Men in Blazers join NBC Sports Group’s coverage of the Premier League

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GFOPs, rejoice! Men in Blazers are joining NBC Sports Group’s coverage of the Premier League and will offer a full multi-media, cross-platform showcase for their unique talents. The deal makes Men in Blazers exclusive to NBC Universal for all soccer-related content.

News of the comedic duo, made up of television producer Michael Davies and writer/producer Roger Bennett, joining the network broke last night in the Wall Street Journal article written by Will Connors. That article noted the centerpiece of the deal being a 30 minute show to air every Monday of Premier League competition and today, additional details of the group’s input have emerged.

| BPLonNBC TV schedule | Premier League previews | Watch PL live online via Live Extra |

The agreement includes one studio appearance per month by Bennett where he will serve as a special contributor, a single one-hour special show (to be aired during a high point of the Premier League season), various features including four to six pieces from the United Kingdom, as well as video-on-demand previews to be distributed via Pro Soccer Talk, Soccerly and Yahoo. Bennett will also contribute long form pieces to NBCSports.com, where a Men in Blazers section will exist that houses their weekly podcast, headlines and thumbnails for all content.

[VISIT: Men In Blazers website | Get their podcast ]

Over the past three years Davies and Bennett have reached cult status with their weekly podcast on Grantland. “The pod,” as it’s commonly known, is a witty, pop culture-infused show that focuses on the Premier League but also pays homage to the U.S. Men’s National Team (referred to by the duo as “The Von Trapps”), Major League Soccer and other major stories in international football. Recurring topics of discussion include Davies’ love for Chelsea, Bennett’s love for Everton, the growth of soccer in the United States, World War I poetry as well as a smattering array of television series like Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey, all of which contribute to the fast-growing lexicon in which Men in Blazers converse.

Followers of the duo are known as ‘Great Friend of the Pod’, or, more commonly, “GFOPs”, an acronym that is frequently hashtagged in Tweets to Men in Blazers and noted in conversation by guests and fans. In recent years the two have taken their podcast to the airwaves where twice a week their show could be heard on Sirius XM FC. Always a favorite among soccer-heads in the US, the group transcended the sport with their coverage of the 2014 World Cup for ESPN where a number of casual watchers were drawn in by their intellect and repartee.

Davies, also known as “Davo” and “Positive”, is a British television producer who produced Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and broke through in the soccer scene when he authored a hugely-entertaining ESPN World Cup diary in 2002. Bennett, also known as “Rog” and, affectionately, “Toilet”, is a journalist, author and filmmaker who recently directed the highly-acclaimed ESPN documentary, Inside: US Soccer’s March to Brazil. 

In their tagline, Men in Blazers state that they are “driven by the belief that Soccer is America’s Sport of the Future. As it has been since 1972.” The irony of the statement is that, of all factors contributing to the rise of soccer in the US, one of the most profound influences is Men in Blazers themselves. They are conversationally relevant, they are social, and they understand the dynamics of the media landscape as well as any talent. The perfect addition to NBC’s extensive coverage of the Barclays Premier League.

Report: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson

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Minnesota United has had its shares of ups and down in its debut MLS season, but the Loons are on the verge making an exciting young signing.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder closing in on Los Angeles FC move ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Minnesota will sign Hearts winger Sam Nicholson from the Scottish Premier League on a deal that makes him a Loon until 2019.

The young attacker is expected to join the MLS side when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

Nicholson, 22, has played with the Edinburgh side since his youth days, and made his senior debut with the club in 2013. During his time at Hearts, Nicholson scored 16 goals in all competitions for the team.

Last season, Nicholson missed 16 matches due to a significant knee injury.

According to the report, Scottish sides Rangers and Aberdeen were also among those interested in acquiring Nicholson, while English Championship clubs Bristol City and Barnsley also reached out about the attacker.

Premier League vet Scott Parker calls quits on playing career

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Scott Parker has announced his retirement from soccer after a stellar 20-plus year career in England.

[ MORE: Chile bests Portugal on PKs to reach Confed Cup final ]

The 36-year-old spent almost the entirety of his career in the Premier League, and played with seven teams during his time on the pitch.

“I believe now is the right time to move on to the next chapter in my life and career,” Parker said in a statement.

“I feel incredibly honoured and proud to have enjoyed the career that I have and I’ve loved every moment of it.”

Parker began playing with Charlton after coming up through the team’s youth academy, before completing a move to Chelsea in 2004.

Throughout his career, Parker also spent time at Newcastle, West Ham and Tottenham, before finishing up at Fulham this past season.

Three storylines when Mexico meets Germany in Confed Cup semis

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With a place in the final on the line tomorrow afternoon, it’s all or nothing for Mexico and Germany as they meet in the second semifinal at this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup.

The two nations have had very similar paths in reaching the final four, after both accumulated seven points during the group stage and showed signs of improvement with every match.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s FIFA Confederations Cup action ]

Here are some of the key battles to watch on Thursday when Mexico and Germany square off for a place in the final.

How does Germany’s youth hold up vs. Mexico’s experience?

Even when Jurgen Low released his roster heading into the Confederations Cup, much was expected of the Germans. After a strong run of play during the group stage, Low’s men have lived up to the billing with an exciting young attack and an improving backline to match.

When Germany meets Mexico though, the defending World Cup champions will be taking on an El Tri side that has loads of international experience, and similar to that of Chile, the Europeans will surely receive all that they can handle.

At the tender age of 23, Julian Draxler captains the Germans and has been challenged with leading his nation throughout the tournament. The PSG attacker has been quality thus far, but he and his side will take on a whole different task on Thursday against a quick, feisty Mexican group.

Will Hirving Lozano be the difference in the attack?

Injuries and a key suspension will certain hinder Mexico in the semifinal round, but the bigger question is: how will Juan Carlos Osorio’s side cope with the losses?

El Tri know it will be without winger Andres Guardado due to yellow card accumulation, while striker Javier Hernandez is in question ahead of the Germany clash after reportedly training by himself on Monday.

Although Hernandez likely just needed rest after a busy season of matches in the Bundesliga, Mexico is still seeking a quality playmaker to replace Guardado on Thursday, one that they’re hoping with be Hirving Lozano.

The newly-signed PSV man has quickly become one of the top young faces in global soccer, and with three international goals for El Tri dating back to 2016, Lozano is the spark that Mexico needs.

El Tri must start fast

In all three of Mexico’s group stage matches Osorio’s side fell behind during the first half. While El Tri managed to come away unscathed to remain perfect in group play, it’s difficult to imagine that they will be able to pull off the same feat against a quality German side.

On the other hand, Mexico’s resilience has been impressive. In their opener against Portugal, El Tri pulled off a late winner against the reigning European champions, a result that likely set the tone for the team’s ensuing comebacks versus New Zealand and Russia, respectively.

Chile bests Portugal on penalty kicks to reach Confed Cup final

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Chile is on its way to the Confederations Cup final after a thrilling battle with Portugal on Wednesday afternoon.

The Chileans edged their European opposition, 0-0 (3-0 on penalty kicks), at Kazan Arena in Russia after goalkeeper Claudio Bravo made a trio of saves during the penalty shootout.

Arturo Vidal hit the post in the 119th minute from close range, before Martin Rodriguez’s rebound smashed off the crossbar and stayed out of goal to the dismay of the Chileans.

Chile had a legitimate claim for a penalty kick in the second half of extra time as Jose Fonte stepped on the foot of Francisco Silva inside the Portuguese area, but the referee opted to play on.

The South Americans thought they had picked out the lead just a few minutes into extra time when Alexis Sanchez’s header glanced just wide of goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo had several quality chances to break the deadlock during regulation, but none better than in the 72nd minute when the Real Madrid star had his deflected effort narrowly miss the top corner.

Chile began to find more of a rhythm during the second stanza, and Eduardo Vargas nearly gave his side the lead in the 59th minute when he acrobatically shot on goal, forcing a reaction save out of Rui Patricio.

Vargas had the first big chance for the South Americans in the sixth minute when he found himself in on goal against Patricio, but the Portuguese goalkeeper stood tall and made the save.

Meanwhile, Claudio Bravo found himself in a similar situation on the other end just a minute later, when the Manchester City keeper kept Portugal off the scoreboard.

Chile will meet the winner of Thursday’s contest between Mexico and Germany, while the Portuguese will await the loser of the match to decide third place.