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In the Shadows of the Cosmos


kmbll87

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The shot was good. The glint off his scope had reflected in the car’s window – an amateur. Crook’s pistol jutted from his waistband in what I assume was intended to be a threatening manner. In actuality it just made it that much easier to grab. I had turned and fired before he realized what was happening. I suppose it did not occur to the lookout either or else he would have fired – or moved. Instead he silently fell from his perch and landed with a gentle thud. Crook’s smirk turned to an expression of fury. His – I guess you’d call them henchmen took just a moment longer to react as the behemoth to Crook’s left lashed out with a massive fist and from there it gets a little fuzzy.

It had been such a good day too. A beautiful day for a funeral – my father’s, as you are no doubt aware. It’s been all over the news; otherwise Christian Jr. wouldn’t have paid as much as he did for me to attend AND to speak. Junior is always so caught up in appearances – apparently it would’ve looked bad if the “favorite” son hadn’t showed up so I did and eulogized some garbage about how he was an amazing father, how he’d mentored so many, how he was my hero. The man was a cold, heartless tyrant. He may have soccer fans’ adulation but he’ll never have mine. But as I was saying, life is just a PR event for Junior so I put on my uniform and said some meaningless words and the crowd ate it up. It was a bit shocking so many people showed up– what’s the stadium’s capacity now? 80,000? I thought a memorial game AT the funeral was a bit tacky but the crowd sure loved it. I’ve never seen so much white and green. There were some legends out there too, but not many players from the recent squads. Did you notice that? Anyway, Junior was quick to give me my money and be done with me. Of course he was sitting front and center. I found it awfully interesting that he was comforting my father’s most recent wife; she must be all of 19 years old – blonde and shaped like an hourglass, as usual. Junior kept her so close and yet put out dear half-brother –what’s his name? Eric? Edmund? Probably something old fashioned – near the back. It was as I was passing him on my way out that I spotted Crook lingering by the tunnel entrance. He kind of stands out, doesn’t he? He looks so uncomfortable in a suit – and let me just say that the hobo gloves don’t help. He tried to catch my attention despite my obvious intent to ignore him. It wasn’t until we stepped outside that I realized the situation.”

I cross my arms – which is unsurprisingly difficult when you are tied to a chair – and look the old man across the desk in the eyes. He is wearing a simple black suit and tie – clearly comfortable in his – and Buddy Holly glasses. Sweat forms on his brow and he seems to be growing impatient. He seethes but keeps up his obviously fake smile. I continue, “I hope that answered your question.”

“I didn’t ask a question.” He curtly replies. “As I was saying ‘I hope your trip was all right…’”

I cut in again, “That brings me back to my point. When I stepped out of the stadium, I saw the car waiting. Now, since the oil shortages, only the very few – and by very few, I mean the very rich – have cars. And since the oil riots, only the VERY brave flaunt that wealth. So you’ve made your point. What do you want?”

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“What I want is for you to raise my club from this cesspool of a second division and back to the glory it deserves. You will recover this travesty of a season. You will win promotion next season. And then we will win the Premier.”

June 7th, 2029

Seattle, Washington

It is hard to believe these days, but the Sounders were once considered one of the best teams in the American Premier. They just happened to have had the misfortune of playing their best soccer while the Cosmos were on the rise. The architect of Seattle’s success was Gary Smith; hired in the midst of a mediocre 2013 season, Smith was able to salvage the season and lead the team to a respectable third place finish. Smith appeared poised for greatness; winning the US Cup and the North American Champion’s League in his first full season while finishing 2nd in the league. In 2015, Smith and the Sounders repeated in the US Cup but again fell just short in the league. Finishing second was a trend that continued for the next three seasons. In 2019, management grew tired of second place with no new trophies and fired Smith. No coach since has lasted for two seasons. Seattle was able to hold on to top flight status until 2024, when a dismal campaign saw them relegated to the USL. It was not a coincidence that 2024 was their first season without the legendary Fredy Montero. Since the drop, they have been dwindling along, finishing 16th last year and finding themselves in 14th after 20 games played this season.

My mission is simple, to win games. I was always good at that. But the real question is, “Am I really in charge?”

“Whose office are we in?” Crook sits across from ‘my’ massive desk with his incessant smirk on full display. Looking much more comfortable in his jeans and jacket, Crook has kept his hobo gloves – I am glad to see they are not just for fancy occasions – and acquired a flat cap, mostly likely to hide his rising widow’s peak. He is the sort of man you pass on the street but don't remember a moment later, brown hair, brown eyes, of average height and build. Everything so ordinary except for that smirk of his – like he’s in on some joke that no one else is aware of.

He does have a point though, I’m certainly not lacking in amenities. I’ve been given a cavernous office that looks more like a library. Bookshelves line the walls with tomes on strategy, notebooks filled with scouting reports, and newspaper write ups for what must be all the games of the past twenty years. Any place not covered in bookshelves is plastered with action shots from Sounders and U.S. national team games. A wooden conference table sits off to one side with an expensive looking radio sitting on top.

But..”So I get to choose my own staff?”

“Sure,” He does not wait for a response before continuing with a wink. “With one exception, of course.” It is clear who he means; The Owner had been quite clear about this point. Simon Crook is the chief scout. The Owner had stressed that Crook had an uncanny ability to procure anything..or anyone I would need.

“How am I supposed to work with you? I don’t trust you.”

The ever present mirth leaves his eyes and his smirk fades away. “Trust is a funny thing. You know that kid you shot last night? The look out? He trusted me. I put him up there just to keep an eye out; he wasn’t a threat to you. It was to prevent..someone else from interfering. But you had to get cute.” He starts coughing, a deep, agonizing cough. When he stops his smirk is back but his eyes are still alive with fury. “You lucked out that it was the Boss who got to you first. There are certain individuals who would’ve just looked to take advantage of your fame. But to answer your first question – yes, you are in charge. The Boss hopes that you might have some of your old man in you – no, don’t look offended – but if you don’t, you can always just be a figurehead. A pretty face and the right last name to smile for the cameras.”

“I’ll need a write up of our team by tomorrow.” Might as well see what he can do.

“You’ll get your report but I’ll give you something much better than that.”

“And what would that be?”

“Barry Parker.”

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June 8th, 2029

Seattle, Washington

Goalkeepers: A strong area for the team. Young talents Bishop and Gray are amongst the best keepers in the USL. Backup Turrubiates provides a solid emergency option while youngsters Gomez and Figueroa could develop into stars.

Nathan Bishop, 22 years old, United States (Uncapped)

A talented young prospect, Bishop had proven himself as a capable backup at Harrisburg City before we took notice of his abilities. He performed well in his six appearances last year and won the starting position this season. But, like the rest of the Sounders, he's been struggling. He's let in 15 goals in 11 starts. He's a capable, well rounded keeper. He won’t wow you but he also won't lose you the game.

Colin Gray, 23 years old, United States (Uncapped)

An Eau Claire Aris United youth prospect who has never proved himself as a first team player for any squad he’s played for. He developed a bit of a reputation as a bad luck charm. Every team he's started for has been relegated. A very brief stint in goal saw Eau Claire Aris drop from the fourth division American League to the Amateurs’.The Michigan Bucks gave him a chance and were rewarded with a drop from the third division Association to the American League. He served as a back up with Miami last season before we picked him up in January. In my eyes he’s every bit the player Bishop is – if he can get his head past this supposed bad luck curse of his. His reflexes are the best in the league and he works wonders with his defenders.

Danny Turrubiates, 22 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Of our three first team keepers, Danny is the only one with Premier experience. He wasn’t half bad either. The Orange County Blue Stars pulled him straight from their youth academy to start during a keeper crisis and he did not concede a goal. He’s played a reserve keeper role with both the Blue Stars and the Wizards as I recommend he do here. He excels in one on one situations - he's especially good at handling pressure - but that’s the extent of his skills. Hell, if you lob the ball at him it’s almost a guaranteed goal.

Michael Gomez, 14 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Our starting youth squad keeper, he's be one to keep an eye on for the future. He’s allowed seven goals in six games but looks like he could develop similar to Bishop – solid across the board.

Alfredo Figueroa, 14 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Alfredo is a bit raw but he’s shown some talent. He can already throw the bar on par with Gray and Bishop and he’s almost their equal in reading the flow of play. With some work he could be at least a starting USL keeper, maybe even in the Premier.

Defenders: Our strongest position. Stars George and Salvador anchor a talented group of players. Campbell and Garcia serve well as role players while Camacho and Meija give a lot of hope for the future.

Andy George, 21 years old, United States (Uncapped)

A brilliant young defender, Andy George is talented enough to play in the American Premier but has never had an opportunity. A Real Salt Lake youth product, George was sold to Puerto Rico United – who were at the time struggling in the third tier. George quickly proved to be far too talented for the Association, making 96 appearances in three years. We wisely recognized his talents and picked him up last season – in which he made 32 appearances. He’s missed a game this season but he’s already picked up three man of the match awards. In terms of technical ability, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better tackler and he rarely loses his man. If he has any weakness, it’s that he’s a bit slow. I’ve also heard new players say that they find him hard to work with but ask any of his long-term teammates - they say that he’s the undisputed leader of the team. His favorite position is in the center but he plays fullback on either side without any trouble.

Salvador, 22 years old, Spain (Uncapped)

The only reason Andy George is not the undisputed star for the Sounders is because of Salvador. Salvador isn’t as sharp on his tackles or his marking but he beats George in the air every time. Salvador reads the flow of the game better too; you'll occasionally see George caught off guard by where the attack is coming from, but never Salvador. Salvador is not a leader but the other players quickly took to him after his arrival from Celta at the beginning of the season. Salvador can play in either the center or to the right.

Chris Campbell, 20 years old, United States (Uncapped)

A good USL player, Campbell has the misfortune of being overshadowed by George and Salvador. Campbell can compete with either of them in the mental aspects of the game but his technical skills aren’t as sharp – well, except his tackling. Campbell can keep up with his man – in terms of concentration and speed – but will often be outplayed. His natural position is in the center of the defense but he might be better suited as a right back because he has better passing and composure than most USL defenders.

Abedi Addo, 33 years old, United States/Ghana (Uncapped)

A giant of a player, Addo spent his best playing days wasted in the Association. He began his career with the Milwaukee Bavarians, with three years as a starter before moving to the Red Bulls. There he failed to make a single start, spending two seasons on loan and three seasons in the reserves. The Michigan Bucks grabbed him up a few years back and he resumed his starting role in the Association. We picked him up for cheap in 2027 where he’s played more of a reserve role, making 31 appearances in three years. He’s still technically sound – probably the best at marking on the team – and he reads the attack as well as anyone else on the defense but, never a fast player, what little speed he had has left him. Still, he can help this team, bolstering the center of defense.

John Garcia, 17 years old, United States (Uncapped)

A brilliant young prospect; we snapped John up from D.C. United’s youth academy. He has Premier league potential but wanted to start right away and wasn’t getting minutes in D.C. He’s been starting with us but..it appears he might not be ready yet. He’s a natural right back and can slot in the center. He’s got all the tools to succeed – he can tackle, he can mark, he wins the ball In the air – but something is missing.

Per Jakobsen, 24 years old, Norway (20 youth caps)

Another new arrival. Jakobsen arrived this season from Fredristad, where he had made just under 200 appearances. We grabbed him on a free after Fredistad refused to meet his salary demands. He’s made eleven starts this season but has been lackluster. He’s best when the ball is in the air but isn’t bad all around. It might just be that he’s having troubles settling in.

Dave Dunn, 26 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Dunn's really not that bad, he’s found himself transfer listed because there are so many talented players in front of him at right back. A mediocre tackler, he understands the game well, and is one of the fastest players on the team.

Atanasio Montenegro, 21 years old, Peru (17 caps)

The only current international on the team, Montenegro got his start with the Provo Cougars. At 15 years old, he was starting. He made 120 appearances in four years before they let him go on a free. Charlotte picked him up and didn’t give him a single game. Your predecessor’s predecessor jumped at the chance to pick up a proven USL midfielder but both he and your predecessor have let him rot in the reserves. He’s just never really come into his own. He’s on the slower side but matches Addo height of six foot eight inches. He says he can also play in the midfield but I would not recommend it.

Brett Camacho, 15 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Brett is in his second season starting for our youth squad and every coach he’s played for raves about his potential. He might already be an option as a backup, he can tackle, he can mark, he can cross, and he’s fantastic heading the ball. He makes some mental mistakes but who doesn’t at 15?

Mark Hernandez, 20 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Hernandez is mediocre for a reserve squad leftback. He’s decently quick and is good on throw ins but other than that he’s a liability. He worked his way up from our academy but it might be time to let him go.

Nathan Gregor, 20 years old, United States (Uncapped)

On loan at Kitsap Killer Whales

I think a loan was the right idea for Gregor. He came up through our youth ranks and showed some potential but wasn't ready for the first team. Last year he spent the season with the Washington Crossfire, like the Killer Whales, in the American League. He failed to make an impact but he improved a bit. It’s a start.

Robin Meija, 15 years old, United States (Uncapped)

In his third year in our youth academy, Meija has finally started to step up his game. The other kids compare his tackling to Bishop which is a bit generous. He has a tendency to lose focus and he’ll need to gain a step but in a couple years he should break into the first team.

Midfielders: The weakness of the team. McDermott and Juarez provide a solid defensive core but the midfield lacks in the ability to create. This is an area we will need to address in the July transfer window.

Tony McDermott, 22 years old, United States (Uncapped)

A former D.C. United youth player, McDermott hit his best form when he landed with us in 2027. Since then he’s provided a stalwart defensive presence in our midfield. Best when he’s defending, it’s not surprise that McDermott can also fill in as a center back if needed. His dribbling and passing, while not great, set him apart from your normal USL defender.

Neil Juarez, 22 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Another defensive minded midfielder. While Juarez might be McDermott’s match as a defender, he lacks his offensive capacity. Juarez got his start with the Charlotte Wyverns and stuck with them after the drop but couldn’t turn down Premier football when Montreal came calling. Unfortunately for him, he wouldn’t get it there as he spent the season on the bench. We picked him up in 2027. He’s made 40 appearances since then, mostly serving as a fill in for McDermott.

Nigel Varty, 28 years old, United States (Uncapped)

This former Pittsburgh Riverhound youth prospect didn’t get his chance until he was bought by the Wilmington Hammerheads in 2021. He started with Wilmington for the next six years. We picked him up on the cheap and a lack of other options has given him more playing time than he probably deserves. In truth, he’s probably better suited for the center of defense but he’s uncomfortable out of the midfield. He can mark and tackle as you’d expect and he follows plays through.

Tomas Garcia, 23 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Tomas is the best of our current attacking midfielders which is not saying much. He plays best on the left wing and can dribble and cross but his greatest asset is his speed. He’s lightning quick but not particularly agile.

Andres, 24 years old, Spain (Uncapped)

Andres is a bit of a perplexing player. He can only play in the middle but can’t tackle or dribble as well as you’d like for a starter. He has no real speed to speak of and has a really hard time keeping composed under pressure. But he can mark a player even if he can’t win the ball off him and he can use his head to set up a play or to defend. His greatest asset is his ability to create on the fly.

Rob Hernandez, 25 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Rob began his career with the Maryland Monarchs as they plummeted from the Association to the Amateurs' before he turned 16. Still they were quick to recover and return to the American League where he earned time as a starter and helped avoid the drop. D.C. United noticed his efforts and were quick to buy. After several disappointing seasons on loan, they let him go on a free and we picked him up. In his three years with the team, Rob has not fulfilled his promise yet mostly because of manager’s inability to see his true role. Your predecessor watched him play and thought that he’s not really an attacking midfielder, he won’t score me many goals; he’s not a defensive midfielder, he’d be a liability. But I think he missed the nuances in Rob’s play – he doesn’t excel in either role but perform parts of both. He can use his speed to run into space and his one touch passing to create. Hopefully you’ll see a better use for him.

Brian Rowlands, 21 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Rowlands had the misfortune of starting his career with the Buffalo Blitzers. He was quickly pulled out of the youth academy and placed in a starting role. When they dropped down to the Amateur League he notched up 22 assists in two years. Carolina took notice and gave him a shot on a one year contract. When he failed to earn a longer term contract, we picked him up on a free. Rowlands will likely start but I’m not so sure he should. He’s got some speed and can cross and pass but there’s not much to him as a player. He keeps cool on the attack and moves well into space which is more than I can say for the other midfielders on the team.

Adam Mahoney, 29 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Adam Mahoney has notched up 227 appearances, all in the USL. He’s a quality back up who can fill several roles when called upon but he has no business starting. So the fact that he has started in 12 games for us does not speak well to our current state. Mahoney can fill in as a defensive midfielder if needed or can line up on the wing. He’ll probably let you down but if you need a name to fill in on the teamsheet, he’s your man.

Matty Burns, 30 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Matty is a career journeyman nearing 300 appearances. He’s spent time in all levels of American soccer and even spent some time in Germany. I pray that he won’t see any more appearances with us. He’s slow, especially for a winger, and can't dribble. He can barely make a cross and does not have a creative bone in his body. He's fearless though, I’ll give him that. He’ll look his defender right in the eye and shoot ...but he’ll miss by 30 feet.

Julian Murray, 19 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Julian was a decent youth prospect that has worked his way up to being a decent reserve squad player. He can dribble and can float a decent cross but that’s about it. He has no burst of acceleration and no instinct for passing. Maybe he’ll get better but if he doesn’t, we can always just let him go.

Sergio Aleman, 15 years old, United States (Uncapped)

A young lad with potential. He hasn’t shown much in the youth squad but for the first team he's come off the bench and turned a game around. He’s slow and inexperienced but he has the look of a defensive midfielder with his brutal tackling and steadily improving passing skills.

Strikers: A bit of a conundrum at the moment. Would-be starter Danny Schultz is out with injury. Several backups have potential but that might not be enough when we're trying to avoid the drop.

Danny Schultz, 23 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Danny was supposed to be the our big addition for the season but he tweaked his knee and still hasn’t recovered yet. He has an eye for goal and can score with either his feet or his head. He can’t dribble but the rest of the tools are there.

Victor Hugo Martinez, 28 years old, United States (Uncapped)

A former New York Cosmos. Did you know him? You two must have gone through the youth squad at the same time, right? Oh, that’s right, you skipped the youth squad, didn’t you? He spent four years there before your old man decided he didn’t have what it takes. He floated through a few teams in the American League before landing with the Orange County Blue Stars. I know the Blue Stars are winning the USL currently but they weren’t always that good. He played for them when they were in the American League and then when they were promoted to the Association. Pittsburgh picked him up but he never really made an impact. We bought him for cheap and he’s been serving as a back up. He can play striker or left wing pretty well. He isn’t a playmaker but he can cross and he can shoot. If he had any sort of speed he might be a starter.

Diego Barrionuevo, 25 years old, Argentina (Uncapped)

Martinez might lack speed but speed is all that Barrionuevo has. Barrionuevo was a budding young star at Colon when we picked him up in 2027. He’s been a disappointment. Fans were expecting the next Fredy Montero and he just couldn’t live up to it. He can’t dribble, he can’t make decisions on the fly, but he's so very fast.

Chad North, 19 years old, United States (Uncapped)

North has a lot of potential. His understanding of the game is far ahead of where it should be for someone as inexperienced as he is. Philadelphia nurtured him for five years but didn’t give him any games and his technical skills show it. His dribbling and shooting skills are lacking but he could be a very good player if they develop.

Kevin Wagner, 21 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Wagner has been a work in progress here for eight years now. We thought he was ready to break into the first team two years ago but he failed to score a goal in fifteen appearances. He’s got the tools to succeed and a good eye for goal but he’ll have to improve to move up from the reserves to the first team.

Crook’s report has given me many things to consider. My first game in charge is tomorrow and no decisions have been made. First thing is to start getting my staff in order. Andrzej Tomasik has to go; he’s been with the team for three years following his first job in soccer, as Assistant Manager for the Thunder Bay Chill of the Eastern Amateur League. Whoever decided he was qualified to be Assistant Manager is likely long gone. Ruslan Rotan, on the other hand, is grossly overqualified for his current position as a coach. A position he’s held since 2019, after he retired from playing at Brighton. He’ll be my new Assistant Manager. Former Miami Fusion head coach and current coach Dax McCarty has to go. He has extensive playing experience in a career that spanned from Willem II of Holland to Al-Arabi of Qatar but he won't cut it in my reign. Similarly, Fitness Coach David Tenney has been with the team since before the American Premier existed but is not up to my standards. Fortunately, Fitness Coach Chris Cornish, who has been with the team for a similarly long period, will be remaining with the team. Current youth coaches Clarence Goodson and Javier Lopez Vallejo will be promoted to full coaches immediately. Goodson’s career spanned from Start in Norway to Brondby in Denmark. He even spent three years with Seattle while they were at their peak – from 2015 through 2017.

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March 5th, 2016

Pizza Hut Park, Frisco, Texas (American Premier: FC Dallas vs. New York Cosmos)

“Barry, I’m not ready.”

“Kid, I’m not going to lie to you and say there’s no pressure – it’s the season opener, your first game, and you're so young. But Coach has made his decision.”

“But..but..”

Barry reaches over and messes up my hair. I hate when he does that! “You are going to be fine. Remember in practice? When you got past me AND Danny? And then curled it past Stephane? I know you don't realize it yet but not many people are capable of that. Trust me – no one on this Dallas side is going to be able to stop you.”

