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Meet Tanner Tessmann: the kid who chose FC Dallas over Clemson football



Dabo Swinney could hardly believe what he was watching. The Clemson football coach knew his godson, a star in the FC Dallas academy, was a good athlete. He knew the kid had a strong leg. But when Tanner Tessmann started kicking at a Clemson camp in the summer of 2019, Swinney wasn’t prepared for what he saw.

“I watched him a kick a 64-yarder and then he kicked a 52-yarder, left-footed, just for good measure. That blew my mind,” said Swinney, laughing in disbelief. “You have guys at kicking camp, that’s what they do every day year-round, and he hasn’t done any prep. No kicking a football before, he showed up and he was the best guy there. If you’re a kicker, he’s the kind of guy who is going to make you mad.

“It’s kinda like the golfer who works at it every day and then a guy comes out who hasn’t played in two years and shoots par. That’s who he is.”

He came in for one day, no pads to put on or a pass rush to face, but Swinney said Tessmann’s 64-yard field goal probably would have been good from more than 70 yards. It was a light-bulb moment for the two-time national-championship-winning coach. Tessmann was already being recruited by Clemson to play soccer, why not have him play soccer and football?

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Both sports are played in the fall, but Swinney already knew it could work. When he became the head coach in 2007, Clemson’s kicker, Mark Buchholz, was also a midfielder on the soccer team. The logistical hurdles were manageable and in Tessmann, whose father, P.J., is Swinney’s best friend, he saw a kid with an NFL leg.

“I’m telling you, I am not lying, he could go into an NFL training camp and compete,” Swinney said. “Everybody would be like, ‘Dang, look at the ball come off this guy’s foot.'”

It wasn’t a hard sell. Tessmann left Birmingham, Alabama, at 14 years old to pursue a soccer career in Dallas’ residency program, but when the opportunity from “Uncle Bo” came, he didn’t think he factored into Dallas’ plans. Playing at Clemson meant he would be reunited with his parents — they had moved to Clemson from Alabama after P.J. took a job running Swinney’s charitable foundation — and could continue to develop in one of the nation’s best college soccer programs while giving this football thing a shot.

“At the time, Clemson was my highest potential,” Tessmann said. “Maybe I thought I was ready to play pro [soccer], but maybe [Dallas] weren’t ready to sign me. There’s a lot of things that go into it. I was going to have to go prove myself there to help me become a professional.”

In February, however, things changed quickly. Injuries during FC Dallas’ preseason led coach Luchi Gonzalez to integrate Tessmann with the first team and almost immediately, it became clear he was ready to contribute in Major League Soccer. On Feb. 27, roughly two months after signing an NCAA letter of intent, he signed a first-team contract with Dallas, becoming the club’s 28th Homegrown Player.

“He was just taking advantage of those opportunities, showing that he could rise to that level and do it with a lot of confidence and a lot of vision and technique and coordination,” Gonzalez said. “He’s absolutely going to have a career, an important career for this club for hopefully as long as possible and in this league. And maybe he can go on to do things like Reggie [Cannon] one day, who knows?”

Cannon, 22, a Dallas academy product and United States international, was transferred to Boavista in Portugal earlier this month after 75 appearances for the club since debuting in late 2017.

While Tessmann, who turned 19 this week, was looking forward to the opportunity at Clemson, signing with Dallas was an easy call.

“That’s why I went there when I was 14,” he said. “That’s what had been my dream to do. That was the goal, and when that goal came, it was a no-brainer.”

Two days after Tessmann signed, he started and played 90 minutes in the team’s season opener against the Philadelphia Union, registering an assist in stoppage time. In 12 games this season, Tessmann has started six and been subbed on in three others. Coming up through the academy, he played primarily in an attacking role, but as an excellent passer at 6-foot-4, he’s more likely to settle in as a No. 8 or a No. 6, which is how he has been deployed so far under Gonzalez.

Due to several positive tests for COVID-19, Dallas did not play in the MLS is Back Tournament, and it took Tessmann some time to work himself into Dallas’ rotation when play resumed. After featuring for just 16 minutes in the first four games after the restart, he has appeared in each of the past six, including four straight starts.

