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)

Diego Costa moves out of his London home

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The clearest indication yet has arrived that Chelsea striker doesn’t intend to return to England.

According to multiple reports in the UK Costa, 28, has sent in a removal firm to clear up his remaining belongings at his home in Surrey on the outskirts of London and has also had all amenities cut off at his base in England.

His friends say he no longer has a home in London, as Costa had been living in the $10 million home previously occupied by Fernando Torres.

The Brazilian-born Spanish international striker is currently back in Brazil at his family home, refusing to return to Chelsea until they sell him to his former club Atletico Madrid.

This all came after Costa was told by Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, reportedly via a text message, that he was no longer needed at Chelsea and could leave this summer. Chelsea say that Costa has known since January that he would be sold this summer, but his lawyer has threatened legal action against Conte and Chelsea for their handling of the situation.

With Atletico unable to register any new players until January 2018 due to a current transfer ban from FIFA, Costa’s situation is complex.

What isn’t complex is his stance that he will stay in Brazil and isn’t bothered about being fined by Chelsea who insist he should return to their Cobham training base and train with their reserve team.

Five Premier League new boys set to become stars

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There have been plenty of ins and outs this summer across the Premier League, so we forgive you if you aren’t exactly on top of which new names are set for a breakout 2017-18.

Luckily, that’s where we come in.

After the opening two weekends of the season there are plenty of #hottakes out there but below is a look at five newbies who have already shown they’re set for a fine spell in the PL after arriving in the league this summer.

This is a ranking of players who have never played in the PL before this season.


Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield) – A stunning strike for Huddersfield against Newcastle to win the Terriers the game in their Premier League opener at the John Smith’s Stadium. The Australian international is comfortable on the ball and able to link midfield with attack and he has an impressive engine. He did play for Huddersfield last season on loan from Man City, albeit in the Championship, but he has never played in the PL before. Mooy is one of those players who will be picked up by PL Fantasy team managers readily over the next few weeks. Expect him to be Huddersfield’s main man when it comes to goals and assists.

Richarlison (Watford) – Watford look to have unearthed a gem from Fluminese in Brazil. The talented 20-year-old forward became the first Brazilian to score for the Hornets and bamboozled Bournemouth’s defense time and time again at the weekend. At $14.3 million he could be one of the bargains of the season with his pace and trickery complementing the power of Andre Gray perfectly.

Jese (Stoke City) – On loan from Paris Saint-Germain, the Spanish forward delivered the game-winner against Arsenal on his debut. Stoke’s fans have a new hero. Jese, 24, has landed at Real Madrid, PSG and Las Palmas in a nomadic career but he appears to possess the pace and cutting edge to finish chances. Exactly what Stoke needed.

Tiemoue Bakayoko (Chelsea) – Okay, it wasn’t his most polished display in midfield but after being out in preseason with injury, Bakayoko stepped in admirably and played a full 90 minutes in Chelsea’s 2-1 win against Tottenham. A gritty player who put himself about, the former Monaco man gave a good account of himself. Imagine how much of a beast the 23-year-old will be alongside N'Golo Kante when he is fully fit.

Danilo (Man City) – He only played for 25 minutes against Everton but he showed plenty of attacking promise (forcing Jordan Pickford into a fine stop down low) from right back as well as defensive solidity. He did the same in his PL debut at left back at Brighton in Week 1. Danilo won’t steal the headlines but he will soon become of Pep Guardiola‘s most important defensive players due to his impressive versatility. The experience of the Brazilian international will be key in holding City’s leaky defense together.

Best stats from Week 2 in the Premier League

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Looking back at Week 2 of the Premier League, there were plenty of intriguing stats.

[ MORE: PL Playback – Week 2 ] 

Milestones were reached and possession records were broken among many other notable moments.

Below, via Opta, you will find some stats to impress your mates at the bar ahead of the third round of games in the PL.