I follow Barry out of the tunnel. We line up in the center for the national anthem. The assault on the senses is overbearing – the crowd roar in a cacophony of noise. Terrible music pours through the speakers. Floodlights and camera flashes blind the eyes. The Star Spangled Banner quickly replaces the horrible music but does not offer much of an improvement with thousands of already drunk fans singing along. Why did Bobby have to get injured? I look over at Father as he stands on the sideline absorbed in his notebook. He clearly feels my eyes upon him and looks up for half a second before returning to his beloved notes. I close my eyes. It is just me on the field, the noise, the lights, the crowd are gone. I love the smell of the grass on a cool spring night. I hear her whisper in the wind. I open my eyes and the crowd seems insignificant. I walk down the line and can’t help but grin as I shake each player’s hand. As we get ready to start the game I hear Barry yell after me, “You all right?”

I shout back, “No one is going to be able to stop me!” I hear someone chuckle from behind me so I turn and give him a wink.

I tap the ball to Balc to start the game and it goes by in a blur. Heath Pearce quickly wins the ball off of Balc. Pearce launches the ball 25 yards to Dave Cameron. Cameron keeps the ball moving, he looks for Malick Faye. Faye steps into the further down the field and shoots, skimming the bar.

Michael Vela heads toward our goal, he launches the ball toward Cameron. Beltran can’t cover but Cameron makes a bad pass. Zarek can’t win the ball in the air so Faye has the chance on our goal. Did that go in? No, of course Stephane was able to get it over. Vela floats the ball in over the corner but Fabinho is as phenomenal as always and clears our area. Fabinho’s midfield partner, Adriano, goes down! The stretcher comes out and Nathan heads onto the field.

Someone give me the ball! Nathan answers my unspoken plea and sends a low pass down the right side. Sani Emmanuel grabs it and races past Dallas’ captain, Pavel Vidanov. I move into space and wait for the pass but Emmanuel chooses Fabinho instead. Fabinho shoots from midfield and completely misses the net.

Chris Seitz kicks the goal kick for Dallas and sends the ball to our side. Danny leaps to recover and passes towards Hoyos. Faye beats him to the ball and Hoyos goes in with a tackle. Danny rushes up to meet Hoyos and Faye grabs his shirt to slow him down. Danny plays the free kick down the right but Vidanov beats me there. He sees me charging at him and wisely clears the ball.

Zarek gets to the ball first and flicks the ball toward Dallas’ side of the field. Emmanuel beats Pearce to the ball and lets Nathan have it. Nathan sees me in space. I love the feel of the ball at my feet. I start to build some speed and head toward the area. I lean left, look straight, and touch the ball to Hoyos to my right without looking. The defense is out of place and Hoyos takes his chance but it’s a mile over. Hoyos jogs away without looking at me. He should have touched it back; I would have scored.

Seitz launches the ball down the field. Cameron tries for the past but Barry is all over him. He heads it to me from our area. This time I go left to Balc. Balc plays it across the field as I run into the middle. This time Hoyos sends the ball to my feet as I move in on the defense. Nathan calls out behind me so I heel the ball back. Before I can turn around I see the ball curve toward goal only going just slightly over.

Seitz passes short to Francesco Acerbi. Acerbi steps forward and passes to Brad Evans. Evans advances and looks for Cameron. Cameron sends the ball left to Faye who shoots but is far wide. Evans gets another chance after Stephane’s goal kick goes astray. This time Evans looks for Vidanov who cuts infield with the ball. At midfield he shoots but Stephane is too good to fall for that and taps that rocket of a shot over his net. Troest ends up with the ball after the corner but Balc plows into him. The referee saunters over and lectures for a moment. Vela directs the free kick toward Faye. Faye looks for Cameron who plays it back. Danny steps right in and clears the ball. I call out for the ball and Danny lobs it toward me. I head the ball in Hoyos’ direction but immediately hear the whistle. How was that offsides?

Hector Acosta takes Dallas’ freekick, opting to pass it to Cameron. Beltran knows he is out matched so he kicks the ball out of bounds. Vela steps up for Dallas’ free kick but Barry climbs over Evans to head the ball clear. Pearce is on the attack but Zarek makes a perfect slide tackle. Vidanov takes the throw-in. Faye grabs the ball and finds Vela on his right. Vela goes forward and sets up the ball for Evans to run onto. Evan boldly shoots from midfield but the ball skims the bar. Stephane boots the goal kick to Hoyos. I turn and run into space but Hector Acosta beats me there and heads the ball clear to Cameron. Cameron runs with the ball and passes back and forth with Faye until Barry opts to get involved and gets the ball out of there.

Acerbi winds up with the ball and hoofs the ball down the field to Gary Broadhurst but the referee correctly notes that he’s offside. Stephane takes the freekick and blasts the ball down the field to Hoyos. Hoyos doesn’t get very far before Acerbi intervenes.

Halftime. I love this game. It is one thing to watch but it's a completely different feeling to be part of the team. Our assistant coach, Mr. Harkes, makes some comments while we rest up during the half. “Fabinho move forward more,” “Let’s get the attack more involved,” Blah Blah Blah.

Dallas kicks off but Hoyos quickly winds up with the ball. Fabinho moves forward and Hoyos taps the ball back. Nathan runs up as well so Fabinho quickly passes to him. Hoyos rushes ahead and Nathan plays the ball to his feet. Vela slides in and Hoyos goes down. The ref runs over and shows Vela the yellow card. Zarek steps up to take the free kick and opts to move it back to Beltran. Beltran cuts inside before playing it to Fabinho. Fabinho rushes forward but loses control of the ball. Balc pounces on the rebound. Balc finds space, he’s wide open, and it’s in! I’m rushing over to congratulate him when I hear the whistle. Another awful offside call.

Balc is at it again a moment later, advancing down the left side. Hoyos cuts inside and picks up a short pass. I shout for the ball but instead he takes two steps forward and blasts toward the left corner - it’s high and wide. Seitz launches the ball toward Cameron at midfield. Fabinho speeds over and heads the ball toward me. I turn but Vela appears out of nowhere and swipes the ball off my foot! Vela runs with the ball until Nathan slides in but loses the ball to Evans. Evans quickly sends the ball to Cameron fires toward the top corner but it’s just wide. Stephane takes the free kick and Balc looks to run on to it but Troest holds him back. The ref rushes over and shows him the yellow. Cameron heads off the field to the applause of the Dallas fans – he’s been phenomenal! Kermit Erasmus replaces him.

Vidanov has the ball as play resumes; he looks for Vela to his right. Vela moves forward with the ball, he exchanges passes with Evans and shoots! Stephane handles it easily. Vidanov finds Pearce a moment later. Pearce plays to Erasmus for his first touch of the game. Erasmus bends it toward the uncovered side of the net! Stephane launches himself across the face of the goal and just gets his fingertips to it!

Another sub, Andy Carr comes on for Vela. Carr gets the ball right away and moves along unchallenged. He feeds the ball to Erasmus who heads toward goal. Beltran plays the ball out. Vidanov drifts in the corner. Danny clears the ball and I rush up to head it away but Troest heads it right back and Evans comes up with it. Evans finds Acosta who passes it back to Carr. Carr launches it down the left to Vidanov who keeps the ball moving. Vidanov continues unchallenged to the byline. He floats a low cross in to the near post but Danny makes his presence felt and heads the ball out. Vidanov takes the throw in and sends the ball down the line for Faye. Faye burns past Nathan before placing the ball at Evan’s feet. Evan steps into space and has a wide open shot. The ball heads toward net but rises and rises and OVER.

Stephane takes the goal kick and Hoyos and I rush toward the ball. Seitz beats to it and passes to Vidanov who plays to Pearce who moves the ball down the line to Faye. Faye moves past Danny and looks to find Pearce as he runs into the area but Zarek make a brilliant save. Vidanov floats the corner to the near post. Barry leaps over Acerbi and heads the ball toward me. I take off with the ball before setting it up for Emmanuel in stride. Emmanuel lays it forward to Hoyos. Hoyos heads forward and looks for Balc but Broadhurst runs off with the ball. Broadhurst races down the field unopposed and taps the ball toward Faye as he steps into the area. Stephane rushes up and pushes it away.

Danny finds the clearance and hoofs the ball away but Carr recovers and boots it to Acerbi. Acerbi passes forward to Evans who pokes it toward Faye. Barry cleans up and clears it to Hoyos. Carr tackles it away from Hoyos and Faye grabs it before playing a one-two with Erasmus. Faye shoots long and misses. Faye heads off the field to be replaced by Peri Marosevic.

Emmanuel runs down the sideline as his defender gives him space. He gets to the byline before Vidanov decides enough is enough and kicks it out. Zarek throws the ball in and Troest is the first there but he can’t control it and heads it out. The ball floats into the area and I jump towards the ball. I feel my shoulder hit bone in a clash of bodies and hear the whistle blow. I turn and see Troest lying on the ground. As I walk away the ref rushes up and shows me my yellow card. Beltran leaves the field for Ronaldo.

Marosevic receives Seitz’ freekick and moves forward to the byline. Marosevic finds Pearce with a low pass in the area. Erasmus attempts to touch it in but is blocked by defenders on all sides. He somehow gets it to Broadhurst before Stephane steps in and grabs the ball. The whistle blows as he boots the ball down the field.

As we head into the locker room a few of the other players joke back and forth. Hoyos tosses at me “Well Shooter, you got a goal for every shot you took.” I grin and bear it as our teammates chuckle. Everyone goes silent as Father strides in. He surveys the room and the team looks down, ashamed. He looks me right in the eyes and says, “I am so disappointed in you.”

June 9th, 2029

Seattle, Washington

I awake drenched in a cold sweat. I reach over and grab my watch. 4:15. With the game at noon, I might as well get up. I close my eyes and let out a sigh.

Why was I dreaming about my first game? Probably because today is my first game in charge; probably because I saw so many of those players at the memorial. Danny Miller and Barry Parker had been in the center of the ‘Cosmos’ side’s defense. Of course Stephane Coulibaly had been in goal. Ronaldo just made a brief substitute appearance in my debut but he manned the leftback spot for years with the Cosmos and had certainly earned that spot for the memorial game. Nathan Lukic, Fabinho, and Adriano made up the midfield in the memorial – even though all three never played on the field at the same time for the Cosmos. Michael Hoyos had started as a winger for the ‘US’ side at the memorial while Zarek Valentine had a spot in the defense. Dave Cameron had played for the Dallas side in my debut but he played striker for the ‘US’, having been a key player in a couple of Father’s national team squads. The memorial organizers had asked me if I wanted to make an appearance at striker for the 'Cosmos'. Junior probably found that hilarious.

I open my eyes. Actually, I think it is time to get up. I move to the side of the bed and realize that my right leg has gotten caught in the bed sheet. I try to shake it free and a dull ache spreads.

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June 9th, 2029 (Continued)

Seattle Sounders Stadium, Seattle Washington (United Soccer League: Seattle Sounders vs. Colorado Rapids)

| Pos   | Inf   | Team                          |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 1st   |       | Orange County Blue Star       |       | 20    | 10    | 7     | 3     | 33    | 18    | +15   | 37    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 2nd   |       | Cleveland Crush               |       | 20    | 10    | 6     | 4     | 34    | 18    | +16   | 36    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 3rd   |       | Miami Fusion                  |       | 20    | 9     | 5     | 6     | 29    | 24    | +5    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 4th   |       | Colorado Rapids               |       | 20    | 9     | 5     | 6     | 28    | 30    | -2    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 5th   |       | Austin Aztex                  |       | 20    | 9     | 4     | 7     | 22    | 20    | +2    | 31    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 6th   |       | Richmond Kickers              |       | 20    | 9     | 3     | 8     | 23    | 23    | 0     | 30    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 7th   |       | Philadelphia Union            |       | 20    | 7     | 8     | 5     | 19    | 14    | +5    | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 8th   |       | Minnesota Stars               |       | 20    | 7     | 8     | 5     | 22    | 18    | +4    | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 9th   |       | New York City United          |       | 20    | 8     | 5     | 7     | 24    | 23    | +1    | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 10th  |       | Kansas City Wizards           |       | 20    | 8     | 3     | 9     | 27    | 24    | +3    | 27    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 11th  |       | Las Vegas Aces                |       | 20    | 7     | 6     | 7     | 28    | 26    | +2    | 27    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 12th  |       | Harrisburg City               |       | 20    | 8     | 3     | 9     | 26    | 27    | -1    | 27    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 13th  |       | Rochester Rhinos              |       | 20    | 7     | 6     | 7     | 25    | 29    | -4    | 27    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 14th  |       | [b]Seattle Sounders [/b]             |       | 20    | 6     | 7     | 7     | 24    | 22    | +2    | 25    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 15th  |       | Chivas USA                    |       | 20    | 7     | 4     | 9     | 27    | 25    | +2    | 25    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 16th  |       | Madison 56ers                 |       | 20    | 7     | 4     | 9     | 23    | 35    | -12   | 25    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 17th  |       | Maryland Monarchs             |       | 20    | 5     | 9     | 6     | 21    | 22    | -1    | 24    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 18th  |       | Tampa Bay Rowdies             |       | 20    | 6     | 4     | 10    | 19    | 32    | -13   | 22    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 19th  |       | Provo Cougars                 |       | 20    | 5     | 4     | 11    | 20    | 30    | -10   | 19    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 20th  |       | Southern California Seahorses |       | 20    | 3     | 5     | 12    | 24    | 38    | -14   | 14    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 

The view at the entrance is a discordant conflict of two eras. To the right are the skyscrapers of yore – with the Space Needle from our logo high above. To the left are the forts and walled seaports rapidly raised during The War. It is obvious from its design that our stadium was built around the same time frame as these defensive constructs – back when Seattle still had title aspirations – as it is practically indistinguishable from the forts on the sea line. Despite its rough exterior, inside it is like any other stadium and can seat an impressive 50,000 spectators. Unfortunately, its peculiar design has left sponsors unwilling to buy the licensing rights so it remains aptly named.

Seattle Sounders: GK Colin Gray, DL Andy George, DC John Garcia, DC Salvador, DR Chris Campbell, DM Tony McDermott, DM Neil Juarez, CM Andres, CM Rob Hernandez, ST Victor Hugo Martinez, ST Diego Barrionuevo, Subs: Nathan Bishop, Angelo Varriale, Abedi Addo, Adam Mahoney, Per Jakobsen, Tomas Garcia, Chad North

Going with talent over consistency, Gray gets the nod in goal. I don’t hold much weight in curses but I do in talent. The strong backline of George, Garcia, Salvador, and Campbell is really the only option when all four are healthy. Both Juarez and McDermott will assist defensively. Rob Hernandez and Andres will look to move the ball forward to Barrionuevo and Martinez. Hopefully one of the two will shine in Schultz’s absence. Dunn has been stripped of his captaincy as I don’t plan for him to feature regularly for the side. Former vice-captain George has been made captain and Salvador has been give this vice-captaincy.

Colorado Rapids: GK Chris Rowland, DC James Long, DC German Macias, DC Aaron Glazer, LM Hector Garcia, CM Craig Silva, CM Steve Dixon, CM Dominic Johnson, RM J. Simkin, ST German Chavez Carretero, ST Steve Bergeron, Subs: Brian Lopez, Matty Gonzalez, Miguel Angel Hernandez, Andrew Ross, David Watson, Alberto, Lewis Casanova

Colorado finds themselves deservedly in fourth place. A consistent USL high performer, Colorado has performed well under head coach Shaun Moore. Moore is a much better coach than he was a player – having spent most of his career in the amateurs – he prefers attack over defense and appears to be moving away from his usual 5-3-2 in favor of an attacking 3-5-2 for the day. The backline of Glazer, Macias, and Long form a good but not spectacular backline. Dixon provides the defensive backbone in the five man midfield but is capable of setting up an attack as well. Simkin and Garcia are best when making bombing runs down the sides but both are capable of providing defensive support when called upon. Johnson and Silva, however, are entirely offensive players and both should be watched carefully as they are gifted with the ball at their feet. Carretero is a talented 19 year old and Colorado’s main striking threat. Colorado’s captain, Bergeron is more of a better at creating plays than he is at putting the ball in the net.

Colorado kicks off to get us started.

George throws the ball in to Martinez. Martinez passes back to the center of the field to Juarez. Juarez takes a couple steps forward before passing low to Rob Hernandez. Rob Hernandez turns toward goal and sees an opportunity. Barrionuevo bursts past his man into the area and Rob Hernandez feeds him the ball. Barrionuevo sidesteps the keeper and taps the ball into the net! (7)

Colorado restarts play.

McDermott receives a pass from Andres. Carretero rushes in and tackles from behind. The physio rushes out to check on him.

When play restarts, Martinez passes short to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo can’t get anywhere either so he plays back to Martinez. Martinez spies Rob Hernandez making a cutting run into the area and gives him a low through ball. Rob Hernandez steps onto it and fires straight at the keeper. Glazer, then Simkin, clear on the deflection. Carretero winds up with the clearance and passes back to Silva at center field. Silva tries to launch the ball over our defense and Bergeron races for the ball but Salvador outmuscles him. Bergeron sticks out his foot and trips Salvador! Gray sends the goal kick down the field. A Rapids defender heads the ball to George. George kicks the ball down the left side to a wide open Martinez. Martinez steps to the side of the area and Long comes sliding in feet first. Martinez goes down and doesn’t get back up. AML Tomas Garcia heads on to replace Martinez in the 23rd minute shifting us to more of a 4-2-3-1 than our original 4-2-2-2.

Hector Garcia races down the right side of the field and drifts a cross across the face of goal. George chests the ball down but it lands at Johnson’s feet. He shoots at the far post but it goes well wide.

Hector Garcia once again makes his way down the left side. Juarez saunters over and walks away with the ball. A few seconds after Juarez is away with the ball, Hector Garcia falls over in the worst dive I’ve seen in the last 10 years.

Salvador plays the free kick short to Campbell out right. Campbell can’t shake Dixon so he passes back to Juarez who immediately returns it to Campbell. Campbell still can’t shake Dixon so he attempts to pass over him but Dixon deflects. Barrionuevo winds up with the loose ball and runs into the area where Macias clears. Carretero beats Andres there and passes short to Simkin. Simkin plays to Carretero who races down the field. McDermott rushes over and upends Carretero!

Just before the half. Tomas Garcia lines up for the direct free kick and floats it into the box. Rowland jumps in and gathers it. Rowland distributes the ball to his left to Hector Garcia. Hector Garcia plays it short to Dixon. Dixon passes short to Silva to his right. Who weighs a 35 yard pass down the right side of the field for Bergeron. Campbell wins the ball but makes a poor decision to pass to Salvador with Bergeron moving through the area. Salvador clears the ball and Barrionuevo and Glazer fight for it. The ref rules that Barrionuevo had shoved Glazer. Glazer opts to take the free kick short to Silva. Silva sends a long ball to Bergeron on the edge of the area. Bergeron opts to build the play and passes to Silva as he approaches the area. Barrionuevo races down the field and slides to win the ball. Silva hesitates a moment and before falling to his knees. The ref rushes Silva off the field for treatment.

1-0 at the half. Silva won’t be able to continue so DR Alberto replaces him. Alberto is an aging, veteran back up for Colorado. He’s spent most of his career in Spain and has a speed and flair. The Rapids also opt to take out Hector Garcia in favor of DC Matty Gonzalez. Another veteran backup, with these two subs it looks like Colorado is switching to more of a 4-4-2. Our first half sub Tomas Garcia is winded after his 20 minutes of play. ST North will take his place moving us back to our 4-2-2-2.

Gonzalez throws in to Johnson just outside the area. Johnson readies the ball and fires at goal! That one was close! It deflects off the bar.

Rob Hernandez blasts a ball at the wall on a direct free kick. It falls to the right of the wall with Salvador in hot pursuit. Gonzalez rushes over and clears. Salvador steps up to take the free kick and floats it into the area but it’s simply cleared out for a throw in.

Ten minutes later Campbell takes a throw in. North receives on the edge of the area and turns to the byline. He turns and finds McDermott but McDermott can’t do anything with it before a defender clears. Barrionuevo takes the corner this time but Garcia just makes a terrible header out of bounds.

Campbell throws in again and Gonzalez rushes to head it away from North. Campbell pounces on the head and passes short to Rob Hernandez. Rob Hernandez does likewise to Salvador who hoofs the ball out of our area. Rowland steps onto it and blasts it from his goal to Bergeron. Bergeron passes shorts to Dixon who sends it from right to left to Alberto. Alberto and Johnson play a one-two before Alberto crosses across the area. Salvador plays it safe and heads it out for a corner. Dixon drifts in the corner and Garcia jumps with Macias but wins the ball.

Salvador wins the ball off Dixon on the left sideline and sends a long pass to North. North can’t lose Gonzalez who clears the ball back to the sideline. Alberto and Barrionuevo both rush to the ball. Barrionuevo makes a pretty obvious dive but the ref buys it! Yellow card for Alberto.

Andres takes a throw in on the right side of the field to North at the byline. North passes back to Andres who centers the ball to Juarez. Juarez passes back to Andres on the wing. Andres makes the questionable choice of a lob into the area where seven defenders surround Barrionuevo but Barrionuevo still ends up with it! Barrionuevo catches the ball with his foot and blasts it into the top of the goal! (65).

Following the goal, Carretero comes out for David Watson – a pretty lethal threat for the Rapids, having scored 27 goals in the past two seasons.

Simkin chests down a clearance then plays it to Watson. Watson cuts from the right to the middle before moving the ball out left to Alberto. Alberto crosses into the area forcing Gray to clear the ball. Gonzalez winds up with it but Campbell rushes over to challenge. Campbell slides in and misses the ball. Gonzalez lets Dixon take the free kick. Dixon centers the ball to Bergeron who shoots from 25 yards out! Goal! Where was Gray?? (72)

Gonzalez hits a long free kick toward the edge of the area. With Dixon behind him, McDermott opts to clear the ball. Dixon sends the corner in but Johnson can’t get a shot off.

