Q&A with new Orlando City VP of soccer Paul McDonough: MLS entry, team philosophy and nurturing young talent

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Last week Orlando City appointed Paul McDonough as their new Vice President of Soccer Operations ahead of their entry into Major League Soccer in 2015.

The former assistant coach at Wake Forest, UConn and the College of Charleston has had a glittering career in the college game at some of the nations top programs, but now it’s time to take the reins at one of MLS’ new expansion franchises.

Recently McDonough has been in the agency game in his role as Director of Global Soccer at Wasserman Media Group, that has seen him represent MLS stars such as Darlington Nagbe, Teal Bunbury and Darren Mattocks amongst many others.

McDonough has close links with MLS and is now in charge of recruiting players for Orlando ahead of the 2015 season, as well as helping head coach Adrian Heath and Club President Phil Rawlins make MLS’ 21st team into a side that can compete for Championships straight-away.

I got the chance to speak exclusively with McDonough about a plethora of topics earlier this week, and this is what he had to say.

What attracted you to Orlando?

The opportunity and the challenge to get in with a blank canvas and do something special. The environment and the atmosphere the last few years around here has been great. I think it’s only going to get better, moving forward.

On the short and long-term goals for Orlando City SC? Have you had a chance to plan all that already?

Not completely. In the short-term it’s just getting acclimated to the team and MLS, there are a  lot of different facets. A lot of scouting that needs to take place for us to get ready. My main focus will be getting ready for that part of it, while Adrian Heath [head coach] will focus on the present team. Long-term goals is to be very competitive in MLS.

How about your day-to-day job? What are you key focus’ with Orlando City?

Key focus for me is to get a structure of the layout of the club. Scouting, short-term and long-term scouting needs to get put into place. So I can really focus on that. As time goes on I will look at the academy and see how we can improve because Homegrowns are going to be a big part of our club and how we move forward.

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A growing fanbase excites McDonough as a huge challenge lies ahead.

Due to your influential career in the college game and at the youth level, will Orlando be looking to bring in a lot of domestic talent from the U.S. and Canada?

I think we will look for talent anywhere that will make the club successful. The Homegrowns, it’s a great atmosphere around here and we need to be successful with Homegrown players, so we want kids to stay at home and play for us.

So there will be a mixture of potential big signings, and building from within?

Yeah, I think when you’re building a team now will look from within MLS with the expansion draft and the SuperDraft will be important for us. Homegrowns, whether they are short-term or down the road, and international signings are always going to part of this league.

How have you found working with Adrian Heath [head coach] and Phil Rawlins [President] at Orlando?

I have complete faith and trust in them, and that’s why I took the challenge on. They have done so well on the playing field and I think what they’ve done off the field is amazing. It’s only going to get better. I feel very comfortable with that.

What will be the difference from making that jump up from the college game to the pros? Is there something new that you will bring to the table? What big challenges do you envisage?

I have traveled all over the world looking for players and I’ve spent the last four years in the agency world. I’m familiar with the professional players and their mentalities. I think the challenge is just going to be waiting out and finding the best players that fit the style and system of Orlando.

Do you know what system and style that is going to be? Is this something you’ve already discussed at length with Adrian?

He wants to play an attacking brand of soccer. 4-2-3-1 is the ideal formation. But we want to play an attacking and entertaining type soccer. We’ve discussed it in-depth, so now it’s all about finding the players who can help him on the field and to where he wants to go.

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McDonough has worked with and represented some of the best young domestic talents.

Following your time in the agency world, can you give us some examples of the success stories you had?

I just did a deal for Juan Agudelo to Stoke, then he went on loan to Utrecht. Did the Brek Shea deal to Stoke, I represented Darlington Nagbe and Teal Bunbury throughout their whole career. I think Darlington is one of the future stars of our leagues. I’ve had Darren Mattocks for his whole career. I’ve had Zach Lloyd his whole career from UNC. And also a relatively unknown goalkeeper who plays for the New York Red Bulls, Ryan Meara. I think he is going to continue to do really well.

