Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League

NBC analysts break down opening day

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We’re just seven matches into the 2013-2014 Premier League season, and it’s already been a bit of a wild ride. 18 goals were tallied over the course of Saturday’s matches, yet West Brom, Stoke, Cardiff City and Sunderland all failed to get on the scoresheet. Just one match, Norwich vs. Everton, ended in a draw, and that one’s four goals still keep things exciting. NBC could hardly have asked for a better day to launch their coverage of the Premier League.

The matches featured on NBC and NBCSN were some of the better ones as well, each featuring their own behind the seasons storyline. The day started off with Liverpool beating Stoke 1-0, a scoreline that belies just how out of their depth the visiting Potters looked. It seems Mark Hughes may have been too ambitious in thinking he could change Stoke’s traditional long-ball style, and if it hadn’t been for a string of spectacular saves by Asmir Begovic, Liverpool could have easily had five or six goals. And that was without Luis Suárez, who may not even have made the bench, but caused a stir by showing up in a Reds’ shirt with a smile on his face.

The next match brought the most surprising result thus far this season, with Aston Villa beating Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates. The Villa, who flirted with relegation for much of last season, were down a goal by the tenth minute, and looked unlikely to stage a comeback. But then Gabriel Agbonlahor drew a penalty to put his side even before the half, and then drew another in the second half. The Arsenal fans were outraged when Anthony Taylor sent off Laurent Koscielny in the 67th minute, but turned their anger on Arsene Wenger, and his lack of signings, after new Villa signing Antonio Luna put in a third with five minutes left to play. Rebecca Lowe, host of pre- and post-match show Premier League Live, summed up the match perfectly: “It [The Premier League] certainly is back and what a start for [manager] Paul Lambert and Aston Villa’s season.”

The final match of the day saw Manchester United beat Swansea 4-1, with the scoreline flattering United’s play just a bit.  Arlo White, NBC’s voice of the Premier League, did well to set the scene before the match:

Hello, welcome to the Liberty Stadium. We’re in the city of Swansea in South Wales, 187 miles to the west of London, and Manchester United, the champions, begin the defense of their Premier League title. This is where they begin a whole new era under David Moyes. Sir Alex Ferguson, of course, ended his 26 and a half year reign with retirement in May, and we are underway. The rain pouring from slate grey skies, Wayne Rooney on the bench for Manchester United.

In just those few sentences, it was clear this match would about more than whether Robin Van Persie could better his goal tally of last season. Robbie Earle drew attention to this on the Premier League Live segment prior to Swansea vs. Manchester United:

They lose today at Swansea, the media will start, Jose Mourinho will start, and the whole of the football world will be saying, it’s not quite the same. And that’s the pressure that’s on David Moyes and his team to get off to a good start. It’s a huge day because the eyes of the football world are on David Moyes and how he starts his reign as Manchester United manager.

Fortunately for Moyes, his side won, with a convincing scoreline at that. Yet the focus remains on Wayne Rooney, who came in for Ryan Giggs with around 30 minutes left to play. Rooney played a crucial role in van Persie’s second goal, timing his run to draw away Swansea players and allow the Dutchman space to run into, and provided the assist on Danny Welbeck’s second, the fourth and final goal of the match. Yet questions about his future are still ever present. In the final Premier League Live segment of the day, Robbie Mustoe had this to say about forward: “It’s all business for Wayne Rooney. When he’s out there, he’s going to play the game, but we all know he doesn’t want to be at this football club.”

With less than two weeks remaining in the transfer window, there’s not much time for Rooney to make a move. The saga will still be a talking point whenever Moyes speaks to the media, but at least the new United manager has three points and the spot at the top of the table to point to.

Blatter says he will accept verdict as CAS appeal begins

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived for his appeal hearing against a six-year ban from football on Thursday, pledging to accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport

“I do hope it will be positive for me,” Blatter, sporting a light gray beard, told reporters at around 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) ahead of a hearing expected to last several hours.

The court’s verdict is expected within several weeks, and could be challenged in a further appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.

The 80-year-old Blatter denies wrongdoing in authorizing a $2 million payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011. They claimed it was for backdated and uncontracted salary for work Platini did in advising Blatter from 1999 to 2002.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The so-called “disloyal payment” led Blatter to be put under investigation for criminal mismanagement by Swiss federal prosecutors last September. That investigation is ongoing.

FIFA’s ethics committee judged the $2 million deal was a conflict of interest and initially banned Blatter and Platini for eight years last December. FIFA’s appeal committee cut both bans to six years.

Platini’s appeal to CAS was already judged in May, when Blatter appeared in person as a witness. Platini promised a further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after his ban was only cut from six to four years.

Platini arrived at the hearing around midday local time to be a witness. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s comments Thursday suggest he would not pursue a federal case. Federal judges can intervene only if legal process is abused.

“We are football players, we learned to win but also we learned to lose and it will not be the end of the world,” Blatter said outside CAS.

The three-member panel for Blatter’s case is expected to respect the verdict of a separate panel which judged Platini.

A failure to overturn the ban for Blatter would likely end his hope to one day be named FIFA honorary president by its 211 member federations.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The case already ended Platini’s chance to replace Blatter as FIFA president, and also forced him out of European governing body UEFA.

