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.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.