League races make decisions easy for Champions League coaches

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When Galatasaray take the field tonight for today’s derby against Istanbul BB, Fatih Terim’s will have to wrestle with one of the default dilemmas of European success. With key players just returning from the March international break, it’s tempting to rest them ahead of important mid-week matches, with the first legs of Champions League’s quarterfinals taking place Tuesday and Wednesday. Yet late in campaigns with domestic honors and Champions League spots at stake, managers must often decide whether to push players through their congested schedules or sacrifice one goal for another.

Gala has led the Turkish Süper Lig for most of the year, but headed into the 27th of 34 rounds, they’re only four points up on rival Fenerbahçe. While Fener looks a safe bet for three points from 17th place Akhisar Belediye on Sunday, Terim’s team gets a crosstown rival that hasn’t lost in five. Any Gala stumble could allow Fener to reclaim the title when Fenerbahçe hosts the season’s final derby on May 11.

So does Terim put his full team out against Istanbul in an attempt to keep Fener at arm’s length? Or does he pursue Champions League glory in a low-percentage play against Real Madrid, implicitly better his team can either recover by Wednesday (if he pushes his starters) or reclaim any points lost by choosing reserves on Saturday?

This time of year, managers are typically forced to embrace that balancing act, though this season is a little different – perhaps disappointingly so. League titles are all but decided in Germany, Italy and Spain, and the good teams chasing those league’s leaders are often safely clear of a fight for Champions League qualification. As a result, few teams actually face any risk today should they rest their starters.

Bayern Munich and Juventus play one of Tuesday’s two matches, but neither of their coaches will leave their teams exposed should they sit their best players. Juventus are nine points clear of second place Napoli in Itay’s Serie A, and while their trip to Inter is one of the higher profile games on the domestic calendar (the Derby d’Italia), Antonio Conte would be justified to rest his more aged legs ahead of Tuesday’s visit from Bayern. As for München, they are 20 points clear of Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, so while a visit from Hamburg is usually a marquee match, Jupp Heynckes can lean on his squad’s depth on Saturday (and for the rest of the season, for that matter).

Also on Tuesday, Barcelona visits Paris Saint-Germain, who came into the weekend with a five-point lead on second place Lyon in France. The Parisians were given a Friday fixture by the FFF, allowing them an extra day’s rest ahead of Barça’s arrival. That helped Carlo Ancelotti play an almost entirely first-choice side against defending champion Montepellier, with a late goal from Kevin Gameiro extending PSG’s lead to eight points.

Barcelona may not be as eager to put their top talent in harm’s way. With a 13-point lead in Spain, Barça face few risks should they pick a second-choice side today at Celta de Vigo.

Real Madrid also play Saturday, facing Real Zaragoza ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Galatasaray. With the league title out of reach, they’re playing for little more than domestic pride. Thirteen points out of first and 14 points into a Champions League spot, El Real’s place in the Primera standings gives José Mourinho every reason to be cynically pragmatic.

Lower down the table, Málaga also have nothing to play for, though for far different reasons. The Andalusians have been banned from next year’s European competitions for failing to pay wages, tax bills, and other fees. Currently sixth in Spain, Manuel Pellegrini’s team has had all of their eggs put into one basket, whether they like it or not. They have little incentive to risk anybody today at Rayo Vallecano.

Then there’s Borussia Dortmund, a contender for this year’s title who may receive a perverse benefit from no longer being about to contest their Bundesliga crown. With players like Kevin Großkreutz, Nuri Sahin, and Felipe Santana in reserve, Jurgen Klopp’s side has the depth to compete on multiple fronts, but thanks to their 20-point deficit in Germany, they can keep that powder dry as they pursue a second Champions League title.

Pulisic nominated for 2017 Golden Boy

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U.S. national team teenager Christian Pulisic has been nominated for the prestigious Golden Boy award.

The award, run by Italian outlet Tuttosport, goes to the top player in European soccer under the age of 21 over the past 12 months.

[ MORE: JPW speaks to USMNT’s Pulisic ]

Pulisic, who turned 19 yesterday, has been a star for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga over the past 12 months and has nine goals and 14 assists in 61 appearances for the German side. He also has seven goals in 18 appearances for the USMNT.

Marcus Rashford, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele are expected to challenge for the trophy but the Pennsylvania native being among the final nominees for the award proves how highly regarded he is on the global stage.

[ MORE: Breaking down Pulisic at 19 ]

Seven players from the Premier League have also been included in the shortlist of nominees with Rashford from Manchester United, Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City, Joe Gomez and Dominic Solanke from Liverpool, Dominic Calvert-Lewin from Everton, Reece Oxford from West Ham (on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach) and Kyle Walker-Peters from Tottenham all getting recognition.

The 25 nominees for the 2017 Golden Boy award are in full below.