What is your opinion of the Designated Player rule? Is it something that helps or hinders most MLS squads with the big discrepancy between the DPs and the younger guys?

I think every club has their own philosophy. I’m still learning about the philosophy of what the ownership group here want to approach it. Look, I think the DP rule has done well for the league but there’s always a discrepancy in a salary cap league when you have DPs. But overall, it’s good for the league.

What changes would you’d like to see with the salary cap, maybe increase the minimum wage to stop younger players hopping over to Europe when they get out of college?

The league pays most guys well. As opposed to going to Scandinavia or something like that, I think that’s why players stay. I think the collective bargaining agreement will be interesting this year, but I will leave that to the league and the MLS Players Union to sort out.

After seeing the SuperDraft just take place and the advent of Homegrown players and MLS academies, will the college game still be a big part of the league and Orlando’s future?

In the short-term it will be. I don’t know where it goes down the road. It’s just another mechanism to get good players, so I think right now it will always be something that’s around. For us, we have to look at all mechanisms to make our team better.

So getting players from the college game will be key for Orlando now and in the future?

It is just another mechanism to help out team be successful.

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Source: Orlando City SC

The potential rivalry with Miami and/or Atlanta franchise in MLS, is that something that excites you? Something similar to the Pacific Northwest happening in the Southeast?

It would be great. The Cascadia Cup is great for that region, and I hope that Miami and Atlanta come in and we can have good rivals and people that we can beat all the time.

How important is it that the team not only build for MLS, but has another successful season in USL PRO before making the jump?

It is really important because we’ve done so well in the last couple of years. Building a culture of winning is very important, to keep building on the foundations. Why not win another championship? It will keep the culture going and get more fans involved and get ready for MLS.

Are there any MLS expansion clubs you want to emulate? Is there a team you look at and say, ‘they’ve done it right’?

You have to take the good and bad from what clubs have done in the past. Some clubs have done very well with very different strategies. Not  expansion clubs, but the likes of Psorting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake have done very in how they’ve managed their team. The environment in Portland is fantastic and they’re doing a good job at what they’re doing now. Those clubs have done really well.

Your job is to recruit the players, but how exciting is it to be involved in this project where you can see the fanbase growing in Orlando and build a club off a clean slate?

It’s great and very exciting. When the opportunity came up, you really didn’t have to think too hard about getting involved with something special. It’s exciting.

Finally, can you paint a picture of what you’d like Orlando to be like in five years time?

Selling out every game. Winning championships. And it would be nice to compete on the international scene.

Pique: For first time in career, Barca star feels “inferior to Madrid”

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Gerard Pique does not have the sort of personality that makes admitting defeat an easy proposition.

The longtime Barcelona center back is raging after his side was beaten 5-1 over two legs by rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: Barca releases statement on terror attacks ]

And for the first time in his life, he thinks Barca is a step behind its El Clasico enemies. From The Telegraph:

“This is a long process and there is room for improvement but in the nine years that I have been here, it is the first time that I feel inferior to Madrid,” Piqué said. “We are not in the best moment, either as a team or as a club. We must stay as close as possible and keep moving forwards.”

Barcelona looked very poor in the second leg of the Super Cup, though the club did hammer the woodwork on multiple occasions. Real is the best team in the world, which makes being its rival a real hassle.

In fact, both clubs have been 1-2 in the world for some time, which has to make it extra perplexing when you’re No. 2 to only the club you despise more than any other.

Bundesliga preview: Schalke, BVB chase Bayern Munich

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The last time Schalke spent a season outside of European football, the celebrated German club finished second in the league en route to a Champions League semifinal the following campaign.

That’s one of the only silver linings from last season’s disappointing 10th place finish, 19 points behind fourth place Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Schalke’s teen American impact ]

“Naturally, nobody is happy about not playing international this year,” center back Benedikt Howedes told ProSoccerTalk. “During the week we currently have more time to focus on the next opponent. We will battle the European positions with many teams this season. I think, the race is up in the air. The Bundesliga is very balanced.”

