Guzan will need to have another superb season to help Villa climb up the standings.

Premier League Preview: Top 5 goalkeepers to watch


In addition to previewing two teams from the Premier League each day until the beginning of season, we will name five players to watch at each position, goalkeeper through forward. The 2013-14 season begins Aug. 17, and for the first time, every game will be broadcast live in the United States on NBC Sports.

So often, goalkeeping is an all-or-nothing position. The men between the sticks are either the heroes after making a save to preserve a lead, or they are the goats after giving up a soft goal (even if they’ve made 10 world-class saves before their one mistake).

In a league where most teams predicate their game on direct play such as the Premier League, goalkeepers are expected to do a lot. Those who wear the gloves in the English top flight are often some of the most physically imposing and athletically gifted in the world, because if they’re not, they will not survive.

Here are, in no particular order, five goalkeepers to watch this season in the Premier League:

Simon Mignolet, Liverpool

source: Getty ImagesAfter an impressive campaign with Sunderland last year, Simon Mignolet moved to Liverpool this summer to replace Pepe Reina, who is on loan at Napoli. He produced multiple stunning displays for the Black Cats as they just survived the drop.

It was his impressive form at Sunderland the last two years that saw Mignolet earn his first caps with the Belgian national team. Now, he competes for playing time at the national level with Atlético Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois.

The challenge now for Mignolet will be keeping his superior form at a club where he likely won’t be called into action as often. The mental side of goalkeeping comes into play when players are under more pressure to perform but have fewer opportunities to do prove they can.

Brad Guzan, Aston Villa

The 2012-13 season was a breakout year for Brad Guzan (top image). After bidding his time behind Brad Friedel and Shay Given in previous seasons, Guzan’s performance last year was good enough for his teammates to vote him as the club’s Player of the Year. He also found playing time for the United States when Tim Howard was injured.

This summer was calmer than the previous few for Guzan. After being released and re-signed by Aston Villa after the 2011-12 season, he comes into this season as the undisputed No. 1 for his club.

The former Major League Soccer Goalkeeper of the Year seems to have earned some respect from both his teammates and the rest of the league. Now, when everybody expects him to play well, what will Guzan’s reaction be?

Joe Hart, Manchester City

source: Getty ImagesThree years in a row, Joe Hart has won the Barclays Golden Glove for keeping the most shutouts in league play. His 53 over the last three seasons are second only to Pepe Reina’s 57 from 2005 to 2008, when he also won the award three years in a row for Liverpool.

The award has only been given out since the 2004-05 season, but Hart can become the first player to win it four times in 2012-13. Although a star-studded squad at Manchester City helps him along, and every goalkeeper will be quick to point out that clean sheets are a team effort, Hart is worthy of all his praise.

Hart is the first goalkeeper since David Seaman to grab the reins for the English national team and hold on tightly. It speaks to not only his quality, but also the consistency of his high level of play. On the rare occasions City needs salvation, not many are better equipped to provide it.

source: Getty ImagesTim Howard, Everton

Tim Howard found a home at Everton after a shaky tenure with Manchester United. The Toffees’ No. 1 for six years, the American has played in all but four league matches since the 2007-08 season.

More than his superb shot stopping and command of the penalty area on crosses, Howard provides a vocal and demanding form of leadership that has steered Everton to top-10 finishes in every season since he joined the team.

That leadership will be necessary this season more than in the recent past, as manager David Moyes left to take over at Manchester United. Still, under Roberto Martínez, the Toffees have a chance to make more waves in 2012-13, and they will likely lean on their 34-year-old veteran goalkeeper for direction.

David de Gea, Manchester United

source: Getty ImagesSince joining Manchester United two summers ago, the club paying Atlético Madrid a record transfer fee for a goalkeeper, it has been anything but smooth sailing for the young Spaniard. At just 22 years of age, de Gea is still a project for the future.

He was voted by the Professional Footballers’ Association into its Team of the Year last season, perhaps indicating that he is finally getting the hang of playing under the intense scrutiny of the English press and fans.

Certainly, de Gea has shown improvement in each of his seasons in the Premier League so far. However, this will be a crucial season for de Gea’s development. His age and experience are about when goalkeepers turn into world-class players and never look back — or go the other way entirely.

(MORE: Read all the Premier League previews here)

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.