Portrait of US player Maurice Edu taken

Philadelphia wants to pay Maurice Edu seven figures; MLS is not so sure

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A $1.2 million salary in U.S. sports makes you a middle class athlete, at best. In Major League Soccer, however, it’s a big deal. When the players union made its biannual release of wage data last September, only nine players were making seven figures. Major League Soccer millionaires are still relatively rare, especially compared to the other big four sports.

That’s the context for today’s report from ESPNFC, the outlet reporting that Major League Soccer is pushing back against Philadelphia’s desire to make Stoke City’s Maurice Edu the league’s next millionaire. According to Jeff Carlisle’s sources, the Union want to give Edu in the neighborhood of $1.2 and $1.4 million dollars per year, a number that would likely put him in the league’s top 12 earners at the start of the season.

Last September, the millionaire’s list was made up of Clint Dempsey, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill, Landon Donovan, Marco Di Vaio, Obafemi Martins, Danny Koevermans, and Kenny Miller. Even when you take Koevermans out (not returning to Toronto) and add Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, and Omar Gonzalez to the list, MLS’s Millionaires Club is still rarefied air. Edu’s salary would slot in right above Miller’s who made around $1.1 million last season for Vancouver.

But why should MLS care? It’s probably best to let them explain (if the move ever happens), but if you’re a league that wants to keep bringing U.S. talent back to North American teams, overpaying early in the game could lead to a lot of lost money down the road. Not everybody can argue they deserve Bradley or Dempsey money, but Maurice Edu is a borderline national-teamer, a distinction that’s shared by a number of Jose Torres, Brek Shea, and Sacha Kljestan-esque talents. If the Edu contract means the price to bring those players home climbs into the millions, it may not be an example MLS wants to set.

There has to be a happy medium. MLS wants to present itself as a better option than most mid-tier destinations in Europe, but they can’t be so stingy that mid-table clubs in Greece, Turkey, Belgium or Holland can offer better deals. While a sub-million dollar contract is unlikely to convince a player to turn his back on his chances with bigger clubs, MLS doesn’t want players leaving North America for just any European opportunity. Unless you’re going to one of the top 20 or 25 clubs in Europe, MLS should be able to offer talented North American players a viable alternative, the thinking goes.

Unfortunately, the stalemate leaves a series of questions, all of which hint at the continuing evolution of MLS’s rules (“evolution” being a euphemism, for some). If MLS is unwilling to sanction a $1.2 million salary for Edu, what is the right number? Is MLS’s front office really the right entity to be making those decisions, and if so, could those decisions end up keeping some U.S. internationals away from the league?

source: AP
Clint Dempsey’s move back to MLS bypassed allocation. Maurice Edu’s will not. (Photo: AP.)

That all comes down league preference. Unfortunately, the million-plus figure being linked with Edu also points to a more definable league conflict. When Clint Dempsey came back to Major League Soccer, we were told some players go through allocation, others come straight to teams, and the Designated Player process was one of the mechanisms for making that distinction. Michael Bradley didn’t come back through allocation. He was a DP signed by Toronto.

Whether he makes $750,000, $1 million, or $1.2 million, Edu will likely be a Designated Player. So what is Philadelphia doing trading up in the allocation order? Shouldn’t they be able to sign Edu and bypass allocation by virtue of the Designated Player rule?

Apparently not. Some speculation says this comes down to the league’s role in facilitating the move (Dempsey’s transfer fee was covered by the league; it’s assumed Bradley’s was also subsidized). Perhaps Edu was merely tagged for allocation before Philadelphia started position themselves to acquire him. While there are explanations, there aren’t without inconsistencies – conflicts that only seem to be addressed after the moves are made.

When Clint Dempsey came back to Major League Soccer, I bought what we were told. Designated Player not going through allocation? Okay. I see why people are upset, but it’s plausible. Sure, it feeds the conspiracy theorists, but tinfoil gonna tinfoil, right?

Admittedly, in light of what we’re hearing about Edu, I feel a little naive. A player is going through allocation, even though he’s a Designated Player. Is it plausible? Sure, if we add the “did MLS help” standard, but the more post hoc justification we get, the more it seems that each scenario is judged by a complete different standard. Some outcomes just happen to look like others.

