Soccer

Alejandro Bedoya, Major League Soccer stand tall against gun violence

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USATSI

Alejandro Bedoya, Major League Soccer stand tall against gun violence

The days of “shut and dribble” are gone, kicked into the national trash bin, where it joins such passe phrases as “stick to sports,” “stay in your lane,” and “who asked you?”

Thank you, Alejandro Bedoya.

And thank you, Major League Soccer.

As refreshing as it was to see Bedoya, a Philadelphia Union midfielder, react to scoring a goal by sprinting to the corner of a soccer pitch on Sunday and grab a hot microphone to plead for a humane response to the latest mass shootings in the United States, what happened on Monday was more significant.

While folks waited to see how MLS would react to Bedoya for making what always has been described as a “political statement” -- fine, suspension, or both -- the powers that be did no such thing.

Rather than issue discipline, they instead announced Bedoya, had been voted MLS Player of the Week.

Though there was, officially, no direct link between the award and the in-game plea uttered to a national audience through a TV mic -- “Congress, do something now. End gun violence! Let’s go!” -- that members of such an institution did not wring their hands or seek to repress Bedoya is an admission of recognition long overdue.

That sports and society are not mutually exclusive. Not that they ever were.

Like millions across the country, Bedoya, who was born in New Jersey but grew up in Florida, was sickened by the events hours earlier in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. An angry young man in El Paso killed 20 people (two more died Monday, raising the total to 22). Another angry young man killed nine in Dayton. There were calls to action from coast-to-coast, from politicians, entertainers, sports figures and beyond.

Even country music stars, usually careful to avoid tweaking their generally conservative fan bases, were on message with Bedoya. “True leaders don’t stand back and watch the world burn,” tweeted Kacey Musgraves. From Billy Ray Cyrus: “Be the change you wanna see.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, speaking in Las Vegas, where he is an assistant coach for Team USA as it prepares for the FIBA World Cup, said in part, “It's up to us as Americans to demand change from the gutless leadership that continues to allow this to happen and continues to somehow claim the second amendment is doing its job.”

What’s rare, however, for an American sports league to offer much more than sympathies. MLS not only not only gave its weekly honor to someone blazing through the news cycle for reasons beyond soccer, it also offered a few words that imply at least a measure of support for Bedoya and his spontaneous public-service announcement:

“The Major League Soccer family joins everyone in grieving for the loss of lives in Texas and Ohio, and we understand that our players and staff have strong and passionate views on this issue.”

MLS didn’t go far enough, but it also did not run from the issue. And by citing Bedoya as an example, it inches forward the conversation in ways other sports leagues wouldn’t dare. Perhaps it understands that silence, now, with mass homicidal madness on graphic display almost daily, is to be complicit in America’s unwillingness to confront the worst of itself.

Not only was MLS on message with Bedoya, but so was his team, which also issued a statement: “The Philadelphia Union support Alejandro Bedoya. He is taking a stand. The events that transpired this weekend across the country are deplorable. Our hearts go out to everyone affected.”

Union coach Jim Curtin took it a step further.

“I’m on his side. It’s outrageous. Things need to change in this country for sure,” Curtin told reporters in Washington. “And I’ll support anyone who speaks their mind and is intelligent and informed on it every time. That’s what Alejandro is. He’s passionate. He cares.

“And again, it’s a real issue in our country now that needs to change. A lot of people will tell me now and Ale to shut up, to stick to sports and all these stupid lines that come up. But it’s crazy. It’s crazy in our country right now and I think it needs to change as well.”

Bedoya, 32, is a former member of the U.S. Men’s National Team and among the most respected players in MLS. He was prepared for any heat that came his way from the Union, and from MLS.

He instead was given an award by one and a pat on the back by the other in what we can only hope this is a turn toward systematic enlightenment.

Pep Guardiola oddly defiant after Manchester City loss to Liverpool FC

Pep Guardiola oddly defiant after Manchester City loss to Liverpool FC

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola seemed primed to go off Sunday.

His squad lost 3-1 to English Premier League-leading Liverpool at Anfield, and the reigning champions fell behind early following a disputed decision.

