Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of the L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, the Times’ soccer writer. We’re going to begin today in Los Angeles, but we’ll do so by talking about Berlin and how a wall that came down there 30 years ago has infused the capital’s only first-division soccer team with a deep streak of social consciousness.
Paul Keuter was a 16-year-old living in Hamburg then but as a youth soccer player he had crossed over to the East to play in tournaments. And he saw how the wall had not just divided a country, but divided families and a culture as well.
So now, as a member of the executive board for Hertha Berlin, Keuter is helping to carry a message on a postseason tour of the U.S. that stopped in Southern California this week.
“Obviously we’re not huge fans of walls,” he said Monday.
To reinforce that belief, the team on Sunday visited the Wende Museum’s exhibition of 10 segments of the Berlin Wall along Wilshire Boulevard, the largest connected stretch of the original barrier outside Berlin. And on Tuesday a smaller delegation is scheduled to make the two-hour drive to Friendship Park along the U.S.-Mexican border where another wall is being constructed.
Keuter admitted the politics could bring controversy to the team’s tour, which included friendlies in Minnesota and Wisconsin and Monday visits to Universal Studios and Dodger Stadium, then began winding down with a public training session today in Santa Ana.
“It’s a small line. You want to come with respect and thankfulness for the American people,” he said. “Back in the day when we needed their help to get this wall down you had a president who said to [Soviet president Mikhail] Gorbachev, ‘Tear down this wall.’
“We’re bringing a message that, as a club, we’re standing for diversity within our cities and integration and freedom.”
Keuter grew up in a politically engaged family. And while he said he understands those who say politics and sports don’t mix, he disagrees with that view.
“Especially in Germany nothing has as much power as soccer,” Keuter said. “So we have to use our voice and the brightness of our club, of our brand, to at least bring some messages to life and live up to these values.”
“We’re not only bringing our team and the DNA and values of our club, but also the DNA of our city,” he continued of Berlin, which has a sister-city relationship with Los Angeles. “So the 30th anniversary of the wall coming down is one thing and we’re making a clear statement that we’re not a huge fan of walls.”
It’s not the first time Hertha Berlin, which finished 11th in the Bundesliga this season, took a stand – or rather a knee – on a political issue. Early last season the team’s players and coaches linked arms and knelt at Berlin’s Olympiastadion, originally built for the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, in a show of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who were then being harshly criticized by president Trump.
The moment is memorialized in the club’s media room in Berlin, where the walls are covered with a giant photograph of the demonstration.
“As a group we don’t believe that you should step out and do nothing,” Keuter said. “We come from Germany. You can argue ‘is this the right thing? Is this our fight?’ But we just more saw it as a general thing to stand up against discrimination and racism.
“It was something that got us into some controversial discussions. But we’re still super proud of it.”
LAFC: Still lacking that finishing touch
No team in MLS has come closer to perfection this season than the Los Angeles Football Club, which improved to a league-best 10-1-4 Friday with a workmanlike 4-2 victory over the Montreal Impact.
But coming close to perfection isn’t the same as achieving it. So after the game much of the talk was about getting better.
LAFC’s inaugural season ended in a first-round playoff loss in which it gave up the lead with two unanswered goals in the second half, the deciding score coming on an own goal with 21 minutes to play. It’s a collapse that still haunts the team so while Friday’s game was never in doubt, when Montreal took advantage of two defensive errors to score two unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes, it brought back bad memories.
“We won the game but we’re not happy about that,” Carlos Vela, who had a goal and two assists, said of Friday’s late collapse. “When you play important games, if you [give] that chance to the opponent, you can lose. You can be in trouble.
“We have to be consistent for 90 minutes.”
Coach Bob Bradley wasn’t nearly as nuanced, closing the locker room door for an extended and angry postgame critique of his players before sharing his thoughts with the media.
“I didn’t like the way we finished the game at all,” he said. “We just have to keep trying to improve. In the end of the game, we’ve had such a good way this year. We’ve not given up goals late. We’ve had good concentration. We’ve played until the end of matches and today we didn’t.”
Until the final half-hour there was a lot for Bradley to be happy about. Christian Ramirez ended a run of bad luck with his first goal in more than a month, a quirky score than came when Montreal keeper Evan Bush’s goal kick hit the LAFC striker in the knee and caromed into the net. Vela then doubled the advantage with his league-leading 15th goal of the season. He later added two assists to give him nine for the season, also best in MLS.
The season hasn’t reached the halfway mark yet but Vela has already improved on the 14 goals he scored last year and is on track to break the league records for goals (31) while becoming the first player to reach 20 for both goals and assists in the same season.
As a team, LAFC is five points ahead of the pace the New York Red Bulls set en route to an MLS-record 72 points last season. And LAFC has a goal-differential of +25; if it matches that over the final 19 games of the season, it would smash the league record.
But Bradley isn’t celebrating any of that. Yet.
“I have high standards for these guys,” he said.
“We’re going in a good direction. But we can’t stop now. We’re not there yet.”
(Watch Vela’s league-leading 15th goal by clicking here.)
