Should we add Juan Luis Anangonó to the list of failed Chicago Designated Players?

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Cuauhtémoc Blanco is one of the most successful Designated Players in Major League Soccer history. Scoring 16 times in 62 games over the course of three seasons, the Mexican international was more than an impact player on the field. He raised Chicago’s profile off of it.

The rest of the Fire’s Designated Players have been failures: A series of short-term, no reward moves that have created this huge divide on the Fire’s DP record. On one side is Blanco, who in so many ways epitomizes the original vision of what big-ticket items could bring to Major League Soccer. On the other is players like Nery Castillo, Álvaro Fernández, Freddie Ljundberg, Sherjill MacDonald, Frederico Puppo, and Árevalo Rios – a talented group, but one where every member failed to have a significant impact with Chicago.

The latest member of that group: Juan Luis Anangonó. As the club announced today, the Ecuadorian forward has been sent to LDU Quito on a six-month loan. While the possibility of a return wasn’t ruled out, there’s a good chance the Fire’s latest Designated Player has seen his last minute with the club.

From the Fire’s website:

“Both the club and Juan were looking for an option for him to gain consistent playing time,” said Fire head coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop. “The loan has been in the works for a while now and both parties agreed that it is best that Juan return to Ecuador for the next six months and continue to play full matches. We’re looking forward to keeping tabs and monitoring his progress.”

With the emergence of Quincy Amarikwa up top, Anangonó had been relegated to an impact sub’s role, with 11 of his 15 appearances coming off the bench. In 470 minutes, he’d only scored two goals; one goal every 2.6 (90-minute) games.

That’s decent production for a backup, assuming that backup is making backup wages. For a Designated Player, it’s a reason to get him off the roster.

Unfortunately for Chicago, those rates were actually improvements on 2013’s performance. After signing in the middle of the season, Anangonó made 13 appearances, nine starts (840 minutes), and only scored twice: One goal every 4.7 (90-minute) games.

To get back to the headline, can we add Agangonó’s name to the Castillos and MacDonalds of the Chicago world? With the door technically open to a return, that may be pretty premature, but with a qualifier, we can take care of that problem: To this point, Anangonó’s record looks right at home. He’s earned his place among the collection of disappointments Chicago’s given the DP label.

So what’s going on with the Fire? Why do they keep falling into this trap? What are they doing that other teams aren’t?

Maybe it’s not that they’re doing something different as much as they’re doing it more often. They’re not the only team that’s spent big on low-production, veteran forward from overseas hoping they’ll shine in Major League Soccer, but usually, people who produce in MLS were also producing before they arrived. While there are exceptions in each category (Jerry Bengtson one way, Fanendo Adi the other), players like Marco Di Vaio and Tim Cahill were scoring goals before their planes hit the ground. Kris Boyd and Hamdi Salihi weren’t. Unfortunately, Chicago keeps going back to that well.

The other commonality is the mid-season aspect of most of these moves, whether they’re signings (MacDonald, Castillo, Anangonó, etc.) or trades (Ljundberg, Fernández). If you’re not willing to spend big on a player that’s consciously choosing Major League Soccer (obvious ones here: Beckham, Henry), you’re left sifting through players who see MLS as a fallback plan. For Frank Rost and Mista, Major League Soccer may have been more the option than an option.

With Yallop now calling the shots in Chicago, hopefully there’s a new outlook. Unless these strategies are baked into the walls in Bridegview, the former San Jose boss should break this string of disappointing choices.

Unfortunately for Yallop, the Fire are no longer acting in a space where only a few teams could afford Designated Players. Before he released Anangonó, every MLS team had used at least on DP spot. With the Ecuadorian gone, a Chicago team that’s had eight different DPs on the books is the only team without one.

