The 2014 year in soccer: Ten dates to circle early in the calendar

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A few dates important enough to stop and plug into your daily calendar of choice, old school daybook or new day mobile device or whatever:

Jan. 6 = U.S. national team camp begins

Someone will emerge from this camp to take a big step toward Brazil 2014. Probably not a long, long, long shot. (Sorry, DeAndre Yedlin fans … not gonna happen. Not this World Cup.) But perhaps someone from the back side of the 35- to 40-man pool of players still somewhere in the running. The camp makes a stop in Brazil and then culminates with a Feb. 1 friendly against South Korea

Jan. 16 = MLS draft in Philadelphia

Smarties like myself have been predicting the demise of the MLS draft as a significant means for stocking rosters for more than five years now. And every year, we are proven wrong. The draft, as always, follows the MLS combine in Florida.

Feb. 18/19 = Next UEFA Champions League date

The opening legs of the home-and-away series in the Round of 16. Manchester City-Barcelona (pictured) anyone? Or perhaps Bayern-Arsenal is more to your flavor. The greatness of UCL cannot get here fast enough.

March 8 = Major League Soccer opens

Wait, didn’t they just finish last week? Or something like that? Either way, Seattle hosts league champion Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on that day, on NBCSN.

March 11 = CONCACAF Champions League

Quarterfinal series openers may be schedule over the next seven days. So, LA Galaxy, you are on the clock. Yes, other MLS teams are involved, but given the three-DPs and the organization’s big ambition, Bruce Arena’s team continues to look like Major League Soccer’s best chance at reaching the FIFA Club World Cup.

May 11 = Premier League Round 38

Also known as the final day of Premier League soccer. Yes, it will be difficult to top the ultimate final day drama from two years back. And yet, it  will be brilliantly dramatic. Count on it.

Mid-May = U.S. national team camp begins

Around the same time, the United States will announce its World Cup roster, probably the biggest news day of the year in domestic soccer outside of the World Cup opener. Or the day they win the whole darn thing. I mean, that’s going to happen, right?

May 17 = FA Cup final

Yes, it’s lost a lot of cultural umph. But so what? It’s still a spectacle.

May 24 = UEFA Champions League final

This year’s final is in Lisbon, Portugal. And this is the last, big, globally recognized match before, well, you know what!

June 12 = World Cup opening match

Can. Not. Get. Here. Soon enough.

 

Conte praises Hazard’s style, wouldn’t want him to be “more selfish”

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Antonio Conte made two bold decisions on Saturday afternoon as his Chelsea side prepared to take on Tottenham in their FA Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu shines with Saints as he prepares for Chelsea return ]

The Italian manager has been known for his innovation and risk-taking in the past, but many were critical of the 47-year-old when his team sheet came out ahead of the match.

Conte left key attacking duo Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench, allowing out-of-favor striker Michy Batshuayi and Pedro to get the starting nod.

Although Hazard nor Costa saw the field for the opening hour, the former made his presence known when he was summoned by Conte in the second half.

Often times Hazard has been known as a facilitator, someone that can pick apart defenses with his tremendous foot skills and clever passing. But the Belgian international has also shown his capabilities of scoring on a regular basis as well, which has prompted great interest from other giant clubs around Europe.

When Conte was asked about Hazard and if his attacker should be more selfish, the Italian gave an emphatic “NO” as his response.

“No, no, no, absolutely not,” Conte said. “I don’t think that a player like Messi is a selfish player. The first target for every great champion is to play for the team and to put your talent into the team. If you do this, the team [increases] your talent.

“The best players in the world don’t exist without a team. For me, it’s sad to listen to this, that a player must ‘be more selfish’ to reach the top level. That’s very sad. It’s not my idea of football and I will never understand this. Never, never. In my team, I don’t want selfish players.

“I prefer to lose a game than to have a selfish player. For me, I don’t want this and I can’t accept this. I don’t want my club to buy me a selfish player one day. Never. No.”

Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League

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Two sides have now booked their trips to England’s top flight after Newcastle United rattled off its 27th win of the season.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu — The perfectly poised destroyer ]

The Magpies earned a decisive 4-1 victory over Preston North End on Monday afternoon at St. James’ Park as the second-place side ensured its finish inside the top two in the English Championship.

Newcastle joins already-promoted club Brighton & Hove Albion, who currently sit atop the Championship on 92 points.

Ayoze Perez paced the hosts with goals on both sides of halftime, while Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie also converted for Newcastle.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender DeAndre Yedlin was on the bench for the Magpies but didn’t feature in Monday’s match.

The third and final team to be promoted from the Championship will be decided by the league’s annual promotion playoff, which is held at the end of the season and contested by four sides that finish third through sixth position.

As it stands, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Fulham occupy the four playoff positions.

Marseille making Olivier Giroud top transfer target this summer

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Marseille did well to bring in one star this season but could the French side have another trick up its sleeve this summer?

Sky Sports is reporting that the Ligue 1 club is preparing to sign Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud over the summer and the sixth-place side is “willing to pay up to £20m (roughly $25 million).

Marseille made a splash this season when the club re-signed Dimitri Payet, who was playing with Premier League side West Ham at the time.

The team does boast several quality attacking options such as Payet and Bafetimbi Gomis, but Giroud could serve as an ideal target man in the Marseille attack.

Prior to joining the Gunners in 2012, Giroud starred for Montpellier and with a potential link-up in the attack with a creator like Payet, it could present a dangerous attacking threat to the rest of Ligue 1.

Giroud, 30, has scored 95 goals in all competitions since arriving in London with Arsenal.

Report: Chicharito talks heating up with Los Angeles FC

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We’ve seen MLS teams make major splashes in the past, and one of next year’s newcomers could be a really big draw if they can manage to seal the deal on a Mexican international.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger shares thoughts on MLS and more in interview ]

According to Metro New York, Los Angeles FC is continuing its talks with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez about a potential deal that would prove massive in terms of MLS spending.

While LAFC won’t debut in MLS until 2018, the club could potentially make the Mexico striker the highest-paid player in league history with an average salary of roughly $10 million.

The 28-year-old Hernandez currently plays in Germany with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, where he’s plied his trade since joining the club during the 2015/16 season.

Additionally, the former Manchester United man has dominated the international scene for El Tri, scoring 46 goals in 90 appearances for the CONCACAF nation.