Newcastle United's coach Pardew reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Sunderland in Newcastle

Is Alan Pardew’s time up at Newcastle?

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With rumors of a meeting between Newcastle owner Mike Ashley and Chelsea interim manager Rafa Benitez, could Magpie manager Alan Pardew be in line for the axe?

The whispers for Pardew’s termination began rippling through St. James’ Park a month ago when Fulham nearly nipped a point despite the Magpies firing 28 shots on goal. On that day, Pardew was handed a reprieve courtesy of a 93rd minute goal by the king of late match heroics, Papiss Demba Cisse.

Since then, however, Newcastle has gone winless in its last four matches causing whispers to morph into groans and – after last weekend’s 6-0 shellacking at the hands of Liverpool – groans into cries. Following the loss to Brendan Rodgers’ side, former Toon boss Kevin Keegan tried to nip the problem in the bud by stating that Pardew “had enough credit in the bank from last season,” to justify staying on.

That credit extends back to last year’s 6th place finish and following Saturday’s loss to Liverpool, Pardew noted that one loss shouldn’t condemn him to termination. After all, Pardew pointed out, it was just two matches prior when his side drew with Benfica while pressing hard for the win.

Those seeking an end to Pardew’s reign must also consider the effect of Demba Ba’s sale, which only transpired due to Chelsea’s triggering of the Senegalese striker’s release clause. Combine this loss with the rigors of competing in the travel-heavy Europa League and extended injury bouts for Steven Taylor, Ryan Taylor, Fabriccio Colocinni, Tim Krul, Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabaye and Danny Simpson, and leniency seems more reasonable.

Detractors will argue, however, that all three aforementioned ailments must be counter-balanced by Newcastle’s notable transfer market activity, which brought in five fabulous players from Ligue 1: Toulouse’s Moussa Sissoko, Nancy’s Massadio Haidara, Bordeaux’s Yoan Gouffran, Montpellier’s Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Lille’s Mathieu Debuchy. It’s a fair point to make yet incorporating five new players half-way through a season is no easy feat, especially when those players are unable to communicate in English.

When discussing Pardew’s possible termination, it’s also important to note Newcastle’s termination policy. Last fall the 51 year old was handed an eight year contract extension, which caused some to raise eyebrows. Managing director Derek Llambais explained the rationale: “You can’t keep changing your manager if he has a bad run – it doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“You can have a bad run,” Llambais continued. “Sir Alex when he first went to Man United, the first four years was tough for them as a club but they stuck by him and now look where they are. We have to stick by our manager and we want to.”

If Llambais’ words are to be believed then Pardew’s job should be safe, so long as the club avoids relegation. To ensure that doesn’t happen, the manager will need to collect as many points as possible from his next three matches against West Ham, QPR and Arsenal. If, however, Newcastle goes down to the Championship all bets are off as life in the lower league would almost certainly qualify as more than a mere “bad run.”

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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