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Can lower-tier teams still go far in US Open Cup?

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It is the romance of cup competitions that sparks passion, dreams and drama into the lives of every soccer fan.

I’m no different. I love the knockout formats and with this year being the 100th US Open Cup, I’m expecting something special.

Today the Centennial edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup kicks off, with the play in rounds set for this evening.

Find out the draw for the early rounds here, and loads of really cool facts, figures and Open Cup snippets too.

But as I was sat back thinking about the Open Cup, a sad thought entered my mind. “What if second or third tier teams could no longer compete with MLS sides in the future?”

Many would argue that point arrived long ago and we are way past it. But we have to remember that in the early rounds of this competition, MLS sides often send out weakened teams filled with youngsters and reserve players. The level evens out and as we saw on multiple occasions last season, upsets occur.

In the 2012 competition, Carolina defeated LA Galaxy, Cal FC beat Portland, the Michigan Bucks defeated Chicago, Harrisburg beat New England, San Antonio beat Houston, Minnesota defeated RSL and the Charlotte Eagles beat FC Dallas…all in one round!

Last seasons US Open Cup filled me with hope that the burgeoning soccer pyramid in the US was growing stronger by the season and smaller clubs could have the chance of replicating the famous upsets we see in the FA Cup and other cup competitions in Europe, season after season.

(More: New stadiums now heavier in lower tiers, US soccer moving forward)

Lower league teams are getting closer to MLS in terms of infrastructure and the gap is definitely closing. Therefore, every season the US Open Cup acts as a litmus test for just how far the rest of the US soccer pyramid is growing. Last season proved smaller teams can now compete with MLS, and this season people will judge NASL and USL sides on how well they perform against teams from Major League Soccer.

However, with the USL Pro-MLS Reserve League deal, ultimately this US Open Cup will become a little more complex, with player shared from parent clubs etc. Add to that the fact that two MLS U-23 sides have qualified for this seasons competition and we may lose some of that regional, almost tribal, rivalry.

(More: US Open Cup field set, as Centennial tournament awaits)

When the Galaxy rolled into Cary, North Carolina last May, they were the reigning MLS Champs, everyone knew who they were. But the Railhawks battled hard, the fans created an intimidating atmosphere and Bruce Arena’s face was a deep shade of scarlet after his side were upset by the NASL outfit.

I am not saying those days are over, because last seasons Open Cup proved NASL and USL Pro teams are drawing closer to the level of MLS sides all the time. But I am hoping a lower-league team can make it to the finals, or even the semis. Is that too much to ask?

The Rochester Rhinos won the Open Cup in ’99 and the Charleston Battery lost to D.C. United in the 2008 final. But those are the only two non-MLS teams to make it all the way to the final since MLS arrived in 1996.

I can see Orlando City, Tampa Bay, Carolina and possibly Charleston going far in this seasons competition.

Wouldn’t it be great for US soccer if a lower-tier team steps up and takes the Centennial US Open Cup? It would provide hope for the future anyway, that this terrific cup competition won’t fall by the wayside into obscurity.

Pep Guardiola says he benched Samir Nasri because he’s “a little bit overweight”

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City attends the pre-game training ahead of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Samir Nasri‘s soccer career has taken a nosedive since his seven-goal, nine-assist season in 2012/13, both internationally and domestically.

The 29-year-old winger has retired from the French national team after to being frozen out by Didier Deschamps, and has seen a decline in playing time for Manchester City two seasons in a row. Now with a new manager and a fresh start at the Etihad, things aren’t exactly off with flying colors out of the gates.

Nasri hasn’t featured thus far in Manchester City’s preseason, and manager Pep Guardiola said it’s because of his fitness. “Samir arrived a little bit overweight,” Guardiola said following the team’s win over Borrusia Dortmund in International Champions Cup play from China. “He’s much better now, but still there is a little bit of weight. Last season he was injured and we want to avoid that.”

City took down Dortmund on penalties following a 1-1 draw. The squad fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich last week in the team’s first pre-season match. Nasri did not appear in either, and defender Gael Clichy – without naming names – said that Guardiola has forced those with fitness issues to train on their own.

“We have a few players who are not training with the team yet,” Clichy, a former teammate of Nasri’s at Arsenal, said on Wednesday. “If your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team. You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”

Guardiola backed up his policy on Wednesday following Clichy’s comments. “The weight is so important. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You’re not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That’s why you need to be fit.”

Leicester City inks Ben Chilwell to new contract, warding off Liverpool interest

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Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.

The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.

The youngster was reportedly a high-priority target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, lodging a number of bids with the news that Brad Smith would move to Bournemouth. According to reports in England, the Reds made one last effort to bid for Chilwell prior to his extension, but it did not bear fruit.

“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”

Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.

Report: Manchester United’s $132 million Pogba deal close to completion

ROME, ITALY - MAY 21:  Paul Pogba of Juventus FC celebrates with the trophy after winning the TIM Cup final match against AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on May 21, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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The finishing touches are being put on the biggest transfer in history.

A report from ESPN FC claims that Paul Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, is locked in talks with Juventus to finalize an offer of $132 million from Manchester United.

[ MORE: Fabregas off in fiery friendly

Pogba, 23, has been chased by United all summer and it finally appears that Jose Mourinho has his man.

The report goes on to state that Pogba could have a medical in Miami on Friday (where he is currently on vacation) as United aim to tie up the deal by the weekend.

This week it had been reported that a major snag in the deal had arrived due to Raiola demanding over $22 million for brokering the deal. However it seems as though any talk of an impasse has now passed and United are now close to sealing the huge deal for the French international midfielder.

Pogba left United for a $1.2 million compensation fee in 2012 after he failed to break into Sir Alex Ferguson‘s team. Now, just four years later, he will return to Old Trafford with four Serie A titles in his trophy cabinet plus he was named as the best young player at the 2014 World Cup.

Real Madrid and Barcelona were previously linked with Pogba but United’s riches, despite the Red Devils not being in the UEFA Champions League next season, seem to have prevailed.

Mourinho said in his first press conference as United’s manager that he wanted four key players to arrive as part of his rebuild.

He got Eric Bailly. He got Zlatan Ibrahimovich. He got Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Now it looks like the fourth, and most important, player will arrive.

Ranking the Olympic teams at Rio 2016

United States' Carli Lloyd (10) scores a goal on a penalty kick against Costa Rica during the first half of a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament soccer match Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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There are just six days to go until the Olympic soccer tournament kicks off in Brazil.

We’ve already ranked the top 20 players in the men’s and women’s soccer tournaments at Rio 2016 and now it is time to look each team.

[ STREAM: Watch Olympic soccer here ]

With host nation Brazil the clear favorites in the men’s competition, the U.S. women’s national team is also head and shoulders above the rest as they aim to pick up a fourth-straight Gold medal.

Below you can find the “power rankings” if you will, of the teams competing this summer for a place atop podium.


Men’s

  1. Brazil
  2. Germany
  3. Mexico
  4. Argentina
  5. Nigeria
  6. Portugal
  7. Sweden
  8. Japan
  9. Korea Republic
  10. Denmark
  11. Colombia
  12. Algeria
  13. Iraq
  14. Honduras
  15. South Africa
  16. Fiji

Women’s

  1. USA
  2. Germany
  3. France
  4. Brazil
  5. Sweden
  6. Australia
  7. Japan
  8. China
  9. Canada
  10. Colombia
  11. South Africa
  12. Zimbabwe