World Cup winner Howedes has 334 appearances for Schalke (Getty Images).

Schalke’s tumulutous 2016-17 season started poorly and never really found its footing. The club lost its first five league matches under Markus Weinzierl, who was fired in June, and saw marquee transfers Naldo, Breel Embolo, and Coke miss a lot of time through injuries.

Enter 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco. Don’t let the age fool you, he’s the boss not a player, and youth will be part of the team as well. Schalke still has Embolo, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, American teen Weston McKennie has been promoted to the first team, and Amine Harit has arrived from Nantes.

From the outside, that puts an emphasis on veteran leadership. Fortunately for Schalke, it has living club legend Howedes and ex-Man City defender Matija Nastasic amongst others in the fold.

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie told PST. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

[ MORE: Guide to two promoted Bundesliga teams ]

In the case of Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, his 24 years carry a lot of experience. He’s thrived at Fiorentina, become a staple of the Serbian national team, and rebounding from his injury-hit time at City and is a leader at Schalke.

And those young guys can learn from Nastasic, who’s seen it all at 24.

“When I just arrived in Italy I was only 18 and it was the first year out of my country,” Nastasic told PST. “I didn’t expect at the beginning that I would play that much. Then I changed to England, and it was totally different. Italy is more tactical. Football in England is physical with a lot of tempo and running. I was young also without so much experience but when I was fit I think I played good.”

Schalke will need its young attack to find more goals. Its defense was Top Five in goals conceded last season, but its 45 goals was mid-table.

“Everyone knows that last season was not as good as we had expected,” Howedes said. “With our new coach, we want to improve our game and make our fans happy again. We are training hard and I am sure, that we will be more constant and improve our performances this season.”

[ MORE: First female ref to make Bundesliga debut ]

“From the team I expect a much better season than last year,” Nastasic adds. “We are not playing international games so maybe that’s an advantage for us. We can concentrate on the Bundesliga.”

Both Nastasic and Howedes heaped praise on McKennie, as well as American teammate Haji Wright, who will spend the season on loan to Sandhausen, and the game overseas in general.

“Haji Wright started spectacular,” Howedes said. “For young players the most important thing is to play. On loan in Sandhausen the chance is greater than here. I rejoice for him he get this opportunity. The step in the 2.Bundesliga can be a good beginning of his career.

“The American soccer is really developing the last years. It is no coincidence that a lot of great players like Kaka and Gerrard joined Major League Soccer. And who knows, I also can imagine to play there some day in the future.”

Different champs (but probably not different champs): Bayern Munich will neither have Xabi Alonso nor Philipp Lahm this season, but that doesn’t mean they are runaway favorites to claim its 27th title and sixth-straight since Borussia Dortmund’s two-year reign ended with the 2011-12 crown. Carlo Ancelotti has reloaded with James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso, and will be favored to hold off BVB for the crown.

Here’s to the new Bosz: USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic is already making an impact in the mind of his new coach, Peter Bosz, and the manager will be pleased to note that reports say Pulisic has no interest in looking into his future until after the 2018 World Cup.

Sleepers? Eintracht Frankfurt dropped into 11th last season, and may benefit from not finishing in a European place. The club has added Mexican national teamer Carlos Saucedo, Dutch star Jetro Willems, and well-traveled Jonathan De Guzman for its new season.

Americans Abroad:
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Julian Green (Stuttgart)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
McKennie (Schalke)
Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen *expected to be sold)
Caleb Stanko (Freiburg)

Old faces, new places:
Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Dortmund, from ‘Gladbach)
Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, from Ingolstadt)
Sven Bender (Bayer Leverkusen, from BVB)
Marcel Heller (Augsburg, from Darmstadt)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Hamburg, from Bayer)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg, from Hertha)
Paul Verhaegh (Wolfsburg, from Augsburg)
Holger Badstuber (Stuttgart, from Bayern)

New faces, new places:
James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC)
Reece Oxford (Gladbach, on loan from West Ham)
Harit (Schalke)
Jonathan de Guzman (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Viktor Fischer (Mainz)

Opening weekend
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Hamburg vs. Augsburg — Saturday
Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart — Saturday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Mainz vs. Hannover 96 — Saturday
Schalke vs. RB Leipzig — Saturday
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — Sunday

FC Barcelona releases statement after terror attack

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FC Barcelona found tragedy at home on Thursday when a terrorist plot unfolded in Las Ramblas, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.

