Will the rise of Swansea City continue in 2013-14?

3 Comments

In their first season in the Premier League Swansea City opened eyes with fluid passing and positional interchanges reminiscent of a baby Barcelona. In their second season the stylish play continued to impress and led to the club hoisting the League Cup, its first major piece of silverware in the Swans’ 101 year history.

So with the news that the Welsh side could swoop for up to six players in the summer transfer window, is the 2013-14 Premier League season set to be yet another chapter in the rise of the Swans?

The biggest concern in South Wales is not who the club will bring in so much as who they will transfer out. The list of possibilities is quite long and topping it is manager Michael Laudrup. In his first year at the Swansea helm the Dane has earned praise across the league not only for his team’s stunning performances but also for the players who he’s brought into the squad.

The $3/£2 million signing of Michu (pictured) from Rayo Vallecano gets the most attention but bringing in Chico from Genoa, Jonathan de Guzman (on loan) from Villareal, Ki-Sung Yueng from Celtic and Pablo Hernández from Valencia have all paid huge dividends for Swansea. It’s not often that a manager signs five players who in the first year of being at a club all assimilate so seamlessly. Such is the masterstroke of Laudrup.

Following the Swans 5-0 destruction of Bradford City in the Capital One Cup, chairman Huw Jenkins signed Laudrup to a contract extension through to June 2015. The signing came amid speculation that Laudrup could be tempted to depart the Liberty Stadium for greener pastures. And while those concerns abated slightly by the manager’s decision to re-up many still feel that if that right situation presented itself, the former Denmark captain would be out that door just like his predecessor Brendan Rodgers.

Player wise, there are numerous concerns as well.

Michu has been marvelous in his first season for the Swans, scoring 16 goals in 29 matches. The beanstalk forward makes his living between the opposition’s midfield and defense and is equally adept at poaching as he is striking from outside the box. Although few hard and fast transfer rumors have emerged, Sir Alex Ferguson has noted his awe at the player on a number of occasions. Don’t be surprised if come this summer the United gaffer throws a low-ball offer Jenkins’ way.

Ashley Williams is the heart and soul of the club, leading the back four since his arrival in 2008. A powerful player and wonderful organizer, Williams has traveled a long road from association football to the Premier League. Now, an elder statesman at the age of 28, Williams is finally being recognized as one of the best center-backs in English football. With Liverpool, Arsenal and United all rumored to be plotting bids for the Welsh international, Swansea will need to take a hard look at bringing in new blood at center-back.

Michel Vorm has been a revelation since arriving at the Liberty Stadium from FC Utrecht in 2011. The 29 year old was one of the best keepers in the league last season and despite suffering a rash of injuries this year (including a nasty partial adductor rupture), the Dutch international has still impressed. With rumors that Barcelona and Arsenal are both interested in Vorm’s services, Swansea may need to reload between the pipes if they aren’t convinced that backup Gerhard Tremmel can get the job done.

While Michu, Williams and Vorm are the three most likely to be plucked from South Wales, other Swansea men could go just as easily. De Guzman has expressed his desire to extend his loan but the center midfielder has shown such immense quality that it’s hard to think Villareal won’t be interested in bringing him back to Spain. Nathan Dyer’s tremendous speed and slippery nature makes him a menace on the wing even if the 25 year old has yet to prove his consistency. And even one-time journeyman, Wayne Routledge, is likely to have a number of potential suitors this summer after proving that he can pull the strings with the best of them.

When it comes to the future of Swansea City Football Club, anything is possible. But if they manage to hang on to Laudrup one feels the majority of the players will be convinced to stay put. Then, factor in the possibility of six new faces arriving at the Liberty this summer and 2013-14 could prove to be a very entertaining season for the Swans.

Aguero left off Argentina starting XI to face Bolivia

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sao Paolo striker Lucas Pratto will receive a fantastic opportunity on Tuesday when Argentina faces Bolivia in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT travels to Panama in CONCACAF WCQ ]

It just so happens that Pratto’s gain is a major letdown for one of the Premier League’s top strikers. The 28-year-old is tied for second this qualifying campaign for Argentina with two goals.

La Albiceleste have announced their starting lineup ahead of tomorrow’s clash in Bolivia, which features mainstays Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Meanwhile, Aguero — who started in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile on Thursday — is the lone change from manager Edgardo Bauza.

The Copa America runners’ up are currently depleted with a combination of injuries and suspensions. Four players will miss Tuesday’s meeting in La Paz due to suspension, including Gonzalo Higuain, Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia.

Elsewhere, Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Mas will each miss the match after sustaining respective hamstring and knee injuries.

Argentina currently sits third in the CONMEBOL table while Bolivia is in danger of elimination with a loss on Tuesday. La Verde have managed just seven points in the first 13 rounds of World Cup qualifying.

Three keys for USMNT against Panama

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Coming off of Friday night’s dominating effort against Honduras, the U.S. Men’s National Team looks for their second win in five nights when Bruce Arena and co. head to Panama.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT goes for second win in Hex on Tuesday ]

Strong performances from players like Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic have USMNT fans buzzing ahead of Tuesday’s clash in Panama City, but there are several questions that lie ahead for Arena as the U.S. goes for its second win in the Hexagonal.

