Juan Agudelo signs for Stoke City, joins Premier League in January

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Make that four US national team players now playing in the red and white for Premier League side Stoke City.

Four.

20-year-old forward Juan Agudelo has signed a pre-contract agreement with Mark Hughes’ side and will join the Potters in January after the 2013 Major League Soccer season has finished.

Stoke might as well add a few stars to their red and white striped jerseys. They’re the new “Fulhamerica.” How about the “United States of Stoke”… anyone?

Ahem, so,  Agudelo — currently playing for the New England Revolution after joining from Chivas USA — is signing for Stoke on a free transfer after his contract with MLS runs out on December 31. Losing the talented young forward for absolutely zilch is a big blow for MLS. There’s no doubt about it. He came up through the New York Red Bulls academy and shone for the US before he ever did in MLS. To get nothing in return for all that development, baring a few possible dollars for training fees, is a travesty.

After bursting onto the scene for USA at the age of 17, Colombian born Agudelo has flitted from club to club in recent seasons and has struggled to find a settled home in the US. Now he will turn his attentions abroad to try and fulfill his undoubted potential.

(MORE: Juan Agudelo will join Stoke City in January)

While Stoke’s penchant for signing American internationals continues, with Geoff Cameron, Brek Shea and Maurice Edu all on the books at the Staffordshire club. During the Potters preseason tour of the US this summer, plenty of rumors were flying around about Agudelo possibly linking up with Hughes’ team and now it’s legit.

Hughes has been a long-time admirer of the speedy American forward, with Agudelo catching Hughes’ eye whilst he was Manchester City’s manager a few years ago. He’s kept close tabs on him since and is delighted to add Agudelo to his ranks.

We’ve put a lot of work into this deal, and I am delighted that we have managed to get the deal over the line. It’s a good deal for us, because he is a very good young player who boasts a lot of talent as well as a lot of potential too.

I’ve known of him for a couple of years now. He burst on to the scene for the United States at the age of 17 and everybody has paid attention to him since. I have kept my eye on him for the last 18 months, and thankfully we were in a position where we were able to pull this deal off.

So Hughes is a massive fan and Agudelo will surely get time to develop and become a regular. And Stoke’s Chief Executive Tony Scholes sung Major League Soccer’s praises, saying that Stoke have been “consistently impressed with the quality we’ve come up against” after playing against five MLS teams in the past two years.

(MORE: Premier League Preview, Stoke City)

With Agudelo highly rated at Stoke, his pace and youthful exuberance will likely see him feature when he turns up in January. Playing alongside fellow USMNT buddies Shea, Cameron and Edu will help the youngster settle in. And heading into a World Cup year, if he does well at Stoke then Jurgen Klinsmann’s selection headache will intensify.

I remember speaking to Agudelo two years ago when he played for the Red Bulls in the Emirates Cup at Arsenal’s stadium. He said then that playing in Europe was where he wanted to be. Now he’s got it. Well, from January at least.

But with everyone singing the praises of Major League Soccer for acquiring Clint Dempsey from Tottenham, should we worry about losing another young talent to the Premier League?

Maybe Clint’s move will stop this from happening in the future, or maybe this switch isn’t significant and in the grand scheme of things, Agudelo’s departure won’t matter…

Just a thought.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday