15 Home

napoli 2014-15 kit

Manufacturer: Macron 

This is the final kit of the Macron era in Naples, and it was certainly a valiant effort to bow out. The reason I felt obliged to include this is because of the outrageously big Lete sponsor and the fact that it sits so high up the chest. Throw in the sponsor below, and you’ve got a standard Napoli blue shirt with added quirks. Lorenzo Isigne, Marek Hamsik, and Dries Mertens are among the stars who have worn this kit and helped Napoli to another Europa League qualification spot.

2016-17 Third

napoli 2016-17 home kit

Manufacturer: Kappa

This is a very basic inclusion solely based on the slick aesthetic of the combination of the black base and the gold detailing. There’s nothing flashy about it. No experimental collar and no trims. Black and gold, with a big red box front and center. It’s a good shirt, one that was worn during a season that saw Napoli qualify for the Champions League.

2018-19 Home

napoli 2018-19 home

Manufacturer: Kappa 

This one is a must-include in my eyes. It’s a bit extravagant and ventures away from the simple Napoli blue base as it includes a fragmented glass-style pattern as if we’re in some form of a Dr. Strange movie. It works, though, especially with the smart button-up collar.

2020-21 Special

napoli 2020-21 special kit

Manufacturer: Kappa

In recent years, Napoli has gone a bit mad with their kit production, making so many special kits that it’s hard to keep track of them. This one, though, is definitely memorable. It’s designed by Milanese fashion brand Marcelo Burlon and features their signature bird design across the top in the Napoli colors. The black base complements this well, giving a striking design that definitely catches eyes. The red box isn’t included with the sponsor, though, and instead, the font itself is red, a touch we saw in the final years of the partnership.

What Will a Post-Messi and Ronaldo Football Boot Landscape Look Like?


With Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi now in the twilight of their careers, how will it impact the boot landscape that they have for so long dominated?

You may not want to hear this news, but Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are at the end of their careers.

Yes, it is a hard pill to swallow, but we have also witnessed arguably the greatest pair of athletes competing against each other in history (even if Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would like a word). They have treated us to countless moments of joy, shock and amazement, all while also heavily influencing the boot culture of football.

Like a party you will never forget, the vicious hangover can keep your energy levels low for countless days. Football fans’ recovery from the loss of the two brightest stars may last long into their lives, as nothing seems to compare to the joy of watching Ronaldo’s signature step-overs or Messi’s patented body feints.

It’ll feel like the color has been sucked out of the world, no matter how mind-boggling Erling Haaland’s goal tallies become or how close to supersonic Kylian Mbappe’s pace seems to get.

In terms of on-field aesthetic, who will be able to influence millions with a snap of a finger in a way that Ronaldo and his high socks did, or Messi with his dazzling F50 boots? We have seen the likes of Neymar, Paul Pogba, and Jadon Sancho all receive signature colorways of their boots, yet none of them registered a blip on the excitement scale in the way that CR7’s Mercurial line did for his 15 years of brilliance.

nike cristiano ronaldo boots

Fans have had their standards for greatness set so monumentally high that nothing else will do now. It is as if they are addicted to a level of greatness that was thought to be impossible. Much like any addiction, the detox will be abrupt, and it could take many years for fans to find another superstar that can captivate them in a way that even remotely compares to the adoration of these two giants of the sport.

This will leave the marketing teams at Nike and adidas scrambling, as their formulas for marketing success need to be rewritten, recalibrated, and expectations lowered. Who will be the one to sway a new fan of the game to pick Stripes over Checks, and vice versa? There probably isn’t an answer because even as how beloved Mbappe and players like Jude Bellingham may be, they are but a speck of dust in the galaxy that is Messi and Ronaldo’s impact. This is where the hangover comes into play. Generations of fans need to move on, and new ones need to grow attached to the new heirs of the game.

messi boots

Interestingly, the legacy of the boots Ronaldo and Messi wore will continue on because, unlike in other sports, where players have their own signature silhouettes, in football, players that reach a certain status get their own colorway or line of an existing model. David Beckham became synonymous with the adidas Predator in the same way that Ronaldo did with the Mercurial, Messi did with the F50, and Neymar did with the Hypervenom. Even before Cristiano, Ronaldo Fenomeno was the first to break through with the original Mercurial in 1998.

Sure, Messi briefly had his own line of boots, but that soon consolidated itself into the Nemeziz line.

beckham predator

We will soon undoubtedly see someone take over both on the pitch and in the boot game, but like Beckham’s Predators, it’s reasonable to assume that the Ronaldo and Messi boot lines will extend past their retirement. The biggest question is how prevalent will they be? Will it be an occasional retro release like we’ve seen with various iterations of the Preds, or will it be a full blown separate brand like Nike has done with Air Jordan?

While no one will likely become as influential as Michael Jordan in terms of post-career branding, if there were two modern day athletes to challenge him, it would be either Messi or Ronaldo.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: 2023 Women’s World Cup Edition


From the certified hits to the head-scratching duds, we take a look at some of the best and worst 2023 Women’s World Cup kits. 

The 2023 World Cup is in full swing, which means we’ve had a handful of unbelievable moments, shocking upsets, and perhaps most importantly, new kits.

Like we do with nearly every major competition in the soccer world, we break down the best, worst, and ugliest kits to grace the Women’s World Cup.

The Good

Germany Home

germany womens world cup kits

Easily a contender for the nation with the best kits in Australia and New Zealand, Germany’s home kit is the perfect mix of classic styling with modern details. The centered badge is executed properly, something which has been bungled a handful of times in other instances, and the tricolor neckline is a fantastic touch — it could be a little thicker, however.

Japan Away

adidas japan world cup kit

Quite possibly the kit of the year. adidas truly outdid themselves with almost all of their 2023 World Cup kits, but Japan’s away is by far the best. We get a mind-blowingly good gradient pattern with pink and purple hues that evoke sunset imagery. Even better is how this jersey looks with the entire uniform. It hasn’t made its debut on the World Cup stage yet, but when it does, it will be glorious.

Jamaica Home

jamaica wales bonner kits

Another adidas hit. Teaming up with Wales Bonner, the Three Stripes’ Jamaica collection is absurdly good. The yellow home kit of the Reggae Girlz at the World Cup is particularly fantastic, but don’t sleep on the pre-match shirt, or even the more subtle yet still beautiful black away. Like Japan’s, the entire on-pitch ensemble is fantastic, down to the socks.

Switzerland Home

switzerland 2023-24 kit

We already highlighted Switzerland’s home kit in our recent best 2023-24 kit releases (so far) story, but we had to revisit the stunning red shirt here. PUMA hasn’t had too many winners lately, but this one is a certified hit.

New Zealand Home

new sealand womens world cup kits

We’ll get to the majority of Nike’s 2023 World Cup offerings in a bit, but a bright spot from the Swoosh is the co-host’s home kit. Always one to have solid kits, the Football Ferns are decked out in a black shirt with a subtle fern leaf pattern throughout the body. It’s a look that really can’t go wrong.

Philippines Home

philippines womens world cup kits

Making their World Cup debut, there are few better stories than the Philippines women’s national team’s journey to prominence in recent years. Their home kit is fitting for a footballing nation on the rise, and while there might be some personal bias here, these became an instant favorite upon release. Pinstripes are nearly always a good look, and the contrasting adidas logo makes for a nice detail.

South Africa Away

Yet another nation with a fantastic storyline, Banyana Banyana are the benefactors of some pretty stellar home and away kits from Le Coq Sportif. A beautiful black and gold away ensemble highlights what is easily one of the shirts of the tournament.

The Bad

Nike Template

nike world cup kits

On their own, templates aren’t a bad thing. In fact, they’re actually pretty useful, economic, and efficient when done correctly. However, a poorly done template is an absolute abomination. Nike has themselves one of those in their 2023 World Cup lineup. The template itself isn’t horrible, but it runs the risk of looking way too plain when not in a bold color scheme. The United States, Nigeria, and Australia all have bright colors for their version of the template, and they all work pretty well.

norway womens world cup kits

china canada women's world cup

However, Canada’s away, England’s Home, China’s away, and Norway’s home and away are absurdly plain and boring to look at. For a brand with so many resources at its disposal, the Nike kits at the Women’s World Cup are massively disappointing.

Costa Rica Home

costa rica womens world cup kits

Another case of uninspired design. A plain red shirt with no real details and minor blue accents. An absolute snoozefest from the Costa Ricans, who recently switched to adidas from New Balance.

United States Home

uswnt womens world cup kits

I’m not mad at this USWNT kit, especially compared to the men’s home kit at last year’s World Cup. But it seems like it was haphazardly constructed the night before the design deadline. There are no real interesting details here, just a white base with a paint splatter design that anyone with an Adobe Photoshop subscription could replicate in minutes.

The Ugly

Portugal Away

portugal world cup kits

Nike said, “What if we took the USWNT home kit, but made it worse?” It looks like if you took a scoop of spumoni ice cream and threw it in sand. This shirt would be better off in the plain template category, which is saying a lot.

Brazil Away

brazil womens world cup kits

Brazil’s away kit isn’t 100% trash, but it has a certain unfinished quality to it. Like it’s still in its second draft waiting for notes. Match this with a pair of cargo shorts, neon Nike Elite socks, and some Roshe Runs and you’ve got yourself a certified 2013 middle schooler fit.

