Andy Najar;   Eric Avila ; Ashtone Morgan

Andy Najar is gone: D.C. United sells Honduran international to Anderlecht

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First Shea. Then Kamara. Now Andy Najar appears to be leaving Major League Soccer. It’s a move that’s been churned by the mill all winter, but in the wake of two other name players leaving MLS before the season starts, Najar’s departure looks like part of a larger trend.

More on later. For now, let’s talk about the deal D.C. United just confirmed. The 19-year-old Honduran international moves to the biggest club in Belgium, Anderlecht, for a reported $3 million. That’s the same team that acquired Sacha Kljestan two-and-a-half years ago, albeit for $750,000.

“I would like to thank everyone connected to the club for everything that has been done to help me and my family since I joined the academy years ago,” Najar said via a release posted to the club’s website. “A special thanks to my coach Ben Olsen and all of his staff. I came to D.C. United and chose #14 because I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

“It has been very rewarding to watch Andy grow and develop into becoming the special player that he is,” said D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper said. “We wish Andy all of the success in the world and we look forward to watching his career blossom.”

Najar, who is part of the team that will face the U.S. when final round World Cup qualifying begins on Feb. 6, is a former MLS Rookie of the Year who made his debut in 2010. During his time in the league Najar’s been gradually shifted from right wing to right back, a position he held in Ben Olsen’s starting lineup as D.C. United finished second in the Eastern Conference.

In the playoffs, an aberrational mistake from Najar incurred a three-match suspension when he kicked a ball at referee Jair Marrufo during the first leg of United’s conference semifinal against the New York Red Bulls. That may be the last act of Najar’s Major League Soccer career.

“Andy is an extremely hard player to replace with our group but I’m excited for him and the opportunity he has in front of him,” Olsen said.

With their portion of the $3 million sale, D.C. will have a chance to go out and get a replacement, and while that player won’t have the emotional attachment to the D.C. faithful Najar developed after coming through as a 16-year-old Home Grown Player, United should have options. Even if they put their new money elsewhere, right backs being what they are, D.C. should be able to make up for Najar’s loss.

Ultimately, they (and the league) got a very good price. Very few right backs in world soccer go for large fees. That Najar is so talented at such a young age manes he’s one of the few a big club like Anderlecht would be willing to take a chance on. Given how few Major League Soccer players could ever hope for such a high evaluation, D.C.’s gets a minor windfall from the sale.

For now, Robbie Russell is Ben Olsen’s obvious replacement, but don’t be surprised if Olsen explores other options. Between Chris Korb on the left and the combination of Perry Kitchen (in 2011) and Najar on the right, D.C.’s head coach has preferred a different type of player at his fullback positions. Now 33 years old, Russell now projects to be as much as a center half as a fullback.

You want the best players possible at each position, but particularly in Major League Soccer, fullbacks are game defining players. In the bigger picture, there are very few Daniel Alves and Ashley Cole-caliber players in the world, and nobody’s projected Najar, talented though he might be, to get to that level.

He might prove worth a few million more one day, particularly if he comes good as a right winger, but if you’re D.C. and planning to keep Andy Najar at right back, you snatch Anderlecht’s $3 million, kiss the lad on the cheek, and tell him to enjoy Belgium.

Stoke City announces partnership with Orlando City

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
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Americans have been heavily involved in Premier League management, including John Henry at Liverpool and the Glazer family who own Sunderland.

[ MORE: LAFC is one step closer to joining MLS, after finding home for stadium ]

Friday marked a dawn of a new relationship between the PL and MLS though, when Stoke City announced a strategic partnership with Orlando City SC.

[ MORE: Rapids-RSL highlights Week 10 action around MLS ]

The goal of the agreement between the two sides is to advance player recruitment and development, as well spark fan engagement in both leagues.

Potters Chief Executive Tony Scholes:

“It’s an opportunity for us to share best practice with Orlando in a variety of areas, primarily in player recruitment, marketing and development, but also to give both clubs chance to grow in each other’s markets,” said Scholes.

“A large number of our fans already regard Orlando as their MLS side and I know that Stoke City are already followed by many Orlando fans.

“As an established Premier League club we are always looking at new ways to develop our profile overseas and our strategic partnership will help us to develop in the United States.”

NBC’s recent coverage of the PL has sparked massive interest in the United States, giving fans various opportunities to watch matches over the course of a weekend. As MLS continues to grow as well, you can surely expect interest abroad, specifically in Europe, to grow too.

Phil Rawlins, Founder and President of Orlando City, is excited with the relationship building between the two clubs.

“It was very clear that we’ve always had a good relationship with Stoke City and it came down to us wanting to reignite that synergy and bring our brands closer together. This will be our only partnership in England, and we hope to ignite passions for both our clubs in each other’s markets.”

The pursuit of MLS to become a top league has a ways to go, but a move like this will surely only benefit commissioner Don Garber and the rest of MLS.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas injuries present challenge for Real Madrid

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 18:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid controls the ball under pressure from Joel Matip of Schalke uring the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg match between Real Madrid and FC Schalke 04 at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 18, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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After narrowly escaping Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal against Manchester City, 1-0, Real Madrid is facing a bit of difficult news.

[ MORE: Ben Afra drawing interest from Barcelona ]

The club has confirmed injuries to both Gareth Bale and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, despite each player going the full 90 minutes midweek. Bale has reportedly sustained a knee problem, while Navas has suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon.

The extent of the injuries is not yet known, although Bale’s appears to be less severe. With Madrid down a goalkeeper, reserve team keeper Kiko Casilla will likely take over in net for Real while Navas recovers.

Madrid will host Valencia on Sunday in La Liga, with both players expected to miss the match. Bale could reportedly return for Real’s match against Deportivo La Coruna on May 14, their final league game. The team can then turn its attention to the Champions League final against rival Atletico Madrid on May 28.

Real currently sits one point behind La Liga leader Barcelona and second place Atleti with two games to play.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Top 5 Premier League storylines: Week 37

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Jamaal Lascelles of Newcastle United reacts at full time during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
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The Foxes have pulled off the unthinkable, clinching the Premier League title, but that doesn’t mean that Week 37 won’t hold significance.

[ MORE: Full Premier League TV schedule: Week 37 ]

While the title race is no longer an option, a three-team battle at the bottom of the table has taken shape in this year’s relegation battle.

Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich City each have their eyes set on staying in the PL in 2016-17, and despite having their fair share of down this season one team will emerge and remain in the top flight of English football.

Here’s a look at the top five Premier League storylines you should be keeping on eye on this weekend.


Newcastle could be aided by opponent — (Aston Villa vs. Newcastle, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

Rafa Benitez was brought into Newcastle to save the team from relegation. Well, if the season were to end today he would have accomplished that goal. Unfortunately for he and his side though, two matches remain for the Magpies, and the two teams chasing aren’t going away.

Two points separate Newcastle from Sunderland and Norwich City, although the latter two have games in hand, which could prove crucial down the stretch. The one thing that does work in the favor of Newcastle though is their opponent, at least this week.

Aston Villa, who already knows they are being relegated, will host Newcastle on Saturday, giving the Magpies a legitimate opportunity to feast on the backline that has conceded an astounding 72 goals this season. Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic will need to find the back of the net a few times in order to give Newcastle a chance at staying up.


Can the Black Cats scratch past the Blues? — (Sunderland vs. Chelsea, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra 

The relegation battle will likely come down to the final day, which at least gives Sunderland a chance at staying up next season. The Black Cats have three matches remaining, including their dance with Chelsea. Things won’t be easy for the home side though.

Chelsea is fresh off a thrilling draw against Tottenham, which handed Leicester the PL crown and the team still has the firepower to burst out for goals at any time despite their lackluster campaign.

Jermain Defoe is undoubtedly the man to watch for the Black Cats, posting 14 goals in the league this season. If Sunderland looks to avoid relegation Defoe will surely be at the forefront of his side’s efforts to do so.


Twice as nice? — (Norwich City vs. Manchester United, Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

It may have come awhile ago, but Norwich has beaten the Red Devils this season. It came back in December, a 2-1 win at Old Trafford. Just like the two teams their chasing though, Norwich has failed miserably in stringing together positive results.

Losers of three straight, the Canaries are in desperation mode as they look to break their goalless run against United. With just 35 goals on the season and facing a team that is amongst the PL’s elite when it comes to keeping goals out, Alex Neil‘s team must work some sort of brilliance to get past United for a second time.

The Red Devils on the other hand still have a shot at the Champions League. With three games remaining, one more than the teams they are chasing, United can still mathematically jump Manchester City and/or Arsenal in pursuit of the CL. If not, the Europa League may have to do, unless West Ham has their say in the matter.


Sights set on the Champions League — (Manchester City vs. Arsenal, Sunday, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

Lost in the relegation battle is a meeting between two of the PL’s top sides. City currently sits three points behind Arsenal in the table, but that could all change with a victory from the Citizens at the Etihad Stadium.

In a closely-contested meeting just before Christmas, the Gunners managed a 2-1 win against Manuel Pellegrini‘s men. After recently bailing out of the Champions League semifinals though, City must has amnesia if they are to lock up the third and final automatic CL spot. Finishing fourth would mean that they have to go through qualifying in the CL.

The match goes beyond the CL though for both teams. Each side has had their share of struggles in 2015-16, so a win on Sunday could at least temporarily put those disappointments behind them.


Hammers seeking place in Europe — (West Ham United vs. Swansea City, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra 

In many seasons West Ham would have been the PL darling. Unfortunately though, that title was taken away by Leicester, who ironically also won the PL crown.

Dimitri Payet will likely see astronomical offers this summer from Europe’s top sides if he can couple his season with a strong Euro campaign with France. That being said, he and his side still have work to do. West Ham sits five points out of the final Champions League spot and one point behind United for Europa League qualification.

Obviously the CL would be nice for a club that is still looking to make its mark on the PL, but the Europa League is nothing to sneeze at either for the up-and-coming team. A fifth-place standing would tie the club’s best finish in the Premier League Era.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

City Council approves plans for new Los Angeles soccer venue

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The City Council has approved plans to build a $250 million stadium for Major League Soccer’s expansion Los Angeles Football Club.

[ MORE: Can MLS teams begin to create separation in Week 10? ]

The council voted 12-0 Friday to move forward with a 22,000-seat stadium on the site of the old Sports Arena next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC.

The 15-acre complex is also slated to include a conference center, restaurants, 140,000 square feet of plazas and streetscapes, and a soccer museum.

At its center would be the home to the new MLS team when it makes its debut in 2018.

LAFC is owned by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan, American venture capitalist Henry Nguyen and a celebrity-studded list of investors including Magic Johnson, Tony Robbins, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.