Marco Pappa officially back in MLS; Seattle’s choice tougher than it appears

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Late Wednesday, the league confirmed: Marco Pappa is coming back to Major League Soccer. Pending a new visa, his international transfer certificate, and a successful physical, the former Chicago Fire attacker will be returning to North America, though his destination is unclear. With another former MLS midfielder potentially returning from Northern Europe, it’s unclear the Seattle Sounders will snap up the Guatemalan international.

The Sounders have that right thanks to the Mauro Rosales trade, a deal which gave the team the second pick in the allocation order. A former MLS player sold outside the league, Pappa has to come back through that special dispersal process. With Philadelphia having used the order’s first pick (acquired from D.C. United) to select Maurice Edu, it’s Seattle’s turn. By Friday, the Sounders must decide whether they want Pappa, a decision that would send them to the back of the allocation line.

Thanks to some sleuthing from a Pacific Northwest blog, it’s a well-known secret that former Sounder Erik Friberg has been contacted by Seattle about a return to MLS. Like Pappa, he would have to go though allocation, having been sold to Malmö (Sweden) in Dec. 2011. That puts Seattle in a position to choose. If they really want Friberg, they need to get him committed to a return, else risk passing on Pappa in the face of an uncertain reward. If they prefer Pappa, they’ll lose their chance to reacquire Friberg.

For those that remember 2011 (when both players were in Major League Soccer), the decision may seem like an easy one. At least, it seems easy on the surface. While Friberg was a solid player for Seattle, he was also a somewhat unremarkable one, scoring only once in 34 all-competition appearances during his only season on Puget Sound. Pappa, on the other hand, was an All-Star and scored 26 goals over four seasons. Why would Seattle pass on Pappa to select Friberg?

(Note: We’re going to put salary, a very important part, aside, as we have no idea what Pappa will make or what Seattle’s offered Friberg.)

There are a number of reasons, perhaps most important of which is fit. If Seattle really does stick with their diamond midfield (and that’s still very much an if), Friberg fills a current hole. Aside from Brad Evans, Seattle doesn’t have a starting-caliber player to serve as one of the carilleros in front of Osvaldo Alonso. Whereas Friberg can slide into that spot on the left side of the diamond (and be a significant upgrade to the departed Adam Moffat), Pappa can not.

Pappa’s best role would be the one currently carved out for Dempsey, though that would have the virtue of forcing the U.S. international to a forward’s spot. (It’s also not the spot Pappa excelled in with the Fire.) Though Sigi Schmid was reluctant to use Dempsey as a forward last year, even infamously starting Shalrie Joseph up top in the Sounders’ last game of the season, it would be Dempsey’s best position in this hypothetical set up. It would also keep the team from need both needing a.) a mercurial Obafemi Martins to live up to his paycheck, and b.) Kenny Cooper to be 2012 Kenny Cooper, not the guy who struggled in various places between 2009 and 2013.

Beyond positional fit, Seattle knows Friberg. He fits off the field, too. For a team trying to address the terrible locker room dynamic that compounded 2013’s tailspin, that’s important. Based on how Friberg assimilated in 2011, it’s safe to assume he’s somebody who will come in, play a role, and work to excel in that spot. He’s unlikely to demand a specific kind of role be carved out.

That attitude helped Friberg develop a loyal following among hardcore Sounders fans, whose excitement about the potential reunion is reflected in gifs such as this (as embedded in the previously linked post):

But perhaps the most important (and most obvious) reason the 2011 versions of Pappa and Friberg many not be relevant: 2012 and 2013 happened. During that time, Friberg went to Malmö, was a regular starter on teams that finished third and first, and (last year) became a goal scoring threat. His six goals in 27 games were a career high.

That rate may overstate his scoring potential, but compare that performance to what Pappa’s done since moving to Europe. Over 16 months, Pappa made 12 appearances, two starts, and failed to score a goal. While you can argue that there’s a big difference between the Dutch league (the Eredivisie) and Sweden’s (the Allsvenskan), the difference in competition at Heerenveen and Malmö is not as great. Friberg has played well in his last two years in Europe. Pappa has not played at all.

Put it all together, and the guy who seemed an inferior player in 2011 looks like the better choice now. He’s a better fit on the field, a known personality within the organization, and has played much better over the last two years. Pappa’s talent means he has a greater upside, but to achieve that upside in Seattle, the Sounders may have to change the on-field plan they’ve been developing since Dempsey’s arrival. While that might not be a bad idea, it’s one the Sounders might not be willing to pursue.