Galaxy: Bingham saves the team in more ways than one
If 10 days ago you had offered Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto a split of the two games his team would play without suspended captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he probably would have taken it. And that’s exactly what he got thanks to goalkeeper David Bingham, who made six saves and stopped a penalty kick to preserve Friday’s 1-0 win over Orlando City.
Ibrahimovic, who is second in MLS with nine goals and has had a hand in 56% of the Galaxy scores since joining the team three games in the 2018 season, is expected to return to the lineup for Wednesday’s game with Sporting Kansas City, a team the Galaxy hasn’t beaten on the road since it was called the Wizards and played in Missouri, not Kansas.
It will be a welcome reunion: Of the last nine games the Galaxy have played without Ibrahimovic, the team is 4-4-1 and has been shutout four times.
So how big was Bingham’s performance for a team awaiting the return of the lion? Not only did it end a four-game losing streak in which the Galaxy surrendered 10 goals, but it gave them just their second win in month, their second of the season on the road and their first-ever in Orlando, pushing them back up the Western Conference table.
“Three points is massive on the road,” said Bingham, whose first-half stop of Nani’s penalty kick was his second save on a try from the spot this season. “We’re not happy with how we played and we shouldn’t be. But at the end of the day we’d rather play bad and pick up three points than play good and lose.”
There should be few complaints with the way Bingham has played this season. His six saves Friday equaled a season high and his 46 on the season ranks third in MLS.
On the other end the Galaxy clearly missed Ibrahimovic, managing just four shots. And the only goal of the game, Jonathan dos Santos’ strike from distance in the 19th minute, is just one of two the team has scored in its last 407 minutes.
In a hint more bad news could be coming, Dos Santos said after the game the hip pain that forced him out in the closing minutes of the last home game with Colorado hasn’t gone away. With the Kansas City game the team’s second in five days, the team will no doubt give some thought to going easy on Dos Santos.
“When I start to have pain in my hip and I start to do some movements, my body gets tired faster because I don’t have the complete mobility,” he said. “Almost every year I experience some pain in my hip but there’s never an excuse. If you are going to play, you are going to play at 100%.”
(Watch Jonathan dos Santos’ goal and David Bingham’s PK save by clicking here.
Here are the MLS standings
W L T GF GA GD Pts.
D.C. United 7 4 4 19 14 5 25
Philadelphia 7 4 3 24 15 9 25 .
New York Red Bulls 6 5 3 21 16 5 21
Montreal Impact 6 6 3 17 23 -6 21
Atlanta United 6 5 2 14 11 3 20 .
New York City FC 4 1 7 16 13 3 19.
Toronto FC 5 6 2 23 22 1 17.
Chicago 4 5 5 21 18 3 17 .
Columbus 5 9 1 14 22 -8 16
Orlando City 4 7 3 19 21 -2 15
New England 3 8 4 15 32 -17 13.
FC Cincinnati 3 9 2 11 35 -14 11
W L T GF GA GD Pts.
LAFC 10 1 4 36 11 25 34
Seattle 7 2 5 24 17 7 26
Galaxy 8 5 1 19 17 2 25
Houston 7 3 2 20 13 7 23
Minnesota United 6 4 3 21 18 3 21
Real Salt Lake 6 6 1 20 21 -1 19
FC Dallas 5 6 3 18 19 -1 18
San Jose 5 6 2 20 24 -4 17
Vancouver 4 6 5 16 19 -3 17
Portland 4 6 2 17 23 -6 14
Sporting Kansas City 3 4 5 23 22 1 14
Colorado 2 9 2 20 32 -12 8
Whatever happens to the other Dos Santos?
We haven’t heard much about Jonathan’s brother Gio dos Santos since the former Galaxy designated player took a hefty buyout from the club the day before the season opener. So what’s he up to?
Dos Santos has been allowed to rehab at the Mexican national team training center in the capital, where he has also taken part in some practice sessions. But rumors that three Liga MX teams – Monterrey, America and Cruz Azul – expressed interest in him a month ago appear to be just that, rumors.
ESPN also shot down whispers linking Dos Santos, whose father is Brazilian, to Rio de Janeiro’s Vasco de Gama. China, whose club owners seem to have more money than brains, appears a more likely destination since Dos Santos apparently isn’t interested in taking much of a cut from the $6 million he made in MLS last season.
It may not be long before Dos Santos grows desperate to sign somewhere, however, because after turning 30 earlier this month his career is at a crossroads. Coming off a couple of injury-riddled seasons in which he missed almost as any games as he played in, scoring just nine goals, he’ll need to prove his health and desire if he hopes to return to an important role for a top club, much less make the kind of money he got from the Galaxy.
If not, his father Zizinho’s career offers a cautionary tale: After playing for some of the biggest clubs in Mexico, he spent his final four years in the now-defunct Continental Indoor Soccer League. A similar end for Dos Santos would be a stunning fall for a player who gave Mexico its first major international title with a win in the U-17 World Cup in 2005, began his professional career at Barcelona, played in three senior World Cups and has more than 100 national team caps.