Finding valuable, high-cost additions is no longer a mere competitive advantage. It’s a requirement. If you don’t do it, you’re not keeping up.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 17 of its last 23 Premier League games
  • Alvaro Morata has 3 goals and 2 assists, all with his head
  • Stoke has lost just 1 of its past 7 home games vs defending champions

Eden Hazard is back and at full strength as Chelsea travels to the Britannia to take on Stoke City Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

With Hazard back and Diego Costa finally shed to Atletico Madrid, the Blues have positioned themselves to make a run at the Premier League’s top spot. Chelsea has not lost since their Opening Day misstep against Burnley, and despite firing a blank in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with the Gunners, Chelsea is still just three points off the top spot, and will look to put pressure on the Manchester clubs.

In addition to Hazard, the Blues also get Temoue Bakayoko and Pedro back in the lineup as well, although David Luiz is suspended after his late red card last weekend.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

This season has been a roller coaster ride for Stoke City, having picked up four points against Arsenal and Manchester United, but also losing to Newcastle and Everton, plus a very disappointing defeat midweek to Bristol City in the Cup. The Potters are missing a host of defenders, with Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross both injured, plus Kurt Zouma ineligible to face his parent club. Kevin Wimmer is also touch and go with a hamstring injury, not expected to be available.

What they’re saying

Mark Hughes on Chelsea’s discipline issues: “Chelsea at the moment look like they are getting yellow and red cards more frequently, but that might be just an anomaly, something happening in the moment. I don’t think it is prevalent in their team. They are just strong when they need to be. It is not going to be tactic we are going to irritate them with, to step over the line, because if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll have the players to do that.”

Antonio Conte on Stoke: “The most important thing for us is to go game by game. Tomorrow it will be a really tough game. We must prepare very well this game in all the situations, tactically, physically, to be disciplined. Stoke won against Arsenal and then drew against Manchester United. It means Stoke is a really good team.”

Prediction

Stoke City has given tough teams trouble, and could again if Maxim Chupo-Moting shows up at his best again, but it’s much more likely that Chelsea will ease by in this game. The Potters have fallen off slightly this season, and while their draw against Manchester United shows they pack some punch, it won’t be enough to see off a Chelsea side buoyed by the return of Eden Hazard. Chelsea could win their opening three Premier League away matches for the first time since 2009…their third away fixture of that campaign was a 2-1 victory at Stoke, so we’ll go for the same scoreline here.

Hope Solo says she has settled grievance with US Soccer

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Hope Solo has settled a grievance with U.S. Soccer over her suspension from the women’s national team following comments she made at the Rio Olympics.

The settlement was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was suspended for six months and her contract with the federation was terminated after she called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards” following the U.S. team’s quarterfinal loss.

Details about the settlement, reached last month, were not released. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Players Association filed the grievance on Solo’s behalf.

In a statement provided Friday to The Associated Press, Solo reiterated her regret over the comments.

“As I expressed in my apology to the Swedish captain immediately following the match, I have tremendous respect for the Swedish team, and in describing the style of play, I used a choice of words that was both offensive and not at all what I had intended to convey,” she said.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

“We have amicably resolved the matter and are moving forward in a positive way,” she added.

U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Women’s Soccer Team Players Association declined to comment.

Solo anchored the team in goal for the 2015 Women’s World Cup victory, allowing just three goals in seven games with five shutouts during the tournament – earning her a second straight Golden Glove Award.

For her career, Solo has made 202 total appearances with the national team, with 153 wins and an international-record 102 shutouts.

The defending champion U.S. women were ousted from the Olympics last summer when Sweden advanced 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw.

Solo’s “cowards” quote came immediately following the loss. Sweden went on to play in the gold-medal match against Germany.

Solo told the AP in an interview late last year that she spoke to coach Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati following the loss, and felt that the issue was put to rest. After she returned to the United States, she said she was blindsided by the announcement about her suspension.

She said she believes U.S. Soccer wanted her off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Solo has been an outspoken advocate for equal pay and was among the players who filed a complaint against the federation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination.