South Africa Third

south africa womens world cup kits

As good as the rest of South Africa’s kits are, their third kit is pretty bizarre. You have multiple patterns that don’t really go well together overlapping, and while I do like the color scheme, the design is much too busy and disorienting. It is pretty cool that Le Coq Sportif gave Banyana Banyana three kits though.

COPA Drops a New Retro Benfica Collection

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Featuring a pair of shirts and a warm-up jacket, COPA’s newest Benfica collection picks up right where it left off — effortless cool and timeless style. 

For quite some time now, we’ve been harping on what COPA has brought to the football fashion table. Elegant retro apparel ranging from jerseys to jackets and accessories, made from the highest quality materials and staying true to the designs they pay tribute to.

They’ve done it again with their latest officially licensed collection with Benfica, which includes a trio of pieces that highlight the Portuguese club’s rich history. We’ve put the spotlight on previous COPA x Benfica collections in the past, and the latest iteration is an extension of what we’ve already seen, like a satisfying sequel that builds upon its predecessor but is good enough to stand on its own.

The Kits

copa football

copa football

Highlighting the collection is a pair of jerseys from the mid-’80s that exemplify what COPA does best: beautiful simplicity.

The brand certainly has an eye for choosing which kit designs to bring back, and there’s nary a miss in their catalog, which includes collections from clubs like Juventus, FC Barcelona, and AS Roma, in addition to the Dutch national team.

The 1985-86 away kit features a classic v-neck design with pinstripes and a Shell sponsor logo, reminiscent of a time where you didn’t need wild patterns or colorways to stand out from a crowd. Similarly, the 1984-85 home shirt features a plain red base with red accents and a polo collar for an added touch of class.

Despite not having won a league title in these kits, they were worn in a relatively successful period for Benfica, as the club won back-to-back Taça de Portugals in the ‘84-85 and ‘85-86 seasons. Notable names to have donned these shirts include club favorites Michael Manniche, Rui Àguas, Manuel Bento, Carlos Manuel, Minervino Pietra, and Nené.

The Jacket

copa football

Perhaps even more so than their kits, COPA’s attention to detail is evident in their apparel, which includes tracksuits, warm up jackets, and sweaters.

For this collection, the brand brought back the quarter-zip jacket from the 1962-63 season, in which Benfica was amidst its most dominant run in club history. Fresh off of back-to-back European Cups, the club came agonizingly close to a three-peat, but fell short in the final against Milan at Wembley. At least they looked good in defeat.

The jacket is draped in the iconic Benfica red, with white accents, a large badge on the left chest, and a classic polo collar. Not much to dislike here.

Once again, COPA has demonstrated their dedication to football heritage with this Benfica collection, which is yet another hit in the brand’s trove of classics.

The entire COPA x Benfica collection is available via COPA’s online shop as well as select global retailers and the brand’s flagship store in Amsterdam. 

The Post-MLS All-Star Game Playoff Push

As we head into the final stretch of the MLS season, we take a look at the impending race to the MLS Cup Playoffs from the contenders, dark horses, and those on the outside looking in. 

There were a lot of complaints about the new MLS Cup Playoffs format (including from us here at Urban Pitch), but one thing that critics may have underestimated was the allure of a thrilling race to the playoffs towards the end of the season. With so many playoff spots up for grabs, there is sure to be a massive sprint to the finish ahead of Decision Day 2023.

Now past the MLS All-Star game and into the Leagues Cup break, it’s the perfect time to take a look at how the playoff push is shaking out. Teams are racing to sign talent before the July transfer window closes, fans are fervently cheering their squads on, and the betting folk are rushing to top-ranked MLS betting sites to place their wagers.

With over half the teams in each conference making the playoffs, no one is truly ever out of contention, and we take a look at the favorites, potential underdogs, and those on the outskirts of playoff-town looking to make a late-season surge.

Title Contenders

These are the straight up favorites. Juggernauts of the season thus far, anything less than a deep run into the playoffs would be a disappointment to these clubs.

FC Cincinnati

After a few seasons in the dregs of MLS, FC Cincinnati has finally acclimated to the league. A fifth-place finish in the Eastern Conference last year has been followed up by a dominant start to 2023, and Cinci currently has a comfortable eight-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield race.

Luciano Acosta has been a bona fide MVP candidate, and despite a tapered goal output from 2022 breakout star Brandon Vazquez, FC Cincinnati has been absolutely rolling this season.

St Louis City SC

Many (ahem, me)  thought that St. Louis City SC’s hot start to their inaugural season was unsustainable, but we’ve been so far proven wrong. In addition to the squad’s suffocating press, St. Louis has displayed an electric offense, and currently has the highest goal total in the Western Conference and best goal differential in the league.

Nashville SC

Another recent expansion side that has become a perennial contender, Nashville SC continues to be a formidable MLS side. Hany Mukhtar could be the first back-to-back league MVP, and the first multiple time winner since Preki won his second title 20 years ago. In the Eastern Conference for the first time, the road to the MLS Cup might be heading through Music City this December.

Inconsistent, But Don’t Sleep

Whether it’s a stretch of bad luck, injuries, roster shuffling, or a combination of all three, it seems like these clubs have it in them to make a title run, but just haven’t put it all together yet.


lafc vela 2022

Up until the CONCACAF Champions League final loss, LAFC looked to be far and away the best team in the league. It’s been an up-and-down stretch since, going 3-5-3 since the June 4 loss to Leon. A loss at the Rose Bowl to crosstown rival LA Galaxy didn’t help things, but LAFC still has plenty of talent at its disposal and an aggressive front office that isn’t afraid to make moves. Look for the club to add a No. 9 before the July transfer window ends. A run at a repeat is far from out of the cards for LAFC. Don’t let them surprise you come playoff time.

Seattle Sounders

seattle sounders

Following a rare down year in 2022 that had the consolation of a CONCACAF Champions League title and a trip to the Club World Cup, Seattle has looked like a serious MLS Cup threat at times in 2023, but also a bang on average side at others. If the Sounders can maintain form down the stretch, we could see a return to triumph for one of the league’s premier franchises. That’s a pretty big if, however.

Dark Horses

In the MLS Cup Playoffs, it’s better to be the hottest team than the best team. If any of these sides get rolling towards the end of the year, it could be dangerous for anyone in their way. Expect some upsets from these sides, or even a run to a title.

Atlanta United

Since winning the MLS Cup in 2018, Atlanta United has been on a roller coaster of form. The club has missed out on the playoffs twice in the past three seasons, including last year, and are toiling in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings in 2023. However, Atlanta has shown flashes of the perennial winning side that took the league by storm in 2017. Thiago Almada is a game-changer, and defenses are never safe as long as he’s on the pitch.

Columbus Crew

They may have been outshined by their in-state rivals, but the Columbus Crew are a legit threat coming out of the East. They are relegated to Dark Horse territory only because they’ve been overshadowed by FC Cincinnati, but anyone who’s paid attention to the league knows that the Crew have been solid all season long. The most potent offense in the league could easily be one of the final few standing in the latter stages of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake still has the worst crest in the league, but they have looked pretty scary on the pitch of late. New DP Chicho Arango has been doing what he does best — score goals — since he joined the team, and RSL could very well be a matchup nightmare for whoever they draw in the playoffs.

On the Outside Looking In

These clubs have been struggling all season, but one reason why we love MLS — no team is ever truly out of the playoff hunt.

LA Galaxy

riqui puig la galaxy

Riqui Puig is the best player in the league. Or at least he’s been playing like it. On the July 4 Rose Bowl victory against LAFC, he was nearly untouchable, and looked to be a class above everyone else he shared the pitch with. He followed that up with an absolute banger of a goal against Philadelphia four days later. If Puig can keep this up, the Galaxy might sneak their way into the playoffs despite being at or near the bottom of the West for the majority of the season.

Inter Miami

Unlike recent expansion sides like Atlanta, LAFC, and Nashville, Inter Miami have been a pretty big mess throughout their entire existence. Whether it’s trying to sidestep MLS salary cap restrictions (only to still have a mediocre team) or signing dud designated players, there haven’t been a lot of positives for the David Beckham-owned franchise. With Lionel Messi now officially part of the team, it’s going to take a miracle for Inter Miami, who currently sit 12 points out of the final playoff spot, to make the postseason. However, it also took a miracle to land the greatest player of all time, so who knows what’s in the cards.

The Tailgate Experience: A Packed Rose Bowl for El Trafico

On July 4, a record-breaking crowd of 82,110 crammed into the Rose Bowl to take in the first-ever meeting of LAFC and LA Galaxy at the historic stadium. We were on the scene to capture the vibes in the latest episode of The Tailgate Experience.

A February rainout was the best thing to happen to the El Trafico derby since Zlatan Ibrahimovic called out Carlos Vela on ESPN. The originally scheduled match was reported to draw in a crowd of over 70,000, but an uncharacteristically heavy rainy season rendered the Rose Bowl’s turf unplayable. To the chagrin of fans at the time, the match would be rescheduled for July 4.

There were initial complaints of pushing the match to a Tuesday night in the distant future, and how rain, unless involved in some kind of natural disaster or accompanied with lightning, rarely interferes with the scheduling of soccer matches. However, with 20/20 hindsight, the fact that the match was postponed was a blessing in disguise.

la galaxy el trafico rose bowl

At the time of the originally scheduled match, which would’ve been the season opener for both LAFC and LA Galaxy, Galaxy fans were mired in an attendance boycott directed at then-team president Chris Klein. Despite having already purchased tickets to the match, which would’ve factored into the forecasted crowd of over 70,000, there was a good chance that a sizable chunk of the stadium would’ve been empty.

