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Major League Soccer team previews: D.C. UNITED

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 1 in the East is D.C. United:

Significant additions and subtractions: The great news for D.C. United: the weight of those big salaries for DP striker Hamdi Salihi and highly paid midfielder Brank Boskovic (once a DP and still on a big salary in 2012) has been lifted. Neither came close to justifying their big numbers, so this really does represent significant addition by subtraction around RFK Stadium.

On the other hand, a lost that actually will be felt is Andy Najar, the talented, home-grown Honduran international who had added even more value with his move to right back. He was sold to Anderlecht in the off-season.

The club prudently added veteran depth (without breaking the bank on it) in guys like John Thorrington and James Riley. Neither will threaten to bust into All-Star status this year, but both carry the hard-earned scars of years in MLS and won’t miss a trick in 2013. Thorrington could be an absolute steal if he can stay healthy.

Carlos Ruiz is back in MLS. Sigh. Some of us ask: is that a good thing or a bad thing? (In the linked piece, I put the over/under on his stay at “6 months” … and was promptly informed that I had set a soft line, with everyone rushing to take the imaginary “under.”)

Strengths: The roster has a strong balance of young, old and those key glue men, the 26-28 year olds right in the middle. It’s that talented bunch of “youth” that remains most impressive and intriguing, even with Najar’s loss. Perry Kitchen keeps maturing, now a solid, third-year MLS starter at holding midfield – and he’s just 20. Nick DeLeon, full of pace, pep and promise as an outside, attacking midfielder is 22. So is goalkeeper Bill Hamid, another third-year starter.

Pressure points: You can rightly ask whether United general manager Dave Kasper did enough to reinforce a back line that simply was not good enough in 2013. (Or, did they do enough overall.) United’s defense was far more solid over the last few weeks, but that was mostly about strategic shifts following Dwayne De Rosario’s late-season injury.

Frustratingly inconsistent Lionard Pajoy and just plain frustrating Ruiz as first-choice strikers? Hmmm. Sounds iffy, at very best. (Pontius and De Rosario can also play at forward, depending on manager Ben Olsen wants it configured.)

Throwing balls at referees? Dropping points by losing your cool? Veterans caught head-butting opponents? There’s a trend here – and it’s got to stop.

Finally, you cannot talk pressure points around D.C. United without mentioning the club’s wildly unsustainable stadium situation. Historic as it is (and as festive as it can be for Major League Soccer matches) it remains a colossal financial drain on the club. Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber has said for years that solving the organization’s woeful, harmful facility situation is a league priority.

source: Getty Images

Difference maker: It really is a darn pity De Rosario (pictured) cannot be around for this weekend’s opener, nor for next week’s home opener at RFK; DCU’s hearth, soul and chief creator is suspended for the first two matches. Past this early, avoidable silliness, all looks swell. “De Ro” will be 35 in May, but the guy is a fiend for taking care of himself. If he’s losing any zip, he’s hiding it awfully well. De Rosario’s raw numbers certainly are not reflecting a decline; 7 goals and 12 assists in 2012 represent healthy output, especially considering a long dry spell last spring.

Potential breakout player: There really are some wonderful, evocative options around RFK – more or less depending on your definition of “breakout.” Pontius, so strong over his time already at RFK, has the stuff of stardom and regular U.S. national team involvement. He just needs a little luck and some help in timing to break into the upper echelon of  MLS stars. Hamid, Kitchen and DeLeon are valued youngsters with potential to rise (in 2013 or later) into Best XI conversations.  

Bottom line: It would be easier to feel great about United, which came so confoundedly close to an MLS Cup appearance in 2012 in Olsen’s second year in charge, if only the rear guard was a wee bit stronger. The back four is OK, a little less so when backed by a young goalkeeper who still has the occasional yukky blunder in him. Other than that, there’s so much to like about a young team and a young coach that is still growing into its big boy pants – and just might be all the way into them this year.

(MORE: full roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Can Leicester keep their stars? Will other teams replicate their success?

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Now that Leicester City have been crowned 2015-16 Premier League champions, this is only the start.

[ MORE: Mahrez to leave? ]

Plenty of questions are already swirling around about their future, who will stay this summer and how any other team can possibly repeat what they’ve achieved this season.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

In the latest edition of PST Extra yours truly, Joe Prince-Wright, dissects all of that and more as we look back at an incredible run to the title for the 5000-1 shots before the season began.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ]  

Hit play on the video above for your latest PST Extra fix, while you can see the full archive of videos by clicking on the link below.

[ ARCHIVE: Every PST Extra video ]

Leicester official reveals Vardy’s past parties: “He came to training drunk”

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Ah, so this brings a whole new meaning to the term “Vardy Party” doesn’t it?

[ MORE: Mahrez to leave? ]

Leicester City’s vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha has a story to tell when it comes to England international striker Jamie Vardy and his dramatic rise to stardom.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

Vardy, 29, burst onto the scene this season as Leicester’s leading goalscorer (22) and set a new Premier League record as he scored in 11-consecutive games. His goal, along with the trickery of Riyad Mahrez, won the Foxes the title.

It is true Vardy has a checkered past as the Sheffield native who was playing in non-league soccer four years ago has come a very long way in a very short space of time.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ]  

Speaking to a day magazine in his native Thailand in an interview released on Tuesday, Srivaddhanaprabha revealed the extend of Vardy’s problems as he struggled to settle in at Leicester in 2012 when he first arrived.

“He went straight from the bottom to the Championship, which eventually led him to start drinking booze every single day. We had no idea what to do. I didn’t even know about this until someone told me that he came to train while he was still drunk,” Srivaddhanaprabha said.

“So I went to talk to him myself, I asked ‘do you wish to end your career like this? Do you want to stay here like this? We’ll let your contract run out then release you. Don’t expect a better career path.’ He said he didn’t know what to do with his life. He’d never earned such a large amount of money. So I asked him ‘what’s your dream? How do you think your life should be? Just think carefully about what would you do for the club. I invested in you, do you have something in return?’”

“After that he simply quit drinking and started working hard in training. His physicality wasn’t as good as it is now. We know he had explosive acceleration, but we simply had no idea he could be this good. He’s adapting, working on fitness training, he’s turned into a new person. And that’s better.”

Well, I’m sure Claudio Ranieri didn’t mind Vardy hosting a party for the players as they celebrated the title win on Monday following Tottenham’s 2-2 draw at Chelsea.

The England international has had a fairy tale season but tales such as this show how different it could’ve been for him.

Transfer news: Renato to Man United; $50 million Batshuayi to West Ham

SEIXAL, PORTUGAL - MARCH 17:  Benfica«s midfielder Renato Sanches during the UEFA Youth League Quarter Final between SL Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk at Caixa Futebol Campus on March 17, 2015 in Seixal, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images for UEFA)
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Benfica teenager Renato Sanches could cost Manchester United $60 million this summer and the Portuguese youngster is already preparing for his move.

[ MORE: Mourinho to wait? ]

According to Record in Portugal, Sanches is “prepared and excited” about a move to United and knows a deal is being discussed about a move this summer. It is believed the deal could cost in excess of $80 million when all is said and done.

The 18-year-old box-to-box midfielder is one of the hottest properties on the planet and despite Louis Van Gaal‘s struggling to get into the UEFA Champions League for next season, it still won’t stop them splashing some serious cash on Sanches. Plus, it worked out pretty well for United the last time they signed a teenager from Portugal… (ahem, Cristiano Ronaldo).


Another big money move, and a surprising one at that, could see West Ham United move for Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi.

The Guardian believes that the Hammers have put in a bid in excess of $50 million for the Marseille striker who has scored 16 Ligue 1 goals this season. He is 22-years-old and it is believed Slaven Bilic wanted to sign him in January but was told he wouldn’t be available until the summer.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

With the 2016 European Championships coming up, Batshuayi should be included in Marc Wilmots’ 23-man Belgian squad but will face competition to get into the team from the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Divock Origi and Christian Benteke. Like the aforementioned trio, Batshuayi is a powerful striker who can hold the ball up but is also able to get in-behind opposition defenses.

West Ham have enjoyed great success in plucking Dimitri Payet from Marseille for $15 million last summer but they will likely face competition from Juventus, Roma, Borussia Dortmund and others for the Belgian’s signature.


The Daily Mail claims that new Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has earmarked Gonzalo Higuain as his main transfer target this summer.

Higuain, 28, has been in fine form for Napoli this season, scoring 34 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions. Per the report, the Argentine striker is said to be concerned of playing second fiddle to Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge. However, if Costa is moved on with lucrative offers from China reportedly lined up, then Higuain could provide the goals to kick off Conte’s reign in west London.

The former Real Madrid striker has scored 223 goals in 451 career games and has 25 goals in 52 games for Argentina. It is clear Conte wants to stamp his authority on this team and with Costa scoring just 11 times this season, getting in a goal-machine will be the biggest target for the new Chelsea boss. Higuain will cost Chelsea over $60 million.

Riyad Mahrez has “50/50” chance of staying at Leicester

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Riyad Mahrez‘s chances of staying at Leicester City have been rated at 50/50.

The Algerian winger has been crowned the PFA Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season as his 17 goals and 11 assists inspired Leicester to win the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

However, the man who the Foxes signed from Le Havre in January 2014 for just $800,000 is now being linked with a $45 million move to the likes of Barcelona, Tottenham, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain among several other elite European teams.

Despite previously stating that he was happy at Leicester, his agent (Kamel Bengougam) is singing from a different hymn sheet as he spoke to the Guardian.

“Yes of course there is a possibility. When you have been playing the way Riyad has this season it is bound to attract attention. He is very happy with Leicester and of course it has been a fantastic season. They will play in the Champions League next year as well so he would be happy to stay.

“But at his age if the opportunity comes to play for a big team then we would have to think about it. I’d say it’s 50/50 at the moment whether he stays or goes.”

His agent also added that they have interest “from the UK and overseas” and would “see what develops over the next few weeks” as the season comes to a close.

Mahrez is 25 years old and is about to enter the prime of his career following years of battling his way through the French lower leagues and has burst onto the scene this season as an integral part of Leicester’s success.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait?

The Algerian international winger is bound to have suitors and his ability to bamboozle defenses and score stunning goals with his supreme composure has reportedly seen Barcelona scout him constantly over the past few months.

Leicester doesn’t need to sell players and are financially set. However, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has already said that if players want to go, they can leave but has warned them they could be bit-parts at bigger clubs.

They could well be the case with Mahrez but in reality, is he ever going to have a season like this again? Should he and his agent cash in while they can?