Premier League Preview: Cardiff City vs. Fulham

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Saturday boasts a relegation six-pointer, as last-placed Fulham travel to Cardiff City Stadium to take on the Bluebirds, who are just one point above in the standings. (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET online via Live Extra).

Both sides have struggled in the Premier League this season, and both sides have undergone changes in hopes of ensuring survival. But will new faces – both on the field and in the dugout – be enough to keep either Cardiff or Fulham afloat?

Since coming in at the beginning of January, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has guided Cardiff to just one Premier League win, during which new Bluebirds Kenwyne Jones and Wilfried Zaha scored to cancel out Norwich’s early lead. Combined with a goalless draw with Aston Villa, that’s just four points from nine games for the new manager.

Something’s gotta give, you feel, as it doesn’t seem as though owner Vincent Tan is a patient man. But while not even three points will pull Cardiff into safety – unless they manage to close the -22 goal gap between themselves and West Bromwich Albion – Solskjaer will likely sleep much better should he take what amounts to six points from Fulham.

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Fulham, meanwhile, are on their third manager of the season. Felix Magath stepped in to replace René Meulensteen a few weeks ago – strangely enough, after the Liverpool barely managed to nick all three points from their match. Fellow strugglers West Brom came back to get a draw late in Magath’s first match in charge, then Fulham fell 3-1 to Chelsea last time out.

It doesn’t much help that Fulham, in addition to their many pickups over the January transfer window, appear to have acquired a record-breaking dud. Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou, who should have been able to help Fulham collect some goals, is injured once more, leaving fans wondering if they’ll ever see him in action. That leaves the Cottagers relying on Darren Bent up top. Hey, at least the striker managed an assist to Johnny Heitinga’s consolation goal last weekend.

What they’re saying

Magath on Premier League survival: “I’m convinced that we will avoid relegation because we’ve developed in the last 14 days,” Magath said. “The team is growing together and that is what makes me sure that we can avoid relegation.” The Fulham manager continued, “I get the feeling here that everybody knows that and everybody sleeps well with the knowledge there are games ahead of us we can win.”

Aron Gunnarsson on Cardiff’s desperate need for points:  “It’s what you call a six-pointer. It’s going to be a hard game. We know they’re fighting for the three points and they need the points as well,” said the Bluebirds midfielder. “Hopefully we’ll keep on fighting and get the points we need because we desperately need them at the moment.”

Prediction

A cautious game. What’s clear is that both sides need three, rather than one, points, but the fear of collecting none at all may lead to a dull affair. With Fulham’s forward problems and Cardiff having scored just 19 goals in 28 games (and no goals in 399 minutes), a free-flowing, frenetic affair seems highly unlikely. Should the deadlock be broken, expect the hosts to nick it, 1-0. Because a streak’s gotta end sometime, right?

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the traditional child that most families are accustomed to, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.

Leicester City 1-1 West Brom: Mahrez nets first goal of PL season

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The Foxes haven’t had the start to the season that Craig Shakespeare and Co. would have hoped for, but Monday’s performance was certainly a step in the right direction.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Leicester City pulled out a 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion at the King Power Stadium, however, the Foxes remain in the bottom three of the Premier League.

Riyad Mahrez had plenty of chances on the day, and he rescued his side with 10 minutes remaining after powering home a strike into the far corner. The goal marks the Algerian’s first of the 2017/18 campaign.

Despite a frustrating opening hour, the visitors led on 63 minutes when Nacer Chadli curled home a brilliant free kick that left Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel stunned.

For the Belgium international, Chadli becomes West Brom’s seventh different goalscorer of the season.

Leicester nearly came out flying in the second stanza whenMahrez had an open chance in the center of the Baggies penalty area, however, the Algerian winger’s left-footed attempt was too high to hit the target.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp ]

Mahrez’s chance came just minutes after West Brom keeper Boaz Myhill was nearly sent off after the 34-year-old took out a streaking Jamie Vardy on the edge of the penalty box.

Monday’s result means both clubs have now gone six matches with a win in PL play.

Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp

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Saturday’s titanic clash between Liverpool and Manchester United ended in an uneventful draw, but that didn’t mean the match itself was short on drama.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Reds defender Dejan Lovren wasn’t happy with Romelu Lukaku‘s action after the former made a tackle on the Man United striker during the first half of the 0-0 draw.

The Liverpool center back spoke ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League match against Maribor.

“I made a tackle there and I just felt he was over me and could just move away,” Lovren said in regards to the play in question. “To be honest, my point of view is that he did on purpose.”

Despite his claims of Lukaku’s malice, the FA has already come out and stated that they won’t take any action against the Belgium international.

“It is not my decision,” Lovren continued. “He seemed nervous during the game and maybe that’s why. Normally if you do it, you apologise.

“It happened and it’s over. Nobody can change it.”

Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job

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The U.S. Men’s National Team scene is quite uncertain at this point, despite U.S. Soccer announcing an international friendly against European powerhouse Portugal on Monday.

Since Bruce Arena’s announcement on Friday that he would step down as USMNT manager, the million-dollar question has been: who’s next?

[ MORE: USMNT U-17s advance to WC quarterfinals with win over Paraguay ]

One name that continues to be floated around is Tab Ramos — current U.S. Under-20 MNT coach and national team assistant.

Ramos, a former national team midfielder in his own right, was in attendance at Sunday’s New York Red Bulls match and spoke with Metro New York.

“If you’d ask everyone here at the Red Bulls game if they’d be interested in the national team job they would say yes,” Ramos said on Sunday. “And I’m just another fan so I’d say yes as well.”

The 51-year-old played in two World Cups during his career on the pitch (1990, 1994), but Ramos is familiar with what it’s like trying to rebuild the pieces of a failed World Cup bid.

Ramos’ first international appearance with the USMNT came two years after the Americans had missed out on qualification into the 1986 World Cup.

“It was very hard back in the ’80s to get people to recognize that we play soccer. Sometimes it feels like a slap in the face that we have to go dig ourselves out,” he said.

“One thing I know about us is that we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves us back in 1989. We’ll do it again.”