With Klein having stepped down and the boycott complete, nearly every nook and cranny of the Rose Bowl was filled with fans, with some even sneaking in fireworks of their own to compete with the stadium’s post-match display.

riqui puig la galaxy

The atmosphere added to what was — as usual — an electric match, with LA Galaxy ultimately prevailing via a 73rd-minute winner from Riqui Puig, who put on a masterclass throughout the entire night.

The match was a victory for all of American soccer, as it displayed that an MLS match can pack out a stadium at the same level of the European giants. No matter what league you play in, a crowd of 80,000 is no joke. With rumors of an LAFC-hosted match at the LA Coliseum next year beginning to swirl, this could be the beginning of a fantastic addition to what has become the premier American soccer rivalry in just five years.

Check out the vibes in and outside of the stadium in the latest episode of The Tailgate Experience.

20 Years Later, Ronaldinho’s FC Barcelona Legacy Has Only Grown

It’s been two decades since Ronaldinho officially signed with FC Barcelona, forever changing the fortunes of a then-struggling club. We revisit his immeasurable impact on the club both in the moment, and still today.

On July 21, 2003, on the heels of a fourth straight trophy-less season, including an unfathomable sixth-place finish in La Liga, FC Barcelona finalized a €27 million deal to secure the services of a 23-year-old Brazilian who’d shown flashes of brilliance over two seasons with Pairs Saint-Germain: Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, also known as Ronaldinho Gaúcho, or simply Ronaldinho.

Tomorrow marks the passage of exactly two decades since that move, which now looms as one of the most momentous in the history of club football. A bit hyperbolic, no? Well, buckle up.

History Repeating

It’s tempting to compare Barça’s recent travails to the events of 20 years ago. And, to be sure, there are similarities.

The seeds for the lean times were planted and took root on the watch of the club’s longest-ever tenured president (1978-2000), Josep Lluís Núñez. Fittingly, Núñez, the man who attempted to permanently sever Barça’s ties, was welcomed back to the club by once-jailed money launderer Sandro Rosell and his feckless, wrongly-unincarcerated ally, the man who’s done more to burn the club to the ground than Florentino Pérez could even imagine, Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Also, despite presiding over the unprecedented successes of Cruyff’s Dream Team, Núñez’s tenure will forever be remembered for the shocking departures of Ronaldo Nazário and Luis Figo. Hopefully, Barto’s legacy is similarly stained by the memories of Neymar and Messi.

All of that being said, even by the standards of broke-ass, post-Messi Barça, it’s tough to exaggerate just how “down bad” this club was in the summer of ‘03.

Ruin Comes Slowly, And Then All At Once

The rot under Núñez’s watch began to set in a few years before the foundation actually crumbled. In the summer of 1996, Núñez elected to move on from club icon and the architect of the Barça that we all take for granted, Johan Cruyff. Sacrilegious as it may be to say, taking into account the two men’s long-standing feud, Cruyff’s own, shall we say “abrasive” personality, and the fact that the move followed a pair of trophy-less campaigns, a case could be made — I absolutely would not make it, but one could — that Núñez was not unjustified.

In Cruyff’s place came former Ipswich Town, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting CP, Porto, and England national team manager Bobby Robson. Thanks to Robson’s relationships in the Netherlands, joining him in Barcelona on a then-world-record fee (€16-17 million in today’s money) was a lithe, 20-year-old, pre-injury Ronaldo Nazário, previously of PSV. Despite some wobbles and no shortage of drama, Ronaldo was astounding, not just scoring a then-record 47 goals in 49 appearances in all competitions but doing so with an otherworldly flair and genius.

He, Robson, a young Luis Figo, and the remnants of the Dream Team that won four straight league titles and the club’s first-ever European Cup in 1992, guided the club to an objectively outstanding season that yielded the Supercopa de España, the Cup Winners’ Cup, and the Copa del Rey – which Barça clinched against Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabéu, after which the “Cant del Barça” played in the home of their eternal rival. Had they not scuffled at various points against lackluster opposition, they might have overturned Madrid’s two-point final margin in the league table and achieved immortality. Alas…

That Robson was gone after that season, though unfair given he was named FIFA’s Coach of the Year, was not unexpected. It was a horrendously-kept secret that Robson would only ever see out half of his two-year contract, as Núñez had Ajax boss Louis van Gaal slated to take over in the summer of 1997. The bombshell that threw everything for a loop came when Núñez bungled negotiations with Ronaldo, resulting in the 21-year-old physical, technical, and instinctual platonic ideal of a striker moving to Inter Milan for another record fee (about €20 million today).

Just a few months later, Núñez was facing a vote of no-confidence instigated by “L’Elefant Blau,” a rival group headed by Joan Laporta of all people. Though Núñez survived that vote, his time in charge was clearly nearing its end. Despite a domestic double in his first season in charge, and another league title the following season, Van Gaal did little to provide a lifeline.

Between falling out with Rivaldo and insisting on playing the new superstar striker out of position on the left wing, to immediately and persistently feuding with the local press, to claiming that “cultural differences” were keeping the side from grasping his philosophy, despite spending big money on “his players” in 1998-99, it was not exactly smooth sailing under the Dutch manager. In May 2000, after a trophy-less third season in charge, Van Gaal resigned, telling the press “Yo me voy. Felicidades.” (“I am leaving. Congratulations.”) Many probably just nodded in agreement.

Consider: the situation was still nowhere near its nadir.

Plumbing the Depths

Almost exactly two months after Van Gaal’s departure, on July 24, 2000, in one of the most shocking and seismic transfer deals, superstar winger Luis Figo was transferred to Real Madrid. The following day, Núñez resigned from the presidency.

The €62 million that the move netted the club might have softened the blow if a) Barça did not desperately want to keep the electric 27-year-old who’d go on to win the 2000 Ballon d’Or; b) the club wasn’t still smarting from having another best-in-the-world player at or still approaching the peak of his powers pried away against its will; and c) he wasn’t joining them.

No, the cash did not soften the blow.

Nonetheless, in the wake of Figo and under new president, Joan Gaspart, Barça sent €54 million to Arsenal for Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit, €14 million for Real Betis striker Alonso, and €22 million for Valencia midfielder Gerard. The following summer, it was another €72 million on a pair of attackers, River Plate’s Javier Saviola and Cruzeiro’s Geovanni, in addition to Monaco defender Philippe Christanval. For good measure, in the summer of 2002, they splashed another €10 million on the darling of artists and aesthetes the world over, Boca Juniors’ Juan Román Riquelme.

Rock Bottom

OK, but, what literally did all of that buy?

In short, two more trophy-less post-Van Gaal seasons under Lorenzo Serra Ferrer and club fixture Carles Rexach, in which the side finished fourth in the league each time and, in 2001-02, got bounced in the first round of the Copa del Rey by third-tier side (then and now) UE Figueres. The 2002-03 season brought, for some reason, the return of van Gaal.

The Dutchman now had Riquelme with whom to feud after puzzlingly bringing in the inconsistent but ingenious Argentine playmaker as a replacement for his previous South American nemesis Rivaldo, whom he’d released for free with a year left on his contract. This time around, van Gaal didn’t even make it to February, leaving on January 28, 2003 by “mutual consent,” with the Blaugrana 12th in La Liga, 20 points from the top and just three points above the relegation zone, and once again out of the Copa del Rey in the first round, this time at the hands of third-tier (now fourth) Novelda CF.

Gaspart was out as president two weeks later with, Enric Reyna and a Managing Commission taking over until an election (which Joan Laporta won) could be held in the summer.

On the pitch, under a combination of interim managers Antonio de la Cruz and Radomir Antić, the side “improved” to sixth in the league and, less snarkily, pushed Juventus to extra time in the quarters of the Champions League, before falling to a 114th-minute Marcelo Zalayeta goal.

All of this to say: in the summer of 2003, the situation at Camp Nou was grim.

Enter the Malandro

ronaldinho barcelona

It’s into this madness that Ronaldinho stepped.

Though he’d played a significant role in Brazil’s World Cup triumph in Japan and South Korea in the summer of 2002 (we all remember this) and his hilarious talent was evident, at the time Ronaldinho wasn’t seen as a nailed-on cornerstone of a winning team. In fact, both his play and PSG’s performance in the league (from fourth to 11th) slipped in 2002-03 after an awesome previous season. Then there was his rocky relationship with manager Luis Fernández, who’d previously called out Ronaldinho for being too focused on the nightlife in Paris and never returning from his Brazilian holidays when he said he would.

Regardless, arriving on such a massive fee after a battle between Barça and Manchester United, as the lone signee of the “David Beckham, Thierry Henry or Ronaldinho” triumvirate promised by Laporta in his election bid, with the club in the doldrums, incredible pressure was sure to follow.

It’s a bit glib to shrug and say that “he just didn’t care” but, seriously, it really didn’t seem like he did.

