Front office changes left Portland, not Toronto, with offer too good to refuse

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source: AP
In August, then-Toronto president/general manager Kevin Payne announced two years of following Max Urruti had culminated with the 22-year-old’s capture. One month later, the former Newell’s Old Boys striker is a Portland Timber, traded for a 26-year-old with 1060 career minutes played.

As Joe noted earlier, Bright Dike is a handful. His lack of playing time (1060 career minutes) keeps a broader audience from knowing: He’s the most physically challenging player in the league. At 6’1″, 220 pounds of speed and muscle, the Nigerian international is a linebacker in a soccer kit. Particularly in an approach like Ryan Nelsen’s, Dike could have some serious value, provided his recovering ACL can log meaningful time soon.

But Dike’s zero minutes played since returning from surgery last year tells you almost all you need to know about today’s trade. Toronto wanted to get rid of Max Urruti – a 22-year-old who, despite the players’ four-year age difference, has scored twice as many professional goals as Dike (12 in Argentina to Dike’s six in MLS). You don’t trade a just-signed prospect you for somebody coming off knee surgery unless you just want him off the books.

“We received an offer from Portland that we could simply not pass on,” Nelsen said, somewhat bizarrely, in a statement sent out by Toronto. Perhaps the could not pass part was receiving an offer at all?

Everything indicates Toronto’s hitting eject on Urruti. Everything indicates it’s Portland, not Toronto, that were given an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Dike is cheap, he has some potential, and Portland (particularly general manager Gavin Wilkinson) likes him a lot. Having significantly invested in him — playing time; a knee surgery; and Achilles’ tendon recovery — they wouldn’t give him away for nothing. Still, there was no vision for the Timbers’ future were he was more than a third-choice striker in Caleb Porter’s system. If what Urruti showed in Argentina is any indication, he could develop into a potential starter.

“Maximiliano is a player we know well, one we feel will be a great fit in our system and scouted extensively prior to him signing with Toronto,” Porter said via a team-distributed statement. “Urruti will complement the depth we have in the striker position, and once he is acclimated and match fit, will bring a dimension to the number nine role that we’ve been looking for.”

And with that, Portland become the latest beneficiary of Toronto FC’s continued chaos. In the wake of Kevin Payne’s dismissal, TFC comes off as too eager to eject one of their former boss’s most notable signings. That they got a decent player making just over $60,000 per season is a bonus.

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Bright Dike established himself as a Major league Soccer-caliber player last season in Portland, scoring five times in 896 minutes. His physical style will be a strong fit for how Ryan Nelsen likes to play in Toronto.

Their goal here seems to be to cut bait with a player who, in less than a month, has gone from key acquisition to expendable. Perhaps they learned all they need to know about Urruti from 37 MLS minutes and a month’s worth of training sessions, but given Portland were eager to add the 22-year-old Argentine to a crowded roster, Urruti appears to have maintained some fans outside the Toronto organization.

Rather than anything he showed on the field, the more likely explanation is Urruti is the latest, bizarre departure from a chronically aimless team. The direction Toronto had 10 months ago is different from the direction they had last week, which is different from the direction they have today, and will be different from the direction they’ll have under Payne’s successor. The Timbers benefit from the consequences of Toronto’s managerial turnover.

That turnover means players like Luis Silva get lost. Stars like Dwayne De Rosario, in whom so much time and energy are invested, become easy to cast off. And pursued prospects like Max Urruti are left behind when the nameplates change on the door.

As a result, a player who was playing for Newell’s Old Boys as a 20-year-old has been cut loose. Does that mean he’s bound for Major League Soccer success? Or that Toronto’s even made a bad move? Not necessarily. They may truly believe that Dike will be the better player, or he will be good enough to justify the presumed offset in salary. They may think taking on Urruti allowed them to get a cheap, distinct talent, one that was worth the sacrifice of a player they liked so much a month ago.

The fact that this vision is so much different from last month’s is the real story. And given the two players’ history, there’s every reason to think this isn’t about how much TFC likes Dike; rather, it’s a confused organization cutting another a player lose.

As it concerns Urruti, Portland seems more than willing to bet Payne was right.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Mendy to Man City; Keita to Liverpool

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Manchester City are ready to head back to AS Monaco to sign another one of their stars from this season, according the Daily Mail.

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Just a day after attacking midfielder Bernardo Silva joined City for $55 million, Benjamin Mendy, 22, could join City for $50 million after the French international left back had a hugely impressive season for the Ligue 1 champions.

With Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta all leaving City this week following the end of their contracts at the Etihad, Guardiola needs to retool in defense and powerful full back Mendy could be the perfect solution.

Monaco’s Brazilian right back, Fabinho, is also said to be an option for City as Guardiola looks to get his business done early in the transfer window this summer. It’s also good to see that, you know, Pep is actually going to try and sign some defenders…

Silva’s arrival sparked some confusion as to what formation City would play as alongside David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Yaya Toure, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane, City is awash with attack-minded midfielders. But rebuilding City’s defense should remain the main offseason project for Pep and Mendy would be a huge upgrade on the full backs at his disposal for the 2016-17 campaign.