That willingness will be reflected in how the next two days play out. Seattle has until Friday to decide if they’re going to select Pappa. If they pass, that will be a strong indication Friberg’s coming back. If they don’t, either Friberg has elected to stay in Europe (with Italy rumored to be an option) or Seattle has swung for the fences with Pappa.

Groin injury costs Arsenal’s Welbeck at least three weeks

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When Danny Welbeck landed awkwardly against Chelsea, many Arsenal fans feared another long absence from the English striker.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be too bad.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for major award ]

The 26-year-old forward is set for at least three weeks out with a groin injury. Arsene Wenger says his status will be reassessed after the international break ends in mid-October, which doesn’t bode well for his England availability either.

Welbeck had started all five Premier League matches for the Gunners, scoring on Opening Day against Leicester City and posting a two-goal, one-assist day versus Bournemouth.

The Gunners sit 12th with seven points after five match days.

American teen McKennie gets first Bundesliga start vs. Bayern

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A Tuesday quartet of Bundesliga matches features one of extreme interest to American soccer supporters.

Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with Christian Pulisic, nor Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, and Alfredo Morales.

[ MORE: PST talks with McKennie ]

Nope, that’s because Bayern Munich’s visit to Schalke will stand as the first Bundesliga start for 19-year-old American midfielder Weston McKennie.

The youngster turned 19 a couple weeks behind his buddy Pulisic, and has four senior appearances for Schalke. He will certainly receive a USMNT call-up soon.

A central midfielder, McKennie is paired with prized asset Leon Goretzka. An even match through 20 minutes, Bayern has just got ahead through a Robert Lewandowski penalty kick given through VAR.

LIVE – Premier League big boys enter League Cup

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Buckle up. 11 League Cup games are coming your way on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Latest League Cup scores ] 

The third round of the League Cup (known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship purposes) sees the seven Premier League teams in European competitions enter the tournament.

Three all-Premier League ties have been set up with Leicester hosting Liverpool, Crystal Palace clashing with Huddersfield and Bournemouth having another South Coast derby against Brighton just a few days after their first-ever top-flight meeting.

Four Premier League teams face teams from the Championship as West Ham host second-tier strugglers Bolton, Burnley welcome Championship leaders Leeds United, Swansea head to Reading and Stoke City head to second-tier Bristol City in some potential banana skin ties for PL clubs.

Five more League Cup games take place on Wednesday with Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton all hosting lower-league opponents.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s League Cup games with all games kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday’s League Cup schedule

Bournemouth vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Aston Villa vs. Middlesbrough
Brentford vs. Norwich City
Bristol City vs. Stoke City
Burnley vs. Leeds United
Crystal Palace vs. Huddersfield Town
Leicester City vs. Liverpool
West Ham United vs. Bolton Wanderers
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Bristol Rovers

Reading vs. Swansea City – 3 p.m. ET
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Barnsley – 3 p.m. ET

Ramos extends US deal as youth director, U20 coach

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Tab Ramos is one of the most influential people for U.S. Soccer.

It will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

[ MORE: Pulisic the Golden Boy? ]

Ramos, 50, has been in charge of the U.S. U-20 national team since Oct. 2011 and has held his role as the youth technical director since Nov. 2013.

In that time the U.S. has seen plenty of promising youngsters (Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin, Kellyn Acosta and Jordan Morris to name a few) graduate to the USMNT and Ramos’ leadership has been integral to that pathway.

Speaking to U.S. Soccer about his decision to sign a new deal as both the youth technical director and the U-20 coach, Ramos believes he can now help to accelerate the development of youth players.

“I am very excited to continue my work at U.S. Soccer as Youth Technical Director and U-20 Men’s National Team head coach,” Ramos said. “I am pleased with the historic results we have achieved on the field over the last few years as we continue pushing to set higher standards. We have provided great experiences to players who are now beginning to make room for themselves on the Senior National Team. My Youth Technical Director role gives me the opportunity to continue the integration of all our Youth National Teams as well as helping with the implementation of our Player Development Initiatives nationwide which will help our youth players develop at a much faster rate for years to come.”

With the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Brooks Lennon, Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent all impressing for the U-20 side in both the CONCACAF Championship (which the U.S. won) and the U-20 World Cup (the U.S. reached the quarters) earlier this summer, it seems like Ramos is ready to push on the next crop of youngsters who can push for spot in Bruce Arena’s full national team.

Ramos’ resume as a player and coach is not only impressive but garners respect from every single person connected with U.S. Soccer. He played at three World Cups in a 13-year stint for the USMNT and was part of the coaching staff at the 2014 World Cup as well as leading numerous youth teams to their respective World Cups.

Very smart move from Sunil Gulati and Co.