Sure, a second-place finish in the league, two points clear of Real Madrid was certainly cause for optimism. So, too, was the fact that Ronaldinho netted team-bests of 15 goals in the league and 22 in all competitions. It also didn’t hurt that on September 3, 2003, his first competitive goal with the club, in his first home league game at Camp Nou, looked like this:

Though Ronaldinho’s first season in Spain was Barcelona’s fifth straight without silverware, it was clear that the club had found not just an immense talent or even a superstar, but a genius, icon, and talisman.

The following season, Barça with Ronaldinho front and center, but now flanked by an ascendant Xavi-Iniesta midfield and new signees Samuel Eto’o and Deco, and with a little Argentine teenager now in the first team, returned to the top of the league in a big way, holding the top spot in the table for the final 33 weeks of the season.

And, despite crashing in the Champions League’s round of 16 to Chelsea by a combined score of 5-4, Ronaldinho provided another taste of what he was capable of, scoring his second in the away leg at Stamford Bridge, by beating Petr Čech from just outside the box with a shimmy and a flat-footed finish:

He, of course, he brought the Bernabéu to its feet:

And did for the bicycle kick what Vince Carter did for the 360 windmill:

By the time all was said and done, over five seasons, he’d scored 94 goals in 207 appearances and led Barça to a pair each of league titles and Supercopas de España, as well as a second-ever Champions League crown in 2006.

Searching for the Words

All of that matters, of course it does – and, on its own, it’s damn impressive at that. However, any attempt to reduce the experience of watching Ronaldinho, or his meaning to the game itself and Barça specifically to numbers is an exercise in ignorance.

Some might say “Xavi was already there, Iniesta was coming, and they knew Messi was something.” Sure. But how long was all of that going to take to fully come together? And how ready were those dudes, especially then, to be front and center in the limelight every single day?

That generation, plus the numerous excellent players that the club signed, was allowed to develop and operate in optimal condition, with a glorious, joyous magician facilitating their success, without so much as a whiff of pettiness or jealousy.

Consider what happened about two months after that gorgeous goal at Stamford Bridge. In a home game against Albacete, Ronaldinho served up an awesome, knowing scoop that would become the first senior goal for one Lionel Messi:

That Ronaldinho, the reigning (and soon-to-be two-time) FIFA World Player of the Year and that year’s Ballon d’Or winner to-be celebrates with pure joy and by giving Messi a piggyback ride, speaks volumes. In case you need more, consider what the man himself said when accepting his Ballon d’Or later that year:

“This award says I’m the best player in the world, but I’m not even the best player at Barcelona… Someday I will explain that I was at the birth of one of the footballing greats: Leo Messi.”

I fear that I might keep adding stuff to this in the hope of finding the right combination of words to sum up what Ronaldinho meant, not just in general, but to this club at that time. I’ll finish by saying this:

Not only did Ronaldinho achieve all there was to achieve as a member of Barcelona, he did so with purity, innocence, and boundless elation. For every fan, everywhere he was a gift, a treasure. For FC Barcelona, he was the savior that demanded not that you suffer for your pleasure.

In Ronaldinho, Barça had a talisman and era-defining superstar who not only reached the very apex of the sport in the Blaugrana, but returned both silverware and a significant measure of self-esteem to Camp Nou. He facilitated the transition into the Messi era with humility and generosity. And he did it all with a smile, as the single most magical player the sport has ever seen.

A 2023 World Cup Preview Extravaganza

With the 2023 Women’s World Cup soon underway, we have a massive preview of all 32 teams squaring off in Australia and New Zealand. 

In a matter of hours, New Zealand and Norway will kick off the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Aukland. Soon after in Sydney, the tournament’s other co-hosts, Australia, will square off against Ireland in the opening match in Group B.

The United States women’s national team, winner of four previous World Cups including the last two in a row, come in as the favorites. Joining them in the contender class are defending EUROs champions England, Germany, Spain, France, and maybe Brazil, Sweden, and Norway.

This installment, the ninth ever, will be the first to feature an expanded field of 32 teams. Group play will go on until August 3, after which the knockout rounds will commence with the round of 16 on August 5. Over roughly two weeks from that point, the field will be whittled down to two finalists, who’ll battle for the biggest prize in international women’s football on August 20 in Sydney.

With kickoff fast approaching, we’re taking a look at each of the 32 teams taking part in the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand – their histories, reputations, current form, and players to watch.

Group A

New Zealand

In their history, New Zealand’s Football Ferns have played 15 World Cup matches. They’ve yet to record a victory or advance beyond the group stage.

They have shown signs of life in recent years and, with this tournament partially taking place on home soil, there’s hope that the Ferns, who feature 35-year-old Los Angeles-born Angel City FC defender and soon-to-be five-time World Cup participant Ali Riley, can notch a first World Cup win or even advance from Group A. Of course, optimism would be higher if the less-than-star-studded co-hosts weren’t coming into the tournament with no wins and just two goals from their last 10 matches.


norway womens world cup 2023

After dominating the first decade(ish) of major international women’s football, with two EUROs titles and a victory in the second Women’s World Cup in 1995 (they also reached the first-ever final in 1991), glory has eluded the Norwegians over the past quarter-century.

That looked poised to change at EURO 2022, as the Gresshoppene rolled into the tournament with a perfect qualifying record, led by two of the most nonchalantly spectacular and devastating players in the world, Caroline Graham Hansen of Barcelona, and, after a half-decade away in protest of the Norway Football Federation’s treatment of the women’s team, five-time Champions League winner and the first-ever Ballon d’Or Féminin winner, Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg.

After coming in as contenders and notching a 4-1 win over Northern Ireland in their opener, they squared off against hosts England, who, en route to winning the tournament on home soil, proceeded to dish out one of the most comprehensive beatdowns we’ll ever see, winning 8-0.

This team’s got youth, experience, a winning pedigree at club level, and world-class talent. On paper, they’re favorites again for a fairly deep run. That, of course, assumes certain scars have healed. This is a team hunting for redemption.


Here, meanwhile, is a team seeking out new horizons.

Try as I might, I cannot nutshell the ascent of the Philippines women’s national team over the past 20-ish months better than Defector’s Tom Ley has in the site’s preview of the Filipinas. Ley mentions how the side reached its first Asian Cup semifinals in 2022, which was followed by a 2022 AFF Women’s Championship title, another first for the team. At No. 46 in the latest FIFA rankings, the Philippines have never been ranked higher, and will make history no matter the results in their first ever World Cup.


switzerland womens world cup 2023

The Swiss women’s national team, or La Nati, has qualified for just three major tournaments in its history. All of those have come since 2015 and have yielded only a round of 16 World Cup appearance and two group stage EUROs exits, with a failed World Cup qualification bid mixed in.

On paper, a side that features a trio like PSG playmaker supreme Ramona Bachmann, Barça Femení’s literal Swiss army knife Ana-Maria Crnogorčević, and a star-in-waiting in Wolfsburg signee Riola Xhemaili should have no trouble cruising past New Zealand and the Philippines into the knockouts. However, while neither the highs nor the lows have been as extreme as those of the Norwegians, the Swiss must prove that they can make the most of their world-class individual talent.

Group B


There’s always going to be pressure on the home nation(s) at a major tournament to show out. New Zealand’s Football Ferns will be feeling this, though their pressure is not really expectations-driven.

Australia’s Matildas, however, will be feeling all of the heat as the host nation with the best (and generally pretty decent) shot at making a deep run in this tournament.

That’s because, despite never having finished better than sixth in a World Cup (2007), Australia is coming off of a best-ever major tournament finish (fourth in the 2020 Olympics), will not have to play a game outside of Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane in this competition, and, though not stacked with world-class talent, is led by a bona fide superstar in Chelsea’s Sam Kerr.

Republic of Ireland

Talking about “how fun it is to have the Irish at a World Cup” is something of a cliché. At least it would be if the men had qualified since 2002 or the women had made it, well, ever.

Beneficiaries of both this tournament’s expansion from 24 to 32 teams and a gut-wrenching 1-0 playoff win over Scotland in Glasgow, the Girls in Green, led by veteran talisman Denise O’Sullivan of the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage, are now preparing to take their first-ever World Cup touches.

The draw could have been kinder than to group them with hosts (and group favorites) Australia, world No. 7 Canada, and Nigeria, but there’s no sure thing in Group B, and it would not come as a shock if the Irish battle their way into the knockouts.


On the heels of bronze medals in 2012 and 2016, the Canadian women won Olympic gold in 2021 in Japan.

To commemorate the occasion, when the players announced plans to strike ahead of the SheBelieves Cup this past February in hopes of securing proper funding for the team and for girls’ and women’s programs in the country, the jackals (my words, not the site’s) at Canada Soccer saw fit to crush their efforts:

Sadly, the Canadians are by no means the only team in this tournament that’s battling both on-pitch opposition and bloodless bureaucrats — who, incidentally, are braying poverty.

It’s grotesquely unfair to say that these women must “overcome adversity” or “distractions,” when, in fact, they’ve only ever borne the brunt of others’ neglect and mismanagement. On the bright side, this is an extremely talented team, led by Jessie Fleming, Kadeisha Buchanan, and legend Christine Sinclair. The Canadians could very well deliver a highly satisfying backhand to a bunch of mediocrities in expensive suits.


nigeria womens world cup 2023

Nigeria is, without question, Africa’s women’s football superpower. Of the 14 women’s AFCON tournaments that have ever been held, Nigeria has won 11. And they’ve qualified for every World Cup since the women’s competition began in 1991. Led by the continent’s greatest-ever women’s player, Barcelona’s Asisat Oshoala, still in her prime, this side should be a solid bet to emerge from this tournament’s toughest group.