How does Arena cope with injuries?

The only downside of the team’s 6-0 win over Panama on Friday was the aftereffects if the match. John Brooks, Sebastian Lletget, Michael Orozco and Jordan Morris are no longer with the USMNT after sustaining injuries/illnesses, leaving Arena shorthanded as the Stars and Stripes head into the Estadio Rommel Fernández.

While Clint Dempsey’s emphatic national team return will provide Arena with some assurances up front, along with the emergence of Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic, there are some questions in the midfield and defense for the U.S.

Jermaine Jones is available to return from his one-match suspension and could potentially fill the void left by Sebastian Lletget after his injury on Friday. While, Alejandro Bedoya — who replaced Lletget in the Honduras match — will also be in line for a starting spot.

Defensively is where it gets a bit tricky though, as Arena has to make up for an already-depleted backline. There was no DeAndre Yedlin or Fabian Johnson coming into this round of qualifiers, and John Brooks’ release from camp leaves the defense even thinner. Tim Ream appears to be Arena’s next choice to start at centerback with Brooks unavailable, but will he stick with Omar Gonzalez in the center or slide Geoff Cameron back into the middle?

It seems like the latter choice, especially given Cameron’s experience in the central defense, but that would mean Arena has to slot somebody else into the right back position. Graham Zusi has had slight experience in that role as of late, but it could be a bit of a gamble for Arena in another high-stakes match.

Bradley must control the middle once again

Forget Michael Bradley’s superb goal, which lifted the U.S. lead to 2-0 on Friday, it was the captain’s overall performance that is exactly what should be expected from the center midfielder.

Bradley completions/MLSSoccer

In 90 minutes of play against Los Catrachos, Bradley only missed on six passes while also making several successful tackles and recoveries to limit the Honduras attack.

The loss of Lletget is definitely a significant one for the Americans, given his lively movement going both ways. However, LA Galaxy teammate will likely be in line to replace the vibrant midfielder on Tuesday as he returns from a one-match suspension.

In regards to Bradley though, the U.S. veteran is at his best when he is able to move freely throughout the midfield, but Jones’ inclusion could present more of a burden for the Toronto FC player.

Jones is still a very capable midfielder, but he simply doesn’t have the pace to match that of a Lletget, which leaves Bradley more liable for covering ground defensively in front of the backline.

On top of that, the back four will see more changes on Tuesday after Brooks’ exit from the USMNT, making Bradley’s role all the more critical when facing players like Luis Tejada and Gabriel Torres.

[ MORE: CONCACAF qualifiers resume Tuesday afternoon ]

Dempsey/Pulisic bond continues to evolve

It couldn’t have gone much better for the pair on Friday night as Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic were directly involved in five of the game’s six goals.

The budding relationship between the two key attackers though is an intriguing one, and will likely determine just how successful this USMNT can be down the road. At 34, Dempsey is certainly on the back end of his career, however, his effort against Honduras shows just how dangerous the Seattle Sounders man can be, even after missing significant time due to a heart problem.

Meanwhile, Pulisic continues to shine in European with giants Dortmund, appearing both in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League. The two likely won’t be together on the international scene for long, perhaps only until the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but the partnership is something to monitor over the next year-plus.

Not only does the duo represent a dangerous one-two punch in the attack but also a changing of the guard. Dempsey has been one of the most talented USMNT players in the nation’s history, and many believe Pulisic has the talent to match or even surpass that of the 55-time goalscorer.

We’ve seen it before when Landon Donovan was phased out of the U.S. squad and Dempsey was essentially handed the reigns of the attack, and this time Pulisic will be doing so with much more time to make an impact. The 18-year-old already has four international goals in 12 appearances, and if he improves on that goalscoring pace the U.S. will be enjoying his presence for many years to come.

At long last, Butland returns to full training with Stoke

Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Stoke City’s long-coming goalkeeping dilemma will come to a head soon, as Jack Butland is back in training.

A year ago today, the Potters confirmed that star backstop Butland would miss EURO 2016 with a broken ankle. He’d need multiple surgeries as recovery dragged on and on.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

That was more palatable thanks to the play of Lee Grant, who arrived on loan from Derby County but became a permanent Potter in January. Grant has been a key part of Stoke’s season.

Butland is contracted to Stoke through 2021, and he’ll ascend to the starting gig sooner rather than later. But Grant is in the catbird seat for now, and at least will have made himself attractive to other clubs seeking a keeper.

Report: Everton linked with $4 million swoop for Canada’s Larin

Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Sun only hits on a few of the many transfer rumors it tosses around, but this one bears a second look for fans of Everton, MLS, and Canada.

Everton is already eyeing replacements for Romelu Lukaku, according to the report, and is hunting for a bargain in Canadian national teamer Cyle Larin.

Larin, 21, was the first overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by Orlando City SC after an electric career at UConn.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

He’s since scored 35 goals in 63 matches for the Lions, picking up three in his first two matches of the 2017 season. The 6-foot-1 Ontario native has five goals for Canada in 19 caps.

The Sun says Larin would cost close to $4 million, a fraction of what the Toffees will get if they sell Lukaku.