Look on the bright side: your seats are inside the stadium
Kickoff for the Women’s World Cup in France is still nearly two weeks away but the tournament is already snarled in controversy over a ticketing snafu.
When game tickets were made available for printing last week, many fans found that the seats they purchased were in different rows or sections and not side-by-side as they had requested.
FIFA said it was sorry, adding “hey, what are you going to do?” Or something like that.
“Dear fans,” soccer international governing body wrote in a post on the official Women’s World Cup Twitter account. “We have noted some of your comments, re: your tickets. When you placed your order, a message indicating not all seats would be located next to each other did appear, before confirmation of your purchase. Unfortunately we will not be able to modify your order.”
That unsympathetic response was met by so much criticism, FIFA quickly backtracked
“FIFA and the Local Organizing Committee are continuing to work towards finding the best solution for all fans attending the FIFA Women’s World Cup and, in particular, are doing everything they can to ensure that families will always be seated together at each and every match,” it wrote in a statement.
FIFA’s most recent update on ticket sales, issued last month, said more than 720,000 of the 1.3 million made available had been sold with the June 7 opener between France and South Korea in Paris already a sellout. The two semifinals and the final in Lyon were also sold out as were three group-stage games: Netherlands-Cameroon in Valenciennes, Nigeria-France in Rennes and U.S.-Sweden in La Havre.
The record for attendance at a Women’s World Cup was set in 1999 when the 32 matches in the U.S. drew an average of 37,944 a game. The 2015 tournament in Canada, the first in which 52 matches were played, sold more tickets – 1.354 million to 1.214 million in 1999 – but the group-stage matches were played as doubleheaders, with the same attendance counted twice.
Not ready for prime-time players
Speaking of the Women’s World Cup, the U.S. national team, the defending champion, left Monday for a two-week pre-tournament training camp in London after finishing its domestic preparations Sunday with a 3-0 win over Mexico that was unimpressive everywhere but on the scoreboard.
The U.S. won its three send-off games – over South Africa, New Zealand and Mexico – by a combined 11-0, has lost just since July 2017 and hasn’t allowed a goal since April. But though the U.S. outshot Mexico 25-3, it still lacks sharpness and didn’t so much overwhelm the opposition and it did wait for it to wear down in the 85-degree heat.
Mexican keeper Cecilia Santiago gifted the U.S. its first goal in the 11th minute, then kept the ball out of the net until Carli Lloyd came off the bench to set up Mallory Pugh in the 76th minute. Christian Press closed out the scoring 12 minutes later.
Only Lindsay Horan, who was being rested, was missing from Coach Jill Ellis likely first-choice World Cup lineup. And though Ellis admitted afterward that “we can definitely be sharper” she also had several positive takeaways.
“It was being healthy, getting valuable minutes for a lot of different players, keeping a clean sheet, scoring some goals,” she said. “I told the players, ‘Let’s see if we could have a good feeling after we leave here, ready to go.’ “
The U.S. will be one of the final teams to open World Cup play when it meets Thailand in Reims on June 11.
“It’s game time now,” Lloyd said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Wambach, Gulati get their Hall passes
Still speaking of the Women’s World Cup, Abby Wambach played in four of them, scoring 14 times. Only Brazil’s Marta, with 15 goals, has more. But that’s just part of the resume Wambach will be taking into the National Soccer Hall of Fame when she in inducted in September.
Wambach learned Saturday she would enshrined in the newly opened museum in Frisco, Texas, along with Sunil Gulati, former president of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Wambach, FIFA’s Women’s Player of the Year in 2012, scored a record 184 goals in 256 international appearances and won a World Cup and two Olympic gold medals before retiring in 2015.
“This means I’m officially a has-been,” joked Wambach, 38, who was elected in her first year of eligibility.
Gulati, 59, served three terms as USSF president. He was a key member of the local organizing committee for the 1994 World Cup, assisted in the launch of MLS two years later and laid the foundation for the last year’s successful bid to bring the World Cup back to North America in 2026.
Amazing Wambach was named on just 81% of the ballots cast, meaning 19% of the voters didn’t think soccer’s all-time leading scorer – male or female – was worthy of induction in her first year of eligibility.
Former Galaxy coach Curt Onalfo is expected to join Bruce Arena as technical director for the New England Revolution when he returns from the U-20 World Cup in Poland, where he’s working with the U.S. team. Onalfo was the academy director and coach of USL side Galaxy II under Arena with the Galaxy before taking over the first team when Arena left for the national team after the 2016 season. Arena was named coach and general manager of the Revolution earlier this month….After playing in 12 games for two teams, former LAFC midfielder Benny Feilhaber finally got his first win of the season Sunday when Sporting Kansas City beat Seattle. Feilhaber left LAFC for Colorado as a free agent last winter and played in nine games for the Rapids, who went 0-7-2. Less than two weeks after trading Feilhaber to Kansas City, Colorado won consecutive games for the first time since last August while Sporting lost and tied in Feilhaber’s first two appearances, running the midfielder’s personal winless streak to 14 games dating to October. Feilhaber started and played 75 minutes Sunday.
Until next time