However, in those previous eight World Cup appearances, the Super Eagles have only advanced out of the group stage twice, and only once (round of 16 in 2019) in the past two decades. To make matters worse, coach Randy Waldrum (who has no shortage of very possibly justified detractors) and the team are in open conflict with the Nigeria Football Federation over unpaid salaries and bonuses, with rumors persisting as recently as a week ago that the players are considering a boycott.

In keeping with what’s shaping up to be the theme of this tournament: I’d love to see these women do well for their own sake. I just wish that a gaggle of do-nothing bureaucrats weren’t in a position to immediately co-op that success.

Group C


spain womens world cup 2023

With 32 teams to cover and a single article in which to do it, I’d really love to cruise through a few of these. Sadly, there are just too many coach- and/or federation-inflicted indignities that bear mentioning. Welcome to Spain!

Ten months ago, on the heels of a disastrous EUROs campaign that saw Ballon d’Or winner and talisman Alexia Putellas tear her ACL just days before the side’s opener, 15 members of the team (basically the Barça contingent) all sent a letter to the Spanish federation (RFEF), citing, among other things, the selections, tactics, training sessions, and injury management of manager Jorge Vilda, and asked not to be called up for national team duty unless changes were made.

Where you place Vilda on the “failson continuum” will vary. But consider: under his guidance, the Spanish women won the Algarve Cup in 2017, and…that’s it. No other trophies, no finals, not even particularly good vibes. And, despite the vocal complaints, he’s remained in the job for going on eight years. I guess having a dad who’s a fixture in Spanish football and was once a member of the backroom staff for Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team” has its privileges.

Naturally, the RFEF was vocal in its support for Vilda, deeming the players’ actions “an unacceptable rebellion” and stating that Las 15 would only be allowed back onto the national team if they “accept their mistake and ask for forgiveness.”

Warm fuzzies, huh?

Fast forward to the eve of the World Cup. Most of Las 15, most notably Aitana Bonmatí, along with Alexia and Irene Paredes (neither of whom was a part of the 15, but both of whom supported their stance) are back in the mix. Even with their Barça teammates Patri Guijarro and Mapi León conspicuously absent, this team, on paper, should have designs on no worse than a semifinal berth. In reality, however, it remains to be seen if Vilda has either the tactical or personal acumen to inspire any kind of meaningful surge.

Costa Rica

Over the past decade, Las Ticas have pulled off some rather impressive upsets.

Eight years ago, on the heels of a shocking win over Mexico to reach the CONCACAF Championship final that qualified them for the 2015 World Cup, Las Ticas took a point off of Spain in their first-ever World Cup match, and another against South Korea with an 89th-minute equalizer in their second. A respectable 1-0 loss to Brazil ended their tournament.

This time around, they finished fourth in the CONCACAF Championship and once again secured a spot in the World Cup.

More impressively, in April 2022, Las Ticas, at the time in a dispute with their own collection of ineffectual suits, actually got Costa Rica’s federation to officially guarantee numerous improvements to their working conditions as well as the same proportional percentage of bonuses as the men’s team.

Las Ticas will again be looking to notch unlikely results against Spain and an Asian side (this time Japan) in a tricky World Cup group – though this time they’ll be doing it without legend Shirley Cruz, who played for the national team for an incredible 21 years. Manage that feat against either opponent and a win over Zambia in the group stage finale could land them in the knockouts. While somewhat unlikely, this group seems to be making a habit of beating the odds.


zambia womens world cup 2023

Zambia’s Copper Queens secured a World Cup berth — the first ever for the nation, men’s or women’s — with an upset win in the third-place match of the Africa Cup of Nations over Nigeria. It’s worth noting that, over the past three years, the Copper Queens have also appeared in their first-ever Olympic games and won the 2021 COSAFA Women’s Championship, held between national teams from Southern Africa.

Those results, plus the return of Barbra Banda, who “failed a gender verification test” and was suspended for last summer’s AFCON for “unacceptable testosterone levels” despite no evidence of doping, are reasons for optimism. Like the Costa Ricans, the Zambians will be desperate for a result against Spain or Japan, to set up a win-and-you’re-through group stage finale against their fellow underdogs.


A dozen years ago, Japan kicked off one of the most astounding runs in international football. First, they won the 2011 World Cup, knocking off Germany and Sweden en route to the final, where they upset the U.S. on penalties. They then captured silver in the 2012 Olympics and won their first-ever Asian Cup in 2014.

Recent results have been all over the map, from failing to qualify for the Olympics in 2016, to another Asian Cup win in 2018, to some gradually improving knockout round exits in the 2019 World Cup (round of 16), 2020 Olympics (quarters), and 2022 Asian Cup (semis).

Though Costa Rica and Zambia promise to be plucky, this Nadeshiko side should get through this group. Whether they’re able to approach the glories of the last decade rests with a pair of outstanding midfielders: Angel City FC’s Jun Endo and Manchester City’s brilliant Yui Hasegawa.

Group D


Still basking in the glow of last summer’s spectacular march to European glory, the Lionesses enter this tournament as contenders, alongside the likes of the U.S. and the side they defeated in front of an English record 87,192 in last year’s EUROs final, Germany.

Despite some notable absences, the squad that Sarina Wiegman is bringing Down Under (which… surprise, has been getting jerked around by the FA over money) is still what one might, in technical terms, refer to as “stacked.”

Man United’s Mary Earps is in goal. Millie Bright (Chelsea), Lucy Bronze (Barça), Alex Greenwood (Manchester City), and Lotte Wubben-Moy (Arsenal) make up the defensive foundation. The midfield features Bayern Munich’s Georgia Stanway, Keira Walsh (Barça), Katie Zelem, and her Man United teammate, 23-year-old “maestra” Ella Toone. Up front, England will feature, among others, Aston Villa’s Rachel Daly, Tottenham’s Bethany England, Man City’s Lauren Hemp, Chelsea’s Lauren James, and Man United’s 24-year-old attacker extraordinaire, Alessia Russo.

However, the Lionesses are going to face some challenges. For starters, there’s the delightful tendency among the English press to transform a spectacular triumph into both a millstone for the players to wear around their necks and a cudgel with which to beat them.

On top of that, England will be without recently retired veterans Jill Scott and Ellen White, star defender and captain Leah Williamson, her fellow Arsenal star, attacker Beth Mead, and two-time PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year Fran Kirby.

All of that being said, England are rightly considered contenders at this World Cup. Even if they don’t replicate last summer’s magic, this is still an excellent team.


Whatever time and additional word count I dedicate to highlighting the details of the Haitian women’s incredible ascent over the past couple of years, in the wake of a FIFA-funded overhaul of the Haitian federation and its facilities following the 2010 earthquake that devastated the nation, and in spite of the vilest man to be mentioned here, former Haitian Football Federation president Yves Jean-Bart, who was banned for life in October 2020 for a litany of heinous violations, including the alleged coercion of underaged players into sex and forced abortions upon those whom he impregnated, would only be paraphrasing Billy Haisley’s excellent preview at Defector.


denmark womens world cup 2023

If a front-footed, attacking philosophy and a bona fide superstar and legend of the game surrounded by excellent young talent is of interest to you, allow me to introduce, for the first time in the World Cup since 2007, the Danes.

Denmark is led into this tournament by striker, captain, two-time UEFA Player of the Year, scorer of 70 goals in 140 international appearances, and another 140 in 178 appearances in all competitions for Wolfsburg and Chelsea since 2017-18, Pernille Harder. Supporting this side’s talisman are Arsenal midfielder Kathrine Kuhl, who’s somehow already 40 international caps at age 19, 23-year-old North Carolina Courage forward Mille Gejl, and 22-year-old Real Madrid defender Sofie Svava.

As I alluded to above, this is a side that’s renowned for its attack-first aggressiveness, which should result in some serious fireworks, as the side’s +38 goal differential in qualifying would suggest. Admittedly, this approach may cost them a finger or two against England but could light up the sky against China and Haiti. That, broadly, is where this team is at. Denmark should, if not cruise, then at least overcome the bottom two in this group to reach the knockouts and, with a break or two, at least the quarterfinals.


china womens world cup 2023

Once upon a time, China was one of the powers of the women’s international game. They dominated Asia, winning an awesome seven straight Asian Cups between 1986 and 1999. The Chinese also reached at least the quarterfinals in six of the first eight World Cups, and appeared opposite the USWNT in the “Brandi Chastain final” in 1999.

However, sledding has gotten decidedly tougher for the spectacularly-named Steel Roses over the past couple of decades. In the Asian Cup, they have just one final appearance since 2008 (which they won in 2022), and even failed to qualify for the 2011 World Cup.

In 2019, despite an extremely limp performance, China somehow advanced to the knockouts, where they were summarily dismissed by Italy. Then, at the 2020 Olympics, despite scoring six goals in three matches, they managed only a single point and were bounced after the group stage after conceding 17 goals in three matches.

That triumph in the 2022 Asian Cup should buoy this side. However, China’s struggled seriously against quality European competition of late and is likely to have its hands full at both ends of the pitch against both England and Denmark.

Group E


We can keep things very simple here. The USWNT, one of the most consistently successful dominant teams in modern sports history, has won the last two World Cups and arrives Down Under looking for an elusive three-peat.

They’re not a lock to secure it, especially with the losses of Mallory Swanson, Christen Press, Becky Sauerbrunn, Sam Mewis, and Catarina Macario to injury and Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle just returning. Compounding any concerns is the side’s middling form over the past almost-year, during which they’ve lost to England, Spain, and Germany and failed to impress (in fairness, by USWNT standards) even when they’ve won.

ALL of that being said…

This is still a team that rolls into this tournament with five two-time World Cup winners (Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Julie Ertz, and Alyssa Naeher), another one-time winner (and former NWSL MVP) in Crystal Dunn, and an incredibly talented crew of first-timers in Lynn Williams, Naomi Girma, reigning NWSL MVP Sophia Smith, and Trinity Rodman.

Until further notice, the World Cup remains a “victory or bust” proposition for the USWNT.


netherlands womens world cup 2023

Given the Netherlands’ immense impact on the sport throughout the decades, authored by greats like Cruyff, Neeskens, Koeman, Van Basten, Gullit, Rijkaard, Begkamp, and Robben, and the star power of PSG’s Lieke Martens, Lyon’s Danielle van de Donk, and Wolfsburg’s Jill Roord, it’s pretty easy to assume that the Netherlands is one of the foundational nations in the history of women’s football. Hardly.

The Dutch women’s team, also known as De OranjeLeeuwinnen (the Orange Lionesses) only made its World Cup debut in 2015 and managed a respectable round of 16 showing. Then, two years later, with the EUROs taking place on home soil, they went and won the damn thing Two years after that, at the 2019 World Cup in France, De OranjeLeeuwinnen further cemented their status as an emerging superpower by reaching the final, which they lost respectably to the USWNT, 2-0.

The road’s been uneven, shall we say, since. In 2021, at the Olympics in Tokyo, it was another close call against the USWNT in the quarterfinals, as a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes ended in a defeat on penalties. Then, at last summer’s European Championship in England, the Dutch underwhelmed in group play, finishing second to Sweden on goal difference before falling in extra time to France in the quarterfinals, 1-0.

None of this is embarrassing, catastrophic, or otherwise unsalvageable. After all, Martens and Van de Donk are still very much in the fold, Roord is a star in her prime, and PSV’s 19-year-old rising star Esmee Brugts is here, representing the next wave of talent.

Unfortunately, however, Vivianne Miedema, scorer of 256 goals in 297 matches (all competitions) at club level and another 95 in 115 international caps remains sidelined with an ACL injury, which seemingly puts a ceiling on expectations for this team – both over the next month Down Under, and possibly going forward.


vietnam womens world cup 2023

Kudos to this Vietnamese side for battling through a pair of playoffs in February to reach the nation’s first-ever (men’s or women’s) World Cup and, in the least patronizing way possible, enjoy your three matches.

Even in a lesser group, making much noise would be an awfully tall order for the Vietnamese. Against highly-motivated USWNT and Netherlands sides and an on-the-rise Portugal, a goal or two and a few magical moments would signal success.


Like the Netherlands, based on the impact of Portugal’s men’s team and Portuguese players on the football landscape, it’s reasonable to assume that the nation is also near the forefront of the women’s game. Alas, this is emphatically not the case.

Where the men’s team has not only qualified but advanced past the group stage of every World Cup since 2002 and every EUROs since 1996, the Portuguese women’s side has group-stage exits from the EUROs (their qualification in 2022 was only as a replacement for Russia, which was expelled from the field) and has yet to kick a ball at a World Cup.

Of course, this all makes more sense when you consider that it wasn’t until 2016 that full professionalism came to Portugal’s domestic women’s league, and that the nation’s biggest clubs, Sporting CP, Benfica, and Porto, didn’t respectively begin seriously fielding women’s sides until 2016, 2018, and… crickets.

Despite the later start, Benfica has taken women’s football very seriously, to the point that they’re now the country’s top team, winners of three straight league titles and three league cups in four years, and the source of a significant portion of the national team’s World Cup lineup.

This is a rapidly improving team that should begin making a mark on the international scene in short order. Even this time around, Portugal should be not just competitive but potentially problematic for the top two in this group, and could even wind up in a position to grab second place in the group should the Netherlands stumble.

Regardless of the end result, the Portuguese should be one of the more entertaining sides in this tournament, thanks to the artistry and spectacular skill of a pair of Benfica stars — the Ricardo Quaresma of the women’s game, 28-year-old Jéssica Silva:

and Portugal’s best candidate for true superstardom, 19-year-old Francisca “Kika” Nazareth:

Group F


As of early March, the French women’s national team was in utter chaos. Wendie Renard, the national team’s captain and one of the most decorated players in club football history, announced she was departing the international scene, in the interest of her mental health.

Almost immediately afterward, another pair of national team stars, PSG’s Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani, announced that they were following Renard’s lead.

Though the trio didn’t explicitly state the reasoning behind their decisions, it was reported that the impetus was the continued presence of then-national team coach Corinne Diacre (whose “controversies” section on Wikipedia is a sight to behold), who’d stripped Renard of the captaincy immediately after getting the job in 2017, and then cut her own selection for captain, Amandine Henry, in 2019, prompting the former Lyon and current Angel City midfielder to describe the vibe around the national team as one of “complete and utter chaos.”

Two weeks later – during which French Football Federation president Noël Le Graët resigned due to allegations of sexual and general harassmentDiacre was fired.

Sheer madness.

Though the results will ultimately tell the tale, the situation around the French women’s team has rebounded astoundingly. Three weeks after Diacre’s ouster, Hervé Renard (no relation to Wendie) – a newcomer to the women’s game but a three-time African Confederation Coach of the Year and winner of the Africa Cup of Nations with both Ivory Coast (2015) and Zambia (2012), and the 2013 COSAFA Cup with Zambia – resigned his post with Saudi Arabia’s men’s team and signed on as manager.

In the weeks that followed, Wendie Renard and Diani returned to the national team and now, along with midfielders Grace Geyoro and veteran Kenza Dali (who should step in for the injured Henry), standout fullbacks Selma Bacha and Sakina Karchaoui, and France’s leading all-time scorer, Eugenie Le Sommer, the French roll into this tournament with not only a roster worthy of winning the whole thing, but vibes to match.


Way back when, in the preamble to this now rather hefty preview, I named Brazil as a contender for the World Cup, alongside the USWNT and four star-studded European powers. That Brazil is one of the top half dozen or so teams in this competition still seems a perfectly reasonable assertion. That being said, I don’t know if this iteration of the Seleçao is truly equipped to hang with the U.S., defending EUROs champs England, Germany, France, or Spain.

So, why Brazil? I mean, even their men’s side has stopped threatening the World Cup’s latter stages.

In a word? Marta. Actually, three words – Marta and Kerolina.

I’m not going to try and sum up Marta. We’re already so many words in. She’s the best to ever do it in the women’s game — and if you need convincing on that point I really don’t know what to tell you.

At 37 years of age, Marta is far from a ceremonial selection, though, in the wake of a torn ACL suffered in March 2022 (she’s reportedly fully recovered), she is much more talisman than fulcrum these days. However, she, goalkeeper Bárbara, and defender Tamires, each of whom is 35, comprise one of the most experienced, accomplished, and talented (especially in their days) trio in the world. Of course, a team can’t win on experience and legendary names alone.

Thankfully for the Seleçao, that veteran core is supported by one of the NWSL’s best attackers in Debinha (now of the Kansas City Current), who scored 42 goals in 115 appearances for the North Carolina Courage and helped lead the team to back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019.

For as excellent as Debinha is, it’s another attacker, this one currently with the Courage, 23-year-old Kerolin – scorer of eight goals on 13 shots on target as not even an out-and-out striker – who’s got the potential to send shockwaves through this tournament, help Brazil shock the world (such a weird thing to say about a World Cup), and drop the curtain on Marta’s astounding international career in serious style.

However this all goes, Marta has come too far and done far too much, and Kerolina and Debinha are just too damn good for a team with all of them on it to be counted out.


jamaica womens world cup 2023

For a nation whose women’s football program literally did not exist between 2010 and 2014 due to a lack of funding, a first-ever appearance in 2019 – even one that yielded no points, just one goal, and a -11 goal difference in three matches – represented a genuine triumph.

Now, four years on, the Reggae Girlz, on the heels of a second straight third-place finish in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship, have some real aspirations. It helps that they’re represented in most of the world’s top domestic leagues and have a couple of irrepressible talents.

Leading the way is captain Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who was still in college at Tennessee during the last World Cup. Shaw is now a legitimate star and one of the world’s best strikers. Since 2019, she’s scored 61 goals in 74 league appearances with Bordeaux and Manchester City and an astonishing 56 in 38 international appearances.

The Reggae Girlz also have a budding superstar-in-waiting in talented speedster Jody Brown, who’s helped Florida State to three ACC Women’s Soccer Tournament titles, two ACC regular season titles, and a national title in 2021, and was previously named Young Player of the Tournament and a member of the Best XI in the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship.

Unfortunately, the Reggae Girlz find themselves in a group with one of the tournament’s favorites in France and a very talented (if not peak) Brazil, so success this time around realistically probably involves a pair of strong showings there, an emphatic win over Panama, and yet more momentum heading into 2027.


panama womens world cup 2023

Along with Haiti and Vietnam, Panama is the team in this tournament of with the lowest expectations. Given that no one on this team has made even 20 international appearances and coach Ignacio Quintana is only 36 years of age and has not previously held the top spot in the dugout, this would be true, even in a vacuum.