“Let’s call it what is, which is a firing,” Solo told AP then. “It was a termination of my contract effective immediately with severance. That is a firing. It wasn’t a suspension, that’s what they told the media because it looked better. But I got fired. I got fired for what they say was using the word `cowards’ but in reality they got rid of an adversary in the fight for equal pay.”

U.S. Soccer said at the time that Solo was suspended following a culmination of actions, and separately her contract was also terminated with the team.

Awful goalkeeping howler dooms Bayern to draw

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Bayern fans are already counting down the days until Manuel Neuer’s return in goal.

In his absence, Sven Ulreich has earned a pair of starts in Bundesliga play, and the most recent has not ended well. With Bayern leading Wolfsburg 2-0, Ulreich completely botched a simple save leading to Wolfsburg’s first goal, sparking a comeback from the visitors.

As Max Arnold delivered a free-kick 10 minutes after halftime, the ball sailed just over the wall and directly at Ulreich’s head. Instead of catching the attempt or using both hands to parry the shot, Ulreich raised just his right hand and failed to connect fully. The ball glanced off the side of his palm and into the back of the net to bring Wolfsburg a goal back.

The free-kick had decent pace, and it didn’t help that Sebastian Rudy made a poor attempt to block the delivery, but Ulreich won’t want to see a replay of that chance, as he made a hideous attempt to stop the shot. Wolfsburg would eventually equalize with just seven minutes remaining in the match as Daniel Didavi scored a pinpoint header in off the post. Ruddy let Didavi sneak behind him, and Paul Verhaegh delivered a fantastic long ball into the box for the 27-year-old to redirect in.

The draw means Bayern has failed to put pressure on Borussia Dortmund this weekend, leaving Die Roten level with their Dortmund rivals on 13 points with the latter still to host Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday.

Neuer likely won’t be back until January thanks to yet another foot injury, leaving Bayern to either continue along with Ulreich and hope he improves, or look for other options either in-house or on the free agent market. Ulreich came over from Stuttgart in the summer of 2015 and has backed up Neuer since.

Former Fulham midfielder Sidwell tells another amazing Felix Magath story

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German manager Felix Magath has always been known as a mercurial individual, but as time passes from his failed stint in charge of relegated club Fulham, more and more stories continue to flow from former players that absolutely boggle the mind.

The most famous story thus far has come from former Fulham defender Brede Hangeland about Magath’s suggestion that applying cottage cheese directly to his ailing knee would help solve his injury problem. Hangeland also spoke of how Magath would make the team run in the dead of night after returning from away trips, calling him “an awful human being.”

Now, former Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell, who spent three years at Craven Cottage, spoke up about his own experiences under Magath. Sidwell, now with Brighton but yet to make a Premier League appearance, told BBC 5 Live Sports about another time Magath was frustrated with his squad, and how he chose a different way to express that during training.

“We played poorly – I can’t remember what game it was – and we got off the bus and he said ‘right, well everyone in tomorrow at 8:00 and we’re gonna train.’ We was due a day off but we’re gonna be in for training. So everyone got in, we got outside…there was no balls coming out with us so we’re thinking ‘right, ok.’ So he’s gone ‘right, your formation yesterday, can you get in your positions?’ So we got on the pitch…goalkeeper, back four, midfield four, two strikers…stood there. And he said, ‘right, you didn’t want to run around yesterday, we’re not gonna run around today.’ And he just blew the whistle, and he said ‘everyone just stand still.’ And we had to just stand still. And it was a cold day, and there was a couple lads with gloves on, they was off straight away. There was leaves blowing across the pitch, you couldn’t make eye contact with anyone, you had to just stand there, and I think we was just there for about 40 minutes just standing there.”

In. Credible. Stuff. Sidwell also said that Magath had every player participate in a pint night before each and every away game, often in the hotel bar.

Magath was fired in September of 2014, just seven months after his hire, with Fulham having suffered an eleven-game winless streak. The Whites were eventually relegated later that season, and have not recovered since, still in the Championship looking for a return to the top flight.