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.

 

Day Four: All the action from the U20 World Cup

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South Korea and Venezuela clinched berths in the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup on Tuesday, while Germany and Argentina have surprising work to do after two matches in South Korea.

[ MORE: Allardyce steps down at Palace ]

South Korea 2-1 Argentina

Barcelona B man Lee Seung-woo helped South Korea take a 2-0 lead, then hold on for the win and group lead over England.

England 1-1 Guinea

Chelsea youngster Fikayo Tomori scored a wild long range own goal to cost England the three points, but the Blues are still well-positioned to advance out of the group stage. Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook scored for England, and it was a beaut.

Venezuela 7-0 Vanuatu

Seven different Venezuelans have scored through a pair of shutout wins, with Caracas’ Sergio Cordova the only one to bag a pair.

Mexico 0-0 Germany

Germany has just one point through two matches, thanks largely to Pachuca’s Abraham Romero’s seven saves. Mexico was outshot 12-6.

Porto, Watford, Hull? Marco Silva in demand

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Marco Silva is one of the hottest properties in management, months after eliciting cries of “Who?” following his appointment at Hull City.

While those cries may have been a tiny bit myopic given his time at Sporting CP and Olympiacos, the 39-year-old is now visible to the world despite Hull’s relegation.

[ MORE: Real Madrid nabs $50m teen ]

Silva will be back in England to meet with Hull on Wednesday, but a clause in his contract that said he could leave if the club was relegated gives the Tigers very little hope.

Rumors have him wanted at Watford, and he’s also been linked with a number of other jobs including Southampton (should the club part ways with Claude Puel).

However, the former right back is also reportedly a target of one of the biggest clubs in his home country: Champions League side Porto.

UEFA Europa League Final preview: Manchester United vs. Ajax

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Jose Mourinho’s big European gamble takes center stage on Wednesday in Sweden, when Manchester United attempts to topple young Ajax in the UEFA Europa League Final.

United’s chances for UEFA Champions League qualification, a magnificent opportunity, are overshadowed by the pall cast over Manchester by sinister terrorist attacks at a pop concert that killed and injured many on Monday night.

Alas, there’s soccer to be played, and Mourinho is looking to make it a trio of shiny items in his first year on the job. United beat Leicester City for the Community Shield, then topped Southampton in the EFL Cup Final en route to Sweden.

United’s well-documented dearth of healthy defenders will march out one more time on Wednesday, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones tasked with manning the center of the back line. Expect Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian out wide.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Despite the injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho’s attack is going to give Ajax fits. Marcus Rashford has been next level for most of the second half of the season, and United will also likely feature Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba atop Ander Herrera.

If someone is going to break United down, it could be midfield wizards Davy Klaassen and Lasse Schone. The creative middle men have a variety of options to find with the ball, including on-loan Chelsea man Bertrand Traore and Danish teenager Kasper Dolberg.

But how will they deal with United’s attack? Sure Ajax has stopped Lyon, Schalke, Copenhagen, and Legia Warsaw, but United and Mourinho? That’s another challenge for Peter Bosz and his men.

Ajax won the 1992 UEFA Cup, and this is United’s first ever trip to this particular final. The Red Devils are heavy favorites, and we expect United to prevail. Don’t sleep on Juan Mata heroics. Call it 3-1.

Allardyce resigns, opening up intriguing vacancy at Palace

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Sam Allardyce is walking away on top outside the relegation zone.

The veteran Premier League manager, 62, resigned his post as Crystal Palace on Tuesday, weeks after leading another team to safety.

The move ends a tumultuous eight months for Allardyce, who was fired as England manager after an undercover sting exposed unethical dealings with agents.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

It also comes about an hour after somebody wrote that Crystal Palace should move on from Allardyce. What a jerk, that somebody.

Rarely at a loss for words, here’s Big Sam from cpfc.co.uk:

I want to be able to savour life while I’m still relatively young and when I’m still relatively healthy enough to do all the things I want to do, like travel, spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager.

This is the right time for me. I have no ambitions to take another job, I simply want to be able to enjoy all the things you cannot really enjoy with the 24/7 demands of managing any football club, let alone one in the Premier League.”

All kidding aside — and I’m far from a Big Sam fan — congrats to the man on walking away to enjoy the finer things in life. He had a heck of a run, and we’ll see how long he can resist being away from the fray. Cheers, Sam.