As with Jamaica, landing in a group with Brazil and France does nothing to help.

Las Canaleras will be hoping to compete, score a couple of goals, and, with a break or two, nip a point off of Jamaica.

Group G


sweden womens world cup 2023

Led by Barcelona’s do-everything star Fridolina Rolfö, Sweden went into EURO 2022 as one of the favorites, riding the momentum of a third-place finish at the 2019 World Cup and a run to the silver at the Tokyo Olympics, which included an emphatic 3-0 defeat of the USWNT in the group stage.

Unfortunately for the Swedes, they suffered a similar fate to their neighbors from Norway. Though they won their EUROs group, edging out the Netherlands on goal difference and snuck past Belgium 1-0 on a 92nd-minute winner in the quarterfinals, Sweden were also – if less embarrassingly – summarily dismissed by eventual champs England, 4-0.

It’s a similar story this time around in Australia and New Zealand, as a loaded squad featuring Rolfö, midfielder Filippa Angeldahl, defender Magdalena Eriksson, and star Arsenal striker Stina Blackstenius, whose aggressiveness and pressing have driven Peter Gerhardsson to declare “one of my best defenders is our center forward.”

The defeat to England a year ago left a very bitter taste and has seemingly knocked the Swedes, in perception, at least, from the top class of contenders. It’s safe to assume, however, that a team with this much top-tier talent that has reached at least the semifinals in five of their last six major tournaments will be heard from before all’s said and done.

South Africa

South Africa cruises into this World Cup on an unprecedented wave of momentum. Not only have Banyana Banyana captured their first-ever WAFCON title, they did so on the back of a clean sweep – six wins from six – in the tournament. They will keep striving for uncharted territory Down Under, as, in their second appearance on the big stage, they set out in search of their first World Cup victory.

Four years ago in France, there was cause for enthusiasm if not optimism for Banyana Banyana, who were drawn into a group with powers Germany and Spain, and one-time power China. This time, squaring off against Italy and Argentina, and group favorites Sweden, the South African women should have their sights set on not only a first-ever win in a World Cup but also an inaugural appearance in the knockouts.


italy womens world cup 2023

Maybe don’t ask how things were going before, but the last few years have been pretty good for women’s football in Italy.

In 2019, after a 20-year absence, Le Azzurre not only returned to the World Cup, but topped a group that included Australia and Brazil and won a knockout round match against China before falling to eventual runners-up Holland in the quarterfinals. Building on that foundation, this past season saw Serie A not only become a professional league but place one side (Roma) in the Champions League knockouts while another (Juventus) pushed eight-time champs Lyon to the brink.

In between, of course, came the disappointment of EURO 2022, but the Italians would be justified in feeling confident ahead of Australia/New Zealand 2023.

This talented Italian squad, led by versatile veteran Juventus attacker Cristiana Girelli (25 club goals this season), her teammate, attacking midfielder Arianna Caruso (eight goals and 11 assists in all club competitions), and Roma’s dynamic duo of Valentina Giacinti (20 goals in all competitions) and midfielder Manuela Giugliano (10 goals and nine assists), can hit the ground running against Argentina in their July 24 opener, they’ll set themselves up well to return to the knockouts.


On three previous occasions (2003, 2007, and 2019) have La Albiceleste appeared at the Women’s World Cup. They’ve yet to win a match (two draws and seven losses, and failed to score a goal in their first seven matches.

It’s worth noting that coach German Portanova’s side comes into this tournament in good form, with five wins and no losses in their last six, outscoring opponents 15-1 in that span. Now, it’s also worth noting that the best team they faced during that run (twice) was New Zealand and that their last match preceding this stretch, in November in North Africa against Spain, ended in a 7-0 defeat.

All this to say that while Argentina is certainly improving, well-coached and hard-working, this is not yet a side that’s ready to square off against top-quality opposition on the big stage.

Group H


It’s a patently bizarre thing to say, but it’s tough to think of a reigning major tournament runner-up, from a nation that’s once won consecutive World Cups (2003 and 2007), with a greater mix of youth, experience, depth, and continuity, all of it talented, that I’ve contemplated less.

Mind you, this is not because I’m counting out or otherwise unimpressed with this team. Rather, it’s just all so… German. And I don’t mean stylistically, as electrically evidenced by 21-year-old Lena Oberdorf.

There’s just so much competence, so little tangible weakness, and, as best I can tell, so little drama. Midfielders Giulia Gwinn, Linda Dallmann, and Dszenifer Marozsán are lost to (respectively) knee and ankle injuries, and international retirement? No problem! Just turn to Oberdorf, Däbritz, the Wolfsburg trio of Jule Brand, Svenja Huth, and Lena Lattwein, Chelsea’s Melanie Leupolz, and the Bayern duo of Sydney Lohmann and Lina Magull. All that, with a front line anchored by Lea Schüller, 22-year-old Klara Bühl of Bayern, and Alexandra Popp, scorer of 61 goals in 127 international caps and 19 in 31 league/Champions League matches last season.

For good measure, the back line is anchored by Wolfsburg’s veteran pairing of Marina Hegering and Kathrin Hendrich, in front of two of the world’s best goalkeepers in Merle Frohms (also of Wolfsburg) and Chelsea’s Ann-Katrin Berger.

There’s a reason that, if you’re being completely reasonable, the Germans are second (and no worse than third) favorites behind the U.S. (and maybe France) to win the whole thing.


morocco womens world cup 2023

Between 2000 and 2002, the Atlas Lionesses failed to qualify for every major tournament in which they were eligible to take place – 10 AFCONs, six Olympics, and six World Cups.

From this point forward, Moroccan football federation president Fouzi Lekjaa set in motion — not with lip service or half measures, but real steps — a comprehensive, considered yet aggressive plan to grow the women’s game in Morocco. Going back to Defector’s excellent team previews, and another from Billy Haisley that lays it all out beautifully.

The result, just three years on, is a tough and talented Atlas Lionesses team that’s poised to, if not replicate the heroics of the men’s team this past November then at least, equally remarkably, compete in every game, advance out of the group stage, and give some traditional power a really tough time.

South Korea

South Korea is an on-paper dark horse that has yet to deliver on the morsels of promise that they’ve laid out over the years. The 2023 World Cup seems – again, on paper – like an excellent opportunity to ride a solid defense past a couple of non-pedigreed opponents into second place behind Germany and into the knockouts. It’s not terribly difficult to make this case, especially given the talent on this team in the forms of Lee Geum-min, Cho So-hyun, and Chelsea’s standout attacking midfielder Ji So-yun:

It’s worth noting, however, that while South Korea has won three straight friendlies in the run-up to this tournament, two of those wins have come over Zambia and the third over Haiti, with all three games taking place in South Korea.

Prior to those matches, South Koreans lost all three matches in the Arnold Clark Cup in England in February, two of them (4-0 to England, 2-1 to Italy) against teams in this competition.

It’s easy to make the case, on paper, that relatively easy passage through to the knockouts is in the cards. However, and maybe I’m completely crazy here, but, as of right now, I’m a bigger believer in Moroccan momentum than the theoretical upside of South Korea.


Colombia is another team that will see itself at the top of the non-Germany food chain in Group H. After all, the Colombians have finished second in three of the last four Copas America, losing each term in the final to Brazil including 2022, and second and first in the Pan American Games in 2015 and 2019 — though it’s worth noting they didn’t qualify in 2023.

Less than ideal for the Colombians is their current form. In 2023, they’ve managed just two wins for from seven matches: a 1-0 over Nigeria in Mexico and a 2-0 away to Panama. And while their two losses, 5-2 against France and 2-1 Italy, are completely justifiable, their remaining matches during this span have resulted in draws with Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama.

I’ve already stated that I’m of the belief that Morocco will emerge out group H. I like Colombia to take at least a point in their opener against South Korea, setting up a compelling battle in the group stage finale against the Atlas Lionesses for second place and a spot in the knockouts.

This Week in MLS’ Eli Lesser Joins the Urban Pitch Podcast


MLS content creator Eli Lesser is the latest guest on the Urban Pitch Podcast! We discuss all things American soccer — from how he got his start covering the league to the differences between a journalist and content creator. 

Eli Lesser is a busy guy. As one of the more prominent content creators in MLS, he has consistently been covering the league and all of its drama since 2015. His “This Week in MLS” accounts, particularly on Instagram, have become quite popular and he has become well known across the American soccer community.

As an adamant LA Galaxy fan, much of his coverage has surrounded the vibrant El Trafico rivalry, and we discuss his thoughts on how it has helped the league, how the LA soccer scene has changed since LAFC joined the fray, and how he’s dealt with sticky situations involving rival fans.

You can watch the entire podcast on YouTube, or listen to the audio on streaming services including Apple and Spotify.

The Winners, Losers, and Hopefuls From the USMNT’s Meager CONCACAF Gold Cup


The USMNT’s Gold Cup run ended with a penalty shootout loss to Panama, leaving Mexico to win their ninth championship on the day Lionel Messi signed with Inter Miami. Here are the winners, losers, and hopefuls of the USMNT’s mundane Gold Cup performance.

