Radamel Falcao

Radamal Falcao and the specter of AS Monaco

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A week ago, the possible move of Colombian international Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco seemed farcical. Monaco, currently in France’s Ligue 2 (but due to be promoted), may have a Russian oligarch’s backing while allowing their players to enjoy the income tax-free lifestyle, but it was difficult to believe a player of Falcao’s caliber – somebody who would be coveted by most clubs in the world – would move to a team that’s just rejoining first division soccer. The only thing giving credence to this rumor was the “reportedly” €60 million price Monaco’s willing to pay, but with the exception of Samuel Eto’o (who moved to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala two years ago), nobody of Falcao’s caliber has taken themselves so far down the European pecking order.

Monaco does have a pedigree of sorts. They’ve won seven French titles, though their last came 13 years ago. They’ve won five French Cups, a League Cup, and perhaps most famously (outside of France), they’ve made two European titles: the 1992 Cup Winners’ Cup, and the 2004 Champions League final.

It’s a stretch to think that history explains his deal. Owner Dmitry Rybolovlev’s billions partially do, as does the fact that Monaco’s millionaire’s playground is in a France. Not Dagestan. Not the Middle East. Not China. Players can stay in Europe to collect their huge wages, which is why players like Joao Moutinho, James Rodríguez, Jackson Martínez, and Victor Valdes are also being linked with the club.

But the real drive behind these moves may be something even more controversial than Monaco’s billions. Falcao is represented and partially-owned by Jorge Mendes, whose third-party ownership of the Atletico star gives the agent undo influence over the deal. He can essentially, broker a deal to sell Falcao’s rights to Monaco, a deal which, according to rumors, could see more Mendes players land spots with Monaco.

That third-party specter (and the control that comes with it) is going to sour a lot of fans on this move, but like it or not, third-party ownership is a prevalent part of the modern game, particularly with players from South America. Rather than bemoan an arrangement that deserves more than a one sentence missive, I, perhaps perversely, want to focus on a silver lining.

With the recent, huge amounts of cash being infused into European soccer, there’s a danger of all the world’s best players being consolidated onto a handful of teams. Chelsea and the Manchesters in England, the big two in Spain, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain can compete for any players they want. If a player’s willing to go East, Zenit St. Petersburg and Anzhi Makhachkala come into play. Beyond that, Europe’s becoming a bit of a feeder system.

Like third-party ownership, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. What might change, however, is the number of players in the game. Just as Paris-Saint Germain has built quickly thanks to Qatari investment, Monaco can also help expand the ranks of Europe’s elite, stretching the top talent beyond the handful of teams to which they’re currently being funneled. Yes, that brings Super League discussion back into play, and news of this sort always brings fans only slightly older than myself coming out of their dens with dusty VHS cassettes, ready to show you soccer before it went corporate. At some point, however, we have to toss out the VCRs and accept it. The world changes.

For Monaco, Radamel Falcao would be a great start, and a star of his caliber could justify others’ decisions to go. It becomes much easier of a Moutinho or Valdes to take a chance on Monaco when they know a true, marquee start has already signed on, no matter the means by which he did so.

That, admittedly, is a very thin sliver lining. In a way, it’s a head in the sand approach, though with little to gain by continuing to harp on old tropes, it may be better to focus on whatever obscure positives you can grasp. In this case, that’s the building of a new contender, should Monaco actually pull of this Falcao coup.

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. West Brom (Lineups, Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea and Joleon Lescott of West Brom battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on November 22, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea hosts West Bromwich Albion from Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blues look to extend their eight-match win streak.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

The Blues make one change from last weekend’s 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Manchester City as Cesc Fabregas makes way in the starting XI for Nemanja Matic.

Antonio Conte‘s side will be opposed by a West Brom side that is unbeaten in their last four Premier League matches. The Baggies remain unchanged from last week’s 3-1 win over Watford as the side looks to move above eighth in the table.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard. Subs: Begovic, Aina, Ivanovic, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

West Brom: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom; Yacob, Fletcher (c); Brunt, Morrison, Phillips; Rondon. Subs: Palmer; Olsson, Robson-Kanu, Gardner, McClean, Galloway, Chadli.

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

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TORONTO — Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

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Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

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TORONTO — Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

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Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — When it came down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t land the title.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clearance.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

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