Swanseabadge

Premier League preview: Swansea City

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

Promoted to the Premier League as recently as two seasons ago, Swansea City have taken the middle of the league table by storm. Almost unheard of for newly promoted teams, Swansea have finished 11th and 9th in their first two seasons, and won the League Cup last season to mark their first major piece of silverware. Known for their recent raid of the Spanish Primera Division, Swansea were brought to the top flight by current Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, and despite the managerial change after just one season in the Premier League, the club has grown rapidly. They’ve managed to lure some quality transfer targets, and things appear to be on the rise for a club that was in the lowest tier of English soccer as recently as 2004.

Transfers in: GK Gregor Zabret (NK Domzale, Slovenia), D Jernade Meade (Arsenal, England), D Jordi Amat (Espanyol, Spain), M Jose Alberto Canas (Real Betis, Spain), M Jonjo Shelvey (Liverpool, England), M Alejandro Pozuelo (Real Betis, Spain), F Wilfried Bony (Vitesse Arnhem, Netherlands)

Transfers out: D Kyle Bartley (Birmingham City, England), M Mark Gower (Charlton Athletic, England), M Kemy Agustien (Brighton Hove & Albion, England)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: Despite last season’s fantastic form by goalkeeper Michel Vorm, the main man at Liberty Stadium remains Spanish import Michu. Arriving from Spain’s Rayo Vallecano for just £2.5 million ($3.9 million) as a relative unknown, Michu blast onto the Premier League scene last year with 18 league goals to his name, and 23 throughout all competitions.

The success story of Michu made manager Michael Laudrup and chairman Huw Jenkins look like utter geniuses, and helped the Swans to their first major trophy in club history. In the League Cup final – a 5-0 drubbing of Bradford City – the 27-year-old bagged the assist on the opening goal and scored the second, cementing the trophy.

The big question this season is can he keep up the pace. One Premier League season usually provides enough of a sample size that it’s a good bet he will, but the time off has halted good runs of form in the past, so it’s on the attacking midfielder to prove he wasn’t a fluke. If Michu can continue bagging goals, it’s a good bet the Swans can make another great run in the league this season.

Manager: A former player at Real Madrid, Juventus, and Barcelona, Danish boss Michael Laudrup took over for the departed Brendan Rodgers last summer, and impressed the European soccer community mightily. So much, in fact, that he had to ward off interest from bigger clubs such as Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Everton, and Fenerbahce.

Laudrup has had a relatively rocky relationship with chairman Jenkins, but so far it hasn’t been turbulent enough to drive him away from the club, and he signed an extension until 2015 just last March.

A former attacking midfielder himself, the Dane’s use of a 4-2-3-1 is the main reason Michu has catapulted to such success, as the offense is centered mainly around the attacking mid rather than the striker up top. However the recent acquisition of reigning Eredivisie Player of the Year Wilfried Bony could see some of the weight lifted off the Spaniard’s shoulders.

Outlook: With Laudrup guiding the club to a 9th place finish last season, they were able to not only lure Bony to Liberty Stadium, but also secured another season of central midfielder Jonathan de Guzman, who developed a wonderful relationship with Michu in the middle. De Guzman assisted seven goals last year, five of which went for Michu scores. The Swans are in the Europa League this year thanks to their League Cup victory. If De Guzman, along with Michu and new acquisition Jonjo Shelvey, can continue to click, this season could see Swansea challenge for a top 7 spot and maybe even Europa League success.

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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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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