MLS and the U.S.: Why the league is making a bigger impact on the national team

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Major League Soccer will have 21 representatives on Brazil’s fields at the World Cup, the highest number since 1998 – the first finals after the league began play in 1996. Unlike that tournament in France, however, most of MLS’s representatives are not going to be on the United States’ roster. Whereas 16 players from the nascent league made Steve Sampson’s squad in 1998, only nine MLS’ers are among the 23 that Jurgen Klinsmann will take to Brazil.

Considering so many have trumpeted 2014 as a World Cup resurgence for MLS, that figure may be seen as disappointingly small. It’s the second-lowest in league history. When you consider where the league was four years ago, however, you can see why the trumpets are out. Only four Major League Soccer players made Bob Bradley’s squad for South Africa.

In that light, the resurgence is both remarkable and, as if four years ago, unforeseeable, with its main effects apparent on the U.S’s starting lineup. Of the nine players Klinsmann’s taking to Brazil, five are potential starters: Matt Besler, Michael Bradley, Brad Davis, Clint Dempsey, and Graham Zusi. Not only are Major League Soccer’s numbers up; the league’s significance within the team is climbing, too.

The cause of all this isn’t a complex one. The league is just better than it was four years ago, when it was climbing out of its nadir of the early- and mid-oughts. The steep nature of that climb, however, deserves a little more examination. Within the U.S. team, MLS has gone from nearly irrelevant to a necessary part of the squad.

1. Core stability – While so many have focused on Major League Soccer’s lack of television viewers, the butts in seats continue to be solid. Combined with the league’s single-entity structure, that’s provided Major League Soccer with a reliable foundation from which it can grow. As the league becomes more aggressive in seeking out talent, it knows its large, loyal core of fans provides an enviable stability.

2. Increasing the quality of play – You can have all the fans you want, but if nobody’s going to improve by playing in your league, you’re not going to convince World Cup talent to stick around (or, come back). Thanks largely to its efforts in Central and South America, the league has been able to bring in affordable talent that’s significantly raised its quality of play. Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales is the poster play for this movement, but thanks to others like him, Major League Soccer is now a place where the likes of Davis, Kyle Beckerman, and Chris Wondolowski can improve. They’re all going to Brazil.

3. Money, Part I: Retention funds – Not every player is like Beckerman or Davis, however. If players like Besler and Zusi had come along five years earlier, they’d probably be in Europe by now.

With its new security, however, Major League Soccer has made it a priority to compete for those types of talents. Thanks to retention funds — a mechanism that allows teams to offer increased compensation without taking up a DP slot — players like Besler and Zusi, as well as a number of non-U.S. players, have been kept in the league.

source: Getty Images4. Money, Part II: Transfer fees – And then MLS really stepped it up, going into the transfer market to reclaim one of its own. Starting with the fee the league paid Tottenham Hotspur to bring Clint Dempsey back, the league committed to competing for the U.S.’s best talents.

This winter, the league struck again, paying AS Roma for Michael Bradley. In transfer fees alone, the league committed $19 million to two of the U.S.’s biggest stars, an amount that would have been unfathomable 10 years ago.

5. Increased international profile – Call this the David Beckham effect, but don’t forget the influence players like Thierry Henry have had on international perception, too. Whereas Major League Soccer was recently seen as a player’s last stop, it’s becoming more and more viable to make the switch earlier in your career. That not only means getting players like Tim Cahill and Jermain Defoe a year or two sooner than you would have before, but it also gives the Bradleys and Dempseys of the world reason to come back early.

Major League Soccer still has a long way to go, but some of the early returns will be seen at the World Cup. Only nine leagues across the world will have a greater representation in Brazil, and within the U.S. national team, there will be more than twice as many MLS’ers in the squad.

That may not mean the U.S.’s team is built around league talent, but if this new pattern holds, it won’t be too long before the domestic league is again claiming a majority of the national team’s spot.

West Ham targeting Wilshere transfer in January

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David Moyes has stated his desire to sign Jack Wilshere during the January transfer window, as West Ham United battle relegation and attempt to secure their Premier League status for next season.

[ MORE: Newcastle sale closer after improved bid of $400 million ]

Wilshere, who’s made just five PL appearance (all as a substitute) this season for Arsenal, after spending last season on loan at Bournemouth (27 appearances, including 22 starts), will be out of contract with the Gunners in the summer and it’s looking less and less likely that the 25-year-old has a long-term future at the club. Thus, he would almost certainly be allowed to leave and recoup something — anything — next month.

As such, Moyes, whose West Ham side currently sits 19th in the league table after a disastrous start to the season which ultimately saw Slaven Bilic fired, sees an opportunity to bring in an international-caliber player, on the cheap, at exactly the right time — quotes from the Guardian:

“You’d hope that if you took a player from another Premier League club it’d be much easier for him to go right into the team and play well. Jack Wilshere would be someone who we’d have to look at if he was available.

“I do believe the transfer window could be the difference between relegation and staying up. If we can get the right players, that’s the big part of it.

“I also want to make sure we’re looking at players who’ve got time and who can be at the club for a long period and not just in for a short period. Then there’s also the short-term fix for me which is, how do we get enough wins between now and the end of the season? There’s a balance between that.”