Las Ramblas is just a 20-minute ride from the Camp Nou, and the Catalan club hosts Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

A terrorist-driven rental van was driven at 50 mph through a crowded plaza. As of post time, two men had been arrested but the driver remained on the loose.

Saying it was sickened by the attack, FCB announced it will fly flags at half-mast, wear black arm bands during the match and hold a minute’s silence.

Here’s the full statement:

FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.

As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.

On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.

AC Milan and Napoli likeliest challengers to Juve’s crown

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MILAN (AP) Juventus’ six-year Serie A domination could end this year.

AC Milan has reinforced its squad, Inter Milan has had some much-needed stability after four managerial changes last season, while Napoli looks set to mount an even stronger challenge this time around.

Lazio could also be surprise contenders after Simone Inzaghi’s side withstood a late comeback to beat Juventus 3-2 and win the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

However, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has warned the rest of Serie A that it will be a very different performance from his team in Saturday’s season opener at home to Cagliari.

“We cannot and must not play like that in the league,” he said. “This defeat brings us back to earth. Some of the players aren’t fully fit yet, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy … but starting on Saturday you’ll see a different Juve.”

Allegri also took encouragement from the last time Juventus played Lazio in the Super Cup, in 2015.

“We beat Lazio in Beijing for the Super Cup two years ago and then had a bad start to the Serie A season, so hopefully we’ll do it the other way round this time,” he said.

Juventus has dominated Italian soccer for nearly a decade, winning three successive league and cup doubles and it will be tricky for anyone to prevent the Bianconeri from extending their league record to seven straight Serie A titles.

Milan was the last team other than Juventus to win the title and, despite having last finished in the top three in 2013, it looks the likeliest to depose the Turin-based club.

The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash and splashed out more than 200 million euros ($234 million) in the offseason.

[ VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna’s MOTM job for USYNT ]

As well as signing Italy’s top defender Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus, Milan also brought in forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Fourth place in Serie A now guarantees qualification to the Champions League and that will be the minimum requirement for Vincenzo Montella’s team. But, if the new team gels quickly, there is the feeling that Milan could make a strong challenge for the title.

Bonucci was playing down his new side’s chances.

“Juve remains favorite and Napoli has a great chance of fighting for the title,” Bonucci said in interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “As we are now we’re still a step below both, but we shouldn’t put limits on ourselves. After those two, I see Milan, Inter and Roma as equal.”

Napoli has finished in the top three in four of the past five seasons but even a record number of points last campaign still left it third, five points behind Juventus.

However, talk of the `scudetto’ is no longer a taboo for Napoli, which hasn’t won the title since 1990.

But, while it didn’t make any big signings in the transfer window, its biggest success of the offseason has been in keeping its band of talented players together.

It sold Ezequiel Lavezzi in 2012 and Edinson Cavani the following year – both to Paris Saint-Germain – while Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016.

This year Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have signed new contracts, while Marek Hamsik is just three goals away from breaking Diego Maradona’s scoring record for the club.

Mertens was reportedly pursued by a number of clubs – both in Italy and abroad – but the Belgium international, who scored more than 30 goals for Napoli last campaign, opted to extend his stay with the southern side.

“I stayed here because the team plays very beautiful football and doing that we can get a lot of joy,” said Mertens, who scored again as Napoli beat Nice 2-0 in the first leg of its Champions League playoff on Wednesday.

Napoli played arguably the best soccer in Italy last season and its attacking flair saw it score 94 goals, but it faltered against teams in the lower half of the table and coach Maurizio Sarri is hoping to have corrected that by the time it kicks of its Serie campaign at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

More AP Italian soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA