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David Accam on being left off MLS All-Star roster: 'I’m disappointed my coach ignored me'

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USA TODAY

David Accam on being left off MLS All-Star roster: 'I’m disappointed my coach ignored me'

Players take being an All-Star snub differently, but there’s an added level of awkwardness when the person selecting a chunk of the roster was your own coach.

That’s the situation Chicago Fire winger David Accam and coach Veljko Paunovic find themselves in. As coach of the host team and therefore coach of the MLS All-Stars, Paunovic had to pick 11 players to fill out the roster after the Fan XI vote added the first selections.

While Paunovic did select midfielder Dax McCarty and defender Johan Kappelhof to join Fire teammates Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic, he did not pick Accam. Accam has 11 goals and seven assists, among the league leaders in both categories, and is not happy about being left off.

“I am disappointed because I think I played really well, especially coming from your own coach, it makes it even worse,” Accam said after training on Tuesday. “Personally, I know I’m doing well. I’ve scored 11 goals, seven assists this season. That is the pride I have. I’m doing well and I know I’m doing well even though I’m disappointed my coach ignored me, but I’ll still keep going.”

Accam made his disappointment somewhat public by retweeting a pair of tweets from former teammate Mike Magee and fellow Ghanaian Emmanuel Boateng of the LA Galaxy saying he was a snub. He did talk with Paunovic about being left off the All-Star team.

“We spoke after it came out, but that’s between me and him,” Accam said. “Whether I agree or not, that’s his decision.”

Last year, Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said the team was in contract extension talks with Accam, but those ended without an agreement being reached. Earlier this year, Rodriguez said they had decided to postpone further extension talks until after this season ends. That remains the case.

“We prefer not to have player negotiations during the year in general,” Rodriguez said on Friday. “I believe it’s human nature for those things to end up being a distraction, even if you’re not doing it directly to the player, you’re doing it to his representative. That would still be our preference. There are times when you move away from that, something pops up or something becomes easy or logical, but David is under contract, we have an option for him for next year and our preference is for him to remain with us.”

Rodriguez said it is a “pretty regular occurrence during the MLS windows” that offers come in for Accam. The most recent rumor was a reported bid from French Ligue 1 club Guingamp coming in at 2.5 million Euros.


With persistent rumors and Accam’s previously stated desire to play in Europe again, Accam fueled the fire by retweeting a mention that MLS should sell good players.

Further speculation of tension cropped up when Accam didn’t start last Saturday’s match in New York, the first after a break and after the All-Star roster was announced, despite not having an injury. Accam came off the bench at halftime and scored the Fire’s only goal in a 2-1 loss.

“Obviously I want to start games and stuff, but in the situation that we are in now it’s just a coach decision to not play me,” Accam said.

After the roster came out, Paunovic was asked about Accam’s exclusion.

“It’s not easy when you have to pick guys from your team and some guys that you also think they deserve to be there you can’t just because of the limitations,” Paunovic said. “That’s how it is.”

Rodriguez downplayed any drama with Accam. While Accam’s quotes about being left off don’t paint a pretty picture, he did still score in New York so any unhappiness hasn’t yet seeped into his on-field performance.

“I think David’s fine,” Rodriguez said. “I think that David is enjoying his best year in Major League Soccer and I think that’s a credit to David the work that he’s put in to his season, into his offseason. I think it’s also a credit to the coaching staff in maximizing his talent and knowing how to use him. He’s been a big part of our success so far. I think he’s managed the way we try to manage all of our players.”

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez calls for 'honest self-reflection' of American soccer

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USA TODAY

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez calls for 'honest self-reflection' of American soccer

American soccer is fresh off the crisis of missing the 2018 World Cup and there’s plenty of screaming and yelling about what should be changed and what needs fixing.

Everything from the leadership of the U.S. Soccer Federation, coach Bruce Arena, the players, Major League Soccer’s relationship with the national team to youth development is being questioned and criticised.

While MLS academies are still, relatively speaking, in their nascent stages (the Fire’s academy launched in 2007) and the fruits of their work are still being realized, the way players are developed in this country has come under fire. That makes a comment from Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez from September 2016, just over two months before the final round of World Cup qualifying began, seem all the more relevant now.

“We’ve had organized soccer through a federation since 1913 and don’t have a male player who in my opinion is of world-class stature,” Rodriguez said. “And I mean no offense to all the great players who’ve represented U.S. Soccer, but my definition of world-class means any team in the world would want them. So that suggests to me that we need to do something differently. I think that the time is right to interject a different perspective. So I think having different experiences, different backgrounds in education and in the formation of young players is really important.”

