How will Louis van Gaal revolutionize Manchester United?

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Manchester United’s ‘bouncebackability’ will be tested to the max this season as Louis van Gaal arrives and tries to turn the Red Devils back into the imperious force they once were.

This will not be easy. Not at all. But if anyone can do it, van Gaal can.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

Last season, their first Premier League campaign without legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson in charge, United finished in seventh under new manager David Moyes who didn’t finish out the campaign before being fired. That was their lowest ever finish in the PL era and something had to change.

[RELATED: How will United line up?]

Dutch national team boss van Gaal (who led his country to an unexpected semifinal berth at the 2014 World Cup this summer) is the man tasked with a monumental overhaul. So far, things have gone rather smoothly for LVG during preseason but we all know that counts for nowt as the new season is almost upon us. Winning the International Champions Cup after beating the likes of Real Madrid, Roma and Liverpool is all well and good during a U.S. tour but the 38 PL season is what matters most. With no European soccer to distract them this season, United’s sole focus will be on returning to the top four. At least.

How will van Gaal make that happen? Here are five steps the Dutchman will likely take to usher in a new era at Old Trafford.

source: Getty Images
Van Gaal’s no-nonsense approach has already won him plenty of fans on the terraces.

3-5-2 formation

Van Gaal loves the flexibility this formation gives him and he championed it with Holland at the World Cup this summer. There are plenty of square pegs in round holes at United right now, but in the long term it seems like the formation of the future. Just as Tiki-Taka too over in the last decade, expect a fluid 3-5-2 formation to become the most fashionable in soccer. With three ball-playing center backs, LVG stays true to his Dutch beliefs. The midfield three are interchangeable and are encouraged to drop deep and pick up the ball. Summer signing Ander Herrera has already shown he’s a star of the future in the holding role. While Juan Mata is given the role of chief creator in the hole behind two central strikers of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. It is adaptable when United will be under pressure as the wing-backs will drop in to create a five-man defense. It also allows you to dictate the tempo but the players must be extremely fit to make it work.

Hunger, fight, hard work

That segue’s us nicely onto this next point. The passion, desire and determination to roll up the sleeves and grind out wins seemed to disappear from United last season. LVG is working hard to instill that back into his players. With Darren Fletcher back fit and leading the charge from central midfield, United have a figurehead as the wily Scot is a warrior in the engine room. Just like van Gaal had with Nigel de Jong with the Dutch team, he needs players who aren’t the most gifted but will graft and sacrifice themselves for the team. Look at the way he singled out the most expensive teenager in the world, Luke Shaw, and made him train on his own to up his fitness levels. That sent out as message to United’s players: they must be willing to give all they have to succeed.

Experience counts for everything

In order to succeed, experience is key. Now, after the fact, we can point to Moyes appointment last season as the wrong choice as he had no experience managing a side who are expected to win the league title and other trophies. Van Gaal has that, in abundance. LVG has won trophies wherever he has gone. He has claimed silverware at European giants Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He is no stranger to success and knows exactly what to do to achieve it. However he has never managed in the PL, so this may be his biggest challenge yet. Especially with Sir Alex Ferguson’s success hanging over him ominously from the get-go.

source: Getty Images
Mata and Rooney will be key as United’s players roll up their sleeves to succeed.

‘Us against them’ mentality returns

Fergie was famous for this. A wall has already been erected by LVG between his side, the press and the outside world. His no-nonsense approach has already won him plenty of fans with the Red Devils faithful as the similarities between his mentality and Sir Alex’s is striking. LVG has screamed and bellowed at his players in practice sessions this summer and has put them through their paces with a grueling routine. However, publicly he has been supportive of them (even Shaw) and it is clear that he wants to foster a family environment at Old Trafford.

Clean slate signifies new attitude, philosophy

The old United ‘family’ have gone. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have left this summer, while Nani, Anderson, Javier Hernandez, Marouane Fellaini and Rafael have apparently been told they are free to leave United should a suitable offer arrive. The ‘clearing of the deadwood’ so to speak, needed to happen last season and we all saw why. Veterans like Ferdinand, Evra and Vidic have been great servants for the club but it was one season too many. Now van Gaal can finally cast aside a group of players who were so loyal to Sir Alex that perhaps they weren’t willing to change their style under a new boss at United. Van Gaal has been ruthless and he has needed to be to provide a clean slate to every single Manchester United player. No matter how much you cost or what your name is, you are all the same to van Gaal. That is huge for United heading into the new season as a new attitude and philosophy arrives at old Trafford. Lets see how successful it is but one thing is certain, van Gaal has impressed at every hurdle so far. Now the biggest one is on the horizon: returning United to glory.

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.