If that’s the case, I’ve got no problem with it. Welcome to life in an 18-year-old league. New situations arise, the league makes decisions, and life goes on. It’s less an issue of transparency than a league coming to grips with its new identity, one that’s trying to spur a period of rapid maturation.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens to Edu, but at this point — whether he comes back to MLS; whether he’s a Designated Player; whether he goes through allocation — it’s another opportunity for our 18-year-old league to mature.

Strange Fonte situation nears end as West Ham close in

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Jose Fonte of Southampton celebrates as he scores their third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Arsenal at St Mary's Stadium on December 26, 2015 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
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Jose Fonte was linked with moves to Manchester United and Liverpool throughout the summer transfer window and for most of the January window.

Now a move to West Ham or West Bromwich Albion seems more likely.

[ MORE: Vertonghen injury update ]

Multiple outlets are reporting that Fonte, 33, has agreed terms with the two Premier League clubs, while West Ham are believed to be in the driving seat for Southampton’s skipper who they will pay $11 million for.

Fonte, who has been with Saints since 2010, handed in a transfer request earlier this month and is unavailable for selection until he is either sold by Southampton or the transfer window closes without him leaving.

The latter does not look likely, even if West Ham manager Slaven Bilic refused to comment specifically on Fonte in his press conference on Thursday. If the move to the Hammers does go through then it would end a strange, and sad, final chapter in Fonte’s career at St Mary’s.

He joined Saints in the third-tier in January 2010 and the center back is the only player remaining from their League One days. In seven years he has risen with Southampton and has become one of the most reliable center backs in the PL, plus got his chance with the Portuguese national team and started every game in the knockout stage as Portugal won EURO 2016 this summer.

After that triumph Fonte’s head seemed to have been turned and with his new agent Jorge Mendes (the same “super agent” who looks after Fonte’s compatriots Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho) he seemed to be eyeing a move away.

[ LONGFORM: Jose Fonte, baby ]

I was at a preseason game for Saints against Espanyol in August where Fonte turned up late (he had arrived late for preseason after his summer exploits with Portugal) and all of Southampton’s fans stood on their feet to applaud him for his success with Portugal at EURO 2016 and chanted for him to stay at St Mary’s. He rather sheepishly gave a wave but it all looked rather staged. It just didn’t feel right and there was no real surprise that the rumors about him leaving didn’t end until the end of the summer transfer window.

No clubs seemed too interested in taking him from Saints and anyway he had 18 months to run on his current, plus Southampton offered him a one-year extension and a pay raise without him even asking.

Fonte, for some reason, declined that offer and ever since then then there have been reports about him being a negative influence in the locker room and despite his play on the field not dropping dramatically he has put out cryptic message on Instagram, plus he didn’t play a single second of Southampton’s landmark UEFA Europa League group stage campaign for unknown reasons.

This situation is really nothing to do with current manager Claude Puel. He is caught in the middle and Executive director of football Les Reed finally came out and spoke about Fonte’s future two weeks ago as he revealed the Portuguese defender wanted out.

The way this has ended is messy for everyone involved but what more can Saints do?

They have a player who is adored by the fans after rising with them from the lower leagues to a sixth-place finish and European action. He is the captain of the club but is refusing to sign a new deal and has told them he wants to leave. Out of respect for Fonte, Saints will let any reasonable offer take him away from St Mary’s. Yet, it didn’t have to end like this.

If Fonte does go to West Ham, he may get an increase in his wages for the final few years of his career but then what? He would’ve had a job for life at Southampton had he played out the remaining 18 months of his current deal or then extended it for another season to take him towards the age of 36.

This whole situation seems very strange and for everyone involved some sort of explanation would help with wading through the mess if Fonte does leave Southampton, as expected, in the coming days.

Amid the current situations regarding Dimitri Payet and Diego Costa in the Premier League, this one involving Fonte and Southampton has somewhat flown under the radar. It shouldn’t have. Serious questions need to be asked about what the heck has been going on.

