Daigo Kobayashi has a new home, traded from Vancouver to New England

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This time last year, fans around the Whitecaps were touting the potential impact of their technically gifted Japanese important, Daigo Kobayashi. Today, Kobayashi’s Vancouver adventure ended, with New England giving up a fourth round draft pick to acquire the 31-year-old.

Kobayashi was already training with the Revolution, so the final destination isn’t much of a surprise, but given the hopes attached to the midfielder after his winter 2013 arrival, the move’s worth some reflection. Though it’s always difficult to tell how players will adapt to Major League Soccer, some projected Kobayashi’s skill to translate into one of the league’s better creative presences. Throughout the 2013 season, however, Kobayashi never validated those hopes, scoring twice and registering four assists during 30 appearances (21 starts).

“Daigo is a good person and player but we just didn’t see a spot for him on the team moving forward,” Carl Robinson, the teams new head coach, said in a club statement sent out by the team. “We wish him the best of luck in New England.”

With former Toronto midfielder Matias Laba landing in Vancouver, spots in the Whitecaps midfield become precious. Nigel Reo-Coker seems destined to start in the pivot, with the young Argentine likely to partner him in front of the defense. Kenny Miller and Russell Teibert give Robinson two players capable of starting above that pair, with Gershon Koffie another player worthy of minutes (and this is before we even get to the pure depth guys).

So there was no room in Vancouver, but if you’re inclined to see Kobayashi as a starter-level talent, the fit in New England is a curious one. But given the importance Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe have in Jay Heaps’ set up, the acquisition  makes sense in terms of depth. Both Nguyen and Rowe are skill first, middle-of-the-park creators. With Kobayashi’s acquisition, New England has insurance should either go down, not to mention somebody who came fill in wide in New England the 4-1-4-1 formation Heaps used last season.

“Daigo is a technically gifted player who fits into our system well,” Michael Burns, New England’s general manager, said as his team announced the deal. “He assimilated well with our club when he was in Tucson with us, and we are looking forward to his return to the club soon.”

With all the comings and going of talents being imported into Major League Soccer, it’s always interesting to see how quickly reputations are made and revised. With home fans having developing the earliest investment in new players, it makes sense that so many arrivals see hopes transcend realistic expectations.

On a talented Vancouver team, that’s what happened with Kobayashi – a player how hasn’t been a prolific attacking force since his time in Norway in 2009. With Martin Rennie no longer on the sidelines for the Whitecaps, Kobayashi was always destined to land someplace new.

Conte drops hint about his plans for attacking unit

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LONDON — Antonio Conte‘s decision to play a fluid front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro worked extremely well against Barcelona in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Tuesday, but will he use that trio again in big games coming up?

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass ]

For the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge, Conte left his two recognized strikers, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, on the bench and opted for Hazard centrally with Pedro and Willian close by in wide roles.

Hazard went close twice, Willian twice hit the post before scoring Chelsea’s goal via a pass from Hazard and Pedro chased down Barca’s defense and helped set the tempo for a fine display which should have seen Chelsea win by at least two goals.

[ MORE: Three things learned from Chelsea-Barca

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the draw with Barca if he was happy with Hazard’s play in a false nine helped out by Willian and Pedro, Conte seemed to suggest that front three will be Chelsea’s attacking unit moving forward.

“I think our three strikers played very well, a fantastic game,” Conte said. “Willian, he played really well against Hull [in the FA Cup] and he scored twice and in the last three games we scored eight times and seven goals we scored with Pedro, Willian and Hazard. I think that they’re working very well. We must be pleased for the game, not for the final result.”

With huge games coming up against both Manchester clubs in the next few weeks in the Premier League, plus the second leg at Barcelona on Mar. 14, it appears Conte may well go with the in-form trio to create as much havoc as possible for opposition defenders.

Hazard in a false nine is an intriguing situation to unravel as the Belgian is almost certainly better suited to playing in a wide role or as a No.10 just off a targetman such as Giroud or Morata, but in this 3-4-2-1 system he has the freedom to interchange with Pedro and Willian and to roam across the forward line.

Having Giroud or Morata as Plan B seems to be Conte’s plan moving forward and against teams such as Man City, Man United and Barcelona, it may well suit Chelsea best to keep things tight defensively and unleash their speedy, tricky trio on the break.

Conte’s tactics to not start with an out-and-out striker may be questioned by many but if it works half as well as it did on Tuesday, expect Hazard, Willian and Pedro to be Chelsea’s go-to guys in a season-defining few weeks for the reigning PL champs as they aim to cement their spot in the top four, reach the FA Cup semifinal and advance in the Champions League.

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.