PSG returns, Porto looks to improve – UEFA Champions League Group A preview

Leave a comment

Just like that, Champions League group stage is back. Eight matches per day, two days a week, with match days spread out from now through the beginning of December. For many of you, it will provide something to get through your work day. For some of us, it’s bludgeoning: Too many games; too little time; too much significance.

While the day’s biggest match is in Group D (Real Madrid hosting Manchester City), PSG’s Champions League return will also snatch headlines. They help kickoff Group A play with FC Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, and Dinamo Zagreb.

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Dynamo Kyiv

Parc de Princes, Paris, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

You’d be forgiven for thinking PSG had never been in Champions League. It’s been eight years since the Parisians participated in the competition, and since becoming the unofficial club of the Qatari government, Paris Saint-Germain is scarcely the same club.

Today, the Parisians are more talented than their predecessors could have imagined. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has become the focal point of a team that will also feature Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, and Jeremy Menez. While many attacks can claim greater potency, few can espouse to having more skill.

Unfortunately for Carlo Ancelotti, teams are judged by goals, which means the PSG boss needs to find a way to improve on their six goals in five Ligue 1 games. More specifically, Ancelotti needs to get somebody besides Ibrahimovic scoring. Zlatan has scored five times (in four games). The rest of the team is averaging 0.20 goals per match.

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

Dynamo represents an opportunity for PSG to break out. The Ukranians are perennial contenders domestically, but they’re not on the same level as the Parisians, even if they’ve just gone through an offseason buildup of their own: Miguel Veloso (from Genoa), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham Hotspur), Marco Ruben (Villarreal) and Taye Taiwo (Milan).

Travelling across the continent for a midweek match is tough enough, but when you don’t have the players to match up with Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi and Menez, the odds become especially long.

Dinamo Zagreb vs. FC Porto

Stadion Maksimir, Zagreb, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Give credit to Dinamo Zagreb for being one of two teams to make it from second round qualifying into group stage, but they’re going to have to drastically improve on last year to make the treck worth their competitive while. No matter how they perform against FC Porto, the money will justify the effort (each team gets $9.4 million for making it this far), but on the field, Dinamo will want to avoid the embarrassment of a record-setting 22 goals allowed in last year’s group stage.

If current form in any indication, Dinamo is set to improve. Shortly after their elimination from last year’s Champions League, Dinamo parted ways with head coach Krunoslav Jurčić, bringing in Ante Čačić from Lokomotiva. Since, the team is undefeated in 33 matches, winning 23.

Porto is also trying to improve on last year, though for drastically different reasons. Favored going into Group G, the Portuguese champions finished third behind Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg and Cyprus’s APOEL. On the final matchday, Porto saw Zenit come of the Dragão and park the bus, their 0-0 draw especially frustrating given one more goal would have put them into the final 16.

Porto’s ability to move forward will depend on how successful they are in replacing Hulk. Their leading scorer last season, Hulk, moved to Zenit earlier this month. Porto are left with a wealth of attacking talent (James Rodriguez, Silvestre Valera, and Christian Atsu), but maintaining their high standards will depend on Jackson Martínez. The talented Ecuadorian was imported from Mexico this summer and has already scored twice in three Liga matches. If he can be as incredible as Hulk, Porto should improve on last year’s disappointment.

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
Leave a comment

The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
Leave a comment

What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.

Puksas Award finalists: Somehow absent is USWNT’s Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd, USWNT
Leave a comment

FIFA announced on Monday its three-man list of finalists for the 2015 Puskas Award, handed out each year to the player who scored the “most beautiful” goal of the past calendar year.

[ MORE: 2015 Ballon d’Or finalists ]

The three men up for this year’s honor are Alessandro Florenzi (WATCH HERE), Lionel Messi (WATCH HERE) and Wendell Lira (WATCH HERE) — all scorers of fantastically beautiful goals this year.

That means Carli Lloyd, who made the original list of nominees before being whittled down to just three, is shockingly tragically scandalously criminally not a finalist for this year’s award. Reminder: This is the goal we’re talking about.

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

So, here’s the case for Lloyd:

  • She scored from midfield
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final to complete a hat trick
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final to complete a hat trick in the 16th minute

How in the world is Carli Lloyd’s midfield goal to complete a 16-minute hat trick and win a World Cup final not a top-three goal of the year? You got some (more) explaining to do, FIFA.

Beckham group abandons latest plans for Miami MLS stadium

David Beckham
Leave a comment

All signs seemed to point toward an all-too-familiar outcome for the David Beckham-led investment group hoping to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to the city of Miami: another failed plan in their bid to build a brand new stadium.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Earlier this month, newly-joined all-world sports executive Tim Leiweke warned that groups or individuals currently owning the various parcels of land surrounding the Miami Marlins’ baseball stadium, the latest site Miami Beckham United (MBU) had chosen, were making “unrealistic” demands and threatened to derail the project at that location.

Today, it’s been reported across South Florida that the group has altogether abandoned plans to build their stadium at that particular site. Miami city commissioner Francis Suarez confirmed that MBU were “moving in a different direction” — quotes from Local 10 News:

“It’s going to be withdrawn from the next agenda because the Beckham group has not acquired the private properties that are needed to construct the stadium on that site.”

“The residents expect us to hold these teams to the fire,” Suarez said. “A lot of times they’re financed by wealthy people and they want some sort of a public subsidy, which is very controversial as well, which is why we were going to take it to referendum.”

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

On Sunday, during halftime of the league’s Eastern Conference final, MLS commissioner Don Garber was asked about the Miami stadium situation, to which he responded, “We think Miami will be a great market. We found a reasonably good site. I’m confident that we’ll get something done there.”

MBU is reportedly being held to something of a deadline by the MLS board of governors, which meets every year ahead of MLS Cup, with this weekend’s sit-down thought of as a target date to have something concrete going forward. Meanwhile, Sacramento Republic FC, an MLS expansion hopeful currently playing in the USL (third division), announced last week they would be moving forward with building their brand new MLS-sized stadium, expansion bid or not.