Getting to know the U.S. Open Cup underdogs

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Tonight, four amateur teams will begin their improbable journey to the U.S. Open Cup final.

Okay, so maybe they won’t get that far… but who says they can’t emulate Cal FC’s fairytale run in 2012?

So it’s only fair that we take the time out to salute them for their journey so far, and get to know a little bit about them.

Four teams have advanced from the regional tournaments, hosted by the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA), and find themselves in action tonight as the first-round proper of the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup begins.

17 games will kick off across the country this evening, as the Open Cup celebrates 100 years as a competition. If you want to check in on all the latest scores, use the hashtag #USOC100 on Twitter to keep up to date with all the games.

Now let’s take a look at these minnows looking to create a splash:

Winning the USASA Region III, the North Texas Rayados are certainly making a name for themselves. The club was only founded in 2011 but two straight trips to the Open Cup has seen their stock rise dramatically. The team was set up by two players from Richland College in Dallas, and several of the originals still remain. NTX Rayados face the Austin Aztex of the PDL with a home-game against USL Pro outfit Wilmington Hammerheads the prize if they reach the second round.

Another amateur side hoping to make it to the second round is Mass Premier Soccer. The Massachusetts side have former New England Revolution defender Sam Brill on their squad, after the BC product spent time playing professionally in Germany and Sweden after college. The plethora of top college programs in the area allows MPS to attract plenty of talented players. At the moment they boast players from Harvard, Dartmouth, BC, Northeastern, PC, Williams, and Middlebury. MPS face GPS Portland Phoenix tonight at 8pm to battle it out for a spot in the second round.

A huge task awaits Doxa Italia tonight, as they take on the Seattle Sounders U-23 side. Former New England player Bryan Byrne is the player-manager of the Manhattan Beach, Calif. based club. The team went undefeated during their 2012 league season, which included beating local rivals Cal FC, who of course, we all know about after their improbable run to the fourth round last season. Doxa will be hoping to emulate that success this season.

Finally, the last remaining USASA side in Open Cup action is Dearborn Stars. They became just the third team from the Michigan Soccer Association to qualify for the Open Cup in the modern era, following Detroit clubs Chaldean Arsenal and Detroit United. They qualified from Region II amongst much confusion, after games were cancelled, non-regulation pitches were used and plenty of off-field drama ensued. Hamoody Saad (the brother of Sporting KC striker Soony Saad) is a star up front and plenty of other talented attackers adorn Dearborn’s ranks. They face perhaps the toughest task of all against the Michigan Bucks, the only amateur team to beat two MLS sides in their history.

Watch Live: Swansea host Manchester United

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Swansea City welcome Manchester United to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Jose Mourinho’s side aiming to stay top of the Premier League table.

[ STREAM: Swansea v. Man United ]

Yes, it’s early days, but the Red Devils were imperious in their thumping 4-0 win against West Ham United to open their season. Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic dominated and Mourinho’s men are now a powerful, well-oiled machine.

As for Swansea, they struggled at Southampton but came away with a draw, however the main storyline surrounding the South Wales side this week has been losing Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton for over $60 million. Paul Clement will have to act fast to spend that cash wisely, but there is no doubt the Swans will miss their Icelandic playmaker.

In team news Swansea bring in Kyle Bartley and Roque Mesa as they line up in a 3-5-2 formation with Jordan Ayew and Tammy Abraham up top.

Man United are, unsurprisingly, unchanged.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski; Fernandez, Bartley, Mawson; Naughton, Mesa, Fer, Carroll, Olsson; Ayew, Abraham. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, van der Hoorn, Fulton, Narsingh, Routledge, McBurnie.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Blind; Matic, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Lindelof, Smalling, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Martial

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.