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.

FA Cup Final preview: Desperate Arsenal meets Double-seeking Blues

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  • Clubs split PL series
  • Chelsea’s Conte aims for double
  • Chelsea 8W-3D-2L vs. Arsenal since 2012

Arsenal and Chelsea face off with a trophy on the line for the fourth time this century when the London sides hit Wembley Stadium for Saturday’s FA Cup Final.

Arsenal beat Chelsea in the 2015 Community Shield, the first silverware match-up between the two sides since the 2007 League Cup Final in Wales. The Blues won that one, 2-1, while Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 in the 2002 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: Conte open to contract extension ]

A win would be Arsenal’s third FA Cup trophy in four seasons, and Arsenal would be thrilled to put something shiny in its trophy case following a season of tumult at the Emirates Stadium which ended without UEFA Champions League qualification for the first time in 20 years.

Conte knows Arsenal is desperate for something good.

What they’re saying

Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on what a win could mean“We wanted to finish higher up in the league, there is no doubting that. We cannot hide from that and we need to own up to that. The FA Cup is a big trophy, one we want to win and which would definitely boost morale going into next season.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte on the match: “If you ask me who is the favorite now, I can tell you it is Arsenal because Arsenal now has the possibility to find a good season after a win in the FA Cup. For this reason, we must play with great patience. We must find in ourselves the right motivation, the right anger because the game can be very difficult for all of these reasons.”

Prediction

Could go either way, with many players not just glory-hunting but in the shop window. Will Alexis Sanchez be the difference maker? Mesut Ozil? Maybe, but we think Chelsea ratchets up the intensity one more time and claims a double with a 2-1 win.

Chelsea’s Conte open to extending his contract

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Antonio Conte is readying Chelsea for a bid at a season double, with the Blues meeting Arsenal on Saturday afternoon for an all-London FA Cup Final.

Conte is on a London-high himself, having led the Blues to a Premier League title in his first year in charge. He’s moving his family to the area, scooping up plenty of individual hardware, and has dynastic aims for the Stamford Bridge set.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

His first deal was for three years, and Conte is thinking beyond that now.

From the BBC:

“If the club give me the possibility to stay and extend my contract, for sure I’m available to. … We have the same idea about the future, the way we have to do together, to improve the squad and the team.”

How they improve the squad will be interesting, as veterans Cesc Fabregas, Willian, and Diego Costa have uncertain futures at the Bridge. But why wouldn’t Conte sign a bumper new deal after wild first year success?

Off to slow start, Morris, Seattle know “things can change quickly”

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Both Jordan Morris and the Seattle Sounders are off to a rough start in defense of their MLS Cup title last Fall, and the USMNT’s star striker admits to recalling last season’s wild turnaround as an inspiration.

“After the game last week we mentioned that we have a lot of the nucleus from last year and we all know that things can change quickly,” Morris said to ProSoccerTalk this week.

Seattle won just seven games before Matchday 22 last season, rebounding with a burst after coach Sigi Schmid was replaced by assistant Brian Schmetzer. The Sounders went 8-2-2 down the stretch en route to an MLS Cup win over Toronto FC.

While he hasn’t scored in five matches and only has two markers in 12 games, he feels success is coming for the 3W-5L-4T Sounders. Morris said the club knows the results aren’t there, but also that they are producing chances.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

“It’s been okay,” Morris said. “Definitely not the start I would’ve wanted. It’s not an excuse but we’ve hit a lot of posts and had other near misses.”

Seattle has a huge opportunity to flip the script on its season when Cascadia Cup rivals Portland visit on Saturday. The free-scoring Timbers are dangerous in attack, but have been opened up 20 times this season. Only two teams have conceded more goals than Portland (which has played the most matches in the league, it must be said).

And it may or may not surprise fans that Morris’ focus has been one of his strengths: the final product.

“I’m working on the final third, whether it’s shooting or finding the open guy,” Morris said. “It’s a big deal for us to finish our chances. Scoring or the final pass in that final third.”

Despite his relatively cold start, it would be surprising if Bruce Arena didn’t tab Morris in his crop for next month’s World Cup qualifiers. The 22-year-old also seems relatively certain to be a part of the Gold Cup plans.

“I’m excited and hopefully I get called up,” he said. “These World Cup qualifiers are obviously a very big deal and Bruce has done a really good job of getting us on the same page.”

Morris is also participating in a unique promotional activity with Delta Air Lines for Sounders fans, as he and Cristian Roldan are among Seattle players picking fans for “positions” in a Fan XI. Once assembled, they’ll travel to L.A. for a Sounders road match and even sign one-day contracts. Morris was happy to get on board with it.

“It’s for our fans, who are amazing,” he said. “Delta’s idea to make a Fan XI gives the fansa chance to have the behind the scenes experience of being part of a team put together by having different skills. We love rewarding our fans.”

Day Seven: All the action from the U20 World Cup (video)

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Mexico has automatically qualified for the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup despite falling to Venezuela.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Germany dropped below Mexico in goal differential after allowing a 3-0 lead to sink to one, though El Tri still likely would’ve advanced to the next phase despite Germany’s result.

Mexico 0-1 Venezuela

Caracas 19-year-old striker Sergio Cordova scored for the third-straight match in what is sure to make him a hot summer commodity as Venezuela clinched Group B with a perfect 3-0 record.

Germany 3-2 Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s potential name of the tournament Bong Kalo scored twice in the second half to sink Germany below Mexico on goal difference.

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

A brace from Lautaro Martínez gives Argentina hope of the knockout rounds with a third-place finish.

England 1-0 South Korea

Everton’s Kieran Dowell scored the lone goal of the match to give England the Group A crown.