MLS Season Preview: D.C. United

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With D.C. United coming off the worst season in franchise history in 2013, things can only get better in 2014, right? One of MLS’ founding members had a torrid time, but they did win the U.S. Open Cup to salvage their season and they will now compete in the CONCACAF Champions League alongside MLS. Young coach Ben Olsen is in his third full season as boss and has made some top notch additions to his roster, as well as gutting the previous squad to build a new-look team in D.C.

News of a new stadium development moving forward and with a young crop augmented with talented veterans, 2014 should be a much better season for D.C. On paper, anyway. The four-time MLS Cup champions have seen their 1-95 rivals New York win the Supporters’ Shield last season, while other rivals Philadelphia also look to kick on. It will be an interesting season in the nation’s capital.

LATEST MLS 2014 SEASON PREVIEWS, HERE

Players In: Eddie Johnson (Trade for allocation money with Seattle), Davy Arnaud (Trade with Montreal), Sean Franklin (Taken in Re-Entry draft), Bobby Boswell (Taken in Re-Entry draft), Fabian Espindola (Taken in Re-Entry draft), Nana Attakora (Taken in Re-Entry draft), Jeff Parke (Traded for Ethan White and allocation spot), Christian Fernandez Salas (Free transfer from UD Almeria)

Players Out: Lionard Pajoy (Released), Carlos Ruiz (Released), Marcelo Saragosa (Released), Dwayne De Rosario (Released), Casey Townsend (Waived), Dejan Jakovic (Undisclosed, Shimizu S-Pulse), John Thorrington (Option declined), James Riley (Option declined)

Key Player:  Eddie Johnson

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Johnson has arrived from Seattle, can he propel D.C. towards the playoffs?

If this man gets going early in the season, expect at least 10-15 goals from Johnson. The U.S. international forward fell out of favor at Seattle for many reasons but his quality is undeniable as he can operate out wide or in the center of attack.Johnson scored 29 goals in 65 games for Seattle over the last two seasons as the Floridian born attacker is lightning quick and always seems to find the right positions in and around the box.

His partnership with Fabian Espindola is likely to take D.C. close to the playoffs as the duo will cause plenty of problems, but the right kind of service must be given to both players. As we saw in the past with Kansas City, Johnson has the ability to explode onto the scene and the USMNT forward will want to hit the ground running in March to cement his spot in the U.S. squad for the World Cup this summer.

I think this is a great pick up and Johnson will thrive under Ben Olsen.

Manager: Speaking of Olsen, the talented young coach had a rough time last season and many thought he could be on his way out. But that Annus horribilis ended well when D.C. won the U.S. Open Cup and over the offseason Olsen wheeled and dealed to build an fresh squad at RFK Stadium. In 2012 a deep playoff run saw Olsen touted as the best up and coming coach in MLS, now he needs to work his magic again so the Black and Red have a season to remember.

Outlook: For D.C. United, anything will be an improvement on last season. United’s fans have been through a lot in recent years, but with stadium talk moving forward between the club and the city about the project at Buzzard’s Point and a whole host of new faces on board, 2014 promises to be the start of something much brighter. With a young coach eager to impress once again, a playoff spot will be the aim and it highly attainable this season.

Mourinho reportedly close to Man Utd contract extension

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Jose Mourinho is scheduling an extended stay at Manchester United.

[ MORE: Donovan unveiled by Leon ]

The 54-year-old has a contract through the end of next season, the dreaded third at a club for Mourinho, but reports say United is keen to keep him around through 2021.

Mourinho has not tasted a fourth season with a club despite winning league titles at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid.

The 2019-20 season at Old Trafford would be Mourinho’s fourth. According to the BBC:

Talks have progressed well and it is now just a matter of time before Mourinho commits to remain at Old Trafford beyond the expiry of his present deal in 2019.

Somehow, this feels it should be deemed another loss for Antonio Conte.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.