  • Wayne Rooney scored his 200th Premier League goal in this match – the only player with more in the competition is Alan Shearer (260).
  • Arsenal posted their highest ever possession figure in a Premier League game (77.3%), since 2003-04 (the first season Opta have this data from). Stoke City posted their lowest ever possession figure in a Premier League game (22.7%).
  • Indeed, only five teams have won a Premier League game with a lower share of possession than Stoke against Arsenal, since 2003-04.
  • Geoff Cameron became just the sixth American to play in 150 or more Premier League games.
  • Manchester United have scored 4+ goals in their opening two league games of a season for the first time in 110 years (1907/08).
  • There were just 3 minutes and 41 seconds between Manchester United’s final three goals of the game against Swansea.
  • Watford boss Marco Silva enjoyed his first-ever away win in the Premier League in his 10th game on the road in the competition (W1 D2 L7).
  • West Brom have won their first two games of a top-flight season for the first time since 1978/79.
  • Liverpool have kept five clean sheets in their last six Premier League games, as many as in the previous 21.
  • Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal ended a run of nine hours and 15 minutes without a Premier League goal at St. Mary’s for Southampton.
  • Javier Hernandez scored his first Premier League goals since April 2014 vs Newcastle (1232 days ago) – all 39 of his goals in the English top-flight have come inside the box.
  • Tottenham have lost seven of their last nine matches at Wembley (W1 D1) and lost each of their last four games against Chelsea there.
  • Harry Kane has now had 34 shots and played 12 games in the month of August without scoring in the Premier League.
  • Excluding the debut season of the Premier League in 1992/93, Huddersfield are the first team to win their opening two games in the competition.
  • 23 of Huddersfield’s last 27 wins in league competition have been achieved by a one-goal margin.

 

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Vardy to Chelsea; Kovacic to Liverpool

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With his good mate Danny Drinkwater edging closer to a move to Chelsea, this Jamie Vardy to Chelsea talk makes sense.

The 30-year-old striker has looked sharp in the opening weeks of the new Premier League season as he scored twice in the defeat to Arsenal on opening night.

A report in The Telegraph claims Vardy is one of three players Chelsea want with Drinkwater and Virgil Van Dijk the others.

Vardy will surely look around and see Drinkwater on his way out, N'Golo Kante thriving at Chelsea and Riyad Mahrez pushing for a move to AS Roma and wonder “what about me?” He has every right to do that and with Chelsea eager to add another striker given the ongoing Diego Costa situation, would Vardy be a good fit at Stamford Bridge?

He would certainly give Antonio Conte something completely different in his attack with Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi two bruising frontman who prefer the ball to their feet, and with the pace of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian on the break, Vardy could be vital away from home. Vardy proved he is more than a one season wonder as he battled back from a slow start to last season with 16 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions.

The England international only signed a new long-term deal at Leicester last summer but if Chelsea manage to offload Costa before the end of the window and offer the Foxes a huge amount for Vardy, could they turn it down and would Vardy turn this move down? He shunned Arsenal last summer but Chelsea may be a different proposition with UEFA Champions League action a huge pull.

Vardy’s value is somewhat difficult to judge given his age, his streaky nature and how important he is to how Leicester are set up. If the Foxes sell Vardy then their entire season would be in jeopardy.


Liverpool are said to be targeting Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic with Spanish outlet Diario Gol claiming a deal has already been verbally agreed.

The Croatian midfielder is not seen as a replacement for Philippe Coutinho as it seems increasingly likely the Brazilian playmaker will remain at Anfield after the latest bid from Barcelona (thought to be a whopping $145 million) was turned down.

Kovacic, 23, is a silky central midfielder who has found minutes hard to come by at Real with Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric in his way.

Real signed him from Inter Milan in 2015 for $32.5 million and it is likely they’ll want to at least recoup that fee for the talented Croatian. With Emre Can stalling on a new deal at Liverpool, plus inconsistent displays from Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum, Klopp has also talked about using James Milner in central midfield.