Joe Ledley

Crystal Palace’s Joe Ledley joins PST to preview huge Manchester United clash

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EXCLUSIVE — As dream debuts go, Joe Ledley’s was right up there with the best as he scored in Crystal Palace’s 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion in Palace’s last home game.

The Welsh international midfielder joined the Eagles from Scottish powerhouse Celtic on transfer deadline day, and along with Palace’s other new signings, made an immediate impact in his home debut. Needless to say, Palace’s fans will be hoping Ledley can again fire his new side to victory against Manchester United this Saturday (Watch live on NBC, 12:30pm ET and online via Live Extra) as the Eagles have won five of their seven home games since new boss Tony Pulis arrived in November.

Ledley, 27, has played in some huge games in the UEFA Champions League, won titles in Scotland and has shone with Wales throughout his career so far. While he was playing for Cardiff City as a youngster in the Championship, the talented midfield player was courted by some massive teams in England and even AS Roma in Italy, but he chose to head to Scotland four years ago.

But the lure of playing in the Premier League means he’s now switched Celtic Park for Selhurst Park.

“I had some fantastic years at Celtic, it is a brilliant club and I enjoyed every minute of it,” Ledley said. “But I just felt to have the opportunity to play in the Premier League, not many players get that chance, and with my age I thought it was time for me to go for it.”

And go for it he has. During his debut Ledley started off in the unfamiliar role of left back, but then moved into midfield after burying a header in the first half to put Palace 2-0 up. He admits his favored role is in central midfield, but he will play anywhere his manager wants him to.

(WATCH LIVE: Crystal Palace vs. Manchester United – 12:30pm ET, NBC and via Live Extra)

The Welshman, who is often lauded for his composure on the ball and his superb range of passing, spoke about what’s different in the PL and how much of a challenge it will be for him in England’s top-flight.

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Ledley scored on his Palace debut, and is hoping his side can down United at home this Saturday.

“The tempo is quicker and all of the players have more ability. I’ve played in the Champions League and its similar to that but it’s a higher tempo. Playing in the Premier League, you will get that every week. It’s a great challenge for me, obviously I’ve played in big games in the Champions League but now to be playing week in, week out in the PL is going to be a big challenge.”

Facing the reigning PL Champions, albeit a team on the slide, Manchester United is going to be a big challenge for Palace to get something from this Saturday, but Ledley revealed the squad are embracing  it.

“We are looking forward to it, we are doing okay at the moment,” Ledley said. “We are looking forward to playing against the likes of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and van Persie. We know it’s going to be a very difficult game but we look forward to it.”

As for United and why they’ve struggled in David Moyes’ first season in charge at Old Trafford, Ledley couldn’t put his finger on the main reason, but insisted the Red Devils will turn things around. That said, he’s hoping Palace can nick one point, or take all three, in what would be their first-ever win against United in the Premier League.

“They are Manchester United. They have some great individual players and they are a great club,” Ledley said. “Somehow, it just hasn’t worked this season. But it’s only a matter of time until they start going and start performing. It’s going to be difficult but with our fantastic support, which has been brilliant, if we can get through the game and get three points or a point that would be a fantastic achievement.”

(MORE: Ledley shines on debut, as Palace bag vital win – video)

Palace had such a poor start to the current PL campaign, losing nine of their first 10 games and were rooted to the bottom of the standings for much of the season. Then new boss Pulis arrived and the Eagles have soared clear of danger, but not too far, as the clubs around them have also been revitalized with the bottom half of the table so tight.

Just four points separate 1oth place Swansea from Sunderland in 18th, and Ledley knows Palace must keep focused to avoided the dreaded drop.

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With the Eagles embroiled in the relegation battle, Ledley believes his side can stay up and kick on in the PL next season.

“You need to take it game by game, everyone knows how tight it is down the bottom,” Ledely said. “You can see how just about anyone can go down. We have to try and concentrate on ourselves and not get too carried away with things around us. We just need to get as many points as we can.”

If Palace managed to do that this season, there’s a real chance they can kick on and become an established PL team in the future. Ledley is dreaming of that, as his chance in the Premier League has finally arrived.

“We need to establish ourselves in the Premier League,” Ledley said. “This is the league where all the best players want to play in and it would be fantastic to stay up, then go again next season and start a fresh. It would be a dream come true. We know it’s going to be difficult but if we stick together we can hopefully do it and stay in the Premier League.”

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”

Wenger discusses future of Sanchez, Ozil at Arsenal

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With just 18 months left on their current contracts, the futures of both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal is becoming a daily topic.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

This week alone Sanchez has been linked with a move to China on Wednesday, plus Real Madrid and Chelsea on Thursday, while another report from the Telegraph suggest the Gunners are willing to listen to offers for 28-year-old Ozil who isn’t willing to back down on his hopes of getting a $487,000 week contract at Arsenal where he is currently the top earner on $180,000.

To try and clear up any of the speculation Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger, who only has a contract at the Emirates until the end of the current season, has been speaking to the media about the reports.

Asked if Arsenal was willing to break their transfer structure, he said they’ll “do the maximum of what we can for every single player” to remain at the club.

He then reinforced the notion that Sanchez and Ozil would remain at Arsenal for at least 18 months, and hopefully much longer.

“Eighteen months is quite long in football. They have 18 months on their contracts and are completely committed to do well as long as they are here,” Wenger said. “Beyond that we will try to extend their contracts but I can’t make that a subject of every press conference as that is normal. These players have 18 months, they will be staying 18 months and hopefully much longer. I don’t believe that it is a problem.”

“A contract is between two parties and on my side the best position is to achieve it early. You have to accept that negotiations are private and secret and we don’t have to explain what we do with negotiations.”

Asked about the astronomical sums of cash reportedly being offered to Sanchez to go and play in the Chinese Super League — reports state the Chilean star has offers of $505,000 per week on the table — Wenger believed it was true but questioned why either would leave England.

“Why should you go to China when you are playing in England? We live in a world where the great players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil earn a lot of money and have the privilege to choose where they want to play,” Wenger said. “The commitment of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil is absolute total and I’m very pleased with that. We are professionals and the first quality is to give 100 percent, it is here and now, that is what it means to be professional and to be fully committed to the cause.”

So, Wenger is confident the superstar duo will stay. Should he be?

With Paul Pogba earning over $368,000 as the current top earner in the Premier League, it’s easy to see why Ozil and Sanchez believe they’re worth more than Pogba is currently earning at Manchester United.

Sanchez, 27, has been ripping it up this season, scoring 11 times in 14 PL outings and Ozil has already matched his goal tally from last season with eight strikes in all competitions.

Arsenal’s wage structure is said to be set at $250,000 per week, with an insistence on no player earning more than Wenger does.

Unless they change that stance it’s difficult to see how Sanchez and Ozil will remain at the Emirates Stadium with so many suitors from across the Premier League, Europe and worldwide willing to double, or even treble, their current wages.

Of course the Premier League is the most-watched in the world and there are many advantages to playing in it for Sanchez, Ozil and other superstars but money talks. If these huge offers from the Chinese Super League are true, why wouldn’t players move there to cash in on their relatively short playing careers?

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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