The Daily Mirror suggests that Liverpool will break their transfer record to sign RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita.

The Guinea international is valued at $65 million by the Bundesliga upstarts and Liverpool appear ready to splash the cash for the smooth central midfielder. Keita, 22, has he same agent as Sadio Mane and the report suggests that the Reds have already agreed to pay the RB Leipzig man in excess of $160,000 per week.

Keita is a true box-to-box midfielder and would be a big upgrade on the Reds’ current central midfield options of Lucas Leiva and Emre Can. Alongside Georginio Wijnaldum he would certainly be the more attacking of the two but they could dovetail superbly. Keita scored eight goals form midfield in his debut season for RB Leipzig in 2016-17 as they finished second in the Bundesliga behind Bayern Munich.

Other names linked with Liverpool in this report include Virgil Van Dijk, Ryan Sessegnon, Alexandre Lacazette, Luan and Leon Goretzka, as the paper suggests that Klopp will spend over $190 million following Liverpool’s qualification for the UEFA Champions League playoff round after finishing fourth in the Premier League in 2016-17.

Maybe he won’t spend that much, but Liverpool is two or three star players away from being genuine title contenders. If Klopp can sign Keita and Van Dijk, watch out the rest of the Premier League…

Watford appoint Marco Silva as new manager

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Watford have appointed Portuguese coach Marco Silva as their new manager.

The 39-year-old has signed a two-year deal at Vicarage Road.

Walter Mazarri was fired by Watford before their final game of the season as a dramatic slump in the second half of the season saw them finish one place above the relegation zone.

Silva left Hull City earlier this week, exercising a clause in his 18-month contact that he could leave the Tigers if they were relegated from the Premier League.

After successful stints at Sporting Lisbon and Olympiacos, Silva arrived at Hull in January for his first job in England and made sweeping changes to their squad and almost kept the Tigers up against all the odds.

In a statement on Watford’s website Chairman and CEO Scott Duxbury revealed his excitement at Silva’s arrival.

“Marco was one of the most sought after Head Coaches in the Premier League,” Duxbury said. “His pedigree and promise speaks for itself with his achievements in top divisions elsewhere across Europe, as well as his work at Hull City last season.”

The managerial merry-go-round at Watford continues.

Why Southampton should consider keeping Claude Puel

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It has all gone quiet at Southampton. But for how long?

[ MORE: Saints’ fans take over Milan ]

Media speculation has been rampant over the past few weeks that Claude Puel, Southampton’s first-year manager, would be shown the exit door at St Mary’s this summer amid fan unrest about the style of play and their regression from a team challenging for the top six.

But, even in these times where fans demand instant success and patience is severely lacking, is that really the right answer?

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Puel, 55, delivered an eighth place finish, the fourth-straight season Southampton have finished eighth or higher, which is the first time they’ve achieved that feat in club history.

Yet many supporters point to the fact that Southampton finished just five points above Swansea City who finished in 15th place, plus they complain about Puel’s dull demeanor in his press conference as he struggles to express himself in English. He is a figure which truly divides the fanbase between those wanting him fired and those wiling to give him another chance.

Saints are a club who finished in a higher league position in seven-straight seasons before this campaign, so perhaps the vast majority of the fanbase have become too accustomed to overachieving and this reality check was always on the horizon.

A top 10 finish and a cup run should always be a superb season for a club of Southampton’s size but fans want more. With talk of a potential Chinese takeover this summer, they want to dream that they can push for a top six finish and qualify for Europe each season and aren’t sure Puel is the right man to deliver it.

That’s fair enough, but when you dissect the entire season and the key stats which came from it, getting rid of Puel seems incredibly hasty. He had many unfortunate obstacles to overcome in his first season in England and it’s unlikely he’ll have so much to deal with next season, and possibly beyond.

Club captain Jose Fonte was sold midway through the season after a disagreement with directors, while leading scorer Charlie Austin (yes, he was out since December but still finished top scorer, with nine) was injured for five months in early December and star center back Virgil Van Dijk was also injured in January as it ended his season. Along with all of this Puel had to deal with Saints’ first-ever Europa League group stage campaign and the agony of missing out on the knockout stages by one goal.

The constant chopping and changing of the team dominated Puel’s reign in the early months as he made 97 lineup changes throughout the season. Only Manchester City and Manchester United made more in the PL in 2016-17. Perhaps one of the major criticisms was that he tinkered too much to try and keep his squad fresh as they pushed to qualify for the Europa League knockout stage, with the previous high-tempo style of play impossible to replicate across a 53 game season.

Hence the slower pace of play which frustrated many fans and perhaps failed to get the best out of a team built by Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman to play a fast, high-pressing style, which in turn led to reports of many senior players unhappy at the tactics deployed by the Frenchman.