Aaron Martin, Espanyol
Jean-Kevin Augustin, RB Leipzig
Rodrigo Bentacur, Juventus
Steven Bergwijn, PSV Eindhoven
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Everton
Federico Chiesa, Fiorentina
Ousmane Dembele, Barcelona
Amadou Diawara, Napoli
Kasper Dolberg, Ajax
Gianluigi Donnarumma, Milan
Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City
Joe Gomez, Liverpool
Benjamin Henrichs, Bayer Leverkusen
Borja Mayoral, Real Madrid
Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain
Emre Mor, Celta Vigo
Reece Oxford, Borussia Monchengladbach
Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund
Marcus Rashford, Manchester United
Allan Saint-Maximim, Nice
Dominic Solanke, Liverpool
Theo Hernandez, Real Madrid
Youri Tielemans, Monaco
Enes Unal, Villarreal
Kyle Walker-Peters, Tottenham

Jay Heaps out as New England Revolution boss

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Jay Heaps’ six-year reign at the New England Revolution has come to an end.

On Tuesday morning New England released a statement saying they had “parted ways” with former defender Heaps who took charge in November 2011.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Heaps led the Revs to the 2014 MLS Cup final where they lost in overtime to the LA Galaxy, while he made three-straight trips to the MLS Cup Playoffs to kick off his managerial career and he also led the Revs to the 2016 U.S. Open Cup final where they lost to FC Dallas.

Nine defeats in their last 14 MLS games, including a 7-0 hammering at Atlanta United last week, sealed Heaps’ fate and New England Revolution GM Michael Burns had the following to say about Heaps’ departure.

“Jay has done a great deal for the club over the years and had considerable achievements. I have great respect for him and wish him well in the next steps of his career, “Burns said. “This decision has not been taken lightly, however, we need to do better than the results have shown from the last couple of seasons and this season left us convinced we need to go in a different direction.”

Assistant coach Tom Soehn has been placed in interim charge of the Revs for the remainder of the 2017 season and the Kraft family, who own the MLS franchise, explained why they fired Heaps.

“As a club, we made the decision to remove Jay Heaps as the head coach of our team. We would like to thank Jay for his tremendous contributions to the club over his 15 years as a player and coach. Jay led us to our fifth MLS Cup appearance and our third US Open Cup Final. He made us all proud and as a former player of ours we are very happy to have helped him launch his coaching career and wish him nothing but the best of success in the future.

“Our goal is to field a team each and every season that is competing for championships and over the past couple of seasons we have fallen short of that goal. We will immediately begin a search for a new head coach and are committed to seeing the New England Revolution once again return to championship contention. – Robert and Jonathan Kraft”

With a 75-81-43 record in the regular season and a 4-3-1 record in the postseason as a coach, Heaps is also the longest-serving head coach in Revs history after spending nine seasons as a player for New England. He will remain a legend of the club.

Yet, after early promise in his coaching career things faded badly in New England for Heaps with the Revs failing to make the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. The former U.S. national team defender was one of a wave of MLS head coaches with vast playing experience in the league after the likes of Ben Olsen, Mike Petke, Jesse Marsch and Greg Vanney were also been handed head coaching gigs.

Heaps has brought through many promising young players such as Andrew Farrell, Scott Caldwell and Kelyn Rowe but with the likes of Juan Agudelo and Diego Fagundez unable to kick on in attack the Revs have struggled to compete in the stacked Eastern Conference.

With a new soccer-specific stadium deal for the Revs no closer to fruition than it was when Heaps took charge in 2011 (the $250 million deal for a stadium in Boston’s Bayside Exposition Center collapsed earlier this year) many will question a lack of investment in the team over the years from the Kraft family as the ultimatum reason for recent struggles on the pitch.

That said, the New England job is still a very attractive one and there will no doubt be a range of top-class applicants to oversee the massive rebuild needed, although no overwhelming favorite for the role has emerged.

Man United urged to ban “racist” Romelu Lukaku chant

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Anti-discrimination organization Kick It Out have urged Manchester United to stop their supporters from singing an allegedly racist song about star striker Romelu Lukaku.

The chant, sung to the tune of Made of Stone by the Stone Roses, includes references to a racial stereotype regarding Lukaku’s penis.

Via The Times, Kick It Out released a statement about the song which was heard in both United’s 3-0 UEFA Champions League win against FC Basel last week and also the 4-0 home victory against Everton on Sunday.

“Kick It Out is aware of the footage of the alleged racist chanting by supporters of Manchester United that emerged on Wednesday evening [13 September]. The lyrics used in the chant are offensive and discriminatory. Racist stereotypes are never acceptable in football or wider society, irrespective of showing support for a player.

“We have contacted Manchester United and will be working closely with them and the FA to ensure that the issue is addressed swiftly. The perpetrators can expect to face punishment.”

The club have since released a statement on the matter saying no complaints about the song have so far been filed.

“Manchester United are speaking to the relevant authorities about the song and will act accordingly depending on the advice they’re given. United have a zero tolerance stance towards any forms of racism. Greater Manchester Police have had no complaints about the song at all.”

Mexico star Marquez back at Atlas after US drug sanctions

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Mexican soccer star Rafael Marquez is back with his club more than a month after the U.S. Treasury Department named him on a sanctions list for alleged drug trafficking ties.

Atlas said Monday that the 38-year-old defender is practicing with the team again.

In August, Marquez was among 22 people sanctioned by the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. He was accused of acting as a frontman for the Raul Flores Hernandez drug trafficking organization.

Marquez has denied any wrongdoing and said he will work to clear his name. He is not known to face any criminal charges in the United States or Mexico.

Atlas says Marquez will continue his legal fight while at the team.

Marquez has played internationally with AS Monaco, Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls.