File photo of Swansea City's manager Laudrup being tossed in the air by the players at Wembley Stadium in London

Swansea: quickly becoming a rising star under everyone’s noses

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Who saw this coming?

As recent as 2011, Swansea City were a member of the Championship, and were even down in League One just six years ago.

Now, only two years removed from promotion, Swansea are much more than a Premier League staple – they could be challenging for Europe.

A meteoric rise such as this should warrant more media attention than it has. Instead, Swansea are going about business as they have for their entire stay in the Premier League – completely under the radar.

With Sky Sports reporting today that Swansea have signed Slovenian goalkeeper Gregor Zabret, another piece of shrewd and positive business comes through the Welsh club with little to no fanfare.

At just 17 years old, Zabret had a trial with Swansea in February and spoke of his dream to play in England.  That dream is coming true, and for Swansea it’s a wonderful addition of youth talent for practically nothing. With current keeper Michel Vorm attracting more and more attention, it’s possible that Zabret could make appearances sooner rather than later.

That’s not all they’ve done this summer, but nobody’s taken any notice, as usual.

The Swans have also secured the services of 26-year-old holding midfielder Jose Cañas from Real Betis on a free transfer.  With the success of Swansea’s exploits into the Spanish transfer market, to get a player of Cañas’s experience (72 matches for Betis over the last three seasons) is wonderful for literally nothing out of pocket.

Cañas will join Angel Rangel, Chico Flores and Pablo Hernandez as the growing Spanish talent in Swansea gets larger.

The crown jewel of them all, also part of that Spanish crowd, may be their most important bit of business yet this summer.

So far Swansea have successfully kept hold of Michu, who arrived from Rayo Vallecano last summer for a measly £2.2 million ($3.3 million) and proceeded to crash the Premier League party with 18 goals.

That’s £120K per goal.

The summer isn’t over yet, but it looks promising for Swansea fans on the Michu front, and it’s clear the player sees what’s happening with his club.

On that same note, another wonderful bit of business by the Welsh side again involves not an incoming figure but one who they’ve managed to keep from leaving – Michael Laudrup.

Amid fervorous speculation that the manager could find a better club and contract at Real Madrid, PSG, and the like, Laudrup has stood his ground saying last week, “I have repeated it so many times in the last three months. My intention is to stay.”

Laudrup may not have the greatest relationship with chairman Huw Jenkins, but it’s enough to keep the club running at the very least, and if the last year in transfer dealings have anything to say for it, it’s much more than that.

The Danish manager reiterated the club’s transfer policy recently, preferring to do dealings behind everyone’s back and avoiding media attention. “We are continuing to work behind the scenes, in private wherever and whenever we can, to strengthen our squad” said Laudrup.  It shows.

Finally, a little more under the spotlight than the previous mentions, Swansea are on the verge of signing coveted Ivorian international Wilfried Bony.  It’s not come off yet, as his club Vitesse Arnhem are being standoffish, and Swansea still have to figure out how to pay him his wages, which are off their pay scale.

However, Bony himself stated his admiration for the Swans, saying, “Swansea is a wonderful club. It’s my chance to play in the Premier League and they also play attractive football. I understood from my agent that Swansea want to pay €12million for me and that is what Vitesse want to receive, so I hope there is some good news soon.”

If they can complete that deal, Swansea could become a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League.  They already have silverware under their belt, having won the League Cup last season, and Europe could be on the horizon.

UPDATE: Now Swansea have announced League Cup final hero Jonathan de Guzman will be returning for a second season-long loan from Villareal next year.  It just keeps getting better for the Swans.

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”

Wenger discusses future of Sanchez, Ozil at Arsenal

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With just 18 months left on their current contracts, the futures of both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal is becoming a daily topic.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

This week alone Sanchez has been linked with a move to China on Wednesday, plus Real Madrid and Chelsea on Thursday, while another report from the Telegraph suggest the Gunners are willing to listen to offers for 28-year-old Ozil who isn’t willing to back down on his hopes of getting a $487,000 week contract at Arsenal where he is currently the top earner on $180,000.

To try and clear up any of the speculation Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger, who only has a contract at the Emirates until the end of the current season, has been speaking to the media about the reports.

Asked if Arsenal was willing to break their transfer structure, he said they’ll “do the maximum of what we can for every single player” to remain at the club.

He then reinforced the notion that Sanchez and Ozil would remain at Arsenal for at least 18 months, and hopefully much longer.

“Eighteen months is quite long in football. They have 18 months on their contracts and are completely committed to do well as long as they are here,” Wenger said. “Beyond that we will try to extend their contracts but I can’t make that a subject of every press conference as that is normal. These players have 18 months, they will be staying 18 months and hopefully much longer. I don’t believe that it is a problem.”

“A contract is between two parties and on my side the best position is to achieve it early. You have to accept that negotiations are private and secret and we don’t have to explain what we do with negotiations.”

Asked about the astronomical sums of cash reportedly being offered to Sanchez to go and play in the Chinese Super League — reports state the Chilean star has offers of $505,000 per week on the table — Wenger believed it was true but questioned why either would leave England.

“Why should you go to China when you are playing in England? We live in a world where the great players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil earn a lot of money and have the privilege to choose where they want to play,” Wenger said. “The commitment of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil is absolute total and I’m very pleased with that. We are professionals and the first quality is to give 100 percent, it is here and now, that is what it means to be professional and to be fully committed to the cause.”

So, Wenger is confident the superstar duo will stay. Should he be?

With Paul Pogba earning over $368,000 as the current top earner in the Premier League, it’s easy to see why Ozil and Sanchez believe they’re worth more than Pogba is currently earning at Manchester United.

Sanchez, 27, has been ripping it up this season, scoring 11 times in 14 PL outings and Ozil has already matched his goal tally from last season with eight strikes in all competitions.

Arsenal’s wage structure is said to be set at $250,000 per week, with an insistence on no player earning more than Wenger does.

Unless they change that stance it’s difficult to see how Sanchez and Ozil will remain at the Emirates Stadium with so many suitors from across the Premier League, Europe and worldwide willing to double, or even treble, their current wages.

Of course the Premier League is the most-watched in the world and there are many advantages to playing in it for Sanchez, Ozil and other superstars but money talks. If these huge offers from the Chinese Super League are true, why wouldn’t players move there to cash in on their relatively short playing careers?

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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