This was in reference to the Fire hiring a foreign academy director, Frenchman Cedric Cattenoy. In light of the U.S.’s qualifying failure and this comment from a year ago, I asked Rodriguez if he thought there was something wrong in the way players are developed in this country. He began by talking about the “very holistic approach” that the team is trying to implement, on and off the field, but then he said something that stood out.

“I do believe there’s a difference between soccer and football,” Rodriguez said on Wednesday. “Some of that difference is rooted in time and tradition. Some of it is in how it’s taught and interpreted and I want us to teach, speak and play football.”

At first glance, this may come off as somewhat pretentious. Rodriguez is perhaps being snobby about the “soccer” being played in America vs. the “football” being played in the rest of the world.

Here’s the thing: it is pretentious, but it’s not wrong.

For all of its growth in stadiums, attendance, revenue and overall player quality, MLS is still a ways behind the top leagues in the world. After watching both, it doesn’t take long to notice the difference. When the top teams in the top leagues play, the game is faster, sharper, more dynamic and more entertaining.

That’s not to say MLS isn’t an entertaining product, but it can’t match a Champions League match at a world-famous stadium in front of 60,000-plus fans. MLS’ goal should be to get to that level, or at least get close to that level, even if it takes decades. In the meantime, players should learn and be taught the game at its highest level.

With the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga and the Champions League easily accessible on TV, young American soccer players can watch the game played at its highest level and idolize the game in that form. MLS is the more accessible avenue of the game, with the ability to attend a game in person and be part of a team’s academy being more available as the league continues to expand and academy setups become more comprehensive and sophisticated.

"What we need to do, all of us in the sport in America, is take a few moments of honest self-reflection and recommit to working in a more collaborative way instead of just trying to protect our little soccer fiefdom in our backyard and neighborhood," Rodriguez said. "(We need) all of us to work aligned so we can reach our goal, which is to get the men’s program at the standard and level of the women’s program, which is an Olympic champion and a world champion several times over."

Rodriguez wants the Fire’s academy and its players to “teach, speak and play football.” In a time when American soccer fans are feeling even more insecure than normal, it’s OK to embrace the pretentious nature of that statement. It’s for the best.

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

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USA TODAY

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

Bastian Schweinsteiger has delivered on the promise of a big name star since joining the Fire in late March. He has produced on the field, drawn lots of attention to the club, the team has won enough to get into its first postseason since 2012 and, until recently, he stayed healthy.

However, the 33-year-old German has played 19 minutes in the previous six matches and told reporters on Wednesday that he will not play in the regular season finale in Houston on Sunday. He missed four straight matches with a calf injury before returning against New York City FC on Sept. 30 for a substitute appearance.

Schweinsteiger left practice early with what appeared to be a reaggravation of the injury on Oct. 4 and now it is known that will cost him at least two games. With the playoff picture still in flux (the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference), the Fire could potentially face a three-day turnaround and travel after the Houston game or could have a first-round bye. Keeping Schweinsteiger fresher for that crunch of games could end up being a good thing, but it also runs the risk of his match fitness not being at 100 percent for the postseason.

Beyond the postseason, Schweinsteiger dropped this tease of a nugget to the Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz just an hour before Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke with reporters for almost an hour at Toyota Park.

Schweinsteiger, who was not at training, was autographing memorabilia in the form of soccer balls, posters and jerseys. Chicago Red Stars fans may get a kick out of the fact that Schweinsteiger was wearing a Red Stars hoodie.

Initially, the club said Schweinsteiger signed a one-year contract with a mutual option. Later in the day, when asked about Schweinsteiger's future, Rodriguez said the mutual option doesn't have a set number attached to it.

"That would require a negotiation," Rodriguez said. "It was mutual in a sense of we didn’t want either party to feel bound without having had the year of experience to draw on. From our perspective, our experience has been extraordinarily positive with Bastian. We think he’s delivered across all of our expectations and we hope that we have delivered against his expectations.”

So in essence, there is no mutual option. Schweinsteiger and the Fire have to come to terms again on a deal for the German to return in 2018. That's not to say Schweinsteiger can't come back, but there's nothing in writing that binds the two together for next season.

Rodriguez said talks have only begun in the very preliminary stages at this point.

“The most that Basti and I have done is, both said, hey this has gone pretty well." Rodriguez said. "You like it. I like it... So I think we want to remain with our original plan. It was to look to have the hard discussions at the end of the season. My view is in-season negotiations always prove to be a distraction, whether to the player or to me. There can be a team element if it becomes public.

"I don’t want to speak for Basti, but from what we’ve gleaned and what he shared with us, he and (wife) Ana (Ivanovic) are very comfortable in the city. They love it. I think he’s really enjoyed the locker room, the guys, the support of the fans. I think he’s really taken to the challenge of Major League Soccer. I think the signs are positive, but again we would prefer to have the season close before finalizing anything.”