Quick Six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

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1. UNITED TOPS ARSENAL: SOMETIMES HOLDING SERVE IS PROGRESS

The ends where more impressive than the means, an early goal and some trademark David Moyes conservatism giving Manchester United a 1-0 win over Arsenal in the weekend’s big game, but consider how the Red Devils’ performed in their other big tests. They lost at Liverpool, were drawn at home by a docile Chelsea, and were blitzed in the season’s first Manchester Derby. Perhaps Sunday’s wasn’t title-wining form, but it was still progress. It was the biggest win of the still-maturing David Moyes era.

[RECAP: Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal: Van Persie header the difference as Moyes earns signature win]

Even more convincing: Manchester United are now unbeaten in nine, are up to fifth place, and are only five points back of first (still Arsenal). There’s obviously room to improve, but while struggling to find their way under their new boss, United has managed to avoid digging too deep a hole. When they start performing to their potential, they should still be within reach of the top – in position to defend their title.

2. WEARING DOWN: CONTENDERS FALL AFTER QUICK TURNAROUND

The six Premier League teams who played mid-week in Europe went 1-3-2 this weekend, and if it wasn’t for two facing each other at Old Trafford, the circuit’s Champions and Europe League participants may have gone winless. Perhaps the upcoming international break had players looking ahead, or maybe the accumulation of nearly three months of play hit hardest now, when a break was needed most? Or maybe it’s just coincidence that all of Manchester City, Arsenal, and Tottenham lost on the same weekend, with Chelsea needing a get out of jail free penalty to salvage a result at Old Trafford.

[RECAP: Chelsea 2-2 West Bromwich Albion: Hazard the hero as Chelsea survive massive scare – video]

Arsenal’s was certainly the most palatable of the results. Nobody’s going to fault them for losing at Manchester United. City and Spurs, however, lost 1-0 to teams that started the weekend in the table’s bottom half, a description that could have been applied to Chelsea had it not been for Eden Hazard’s stoppage time penalty conversion.

Even Swansea, struggling on a number of levels, gave up three goals to Stoke City. The Potters entered the weekend with seven goals in 10 games, yet at the Liberty Stadium, they were on the board twice within 25 minutes.

[RECAP: Swansea City 3-3 Stoke City: See-saw match ends in draw after Swansea comeback]

Maybe it’s just a coincidence: all these teams playing in Europe stumbling this weekend. Regardless, it seems these teams could use the upcoming break.

3. FORGED OR FORTUNE? NEWCASTLE PULLS SECOND STRAIGHT UPSET

Fourteen saves. That’s what it took for Tim Krul to turn Newcastle’s upset over Chelsea last week into the start of a streak. Today at White Hart Lane, they were outshot (31-8), out-possessed (65-35), and were nearly “passed off the park” (521-284), yet thanks to Loic Remy’s 13th minute goal, the Magpies still won. Their 1-0 victory in North London moves them into ninth place.

[RECAP: Tottenham 0-1 Newcastle: Krul’s heroics continue Spurs struggles in front of goal]

But whereas last week Alan Pardew seemed to have orchestrated the upset, this week’s win came down to an old formula anybody could pull off: Score first and hang on for dear life. It rarely works, but for the occasionally over-matching, nearly beyond hope underdog with no chance of playing with their opposition, it’s their only option.

Newcastle doesn’t quite fit that description, so it’s unclear what we can infer from their use of that approach. Judging on one match alone, you’d say this isn’t a very good team, yet they had good fortune against Tottenham. In the bigger picture, Newcastle may just be finding new ways to win. At this point, they’ve won more than they’ve lost.

4. LIVERPOOL ADDS TO JOL’S, FULHAM’S WOES

After disappointment last week at Arsenal, Liverpool bounced back, and resoundingly so. Three goals by the 36th minute and another just after halftime had the Reds up four by the 54th minute, Fulham providing the antidote to any potential post-Emirates blues. Moving away from their 3-5-2 formation, Liverpool went on to win, 4-0.

[RECAP: Liverpool 4-0 Fulham: Suarez doubles gives Reds easy win – video]

The bigger story is Martin Jol, who has somehow survived to the point where his team is bad enough to lose by four, fall to 18th, and that only re-ignites debate about his future. The Cottagers have now lost four in a row, giving up 13 goals in the process. One of those losses was at second-division Leicester (League Cup).

It’s hard for most of us to say somebody should be fired. We usually don’t know the reasons why they’ve stayed on. But it is fair to say most managers who’ve produced Jol’s results would have been gone by now.

5. GOOD WEEKEND FOR CELLAR DWELLERS

The three clubs that came into the weekend in the Premier League’s drop all got results, and while that only helped one climb out of the relegation spots, teams people had started to see as hopeless gave supporters new reason for home.

That may be a slight exaggeration in the case of Crystal Palace, the south London club still without a permanent coach, yet after a 0-0 against visiting Everton, the Eagles earned their second result of the season. Though they only saw 28 percent of the ball, they also only gave up two shots on goal. Only Phil Jagielka’s test of the Selhurst woodwork threatened Palace’s result.

[RECAP: Crystal Palace 0-0 Everton: Palace get first point in eight matches – video]

Sunderland, 19th coming into the weekend, had the most encouraging result, their 1-0 win over visiting Manchester City giving them their second win of the season. Deploying a 4-5-1, the Black Cats were set up to take advantage of Phil Bardsley’s early goal, with City earning a 24-5 edge in shots en route to their fourth loss of the season. Though the win couldn’t carry them out of 19th, Sunderland’s now up to seven points on the season.

[RECAP: Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City: Bardsley goal, staunch defending earn Poyet another Sunderland win]

Norwich, on the other hand, was able to climb out of the drop after their 3-1 win over West Ham United, a victory that should keep Chris Hughton in a job. Though the Canaries boss has inspired a general feeling of ennui among Norwich’s fan base, he produced a much-needed result on Saturday, the team’s three goals sure to temporarily placate supporters longing for the more goal-laden days under Paul Lambert.

[RECAP: Norwich City 3-1 West Ham United: Canaries comeback bags crucial win – video]

6. NO SLOWING DOUBT-DEFYING SOUTHAMPTON

There have been a few analysis pieces (from Opta, among others) suggesting Southampton are likely to regress, the quality of their shots producing a higher-than-expected number of goals from their positions. Saints, the theory holds, will see future totals fall in line with expected results, meaning fewer goals.

Leave it to Hull to help disprove that hypothesis. The Tigers have been fine this year, collecting 14 points in 10 games, but if there was a candidate for regression at St. Marys on Saturday, it was them. With early goals from Morgan Schneiderlin, Rickie Lambert, and Adam Lallana, Saints had put off their fall by halftime, with a late goal from Steven Davis giving Southampton a 4-1 win.

[RECAP: Southampton 4-1 Hull City: Saints are flying high – video]

Third place, having allowed only five goals, there’s little you can take away from Saints’ results. But conceding at a rate of less than half a goal per game is not going to continue. They’ll give more. And ft their attack really is apt to regression. Southampton will eventually fall.

Until then, Saints will continue to prove us wrong.

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.

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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.