Seattle 2-1 Colorado

Barrionuevo (7, 65); Bergeron (72)

Man of the Match: ST Diego Barrionuevo (Seattle)

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  • 3 weeks later...
Heir to the Legacy

June 10th, 2029

By Brendon Silas

New York Cosmos’ president, Jamie Brunner was faced with an impossible task. How do you replace the most successful coach in history? Do you go after the biggest name in the game? Do you find someone with ties to the team? This was a problem that Cosmos fans were not expecting to face for at least a couple more decades. Locke was still a relatively young man and was not known to have any health issues. But a tragedy befell when a heart attack took the beloved coach.

Jose Mourinho was quickly dubbed the frontrunner. His successful eight year tenure at Everton had just ended on less than amicable terms and he had gone into a hasty retirement. Most felt that the draw of a position as high profile as the Cosmos would lure him back to the game but Brunner and Mourinho both distanced themselves from the link.

Jason Kreis was the next in line for the media circus. Kreis, as the second most successful active American coach, had been the logical successor as the coach of the US national team in 2026. With Real Salt Lake, Kreis had lifted the Pan-Pacific Championship and American Super Cup in 2011. With FC Dallas, he added two SuperLiga titles in 2022 and 2024 to his trophy cabinet along with the APL title in 2024 and the Heritage Cup in 2026. While Kreis did not deny his interest in the position, Brunner stated that he wanted to continue Locke’s legacy. The press rightfully assumed that Brunner meant that he wanted to continue Locke’s tradition of developing young talents – coaches as well as players.

This led to three major contenders: John Harkes, Daniele Croce, and Sean Franklin. All former Assistant Managers to the Cosmos. Harkes has proved essential for the United States national team, having remained Assistant Manager to the US despite his departure from the Cosmos in 2020 and later Locke’s resignation from the national team. Croce followed Harkes as Assistant to the Cosmos and was considered to be a key factor in the Cosmos’ success during the period. Though Croce left following a dispute with Locke, Cosmos fans and players still have a great respect for the Italian coach. Sean Franklin succeeded Croce in 2024 and was often lauded by Locke as the future of American coaching. These quotes have been used frequently in recent days to pinpoint Franklin as the favorite to succeed Locke. The speculators clearly failed to acknowledge that Franklin left the Cosmos for a job at first opportunity for the English Premier League.

Instead of these arguably more qualified and higher profile options, Brunner opted to promote the current Assistant Manager, Wes Allen. Allen spent an unremarkable playing career bouncing from team to team in the USL before hanging up his boots in 2020. It wasn’t until 2028 that Allen returned to the game, replacing Franklin as Assistant Manager to the Cosmos. While promoting Allen might be a continuation of Locke’s legacy of developing young talents, is his one year serving under Locke enough experience for him to lead the Cosmos? A more likely scenario is that Brunner understood that no one would be able to take over after Locke and he has set up Allen as a sacrificial lamb to the altar. If Allen succeeds, Brunner will look brilliant, having trusted Locke’s judgment in talent and promoted the right man. On the other hand if Allen does not work out then the stigma of following Locke will be averted for the newly hired coach next season.

One other candidate for the Cosmos position bears mention – Christian’s son, Gabriel. Odds makers had set Gabriel as a long shot after his sudden reappearance at his father’s funeral. It is doubtful that any considered him as a real option but that may have been premature. His new role as the Manager of the Seattle Sounders was announced before their victory yesterday against the Colorado Fire. Christian’s eldest son Christian Locke II was reached for comment…[Continued on Page 6]

I put down the paper to reveal Crook, sitting in the chair across my desk, his Cheshire grin in full display. “Keep reading! You didn’t get to my favorite part. ‘My dear brother is such a role model, a pinnacle of the human spirit. But I can’t fathom what he was thinking taking a job with the Sounders. He’s clearly trying to follow in father’s footsteps but I wish he had come to me for guidance. Now he’s simply grasping at the scraps of the Cosmos.’”

I can’t help but let my bewilderment show, “You memorized the article? You can read?” Crook chuckles but deigns not to respond. “I wish he hadn’t hinted that we were making bids on Cosmos players. Any word?”

“It looks like Hubbard will be joining us but the Boss says Osuna is a no-go. I guess the price isn’t right.” Hubbard is a very talented young left back who could compete for a spot immediately. Osuna is a gifted winger with an unbelievable ceiling.

“Of the two, Osuna is my preference.”

Crook shrugs but smiles his awful smile. “He’s just a player; they are both a bit young anyway. Don’t worry I’ve got my eye on a couple others.”

“Get me their reports as soon as you can.” He gestures to reveal that he’s placed them underneath the paper I was just reading. His grin grows wider and it seems as though a glint sparkling off his teeth grows brighter as his smug self confidence grows. What is he up to? “What else is going on?”

“I reached out to the rest of the staff you've hired. Jeff Larentowicz was a good find. A former Cosmos, right? I like that Nicky Torres too. He’s a bit green but he seems like the alright sort. But the scouts you hired..I can’t work with them. So I let them know they wouldn’t be needed. Don’t worry. I’ve hired the rest of my scouting staff.”

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June 13th, 2029

Seattle Washington

A gentle rain falls on the vacant streets. But maybe vacant isn’t the right word. Barren, perhaps. Sparse? There are people on the streets, just far too few for a city this big. The tall skyscrapers disappear into the power stations' billowing clouds with too few of their lights illuminating the dark night. I pass old couples enjoying each others' company, little children with moms at hand, and groups of young women out on the town but the men..a new lost generation. The War had been over for a year now, the uneasy truce became a relieved peace treaty for the two exhausted sides. Soldiers, old and young, should have or should soon be returning but the somber quiet that envelops the city tells the story. Seattle had been essential in The War – when the west coast had fallen Seattle had held strong and used their location to mount a strong counter attack – first to retake what's ours and then across the seas. But of course that had come at an impossible cost. By the time I get to the coffee shop both my face and my trench and my hair are drenched. I shake my hair and wipe my face as I open the door – I need a haircut...and an umbrella. A flash of movement rushes at me, my feet plant and my left hand grasps for a holster that isn’t there. A beautiful young girl grabs my arm and I try to relax. “You came! This way!” She pulls me toward a corner table. “Simon said you’d come but I didn’t believe him!”

Simon…? Crook. That didn’t register as fast as it probably should have. The girl rushes to sit down, her eyes becoming thin lines as her smile grows huge; long, wavy blonde hair falling on either side of her tan face. “He insisted.” I offer my hand, “I’m..”

She grabs my hand with both of hers and giggles, “I know who you are! Everyone knows who you are! ”She pulls me to the chair opposite her and rests her hands on mine in the middle of the table. “I’m Brooke.” Brooke tilts her head and her expression turns into more of a sly grin. I gently withdraw my hands and settle them under the table, wiping my hands on my jeans.

“So Simon tells me that you’re a journalist?”

A pout flashes across her face. “Well..I’d like to be.” She glances over at the counter. “I’m a student at UW and I write for the school paper but you know how hard it is to get a job at any real paper. But an interview with you could really put me ahead!” A college student? How young is she?

The Boss had said through Crook that after Brendan Silas’ article in the Times we’d need to put our own spin on my hiring but how can this child help us? What is Crook thinking? “Well, I’m ready to get started whenever you are.”

She giggles and keeps her hand outstretched in the middle of the table, “You don’t need to be so formal.” She smiles big again. “How does it feel to be back in the States?”

“It's…It’s good. I liked traveling. I visited Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin but I got so sick of hotel rooms and being a tourist. I had settled in a small place in the countryside in England before…”

I look up to see her eyes have gone big and started watering, “You poor thing! Your father was a treasure and everyone knows how close you two were. He always spoke so fondly of you in his press conferences.” He did so love his press conferences. He and Junior were of the same cloth. “Were there any indications? I’m so sorry, that’s so rude of me..”

“No, no. It’s alright. We had actually not spoken for a few years. Not since I left the Cosmos; I was overseas.” That, after all, had been the point.

“I didn’t think of that. Of course he wouldn’t have been able to reach you while you were on duty. But now you’re home. Well, almost. How is it that you ended up at Seattle? I would’ve thought you’d end up back with the Cosmos..”

I force a grin. “It’s funny how these things work out, Seattle’s owner is an old supporter of the national team. Back when I was on the squad he used to tell me how I was the future for the US. We got to be real close. When he heard that I was back in town, he made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse.”

“So would you say that it’s your dream job?”

“I definitely appreciate the opportunity. You know, back when I used to play, I never thought further than the next game. And then The War..” I look out the window. Sounds of gunshots, the smell of fire, the feel of the trigger, screams echo through my memory.

Brooke’s joyful giggle snaps me out of my reverie. “I can’t believe I’m here, interviewing you!” She makes a noise that can only be described as a squee and I feel a hundred years old. “I used to have you on my wall. A poster I mean..Of course.” She blushes bright red.

I realize then why Crook chose her to do the interview. A peace offering perhaps? I rest my chin on my hand, smile and look her right in the eyes. “How is that a lovely young woman such as yourself knows Simon.

Her blush doesn’t fade but she meets my gaze and playfully bats at my arm, “Who’s doing the interview here?” She looks down at her notebook, clearly to get back on track. She asks her next question with a tone of mock-seriousness, “So are you the man who’s going to lead the Sounders to glory?”

“Well like I said, I never really thought coaching would be in the cards for me. I never really thought of myself as much of a leader, I just wanted to play. I was so angry when I was made captain of the US squad.” I start to look out the window but re-focus quickly. “It wasn’t until after my playing days that I realized that I’d been leading all alone. People just liked to follow me; even older men followed my example without any intent or action of my own. But whether I’m the right man to lead? How can I say? I always thought I’d play again when I came back.”

Her laugh fills the empty coffee house. “I can’t write any of that. It’d look bad if the new manager wasn’t too sure of himself. I’ll write that the dashing, young rogue is sure he’s the one to finally bring us glory and silverware.” She winks.

“Well if you know what you’re going to write anyway, why don’t we go get a drink?” And the answers to my questions about Crook.

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June 16th, 2029

Gomorrah Field, Las Vegas, Nevada (United Soccer League: Las Vegas Aces vs. Seattle Sounders)

| Pos   | Inf   | Team                          |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 1st   |       | Orange County Blue Star       |       | 21    | 10    | 7     | 4     | 33    | 19    | +14   | 37    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 2nd   |       | Cleveland Crush               |       | 21    | 10    | 6     | 5     | 34    | 19    | +15   | 36    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 3rd   |       | Miami Fusion                  |       | 21    | 10    | 5     | 6     | 32    | 25    | +7    | 35    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 4th   |       | Philadelphia Union            |       | 21    | 8     | 8     | 5     | 21    | 15    | +6    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 5th   |       | New York City United          |       | 21    | 9     | 5     | 7     | 25    | 23    | +2    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 6th   |       | Austin Aztex                  |       | 21    | 9     | 5     | 7     | 23    | 21    | +2    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 7th   |       | Colorado Rapids               |       | 21    | 9     | 5     | 7     | 29    | 32    | -3    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 8th   |       | Kansas City Wizards           |       | 21    | 9     | 3     | 9     | 28    | 24    | +4    | 30    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 9th   |       | Harrisburg City               |       | 21    | 9     | 3     | 9     | 28    | 28    | 0     | 30    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 10th  |       | Richmond Kickers              |       | 21    | 9     | 3     | 9     | 24    | 26    | -2    | 30    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 11th  |       | Minnesota Stars               |       | 21    | 7     | 8     | 6     | 23    | 20    | +3    | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 12th  |       | [b]Seattle Sounders [/b]             |       | 21    | 7     | 7     | 7     | 26    | 23    | +3    | 28    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 13th  |       | Las Vegas Aces                |       | 21    | 7     | 7     | 7     | 29    | 27    | +2    | 28    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 14th  |       | Madison 56ers                 |       | 21    | 8     | 4     | 9     | 24    | 35    | -11   | 28    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 15th  |       | Rochester Rhinos              |       | 21    | 7     | 6     | 8     | 25    | 30    | -5    | 27    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 16th  |       | Chivas USA                    |       | 21    | 7     | 4     | 10    | 27    | 26    | +1    | 25    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 17th  |       | Maryland Monarchs             |       | 21    | 5     | 10    | 6     | 22    | 23    | -1    | 25    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 18th  |       | Tampa Bay Rowdies             |       | 21    | 7     | 4     | 10    | 20    | 32    | -12   | 25    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 19th  |       | Provo Cougars                 |       | 21    | 5     | 5     | 11    | 21    | 31    | -10   | 20    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 20th  |       | Southern California Seahorses |       | 21    | 3     | 5     | 13    | 25    | 40    | -15   | 14    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 

Gomorrah Field appears to have wilted in the 100° weather, fusing it with its desert environment. The colossal ghost town of Vegas stands as a backdrop. In 2013, the smart abandoned the city while crime and chaos ran rampant. By the time the dust had settled, all that remained were criminals, the majority of whom left when they realized that all they had been fighting for was a large empty desert. The government had not seen fit to reclaim the city during The War due to a lack of relocatable population and other ncessary resources. Since the end of The War, talks had begun about resettling but as of yet no action has been taken. The Aces have remained in the area through all of this.

Seattle Sounders: GK Colin Gray, DL Andy George, DC John Garcia, DC Salvador, DR Chris Campbell, DM Tony McDermott, DM Neil Juarez, CM Andres, CM Rob Hernandez, AML Tomas Garcia, ST Diego Barrionuevo, Subs: Nathan Bishop, Angelo Varriale, Abedi Addo, Adam Mahoney, Per Jakobsen, Dave Dunn, Chad North

Why mess with what worked? The formation remains the same except for one minor alteration. Victor Hugo Martinez will miss at least four weeks with a fractured arm. Tomas Garcia moves into the first team, providing more of a distributor role off to the left than Victor Hugo Martinez's striking presence. Rob Hernandez and Diego Barrionuevo look to carry forward their great performances from the game against Colorado, having earned places in the Team of the Week.

Los Vegas Aces: GK Robbie Henderson, DL Liam Pardo, DC Tom Berylson, DC Kyle Petty, DR Gabriel Owens, ML Adam Woods, CM Sander van Wanrooy, MC Anthony Hinger, MR Nathan Santos, ST David Sarkodie, ST Austin Medina, Subs: Seth Wannell, Danny Lopez, James Kennedy, Kieron Pace, Neal King, Aaron Waghorn, Tom Hamilton

The Aces were founding members of the Association in the onset of the new American League structure. By 2014, the Aces had earned promotion to the USL but quickly proved they weren’t quite ready yet and dropped right back to the Association. In the following year they rose again and remained until 2024. For those four years the Aces competed at the top flight but struggled. For the past two seasons, they’ve returned in the USL and been proving why they weren’t cut out for the American Premier – finishing in 11th last season and currently languishing in 13th currently. Henderson is the Aces’ third string keeper and he is not talented enough to start in the USL. Their normal starting keeper Dougie French went down with a broken ankle earlier in the season and doesn’t look set to return for at least another four weeks. Henderson has only made two appearances and conceded three goals in those two games. It looks like their management tired of their other back up keeper's performance, Wannell, had allowed fourteen goals in eight games. Owens, Petty, and Berylson would make up a formidable backline if Pardo weren’t such a liability. To make matters worse, Owens is unsettled, having been told that he’s on the trading block. Similarly, van Wanrooy has been transfer listed by request and is considering offers from Sheriff, SK Rapid Wien, and Austria Wien. It’s understandable as he is a quality player that should be playing for a higher caliber team. He’s one of the best crossers and passers in the USL and if not for his lack of speed he could be a starter in most leagues. Beyond van Wanrooy, in the Aces' midfield Hinger provides a defensive presence and Woods is a bit of a liability but moves well with the ball. It is likely that the Aces will rely on Santos after van Wanrooy’s departure. He isn’t quite the player – he’s nowhere near the passer though he can still send in a decent cross – but he makes up for his deficiencies with his mental acumen and his understanding of the game. Medina and Sarkodie make up Vegas’ veteran strike force. Medina is more of a poacher, he won’t create his own chances but if someone puts the ball at his feet he will put it in the net. Sarkodie, on the other hand, is very capable at creating as well as scoring. It’s surprising to see Waghorn on the bench. The former Genk star is aging, but he’s still a talented player and could be dangerous if put into play.

The Aces get the game started.

van Wanrooy lays it back to Pardo. Pardo keeps the ball moving. Pardo plays it forward to Wood’s feet. Woods tries to cut through the inside but impatiently tries a curling long shot at goal. It goes over.

Santos rushes over to take the corner. Sarkodie rises above Juarez to win the ball. Sarkodie rockets the header at goal. Gray shows good hands to push it away. Pardo throws in to Woods. Woods feeds the ball to Santos in the area. Santos is free in the penalty area but Gray makes a fantastic dive to deny him. The assistant waves offside afterwards anyway.

Juarez steals the ball of Woods and kicks it to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo tries to get an opening but Petty keeps him in check. At the area, Barrionuevo passes over to George who passes to Garcia who distributes back to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo cuts into the area and breaks free of his man but makes a terrible shot wide left.

In the 18th minute, McDermott slips off a pass and falls to the grass. He indicates he’s alright to continue.

Campbell throws in to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo crosses in to the area but Garcia can’t break free and Berylson clears. McDermott runs on to the clearance and plays the ball back to Barrionuevo at the edge of the area. Barrionuevo takes the shot but it goes high.

Garcia steps up to take the free kick and floats it into the area. Petty leaps over everyone to head it out. Garcia blasts the corner in; Hinger heads it out for a throw-in.

Medina breaks down the right flank. Campbell rushes to meet him, freeing Woods further along. Medina plays to Woods who continues to the edge of the area where he crosses the ball into the box. Sarkodie can’t get his foot on the ball and Garcia clears. Santos runs onto the ball on the left byline and passes to Hinger as he cuts into the area. Hinger tries the shot off the first touch and it goes wide right.

Andres opts to play the free kick short to Hernandez. Hernandez rushes toward the area but can’t wait and shoots from 30 years out. It goes high and never bothered the keeper.

Just before the half, George slips. It must be the dead grass is this awful heat. He waves that he can play on.

CM Danny Lopez replaces Hinger. Lopez is a rather poor attacking midfielder. He’s quick and experienced but he’s a step down from Hinger, even if they do play different styles. Our two injured players will have to come off as well. McDermott and George come off for ST North and DC Jakobsen. We switch to more of a three man base defense, leaving us more vulnerable on the left.

Owens throws the ball into our area but Jakobsen heads it away. Barrionuevo runs onto it and sprints down the field. He makes it all the way to the byline but can’t cut inside. He hits a beautiful curling cross that finds Garcia’ head who rockets it at the keeper. Henderson pushes it over.

In the 51st minute, ST Waghorn comes on to replace Medina.

Barrionuevo shoves van Wanrooy. Santos steps up to take the free kick. He hits a sloppy short ball to Petty. Petty recovers and plays it to Woods on the edge of the area. Woods steps off it for Pardo who unleashes at net! Wide left!

Juarez moves forward with the ball. Juarez places a pinpoint pass to Andres’ feet. Andress feeds it forward to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo steps forward and fires it low and hard. Inches to the left and it would’ve been in.

Henderson clears the ball to Waghorn at our defensive line. Waghorn wisely heads it back to Berylson. Berylson one touches the ball to Sarkodie while Waghorn starts to run into space. Waghorn trips as Sarkodie starts to turn toward goal. Sarkodie sees Santos and feeds him the ball. Santos rounds toward the center of the field and passes to van Wanrooy. van Wanrooy plays it out left to Owens. Van Wanrooy comes short to get it from Owens. van Wanrooy turns and sends the ball across the face of goal.

Garcia throws in to North. North makes a poor quick pass back. Garcia finds Andres in the center of the field, just outside the area. Barrionuevo makes a run toward goal and Andres hits the ball low along side him. Henderson doesn’t fall for it and gathers the ball.

Salvador deflects Owen’s throw in out of the area but the ball lands at Pardo’s feet. Pardo curls the ball around the defense and Gray grabs it.

Hernandez steps up to take the free kick just outside the area. He blasts it toward goal but it skims the top of the bar.

Woods centers the ball. Campbell rushes over to clear the danger. Lopez finds the clearance and takes the ball forward. Wanrooy receives Lopez’s pass and aims for the top corner but it goes wide and high.

North plays a pinpoint pass to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo slips behind the defense and just has the keeper to beat! Barrionuevo advances on the keeper and shoots! Henderson pushes it away.

In the 84th minute, Owens is replaced by DR Kennedy.

With less than a minute to be played, Santos takes the free kick. Petty heads the ball up. Hernandez heads to clear. Santos pounces on the ball and quickly fires a cross. Campbell clears but Santos intercepts again. Santos fires but it’s deflected out. Santos drifts in the corner and Waghorn rises to head the ball across the goalmouth.

Las Vegas Aces 0-0 Seattle Sounders

Man of the Match: DC Kyle Petty (Las Vegas Aces)

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June 20th, 2029

Seattle, Washington

Ruslan Rotan is everything you could ask for in an Assistant Manager. He motivates the players, he’s experienced, he has an eye for talent, he knows how to nurture youngsters, and he shares my attacking visions for the team. But he has one glaring flaw. I sigh as I cut my stream off mid-go, “Ruslan, we’ve talked about this.”

“Sir?”

“Don’t talk to me while I’m peeing. It’s unsettling.” He stands at the door in awkward silence and I sigh again. Knowing that he’s there, waiting, is not much of a better feeling.

I finish my business and as soon as I’ve flushed, he’s starts back up again. “It was a lackluster performance.” He’d better be referring to the team. “But on the whole I think we are adapting well to your new tactic.”

The current tactic had been a point of contention between Rotan and I. While he had been initially pleased to hear that I wanted to play attacking football, he had been appalled when I explained my idea for our current defensive 4-2-2-2. It seemed a better idea to adjust the tactic to the players available but Rotan was more of a mind that it’s the tactic that shapes the team. “I think we’ll need to give them more time to adjust than two games. Besides, the July transfer window is coming up and ideally we’ll have a lot more freedom to shake things up. The lack of players with attacking flair on the team is stifling. Have you had a chance to look at any of the reports Crook wrote up?”

His eyes light up immediately. “Maranhao!” It is easy to see why he’s excited. The young Brazilian is exactly the sort of player that this team needs. He’s magical with the ball at his feet and deadly fast. He’d be unstopped on the left wing – as a creator. He’d likely make any of our strikers look like the second coming of Fredy Montero. “He’s the next Joao!”

That gave me a chuckle. Joao was Father’s biggest and most high profile bust. Joao was touted the next Pele so the Cosmos snapped him up for a hefty fee. He spent the next two seasons injured before Father grew sick of it. He would go on to win two Champion’s Leagues with Real Madrid, as well as a three consecutive Golden Balls and three World Player of the Years of the year. His legacy was always tainted, however, by claims that he had only won the World Player of the Year because the incumbent had walked away from the sport at a young age. “I appreciate your enthusiasm but that’s a massive overstatement. Maranhao is talented but Joao is one of a kind. We made a bid and I’ve already had a brief chat with Maranhao. Things are looking good so far. What about Simkin or Siligardi?”

“I’d take Cooper over either of them…But boss, Maranhao!" I've never seen Rotan this excited about anything, he's usually unflappable. "Crook mentioned that you made an offer for Steve Brown." He says with a scoff, "There’s a reason he’s down in the American League.”

“Maybe, but he’s also the reason the Silverbacks are winning the American League. He’s got 13 goals in 20 games. You can’t deny that the man can shoot.” How did Crook even know about that offer?

Rotan does not look convinced. “And you can’t deny that he’s slow and aging quickly.” We arrive at my office door and it's clear that Rotan has not yet broached the reason he started this conversation. A determined look passes over his face, “Are you going to have a word with the team? You know, give them a speech, words of encouragement? You never even formally addressed them when you joined.”

Is he upset that I’ve not done it or because he's had to? “I’ve given them advice when they need it and I made sure everyone understands their roles in my tactic. What’s the problem?”

He pauses for a moment as though trying to phrase his point. “You played for the greatest coach of all time. He was your dad. His speeches were legendary – you don’t think that…”

I start laughing and can't help but laugh harder when I notice Rotan's confused expression. “He was overrated.”

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June 23, 2029

Seattle Sounders Stadium, Seattle Washington (United Soccer League: Seattle Sounders vs. Richmond Kickers)

| Pos   | Inf   | Team                          |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 1st   |       | Cleveland Crush               |       | 22    | 11    | 6     | 5     | 35    | 19    | +16   | 39    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 2nd   |       | Orange County Blue Star       |       | 22    | 10    | 7     | 5     | 34    | 24    | +10   | 37    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 3rd   |       | Miami Fusion                  |       | 22    | 10    | 6     | 6     | 33    | 26    | +7    | 36    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 4th   |       | Philadelphia Union            |       | 22    | 8     | 9     | 5     | 22    | 16    | +6    | 33    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 5th   |       | Harrisburg City               |       | 22    | 10    | 3     | 9     | 30    | 28    | +2    | 33    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 6th   |       | Richmond Kickers              |       | 22    | 10    | 3     | 9     | 26    | 26    | 0     | 33    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 7th   |       | New York City United          |       | 22    | 9     | 5     | 8     | 25    | 24    | +1    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 8th   |       | Austin Aztex                  |       | 22    | 9     | 5     | 8     | 23    | 22    | +1    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 9th   |       | Colorado Rapids               |       | 22    | 9     | 5     | 8     | 29    | 35    | -6    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 10th  |       | Madison 56ers                 |       | 22    | 9     | 4     | 9     | 25    | 35    | -10   | 31    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 11th  |       | Minnesota Stars               |       | 22    | 7     | 9     | 6     | 24    | 21    | +3    | 30    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 12th  |       | Kansas City Wizards           |       | 22    | 9     | 3     | 10    | 28    | 26    | +2    | 30    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 13th  |       | [b]Seattle Sounders[/b]              |       | 22    | 7     | 8     | 7     | 26    | 23    | +3    | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 14th  |       | Las Vegas Aces                |       | 22    | 7     | 8     | 7     | 29    | 27    | +2    | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 15th  |       | Rochester Rhinos              |       | 22    | 7     | 7     | 8     | 26    | 31    | -5    | 28    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 16th  |       | Tampa Bay Rowdies             |       | 22    | 8     | 4     | 10    | 23    | 32    | -9    | 28    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 17th  |       | Chivas USA                    |       | 22    | 7     | 5     | 10    | 28    | 27    | +1    | 26    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 18th  |       | Maryland Monarchs             |       | 22    | 5     | 10    | 7     | 22    | 25    | -3    | 25    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 19th  |       | Provo Cougars                 |       | 22    | 5     | 6     | 11    | 22    | 32    | -10   | 21    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 20th  |       | Southern California Seahorses |       | 22    | 4     | 5     | 13    | 30    | 41    | -11   | 17    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 

Seattle Sounders: GK Colin Gray, DL Andy George, DC John Garcia, DC Salvador, DR Chris Campbell, DM Tony McDermott, DM Neil Juarez, CM Andres, CM Rob Hernandez, AML Tomas Garcia, ST Diego Barrionuevo, Subs: Nathan Bishop, Angelo Varriale, Abedi Addo, Adam Mahoney, Per Jakobsen, Dave Dunn, Chad North

Richmond Kickers: GK Francisco Javier Toledo, DL Dan Williams, DC Jeff Archer, DC Bobby Smitt, DR Joseph Prieto, ML Matt Saunders, MC Matt Saunders, MC, Frankie Beasley, MR Rob Rodriguez, ST Brian Robinson, ST Greg Gilbert, Subs: Rafael Alvarado, Andrew Sly, Michael Jackson, Carlos Valenzuela, Stefano Falchi, Andrew Goddard, David Young

At the beginning of the season the Richmond Kickers were predicted to place around 14th place but currently find themselves overperforming in 6th place. The Kickers have been consistent in the USL since earning promotion for the first time in 2013 with two fluke bad seasons where they were relegated - in both cases quickly earning promotion. They generally finish in the upper half but have never finished higher than 5th since the league restructuring.

Toledo is a talented keeper who would rival Gray or Bishop on our team. He’s got sharp reflexes, he can handle one on one situations, his communication is top notch, and he keeps his cool under pressure. Unfortunately for the Toledo and the Kickers, the line in front of him is not particularly good. Archer is the best of the bunch and a giant of a player. While he has his size as an advantage, it takes a lot away from his game in terms of speed. He’s adequate technically – he can mark and tackle but he has a very hard time following the course of play and his bad decisions have hurt the Kickers time and time again. Archer’s partner in the center of defense, Smitt, doesn’t make up for any of Archer’s weaknesses – he’s slow as well. To make matters worse he can’t tackle either; he almost makes up for it with his superb heading ability though. At the right back spot, Prieto adds his savvy – making better decisions than either Archer or Smitt and is more likely to stay alert for the full 90 minutes. However, Prieto doesn’t have the speed you like to see in a fullback and is a worse tackler than Smitt and quite poor at marking his man. Similar to Prieto, Smith’s mental game is far superior to his technical skills – a better marker than Prieto, he’s still not as skill as you’d expect a USL defender to be. On the plus side, he’s got a bit of speed and he does not tire easily.

Rob Rodriguez is the star of the midfield and likely the team. His crosses are always on target and his dribbling is top notch. If that weren’t enough, he’s deadly on set pieces and a highly regarded teammate. On the opposite wing is Matt Saunders, a fading legend for the Kickers, having made over 400 appearances for the team and made over 100 assists. However, Saunders isn’t the player that he once was and is nearing the end of his career. His speed has started to fade and his passing isn’t as precise as it used to be but his crosses are still lethal. In the middle of the midfield are Beasley and Conrad, both of whom have major question marks to their games. Beasley’s greatest skill is his ability to cross – the problem is that he’s not very good at crossing. Conrad can mark a man but he can’t tackle the ball away from him. In his younger days, Conrad may have been a serious attacking threat but nowadays his dribbling is sloppy and his passes are rarely on target. His speed has remained though and he’s known to be a good teammate. At the attack, Gilbert and Robinson are almost identical players – large target men with a lot of speed but questionable eyes for goal.

The Kickers get us started.

Robinson comes forward and centers the ball. George climbs over Rodriguez to clear it. Beasley rushes to the clearance and fires the ball but it curves just right.

Barrionuevo advances through the driving rain before sending the ball to Hernandez’s feet. Hernandez takes a couple steps before playing a quick one-two with Juarez. Hernandez hoofs the ball to the right of goal.

Beasley passes back toward Rodriguez before Tomas Garcia rushes in and steals. Tomas Garcia tries to run onto the ball but Prieto is there and clears across the field to Williams. Williams passes short to Saunders who hesitates on the ball. Campbell takes his chance and dives in. Barrionuevo runs onto the loose ball and takes off at full speed. He burns past Smitt down to the right side. Tomas Garcia has made an adjacent run and is wide open in the area! Barrionuevo sees him and puts the ball at his feet! The keeper rushes out! Tomas Garcia hesitates and Prieto dives in to save the sure goal.

In the 28th minute, Salvador slips on the wet grass and has to leave the field for treatment.

Rodriguez steps up to take the free kick to the right of the area. He hits it to Saunders who shoots from the edge of the area. Juarez heads it out.

Prieto throws the ball in to Rodriguez. Rodriguez plays it back to Prieto. George smothers Prieto so he blasts the ball at him and it goes out for the corner. Rodriguez sends in a low and hard corner so Hernandez heads it down at the near post. Rodriguez tries again but this time Campbell clears.

At the half, the Kickers take out Robinson and put on ML Valenzuela. Valenzuela is a career backup and with good reason – he’s perfectly mediocre and is slow to boot. He’s average with the ball at his feet and his passes won’t wow, nor will his crosses. Rodriguez switches to striker, Saunders switches to right midfielder.

Smitt sends the ball down the right side. Valenzuela runs on to the ball at the half. He works his way down the side and drifts in a cross at the edge of the area. Salvador does well to deflect but Williams heads the deflection to Conrad. Conrad rushes into the area where Andres is forced to clear.

Williams throws in to Beasley, Beasley touches back to Williams. Williams takes a couple steps and George rushes in to cover while Beasley sneaks behind him. Williams feeds Beasley the ball into the area. Beasley tries an ambitious shot that looked more like a cross. George leaps up and heads it upward and it drifts out for the corner. Beasley steps up and floats the corner in. Archer beats Salvador to the ball and heads it down and in! (49)

Valenzuela intercepts Tomas Garcia’s cross straight into the box and boots it to Gilbert in space. Gilbert takes off down the field until Salvador meets him to the left of the penalty area. Gilbert hits in a low cross and Rodriguez taps it in. (53)

Prieto throws in to Rodriguez. Rodriguez takes off down the left side. At the byline, Rodriguez hits in a cross that Valenzuela rises to meet but heads over the bar.

Beasley sends in a corner that Archer heads toward goal. Gray appears out of nowhere to grab it.

George centers the ball to McDermott. McDermott sees Barrionuevo being played onside in the area and feeds him the ball. Barrionuevo tries to lob the keeper but the ball falls gently on the top of the net.

In the 74th minute, Tomas Garcia leaves the field for North who looks to play as a pure striker rather than Tomas Garcia’s winger role. Mahoney replaces Hernandez.

Beasley puts the corner to the near post so Juarez heads the ball to safety. Valenzula runs onto the clearance and blasts the ball over the bar from 35 yards out.

DC Michael Jackson replaces Smitt for Richmond in the 81st minute. In the 86th minute, ST Stefano Falchi replaces Saunders.

Seattle Sounders 0-2 Richmond Kickers

Archer (49); Rodriguez (53)

Man of the Match: DC Jeff Archer (Richmond Kickers)

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October 25th, 2020

New York City, New York

The techno beat pounds on in the background. The entire club has formed a circle around us. Scantily dressed girls cling to their dates but don’t avert their eyes. As usual, I’m the focus of everyone’s attention. Opposite me is a large, middle age man with the gait of a boxer – standing about half a foot taller than me, easily 100 pounds heavier, with a previously unblemished face – if he were a boxer he must have been a good one. He circles from a distance, either out of respect for the blow that caused the blood to trickle down his left temple or out of pride as he patiently waits for me to make the first move. I do. I rush at him and throw a left cross. He doesn’t dodge, doesn’t block but as the pain courses through my hand he brings both hands down onto my head and I fall. I don’t lie there for very long before he lifts and throws me. I crash into a table and can’t distinguish whether my rib or the broken table hurts. When I rise again the man has become three and the floor tilts downward on both sides. I shake my head and he turns back into just one very blurry man. Damien and Chad step in front of me. I put my hand on Chad’s shoulder, “This is my fight.”

Damien makes an expression of pure disbelief but steps aside. Chad rolls his eyes, “We know it’s your fight. You started it. We just don’t want to see you die.”

I laugh and feel it in my table-indented ribs. I wink at him, “Have a little faith.” Chad’s look of annoyance turns to one of genuine concern but he too steps aside. He was wrong though, I didn’t start that fight but I sure finished it.

I rush in again. I take a few swings and this time the man is forced to block. We trade a few blows. He’s clearly stronger but I’m quicker. I use that speed to dodge one of his blows. I move in and knee him square in the gut. I can tell it hurt because of how hard he hits me in return. I use a skill I’ve been taught since childhood – I dive. I lay on the ground unmoving while the crowd ooohs before going silent. The man steps over me and mutters, It wasn’t supposed to go like this!”

I lash out as hard and fast as I can. The full force of my kick hits him square him the jaw and I feel the crack. He falls. There’s a hush in the crowd and then cheers. I look over at Chad and see his horrified expression. As I rise there’s a second hush. I look over to see that Nash has materialized, flanked by his two flunkies. He growls, “Everyone. Out.” There’s a pause. Nobody knows who he is or how to react. “Now.” At that, they know what to do. The bodies stream out the door.

The young starlet who had been my date walks up behind me and clings to my back, sending pain shooting everywhere. I put a hand to my head in hopes that that will sooth the wounds and try to remember her name. She doesn’t know.

Nash gestures to one of his flunkies and they drag her kicking and screaming out of the club. “Who is he?”

Nash was my favorite of my appointed handlers. Even through his sunglasses, I can tell he’s more concerned than he is angry. His predecessor would’ve dragged me off to Father without saying a word. “He said he had information. He wanted me to pay him…To keep it quiet.”

“What was the information? Who was it about?”

“I…we didn’t get that far.” Stupid. “I was having a good time and he kept saying he wanted my autograph. I finally went over to get a drink and he came up next to me at the bar..”

Nash glances at the motionless heap of a man, “And you acted without thinking. Like usual.” Nash looks up at the ceiling for what seems like an eternity and sighs. “Next time find out what he knows. Or let me deal with it. He might have had accomplices.” The first blow doesn’t come entirely as a surprise. Better Nash tell Father he punished me on the spot than wait and let him deal with it. “I’m sorry kid.” I’d like to believe he genuinely means it. “And happy birthday,” he says with a grimace. The last thing I see before passing out is his two flunkies dragging the man from the club and can’t help but think about that snap I’d felt as my foot hit his head.

June 24th, 2029

Seattle, Washington

“The papers reported that the man had a crazed fan that had attacked me. The official story was that a police officer had found him threatening me with a knife and been forced to shoot. No one that had been there said otherwise.”

I look out to see the horrified expressions of the team. Rotan finally raises his dropped jaw and says with some difficulty – “Sir…What was the point of that story?”

“We lost a game, I’ve been there before. I could’ve told you a story about how we were all devastated by defeat and banded together to win the next one. But there are worse things than losing a game. Sometimes winning is shallow. If nothing else, take from it that sometimes we need to take a punch and continue on.”

I walk away from the perplexed expressions of players and staff alike. I think I like this coaching thing.

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June 25th, 2029

Somewhere?, USA

“Where is this? Texas?” We’ve been on trains for what seems like an eternity and we have not had the most exciting views – desert and more desert. The company isn’t helping.

Crook sighs, “I still don’t know.” He checks his pocket watch. “It’s 2:30 and we’re supposed to arrive by 4:15 so not too much longer.” It’s unsettling to have Crook travel with us. He hasn’t been to any of our games or practices so it was almost surprising to see him show up at the train station this morning.

“Look, you know that I didn’t come on this trip just because the team was heading in my direction. The Boss had some thoughts he wanted me to express to you.”

I assumed as much, “Why couldn’t he just tell me himself?”

Crook acts as though he had not heard and continues speaking, “Firstly, The Boss is impressed by your good start with the team. The loss to the Kickers was unfortunate but he trusts you will rebound quickly. However. He is displeased that we received a phone call from the FA regarding a quote you gave a reporter following the match.”

A reporter..? “But I didn’t speak to any press after the game.”

Crook’s smirk grows more smug, “A man shouted ‘It should’ve been a penalty.’ You replied, ‘Damn straight.’

Is he serious? “I barely muttered that!”

“And yet it is in the papers. Do be more careful in the future. On to the second issue. The Boss says no to Maranhao.”

“You can’t be serious! We had a fee agreed. How can he say no to both Maranhao and Osuna? We need an attacking threat.”

Crook laughs his deep gravelly laugh, “His wage requests were too high; he’s already agreed to sign with Atlante – it’ll be announced officially tomorrow. I’ve brought you other options, we’ll sign someone else. The third matter is that you may be hearing links to other teams – odd considering your very short tenure but not entirely surprising with your high profile. You are to ignore these rumors.”

I hadn’t expected that, I thought I was technically unqualified for this position. Then again, Crook had mentioned that other teams had been after me following the funeral.. “This is the first I’ve heard of this – what jobs am I being linked to?”

“I’m to say no more. The final issue is that The Boss expects you to win against the Jesters. A loss against the Kickers was acceptable. A loss against an American League opponent would not be. He wishes you luck.”

“That was everything? You came with us for that?”

“The Boss thought it was important so you should think it’s important.” He smirks, “Also, I have business in Nawlins.” As he speaks, his normal Yorkshire accent shifts seamlessly to the Cajun accent typical of the region. “And then I’ll be heading home for a bit. Nothing you need concern yourself with.”

That’s surprising, an opening. “Where is home exactly?”

He keeps his smirk on but scowls with his eyes, “England.”

Obviously, “Anywhere in particular?”

“I travel a lot.” He sighs, “I was born in Manchester.”

“You must be pretty thrilled that Man U just won their 31st then?” It’d been a record setting year for a few teams. Lyon had won their 24th title and ninth in a row. Bayern won their 36th.

“Not a fan,” he says as he looks out the window, clearly trying to cut off the conversation.

“More of a fan of the underdog then? FC United just turned professional again.” I can’t pass up this opportunity to get some information.

“They are cute but no.” He glances back at me and sighs a second time, “Leeds. My teams is Leeds and they’re starting to get good again for the first time in 15 years.” Avoided the drop to the Championship, he means. I open my mouth to ask another question and he interrupts, “Don’t.”

We ride the rest of the way in silence.

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June 26th, 2029

Pan American Stadium, New Orleans, Louisiana (US Cup Second Round: New Orleans Jesters vs. Seattle Sounders)

Pan American Stadium sits in a huge beautiful public park. Like most of New Orleans, the park was hit hard by the disaster of Hurricane Katrina in 2006. In the wake of that disaster, approximately half of New Orleans did not return to their homes – leading rich individuals and business to purchase large portions of the city. Recognizing the huge tourism potential in the area, the area was largely restored with historically French, opulent buildings. The stadium itself seats 5000 and is surrounded by ancient oak trees, an amusement park, a museum, and botanical gardens, amongst other sites.

Seattle Sounders: GK Colin Gray, DL Andy George, DC Chris Campbell, DC Salvador, DR Brett Camacho, CM Tony McDermott, CM Rob Hernandez, CM Neil Juarez, AML Tomas Garcia, ST Diego Barrionuevo, ST Chad North, Subs: Nathan Bishop, Angelo Varriale, Abedi Addo, Adam Mahoney, Per Jakobsen, Dave Dunn, John Garcia.

With Andres too tired to play, the formation shifts to more a 4-3-1-2 with the two defensive midfielders playing out of the center and Andres’ center role replaced by Chad North at striker. Additionally, Brett Camacho is set to make his first appearance at the right back position, previously prevented from playing by the fact that the registration period is closed until July. As a result, Chris Campbell shifts into the center of the defense and John Garcia sits.

New Orleans Jesters: GK Daniel Castillo, DL Byron Marshall, CB Peter Valentine, CB Carlos Velazquez, DR Edson Montes, ML Kenneth Cooper, CM Arturo Alvarez, CM Carlos Alberto Garza, MR Gareth Jones, ST Greg O’Connor, ST Roberto Bellandi, Subs: Frank Houser, Fred Boakay, Jesus Ugalde, Carlos Javier Rico, Zak Boswell, Rob Anderson, Steve Griffin

When the leagues restructured in 2011, the Jesters were founding members of the new USL. They were also among the first two teams relegated to the Association. In 2015, the Jesters would fall to the American League for the first time. They’ve risen and fallen twice since then and are currently in their longest consecutive spell in the League – in their fourth year – and are currently in fifth place.