Bernardo Silva's pass intended for Raheem Sterling in the box instead hit Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm, leading to the Reds' counter-attack that Fabinho capitalized on with an outside-the-box screamer.

Guardiola took issue with the call, and another handball much later in the match. Both appeared to be on his mind when he, uh, passionately thanked the referees after the match.

But the Spaniard insisted during his post-match interview with Sky Sports that he was not being sarcastic with the officials.

"No way," Guardiola told Sky Sports. "I congratulated them. I'm so polite. I didn't say anything here [either]."

Indeed, in Guardiola's interview and post-match press conference with reporters, he didn't take the bait when asked about Alexander-Arnold's handball, which VAR subsequently upheld as not a foul on a check of the goal. Guardiola told Sky Sports to "ask the referees" about the decisions and instead focused on his own team's performance.

"We tried to do our job," Guardiola said. "I would like to talk about our performance, it was so good. So, I know when teams come here and the way they play [with respect for] Anfield, and from the opening, with the problems we have in the squad, the way we played was awesome. One of the best performances we have played. We played in the way, the reason we are back-to-back champions. That is the point.

"At the end, there's still seven months, and if Liverpool win, I will be the first to congratulate them because we cannot deny how good they are."

Guardiola's side trailed 2-0 at halftime, despite controlling possession and out-shooting Liverpool in the first half. But the Reds were clinical, scoring on each of their first two shots of the match. 

Liverpool's first-half performance reminded Guardiola of Manchester City's UEFA Champions League quarterfinal loss at Anfield two seasons ago, when the Cityzens dug a 3-0 first-half hole in the first leg at Anfield. Guardiola was happier with his squad Sunday, pointing to City's various injuries as Leroy Sané, Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko all have missed significant time this season.

"What happened today, we showed why we are the champions," Guardiola said. "In this stadium, the way we played was incredible. So, I'm so proud of my team more than ever. [An] incredible performance in this stadium against the strongest team in Europe, and the way we played ... I am so proud. So proud. We played so good."

[RELATED: USMNT star Pulisic scores again for Chelsea but injures hip]

Perhaps Guardiola was just trying to be positive following some very visible outbursts, and the frustration stemming from both calls -- or, lack thereof, if you're a City supporter -- is understandable. But as strong as City looked, Guardiola's comments ring of moral victories and are oddly defeatist, especially considering where he and the club stand in global soccer's pecking order.

Guardiola arguably is the greatest club manager of all time, and oil money-backed City has the kind of financial might that only a handful of clubs in the world can match, let alone exceed. City trails Liverpool by nine points in the Premier League table, but don't mistake them for underdogs.

Watch Liverpool FC's Fabinho, Mo Salah score early vs. Manchester City

Watch Liverpool FC's Fabinho, Mo Salah score early vs. Manchester City

In the English Premier League's biggest match of the season to date, Liverpool FC got on the front foot early in a 3-1 win over Manchester City. 

The league leaders led 2-0 within the first 15 minutes Sunday at Anfield, thanks to Fabinho's sixth-minute screamer from outside the box and Mo Salah's 13th-minute header.  

Liverpool opened the scoring while Manchester City was slow to defend the Reds' counter-attack, disputing the referee's decision to not award a handball on Trent Alexander-Arnold. City controlled the early portions of the match, and Bernardo Silva's pass in the box hit Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm with City attacker Raheem Sterling running in behind. 

The Premier League's rule changes reflecting the International Football Association Board's "Laws of the Game" this summer called for a foul when a player has made their body "unnaturally bigger," but the referee appeared to determine that Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm was natural.

Alexander-Arnold surely earned himself additional ire from the City faithful with his wonderfully weighted pass on Liverpool's second goal. The right back switched the ball to left back Andy Robertson, whose subsequent cross to Salah left the ball on a platter for the Egyptian striker's run. 

[RELATED: Why Steve Kerr admires Jurgen Klopp's passion, joy]

Liverpool's offense runs through their flanks, as Alexander-Arnold and Robertson have been the Premier League's most productive passers this calendar year.

You'd have to go back to April 2017 to see the last time Liverpool lost at Anfield, and that streak continued Sunday. Sadio Mané put the game out of reach with a 51st-minute goal, but Liverpool's two quick goals ultimately proved to be too much for City.