Manchester City fans let their voices be heard: Mancini, not Pellegrini

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Just after Abide With Me was done, the anthem was finished, and the FA Cup Final had kicked off, the 31,000 Manchester City fans occupying the club’s section at Wembley let their voice be heard. Their targets were Friday reports that Roberto Mancini, who had managed City to their second FA Cup Final in three years, would be replaced after the season with Málaga’s Manuel Pellegrini. And suffice to say, a sentimental and appreciative fan base attached to the man who has delivered a Premier League title was none too thrilled with those reports.

We went into the case for the change earlier today. As was the case at Inter Milan, Mancini’s success at City requires some context. While he’s taken the club to unprecedented heights, he’s not the only man who could get the job done. Most would say the financial backing of Sheikh Mansour’s group mandates more.

Tell that to City fans, for many of whom memories of lower division soccer are still fresh in the mind. As expressed by Saturday’s songs, there’s little desire among supporters for the club to turn their back on man who has brought results in the name of a hypothetical upgrade:

So if you’re Sheikh Mansour and his family, what do you do? The supporters made their feelings known loud and clear. At the same time, they’re not the first fan base to develop sentiment for a coach. Should Liverpool bring Rafa Benítez back just because the Kop overlooks the Reds’ Benítez-orchestrated dive out of Champions League? Definitely not.

These are the difficult decisions for ownership – how to balance the club of the present against the club you want to build. When a team’s yet to accomplish anything, it’s easy to let ambition win out, but when you’re working at the margins — looking to squeeze that final three or four percent out of your squad – the decisions become more difficult. Is it worth antagonizing your supporters to make a move when, playing at the extremes of European soccer, improvement might not necessarily equate to results? It all depends on what the Skeikh sees the club: Still growing, or at the point to expect results commensurate with the outlay.

Does anybody really believe City should view themselves as a still-building club?

I tend to be higher on Pellegrini than most, so I’d make the move. Where a new coach will likely have to improve on Mancini’s record to be accepted as his replacement, I think Manuel Pellegrini highly likely to do so. His Champions League record is much better, and with Pellegrini, I believe City could have challenged for this year’s Premier League title. There’s never been a point where Pellegrini’s results haven’t matched his talent, whereas with Mancini, that’s a constant question.

But with the fans voicing their opinions, City’s owners will have to be as high on Pellegrini as I am for a move to make sense. While you always want to make the right decisions over the popular ones, the uncertainty that comes with a coaching change at this level of the game is enough to justify caution.

Now if City loses today’s final (0-0 at 25′ as I write)? Then you can ignore those chants.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.