MLS Season Preview: Columbus Crew

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Two straight playoff-less seasons have the Columbus Crew staring at a repeat of their worst stretch in franchise history, the three seasons from 2005-07 that saw them out of the postseason. Yet attendance was up in 2013 and there’s a new boss in town in Gregg Berhalter.

There have been rumors of a three-man back line for Berhalter, who will be running a club that features some familiarity with the return of dynamic attackers Dominic Oduro and Federico Higuain. But there’s also significant turnover with fixtures like Chad Marshall skipping town and Eddie Gaven retiring.

LATEST MLS 2014 SEASON PREVIEWS, HERE

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Higuain

Players in: Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg), Daniel Paladini (trade with Chicago), Matt Wiet (Homegrown player), Waylon Francis (Herediano), Brad Stuyver (unattached), Steve Clark (Honefoss BK), Hector Jimenez (Los Angeles), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Valerenga).

Players out: Chad Marshall (trade to Seattle), Andy Gruenebaum (trade to Sporting KC), Glauber (option declined), Eddie Gaven (retired), Danny O’Rourke (option declined), Konrad Warzycha (option declined)

Key player: Waylon Francis

Who? Well, firstly, let me admit that the easy answers were Higuain, Oduro and Parkhurst… but there’s something very interesting about Francis, the left back from Costa Rica comes to Columbus from CONCACAF Champions League side Herediano. At age 23, he has plenty of experience and should add a dynamic aspect to the left side of the Crew’s attack. Will he adapt instantly and show the form that got him noticed in the States?

source: APManager: Berhalter comes to Columbus with the lofty distinction of being among the first Americans to manage a European club, Hammarby IF in Sweden’s second flight. His record there was a modest 18W-12L-16T as he engineered a rise to 4th place in the second flight Superettan but was fired in July 2013 for a lack of firepower.

He’s already managed to ruffle some feathers with willingness to be quite open with at least one personnel issue, and time will tell whether this was a blip on the radar or a significant issue.

Outlook: Lot of questions here that extend beyond the Crew’s new manager. Will Francis be as dynamic in MLS as Costa Rica? Was Parkhurst’s lack of playing time in Germany a matter of coaching or form? Is Clark’s transfer from Norway’s top flight, where he started for two seasons, the answer to their goalkeeping quandary, or will it be another Crew member to steady the ship? There’s a lot to answer here, and plenty of excitement that comes along with the hiring of Berhalter. Can the Crew make the playoffs in 2014? I wouldn’t bet on it, but if the team gels quickly and they hit on their personnel moves, they may just squeak in.

Manchester City hammer Real Madrid in LA

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Manchester City went full Beastmode on Real Madrid in the second half of their International Champions Cup game in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Neymar to PSG on? ]

In front of a record 93,038 fans, City scored four goals in the second half with Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones and Raheem Sterling all netting before youngster Brahim Diaz finished things off in style.

Kevin De Bruyne was in particularly menacing form with the Belgian at the heart of everything good for Pep Guardiola‘s men.

Despite the hammering Real Madrid did score the goal of the night with youngster Oscar Rodriguez smashing home a beauty into the top corner form distance in the 90th minute.

Click play on the video above to watch the highlights.

City now head to Nashville, Tennessee where they face Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday with both teams finishing off their U.S. tour in style in Music City.

Real Madrid travel to Miami, Florida for the small matter of an El Clasico against Barcelona to finish off the International Champions Cup tournament Stateside.

Report: Neymar agrees five-year deal at Paris Saint-Germain

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Paris, are you ready for Neymar to become the main man?

[ MORE: USMNT win Gold Cup title

The Brazilian has scored all three of Barcelona’s goals during their preseason wins over Juventus and Manchester United in the U.S. but was his game-winner on Wednesday in Washington D.C. his final strike in a Barca shirt?

L’Equipe is reporting that Neymar has agreed terms on a five-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain but that the French giants are now trying to get Barcelona to reduce the $260 million transfer fee which is Neymar’s release clause.