After Tessman went 90 minutes last week in a 4-1 win against the Colorado Rapids, his best performance to date, Gonzalez said he was texting with Clemson soccer coach Mike Noonan.

“He was wishing him the best and he’s so proud of him,” Gonzalez said. “So that just shows you there’s a lot of love and support behind him being with us and that decision. That’s not easy.”

Swinney wasn’t thrilled, initially, when he found out Tessmann wouldn’t be a Tiger, but he got past that disappointment quickly. And while he hasn’t turned into a soccer fan, per se, it’s no longer unusual for him to watch the sport on TV.

“I’ve seen more MLS than ever since he signed on, that’s for sure,” Swinney said. “I’ve seen him play many times over the years and P.J. keeps me up to date, daily, on how he’s doing. But we’re just so proud of him.”

P.J. Tessmann’s family moved from Georgia to Birmingham, Alabama, before P.J.’s junior year of high school and he met Swinney on the first day of school. They became like brothers. When Swinney went off to Alabama to play football, Tessmann went to South Alabama to play soccer and they spent their summers together working out in Tuscaloosa. P.J. was the best man in Dabo’s wedding and vice versa.

“We’re not related, but my wife’s brother married his wife’s sister, so we’ve kinda got this weird in-law relationship where we’re uncles to some of the same kids,” P.J. Tessmann said. “We’re super close.”

Tanner was kicking a ball by age 3 and by about 6 years old, there were indications he was a naturally gifted athlete. Whatever it was — soccer, football, basketball — he always had a ball in his hands or at his feet. He played all three sports in middle school, but soccer is what hooked him.

As a standout in Alabama’s Olympic Development Program, Tessmann had opportunities to spend time with the Philadelphia Union and Atlanta United academies before the chance to join MLS’ most proven academy arose. It was a difficult decision to leave home to live in Dallas just as he was set to begin high school, but two of his friends from Birmingham, brothers Brandon and Jaden Servania, had already made the move and encouraged him to do the same. Brandon made his first-team debut for Dallas in 2018 and serves as one Tessmann’s partners in midfield, while Jaden plays for the Birmingham Legion in the USL Championship.

“I was ready for that move when I was 14,” Tessmann said. “It was something where my parents had confidence in me. They trusted me in different things. So, I moved into a house with one supervisor from the club. And then it was about four or five other guys I already knew. The hardest part was getting a ride to school, pretty much. We walked a lot.

“Around that age is when I really knew that I could make it to the highest level if I put in the work. Before then, when I was in Alabama, it wasn’t really a thought.”

Last year, Tessmann won the U18/U19 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Golden Ball while leading FC Dallas to the U18/U19 Academy Championship and played 896 minutes in 16 appearances for North Dallas SC in USL League One. His season led to a call-up to the United States U20 national team, coached then by current Houston Dynamo manager Tab Ramos, and he figures to be in the mix for the U20 World Cup in 2021.

“It was really cool to be a part of that but, I honestly don’t know where I stand,” he said. “And I’m not too worried about it. If I get called in, I get called in and I’ll prove myself there.”

When Ramos left his post for the job in Houston, he was replaced by Anthony Hudson, whose most recent gig was as the coach in Colorado, following time leading the full national teams in New Zealand and Bahrain.

Like anyone in his position, Tessmann has dreams of taking the sport as far as he can and it’s becoming easier to envision a career in Europe as several young Americans have begun to find success an ocean away. It’s a group that includes Tessmann’s former Alabama ODP teammate, and fellow FC Dallas academy product, Chris Richards, who appeared off the bench for Bayern Munich in the European champions’ first game of the Bundesliga season.

Then, of course, there’s always a fallback option.

“Hey, you never know how it’s all gonna work out,” Swinney said. “I told him he’s still got all of his eligibility. He could be like [former Florida State quarterback] Chris Weinke. come back and be a 29-year-old kicker one day.”


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

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