Ike Opara, Landon Donovan

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


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.
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on a decent team – player that can play along the defense, challenge opposition wide, or drop back and help in a withdrawn role.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
Toronto FC
25 years old
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
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.

Juninho hoping Willian breaks his Champions League free-kick record

xxxx during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 3, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.
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Willian has scored six goals for Chelsea this season, with all six coming from free kicks.

Four of those have been scored in the Champions League, as the Brazilian has tied the record for the most free-kick goals in a single UCL campaign.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]

Willian is tied with his fellow Brazilian Juninho, known as one of the deadliest set-piece takers of all-time, who scored four times for Lyon during the 2005-06 campaign.

When asked about the possibility of his record being broken, Juninho was glad it would be by another Brazilian player, and said Willian will likely surpass him in the coming matches.

It’s good it’s a Brazilian, and from this new generation of good players we have.

It is very gratifying for me because when I scored these four goals, no one said anything.

I’m being remembered by what Willian has achieved, and I think he has everything to beat the record. The Champions League has barely reached half way and Chelsea still have a few more games to play.

Willian has converted 6 of 12 free kicks this season, scoring at an unheard-of 50-percent clip. All of his goals have come from almost the exact same spot on the pitch, about 20-25 yards out at the corner of the box to the keepers right.

[ WATCH: Jamie Vardy scores in record 11th straight Premier League match ]

Chelsea’s next Champions League match is on December 9 at Stamford Bridge against Porto. The Blues need a draw to advance into the knockout round.

West Brom’s Jonas Olsson backs Zlatan for Premier League move

SOLNA, SWEDEN - NOVEMBER 14: Sweden 10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic durring a European Qualifier Play-Off between Sweden and Denmark on November 14, 2015 in Solna, Sweden.  (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
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With his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring in the summer, where Zlatan will go next is one of the biggest mysteries in football.

Having already played in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and France, the Premier League would be a logical next step in Zlatan’s career.

[ MORE: Aguero injury update ]

However, at 34-years-old, Zlatan himself has said it is “too late” for him to play in England, adding more mystery to where he will end up.

Despite what Zlatan says, his teammate on the Sweden national team Jonas Olsson believes the PSG striker is more than capable of playing in the Premier League.

Olsson, who has made nearly 400 appearances for West Bromwich Albion over the past eight seasons, said Zlatan’s elite talent would be fit for England’s top flight.

He’s still at the top of his game. He is the strongest player I have faced. I really hope he comes.

Zlatan on his day is the most talented footballer in the game. He has played under Mourinho before and the only place where he’s not 100% appreciated is in the UK.

I think he can play for any team in this league – he is still that good.

Even at 34, Zlatan has proven he is still one of the best strikers in the world. He recently became Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time leading scorer, and has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons.

[ VIDEO: Jamie Vardy speaks after scoring in 11 straight Premier League matches ]

The Premier League certainly has the money to entice Zlatan, and it is the biggest league in the world that he hasn’t conquered yet. Expect his name to be linked with a move to every major club in Europe for the rest of the year, as we’ll just have to wait until June and see what he decides.

Three questions ahead of Sunday’s MLS Conference Finals

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Goal keeper Adam Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers slides in on Michael Barrios #21 of FC Dallas during the second half of the match at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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There are only two matches remaining before MLS Cup, with both conference’s top seeds in need of a big result.

FC Dallas lost to the Portland Timbers 3-1 in the first leg out West, while the New York Red Bulls fell 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC in the East.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Leg 2 of the Conference Finals will both be played on Sunday, as we will know the MLS Cup finalists by the end of the night.

WEST: FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET
EAST: New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC — 7:30 p.m. ET

With each home-side needing to overcome a two-goal deficit, here’s what to look out for in the Conference Finals.

Will FC Dallas capitalize on home-field advantage?

Despite being down 3-1 on aggregate, FC Dallas will be looking forward to Sunday’s second leg. Dallas finished the season 13-2-2 at Toyota Stadium, the best home record in MLS. After scoring a crucial away goal in Portland, a 2-0 win for Dallas will see the side advance to the final. Their 33 goals scored at home was the second-best mark in the Western Conference, as Oscar Pareja’s men will feel confident despite the aggregate.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Fabian Johnson scores twice for Monchengladbach ]

Is Norberto Paparatto ready to replace Liam Ridgewell?

Norberto Paparatto has played just six matches for Portland this season, but it looks like he’ll be starting on Sunday. Liam Ridgewell, who started all 32 matches at center-back, injured his calf in the first leg and manager Caleb Porter said Paparatto will “most likely” be starting, as Ridgewell was seen warming up separately from the rest of the team in training. With FC Dallas in need of goals, Paparatto will have his hands full on defense, especially with the likes of Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz bombing forward.

Can Luis Robles keep a clean sheet for RBNY?

The Red Bulls’ Luis Robles was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year this season, and he’s going to need to play like that on Sunday. After losing 2-0 in the first leg without scoring an away goal, New York needs a 2-0 win themselves just to force extra-time. If Columbus scores at Red Bull Arena, New York needs to score four goals to advance. While it will have to be a collective team effort to keep the Crew off the scoresheet, Robles will have to make some big saves in goal to keep his side in it.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona win big in another dominant performance

<> at Camp Nou on November 28, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Catch up on all of Saturday’s La Liga action, as the trio of Messi-Suarez-Neymar continues to terrorize defenses.

Barcelona 4-0 Real Sociedad

In case you haven’t heard, Barcelona is scary good. Coming off of brilliant 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Real Madrid and Roma respectively, the Catalans trounced Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. It was the usual suspects once again, as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar (x2) scored the goals in another masterful performance. The M-S-N trio has accounted for 30 of Barcelona’s 33 goals in La Liga this season.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

While the boys from Barcelona may be getting all the headlines, Antoine Griezmann has been having a great season for Atletico Madrid. The French international scored the game-winner in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Espanyol, his tenth in all competitions this season. The good news is that Atleti sit second on the table with a five-point lead over Real Madrid in third, while the bad news is that midfielder Tiago broke his leg in the match.

[ WATCH: Everton, Bournemouth trade late goals in stoppage-time thriller ]

Malaga 2-2 Granada

In a battle of teams fighting for La Liga survival, Granada came from behind to steal a draw at Malaga. The home-side was leading 2-0 until Granada tallied twice in the final ten minutes to take a huge point for the club. Malaga remains glued to the bottom of the table, while Granada is currently out of the drop zone on goal differential.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 0-1 Real Betis
Las Palmas 0-2 Deportivo
Celta Vigo 2-1 Sporting Gijon
Getafe vs. Villarreal (Sunday, 6 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Real Madrid (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET)
Rayo vs. Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 12:15 p.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Valencia (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET)