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.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.