Houston goes Scottish, acquires Driver on loan from Hearts

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Between Kris Boyd, Kenny Miller, and Barry Robson, Major League Soccer got its fill of underperforming Scots last season, so there’s reason to raise eyebrows when you see another MLS team go back to the Scottish Premier League well. But there are a couple of big differences between those failed moves and what Houston is doing bringing in Andrew Driver.

The Heart of Midlothian left winger, whose loan was confirmed by Houston today, isn’t coming with the Designated Player tag. He’s just another player, one that will be out of contract with his club in six months. If he works out, great. If not, he’s just something Houston tried. They didn’t have to allocate a DP spot to get him.

But one of the puzzling things about Boyd and Miller’s acquisitions were their relative failures outside Scotland. Despite that, they still garnered big MLS deals. For Driver, this will be his first time playing outside of Scotland. We don’t have that built up data set to reference and wonder.

He’s also not an attacker. Granted, he’s a wide midfielder, so he’s going to have to contribute going forward, but Driver is not going to be defined by his numbers. In Scotland, he was only good for a goal every eight games. If he can be a worker bee, he can be a valuable part of Dom Kinnear’s team. Designated Players need to be more than worker bees.

The winger is also a few years younger than his countrymen. At 25, he’s four years younger than Boyd, the youngest of last year’s trio.

I have no idea if Driver will fit in Houston (surprise, I’m no expert on Hearts), and based on the trouble other SPL imports have had of late, there’s reason to question whether the transition will be a smooth one. But while previous moves have conditioned a knee-jerk reaction concerning Scottish players, there are a number of reasons to give this move the benefit of the doubt.

Driver comes with less risk and commitment. He’s younger. We don’t know yet if he can succeed outside of Scotland, but he’s also not somebody who’ll have to create goals to be a successful player. Plus when you see the words “valuable depth” (below), you know Driver’s not going to be expected to be a star.

In that way, he’s not your “typical” Scottish import. And that’s a good thing.

The word from Kinnear:

“Andrew is good at taking people on, he crosses a good ball and can take set pieces … He is a hard-working player and I think he will definitely fit in with the team. He has a good attitude on the field and is versatile. He can play on the left or right side of midfield.”

From Driver:

“I am very excited about the opportunity to come and play for the Dynamo … I have followed MLS over the years and Houston has stood out as one of the top teams. I know a lot of success has been because of the work of Dominic Kinnear, so I am delighted to have the chance to learn from him and improve as a player under him.”

From Chris Canetti:

“It’s always exciting to add a young international player with talent and experience … Andrew will add valuable depth to the squad at a time when we are set to face a heavy load of games between MLS and Champions League.”

Manchester derby “the game of the season”

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Whatever way you slice it up, Thursday’s Manchester derby is huge.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Manchester City host Manchester United (Watch, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola‘s side just one point ahead of United in the Premier League table.

City currently occupy fourth spot and the final UEFA Champions League qualification berth but are coming off the back of a damaging FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal after extra time.

United and Jose Mourinho haven’t lost in 23 Premier League games, the longest current unbeaten streak across Europe’s top five leagues, and are in the UEFA Europa League semifinals as their banged up squad have stood tall in the final months of the campaign.

Speaking ahead of the derby, one of United’s stars this season believes everything comes down to this one game.

“It is going to be the game of the season,” Ander Herrera said. “We are one point behind them. If we win we have the chance to finish in the top four, if they win it is going to be very difficult. It is the game of the season.

“Make or break? Probably. Both teams are in a good moment so if one of us wins the game we are not going to lose a lot of games, or make mistakes after that. Us or them. It is going to be key. I don’t know the ‘winner takes all’ expression but it is going to be a massive game. We are in a very good moment, a very good run and we respect them but we are doing a lot of good things and we have to show it on Thursday.”

Herrera’s comments say it all.

It is fair to say that both Manchester clubs have flattered to deceive for much of this season with Guardiola’s tactics yet to flourish in England and Mourinho’s rebuild hampered by injuries and a lack of goals at crucial moments.

On Thursday there will be a raucous atmosphere at the Etihad as both teams are aware of what is at stake.

More of the pressure may well be on City who now have just a place in the top four to focus on and with many previously giving United no chance of finishing in the top four, a win at City would take them above their “noisy neighbors” and into the UCL spots.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.