Today, the Jesters are without starting keeper – and former Cosmos youth product – Andrew Tena due to a yellow card suspension. To say that Daniel Castillo is a step down would be an understatement. Castillo is 15 years old and normally starts for the Jester’s youth squad. He has reflexes and keeps a cool head but he’s a huge liability everywhere else.

Marshall is good for the American League level – his marking and tackling are good enough for the Association. He’s fast as well – if he could keep his concentration during a match, he would probably playing at a higher level. On the opposite side is Montes, another youth player. Montes should not be playing for this team but injuries have depleted the Jester’s defense. In the center of defense are Velazquez and Valentine – both young but capable starters for this level. On the wings are Cooper and Jones. Cooper is a talented young player while Jones is an untalented older player. Cooper’s greatest strength is his crosses but his passing is a huge liability. Jones can pass and he’s quick but other than that, he should not even be playing as a backupl. In the midfield are Garza and Alvarez. Garza is the star of the team, in fact he would not look out of place on the Sounder’s roster. His passing and set pieces are top notch but the most surprising aspect of his game are the mental components. All this from a player who was playing in the amateurs just four seasons ago. Alvarez is not as impressive but is capable – best suited when creating plays and distributing the ball.

The Jester’s strikers are a strength for the team. Bellandi is the better of the two – best when fed the ball but still able to create when forced to. O’Connor isn’t quite as good of a finisher but he is more often composed.

We kick off to get the game started.

Camacho throws in to North and North plays it back. Camacho sends the ball to the left to Juarez but Juarez returns in. Camacho and North pass back and forth as they work down the field. Finally Camacho centers the ball to Juarez who passes short to Hernandez. Hernandez plays a cutting ball through the Jester’s defense. Tomas Garcia steps to the ball and shoots short. Castillo deflects to Montes who clears for the corner.

Camacho throws in again to North. Camacho and North once again exchange passes. Camacho again finds Juarez. Juarez passes to North who sees Barrionuevo making a run and places the ball at his feet. Barrionuevo shoots but misses to the right. The goal kick lands at George’s feet. George sees Barrionuevo and blasts him the ball. Barrionuevo runs onto the ball and into the area with just the keeper to beat. He puts in the easy shot (9).

Camacho runs onto Cooper’s clearance. Camacho takes a few steps before passing to Juarez. Juarez finds Barrionuevo on the edge of the penalty area. Barrionuevo takes a step to Velazquez’s right and knocks the ball into the goal (11).

Cooper passes the ball to Beliandi in the center of the field. Beliandi kicks it out left to O’Connor. O’Connor moves it back to Beliandi who quickly plays it back. O’Connor rushes toward the area and plays to Beliandi who has raced to the edge of area. Beliandi’s shot lowers toward goal but is just over.

George sends the ball down the left side to Tomas Garcia. Tomas Garcia finds Barrionuevo but he can’t control the ball and Castillo easily deflects.

By the half, we look well ahead and have taken our foot off the pedal. DR Griffin replaces Montes. It’s a wonder that Griffin didn’t start over Montes as he’s a far better player.

Juarez steals the ball off the Jester’s kick to get us started. Juarez passes to Barrionuevo who races down the field. Barrionuevo reaches the edge and looks to shoot but passes at the last second to North. North fires the first look shot but it sales over. Camacho throws in toward Hernandez but Kenneth Cooper intervenes and blasts the ball blindly toward the area. Bellandi races into the area and is first to the ball with his back facing goal. Gray rushes toward him but Bellandi turns left and taps the ball in (49).

North and Barrionuevo reset play. Barrionuevo to Juarez to Barrionuevo to Juarez to North to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo takes off, rounding three defenders he fires as he enters the area on the right and sends the ball across goal.

George throws the ball back in play to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo works his way toward the center of field. There he heaves the ball toward North and a group of defenders. Juarez runs onto the wayward ball and finds Barrionuevo as he cuts into the area. Barrionuevo looks to round the keeper but he shoots to soon and Castillo deflects.

Tomas Garcia throws the ball to George. George passes back to McDermott. McDermott curls the ball into the area but there’s nobody there. Juarez runs onto the deflection. Juarez passes short to Barrionuevo who barely has to touch it in (62). He has his hat trick!

Tomas Garcia advances with the ball before passing back to George. George hoofs the ball down the field so Tomas Garcia races down the field to meet it at the byline and send in a cross. Barrionuevo tries for goal number four but Castillo deflects.

Camacho takes out Kenneth Cooper in the 71st minute – he can’t continue. ML Rico replaces him. Rico is a step down from Cooper but not by much. Like Cooper, Rico’s crossing is his greatest asset.

Rico almost has an instant impact. Alvarez feeds him the ball. Rico plays a quick pass to O’Connor who curves the ball from the corner of the area but Gray shows good hands. Gray kicks the ball long and Hernandez makes a horrific header back toward our own goal. Bellandi races onto it with only Gray to beat. Gray rushes out and grabs and holds the ball as Bellandi tries to lob it over.

Tomas Garcia floats in the free kick. Alvarez shoves North – it’s a penalty! Tomas Garcia steps up…and scores! (83). ST Boswell replaces O’Connor before play restarts.

Castillo kicks the ball to the half. Salvador leaps over Bellandi to win the ball and passes to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo quickly moves the ball to Juarez. Juarez hoofs the ball to the area. North races from the edge and fights Valentine for it. North wins and taps it past Castillo (85). Garcia replaces Camacho and Hernandez goes on for Mahoney.

New Orleans Jesters 1-5 Seattle Sounders

Barrionuevo (9, 11, 62); Bellandi (49); Tomas Garcia (pen 83); North (85)

Man of the Match: ST Diego Barrionuevo (Seattle Sounders)

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  • 2 weeks later...

June 27th, 2029

Raleigh, North Carolina

“I’m sorry..It’s been so long. I was abroad for what? Five, six years now? I settled down in this beautiful little village. I just walked into town one day. I think it was three months before anybody bothered to ask my name. No one knew me! I got a job in the local clinic – nothing difficult. Cleaning, helping with difficult patients, I enjoyed the simplicity of it all. Working there was how I met..”

His tall dark shadow passes over; a light rain drizzles from the bright grey sky. I turn to face him. It’s Junior, of course. His cologne gave him away a mile ago. And besides, who else knows about this place? He stands immaculate in his shiny blue suit with expensive umbrella overhead. “We need to talk, Gabriel.”

“I’m flattered.” I move to rise and he rushes over to help me up. No sooner am I up than does he realize he’s now splattered in mud. He looks down in disgust and I can’t help but to smile a little. “You’re looking well.”

“Yes…yes.” He pats absentmindedly at his now ruined suit. “It hasn’t been easy, you know. What with the stress I’ve been dealing with lately. But as Father used to say, we must keep up appearances.”

“How did you know I was here, Junior?”

“So short with your favorite brother!” My face clearly shows my thoughts as his expression turns to what I assume is the closest Junior could feel as genuine hurt. “You wound me Gabriel. How did I know you were here? I know you. You couldn’t come as close as New Orleans and not stop in to say hi. But that’s not what you’re really asking, you want to know why I came to see you while you were here. I suppose it is the same answer though. I know you. You might want to tell yourself different but you and I were as close as..” He laughs theatrically and then smiles his Hollywood, cheesy grin, “brothers, I suppose, once.”

“Well, you were halfway decent once. Before you got your head stuck so far up Father’s…” I let him have this one, his rings leave a shallow cut on my cheek. This time he doesn’t move to help me up.

“Ahem.” He fixes his coat and preens, as though he had not just struck me. “You say that as though I was the only one. You strayed from the pack, for sure, but not always. Once you were everything we hoped for..before his and your..disagreement. And now it appears your time with the army has made you completely incorrigible. So let’s get to the point, shall we?”

I nod agreement from my sitting place on the wet ground.

“I didn’t travel 3500 miles and drag you back kicking and screaming so that you could play hero to one of Father’s biggest rivals. I didn’t bring you back from your early grave so that you could do whatever the hell you wanted. There was a plan for you. You’ve shirked that. You will fall in line however. Or I will make you wish you really had been dead. Is there an understanding between us?” He walks over and sets his bouquet on our mother’s tombstone.

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June 30th, 2029

Marina Auto Stadium, Rochester, New York (USL: Rochester Rhinos vs. Seattle Sounders)

| Pos   | Inf   | Team                          |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 1st   |       | Cleveland Crush               |       | 23    | 12    | 6     | 5     | 38    | 19    | +19   | 42    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 2nd   |       | Orange County Blue Star       |       | 23    | 10    | 8     | 5     | 35    | 25    | +10   | 38    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 3rd   |       | Miami Fusion                  |       | 23    | 10    | 6     | 7     | 33    | 29    | +4    | 36    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 4th   |       | Richmond Kickers              |       | 23    | 11    | 3     | 9     | 28    | 26    | +2    | 36    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 5th   |       | Austin Aztex                  |       | 23    | 10    | 5     | 8     | 26    | 23    | +3    | 35    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 6th   |       | New York City United          |       | 23    | 10    | 5     | 8     | 27    | 25    | +2    | 35    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 7th   |       | Colorado Rapids               |       | 23    | 10    | 5     | 8     | 30    | 35    | -5    | 35    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 8th   |       | Philadelphia Union            |       | 23    | 8     | 9     | 6     | 22    | 17    | +5    | 33    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 9th   |       | Harrisburg City               |       | 23    | 10    | 3     | 10    | 31    | 30    | +1    | 33    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 10th  |       | Kansas City Wizards           |       | 23    | 9     | 4     | 10    | 29    | 27    | +2    | 31    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 11th  |       | Madison 56ers                 |       | 23    | 9     | 4     | 10    | 25    | 38    | -13   | 31    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 12th  |       | Las Vegas Aces                |       | 23    | 7     | 9     | 7     | 31    | 29    | +2    | 30    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 13th  |       | Minnesota Stars               |       | 23    | 7     | 9     | 7     | 25    | 24    | +1    | 30    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 14th  |       | [b]Seattle Sounders[/b]              |       | 23    | 7     | 8     | 8     | 26    | 25    | +1    | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 15th  |       | Tampa Bay Rowdies             |       | 23    | 8     | 5     | 10    | 25    | 34    | -9    | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 16th  |       | Maryland Monarchs             |       | 23    | 6     | 10    | 7     | 24    | 25    | -1    | 28    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 17th  |       | Rochester Rhinos              |       | 23    | 7     | 7     | 9     | 26    | 33    | -7    | 28    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 18th  |       | Chivas USA                    |       | 23    | 7     | 5     | 11    | 28    | 29    | -1    | 26    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 19th  |       | Provo Cougars                 |       | 23    | 6     | 6     | 11    | 24    | 32    | -8    | 24    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 20th  |       | Southern California Seahorses |       | 23    | 5     | 5     | 13    | 33    | 41    | -8    | 20    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 

Despite being a massive city in its own right, Rochester is often viewed as the little sibling of New York City and Buffalo. Similarly, the Rhinos have been viewed as secondary to the more successful New York Cosmos and the New York Red Bulls. With New York City United performing well, Rochester is finding support at an all time low. The city of Rochester, however, has undergone massive growth in the past 20 years. The end of mass production and the return to the prominence of mills has brought a tremendous economic boom..

Seattle Sounders: GK Colin Gray, DL Andy George, DC Chris Campbell , DC Salvador, DR John Garcia, DM Neil Juarez, CM Tony McDermott, CM Andres, CM Rob Hernandez, AML Tomas Garcia, ST Diego Barrionuevo, Subs: Nathan Bishop, Angelo Varriale, Matty Burns, Adam Mahoney, Per Jakobsen, Dave Dunn, Chad North

Unfortunately, Camacho will not be able to stay with the first team following his stellar performance against the Jesters. During the registration window next week, we should be able to properly register him and he will return. Garcia returns in his place but instead of returning to his central position, he remains on the flank. Andres slots back into the team putting Chad North on the bench which would return us to the 4-2-2-1-1 formation from our first three games. However, McDermott impressed in the center, turning the formation into a 4-1-3-1-1.

Rochester Rhinos: GK Neil Rivera, DL Michael Pace, DC Riccardo Fioretti, DC Michael Peterson, DR Michael Dombrowski, ML Harry Wallace, CM Javier Tanner, CM Jake Sainz, MR Ray Stevens, ST Bruce Frausto, ST Mike Harrington, Subs: Charlie Saunders, John Vazquez, Paul Parker, Kevin Williams, Soren Jensen, Keith Rangel, Jonathan Parker

The Rhinos have been a steady team in the USL, having only been relegated once (in 2025) before immediately returning. Part of their consistency is attributed to long time manager Bob Lilley who was with the team for almost 20 years. His replacement did not last long – 6 months and recently fired. The team has yet to find a new replacement and are not coincidentally currently languishing in 17th place.

Rivera is an average keeper at best. He’s not poor or spectacular in any area. He served as the back up for the past two seasons and has finally taken over starting this season but thus far has let in 17 goals in 12 appearances. The defensive line isn’t poor, just very slow. Peterson, and Fioretti are capable defenders. However, their lack of speed would prevent them from starting on any other USL team. Dombrowski is the fastest, and best, of the back four. His mental game is a notch above the other three. Pace is the last defender and would really be better suited as a back up rather than the starting role he’s currently being given. Like Rivera, he’s not bad in any area – he simply doesn’t excel either.

Stevens was once a very good player but his speed has begun to fade in the twilight of his career. He’s a great distributor still and he keeps composed in hairy situations – which is vital with the Rhinos performing as poorly as they are. On the opposite wing is Wallace. Unlike Stevens, Wallace has trouble when the going gets tough and unfortunately for the Rhinos, Wallace’s crosses and passes are nowhere as good. He is very quick though. The center of the midfield is a similar story to the wings. Sainz is a veteran defensive midfield whose speed has abandoned him. However, his veteran presence and defensive skills make him a valuable asset. Tanner on the other hand, does not add much beyond his speed.

Up front are Harrington and Frausto. Harrington is a good striker with a good eye for goal and a good head for moving into space and making decisions on the fly. He’s outshined by his partner, however. Frausto is by far the best player on this Rhinos team. He’s talented enough to play for an American Premier team but he didn’t cut it when he had his chance with Columbus, scoring only four goals in three seasons. He joined the Rhinos on a free and has remained ever since. He isn’t a fast player but if you get the ball to his feet with a clear shot then it is likely going in the net. He’s well liked by his teammates and lauded for his workrate.

Rochester gets the game underway.

Juarez goes forward. He passes to Andres. Andres goes forward. Andres feeds the ball forward to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo races into the box and curls the ball at goal but only finds side netting.

McDermott races down the right side. He moves it forward to Hernandez. Hernandez runs with the ball. He swings the ball toward Andres. Andres heads forward and rifles in a volley that goes wide of goal.

Barrionuevo cuts to the inside, he breaks away from his defenders and goes forward. He shoots but Rivera pushes it away. Garcia steps onto the deflection and taps it in! (10)

Frausto looks for Tanner. Tanner sends the ball square to Pace. Pace tries to find Harry Wallace with a forward pass to feet. John Garcia goes in low but misses. Wallace moves forward before heading to the left byline and puts in a low cross. George steps in and intercepts and clears. Salvador heads the ball clear, Tanner heads it. Sainz runs onto it and steps toward the area. Sainz lays it wide right to Pace. Pace keeps the ball moving before finding Tanner with a low pass. Tanner plays the ball to Sainz’ feet. Sainz shoots from distance but it sails over the bar.

Barrionuevo races past the last defender. Barrionuevo moves toward goal. Peterson brings Barrionuevo down. Barrionuevo steps up to take the free kick and floats it goalwards. The rebound lands at Tomas Garcia’s feet. Tomas Garcia fires at the close angle.

McDermott passes to Andres. Andres advances with the ball. Andres hits it forward to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo goes forward. Pace tackles the ball into space. Hernandez rushes onto the open ball and blasts the ball well over the bar.

Barrionuevo has space. He runs before playing off to Tomas Garcia. Tomas Garcia races to the area. At the edge he lobs but Rivera deflects. The ball falls into space in the area. Barrionuevo Barrionuevo runs onto it and blasts it at goal.

George plays forward to Tomas Garcia. Tomas Garcia plays back to George. George plays forward to Andres. Andres plays back to George. George plays back and forth with McDermott. McDermott runs forward and shoots from 30 yards out and blacks it in! Goal!! (36)

Wallace races down the field. Juarez steps up to challenge and Wallace shoves him! Juarez goes down.

At the half, the Rhinos take off Wallace in favor of (DM) John Vasquez, shifting Tanner to the wing to hold their 4-4-2 formation. Vasquez, a purely defensive player, is usually a starter and provides a strong force off the bench.

Dombrowski plays the ball down the line for Harrington. Harrington comes forward before passing back to Dombrowski. Dombrowski cross the ball to Frausto but George heads it out. Sainz takes the corner, Vasquez is there first and heads it into the back of the net! (52)

Rob Hernandez passes to McDermott. McDermott brings the ball forward and hits it to John Garcia. Garcia passes left to Rob Hernandez. Rob Hernandez passes the ball at Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo steps into the area before Fioretti clears.

George takes the throw in. Barrionuevo receives it and advances. Barrionuevo passes it along to Tomas Garcia as he moves into the area. Tomas Garcia passes it back to the edge to Andres who hits it at a narrow angle. The ball sails over the crossbar.

In the 66th minute, Frausto leaves the field for ST Kevin Williams. Williams has been a consistent striker for the Rhinos for the past 10 years and is having a great year so far having scored 9 goals. The only reason he’s on the bench is that, at 33, his stamina isn’t what it used to be so the drain of playing every game has gotten to be too much.

Stevens runs up and drifts in the corner. Rob Hernandez jumps for the clearance but it sails over, Sainz doesn’t miss! It’s in the back of the net. (69) The Rhinos tie it up.

John Garcia steps forward. Barrionuevo receives the ball in stride. Barrionuevo races past his man into the box and blasts it left but Rivera tips it wide. Tomas Garcia takes the corner. Andres wins the ball in the air and heads it down to Tomas Garcia. Tomas Garcia sends it to the left post. Salvador gets his head to it but it bangs the bar.

(CM) Mahoney replaces Rob Hernandez and (ST) Chad North replaces Tomas Garcia switching us to more of a 4-1-3-2.

Mahoney drifts in a corner. Salvador pounces and it winds up in the net! (78).

Stevens heads off the field. (AMR) Rangel replaces him. Stevens flips sides to the left wing.

North has space to run. He races to the byline and crosses low. Fioretti heads the ball to safety. McDermott intercepts, turns, and volleys into the goal! (83)

Seattle Sounders 4-2 Rochester Rhinos

Tomas Garcia (10); McDermott (36, 83); Vasquez (52); Sainz (69); Salvador (78)

Man of the Match: DM Tony McDermott (Seattle Sounders)

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July 1st, 2029

Seattle, Washington

Barry Parker is like the older brother I never had - what Junior could never have been. I always looked up to him and he always went out of his way to help me. But war changes a man. I’ve done things, seen things. I can't even look in the mirror anymore. Will he even recognize me? I walked by him at the funeral, it was as though he were looking at a ghost. I suppose he was.

For 300 games, 17 years, and 47 goals, Barry lived and breathed Cosmos. But then he turned 32 and lost a step. Speed had never been a good point for Barry’s game and Father was ever a pragmatic man. Never mind the fact that Barry worshipped him. Never mind that Barry thought they had bonded through the games won as Cosmos and all the caps earned for the U.S. squad. Father didn't bond. The day Father decided he was no longer useful he let him go. I doubt there was even a phone call.

But letting Barry go was mistake. He may have lost a step – and that’s even debatable – but he was always first and foremost a cerebral player. I remember the day he first set foot in the New Meadowlands Stadium, Father brought me to every practice, saying that soon I needed to learn. And fast. I was 8. The older players dubbed Barry the little grandfather; 16 years old and a head of grey hair and old eyes. He starred down the best the Cosmos had to offer and shut down their threats. He is, without a doubt, one of the main factors in the Cosmos' success.

And now I approach him as his head coach.

Barry stands staring at me, with no discernible expression. His always calm, knowing eyes appraising me. “Shooter, you have not aged a day.”

Sadly, I can’t return the compliment. Barry’s moniker holds truly than ever, less the little portion unfortunately and more the grandfather. His ever grey hair and weary, wise eyes give him the appearance of a man much older than his 34 years. His two years playing for Rayo in Spain have given him a tan, making him seem so tired. “Barry, it is great to see you. How was the trip?"

He gives a little shrug in response, "Long."

"How’s your girlfriend doing? Lydia, right?”

“She’s my wife now..And she’s doing…well – she’s still in Spain. I haven’t convinced her yet that playing in Seattle..” He gestures toward the rain clouds above, “..Is actually an improvement over Rayo but she’ll come around. She knows how much I hated sitting on that damn bench.”

“At least you had one good year there, right? I was shocked when I got back to find out you weren’t with the team anymore.”

“Things..Things weren’t the same after you left.” He closes his eyes, “Everything’s just getting worse too. They sold Ronaldo – just today. Maurice told me he’s been offered a contract too. He doesn’t know what to do. We all love the team but something strange is going on.”

“I couldn’t believe when they sold Sesay, and how, $50 million? And Gonzalez. Who are they going to put on the field? I thought it was a coup when we landed youngster Dave Hubbard but now it just seems like…”

Barry finishes my thought “A fire sale. Kind of like they’re getting rid of everything – and everyone – affiliated with your Father.” Good. He hesitates a moment. “…I was sorry to hear about your Father.” I shrug and his eyes widen slightly. “Shooter! I know you two had your differences, but he was your Father.”

“He was my manager, same as he was yours. Everything else was secondary.”

“Shooter…Kid.” Barry walks up and puts his arm across my shoulders – like he had done time and time again, always when he thought I was being naïve. “After you’d been gone for a year; when your transport sank...Your Father wasn’t the same man – he was so..”

“You should get to practice Barry. Now.”

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July 3rd, 2029

Seattle, Washington

“And finally, congratulations to Salvador and Tony for making the Team of the Week, you both earned it.” In the distance, I spy Crook walking onto the edge of the field. This is the first I’ve seen him since his disappearance on the east coast. He’s flanked by three individuals that I don’t recognize…in Seattle uniforms. “So that wraps up our team meeting, unless anyone has anything to add? No? Good. Get to practice.”

The players rush off while Rotan begins shouting instructions. Crook and his entourage approach, “’ello Shooter.”

I hesitate for just a moment, “How was your trip home, Crook? Glad to see the lads made it alright." I shake each of their hands in turn. "Sorry that I couldn’t make it to meet in you in person.”

To the far left is a dark skinned young man made to look much taller by his immensely big hair that defies gravity and stands straight up. He stares at me with intense grey/white eyes but his expression does not change. On the other side of Crook is a young man in our keeper kit. He’s on the scrawny side and is very pale with brown hair, he has an unkempt look to him and he really needs to shave. On the right of the group is a young man grinning ear to ear. He has long hair bound behind his head and dark skin. ““Mr. Locke..” Mr. Locke? I shudder. Did he just squeak? “It’s an absolutely pleasure."

“We’re going to do great things, boys.” I pat him on the back. “Why don’t you all get to practice?”

I wait until the three are out of sight, “What the hell was that Crook? Who are they?”

“Those, Mr. Locke, are the three players that are going to push this team to the next level.” He smirks, “I told you that I had business to take care of.”

“I’m the head coach.” He snickers and glances down at his watch. “You can’t just sign players without consulting me first.”

“Heh, that’s funny. You didn’t seem to mind when I signed Parker.” His smirk remains but his eyes are flash with annoyance, “This is a business that we’re running here. The boss has tasked me to improve this football club by whatever means necessary. If I hadn’t signed them, a dozen other clubs were waiting in the wings. I don’t have time for you to learn how to play the game. But if it makes you feel better I can go through the motions in the future and pretend that I care about your opinion.” He throws a folder at my feet. “Read up about your new stars.”

Kei Bangura, DC, 20 years old, Sierra Leone (1 cap)

World Class. If Kei had been playing for any team other than The Mighty Blackpool, he might’ve been snatched up far before now. Sierra Leone head coach, Sessay Kamara caught notice of him though and started him last month where he played in the center of Sierra Leone’s defense with former Cosmos defender Mansaray Sesay – now that’s a scary duo. There’s not a team that Kei could not walk into and start. He does have one weakness – he’s exceptionally weak. Not a good trait to have in a defender but he makes up for it everywhere else.

Dale Johnson, GK, 18 years old, England (1 youth cap)

England’s next keeper? Liverpool clearly didn’t think so when they let him go after two seasons. He’s raw now but the sky is the limit with Dale. He's ready to start right away.

John Kelly, ST, 18 years old, England (Uncapped)

A former Manchester United youth player, there’s no denying that the talent is there. Kelly is lethal with the ball at his feet. He’s composed, a great team player, and a natural born leader. The two major knocks on his game that lost him favor with new Man U head coach Martin Caceres and assistant Paul Scholes are that he’s got no burst of acceleration and he’s injury prone – having been injured six times in two years with the team.

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The Sounders Come Marching In?

But is their new manager on the way out?

Brendon Silas

July 5th, 2029

Kei Bangura, Steve Brown, Chris Cooper, Dave Hubbard, Dale Johnson, John Kelly, Blake Miller, Levi O’Brien, Barry Parker, Daniele Siligardi, Jorge Simkin. Eleven new players and all with the quality to push for starting positions immediately. It would be one thing if the Sounders weren't performing with their current starts but Seattle finds themselves coming off a 4-2 win against the Rochester Rhinos and on a 3-1-1 run under new manager Gabriel Locke – son of managerial legend, Christian Locke. Regardless, on the opening day of the July transfer window, a whole new starting eleven made there way to Seattle Sounders Stadium.

But the real question seems to be, who is on the way out? Rumor has it that Locke was a hot commodity before taking the Seattle job and with the team performing well under his leadership, suitors are beginning to line up. Valladolid is first in line, already having had two offers rebuffed by the club. With Louis Saha fired last week, Chicago Fire are likely to turn their eye toward the young manager. With rumors surrounding the new manager and new talent flooding in, it is not surprising that some Sounders have begin to look elsewhere. Midfield star, Andres looks to be first in line out the door, with Montaneros and Huesca both having offers turned down – but with the interest he’s drawing it’s just a matter of time before a deal is made. With the 30 player limit, some players are certain to be on the move.

Steve Brown, ST, 31 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Brown is a player coming into his best in the twilight of his playing days. Wasted sitting on the bench for most of his career at DC United, Brown dropped down to the American League where he became a legend with Atlanta. Last year was a particular highlight with 23 goals, halfway through this season, Brown already has 15 for Atlanta. Brown is a very specialized player - he does one thing and he does that one thing exceptionally well – scoring with his feet from near the goal. He can’t create, he can’t distribute, but when he’s in range he scores.

Chris Cooper, AML, 22 years old, United States (Uncapped)

One of the rare U.S. talents of late who has opted not to move to Europe. Cooper has had little to show for his choice with a two year stint as a starter with Richmond. San Jose noticed him and purchased him but hasn’t given him a chance to play. Cooper will be an explosive presence on the left flank for the Sounders, with an all around solid game for a winger topped off by his exceptional crosses.

Dave Hubbard, DL, 17 years old, United States (Uncapped)

For the past four years Hubbard has been weaned in the lauded Cosmos youth program and had looked set to follow in the footsteps of a great many American players - before the Cosmos began selling all their assets. Hubbard isn’t yet the player he will one day be – he has the rudimentary tools for his defensive game but still needs work. What likely caught the Cosmos’ eye, however, is the attacking skills he brings to the leftback position. He’s exceptional with the ball at his feet and lightning quick.

Blake Miller, CM, 28 years old, United States (Uncapped)

Unlike Chris Cooper, Miller opted to ply his trade abroad. Miller moved from a starter position with Charleston to Bochum of Germany. After two years of mixed success, Miller moved to Osnaburck where he became a fan favorite. In seven seasons with the team, Miller only missed one game. Miller brings a solid presence to the midfield where his defensive prowess shines, though his passing skills are also top notch. He’s well loved as a teammate.

Levi O’Brien, AMC, 23 years old, United States/Germany (Uncapped)

O’Brien finds himself as a free agent after a failed stint with the Milwaukee Bavarians. He’s never quite reached his full potential but he’s got a bit of speed. His crosses are decent and his first touch is adequate. If nothing else he should provide a good presence off the bench.

Daniele Siligardi, ML, 24 years old, United States/Italy (Uncapped)

Siligardi was supposed to be the next great American player. At 18, Liverpool paid $1.1 Million for him. He spent two years on loan with League Two teams before Liverpool decided to cut their losses. He landed with Varese in the Serie B where he quickly became a regular. After a year, Torino picked him up as they made a push for the Serie A – and it worked. Now that they’ve achieved their goal, he’s been deemed excess to requirements and transfer listed. He’s a phenomenal young winger. He’s quick, he crosses beautifully, and better than that he can set up an attack. His only weakness is that his passes need some work.

Jorge Simkin, AMR, 21 years old, United States (Uncapped)

This former Chicago Fire youth product is on the rise. He broke through at Miami Fire two seasons ago making 17 appearances with 4 goals and 1 assist, prompting a move to Colorado. There he improved to three goals and three assists in thirteen appearances. His specialties are his set pieces but he’s not lacking in other areas. His crossing is elite and the rest of his game should develop the more he plays.

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July 7th, 2029

Seattle Sounders Stadium, Seattle, Washington (USL: Seattle Sounders vs. Cleveland Crush)

| Pos   | Inf   | Team                          |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 1st   |       | Cleveland Crush               |       | 24    | 13    | 6     | 5     | 41    | 20    | +21   | 45    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 2nd   |       | Orange County Blue Star       |       | 24    | 10    | 8     | 6     | 35    | 28    | +7    | 38    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 3rd   |       | New York City United          |       | 24    | 11    | 5     | 8     | 30    | 25    | +5    | 38    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 4th   |       | Colorado Rapids               |       | 24    | 11    | 5     | 8     | 33    | 35    | -2    | 38    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 5th   |       | Miami Fusion                  |       | 24    | 10    | 7     | 7     | 34    | 30    | +4    | 37    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 6th   |       | Richmond Kickers              |       | 24    | 11    | 4     | 9     | 29    | 27    | +2    | 37    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 7th   |       | Austin Aztex                  |       | 24    | 10    | 5     | 9     | 26    | 26    | 0     | 35    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 8th   |       | Harrisburg City               |       | 24    | 10    | 4     | 10    | 32    | 31    | +1    | 34    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 9th   |       | Philadelphia Union            |       | 24    | 8     | 9     | 7     | 23    | 19    | +4    | 33    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 10th  |       | Las Vegas Aces                |       | 24    | 8     | 9     | 7     | 33    | 30    | +3    | 33    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 11th  |       | [b]Seattle Sounders  [/b]            |       | 24    | 8     | 8     | 8     | 30    | 27    | +3    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 12th  |       | Kansas City Wizards           |       | 24    | 9     | 5     | 10    | 29    | 27    | +2    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 13th  |       | Madison 56ers                 |       | 24    | 9     | 5     | 10    | 25    | 38    | -13   | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 14th  |       | Minnesota Stars               |       | 24    | 7     | 10    | 7     | 25    | 24    | +1    | 31    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 15th  |       | Tampa Bay Rowdies             |       | 24    | 8     | 6     | 10    | 26    | 35    | -9    | 30    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 16th  |       | Chivas USA                    |       | 24    | 8     | 5     | 11    | 31    | 29    | +2    | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 17th  |       | Maryland Monarchs             |       | 24    | 6     | 10    | 8     | 25    | 28    | -3    | 28    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 18th  |       | Rochester Rhinos              |       | 24    | 7     | 7     | 10    | 28    | 37    | -9    | 28    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 19th  |       | Provo Cougars                 |       | 24    | 6     | 6     | 12    | 24    | 35    | -11   | 24    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 20th  |       | Southern California Seahorses |       | 24    | 5     | 6     | 13    | 33    | 41    | -8    | 21    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
|       |       |                               |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 

Seattle Sounders: GK Colin Gray, DL Andy George, DC Barry Parker, DC Kei Bangura, DR Salvador, CM Tony McDermott, CM Blake Miller, AML Chris Cooper, AMR Jorge Simkin, ST John Kelly, ST Steve Brown, Subs: Dale Johnson, Brett Camacho, Neil Juarez, Dave Hubbard, Daniele Siligardi, Tomas Garcia, Diego Barrionuevo

With the new arrivals, the line up shifts and evolves. The backline becomes significantly more formidable with Salvador and George occupying the fullback positions. Bangura and Barry take up the middle. Miller and McDermott hold down the midfield while Cooper and Simkin line up in the winger positions. Kelly and Brown make up our new strike force. This new 4-4-2 should provide significantly more attacking options.

Cleveland Crush: GK Lee Montague, WBL Steve Copper, DC Josh Jones, DC Franklin Rivero, DC Dave Brick, WBR Chris Perez, CM Craig Gabriel, CM Martyn Dombrowski, CM Christopher Davis, ST Andy Smith, ST Jay Hernandez, Subs: Derek Davidson, Eloy Gonzalez, Jay Morris, Nikola Ciric, Todd Ayala, Chris Wagner, Matt Hollands

Cleveland was one of the many teams created due to the new league structure. Due to the size of Cleveland and the lack of other teams in the area, Cleveland was allocated to the Association. In 2019, Cleveland earned promotion to the USL where they have remained. The Crush are enjoying a particularly good spell under their young coach Aaron Smith, who led the team to an impressive 3rd place finish last season. The currently leads the table and looks well ahead of the rest of the USL.

The Crush play a defensive 5-3-2 formation. None of their five defensive line are spectacular – all are solid for this level but none excel and Smith’s formation does a good job of turning these average individual defenders into an elite defensive force. In the midfield, Michael Dombrowski is the heart and soul of this Cleveland team. Most effective as a creative force on the wing, whipping in crosses and making runs down the flank, the Crush have been utilizing him in the center of the park to great effect. Gabriel and Davis also provide good attacking threats from the center, Gabriel providing an excellent touch to set up plays and Davis a phenomenal passer. At striker, Hernandez is a legend in Cleveland having scored 119 goals in 298 matches. He’s been a consistent performer for the team, but he’s not spectacular. His eye for goal is average at best and he’s got no burst of acceleration. He’s been the team captain for almost ten years though, and his teammates say he’s a joy to work with. Smith partners Hernandez at striker and is the better striker of the two. He’s got the better eye, moves well into space, and is always composed. However, at 33 his best days might be behind him and he’s begun to slow down a bit.

U.S.A. boss Jason Kreis is in the stands..

1’ Cleveland kicks off to get us started. Smith looks for Dombrowski. Dombrowski finds Hernandez with a low forward pass. Hernandez plays it back left past McDermott to Gabriel. Gabriel sees Dombrowski. Dombrowski moves forward before sending it to Hernandez who one touches it into space. Salvador rushes in and grabs. Salvador quickly loses it to Steve Cooper. Steve Cooper cuts inside into space. He blasts it at the top left corner but Gray touches it over.

2’ Dombrowski lifts the corner into the area. Brick rises above Simkin, winning the ball. Brick turns the ball at goal but Gray pushes it behind.

5’ Simkin touches the ball out. Steve Cooper throws it back in. Gabriel runs onto it and steps forward. Gabriel floats it to the near post. Hernandez rises above Barry to win it. The ball bangs into the crossbar!

14’ Hernandez curls it toward goal! Gray pushes it up and Barry pounces on the ball as it lands and puts it behind. Dombrowski steps up for the corner. As it drifts to the near post, McDermott blasts it out. Steve Cooper takes the throw in and Salvador kicks it right back out. Andy Smith gets on Steve Coopers next throw in. Andy Smith steps forward and strikes the ball with fury but it goes narrowly over.

21’ Salvador plays it short to Bangura. Bangura takes a few steps before moving it to Simkin. Simkin rushes into the area but his curled shot hits the side netting.

28’ Hernandez moves past Barry..Barry trips him! Dombrowski steps up for the freekick. Parker heads it and Steve Cooper rushes to the cleared ball. Steve Cooper sends the ball flying toward goal from quite a distance. Gray touches it over.

30’ Dombrowski launches a 25 yard pass to Davis. Davis steps forward before locating Hernandez. Hernandez rushes toward center before hitting a horrible shot wide.

35’ Brown goes after it. Jones beats him to the it and heads it clear. Smith grabs the ball and dribbles past Bangura. Bangura chases after and removes the danger. Bangura moves to pass and Steve Cooper rushes to intercept. Steve Cooper tries a low cross from the right but Bangura heads it out. Steve Cooper receives the short throw in and sends it down the line for Smith. Smith takes a step when Salvador sweeps in behind him with a phenomenal tackle. Salvador gets the ball but Smith doesn’t get back up.

38’ McDermott has to leave the field injured. CM Juarez takes his place.

45’ This game is getting dirty. Jones slides in on Simkin; he’ll have to leave the field for treatment.

45’ Both teams treat their wounded at the half. ST Barrionuevo replaces Simkin. ST Ayala replaces Smith. Ayala is a perfectly adequate back up for Cleveland. He’s been a reliable team player throughout his career for Cleveland. He started his career there before trying the journeyman life style for awhile. He returned in 2024 and has been enjoying a bit of resurgence to his career. Scoring 15 goals last season and 12 already this season.

48’ Perez takes a step, Barry walks over and goes for ball but trips him. The ref shows him yellow.

50’ Hernandez taps the ball to his left to Gabriel. Gabriel carries it forward. Gabriel sees Ayala. Ayala gets into the area when Bangura makes a wild clearance.

61’ Barrionuevo advances with the ball as the rain begins to pour. Barrionuevo sends a lovely ball to Chris Cooper. Chris Cooper bursts off his man into space and blasts the bar over the bar as he steps into the area.

64’ Chris Cooper rushes forward. Kelly picks up Chris Cooper’s pass. Kelly launches the ball at net but Rivero scrambles it away.

66’ Steve Cooper crosses the ball in toward the near post. Salvador heads the ball out to the side. Steve Cooper throws the ball in but George clears.

70’ Salvador closes in and intercept. Before taking a step, Ayala slides in and tackles. Parker moves with the clearance. Dombrowski doesn’t go for the ball and trips Parker! The ref lectures Dombrowski.

72’ Steve Cooper throws in. Gabriel touches the ball back to Steve Cooper who returns the favor. Gabriel heads forward before centering the ball from the right. It looked like a cross in but Gray still has to deal with it and turns it aside.

76’ Brown throws in and Jones clears it. Chris Cooper heads down the clearance to Brown. Brown advances and feeds Juarez the ball. Juarez blasts the ball over the top corner.

78’ (AML) Nikola Ciric replaces Gabriel. Ciric is a very talented player with exceptional ball control. The only reason he isn’t starting today is because of the rumors that he’ll soon be leaving the team. The formation changes to more of a 5-1-2-2 as Ciric and Hernandez switch to the wings.

82’ Jones is replace by (DC) Morris.

88’ Chris Perez cuts infield with the ball. Perez moves toward center and curls it toward goal. Gray parries it and Salvador clears it for a throw in. Steve Cooper throws it back in. Dombrowski runs with it before finding Steve Cooper. Steve Cooper curls it to the post. Parker sees the play and intercepts and clears to Chris Cooper. Chris Cooper advances until Perez cuts him off and sends the ball out for a throw in. George throws it down the line for Brown. Brown cuts inside and backheels it to Miller. Miller taps it forward to Salvador as he makes his run. Salvador cuts it toward center to Juarez who tries to send it short to Brown. Steve Cooper intercepts and passes it back and forth with Morris. Steve Cooper plays the long ball to Hernandez who plays it low to Ciric. Ciric races down field and tries to find Dombrowski. Dombrowski traps it and hesitates. He passes back to Morris who hits the ball 30 yards to Steve Cooper. Steve Cooper plays it to Ciric at his side. Ciric sees Todd Ayala in space and lobs him the ball in the area. Ayala takes a step and smashes it low. Gray dives and pushes it out!

Seattle Sounders 0-0 Cleveland Crush

Man of the Match: GK Colin Gray (Seattle Sounders)

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Thanks oche balboa. I'm running England down to Conference N/S, France to National, Germany to 2nd Division, Italy to Serie B, Spain to 2nd Division, and the USA custom league which is 6 levels.

July 11th, 2029

Skyline Sports Complex, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (USL: Harrisburg City vs. Seattle Sounders)

| Pos   | Inf   | Team                          |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 1st   |       | Cleveland Crush               |       | 25    | 13    | 7     | 5     | 41    | 20    | +21   | 46    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 2nd   |       | New York City United          |       | 25    | 12    | 5     | 8     | 31    | 25    | +6    | 41    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 3rd   |       | Miami Fusion                  |       | 25    | 11    | 7     | 7     | 36    | 30    | +6    | 40    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 4th   |       | Richmond Kickers              |       | 25    | 12    | 4     | 9     | 30    | 27    | +3    | 40    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 5th   |       | Orange County Blue Star       |       | 25    | 10    | 8     | 7     | 35    | 30    | +5    | 38    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 6th   |       | Austin Aztex                  |       | 25    | 11    | 5     | 9     | 27    | 26    | +1    | 38    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 7th   |       | Colorado Rapids               |       | 25    | 11    | 5     | 9     | 33    | 36    | -3    | 38    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 8th   |       | Harrisburg City               |       | 25    | 11    | 4     | 10    | 33    | 31    | +2    | 37    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 9th   |       | Las Vegas Aces                |       | 25    | 9     | 9     | 7     | 35    | 30    | +5    | 36    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 10th  |       | Kansas City Wizards           |       | 25    | 10    | 5     | 10    | 32    | 27    | +5    | 35    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 11th  |       | Minnesota Stars               |       | 25    | 8     | 10    | 7     | 28    | 25    | +3    | 34    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 12th  |       | [b]Seattle Sounders[/b]              |       | 25    | 8     | 9     | 8     | 30    | 27    | +3    | 33    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 13th  |       | Philadelphia Union            |       | 25    | 8     | 9     | 8     | 23    | 20    | +3    | 33    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 14th  |       | Madison 56ers                 |       | 25    | 9     | 5     | 11    | 25    | 41    | -16   | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 15th  |       | Tampa Bay Rowdies             |       | 25    | 8     | 7     | 10    | 28    | 37    | -9    | 31    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 16th  |       | Chivas USA                    |       | 25    | 8     | 5     | 12    | 32    | 32    | 0     | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 17th  |       | Rochester Rhinos              |       | 25    | 7     | 8     | 10    | 30    | 39    | -9    | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 18th  |       | Maryland Monarchs             |       | 25    | 6     | 10    | 9     | 25    | 29    | -4    | 28    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 19th  |       | Provo Cougars                 |       | 25    | 6     | 6     | 13    | 24    | 37    | -13   | 24    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 20th  |       | Southern California Seahorses |       | 25    | 5     | 6     | 14    | 33    | 42    | -9    | 21    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 

In the past twenty years, Harrisburg has undergone a tremendous economic boom as a its key location as a railroad hub. With the necessity of travel from the east coast to the depleted west coast, towns such as Harrisburg that control railroads in the inbetween have welcomed the financial windfalls. The lush and plentiful farmland as well as the steel and iron mines nearby have also brought significant industry to the area.