Another big factor of the rotation was reaching the EFL Cup final where Saints, again, agonizingly came up short as they lost 3-2 to Manchester United at Wembley in a game which they should have won.

In the Premier League his team scored just 17 goals in 19 home games with no goals in any of their final five home games of the season which led to fans booing and plenty calling for Puel to be fired. But if you look a little deeper, the chances are being created but with Austin out, Manolo Gabbiadini‘s hot streak over after his initial burst and the duo of Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez failing to step up, Saints’ shot conversion rate was the lowest in the PL.

That’s right, Southampton converted just 7.47 percent of the 549 shots that had at goal, which was the seventh-highest number of shot attempts in the PL. Saints created chances but could Puel really do much about his players not converting them? It sounds simplistic, but think about it. With Austin back fit next season, plus Gabbiadini and Sofiane Boufal acclimatized to life in England, will this shot conversion rate really be this low again?

Saints also had two players in the PL’s top 18 in terms of chances created, Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond, and away from home they had the seventh best record but had the 17th best record at home, suggesting their prowess as a counter-attacking team. Had Saints scored penalty kicks against Hull City and Manchester United in two of their final three home games then they would have finished more comfortably in eighth place and had a much better home record.

Small margins.

Southampton also had the second youngest starting XI in the PL at 26 years and 169 days, with Redmond and James Ward-Prowse making their full England debuts, plus no PL club had more than Saints’ seven players in the full and U-21 England teams when they were announced at the end of the season.

As well as English talent like Sam McQueen, Ward-Prowse, Redmond and Jack Stephena improving drastically, Puel helped the likes of Oriol Romeu, Maya Yoshida and Cedric Soares reach new heights too. It shouldn’t be all doom and gloom and Puel is a man who can deliver steady progression at a club which lost its past two managers, Pochettino and Koeman, to bigger teams in the PL just when it appeared they were on the verge of great things at St Mary’s.

Another reason to keep the faith, for at least another season, is the fact that wherever Puel has been he has delivered improved results beyond his first season. There’s a hope he can do that at Southampton, especially without the extra rigors of European action next season.

He took charge of AS Monaco in January 1999 and they won the French title in May 2000. He took charge of Lille in 2002 and improved them from 14th to 10th to 2nd place finishes in his first three seasons at the club. Puel spent six seasons at Lille and helped the likes of Eden Hazard and Yohan Cabaye break into the team.

In 2008 he took charge of Lyon and in his second full season he took the French outfit to the UEFA Champions League semifinal for just the first time in club history, plus Hugo Lloris and others broke through under his guidance. In 2012 he took charge of Nice and in his first season he led them to fourth in Ligue 1 (their highest Ligue 1 finish since 1976), then did it once again in 2015-16 with 17th and 11th place finishes in-between. The Nice team he left behind last season just finished third in Ligue 1.

All of this proves that Puel can improve teams given time.

What is Saints’ alternative to Puel? Some reports suggest Marco Silva would be the main man but he appears to be joining Watford after impressing at Hull City, while the names of Slavisa Jokanovic and Alan Pardew have also been mentioned as potential replacements.

Do Southampton really want to become a club know for hiring and firing managers after a season which presented plenty of challenges but still ended up with a top half finish, a decent run in Europe and a EFL Cup final appearance?

If Saints put faith in Puel, he may just surprise everyone. Of course, like every manager, he needs a bit of luck to drop his way but fans calling for his head should think closely about what the alternative would be.

Antoine Griezmann dismisses Man United reports

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Antoine Griezmann isn’t saying he is close to signing for Manchester United, but he isn’t saying he isn’t close either…

[ MORE: United win Europa League

The French forward, 26, has been at the center of intense media speculation over the past few weeks that he will sign for United this summer as the Red Devils will likely meet his $110 million release clause.

Sending out a message via his Twitter account, Griezmann said the following regarding the rumors he has agreed a contract and reaffirmed his connection to Atleti.

“All the rumors are unfounded, I’m always Colchonero,” Griezmann said. “My direction will be established after discussion with my sports consultants.”

The man who scored 26 goals in 53 appearances for Atleti in 2016-17 is said to be at the top of United’s summer wishlist and it is not like the the PL giants can’t afford to sign any player they want. They proved that last summer by paying Juventus a world-record fee of $114 million for Paul Pogba, who just happens to be Griezmann’s good friend…

Jose Mourinho said after United’s Europa League final win on Wednesday, which secured them a place in the UEFA Champions League group stage for next season, that “Ed Woodward has my list, what I want, what I would like for more than two months. So now it’s up to him and the owners.”

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic recovering from a serious knee injury and out of contract at United this summer, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have chipped in with important goals in the past few months but United are lacking a talismanic striker. That’s where Griezmann comes in.

Alongside a star center back and a new left back, United’s main target is Griezmann.

Whether or not the Frenchman admits it now, United are chasing him hard and there only seems to be one outcome: Griezmann wearing the No.7 jersey at Old Trafford next season.