In one of the most insignificant CONCACAF Gold Cups in recent memory, Mexico was able to stop the bleeding and win their ninth tournament title with a 1-0 win over Panama. Mexico came into the tournament on life support after firing their coach and losing to the United States men’s national team in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal.

The ninth title won by El Tri ranks them two Gold Cups ahead of the USMNT, who sent a B-squad — more like C-squad — to the tournament. The Americans were eliminated by Panama in a semifinal where the team looked winded and without any ideas going forward.

In the middle of the region’s premier international tournament, the eyes of the soccer world were in Fort Lauderdale as Lionel Messi was officially presented as a player for MLS side Inter Miami. The fact that the U.S. team that barely put together a respectable roster for the cup, combined with Messi’s announcement, took a lot of juice away from El Tri’s big championship.

In that context, BJ Callaghan shouldered the blame as his U.S. squad could not break down Panama, stating in a press conference, “These are all challenges, and each team has different challenges that they have to face, and we continually work and then we talk about how we’re going to respond to them. So, for me, it’s part of what happens when you are in the group stage and knockout games. You deal with a lot of different factors, and you have to learn how to deal with it, and we were able to get a lot of experience in doing it.”

If the USMNT learned anything from the Gold Cup, it was that there is a major gap between its top roster and everything that comes after it. The CONCACAF region is in such dire straits that this USMNT team still managed to make it to the semifinals of the tournament with relative ease, despite having to defeat Canada on penalties in the round of 16.

With the Gold Cup officially out of the way, U.S. Soccer and the USMNT can now move on to the second part of the Gregg Berhalter era, which will kick off in September, and is set to end the year in November with key matches in the Nations League quarterfinals that determine who qualifies to the 2024 Copa America.

Barring a disaster, the USMNT should be in the 2024 continental tournament, and should also answer a handful of roster questions after the October friendlies against Germany and Ghana.

Berhalter did not coach the team in the Gold Cup, as his mind is on “bigger issues” according to U.S. Soccer, although what those issues are have yet to be made public. Still the incoming manager can take these notes into consideration as he works towards having the USMNT upset many in Copa America and the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Winners of the Gold Cup

Matt Turner

The Arsenal netminder won the starting position a little over a year ago, and with the Gold Cup continues to cement that he is the No. 1 goalkeeper for the team.

Bryan Reynolds

He started strong but slowed as the tournament progressed, however Brian Reynolds still has a lot of quality and if his club situation improves, he could beat out a few players on the national team.

Miles Robinson

Despite a few hiccups in the tournament, Miles Robinson with better quality around him will be a major contributor in defense for the U.S.

Jalen Neal

If his progression continues to go upward and he lands on a good European club, Jalen Neal could beat out a few in the USMNT defense. All the qualities are there to play in the Berhalter system.

Gianluca Busio

Gianluca Busio is a hard worker with great passing and shooting qualities. Down the pecking order, the former Sporting Kansas City midfielder could challenge for a place on the A team if he improves his club standing.

Jesús Ferreira

Two hat tricks and a clutch goal against Panama, Jesús Ferreira did his job of staying relevant, but with the top strikers of the USMNT now playing in Europe, he needs to find a proper landing spot in the old country soon. Still Ferreira is a Berhalter player, but if his other counterparts start off strong it’s hard to justify his inclusion on a top roster.

Hopefuls of the Gold Cup

Brandon Vázquez

He could really be the fourth USMNT striker in the depth chart. Brandon Vázquez gives the position something different than Folarin Balogun, Ricardo Pepi, and Josh Sargent. He’s a target striker and could be useful when the game call for crosses in the box.

Djordje Mihailovic

Djordje Mihailovic started the tournament well, but wilted as the games got more challenging. It will be hard for him to get into the A squad unless he tears it up in the Netherlands this season.

Cade Cowell

Still very green, Cade Cowell will need to showcase more at the club level to get a sniff at the full national team.

Losers of the Gold Cup

Cristian Roldan, Jordan Morris, and Aaron Long

usmnt gold cup

These three have nothing to offer the national team anymore at this point. There are simply more talented players in Europe and in MLS to consider.

Alejandro Zendejas

One bad game after another, no one’s stock plummeted more than the Club America winger.

Alan Soñora

I still don’t understand the effort to incorporate Alan Soñora, when other players are more deserving of a call up before the Argentine-American.


The confederation can’t keep having back-to-back tournaments like they do. Clearly having the U.S. skip one does little to keep the competition interesting. For the 2030 cycle it would be in the best interest to find a way for the Nations League to end in one summer and the Gold Cup to be played in the next.

Different Perspectives on Christian Pulisic’s Move to AC Milan


Christian Pulisic is on his way to AC Milan and Serie A, a fresh start for the talented USMNT winger. ESPN’s Vito De Palma and Rosario Pompizzi along with former USMNT legend Tony Meola weigh in on Pulisic’s next chapter.

Christian Pulisic’s time at Chelsea is finally at an end. It was a long and at times frustrating four seasons which saw the American show his quality, but injuries and a revolving door of coaches saw him reduced to junk minutes. Towards the end of his tenure, despite an impressive FIFA World Cup in Qatar and inexplicably in one of Chelsea’s worst seasons, Pulisic was a non-factor.

It should come as no surprise that Pulisic had a down year. Chelsea was a mess, overspending on players and having really no clue what to do with them. There was plenty of talent on the squad, but mismanagement and a general lack of direction led to the club’s worst Premier League finish since the 1993-94 season.

Pulisic never played a full 90 minutes in 2022-23 for Chelsea in the Premier League, and the most he went was 87 minutes against Nottingham Forest. He played only two minutes against Newcastle United to close out the season with the writing on the wall that he was on his way out.

Still, Pulisic put on a smile and never once publicly bashed the club or played the victim card. Overall, he can look back fondly at his time at Chelsea with 145 games played, 26 goals, and 21 assists. Pulisic also took home three international titles, the biggest being the UEFA Champions League in 2021, playing a magnificent semifinal leg against Real Madrid.

Enter AC Milan

pulisic milan

With Pulisic in need of a change of scenery and not on the wish list of the best teams in England, the American and his people wisely looked elsewhere, and AC Milan came calling.

Milan, who are going through a bit of a change at the management side with the departure of club legend and sporting director Paolo Maldini, feel confident they have a team that can fight for a Serie A title and challenge for a deep run in the Champions League.

Milan finished fourth in Serie A and were semifinalists of last season’s Champions League. The team enters this season with Olivier Giroud, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Rafael Leão, and Davide Calabria as their central figures.

Now they can add Pulisic to that list, as manager Stefano Pioli is reported to favor the American playing down the middle of the attack with Leão on the left wing and Giroud up top. It makes for an interesting trio.

Pulisic was met with a lot of fan favor upon his arrival for his medical in Milan, with cheers of welcome and fighting cries from the Milan faithful. But how do some members of the media feel about the arrival of the American?

The Buzz on Christian Pulisic

ESPN in Argentina and longtime Serie A expert Vito De Palma thinks the American and other signings that are made in the post-Maldini era will be under the microscope.

“Pulisic is a quality signing no question, and he is coming to play in a position that AC Milan did not have covered,” De Palma said. “The team had a problem playing in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. In that system the team had issues on the right wing, Junior Messias or Alexis Saelemaekers were not really covering the position properly. So, it was a major hole to fill.

“Pulisic is coming to fill that void. He is young, he has played for big clubs and won major titles, there should be no issues when it comes to his adaptation. The main issue right now is what happened with Maldini and the sale of Sandro Tonali. The supporters are not very happy with the board. The AC Milan fans are a bit nervous and there will be some pressure for Pulisic to perform from the start.”

For former United States men’s national team goalkeeper and longtime AC Milan fan Tony Meola, the move of Pulisic to Milan is just what the American needed.

“I’ve been saying on air for two years, I thought this was the right club for Pulisic to go to for so many reasons,” Meola said. “Historic Club, UEFA Champions League football, and he fits perfectly into the way Pioli wants to play. His ability on the ball through buildup, his willingness to take defenders on 1v1 when open, and his work to get out on a counterattack when that is on, lines up nicely for him to have success.”

It is important to note since his arrival to European soccer, Pulisic is one of three players born after 1998 to have completed 500 successful dribbles, the other two being Kylian Mbappé and Vinicius Junior. Pulisic has shown his quality, even getting man of the match honors twice at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

For ESPN’s Rosario Pompizzi, the move for the American is a breath of long-awaited fresh air.

“First of all, a relief for Pulisic himself because he was finally able to close this stage and a club like Milan is tempting,” Pompizzi said. “Pulisic himself expressed that he wanted to find that joy in a team and took the first step to go in search of that.

“You also have to think about what Milan can offer Pulisic, and that has to do with the drive to take off. Also, the recognition he can get and could never find in England. He has the talent, and he is still young. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the No. 10 role.”

The outlook of Pulisic’s arrival to AC Milan has been positive on both sides of the pond. The American has proven he belongs on the big stages, what he has lacked has been health and a coach who truly went all in for him in Europe.

When Pulisic signed with Chelsea it was in the middle of the Premier League season, an afterthought as he stayed at Borussia Dortmund to finish the season to little fanfare.

His move to AC Milan seems to mean so much more, from social media videos to already getting the confidence to wear the 11 jersey. Pulisic is being treated as a major contributor at AC Milan, while at Chelsea he was just one of many players. For that reason alone, Pulisic at AC Milan is off to a good start.