Survivors gather as Chapecoense plays first game since fatal crash

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 03:  Relatives of the members of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real pay  tribute at the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on December 03, 2016. The players were killed in a plane accident in the Colombian mountains. Players of the Chapecoense team were among the 77 people on board the doomed flight that crashed into mountains in northwestern Colombia. Officials said just six people were thought to have survived, including three of the players. Chapecoense had risen from obscurity to make it to the Copa Sudamericana finals scheduled for Wednesday against Atletico Nacional of Colombia.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
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CHAPECO, Brazil (AP) Slowly and steadily, Rafael Henzel will climb into the cramped space to broadcast Saturday’s friendly match for Brazilian club Chapecoense, the first since nearly the entire team was killed in an air crash almost two months ago.

Only six of the 77 passengers survived – and Henzel was one of them.

“The stairway at the Arena Conda is very steep, but I have extra motivation to be in that stadium again and see players wearing our shirt, the fans. It won’t be that stairway that will stop me,” Henzel told The Associated Press after his morning show on radio Oeste Capital.

Henzel has worked at Chapecoense matches since 2012, and is the voice of the team from the remote, southern Brazilian city of Chapeco. After 20 days in a hospital, seven broken ribs, multiple scars – one over his right eye- and worrisome pneumonia, Henzel went back to work at the radio station just over a week ago.

Now he’s making his second return – what he calls “Rafael 2.0” – in the match against Brazilian league champion Palmeiras, preparing to once again get behind the microphone at the tiny stadium.

His left foot is in a cast, but that won’t stop him.

“When I woke up at the crash site, I became aware of what had happened,” he said, recalling the crash. “Initially, I thought I was dreaming but then, shortly after, you start to realize that the plane had crashed.”

Three Chapecoense players survived – 19 were killed – when the plane slammed into the Andes mountains as it headed to the city of Medellin to face Colombian team Atletico Nacional in the Copa Sudamericana final – the No. 2 club tournament in South America.

All three hope to play again, in one fashion or another. And all three are expected for Chape’s debut on Saturday.

Defender Neto, who spent more than 10 hours in the plane wreckage before being rescued, recently took his first steps without support.

He’s already visited the club and will be an inspiration for Chape’s new players in a busy season. Their 2017 commitments include defending their title in the Santa Catarina state league, keeping the team up in Brazil’s first division, playing for the first time in the prestigious Copa Libertadores – the continent’s No. 1 tournament – and fundraising in a pile of friendlies, including one against Barcelona.

“If I didn’t believe I could recover, I will get depressed,” Neto told reporters. “Doctors said I might return this year, but I don’t know whether my knees are still up for it,” Neto said in a press conference. “I will be here to give support to the players that come. It’s not easy to represent all those who died, but I want to be fit to play so I can be more than a symbol. I want to make a real contribution.”

Winger Alan Ruschel is the player in best shape for a return. He expects to be back within six months, but no doctor says it will definitely happen.

“I will do all that I can to play again, and I will be patient to get there,” Ruschel said. In tears, he said he has no recollection of the accident.

“I was in the front seats, then I changed with a friend of ours that is now gone,” he said. “I am pretty sure that that made me survive, because our goalkeeper Jakson Follmann was next to me and he also escaped. It was Follmann who told me to sit next to him, so I guess he also saved my life. I will have to live with this feeling forever.”

Goalie Follmann will not play for Chape again. He had part of his right leg amputated and is still going through minor surgery. He is considering becoming a Paralympian and a member of Chape’s staff.

The goalie has avoided talking about the future, but is not as gloomy as many about his current state.

“I choose life over the leg,” he told doctors during his recovery. “We will manage this easily.”

Mauricio Savarese on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MSavarese .His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/mauricio-savarese

Pochettino reveals “positive” news about Vertonghen injury

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LONDON — Giving his press conference at the club offices at Lilywhite House, next to Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane home, manager Mauricio Pochettino revealed on Thursday that defender Jan Vertonghen is feeling “positive” after damaging his ankle ligaments.

