Letters from London: Friday’s Calm Before the Storm

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LONDON – Yesterday we speculated the Robin van Persie transfer may wake London from its post-Olympics slumber. No luck. On the day before the Premier League starts, the capital remains relatively dormant. Perhaps there are a few more soccer shirts walking London’s streets than were seen mid-week, but the chatter’s still at a whisper. Keep your ears open and you’ll hear a random thought on the Gunners or Hammers, but even after the pubs opened up early evening, it was difficult to see any excitement for tomorrow’s openers.

England’s sports scene has been quiet since Sunday, when it closed the Summer Olympics. Since, they’ve been on vacation, an elite athlete relaxing after a draining championship campaign, with today the last day of that sojourn.

It’s as if fans are in their last hours of Greek vacation. They’ve checked all the touristy activities off their to-do lists, and with their last moments, they’re laying out on a Mediterranean beach, mentally preparing for their return to normal life. For now, though, they’re not talking about it. There are still a few more hours of sun.

London’s sun may have been part of the reason Premier League buzz spent another day in the shadows. A beautiful day saw people in parks, packing cafés at lunch, enjoying the refreshingly mild weather. Located on the River Thames, London’s summers are normally humid, a quality that tried to emerge during the week. But Friday cooperated, stayed cool, and gave Londoners little reason to head indoors (in pubs) and begin transition into their soccer season.

Now, with time having run out, that transition’s going to be abrupt. Fans in London will wake up Saturday morning to their their last hours of summer break. By mid-day, the mechanics of the season will begin. Fans of Arsenal, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United (all hosting 3:30 p.m. kickoffs in London) will jump on buses and the underground to raid the north, west, and east of the city. A few will head out early to get a couple of pints before going to the park. Afterward, they’ll regress to the pub, to celebrate or commiserate, keeping half an eye on the day’s last match in Newcastle.

By then, the curious transition between Olympics and Premier League will be forgotten, which is a shame. The process hints at facet of sport that’s often ignored, particularly by those of us who mistakenly believe it’s at the center of our worlds. For Londoners – the casual fans, the obsessed, the ones who consume everything as well as those who only like their soccer- sports obsession had a breaking point. After two weeks of being shown almost every sport humanity has have ever conceived, the city said “you know, we’re going to take some time for ourselves.” They had reached their limit. The part of their souls that absorbs sport was full. Fans needed a little time in the sun, away from it all.

Not even the Premier League’s buildup could tempt them back. Robin van Persie to Manchester United? Alex Song out and Nuri Sahin in? Luka Modric finally going to Real Madrid? Tell us about it on Saturday. Until then, we don’t need sport. Not the Premier League. Not England-South Africa test cricket. Nothing.

It’s a state with which sports fans in the States can empathize. We consider ourselves sports mad, but when the National Football League, National Basketball Association, or Major League Baseball has a work stoppage, we miraculously survive, despite talk radio caller panic and Sportscenter features heightening the impact of the absences. Turns out when our favorite teams aren’t around, we have other things to do – things we often like. It’s enough to make you wonder if we’re missing more glorious Fridays in the sun.

Sports, no matter how passionate we are about them, occupy only one compartment of our lives. That compartment is larger in some people than others, but it never has to define us. There will always be a point where the rest of life looks like a nice respite from the games. There will always be something that puts our fandom into perspective.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

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An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.