Brendan Rodgers, the Premier League’s Hansel: So hot right now

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A manager playing down his side’s chances of winning the Premier League title has become all the rage.

Pellegrini’s doing it…

Wenger’s doing it…

Mourinho was freaking born doing it…

And now we can add Brendan Rodgers to that esteemed mix. As a result of Liverpool’s formidable form over the last few weeks the Northern Irishman has truly become the Hansel of the Premier League – so hot right now.

In fact, Rodgers’ is such fire that journos have been asking him if Liverpool can win the title, which is kind of hilarious considering they’re 4th in the table, six points off the pace.

But whatever. Doesn’t matter.

Like Men in Blazers say, the Premier League is all about narratives.

And what better storyline than a club that comes out of nowhere to win the title?!

source:
“I was totally fine. I’ve never even been to Mount Vesuvius.”

So, despite having his side barely being within a Champions League spot (Spurs are just three points back), Rodgers answered the title-chance question.

Handled it pretty well, too.  Talked about trying to have the club finish as high as possible, with Champions League the goal. Well PR’d on that one.

For me, if Liverpool are to do the impossible and win they league the key will be to take full points from average Premier League sides.

So far this season they’ve drawn with Swansea City, Newcastle, Aston Villa and West Brom and they’ve lost to Southampton and Hull City.

To win the title, results like that can’t happen. Eliminate the problem, though, and the title questions might not seem so ridiculous after all.

Below are full highlights from Rodgers’ presser earlier today:

“I really only focus on the team and the football club, and make no mistake – I want to get into the Champions League for the people here at the club and the people of the city,” he said.

“I came here to try and inspire the city as much as the team. I know what Champions League football can bring to a city like Liverpool and everything it can generate.

“I keep the focus on improving the players, improving our performance levels, and you can see from the continuation of the development we’ve made over the last 18 months that we’re going to be a match.

“The momentum has been building and building, but I just think it would be unprecedented to go from being where we were last year in seventh position to first.

“We’ve got so many young players, who are still growing and developing and our squad is small. So I feel that we’ve still got work to do.

“But when we play like that and perform like that (on Saturday), people are obviously going to ask the question (can you win the league?).

“We’re five points behind Arsenal, four behind Manchester City and six behind Chelsea and we still have them to play here at Anfield.

“But the main objective is just to finish as high as we possibly can and let’s see where that takes us.

“Right the way through this season and throughout my time here, we’ve started to just chip away in our development and improve.

“It was another wonderful result for us (on Saturday) and what was particularly pleasing was the performance.

“It was an incredible display from a group of young men who are growing and getting better all the time. It was very pleasing.”

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.