Week 3: “View from the Booth” with Arlo White

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When watching soccer on TV, have you ever sat there and wondered what the man behind the microphone really thinks?

Maybe this will go someway to helping with that.

In our new series “View from the Booth” NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White will be joining us each week to talk about the hot topics in the beautiful game and preview the weekends upcoming Premier League action, as well as chatting about the latest news from MLS and the US national team.

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This weekend Arlo is off to two massive games for very different reasons. First up is Crystal Palace against Sunderland on Saturday (12:30pm ET, watch live on NBC and via NBC Sports Live Extra) as both sides aim for their first win of the season. And then it’s the big one, Liverpool vs. Manchester United on Sunday (8:30am ET, watch live on NBCSN and via NBC Sports Live Extra) at Anfield as two of England’s most famous clubs clash in a bitter North West rivalry.

Enjoy it folks, now it’s over to Arlo.

Looking ahead to the games this weekend, obviously Liverpool vs. United sticks out. Can Liverpool keep their good early season form going despite plenty of injury worries?

What a fascinating match-up this is, and one that hopefully will add more goal mouth action to the tactically intriguing game on Monday between United and Chelsea. I think everyone present (except perhaps the traveling support) will have goosebumps when Anfield pays tribute to the great Bill Shankly before the game, by celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday.

The big injury worry for Liverpool is Kolo Toure. It was well publicized before the game at Villa last week that Liverpool had left themselves a touch short in central defense after the retirement of Jamie Carragher. Martin Kelly can fill in, but he’s returning from an ACL tear. Andre Wisdom is a center back of the future. but I think Brendan Rodgers is keen to get him out on loan to gain more experience. Sebastian Coates also suffered an ACL tear on International duty recently. It all means that Martin Skrtel, who was perhaps surplus to requirements before these injuries, is now a vital player this weekend, alongside Daniel Agger.

source: AP
Can RVP fire United to victory at Anfield?

I think Rodgers would like to see a 90 minute performance from his side at the level they managed for the first 45 at Villa. They were stroking the ball around with real authority and comfort. They were purring. Gerrard and Lucas dictated the game from their deep lying midfield positions. Coutinho showed the odd flash of brilliance (particularly his dummy for the goal) and Daniel Sturridge continued his rich goal scoring form. They are coping brilliantly without the suspended Luis Suarez.

Liverpool might be kicking themselves at taking their eye off the ball against Notts County during the week and being forced to play extra time in the League Cup, but they have started the season well. Let’s see how they fair against the major step up in quality presented by the Champions.

And for David Moyes, this match will have extra importance after managing on Merseyside. Will murmurs of discontent start to be heard amongst United fans if they lose this one?

Will there be crushing disappointment, of course, it’s a derby. Will there be discontent with the manager, I very much doubt it. Moyes was greeted with a rapturous welcome at Old Trafford on Monday night. There is now a permanent banner across the Stretford End that reads ‘The Chosen One’ with his image. United played very well against Chelsea, but were stunted by a somewhat timid tactical approach from Jose Mourinho. United fans are well aware that they have an important role to play as the club transition from 26 years of Sir Alex Ferguson to the start of the David Moyes era. It may require some patience, and it will certainly require support.

I think Moyes and Manchester United have handled the Wayne Rooney situation superbly. He was terrific against Chelsea, full of energy and intent. In the absence of any major signings so far in the transfer window, Moyes should at least be credited for his part in that turn around.

Of course we have to talk about Arsenal vs, Spurs on Sunday too. Are these two teams closer than they’ve ever been in the past? And is this the season Tottenham finally overtake the Gunners and move into the top four?

Things could change significantly before 11pm BST on Monday, but I said before the season started that Spurs will take 4th place and Arsenal will miss out on the Champions League spots this season, and Tottenham’s dealings in the transfer market have only strengthened that conviction. I haven’t seen Capoue play live yet but the early reports are very good (I even read this week that he’s being compared to Patrick Vieira, steady on!). Soldado hasn’t scored from open play yet, but confidently banged in 2 penalties against Crystal Palace and Swansea. AVB now has a deep cast of talent to call upon to challenge those top spots.

Now, if Arsenal land Benzema, Di Maria and Ozil from Real Madrid, it could all change (btw, will Daniel Levy do the Bale deal as late as possible to help scupper Arsenal’s plans of recruiting those potentially surplus Real stars??)

One of the painful offshoots of Arsenal’s transfer window malaise is the lack of squad depth. They’ve already been forced to play full back Sagna in central defense, and it’s only August. Podolski’s injury is a huge blow which leaves them short up front, and Oxlade-Chamberlain will be missing for a while, weakening them on the flanks.

Was Flamini converted into a goal sniffing center forward at AC MIlan?

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Arlo tipped Cardiff for success this season. Can they build off their stunning win against Man City?

I seem to remember you picking Cardiff City as your “surprise package” at the start of the season… you must have had a chuckle to yourself when they beat Manchester City on Sunday. The Bluebirds have impressed but have you been impressed with Everton under Roberto Martinez so far?

I’ll hold my hand up. Yes, I did say that Cardiff would be a surprise package this season, but I also went out of my way in last week’s column to say they wouldn’t get anything against Manchester City. In fact, the only thing I got right about that extraordinary game, was a complete no-brainer anyway; it was a great atmosphere!

Did you watch Malky MacKay during the game? He was calm, composed and authoritative. His in-game signals to the players were very clear, after he’d already sent them out with a brilliant tactical game plan to stunt Manchester City.

We go to Goodison Park after the International break and I’m looking forward to seeing Everton in the flesh. Watching Roberto Martinez at press conferences, you can see how much the transfer window is irritating him. He knows that Baines and Fellaini are vulnerable to late bids, and is well aware that if Bill Kenwright receives an irresistible offer on Monday, he will be left with precious little time to re tool sufficiently. Worrying times for the Toffees. Roll on Tuesday morning!

Everton related, their former loanee Landon Donovan signed a new “multi-year” deal with LA Galaxy earlier this week. What do you make of his decision to stay in MLS? Should he have come back to the Premier League to have one last go?

I’m torn on Landon. I love Major League Soccer and I’m so impressed with it’s growth. Landon Donovan has played a huge part in that, and he will continue to do so with his exceptional play.

The devil on my other shoulder argues that a re-energized Landon could be a smash hit once again in the Premier League, and I would love to have seen him give it a go.

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Arlo would like to have seen Donovan have one last hurrah in the Premier League.

I sat down with Landon in May 2012 with my NBC colleagues and we had a fascinating chat. He revealed so much about his state of mind before the US game against Scotland (in which he scored a hat-trick by the way) that it came as no surprise when he announced that he was stepping away from the game for a while. What a great move that turned out to be. We re-connected before the Gold Cup, and the difference was palpable. Landon isn’t a particularly demonstrative or excitable character when we all chat, he is calm, level headed and articulate. The Landon we sat down with before the Gold Cup was very different from May 2012. The language was all positive and content.

It’s a great boost for LA and for MLS. I think the league is entering a new exciting phase now that Clint Dempsey has returned as well. Do I wish I could call an Everton or a Manchester United game with Landon Donovan on the field? You bet. Should we respect his decision and enjoy his play for LA and the US National team for the next few years? Absolutely.

Another USMNT forward will take center stage live on NBC this Saturday lunchtime. We spoke about Altidore before but can he really spearhead Sunderland into the top 10 this season?

Having spoken to both Jozy and Paolo Di Canio over the passed few weeks, I’m excited for him. Di Canio is a big fan, hence why he paid $9M to AZ Alkmaar for his services. He says he has that rare ability to sense where the goal is, and that he has matured from the young man who struggled in a bad Hull City team a few years back.

Jozy seems happy at Sunderland. He joked that he had to ‘get his head around’ some of Di Canio’s managerial eccentricities, but that he’s raring to go.

We’ll see on Saturday if he can make an impact against a team like Crystal Palace who are favored to be relegated, but will be tough to beat at Selhurst Park.

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

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Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.

MLS playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend

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Time certainly has flown by, and just like that the MLS Cup playoffs are well within sight.

While the Eastern Conference is all locked up in terms of which teams will be in the postseason, seeding can change drastically on the final weekend.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

Meanwhile, the West sees three clubs vying for one final spot in what has proven to be a very intriguing battle over the last several weeks.

All eyes will be on three teams in the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all have an opportunity to move into the sixth spot.

Below, PST takes a look at where clubs can finish in relation to the playoff race.

Eastern Conference

#1 seed: Toronto FC is locked into the top spot

#2 seed: NYCFC — clinches the two seed with a win; Chicago Fire — clinches two with win and NYCFC draw or loss; Atlanta takes two with win plus NYCFC loss/draw and Fire loss/draw

#3 seed: Fire — finishes third with win; NYCFC — takes third with loss to Crew and Fire win; Atlanta — third with win and Fire loss; Crew — finish third with win over NYCFC and don’t overtake NYCFC on GD, plus losses by Fire and Atlanta

#4 seed: NYCFC — fourth with loss to Crew and overtaken on GD, plus Fire win; Fire — finish fourth with loss and Atlanta win, plus NYCFC win or draw; Atlanta — takes fourth with loss and NYCFC/Fire wins; Crew — fourth with win over NYCFC, Fire win and Atlanta loss/draw

#5 seed: Crew — finish fifth with loss/draw; Atlanta — finishes fifth with loss and Crew win; Fire — takes fifth with loss and Atlanta/Crew victories; NYCFC — drops with loss to Crew, Atlanta win and Fire win/draw

#6 seed: New York Red Bulls are locked into sixth spot

Western Conference

#1 seed: Whitecaps — clinch top spot with win; Timbers — finish first with win and Whitecaps loss

#2 seed: Whitecaps — finish second with loss to Timbers; Timbers — second with loss/draw and Sounders/Sporting KC losses; Sounders — finish second with win and Whitecaps win

#3 seed: Timbers — third with loss and Sounders win; Sounders — loss to Rapids and Sporting KC/Dynamo losses; Sporting KC — finish third with win, Sounders loss and Whitecaps/Timbers draw; Dynamo — third with win, Sporting KC loss and Sounders loss

#4 seed: Whitecaps — finish fourth with loss to Timbers, Sounders/Sporting KC wins; Timbers — loss to Whitecaps, plus Sounders/Sporting KC victories; Sounders — finish fourth with loss/draw and Sporting KC win; Sporting KC — fourth with loss and Dynamo loss/draw; Dynamo — finish fourth with win and Sporting KC loss

#5 seed: Timbers — fifth with loss to Whitecaps and Sounders/Sporting KC/Dynamo wins; Sounders — loss to Rapids, plus Sporting KC/Dynamo victories; Dynamo — finish fifth with loss; Sporting KC — fifth place with loss and Dynamo win

#6 seed: San Jose Earthquakes clinch with win; FC Dallas takes sixth with win/draw and Earthquakes loss/draw; Real Salt Lake clinch with win/draw, Earthquakes loss and Dallas loss/draw

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the typically American youngster though, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.