Brek Shea’s Stoke City move is now physical-pending

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It’s back on again, according to the latest reports. FC Dallas winger Brek Shea, previously confirmed to be on his way to Europe, looks set to join Stoke City provided everything checks out during a Tuesday physical. Given Shea’s coming off foot surgery, there are no guarantees, but if both sides did think the 22-year-old would get the doctor’s thumbs, they wouldn’t have bothered having him go to England. This looks like it’s getting done.

It’s a huge turnaround for a transfer that looked dead last week. After negotiations between Stoke and Major League Soccer fell apart, Potters’ manager Tony Pulis said a deal was unlikely to be worked out until summer. Fans were left wondering where things fell apart and why the two sides couldn’t find a middle ground.

Now that all looks like posturing. According to reports, the final price is in the $3.5-$4 million range, and while offseason foot surgery initially had Stoke wanting Shea to complete a trial before a deal was finalized, now the Potters are willing to buy without the test drive.

If goes on Tuesday, Shea will join fellow national team members Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu in a growing American enclave on Trent. Those two Americans, both acquired in the summer window, have experienced drastically different debut seasons with Stoke. Geoff Cameron has become a regular at right back  while Maurice Edu has only appeared in one league match.

Shea’s purchase looks like more of a long-term move. The Potters already have Matthew Etherington and Michael Knightly starting at left wing in Pulis’s 4-4-2 formation. Given those options, Shea’s unlikely to slot right in; however, still only 22 years old, Shea can afford a small adjustment period. Maybe that’s a few months training with the team. Maybe that’s a loan through the end of the season. Regardless, don’t be surprised if Shea doesn’t have Cameron’s immediate impact at the Britannia.

source: Getty ImagesWhen he does acclimatize, Shea will offer a completely new dimension to Stoke’s left flank, something a stodgy Potters attack desperately needs. All of the clichéd words that have gone to describing the Potters’ shoddy displays are true, partially because they don’t have enough players like Shea – players who can actually compete in what that doesn’t exhaust our synonyms for “dour.” Stoke is last in the Premier League in shots per game, have the second-lowest rate of possession and pass competition percentage, and have scored only nine open play goals in 23 games. Only one team has played fewer short passes this season.

Whether Shea can change that or not, he does at least offer a way for Pulis to change things up. He may not be as quick as Etherington, but Shea might be faster in terms of raw speed. He’s bigger, more athletic, and offers more going toward goal. He’ll have to improve his the consistency of his crossing, and Stoke’s philosophy demands a lot of defensive accountability from its wingers, but if he ever cracks Tony Pulis’s XI, he could help shake up an approach that leans too heavily on its forwards for goals and has too few players who can offer something unexpected.

But all that assumes the 2011 Brek Shea shows up. That was the year Shea came into his own and played like one of the best players in Major League Soccer. Last year, however, was a huge step back. It would have been a completely lost season if it wasn’t such a learning experience. Clashing with his coach while scoring only three times in 21 games, Shea  was humbled. The season blunted a career trajectory that surged after a 11-goal, 4-assist 2011.

That backslide shows Shea needed to go. The best case scenario for another year in Major League Soccer would have been a replay of 2011. That would have been nice and Dallas may have been one of the better teams in the West if that production augmented a comeback season from David Ferreira, but between the final round of World Cup Qualifying and this summer’s Gold Cup, Shea was more likely to be distracted than dominant at a point when he needs to be testing himself.

If he passes his physical on Tuesday, Shea will get that test, one all American soccer players dream of. At 22 years old, he is about to make the jump to England, this first major accomplishment in the still young career of a Texan star.

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.

Juventus suffers blow with apparent Higuain injury

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The back-and-forth battle at the top of Serie A continued on Sunday as Juventus topped Torino at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, however, the visitors suffered a big injury scare in the process.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton, Chelsea gets Leicester in FA Cup ]

Alex Sandro‘s winner came in the 33rd minute, but the focus of the match will leave all eyes on Gonzalo Higuain — who exited after just a quarter of an hour.

The Argentine international was looking to latch onto a through ball from Miralem Pjanic in the fifth minute, before jumping over an oncoming Salvatore Sirigu — goalkeeper for Torino.

Higuain appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle, though, and while he attempted to continue on in the match he was substituted off for Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes later.

The extent of Higuain’s injury is unknown to this point, however, it comes at a very bad time for Juventus.

The Italian giants are heavily involved in the Serie A title race, holding a two-point lead over Napoli at the top of the table.

Additionally, Juve has important fixtures coming up in both the Coppa Italia and Champions League against Atalanta and Tottenham, respectively. Higuain and Co. are level at 2-2 with Spurs heading into their UCL second leg in early March, and Juve will surely need the striker’s presence to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham: Davies stuns Spurs late

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A valiant effort from a League One side has rewarded the minnows with a replay set to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur looked on its way towards the FA Cup sixth round on Sunday, but a late finish by Steven Davies gave Rochdale a 2-2 draw with the Premier League club at the Spotland Stadium.

[ MORE: Willian stars as Chelsea routs Hull in FA Cup ]

Harry Kane — who scored his 34th goal on the season in all competitions — converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, however, Davies had the final say deep into stoppage time to send the two sides towards a replay.

Ian Henderson’s finish in the 45th minute gave Rochdale a gift at the conclusion of the first stanza, after the hosts capitalized on a Spurs giveaway near midfield.

Meanwhile, Tottenham managed to level the match at 1-1 on the hour mark when Lucas Moura calmly slotted his close-range shot past goalkeeper Josh Lillis after a timely through ball from Moussa Sissoko picked out the former PSG man.

The visitors began pressing on in the second half, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side having trailed at the halftime break.

The two sides will now meet on either Feb. 27 or 28 in the reverse fixture to decide which team advances. The winner will either meet Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea City in the quarterfinals.