On Sept. 14, UEFA members will elect a successor to replace Platini who had a mandate through March 2019. By imposing a four-year ban, the CAS panel ensured UEFA had to replace Platini, rather than wait for him to return.

The “disloyal payment” emerged last year when Platini was strongly favored to win the election to replace Blatter, who had announced his departure plans after 17 years as president amid pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating senior FIFA officials.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Both men were questioned at FIFA headquarters last September by Swiss investigators who were waiting for them outside an executive committee meeting.

During the turmoil in world football, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, submitted an election candidacy on the entry deadline day and won the vote in February.

Arriving at the hearing with his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni, Blatter said he hoped the CAS panel “will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had against him.”

“This is a principle, if you have debts you pay them,” Blatter said.

NASL weekend preview: Miami, Minnesota meet playoff fortunes head on

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There are still two full months of soccer to go in the NASL’s Fall Season, but this weekend could be a major day for the title fortunes of one squad in particular.

Miami FC and Minnesota United are level on points with 15 heading into Saturday’s match at FIU Stadium.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

If you’re unfamiliar, the NASL Playoffs involve four teams: the Spring champion (Indy Eleven), the Fall champion, and two other teams with the best combined record between seasons.

Miami’s played one fewer game, and both it and Minnesota — fresh off the news it’s headed to MLS in 2017 — are seven points shy of first-place FC Edmonton.

But Minnesota is on pace to make the playoffs through combined schedule, while Miami had a poor first half and would be better served to win the Fall Season if it wants a shot at the NASL Soccer Bowl Trophy.

Saturday
Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos
Rayo OKC at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Minnesota United at Miami FC

Sunday
Indy Eleven at Ottawa Fury
Puerto Rico at FC Edmonton

Arsenal reportedly set for $69 million double Friday buy

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Lucas Perez of RC Deportivo la Coruna reacts during the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Teresa Rivero on September 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger‘s much-maligned transfer business is about to take the “much” off the verb.

Lucas Perez of Deportiva de la Coruna is reportedly going to be joining Arsenal on Friday, and the Gunners are also close to finally landing Valencia center back Shkodran Mustafi.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Perez, 27, broke out for a career-best 17 goals last season, and scored on debut last weekend. He’s set to cost $22.5 million, while Mustafi makes up the other $46.5 million.

The 12-times capped German center back stands 6-foot, and would bring stability to a Gunners unit which has (again) been beset by injuries.

From the BBC:

Spaniard Lucas, 27, scored 17 goals in 37 games last season and Arsenal will meet a 20m euro (£17.1m) buyout clause.

Germany international Mustafi, 24, is set to join for a fee in excess of £35m.

Is this, coupled with the Granit Xhaka buy, enough to help Wenger right the ship? Mustafi, especially, would be a key piece. Perez is a bit of a lesser-known quality.

MLS Weekend Preview: Desperation mounts as rivals meet in Oregon

Portland Timbers defender Vytas Andriuskevicius, second from right, trips up Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, right, in the second half of a MLS soccer match, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, in Seattle. Andriuskevicius was called for a foul on the play, and the Sounders' Clint Dempsey scored a goal on the resulting penalty kick. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Desperation is up-and-down the schedule this weekend in Major League Soccer, as the playoff race really heats up.

The calendar turns to September next week, and teams will end this weekend with a clear view of their runs into the season’s final Sunday: Oct. 23.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

The tumult that is an MLS season means only one team is more than two wins out of a playoff spot right now, and that’s Houston (7 points back of Western No. 6 Portland).

Here’s who is feeling the heat of their matches this weekend:

Portland and Seattle: The Cascadia Cup rivals tangle Sunday in Oregon, with the Timbers holding a one-point edge on the Sounders for the West’s final playoff spot. Seattle has played one fewer games than Portland, and a win on Sunday would be a double-whammy for PDX; The Timbers would be level on points with Seattle and Vancouver in the Cascadia Cup standings with just one match to go (compared to their opponents’ two).

Vancouver: The ‘Caps don’t have a Cup game this weekend, but will face an L.A. team which hasn’t lost at home. Vancouver is in real danger of moving more than one win behind in the fight for a playoff spot. If they lose to L.A. and both San Jose and Portland win, the Whitecaps will be five points back of a playoff spot. Of course, this being MLS, a win and help could see Vancouver in sixth when the smoke clears.

Columbus and New England: No one likes to comment on job status, but Revs’ boss Jay Heaps and his Columbus counterpart (Gregg Berhalter) have to be a bit concerned at this point. New England is a total mess, opening up a goalkeeping controversy, and is pinning its hopes on some Open Cup final karma. The Crew was supposed to contend for a title after last year’s final run, but is currently in the East’s cellar with just three home wins from 13 matches.

Schedule

Friday
Colorado at Real Salt Lake — 8 p.m. EDT

Saturday
Chicago at DC United — 7 p.m. EDT
Sporting KC at Philadelphia — 7 p.m. EDT
San Jose at Columbus — 7:30 p.m. EDT
Montreal at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. EDT
FC Dallas at Houston — 9 p.m. EDT
Vancouver at LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. EDT

Sunday
New England at New York Red Bulls — 2:30 p.m. EDT
Seattle at Portland — 5 p.m. EDT
New York City at Orlando City — 7 p.m. EDT