What you don’t know about FA Cup hero Matt Smith

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The “footballing” name on so many tongues today in England is not Gareth Bale or Frank Lampard or Robin van Persie. It is Matt Smith.

Yes, that Matt Smith.

Smith is the scoring darling at Oldham, the lowest-ranked team still alive in the FA Cup, still standing as the lower-tier symbol of what everyone loves about England’s highly romanticized tournament.

Oldham, struggling in England’s third tier, have managed nonetheless to knock out Liverpool and then, through a late equalizer, to force a replay with Everton after a 2-2 draw earlier this month.

Everton hosts Oldham in a fifth round replay today at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Soccer Channel. A match preview from Sky Sports is here.

Smith is the big forward who scored twice for Oldham in the giant-killing win over Liverpool. He also made the injury-time moment against Tim Howard and Everton in the dramatic 2-2 draw.

As for what you didn’t know about the big (he’s 6-6) fellow: He was once so unsure about ever hammering out a career in pro soccer, his studies at an England university brought Smith to the United States for a year. So the man now on top of the world in England once played for Arizona State’s club soccer team. (The university does not have an official NCAA program.)

That was surely one big sledge hammer of a club team.

As for how Smith is handling all this: the Oldham striker was Soccer Today last weekend (a weekly radio show I host along with Marc Stein). Here’s what he told us about his crazy life as a media darling thanks to his recent heroics:

It’s been pretty crazy if I’m being honest with you, obviously, going from relative obscurity to making national headlines and international things like all this [the interview in America], it’s been mental.  It’s obviously very flattering, a lot of the press that’s been written about me, and a lot of people wanting to congratulate me and all this.

“It’s been great, but at the same time, as a player, it’s important to try to remain level headed and grounded. And not get too too carried away. Obviously it’s been a phenomenal FA Cup for me, and I’ll never forget it.

“But at same time, from a personal point of view, I want to progress. It’s about finding that consistency week in and week out, not just having these great games, but doing in on a consistent basis.

By the way, about the odd sounds you hear in the background on the link above: We did that show live from the American Airlines Center, where three of the NBA’s biggest soccer fans, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki, were about to meet on the court. Players were out for early shoot-around during the show.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.