Seattle Sounders: GK Colin Gray, DL Dave Hubbard, DC Andy George, DC Kei Bangura, DR Salvador, CM Neil Juarez, CM Blake Miller, AML Chris Cooper, AMR Jorge Simkin, ST John Kelly, ST Steve Brown, Subs: Dale Johnson, Brett Camacho, Andres, Rob Hernandez, Daniele Siligardi, Tomas Garcia, Diego Barrionuevo

It appears that Barry isn’t in quite the shape that I had assumed he would be. Dave Hubbard takes his place in the lineup, shifting Andy George back into his center position. McDermott is out with a minor knee injury following last week’s game – 5-7 weeks. Neil Juarez should be able to slot in just fine.

Harrisburg City: GK Cristian Garcia, DL Ryan Cherneski, DC Richard Sewell, DC Ty Alvarez, DR Gabe Geddes, LM Pat Wilson, CM Mike Woolley, CM Chad O’Neill, RM Javier Vega, AMC Ahmed Benali, ST Richard Masawudu SUBS: Tyler Murphy, Gabriel Solari, Blake Ross, Brian Barton, Andy Murray, John Henning, Chris Williams

A founding member of the Association, Harrisburg earned promotion in 2013. Harrisburg City has traditionally been a solid performer in the USL. With rumors of failing health and following an atypical poor season last year culminating in a 17th place finish, longtime head coach Bill Becher retired before the current season. New manager Cedric Bakambu has the team performing well and in 8th place.

Cristian Garcia is a talented young keeper who has been a regular presence for the United States at the youth level, having earned 18 youth caps. He hasn’t yet broken into the main squad but that day might not be far off. His reflexes and position are the highlights of his game which has no apparent weaknesses. He’s a little eccentric – accented by his mutton chop facial hair – but not to the detriment of his game. Garcia’s USA youth squad teammate, Alvarez is a solid presence in front of him in the middle of Harrisburg’s defense. Alvarez, like Garcia, does a lot of things well without doing much poorly. Alvarez’s partner in the center of the defense is Richard Sewell. A talented central defender and of an age with Alvarez and Garcia, Sewell would likely have joined the two playing for the US youth teams if he hadn’t been Northern Irish on his father’s side. He opted to play for Northern Ireland and has earned 18 caps by the age of 21. He’s a talented player, with his marking skills often lamented by opposing attackers. In the fullback positions, speed seems to be the name of the game. Cherneski and Geddes are both exceptionally quick but both are simply adequate defenders.

The midfield is a weakness for Harrisburg. Vega can dribble but can’t pass and he’s useless in defense. Woolley can pass but that’s about it – he does a couple of things almost adequately, like defending, however, dribbling is not one such thing. Wilson is a striker being forced out of position in the midfield. He’s not a bad finisher but he could use polishing in the rest of his game. He’s a legend for the team though, having made almost 400 appearances – not in the midfield, howver. O’Neill is the best of the poor bunch of midfielders. He’s only just adequate in defense – which is all he should be doing in the midfield – but his mental approach to the game is his saving grace. He keeps cool and composed, and influences others to do the same. Benali is a bit of an improvement in the attacking mid role. He can dribble and occasionally pass and he’s got world class speed to boot.

At striker, Richard Masawudu brings an experienced eye. At 27 years old, Masawudu has scored 99 goals in 189 games for Harrisburg. His dribbling is his best asset though he’s not too shabby setting up a play off the ball. He’s also brave and determined, valuable attributes for any striker.

1’ We get the game started. Kelly steps forward with the ball before trying to find Juarez. Juarez runs onto it. Juarez moves the ball right to Miller. Miler runs down the flank before launching the ball to Simkin 40 yards down. Simkin runs toward the area and feeds the ball to Kelly in the area. Kelly can’t grab it and it rolls on by. Brown runs onto it and knocks it in! 0-1

4’ Gray punts the ball down field toward Kelly. Alvarez leads over Kelly to head it down. Benali grabs it off the feet of Bangura, resets it, and blasts toward the top corner. The ball rises until it lands high in the stands.

6’ Gray moves the ball toward Hubbard. Hubbard plays a one-two with Juarez as they move down the field. Hubbard sends it forward to Cooper. Cooper moves it right to Miller. Miller places the ball at Kelly’s feet. Kelly’s shot is poor and wide left.

9’ Salvador takes the throw in. Wilson comes away with it and passes to Benali. Benali to Woolley to Benali again. Benali steps toward the area and fires! Benali’s shot is wide.

13’ Simkin races down the field. Chemeski gets ball and leg alike. Cooper takes the free kick, it curls toward goal! Cristian Garcia shows good hands and holds onto it.

16’ Simkin is still limping following Chemeski’s challenge and leaves the field for treatment.

19’ Sewell plays it down the right. Masawudu races toward the pass but Bangura interferes. Masawudu pursues and wins the ball off Bangura. Masawudu steps toward goal but sends it across and wide.

22’ Cooper races toward goal. Sewell is forced to kick it out. Cooper’s corner drifts in and Simkin gets his head to it! But it goes over.

28’ Cooper tries an out-swinging corner. Bangura leaps for it! Misses. Alvarez hits it away. Salvador steps onto the clearance and brings it forward. He lets fly a half volley but it goes wide right.

31’ Salvador moves forward unopposed. Salvador sends a no look pass back to Hubbard. Hubbard sends a low cross in from the left. Kelly tries a first touch shot that rattles the post. Geddes panics and sends it out for a corner. Cooper steps up and Bangura gets to it! Goal! 0-2

33’ Gray plays it long to Hubbard. Hubbard rushes down the wing. Hubbard passes short to Cooper. Cooper waits for Kelly to break from his man. Kelly receives the ball as he passes into the area. Kelly uses a little too much power on the dribble and Sewell races away with the ball. Kelly is in hot pursuit and wins the ball..for Alvarez. Alvarez races away from his area. Alvarez looks for Geddes to the left. Geddes hastily back passes. Cristian Garcia settles play before playing it back to Geddes. Geddes moves forward again before passing along the field to Vega. Vega rapidly moves the ball to Masawudu. Masawudu moves the ball into the six yard box and Gray clears. Wilson runs onto the clearance. Salvador rushes to challenge. Wilson falls without being touched. The ref shows yellow.

40’ Simkin is free in the area. He blasts it toward net! Cristian Garcia makes a wonder save!

45’ At the half, ST Brian Barton replaces O’Neill switching the formation from a 4-4-1-1 to a 4-3-1-2. Barton lost his starting position for Harrisburg this year after 8 years and 100 goals with the first team. It’s hard to see why he’s not starting as he has a better eye for goal and a better head for the game than Benali.

57’ DC Andy Murray replaces Benali, switching the formation to a 5-3-2 – an odd move at two goals down. Murray is a talented young defender with a lot of promise. After starting last season while on loan with the Miami Fusion, Murray has started to contribute in a backup role this season.

63’ Brown and Alvarez race toward the ball. Alvarez gets there first but Brown is right behind and wins it away. Brown sends a quick pass but Barton intercepts. Barton turns and blasts it straight into the bar. Andy George runs onto it and heads down the field. George passes back to Gray who hoofs it clear. Simkin finds the ball and moves into space. Simkin hits the byline and keeps running. Simkin whips in a cross. Brown taps it in! 0-3

64’ CM John Henning replaces Sewell. Henning is a brand new signing for Harrisburg and looks to fill a spot on their bench. He’s a mediocre defender that adds little to the attack.

70’ Vega out leaps Cooper. Vega knocks it down to Wilson. Wilson and Woolley pass back and forth. Wilson plays it by Cooper. Bangura steps up and knocks it out.

73’ Miller plays it to Juarez’s feet. Juarez finds Cooper with a low forward first time pass. Cooper keeps it moving. Cristian Garcia gathers.

74’ DR Camacho replaces Bangura with Salvador switching into the middle. ST Barrionuevo takes Brown’s spot.

75’ Camacho drives the ball in front of Simkin. Chemeski sees it and rushes to take the ball. Chemeski heads forward before losing the ball to Simkin. Chemeski kicks it out. Cooper floats it over the area. George heads it toward goal. Miller rushes toward it! Henning boots it out. Masawudu leads the counter attack. Masawudu races past the halfway line. He races past Salvador and into the area! Grey steps up and pushes it away.

79’ Simkin moves forward. Chemeski steals it and hits it 25 yards to Masawudu. Camacho clears.

90’ Barrionuevo looks for Simkin ahead of him. Simkin half volleys to Cooper. Geddes back passes behind his goal. Cooper aims for the far post on the corner. Barton heads the ball clear. Masawudu tries to scramble it away. Barton takes it forward before running into and knocking over Camacho. Salavdor plays the free kick short to Cooper. Cooper blasts it into the net! 0-4

90’ Chemeski plays the ball forward. Masawudu finds himself in space, Chemeski floats him the ball. Masawudu nails the diving header toward goal! Gray clutches the ball gratefully to his chest.

Harrisburg City 0-4 Seattle Sounders

Brown (1, 63); Bangura (32); Cooper (90)

Man of the Match: AML Chris Cooper (Seattle Sounders)

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  • 2 weeks later...

July 21st, 2029

Seattle Sounders Stadium, Seattle, Washington (USL: Seattle Sounders vs. Orange County Blue Star)

| Pos   | Inf   | Team                          |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 1st   |       | Cleveland Crush               |       | 26    | 14    | 7     | 5     | 42    | 20    | +22   | 49    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 2nd   |       | Miami Fusion                  |       | 26    | 12    | 7     | 7     | 38    | 31    | +7    | 43    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 3rd   |       | Richmond Kickers              |       | 26    | 13    | 4     | 9     | 32    | 27    | +5    | 43    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 4th   |       | New York City United          |       | 26    | 12    | 5     | 9     | 32    | 27    | +5    | 41    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 5th   |       | Las Vegas Aces                |       | 26    | 10    | 9     | 7     | 39    | 31    | +8    | 39    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 6th   |       | Kansas City Wizards           |       | 26    | 11    | 5     | 10    | 34    | 28    | +6    | 38    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 7th   |       | Orange County Blue Star       |       | 26    | 10    | 8     | 8     | 35    | 34    | +1    | 38    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 8th   |       | Austin Aztex                  |       | 26    | 11    | 5     | 10    | 28    | 30    | -2    | 38    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 9th   |       | Colorado Rapids               |       | 26    | 11    | 5     | 10    | 33    | 37    | -4    | 38    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 10th  |       | Minnesota Stars               |       | 26    | 9     | 10    | 7     | 29    | 25    | +4    | 37    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 11th  |       | Harrisburg City               |       | 26    | 11    | 4     | 11    | 33    | 35    | -2    | 37    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 12th  |       | [b]Seattle Sounders  [/b]            |       | 26    | 9     | 9     | 8     | 34    | 27    | +7    | 36    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 13th  |       | Madison 56ers                 |       | 26    | 10    | 5     | 11    | 26    | 41    | -15   | 35    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 14th  |       | Philadelphia Union            |       | 26    | 8     | 9     | 9     | 24    | 22    | +2    | 33    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 15th  |       | Rochester Rhinos              |       | 26    | 8     | 8     | 10    | 32    | 40    | -8    | 32    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 16th  |       | Maryland Monarchs             |       | 26    | 7     | 10    | 9     | 29    | 29    | 0     | 31    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 17th  |       | Tampa Bay Rowdies             |       | 26    | 8     | 7     | 11    | 28    | 38    | -10   | 31    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 18th  |       | Chivas USA                    |       | 26    | 8     | 5     | 13    | 32    | 33    | -1    | 29    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 19th  |       | Provo Cougars                 |       | 26    | 6     | 6     | 14    | 24    | 39    | -15   | 24    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 20th  |       | Southern California Seahorses |       | 26    | 5     | 6     | 15    | 34    | 44    | -10   | 21    | 
| ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 

Seattle Sounders: GK Colin Gray, DL Dave Hubbard, DC Barry Parker, DC Andy George, DR Chris Campbell, CM Andres, CM Neil Juarez, AML Daniele Silgardi, AMC Levi O’Brien, ST Diego Barrionuevo, ST Steve Brown, Subs: Dale Johnson, John Garcia, Brett Camacho, Rob Hernandez, Nigel Varty, Tomas Garcia, Victor Hugo Martinez

From a fitness standpoint, the team is not dealing as well I was would have liked with having three games in a week. Chris Campbell slots in for Salvador, Diego Barrionuevo takes over for John Kelly, Andres replaces Blake Miller, and Levi O’Brien fills Jorge Simkin’s spot. Additionally, Daniele Silgardi is finally ready for the first team. Barry is looking a little exhausted but against one of the top performing teams in the USL, we need his experience. With all the changes, we shift to a left oriented 4-4-2

Orange County Blue Star: GK Sam Anderson, DL Martin Allinson, DC Juan Antonio Arellano, DC Kyle Pack, DR Paul Wragg, ML Neil Harvey, MC Paul Holden, MC Todd Morris, MR Victor Cruz, ST Dane Higgins, ST Alejandro Lowe, Subs: Dane Higgins, Dean Curtin, Francis Asante, Bobby Garcia, Nigel Velasco, Craig Sawyers, Danny Rodriguez, Liam Couch

The Orange County Blue Star began in the amateurs in the ADL Western Conference. The fact that they’re in the USL now is entirely due to their remarkable manager, Steve Butcher. Since joining the Blue Star in 2013, Butcher has proven himself to be capable of playing in any league. He gained a cult following from fans when he rocketed up to the USL in 2023 following first place finishes in the American League and then the Association in consecutive years. The fact that the Blue Star are currently in 7th is a testament to his skill as a tactician as his current squad are not especially talented.

At 19, Sam Anderson is young and filled with talent. He has top notch reflexes but the rest of his game is still developing. Allinson and Wragg don’t provide much support from the full back position. They understand the basics of defense but neither should be starting yet. Both are young though and might develop to be decent starters for the level. Arellano is a talented young Mexican defender and probably the best player on the squad. That being said, he’s still not going to wow for the level. He’s a capable tackler and can hold his mark but doesn’t nothing exceptional. Kyle Pack is another young defender, talented though not quite as impressive as Arrelano. Marking a man is his specialty but his tackling isn’t as sharp.

To the right is Canadian star, Victor Cruz. Cruz has gained a lot of acclaim for his ball control and speed but a better eye will point out that those traits just mask the holes in his game. He can move with the ball but can’t finish or distribute. He loses focus too often for my liking. Still, he’s a good presence for a team and a leader. In the middle, Todd Morris is a young talent from Orange County’s youth program breaking into the first squad. He’s a decent defender who looks like he can develop into a great player at potentially the Premier level. His midfield partner, Holden, doesn’t contribute much. He’s not a very good attacker and a worse defender. Neil Harvey brings up the left flank with a lot of speed. He’d be better off the bench, however, as his crossing and passing just aren’t good enough to start at the USL level.

In the attack, Alejandro Lowe is a similar story to the rest of this team – young, has loads of potential, but probably isn’t ready to start yet. His finishing needs some work. The other striker in the Blue Star 4-4-2 is Dane Higgins, has just started starting again in the past few games. He started last year but fell out of favor with Butcher. He’s got a burst of speed and a better high for goal than most at this level – he just can’t keep his cool. He’s replacing Craig Bowyers, who finds himself on the bench today. It seems a little hard hearted though – Bowyers has 13 goals in 24 games and is almost as skilled.

1’ We kick off.

8’ O’Brien swings in the corner. George leaps over Arellano and heads the ball right along the top of the bar.

9’ Allinson comes forward. He exchanges passes with Harvey and advances with the ball. Allinson sends the ball to his left to Holden. Holden bursts into the area but can’t direct it and it goes out.

14’ Gray sends the goal kick forward to Hubbard. Hubbard plays forward toward Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo and Anderson fight for the ball. Pack rushes in and goes feet first for the ball..but only gets Barrionuevo! The ref has red out as he runs over!

15’ O’Brien lines up the free kick. It slips just wide.

30’ Arellano gets tripped up. He has to leave the field for treatment.

40’ Juarez advances with the ball. Juarez hits the ball 25 yards forward to Siligardi. Siligardi advances before feeding the ball through to O’Brien. Morris steps forward and clears.

45’ Brown goes forward and passes to O’Brien. O’Brien continues into the area. O’Brien back to his left to Hubbard. Hubbard rushes to the near post but Asante makes the clearance.

49’ Barrionuevo goes for the ball. Asante jumps for it too. Barrionuevo comes away with it but Asante goes to the ground. Barrionuevo kicks it out so Asante can get treatment.

60’ Barrinuevo takes it forward. He feeds it right to Brown. Brown moves forward before feeding it to O’Brien. O’Brien shoots low and left but just misses.

62’ ST Sawyers replaces Higgins.

63’ Wragg heads the ball to safety. Hubbard intercepts the pass and heads forward. Hubbard passes right to Andres. Andres keeps it moving and blasts it over.

66’ Brown passes back to Juarez. Juarez finds Andres. Andres pauses and waits for support. O’Brien races forward and Andres give him the ball. O’Brien shoots low but he can’t direct it goalwards.

67’ Harvey comes off the field, ML Velasco takes his spot. Another one of Orange County’s youngsters – his best trait is his dribbling, other than that his game is lacking.

70’ Parker leaps above Lowe to clear the ball. Barrionuevo heads it down to O’Brien who races down the field. O’Brien passes to Juarez who moves forward and distributes to Barrionuevo. Barrionuevo sees Brown in space and lets him have it. Brown fires low from distance! Goal! 1-0.

81’ Andres plays to O’Brien on the corner of the area. O’Brien passes short to Juarez. Juarez sets the ball inside to Siligardi who blasts the ball right into the arms of Anderson.

89’ AML Martinez comes on for O’Brien.

90’ Juarez slowly walks toward the corner flag. He passes it along the left to Siligardi. Siligardi cuts inside and passes low to Barrionuevo in the area. Barrionuevo dashes forward and shoots! But it goes wide.

Seattle Sounders 1-0 Orange County Blue Star

Steve Brown(70)

Man of the Match: DR Chris Campbell (Seattle Sounders)

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Thanks chesterfan! I enjoyed it a lot, especially after being disappointed with the flaws in MLS in FM11. It was fun thinking about what doesn't work in the current MLS and what might make a more effective league structure. That being said, the database I used had more flaws than I would've liked so let me know if you find a good custom American league.

July 15th, 2029

Seattle, Washington

Rains pours endlessly outside. A cool breeze crawls under the door into the tiny, vacant pub. The design of it is eerily similar to my local haunt back home. The bar itself is a little longer but the bottles above it aren’t so different. Lee’s scowl as he stands at the ready, cleaning glass after glass is lacking – made all the worse as my glass sits empty in front of me. The ambiance is similar, the room a little darker than you’d like but still cozy, with a game broadcasting in the background on the radio. But it’s the booths along the walls that seem so shockingly similar. I keep glancing back at that particular one in the corner – slightly bigger than the rest, two black seats while in all the other booths they're are red, the view of the town square that kept distracting her on our first date..”And he said he’d stop by later on.”

I turn back toward the bar as whatever Barry was saying snaps me out of my reverie, “That’s great.”

“He’s very excited to see you again.” We settle into a comfortable silence. The bartender appears out of the back and refills Barry’s scotch and my water. Before the bartender disappears into the back again, he switches the radio to some classic music:

You know how the time flies

Only yesterday was the time of our lives

We were born and raised in a summer haze

Bound by the surprise of our glory days

“Have you considered what you’re going to do when you retire?”

Barry pauses before answering; he watches his scotch shift as he moves the glass around in his hand. “Is this a hint?”

I shrug, “You know that’s not it. I just wondered if you ever thought about it. I never had.”

He snorts, “You didn’t really stay long enough to, did you?” His voice wavers as he continues, “Sometimes I wonder if maybe I've played for two long. It was hard to cope when the Cosmos let me go and then Rayo too. But when I read about your revival, I knew I couldn’t put the boots up yet.”

“He’s not the only one.” A muscular silhouette fills the doorway, obscured by the streetlight behind him. He steps forward and reveals a ghost from the past. Ariel Bustos, the legend himself. An old man by football terms at 36, he does not look a day over 26. While Barry had been like a father to me in so many ways, Ariel helped to shape the player that I was. More than just a mentor, though, he was my rival. For five years we competed for every striking record the Cosmos had. He wound up with more goals over his career with the Cosmos but couldn’t top my single season record. He left the Cosmos soon after he turned thirty, though it had been a surprise that he stayed as long as he did. His differences with Father were well known. He was widely considered Father’s greatest transfer having been plucked from Toronto after four years there – three of moderate success culminating in a brilliant fourth year of 20 goals in 29 games. Ariel felt that he would never earn his permanent spot on the Argentina national team while playing in the American Premier, and he was correct, earning only 17 caps in his otherwise illustrious career.

I rush over and grip his hand into a firm handshake and pat him on the back. “Ariel! I thought you were in Mallorca!”

“They heard you resurfaced and knew they couldn’t keep me.” He flashes his toothy smile, “So where’s my contract?”

I see Barry grin slightly out of the corner of my eye, “It’s great to see you and you would make a great addition to the team,” Barry’s smile turn to a frown – can he still read me that well?

“You won’t regret it boss.” Barry might get it but Ariel is still beaming away, “I’m still in phenomenal shape, I’ll be running laps around those scrubs you’re fielding now.”

“About those scrubs, Ariel..I’ve committed to them. Kelly is young but has loads of potential that he’ll need to play to reach.” Ariel’s expression drops, “And Brown and Barrionuevo have been knocking them in - I can’t just turn my back on them.”

“You aren’t seriously saying that you think they’re better than me.” He looks exasperatedly toward Barry. “You’ve played with me, you know what I’m capable of.”

“I do, we were a hell of a team. And we could still be one – you always wanted to be a scout, right? Traveling the world on the club’s dime. Looking at youngsters to see if they’ve got a inkling of what you had..”

“Had?!” I instantly regret my choice of words, “I’ve still got it! This is an age thing, isn’t it? Like Father like son, so ready to send us old folks out to pasture.” He glances toward Barry, closes his eyes and smirks. He opens his eyes again, “Or maybe it’s just jealousy.” He glances at my leg before turning and storming out the door.”

The radio chimes in in the background, “An inside source from the New York Cosmos confirms that a $1 million bid has been made for Seattle Sounder youngster Brett Camacho..”

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2011 was a terrifying year for America. In retrospect that seems ridiculous in light of what was to come but at the time, a lot of extremely wealthy and powerful people were very concerned. We were in the midst of a full blown recession, politicians were stopping any forward progress for the sake of spiting the other party, and all three of the, then, major American sports were threatening to strike. 2010 had been a particularly bad season for American soccer fans as well. The Beckham experiment had not yielded results and there was a lot of talk that MLS’ greatest treasure, Landon Donovan, was on his way to Everton. To make matters worse, the United States national team had an abysmal showing in that year’s World Cup, barely making it through what should have been one of the easiest groups only to lose against Ghana in an entirely winnable game. A group of good friends gathered at the close of the MLS season and had a chat about their disappointment with current affairs. Why wasn’t this working? Is it fixable? It just so happened that this group of friends was a part of that group of wealthy and powerful people who were dreading the next year. They hatched a plan. At best, they’d wind up with a league to rival the NBA, the NFL, or MLB. At worst, they figured, it would on par with MLS; at least they’d have something to distract them while union discussions dragged on endlessly.

Within a month, the existing structure of Major League Soccer was scrapped. Why wasn’t it working? The presumption had been made at its origin that the league could simply follow the existing designs for MLB, the NFL, and the NBA to create a successful league – the problem, however, was that the NFL, NBA, and MLB were created in an American vacuum. America had invented the sports, they had nursed them into fruition, and the leagues worked because the players had no other place to play. Besides, they were rewarded handsomely for staying in America. Soccer was a different beast and America came far too late to the party. There were already very successful leagues in England, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, and so on. These leagues had history, prestige, and the interest of global financial powers. Why would a player choose to play in America for less money and less renown? Not to mention the nonsense of MLS existing as an entity, taking revenue and restricting player rights. The major leagues also already had scouts searching the face of the Earth for any youngster with a shred of potential. Activists had already hampered that in other American sports – so by the time MLS arose, the draft was a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, this meant far too much time away from the game before soccer became a career. Talented athletes were drawn to higher paying sports that were more prevalent in America or just left the States all together if they wanted to pursue a soccer career.

As is apparent now, this was all fixable. The new league was heavily modeled after the English Premier League. It ended up being six tiers before they ran out of teams – the highest took the remnants of the MLS. The best teams from the lower leagues – specifically the USL and the NASL - made up what was named the USL – the second tier. The remaining USL and NASL teams became the third tier - the American Association Football League, named to honor the earliest of leagues in the United States. The fourth tier was named after The American Association Football League’s successor league, the American League of Professional Football. To fill the fifth and the sixth tiers, the new league structure offered any owner who wanted entry a chance. So powerful were the individuals who came calling, a lot of cities jumped at the opportunity, creating community teams or altering Futsal teams. These teams of questionable origins became part of the US Developmental League – with an Eastern and Western Conference – for the teams with some promise, and the non-professional US Amateur Division – also with an Eastern and Western Division – for those without. The new teams were all autonomous entities seeking the massive prize fund, originally covered by the creators of the league and later funded by advertising. The new league structure had one more obvious caveat – the college and draft system were scrapped. Instead each team would have its own youth academy which would compete either in the new youth league “Generation Adidas” or the “Youth League” depending on the prestige of the parent club. These youth academies would be of the utmost importance for the success of the league. The new American structure maintained the rules of its predecessor – only eight foreign players allowed. Logically, there was no salary cap.

The founders were very concerned that the complexity of the new structure as well as its immediate implementation would result in disinterest or worse, confusion, from the American populace. The new strategy was a complete reversal to what MLS had been doing. Instead of an exceptionally slow build to an uncertain goal; they were rushing headlong to a very specific ideal. But what if no one cared about the lower tiers? Their solution was simple – give the lower leagues a champion to get behind. The New York Cosmos were to be restored in the new league order and placed in the USL tier. Legends Pele and Eric Cantona were set to be figureheads at the administrative level with Paul Kemsley serving as the actual president. The team was a hodgepodge, motley group of free agents but that seemed inconsequential at the time. The staff was made up of former US internationals – Harkes, Pope, Jones, etc. There was, of course, one missing piece – they needed a manager. This was a matter that they thought long and hard about. It just so happened that a young and charismatic manager had come to national attention for winning multiple NCAA championships with a small team of unknown players. That young manager would be one of the two things that allowed the league to be successful. The other was 2012 and the War that followed. With NFL and NBA locking out for over a year it probably would not have been as rapid of an ascent as it was but the American Premier still would have succeeded.

No one expected the manager to lead the Cosmos into the first tier in his first year – same as no one had expected anything in his coaching gig at the college level. His Cosmos became a rallying cry for the U.S. during The War. With a war as dark and gruesome as that was, people needed something get behind, to distract them. It became soccer – they could see their local team and they could see the Cosmos. They could hear of the Cosmos tearing up international competition and think it was America flexing their muscle. The patriotic frenzy got even worse when that same manager turned the national team into a force. But the man was exceptional. I’ve been a fan of this sport for my entire life. I was a fan while MLS was at its worst and I was a fan while the US team was wretched. He was something special. And I see a lot of him in you."

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July, 18th, 2029 (Cont.)

Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii (Gold Cup: United States vs. Jamaica)

“I see a lot of him in you.” There’s a long awkward pause as he waits for a reaction. He contemplatively looks at the field below. “You know, I was there for your first cap.”

“Well that’s a coincidence, so was I.” November 18th, 2017. Thomas Robinson Stadium, The Bahamas.

“Your father fielded a hell of a lineup that day. McMath in goal, the Cosmos back four of Valentin, Parker, Miller, and Carter. Lukic was becoming a dominating force in the midfield by that point – Kitchen was a bit of a question mark though.”

“Michael and Edu were injured; Dan Garlick was still rubbish at that point. Escudero might have been better than Kitchen but Father went for his experience.”

“Ah, right. You never got to play with Johnson or Thompson, did you? That’s a shame – brilliant, young players. The rest of the lineup that day had Zahavi, Caio, and Mr. Dependable – Joe Corona.”

How does he possibly remember all of this? “It’s a shame The Bahamas didn’t put up much of a line up.”

“And yet they had the first chance. Carter cleared the ball and set off a counterattack right at the start. Their keeper headed it straight down the middle of our defense. Their no name striker raced into the box but missed. Imagine how bad that would’ve been if he’d had any talent. We would control play after that though. Carter made up for his error by intercepting the next attack and then drawing a foul. Miller would almost score off the free kick but would find the post instead – even then you could tell how great Miller was going to become don’t you agree?”

“Danny is the best defender I’ve ever seen. I was felt better when he was in the defense behind me.”

“I wonder if the Cosmos are going to sell him too? Hm. Carter and Miller would keep the box clear for the next few minutes. Caio, Kitchen, and Corona couldn’t create anything though. Parker tried to get you involved.”

The free kick floats in, their striker rush as the ball floats downward. Barry’s got his no-nonsense face on. He steps in the ball’s trajectory.

“Open!” I shout and he heads it my way. I hear the same call from Joe to my left. I tap it and by the time I’ve rotated the ball has already moved to Zahavi and I take off down the field. Zahavi intuits it and plays the ball where I’m heading. The defender has panic in his eyes but clears it away.

“And it was such a lovely sequence! It was as though you could read each other’s minds. In a way, you set up the next goal. You tackled for the ball and won it cleanly but in an attempt to get it back, your opponent wasn’t so clean. Kitchen’s free kick deflected out for the corner. Carter took it short to Caio who saw Corona in space. The defense was really quite pathetic, he had acres of space.”

“Why do you remember this game so vividly?”

“Probably the same reason as you do – it was your firsts. You almost set up a goal right after the first. Lukic stole the ball at midfield and set you up. You placed the ball with pinpoint perfection to Caio. He played a one-two off of Corona but held on too long and lost it. Carter had a chance off the corner but his heading never was his specialty. And next..”

“Joe moved into space and sent an errant ball in my general direction. I anticipated and ran over to gather but the defender had caught up by the time I did. I was able to recover and pass back to Joe as he walked into the area. Joe was a hell of a player but his shooting was always a little suspect. You could never tell him that – he was never okay with just creating. So he blasted the ball and the keeper didn’t even need to move. The keeper kicked it long. I hesitated and it paid off, Lukic won the ball and nodded it to me. I turned and raced into the area. My shot was hasty and the keeper easily batted it down. I got an earful for that from Father.”

“Corona never did see a shot he didn’t like, did he? It’s a shame he didn’t make half of them. Carter set him up a little later and he blasted that one over the bar. And another two before the half. He set up the next shot by himself so it’s harder to blame him – he stole it and raced into the area but got too close to the keeper. I don’t know what he was thinking. Then you set him up and he blasted it straight at the keeper again. What did your Father say at the half? You lot looked a different team afterwards.”

“The general gist of it was for me to learn how to shoot and Joe to learn how to pass. There was some emphasis about our effort as well, always such a kidder. John added a bit about the great work Barry, Danny, and Carter were doing and how we were controlling the ball well.” I shrug.

He doesn’t seem like he likes that answer, “Well, at the very least it seemed to have worked.”

Joe sends it back to Kitchen. Kitchen holds it for a few seconds before Joe takes it back and passes the half. Joe passes to Nathan as he passes him. Kitchen and Caio are making runs. Joe gets level with me and the play is in place – Nathan passes to Kitchen, Kitchen passes along to Caio. Caio sends it across the field to Joe. I race from behind him and he taps the ball to me as I enter the area. One step right to center and I’ve already shot toward the bottom corner. My eyes shut. The crowd hushes and moans disappointedly as they realize what I knew as soon as I took the shot. The goal kick lands with McMath blasts it right back towards us. Valentin rushes to keep it moving at the unoccupied halfway line and keeps it moving toward Zahavi. Zavhi finds Corona at the back right of the box. I stand at the opposite side. He makes a move to get past the last defender and shoots on target! The keeper gets a hand to it. I see the goal before the ball touches my foot.

His question pulls me from the memory. “Did you get the hat I sent you?”

“What?”

“It used to be a tradition – it’s where the term ‘cap’ comes from. It used to be for every international appearance made, you’d get a hat. I started the tradition back up for the US.”

“Oh.. Yeah, thanks. I think I still have it.” I don’t.

He looks happy at that. “Zahavi had a goal after that. Lukic tried to pass to you but the defender cleared it. Corona recovered shortly after and passed it to you. You passed low to Zahavi but he couldn’t keep it. Corona grabbed the defender’s pass and plays to Zahavi and he had an easy shot in the area.”

“That’s pretty much how it happened. I might have had a couple more touches and you make it sound a lot more polished than it really was. Father made clear his thoughts about my lack of composure on that deflection after the match.”

“Oh! The game is starting.”

“That about wraps up the match anyway. Kitchen had a chance but missed it. I was denied twice more and the Bahamas team got a little rowdy. Joe got the man of the match from the press, Father was furious at that.”

The Boss’ attention turns completely to the game starting on the field below. Who knew that he was such a fan?

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July 18th, 2029 (Cont. 2)

Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii (Gold Cup: United States vs. Jamaica)

1’ The US get the game started.

4’ Gonzalez advances. He passes along the floor for Jason Mason to pick up. Jason Mason dodges a tackle and races forward to the edge and fires toward the top corner.

“I was shocked when Kreis convinced Gonzalez to play for the US. He’s a hell of a winger. Your Father picked him up as a young leftback and saw attacking potential. Gonzalez always made it clear that he thought he would be a star of the future for Argentina.”

“Fernando’s a hell of a player but I can’t believe Kreis is actually playing him at leftback. I suppose it’s only against Jamaica – Fernando is just so much better suited for a winger role. Even better than Jason Mason, I'd say.”

7’ Johnson intercepts and finds Jason Mason on a first time pass to feet. Jason Mason sees Cameron in space. Cameron taps a step and shoots! It rises over.”

“Cameron is phenomenal!” The Boss’ excitement is clearly visible. “Did you follow him at Barca last season? 22 goals in 27 games!”

17’ Jason Mason looks for Gonzalez. Gonzalez curls it toward the near post. The defender, Walters, makes a wild clearance into the stands. Gonzalez steps up and swings in the corner. Jason Mason gets above Walters to win it and heads it toward goal. Another defender and Walters scramble and clear it. Jamaica can’t get their counter attack together; Justin Hoyos tackles it away.

“He’s no Barry.” Hoyos was always the last option for the defense behind Maurice, Danny, Valentin, and Gonzalez. He finally broke through as a starter after Barry was unceremoniously dropped.

“He’s a good player; he’s been solid over at Fenerbache and he’s done well for the US.”

“Slow though.”

18’ Walter throws in, Gladwin climbs up to head clear. Burns comes forward, unopposed and sets the ball to Johnson. Johnson skirts by a Jamaica defender and sets the ball back to Lukic. Lukic crosses in but it’s headed out.

“Lukic was a complete shock for the both the Cosmos and the US. Father picked him up to serve as a back-up behind Adriano and Fabinho. Early on everyone said that the other teams would wait for him to develop and then snatch him up. The problem was that he completely outclassed Adriano. I think it even shocked Father.”

“Really? It had all seemed so deliberate from the outside in..It seemed a masterstroke when the Cosmos started going to a three man midfield..”

18’ Gonzalez throws the ball in. Johnson receives and passes back to Gonzalez. The ball goes out. Johnson intercepts Jamaica’s throw in. Maurice races by and Johnson feeds him the ball. Carter races down the flank before finding Gladwin.

“Carter hasn’t lost a step at all.”

“He looks awful though.” Whereas Barry had always had grey hair, Maurice’s had turned that way while I had been gone.

“They say he took your Father’s death particularly hard.”

“Maurice and Barry both worshiped Father. Maurice earned his way through the Cosmos academy and into the rightback spot. He was never as talented as Barry or Danny but he always performed and worked so hard.”

“There was a lot of talk from US fans that it was favoritism that he made the US squad. It’s understandable when the US was at one point fielding 8/11 from the Cosmos – not to mention the bench. Your Father always said that it was the chemistry of the backline.”

18’ Gladwin quickly loses the ball but Carter recovers right away. Carter tries the ball to Lukic this time. Lukic tries to Gladwin again. Gladwin shoots and it’s over. Donnelly grabs the ball off the goal kick and heads it forward. Jamaica’s defense wins it and tries to get something going. Carter wins it on the right flank and races forward. He passes to Burns who passes to Jason Mason. Jason Mason bends it toward goal but it rises over.

19’ Carter crosses the ball low and hard from the right. Burns receives but loses it almost immediately. Lukic gets right in there and shoots right to the keeper. Walters bring the ball forward. Burns challenges and fees the ball to Gladwin. Gladwin brings the ball forward and passes to Cameron. Cameron shoots but can’t get it on target.

28’ Gonzalez moves down the flank. Cameron calls for it. The Jamaica defender, Barnett, can’t stop Cameron. Cameron puts a touch too much force on it and the ball rolls to the keeper. The keeper distributes to the defender who kicks to clear. Jason Mason runs onto it and passes to Gonzalez. Gonzalez cross low and hard from the left but Barnett clears behind.

31’ Jason Mason races down the left flank. He heels the ball to Donnelly. Donnelly cuts infield but can’t connect clearly and the ball goes wide right.

36’ Hoyos shuts down Jamaica’s counterattack before it can start. Hoyos looks to pass it away but Walters intercepts. Walters looks to cross but Donnelly rises to head it clear. Walters winds up with the clearance and tries to cross again. Calderon rushes out of his goal to grab it. He hits it forward to Gonzalez. Gonzalez centers to Johnson. Johnson passes short to Lukic. Lukic to Jason Mason to Gladwin. Gladwin finds Carter on the right. Carter moves forward and crosses to the far post.

38’ Johnson is tripped. He takes his own free kick and blasts toward goal. The wall puts it over.

“I remember hearing that your Father had bid $50 million for 18 year old Adam Johnson. I knew then that he was going to be amazing, even if no one else could see it. He had speed but that was about it. Now he’s become one of the best midfielders in the world – and one of the fastest too. A lot of very talented youth has come out of the Revs Academy over the past 15 years. Adam Johnson, Jason Mason, Dave Cameron...”

41’ Gonzalez throws the ball into play. Johnson moves forward with the ball. Johnson passes back to Cameron. Cameron bursts into the area and aims for the top corner. It lifts over the bar.

45’ Hoyos hits the free kick 25 yards to Carter. Carter brings the ball inside. He keeps moving until he can’t anymore. He passes it back to Johnson. Johnson runs onto and passes to Jason Mason. Jason Mason curves the ball at goal. The keeper does brilliantly to deflect. Johnson aims the corner at the far post. The defender sends it right back to him off the clearance. Johnson sees Cameron to his right. Cameron tries the shot from the tight angle and it goes out for the goal kick.

45+3’ Gonzalez whips in a corner. Donnelley powers a head at goal. Hoyos heads the ball toward goal off the deflection! Goal! 1-0

50’ Carter clears the ball behind goal. Jamaica drifts in a corner. Barnett steps up and forces the ball toward goal! It’s in! 1-1

“Valdez for Lukic? That doesn’t make sense. Valdez is a defender.”

“It’s actually really clever. He’s shifting Donnelley over to the leftback spot, putting Valdez in the center, relieving Gonzalez to move up more and probably kicking Jason Mason out right.

53’ Cameron races down the field unopposed. Cameron taps it right to Jason Mason to his right as he hits the edge of the area. Jason Mason fires a vicious shot toward the top corner.

58’ Johnson plays a one-two with Carter. Johnson starts to move inside. He passes low and left o Donnelly. Donnelly shoots on the first touch but th keeper holds. On the clearance, Valdez rushes in and intercepts the ball. He moves it left to Gonzalez. Gonzalez passes to Gladwin. Gladwin moves a little down the field before passing to Donnelly. Donnelly passes back to Johnson but the keeper rushes out to push away the ball. The defender kicks it out. Carter throws it back in. Donnelly finds Carter who curls it on the first touch. Cameron bursts into space and blasts the ball into the back of the net. 2-1.

“Donnelly has been a revelation for the Cosmos these past couple of years.”

“That’s shocking with the likes Sesay and Ronaldo on the field.

“Maybe he’s part of the reason that they’re gone now.”

65’ Hoyos goes down from a trip. Johnson takes the free kick and plays it short to Carter. Carter passes to Johnson. Johnson finds Gonzalez with a low pass down the right flank. Gonzalez advances with the ball and passes to Carter ahead of him. Carter moves to the byline and crosses in the ball. Barnett sends the ball out for a throw-in. Carter throws the ball back in. Johnson passes it back. Carter races down the right flank. He sends it across the field to Jason Mason. Jason Mason passes to Burns as he races up the middle. Middle squares the ball to the right of the area and Cameron rushes to it and taps it in. 3-1.

73’ Gonzalez goes forward and tries to find Jason Mason. Jason Mason bends it from long range but the keeper is able to push it over.

73’ Johnson is replaced by Glazer.

“Glazer! Why is he on the field!”

With as supportive as The Boss has been about the other players on the team, this take me aback. “He’s a good attacking force from the middle..”

“He’s washed out with three teams now. He couldn’t earn any time with Napoli or Schalke. He wasted away at Real Madrid before redeeming himself with Leverkusen. He shouldn’t be on the field.”

77’ Donnelly finds Cameron. Cameron moves forward unopposed but sends in a weak attempt to the keeper.

79’ Gladwin is replaced by Zaratin.

Who? “Who is Zaratin?”

“He was your Father’s project for the last few years. He hasn’t fully developed yet but he’s got talent. He might just be the next great American defender. He's not half bad in the midfield either.”

90’ Calderon passes ahead to Carter. Carter moves forward unchallenged. He moves practically the length of the field and passes to Zaratin. Zaratin holds up the ball to wait for Jason Mason. Jason Mason passes to Carter. Carter moves to the byline and centers the ball. The Jamaica defender clears it to Jason Mason. Jason Mason rushes forward and passes back to Donnelly as he makes a run forward. Donnelly shoots from distance! The keeper sees it over.

Jamaica 1-3 United States

Hoyos (45); Barnett (50); Cameron (58, 65)

Man of the Match: ST Dave Cameron (United States)

“What a win! We really had them on their heels!”

“Not very clinical though.” Thirty-one shots for the US vs five for Jamaica. Ten of those shots came from Cameron and didn’t go in – Father would have been livid! “Still, I’m impressed by Kreis.”

“He's done well. Big shoes to fill.” The Boss pauses for a moment. “You may have wondered why I asked you to join me.”

It had been more than a passing thought. I’d met the man once and out of the blue he had his thugs show up at my door to tell me that I’m going to Hawaii for the Gold Cup match. Instead, I shrug.

“Well. I want you to know that I’ve been impressed by your leadership so far. There will be..benefits to continued success.”

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