[ MORE: Shaw happy at United

He also revealed the injury isn’t as serious as first feared, even though Vertonghen will miss Spurs’ huge clash at rivals Manchester City this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as Tottenham aim to win seven-straight league games for the first time since May 1967.

It was feared that Vertonghen, 29, could be out for between six to eight weeks after injuring his left ankle in the 4-0 win against West Bromwich Albion last weekend. The Belgian center back suffered a similar injury in the build up to Belgium’s EURO 2016 campaign last summer, plus missed a large chunk of Spurs’ 2015-16 campaign with a knee ligament injury in January 2016.

However, Pochettino confirmed that the situation regarding Vertonghen’s latest injury is looking more positive and the lynchpin of Tottenham’s defense doesn’t need surgery.

“Jan is okay, he is very positive. We are pushing him a lot,” Pochettino said. “After a few days he is spending the same time as us, 12 hours at the training ground, it is a little bit boring to see him… It is good, he is okay and we expect six weeks that it less than in the first moment, our idea. I don’t want to set the limit or the time but I think it is very positive. When your mind is okay, is good, is positive, always you can recover early from your injury.”

“It is nothing to do with the old injury that he suffered in the Euros. It is different and maybe similar, but the good thing is that in the first moment it looks really bad but this afternoon we assess him with the doctor and the scanner showed that it is not how we think from the beginning.”

So, good news for Spurs fans as Vertonghen could be back much quicker than expected and help in their quest to hunt down Chelsea who sit seven points ahead of them in the title race with 17 games to go.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

That news will likely quell any speculation that Pochettino was looking to add a central defender in the January transfer window. Reports had been linking the Argentine manager with his former captain at Southampton, Jose Fonte, who has handed in a transfer request at St Mary’s.

Pochettino emphatically denied there will be an incoming in that area of the pitch for Tottenham during the final 13 days of the transfer window.

“The only thing I can say we are not looking to add or replace a player in that area off the team,” Pochettino said. “We have plenty of players that can perform in his place and we are very happy with the squad and the players we have.”

With Vertonghen missing, Spurs could revert back to a flat back four this weekend for the trip to City.

He had been part of a three-man central defense alongside Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld in recent weeks which has been instrumental in Tottenham’s six-game winning streak in the PL. That formation has unleashed full backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose into more attacking areas to great success but now Pochettino has a decision to make as either Kevin Wimmer or Ben Davies could step in for Vertonghen, but a tactical switch is also likely for the next few weeks.

Either way, Vertonghen’s presence and partnership with Alderweireld in Spurs’ backline is key as they look to kick on and become the biggest threat to Chelsea’s title hopes.

Luke Shaw “happy” at Man United despite transfer links

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27:  Luke Shaw of Manchester United in action  during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on September 27, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Luke Shaw wants to stay at Manchester United despite not playing a single second since November.

[ MORE: United need Griezmann

Shaw, 21, has seen his career stall at Old Trafford since Jose Mourinho arrived in the summer and the English left back has been linked with a move away in the summer.

However his agent, Jonathan Barnett, has spoke to Sky Sports in the UK and moved to quash that speculation, insisting his client is very happy fighting for a place in the first team at United.

“He is happy at the club. Manchester United are very happy with him and he’s very happy at Manchester United,” Barnett said.

Mourinho appeared to call out Shaw and his England colleague Chris Smalling earlier this season after a win at Swansea City, as he questioned the pain threshold of his players and their injuries. Shaw, of course, has returned from a horrific leg break he suffered at the start of the 2015-16 season and he seemed to be getting back to his best when he made himself unavailable for selection in November.

The report stating that Mourinho was wiling to let Shaw leave in the summer perhaps had more to do with these injury issues than his actual quality on the pitch. Shaw broke through in the Premier League at Southampton as a 17-year-old and United paid $35 million for him in the summer of 2014.

Even though Mourinho has placed Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian and even Daley Blind out of position at left back ahead of him in recent months, it appears he still has a future at Old Trafford.

That said, one thing is key for Shaw’s future: fitness. If he can get that back then the marauding left back can kick-start his United career and deliver on the promise he showed in his teenage years.