ProSoccerTalk’s daily soccer re-set

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Soccer birthdays: It’s a big day for American soccer birthdays. And probably a day for us all to count our blessings.

John O’Brien (pictured) may have been the best all-around man in a U.S. shirt during that amazing quarterfinal dash at World Cup 2002. Blessed with a silky touch and a giant soccer brain, O’Brien put it all together that summer for Bruce Arena’s team.

Later, a series of debilitating injury took the Ajax-trained Californian out of the game way too early. Following a couple of aborted comebacks, O’Brien walked away from the game after playing just once for Chivas USA in 2006.

He turns 35 on Wednesday.

Still on the subject of counting your blessings: Pablo Mastroeni was set for another season with the Colorado Rapids. But symptoms lingered from an early season concussion and it now seems entirely, sadly possible that the former Rapids’ captain, also a 2002 World Cup veteran and a member of the 2006 World Cup side, has played his final professional soccer contest. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the man.

Mastroeni turns 36 on Wednesday.

Big Important Stories of the Day: The last Wednesday in August is what we call a “Dandy!” There’s CONCACAF Champions League fate to be decided out in sunny So Cal, where the Galaxy can keep ahead of the small pack with a win over Puerto Rico (a team that has spoiled the Galaxy CCL plans before). A trio of MLS games features suddenly hot Columbus against Philadelphia – and you do not want to miss a chance to see the Crew’s newest wow-wow duo, Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain. They’re good.

And that’s not even the best. D.C. United hosts New York in a clash of Eastern rivals. (Hint: take the Black and Red. Their stars are rested, they look great at home in 2012 and the Red Bulls have mostly struggled away from the comfort of their Harrison home.)

RASNoD (Random American Soccer Name of the Day): Zach Thornton

Twitter daps:

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*Ahead on the blog today: The Daily Dempsey will make another appearance … tick-tock … tick-tock…  Transfer deadline day is Friday. We’ll have some thoughts on first-year MLS coaches and how it might affect the big decisions ahead between Caleb Porter and Portland. And we tell you why San Jose has already more or less wrapped up the Western Conference crown.

That’s right. Box up the blue ribbon or the replica Arch (you know, gateway to the West and all …) or whatever it is they give to the Western Conference winner and ship to Buck Shaw Stadium. We’re calling the race! Already. Check back later and you’ll see why.

Getting into the afternoon and evening time, Richard Farley will have something to say about the MLS matches later Wednesday.

It’s a big day. We’ve been carbing up. We’re set.

What you should watch on TV today: D.C. United-New York is on Galavision (8 p.m. ET). I hear that other people get Gala in HD just fine. I am jealous, because Gala in HD on my set looks like rabbit ear TV circa 1986. And that makes me pout. Just ask my poor girlfriend.

Galaxy-Puerto Rico is up on FSC at 10 p.m. ET.

PST background noise while blogging today: Weather Channel all day. Keeping our fingers crossed for all our friends in New Orleans and points nearby. Hang tough, guys.

*Always subject to change; you know how it is…

Europa League final: Man United too tough for Ajax, qualify for UCL

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Though it may have required a minor detour in the journey to the intended destination, Jose Mourinho’s first season as Manchester United manager ultimately reached the promised land: qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Once it became clear that Man United’s season was unlikely to result in a top-four finish in the Premier League (they eventually wound up sixth), Mourinho put every Mancunian egg into the Europa League basket, and it paid off on Wednesday, as United topped Ajax, 2-0, in the Europa League final inside the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.

Paul Pogba put United 1-0 ahead after just 18 minutes (WATCH HERE), benefitting from a wicked deflection off a defender’s shin, and Mourinho’s famously rigid, organized midfield and defensive structure frustrated a young Ajax side (a starting lineup with an average age of just under 23 years old) that reached the final on the back of a free-flowing, attacking tidal wave.

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

Down just a goal, Ajax needed little more than a moment of brilliance from any number of rising stars sure to fetch massive transfer fees and land big-money contracts elsewhere in Europe, in the not-so-distant future.

That hope lasted less than 180 seconds into the second half, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled the lead, thanks to some unbelievably quick reflexes and a tidy overhead kick from three yards out. Ajax would manage just two shots on goal all night (four for United).

Not only did Mourinho deliver Champions League qualification, alongside a European trophy, United also claimed the EFL Cup back in February. With the allure of UCL football next season, expect another busy (and expensive) summer of spending at Old Trafford.

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

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Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.