US VP Joe Biden: “My Lord, there is nothing quite like the World Cup”

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United States Secretary of State John Kerry was known as “The Camel” in his days playing soccer for Yale. The long-striding runner preferred to play direct, would rather dribble than pass.

Vice president Joe Biden isn’t known for soccer at all, but he sure is known for being direct as well. For example, he’s not tip-toeing around the issue of how the USMNT can fare at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

Well maybe not this specifically this summer’s World Cup. The vagueness is still a thing there.

From the AFP:

“When it comes to soccer, America is coming on,” Biden said.

“It’s not historically been our game… but 25 million people in the United States play soccer, 80 percent of them are young people who will be players and fans for years to come.

“The world should know, we’re coming ready to play.”

The two American politicians were on scene Monday for the World Cup trophy’s first stop in the US as “part of a global tour before heading later to Brazil.” Biden also served as a walking commercial for attending the tournament.

From The Washington Post:

“You have to attend the World Cup to [understand] what it means. It’s the most unusual sporting event I’ve ever attended, and I’ve attended thousands. … It’s in the air, it’s a palpable sense of energy that I’ve never quite experienced. It’s the most consequential sporting event in the world. … We have our Super Bowl, we have our World Series, the NBA Finals, March Madness, but my Lord, there is nothing quite like the World Cup.”

Politicians don’t generally strike a good tone when it comes to sports, and really what clear space do they have in most sports fans minds? But credit where it’s due: the U.S. has a former college soccer player in its highest ranks and a VP who knows how to stoke the fire for soccer.

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

(more…)

Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out:

Champions League last 16 draw sets up huge clashes

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The Round of 16 draw for the UEFA Champions League did not disappoint.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

We have some monster clashes with Chelsea facing Barcelona, once again, and the reigning champs Real Madrid paired with the favorites Paris Saint-Germain.

With five Premier League teams remaining, Tottenham have been handed a tough draw against Italian champions Juventus who were also runners up in the UCL last season, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool will all be rather happy with their draws.

United have been drawn against Spanish side Sevilla, Liverpool will face FC Porto and Man City clash with Basel.

Below is the draw in full, while UEFA has also released the schedule for the games with Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Man United all playing their second legs at home.