Three swoops for Dynamo Kyiv help close the gap with Shakhtar Donetsk

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Dynamo Kyiv, one of the two traditional powers in Ukraine, seemed to have other things to worry about than Shakhtar this summer. While the Donetsk club were making waves in last year’s Champions League and winning their league by 13 points (losing only once in 30 games), Dynamo was fighting emerging challengers Metalist Kharkiv and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk for second place. Ultimately, Myron Markevych’s Metalist claimed the league’s second Champions League spot, relegating Dynamo to the relative indignity of Europa League.

I say relative indignity because while European soccer has its own charms, it’s not where Dynamo’s supposed to be. At least, it’s not where they’re supposed to be at the beginning of a campaign. They’re one of Ukraine’s big two. One of those Champions League spots should be theirs on renown alone. It’s bad enough that they’d become a notable second behind Shakhtar, but to be passed by Metalist? And have Dnipro on their heels? It’s a concerning if subtle fall.

Dynamo clearly realize their plight and are solving it the way all club soccer troubles are solved: With money and new players. With three swoops, Dynamo have not only started to address the growing talent gap between themselves and their rivals, they’ve also lured three talents who had been linked with bigger leagues.

The most renown of the trio is Montpellier’s Younes Belhanda (pictured), a 23-year-old Moroccan attacking midfielder who had been linked with moves to England, Italy and Turkey. The specOne of the best players on the MHSC team that claimed Ligue 1 in 2011-12, Belhanda has been linked with higher profile moves for the last six months. That he ended up in Kyiv (for a speculated $13/€10 million) is a minor coup for Dynamo.

So is the capture of 27-year-old Dieumerci Mbokani, a DR Congo striker who scored 34 goals in 53 league games during his two years at Anderlecht. Thought Mbokani struggled during spells at Monaco and Wolfsburg, he has improved since his 2011 return to the Juliper League, where he’d previously stared for Standard Liege. That improvement, also seen for a DR Congo side the qualified for the last Cup of Nations, will complement Brown Ideye and Belhanda in Dynamo’s attack, albeit for another $13 million.

But that attack will feature a third surprising addition, that of 25-year-old Dutch winger Jeremain Lens, who agreed with Dynamo two weeks ago. The former PSV man makes the move to Ukraine after his most productive season in the Eredivisie, scoring 15 goals in 30 league games, production that made for another $13 million fee, according to reports. Where most Dutch league stars with that kind of production make their way to Germany or England, Lens has instead been lured to Kyiv, rounding out an attack that may more than rival Shakhtar’s.

The defending champions will line up with Luiz Adriano up top, some trio pulled out of their grab bag of Brazilian attacking midfielders: Alex Teixeira, Ilsinho, Douglas Costa, Taison, Wellington Nem, Fred, and Alan Patrick behind. With Henrik Mkhitaryan (and Fernandinho, deeper in midfield) all but gone, Mirseau Lucescu will have to adjust. What that adjustment looks like, it’s too early to say.

That adjustment could be brilliant, given all the talent Lucescu has at his disposal. But with Razvan Rat also gone (having left for West Ham United), this can be seem as a minor regroup for Ukraine’s champions. And if that’s the case. Dynamo’s attack of Lens, Mbokani, and Ideye being supported by Belhanda may make up that gap.

It will be fun if Metalist and Dnipro can somehow keep up. Even if they don’t, this year’s Ukrainian Premier League looks to be more interesting than last’s.

College Soccer Update: Stingy Kentucky picking up speed; Cal Poly’s overhead wonder (video)

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Three-hundred thirty-two minutes and 26 seconds. That’s how long it’s been since an opponent has managed to put a ball into the goal behind the University of Kentucky men’s team.

It’s a statistic which not only makes an impression, but carries hope; Hope that the Wildcats will improve upon last season’s tournament work that saw them exit their conference tourney and the NCAA tournament early.

“If you go back to last year we had a really good run, but got knocked out in our conference tournament and then in the first round of the NCAA Tournament,” said fourth-year head coach Johan Cedergren. “Peaked too early and got a little overconfident.”

