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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

source: Getty Images
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: Leicester home should be Claudio Ranieri Stadium

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City shows his frustration as Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho cannot quite get his head around Leicester City’s firing of Claudio Ranieri.

The story is on the tips of the tongues of many in the Premier League, and Manchester United’s boss is no exception.

[ MORE: UEL draw | Who is Rostov? ]

Speaking Friday ahead of United’s EFL Cup Final against Southampton, here’s what Mourinho had to say.

From the BBC:

“He deserves the Leicester stadium to be named ‘Claudio Ranieri Stadium’. The most beautiful thing in the Premier League and one of most beautiful in football history.

“Now Leicester are in the highlights again with a decision that has everyone in football united. It’s very difficult to accept. It’s important to realize how football is and we need to react. I was sacked as a champion [by Chelsea], a giant negative as I thought – peanuts compared to Claudio.

“I don’t think he needs more. Nobody can do what he did. If some of the stories have just a little bit of truth, it is difficult to find words to justify but we have to be able to cope.”

Mourinho is giving voice to what many feel, this writer included. Ranieri is in a relegation fight, yes, but to fire him days after the Foxes stole a road goal against Sevilla that gives them reasonable odds to advance in the UEFA Champions League? It’s an odd one, and smacks a bit of, “Well, we can’t fire him if he beats Liverpool or Sevilla”.

Liverpool visits the King Power Stadium this weekend, and the Foxes will need an incredible response at home to topple the rested Reds. Sure the Premier League is win now, but add me to the chorus who thinks the new manager will have the same odds to fix Leicester as Ranieri.

Roma’s American president losing patience over stadium delay

James Pallotta, AS Roma
AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
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ROME (AP) Roma’s American president is starting to lose patience with city officials over long-delayed plans for a new stadium.

Ahead of a meeting between municipal authorities and club officials Friday, James Pallotta issued a statement saying the team expects “a massively positive result” from the encounter.

Pallotta adds “the alternative would be catastrophic for the future of AS Roma, Italian football, the city of Rome, and quite frankly for future business in Italy.”

[ MORE: PST feature on Pallotta ]

The mostly privately financed 1.6 billion euro ($1.7 billion) project received another setback this week when cultural authorities announced plans to declare the proposed stadium site – an abandoned hippodrome – as a site of “particularly important interest.”

The project in Tor di Valle, halfway between downtown and Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, also includes three office towers.

Who is Manchester United’s UEL opponent Rostov?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 15: Jano Ananidze (L) of FC Spartak Moscow is challenged by Alexandru Gatcan of FC Rostov during the Russian Premier League match between FC Spartak Moscow v FC Rostov at Otkrytie Arena Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have learned their fate for the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The Red Devils face Russian side FC Rostov in the next round of the tournament, four victorious ties from claiming an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing | Full UEL draw ]

So who is Rostov? Seventh in the Russian Premier League standings, Selmashi finished second last season and won the league in 1994 and 2008.

Rostov entered the Europa League after a run through the Champions League which saw the club knock out Anderlecht and Ajax, both still alive in the UEL, before finishing third behind Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich in the group stage. Rostov beat Sparta Prague in the Round of 32 of the UEL.

The club is led by former Moldova boss Ivan Daniliants. Its leading scorer is left wing Dmitri Poloz with 11 goals, and Ecuadorian national teamer Christian Noboa and Moldova veteran Alexandru Gațcan among its mainstays.

While some will make the case that a rough pitch, long trip, and stingy team makes this draw a bad one for United, Mourinho’s crew should triumph. How worse could it have been? This one won’t be easy, but consider Roma, Schalke, Borussia Monchengladbach… even a reunion with Memphis Depay and Lyon would bring more of a challenge than Rostov.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs out | Who is Rostov? ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk