What will Besler and Zusi’s DP deals mean for Major League Soccer?

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On Saturday evening at half time of the Seattle Sounders vs. Tottenham Hotspur friendly at CenturyLink, Major League Soccer received a huge boost.

Sporting Kansas City announced that both of their U.S. internationals, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, had agreed long-term Designated Player contracts and will remain in KC. That is massive.

[RELATED: Besler, Zusi sign new SKC deals]

First off, Besler had up to 10 European clubs chasing his signature after a stellar World Cup at the heart of the USA’s defense. Speaking earlier this week, Besler confirmed that Sunderland and Fulham had bid for him, while the likes of Aston Villa, Stuttgart and QPR were linked. Zusi had also been linked with a foreign switch, as training stints overseas has made people aware of the Floridians talent. As Dorothy once said famously in the Wizard of Oz: there’s no place like home.

Besler and Zusi have grown up in KC. They have been the shining lights in the clubs resurgence. They are stars of MLS.

To lose both of them overseas this summer would have been what many SKC fans would’ve expected. When you look around the U.S. national team, guys likes Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Geoff Cameron, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley plus others, they all hopped off the MLS train after a few seasons for the riches and fame of Europe. Besler and Zusi aren’t following them down that route.

Why should they dispose of the stardom, success and familiarity they enjoy in KC for a new challenge abroad? After all, KC are the reigning MLS champions and the club is one of the major success stories in the league. Some will question both players’ ambition and sat they should head to Europe to test themselves at a higher level, but if it isn’t the right situation for them to move… why would they?

Yes, they would likely make more money playing in Europe. However they are getting bumper DP deals to stay in the league and help MLS’ progression. If they head to a top-flight team in England or Germany, were they going to play regularly or be cast aside like many other Americans who have fled overseas? Who knows. We know that in KC they will be playing week in, week out and from the amount of MLS players who shone for the U.S. at the World Cup, we now know Jurgen Klinsmann isn’t afraid to throw players from the domestic league into the team. That likely had a huge part in both players’ decision.

Both players arrived as rookies together in 2009. Besler is a hometown boy who now captains SKC and his family took in Zusi when he made the move from Florida. The two have remained best buds since and have surged into the national team together from the top-class foundation given to them by Sporting. They are a package. A glimmering, glamorous and majestic package who are blazing a trail that future MLS stars to follow.

Sure, plenty of American youngsters will spurn MLS and head to Europe, these deals may not change that. However it does show plenty out there that you don’t have to go overseas to play for the U.S. national team. You don’t have to go overseas to gain the fortune. With the increased revenue from sold-out stadiums, TV moneys and sponsorship deals, it’s right here in MLS. Years from now, we may look back on Besler and Zusi’s decision to stay in MLS as one of the biggest moments in the league’s modern history.

Trailblazers. Trendsetters… Besler and Zusi are two dudes who are getting paid big bucks to become stars for a team they love, in a city they love.

You can’t put a price on that.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”