Per the report Neymar will earn over $34.1 million annually while reports in Spain suggest that both clubs want the Brazilian superstar to make a decision and are eager to push the deal through by next week if it’s going to happen.

Neymar, 25, is said to want to leave Barca and be the main man at PSG.

With Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez around at the Nou Camp, it’s easy to understand that Brazil’s captain feels a little underappreciated sometimes but with Messi now 30 years old and Suarez 31, surely Neymar can wait it out a few years before he takes over Messi’s throne at Barca?

Hmmm, with the five-time World Player of the Year recently signing a new contract until 2021, Mess is going nowhere and maybe that was the trigger for Neymar and his representatives to look elsewhere as he’s about to enter his prime.

On top of all that the ongoing investigation from the Spanish authorities into his transfer from Santos looms large over the global superstar, but after winning two UEFA Champions League titles, three La Liga trophies and two Copa del Rey’s during his four years at Barca, would he really walk away?

His teammates and manager have been speaking about that posibility during Barca’s preseason tour of the U.S. and nobody seems too sure if he will remain. If anything the word “hope” is getting thrown around a lot rather than a definitive “yes” or “no” and even Gerard Pique had to back track on a social media post where he posed with Neymar and used the caption “he stays” to sum up the situation.

PSG are reportedly working around the clock to figure out how on earth they can finance this deal but it is becoming increasingly obvious that they are the only club who can afford to sign Neymar and their Abu Dhabi owners are doing all they can to make it a reality.

PHOTOS: Arsenal reveal new away jersey for 2017-18 season

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Arsenal have gone blue.

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The Gunners released their new away jersey on Thursday ahead of the preseason Emirates Cup tournament kicking off this weekend.

With Arsene Wenger‘s men previously unveiling their third kit on their tour of Australia earlier this month, this light blue number will be their main alternate jersey for the upcoming campaign.

London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham have had similar color kits in the past, so cue plenty of banter on social media.

After Manchester City unveiled a bright cerise colored away kit, Liverpool went for an luminous orange jersey and Manchester United released a grey and white shirt, this jersey is a little more subtle.

It kind of looks like a goalkeeper kit on first viewing, but Mesut Ozil and the lads wear it well, even though conclusions are being made about Alexis Sanchez not appearing in any of the promotion shots for the new jerseys.


Extremely early, Gold Cup glee-driven thoughts on a USMNT World Cup roster

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The United States men’s national team won its sixth Gold Cup title on Wednesday, topping Jamaica 2-1 on a late winner from Jordan Morris.

It’s the sort of goal that moves a 22-year-old forward’s name from pencil to pen on a World Cup roster, one the Yanks will hopefully be planning following qualifying under Bruce Arena.

Morris is one of several players who took hold of their chances to march into Russia via fine performances as part of the USMNT’s “B Team” in the Gold Cup, along with Darlington Nagbe, Matt Besler, and maybe Paul Arriola (This assumes you hadn’t already counted Omar Gonzalez).

[ MORE: Recap | Altidore’s free kick | 3 things ]

It seems to us there are six spots in play right now. The forward batch of four is set and Ethan Horvath will probably join Tim Howard and Brad Guzan in the goalkeeper corps.

Five defenders look set and the same amount of midfielders (Besler, Brooks, Cameron, Gonzalez, Yedlin, Bedoya, Bradley, Johnson, Nagbe, Pulisic), leaving three defender and three midfielder spots. It looks set to come down to Kenny Saief or Kelyn Rowe in the midfield, and Tim Ream or Graham Zusi at the back.

So what’s the United States’ 23-man roster look like for Russia right now? Here’s our best guess (and we’re thinking as Arena, not us):

Goalkeepers (3): Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath

Defenders (8): Matt Besler, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Timmy Chandler, Omar Gonzalez, Jorge Villafana, DeAndre Yedlin, Graham Zusi.

Midfielders (8): Kellyn Acosta, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic, Kelyn Rowe.

Forwards (4):  Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood.

Bonus seven-man waiting list: Joe Corona, Dom Dwyer, Dax McCarty, Tim Ream, Kenny Saief, Danny Williams, Gyasi Zardes.