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The Wildcats are atop Conference USA with a 3-0 record in league play, having knocked off a strong New Mexico side this weekend. They’ll face Evansville and Ohio State the following two Wednesdays before meeting fellow CUSA 3-0 squad South Carolina.

It’s all according to plan for Cedergren, who is experiencing the senior years of his first recruiting class. One of those is goalkeeper Callum Irving, who is one clean sheet away from making program history for the most blankings as a Wildcat.

It’s helped having a versatile team to help out. Despite injuries to a pair of key backs, junior center back Jordan Wilson and senior holding mid Kristoffeer Tollefsen have combined with Irving to keep the side well-organized.

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“Over here you are very stat focused and Callum wouldn’t have these numbers without (Wilson),” Cedergren said. “And Tollefsen plays that holding mid role that is very hard to quantify. He made third team all conference last year, but he’s one of the best players and he’s playing at 75% percent.”

Cedegren also credits Hermann Award watch lister Napo Matsoso, who leads the team in shots, with keeping teams off-balance. And between Irving and the attack, the coach hopes that this season is the year the Wildcats will peak at the right time.

Three stars

  1. Oregon State — The Beavers opened PAC-12 play with a pair of 1-0 wins, knocking off UCLA with a Timmy Mueller (remember the name goal) before knocking off San Diego State by the same score. Next weekend? Cal and Stanford, both on the road.
  2. Nick DePuy, UCSB —  The 6-foot-4 junior forward has only been held off the score sheet thrice this season, and fired off 10 shots including three goals this weekend. Two were road game-winners at UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge.
  3. Chase Minter, Cal Poly — All three stars stay on the West Coast, thanks to Minter’s work setting himself up for this bicycle kick goal.

Other notes

— Creighton is back as the unrivaled No. 1 in the country amongst men’s Division I sides, claiming all 24 votes.
— Only one change in the Top 10, as Virginia moves up a spot to No. 10 and Elon falls three spots to No. 13. Leaping into the Top 25 after not receiving any votes last week is Oregon State. Kentucky, Butler and Syracuse move from receiving votes to Top 25.
— There s a single player who is in both the D-1 Top Ten in goals and assists, and his name will be familiar to those who read this space: Buffalo’s Russell Cicerone has eight goals and six assists after a 2+3 performance at St. Bonaventure on Saturday night.
— Also No. 1: Midwestern State (Men’s D2), Franklin & Marshall (Men’s D3), North Carolina (Women’s D1), Gannon (Women’s D2), Messiah (Women’s D3)

Samir Nasri rules out return to France squad; Likes MLS over Ligue 1

Manchester City's Samir Nasri celebrates after scoring during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park Stadium, Liverpool, England, Sunday Aug. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
AP Photo/Jon Super
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When Samir Nasri is done with his time at Manchester City, he doesn’t want a return to Ligue 1. We knew that. He’s said it in March, and again over the summer.

But his willingness to stay away from home goes for club and country, as he’s not interested in a return to the national team fold. Heck, they could hire his family and he’s scoff at the idea.

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Nasri played in Marseille from his age 10 year through 2004, when he headed to Arsenal. He also scored five goals in 41 caps before being removed from the French fold by Didier Deschamps.

That hurt.

From Sky Sports:

“Even if my dad is coach, I will not return,” he said on French television. “I’ve suffered with the selections… missing a World Cup destroys you a bit. After 2012 I wanted to stop but my father told me I had to play the World Cup. I tried to be good.

“I do not see myself returning to Ligue 1. I love the Premier League. I like my life in England,” said Nasri. “I see myself going to play in the MLS, to discover something other than France.”

That makes at least three times Nasri has proffered a “come get me… eventually” plea to American powers-that-be.

Nasri is a bit of a loose cannon, but he’s also the sort of player who could punish defenses in MLS if given the chance to operate as the focal point of an attack. Perhaps with Didier Drogba in Montreal?

No, his time at the Etihad Stadium isn’t nearing an end just yet but… Yes, please. Maybe Nasri is one of those “In the league but not at the risk of my favorite team” players, but yes, please.