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Women’s soccer battle brewing in Seattle

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The Seattle Sounders Women held a press conference on Tuesday, the content of which was far less interesting than the timing: four days after U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati briefed select media on the status of their aspirant women’s professional league; four days after former Sounders Women General Manager Amy Carnell started informing people that she had left the club for a still-forming competitor. Following those developments, Smith’s press gathering made him out to be an opportunistic explorer thrusting his country’s flag into a newly “discovered” land – because fabric and poles mean so much.

But that was the subtext of the Sounders Women’s message. The team announced they would be back in 2013. In what league? They’re not sure. Where would they play? Starfire Sports Complex, they hoped. And would the big names – Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Sydney Leroux – be back? It’s too early to talk about such things, even if Solo seems to have developed a connection for the brand. In most ways, the Sounders Women are little different than a team that’s just starting. They don’t know where they’ll play, with which players, or against which teams.

With so little to announce, why call a press conference? Surely a press release announcing the team’s intentions would have sufficed. Even that might have been overkill. Few assumed the Sounders Women were going away. The team could have brushed off questions as they came up. “Back? Of course, we’ll be back. We’re hear to stay!”

The press conference makes more sense when you know about Carnell’s new employer. Seattle-based business man Bill Predmore, president of the digital agency POP, is starting a team. He had linked up with the previously-announced (but now, unlikely to happen) league but has since positioned the team to be among USSF’s candidates. His team has also hired Carnell, who fired a shot across the Sounders Women’s bow in saying (about her new employer), “I am currently working with an owner here in Seattle that believes in the game as much as I do.”

For the Sounders’ part, the team announced the decision to not renew Carnell’s contract was made “about two months ago.”

With Predmore’s group still unknown to casual fans, it’s difficult to see Smith’s press conference as anything but an attempt to get ahead of the game. With no other substantive news to announce, the team took the opportunity to leverage their brand recognition, placing them in a de facto incumbent’s position. And since it’s unlikely Seattle (or any market) can support two professional women’s teams, the Sounders’ press conference could put Predmore’s group in a position to have to prove themselves against the implied potential of the Sounders’ brand.

There are, however, alternatives. The Sounders could elect to stay in the W-League rather than incur the costs and commitment of a professional league. Not only would player costs increase in a fully professional environment, but travel costs for a national league and staffing for a larger organization could dissuade owners from committing to a venture likely to lose money in the near future. Given the unique relationship between Sounders FC and Sounders Women, the women aren’t assured support from the men’s club. Last season, the MLS entity essentially licensed the Sounders branding to the women, with other connections loose, informal, or non-existent. They’re partners in name but little more.

Predmore’s group faces the same choices. For a team with no history, starting at the semi-professional level would have its benefits, even if it risks permanent second-team status. Predmore, however, had already committed to one professional league, and although he had made it clear that keeping costs down would be a factor, he also expressed cognizance of the long-term goals of any new league. The between the lines message: I’m willing to lose money, but let’s be smart about it.

From a public relations standpoint, Predmore seems to have lost ground to the Sounders Women, but that doesn’t matter. That’s why Tuesday’s press conference in Tukwila was so curious. The only thing that matters right now is the relationship with U.S. Soccer. The federation will decide who will be plays in the league come Spring 2013. If the Sounders Women have the branding but aren’t willing to commit to the standards U.S. Soccer wants to enforce, Bill Predmore will likely have the team.

Then again, USSF could pick both. Or neither, another thing which makes this flag-planting so interesting. Though U.S. Soccer’s likely to announce something before the end of the year, the process is still in a very uncertain state. Now is not the time for flag-waving.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.