Three interesting options: Players to watch in today’s Re-Entry Draft

2 Comments

The thing that makes it difficult to get too excited about today’s Re-Entry Draft is the nature of the eligible players. All of them are being turned away by their current teams. Lack of performance, high salaries, or just bad fits – these players aren’t being pried away from their clubs. They’re being cast off. This draft is about square pegs being pulled out of round holes.

But among the 50-plus players available today, there are a few who still have promise, whose previous circumstances just didn’t add up for success. They’re still young. They’re still relatively cheap. And they’ve already shown some potential. They’re low risk and likely already have front offices around the league that like them.

MORE: Your Re-Entry Draft primer

From the player list, three names strike me as particularly worthwhile gambles:

source: Getty ImagesPaulo Araujo Jr.
Forward
Real Salt Lake
23 years old
$75,000 salary in 2012
Option declined

Paulo Jr.’s been splitting time between Utah and Fort Lauderdale over the last three seasons. Physically and technically, he has what it takes to be a regular contributor in Major League Soccer, but the output just hasn’t come. Though most of his time has come off the bench, the Brazilian has only six goals in 50 league appearances. As concerning, his production in the second division isn’t eye-openingly better (12 goals in 41 appearances).

He needs to play in a two forward system, but if he has the right players around him, he can be a solid contributor on a decent team – player that can play along the defense, challenge opposition wide, or drop back and help in a withdrawn role.

Then again, if he couldn’t make it at Real Salt Lake, where Jason Kreis has continuously refurbished talent, it’s fair to ask why it’d work elsewhere.

source: Getty ImagesEric Avila
Midfielder
Toronto FC
25 years old
$125,000
Out of contract

Avila is pricey for what he’s produced. Over six seasons in the league, he’s only play 63 games, and the one good team he was a part of (FC Dallas circa 2010) eventually swapped him for forward depth. Is he really worth a six-digit salary that, if you choose him, will have to go up this season?

Perhaps not, though based on what he showed early this season with Toronto, you can imagine at least one front office could be interested and won’t want to let him get to free agency. At the beginning of the season, Avila was among Toronto’s best players, but when Aaron Winter was replaced by Paul Mariner, he lost time in the team, Mariner’s system and style a slight mismatch for what Avila offers.

What he offers is a skilled player who can play wide-to-in. He’s good with the ball at his feet, can create as well as make the smart choices that promote possession. In time, he could score goals.

But everything surrounding Avila is “could,” and at the price, he’s really not a great value. But all it takes is for one general manager to rationalize “if he was a free agent and a bidding war happened, I don’t think I could let him go.” With that mindset, picking the talented former-Gaucho becomes as much about cost-certainty as risk.

source: APIke Opara
Central Defender
San Jose
23 years old
$100,000
Option declined

Opara has all the skills to be one of the better defenders in the league. His athleticism is off-the-charts. He could still develop into one of the most dangerous set piece targets in the league. In San Jose, however, timing was never on his side.

As a rookie, he spent time completing his degree at Wake Forest, which kept him away from the team. Then there were injuries, and by the time he was ready to go, a rebuild San Jose side had restocked in central defense. Without consistent playing time, the former number three overall pick has never shaken the error-prone qualities that accompany most rookie defenders. Given he’s only played 35 games in three years, it’s understandable.

Opara needs a team that can commit to playing him. With Victor Bernardez and Jason Hernandez, San Jose wasn’t that team, but you don’t have to go too far down the draft list to see a number of teams that can afford to take a chance on an all-star caliber talent.

Griezmann’s advisor namechecks Man Utd, 4 others

Photo by Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antoine Griezmann has maintained a desire to stay at Atletico Madrid, but his advisor says the French striker has five realistic destinations for next season if he doesn’t stay at the Vicente Calderon.

Speaking on the French outlet Telefoot, advisor Eric Olhats says the 26-year-old Griezmann is limited by his $109 million release clause.

[ MORE: Zlatan’s comeback vow; Mata close ]

Griezmann has 25 goals and 11 assists this season, slightly lighter on the goals and a step up in helpers with Atleti alive in two competitions this season. He’s still played centrally and wide right, and Yannick Carrasco is starring on the left.

From Sky Sports:

“There is an unavoidable 100m clause so that restricts the number of candidates. You have United, City, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“United were the first to come and see us and the most concrete in their wishes.”

Griezmann to the Premier League is a move many would love to see, or at least a new challenge for the fantastic attacker. With respect to Barcelona and Real Madrid, we’ve seen plenty of top La Liga talents move within the division.

Of course, there would be something special to both Diego Simeone and Griezmann winning the UEFA Champions League and defending it at Atleti. Something tells us their fate in this year’s semifinal against Real Madrid may tip the scales for both men, or at least Griezmann.

Zlatan posts comeback vow; Mata nears return

Owen Humphreys/PA via AP
Leave a comment

One of the more unique personalities in the sports world, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has released comments and a leggy photo following news that he’ll need ACL and PCL surgery.

The Swedish star was injured in stoppage time of Manchester United’s UEFA Europa League quarterfinal win over Anderlecht, and tests revealed the injury was serious.

Ibrahimovic, 35, had not signed his contract extension with United, but it seemed more likely as time wore on. He finishes his first season with 28 goals and 10 assists, an unfettered success in his Premier League bow.

Despite the severe nature of his injury, Ibrahimovic vowed to return by posting a picture of his massive, uncovered legs in front of a fireplace (See full Instagram message at bottom).

“One thing is for sure, I decide when it’s time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon.”

One of United’s locker room leaders is backing him. Ander Herrera told a Swedish outlet that Ibrahimovic spoke to the team and wished them luck with the rest of the season.

“But he did not say much, really. He wished us only good luck with the rest of the season. He has an incredible mentality and a great physique, I have never seen such a good football body.”

I don’t think anyone doubts that Ibrahimovic will come back and play at a high level, but a starring role in the Premier League is a big ask. Because of that, will he be more motivated to reprove himself with United and less motivated to test out MLS or another league?

There is some good news for United, as Juan Mata says he hopes to be back with the team soon.

PL title & FA Cup in sight, Conte says Chelsea still rebuilding

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte might be just seven games away from guiding Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double this season, but the Blues’ first-year Italian manager insists his squad is nowhere near being a finished product.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking after Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, Conte insisted that the team he inherited last summer, after a disastrous 10th-place finish in the PL, is “in a period of transition” and that “[they] need time” as the club moves on from an accomplished, foundational generation — quotes from Sky Sports:

“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition. In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

“We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot. Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.

“I think that in the period with Carlo (Ancelotti) — and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him — he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad. Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.”

[ MORE: Kante takes home PFA Player of the Year | Dele wins Young Player ]

Conte is doing two things with the above comments: 1) he’s tempering expectations for next season, when Chelsea will be back in the UEFA Champions League and automatically expected to repeat as PL champions — not to mention, taking a bit of pressure off in these final two months of the 2016-17 season; and, 2) pointing out just how impressive his work to date has been, the fact he’s potentially seven games away from lifting two trophies in seven days’ time next month.

Ligue 1: Mbappe, Falcao fire Monaco top again

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
1 Comment

PARIS (AP) Strikers Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe continued their fine form with a goal each to help Monaco secure a 2-1 win at Lyon and reclaim top spot in the French league on Sunday.

Monaco moves above defending champion Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference, with Monaco having played a game less. PSG has four games left.

“It wasn’t easy and it was a big win for us tonight,” Monaco center half Andrea Raggi said. “We all play for each other and it’s now or never.”

It has been an astonishing season for Monaco, which has now scored 143 goals in all competitions and remains on course for the treble. Monaco faces PSG in the French Cup semifinals next Wednesday.

Falcao and Mbappe scored in midweek when Monaco beat German side Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal to reach the last four 6-3 on aggregate.

Lyon also did well in Europe, going through on penalty kicks away to Turkish club Besiktas to reach the last four in the Europa League.

Falcao and the 18-year-old Mbappe have combined for 51 goals.

Falcao put Monaco ahead in the 36th minute with a header from close range – his 28th goal of the season – and Mbappe made it 2-0 just before halftime with a trademark surging run and cool finish for his 23rd.

“I just try and give my best whenever I play,” said Mbappe, who has recently been called into the France team. “I wasn’t playing much at the start of the season, so I’m still quite fresh and I hope I can help us win the remaining games.”

PSG beat Montpellier 2-0 at home on Saturday with Edinson Cavani scoring his 31st league goal of the season and 44th overall.

Nice has already guaranteed third place and a spot in the qualifying round for next season’s Champions League.

But with four games remaining, it is six points behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. Nice hosts PSG next Sunday.

Striker Corentin Jean gave mid-table Toulouse the lead in the 57th minute. Midfielder Valentin Eysseric continued his fine form with the equalizer three minutes later.

The game was briefly halted early in the first half after a group of Saint-Etienne supporters forced themselves into the stadium.

The match was supposed to be played behind closed doors as a punishment for unruly supporters during Saint-Etienne’s local derby against Lyon.

After a brief delay for police to remove the fans, Slovakia striker Robert Beric put the home side ahead in the 39th and center half Edson Mexer leveled just before the break.

Saint-Etienne is in seventh place, while Rennes is ninth.