Wilshere’s (waning) chances of making the England team for next summer’s World Cup undoubtedly hinge upon him playing a majority of minutes during the second half of the season and finding a patch of remarkably good form. Suffice to say, he’d likely to be quite interested in a move — especially one that would keep him in London.

Dyche: “Football is about dreams,” and this is Burnley’s

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Burnley challenging for, and ultimately finishing in, a top-four place in the Premier League would be the most unexpected outcome in England’s top flight since… well, Leicester City won the title 18 months ago.

[ MORE: Newcastle sale closer after improved bid of $400 million ]

While the Foxes might have desensitized us with regards to what constitutes a feel-good story, one cannot simply ignore the astonishing, unexpected nature of the Clarets currently occupying fourth place in the PL table, just shy of the season’s halfway mark.

Sure, all three of Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have a game in hand (all to be played on Wednesday) and would overtake Sean Dyche‘s side with a win, but even then “seventh-place Burnley” is a phrase that is only slightly less remarkable.

Following his side’s 1-0 victory over Stoke City on Tuesday, Dyche something like a romantic, referring to Burnley’s run as a “dream” given those lofty levels of overachievement — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a run of results and a start which the fans are enjoying and rightly so.

“Football is about realities but also about dreams. It’s a tough task for us winning games at this level, but Leicester blew the roof off dreams in football.”

“We found a way to win and a fine goal. We’re not the real deal, we’re a side that are improving.

“I keep reality because this division will eat you alive. We’re having a real go at what we can achieve this season.”

Report: Newcastle sale closer after improved bid of $400 million

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The Geordie dream appears one giant step closer to reality after Amanda Staveley has reportedly made a significantly larger bid in her attempt to purchase Newcastle United from long-embattled owner Mike Ashley.

[ TIMELINE: Ashley puts club up for sale | Staveley’s first bid rejected ]

According to multiple reports out of the UK — the Telegraph offers the most information at this time — Staveley has increased her initial offer from $335 million to today’s $400-million figure which is expected to be enough to convince Ashley to accept and bring to an end his decade-long, rocky relationship with the Toon Army.

Ashley purchased the club for $177 million back in 2007 and has reportedly invested somewhere in the neighborhood of another $177 million, in the form of interest-free loans, during his stewardship. He stands to make a sizable profit in light of today’s reports, though his original asking price of $534 million is nowhere close to being met.

[ STREAM: Newcastle host Everton — Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET ]

The biggest question which remains — now that will he or won’t he sell? appears to have been answered — is how quickly the deal can be completed, thus allowing Staveley to back manager Rafa Benitez during the January transfer window. Once the two sides enter into deeper takeover talks and the process of transferring ownership from one to the other begins, a transfer embargo will be activated.

Benitez and Ashley traded verbal jabs over the club’s transfer dealings — or, lack thereof — in the summer, and the Spaniard has again this week insisted significant investment is needed in January, otherwise the Magpies could very well be relegated, once again. After a strong start to the season, Newcastle are winless in their last seven Premier League games (six losses) and have tumbled to 16th in the league table, now just two points clear of the relegation zone.

Klopp explains rotation vs. Everton, Salah’s injury scare

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Jurgen Klopp took a fair bit of criticism over his decision to rotate four members of his first-choice starting lineup for Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Everton, and the Liverpool manager might not be done rotating just yet — only this time, his hand could be force by an injury scare.

[ MORE: Klopp says post-game interview not a big deal ]

Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum were all dropped to the bench, on the advice of the club’s medical team, at the end of a 21-day stretch which saw the Reds play seven times. Klopp came under further scrutiny for his decision to substitute Mohamed Salah, Liverpool’s undisputed player of the season thus far, with Liverpool leading 1-0 in the 67th minute.

Now, Klopp has revealed, that Salah was forced off due to fear of a potential hamstring injury, though the Egyptian is expected to be available to start when West Bromwich Albion visit Anfield on Wednesday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) — quotes from the Guardian:

“I have 500,000 pieces of information and I have to make a decision; I cannot write a book before each game. I do not want to say [it was a risk to play Coutinho and Firmino] as that would sound like an excuse and I don’t need an excuse.

“I find it funny that we talk after this game about that but we did not speak about it after the 5-1 or 3-0, why they did not play [the wins at Brighton and Stoke when Salah, Coutinho and Sadio Mane did not all start]. This is one game we should have won they did not play. We play it 10 times and we win. We had a bit of information but, come on, it would sound like an excuse to me.

“I took Mo Salah off because he felt the hamstring a little bit. Then everyone said, ‘How can you take him off?’ I do not go out and say: ‘Because he is close to being injured.’ He is not injured at the moment, thank God. Hopefully we took him off early enough. We have to do it. Seven games in 21 days before Everton and now six games in 18 days. It is exactly the same. We need the best quality we can have before each game. We cannot ignore the number of games.”

The only thing Klopp could have done to draw even more criticism would have been to ignore the advice of the doctors prior to the game, then leave Salah on the field for all 90 minutes — win, lose or draw in the end. Once the above information had inevitably leaked out in said scenario, words like “irresponsible” and “negligent” would have been lobbed his way with reckless abandon.

It’s almost as if managers have more information available to them than the average, angry fan.