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.

Barcelona “confident” of signing Philippe Coutinho

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Barcelona are said to be “increasingly confident” of adding Philippe Coutinho despite Liverpool’s insistence he is not for sale.

[ MORE: Coutinho agrees deal with Barca? 

Coutinho, 25, has become the main man at Anfield over the past season and although Jurgen Klopp has reaffirmed the Brazilian playmaker is not going anywhere, Sky Sports in the UK is reporting that Barca still believe a deal can be done.

The Spanish giants are said to be readying a bid of $116 million for Coutinho to test Liverpool’s resolve after an earlier bid was reportedly turned down, while reports in Spain suggest that Coutinho has already agreed personal terms with Barca over a move.

Barcelona’s push for Coutinho could suggest that Neymar’s potential world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain is edging closer, but where could Coutinho fit in at the Nou Camp?

He would be perfect as a playmaker in Ernesto Valverde’s team and with Andres Iniesta no spring chicken, Barca need to look at filling his considerable shoes long-term. Coutinho excelled last season in the PL, scoring 13 goals and adding seven assists as he battled back from a mid-season injury to help the Reds return to the UEFA Champions League.

Coutinho can either star in a central playmaking role or could be a direct replacement for Neymar if he was to leave for PSG this summer.

Just imagine Coutinho threading through passes to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez with the trio jinxing around defenders. Ahem, stop drooling.

Yet Liverpool’s stance remains clear: he is going nowhere. Klopp spoke about his future last week and confirmed he had a word with Coutinho during preseason but wouldn’t reveal the details of the chat.

Coutinho only sign a new new five-year contract in January but such have been the quality of his performances in setting the tempo of their play and delivering exceptional set pieces, plus scoring stunning long-range goals, the biggest teams on the planet are often linked with the former Inter Milan and Espanyol star.

Turning down Barcelona would be tough for any player and if the Catalan club do offer over $100 million for Coutinho then Liverpool will perhaps have to pay serious attention. When they sold Luis Suarez to Barca in 2014 there were extenuating circumstances around the deal, but Coutinho is about to enter his prime and could be the leader of Liverpool’s trophy push for many years.

If he is sold then it says plenty about their ambition to re-join Europe’s elite and would be a hammer blow for Klopp who has already struggled in the transfer market this summer as top targets Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keita have yet to arrive with both valued at over $80 million by their respective clubs.

Coutinho certainly has the talent to be a star for Barcelona but the Brazilian leaving Anfield would be one of the biggest shocks of the summer. That said, does anything really surprise us anymore in this crazy transfer market?

Gold Cup rewind: USA’s 2005, 2007, 2013 triumphs

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Th 2017 Gold Cup final takes place on Wednesday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. and the U.S. national team have the chance to win their sixth title and their first trophy in four years.

[ MORE: What next for Arena? ]

Bruce Arena’s side (missing their European contingent for this tournament) take on Jamaica and are heavily favored to beat the Reggae Boyz who shocked Mexico at the semifinal stage.

Yet with just one Gold Cup title since 2007, the U.S. know how tough CONCACAF’s showpiece tournament can be.

[ PREVIEW: USA vs. Jamaica in Gold Cup final

Below is a look at the last three titles the U.S. won, with Arena hoping to win his third Gold Cup as USMNT head coach.


2005 – beat Panama on PKs at Giants Stadium, July 24

2007 – beat Mexico 2-1 at Soldier Field, June 24 

2013 – beat Panama 1-0 at Soldier Field, July 28

Javier Hernandez reflects on Premier League return

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Javier Hernandez is ready to get back to scoring goals in the Premier League.

If that happens, get ready to see plenty of Claret and Blue shirts with “Chicharito” on the back of them.

[ MORE: Where will Chicharito slot in? ]

Chicharito, 29, signed a three-year deal with the Hammers on Monday making him the best paid player in club history with wages of just over $180,000 per week. He won two Premier League titles in five seasons at Manchester United and is still lauded at Old Trafford for his crucial goals in big games with 59 goals in 157 appearances in all competitions.

Speaking to West Ham’s in-house TV channel, the El Tri star revealed exactly why he’s looking forward to a return to the PL.

“I am very excited. The last three years – the loan in Madrid and the two years with Leverkusen – were fantastic for me, and they helped me to improve a lot. But before then I was in England for four years – it was my first chapter in my European career – and now to be back makes me very happy,” Hernandez said.

“For me it is the most competitive in the world. There are no easy games, you can see that the top 10 can change a lot. The Premier League challenges you and that is why I am here – I want to improve. I’m very desperate for the season to start now, and help the team to achieve their objectives next season.”

West Ham’s objectives may have changed slightly after Slaven Bilic‘s side pushed through four new signings this summer and three in quick succession.

Chicharito has joined Marko Arnautovic and Joe Hart by signing for the east London club over the past 10 days, while Pablo Zabaleta had already arrived on a free transfer.

With vast PL and international experience in the four summer signings, Bilic’s aims have probably jumped from finishing in the top 10 to pushing for seventh place and the final Europa League spot. The Hammers finished last season strongly after a poor start which was them compounded by failing to settle into their new London Stadium home, the Dimtri Payet saga and then multiple defensive injuries.

Chicharito has the fifth-best goals per minute ratio in Premier League history so in theory combining his predatory skills with the creativity of Manuel Lanzini, Arnautovic and Michail Antonio should work very well indeed.

Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer hasn’t slowed down his production in the Bundesliga over the past two seasons, scoring 28 goals in 54 league appearances for Leverkusen and his displays in recent 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup proved his movement is as sharp as ever.

The Hammers have gambled on Chicharito providing the goals to help them challenge for Europe once again and on paper it looks like a smart bet.

Ronald Koeman confirms Ross Barkley to leave Everton

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Ronald Koeman has confirmed that Ross Barkley will not play for Everton.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Man City? ]

Barkley, 23, has just one year left on his current deal at Everton but the playmaker has turned down a new deal with his boyhood club and Koeman revealed he wants a “new challenge” elsewhere.

When asked if he was certain Barkley would leave Koeman replied “100 percent” but he did state that there aren’t any offers on the table as things stand.

Ahead of Everton’s UEFA Europa League third qualifying round firs leg against MFK Ruzomberok at Goodison Park on Thursday, Koeman revealed the new about Barkley. 

“His personal situation is not so difficult. We made a really good offer to him to sign a new contract and he declined that contract and he told me he is looking for a new challenge,” Koeman said. “It is not Everton’s future anymore. It is his decision. I need to respect that and we will see what happens because what I heard from the board at the moment, it’s not really an offer on the table for Ross.”

The England international is currently recovering from surgery on his groin and is expected to be out until the end of August.

With Davy Klaassen, Wayne Rooney and Sandro Ramirez arriving this summer, plus the Toffees pushing hard to sign Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea City, it’s not difficult to see why Barkley sees his future elsewhere and the enigmatic attacking midfielder was criticized by Koeman on multiple occasions last season.

Where could Barkley go?

Tottenham and Arsenal are destinations which keep cropping up but neither are likely to spend over $30 million to bring him to north London and neither are exactly short of playmaking midfielders. It’s probably right that Barkley, once the brightest hope of English soccer, gets a fresh start elsewhere as his contract situation has left the fanbase, and Koeman, more than a little frustrated over the past 12 months.

After losing his starting spot with the English national team to Dele Alli over the past year, plus his regular spot at Everton under severe threat, Barkley’s career is reaching a pivotal stage.

The young talent who burst onto the scene ahead of the 2014 World Cup was supposed to be the next Rooney but his career is in real danger of petering out if he doesn’t find the right club to fit his talents and help him regain his form. The talent is there with Barkley but many, including Koeman, have questioned his commitment to truly realize his potential.