Ten Players to Watch in the 2014/15 Premier League season

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It’s never easy to craft a ‘Top 10 players to watch’ list, mainly because it falls into that amorphous space among lists concerning ‘Top 10 players’, ‘Top 10 transfers’ and ‘Top 10 dark horses’. So we dug deep, removed the ‘Top 10’ aspect and have put together the perfect list of Premier League players you need to keep your eye on in 2014/15.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

Of course, the list is still a bit subjective but if you disagree or feel we’ve lost the plot, have your say in the comments. Regardless, the most important point remains – the Premier League returns in only five days. Get in!

Diego Costa – Chelsea

If one were to single out where Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho got it wrong last year most would agree it was at striker where the trio of Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba proved lame. So this summer the Portuguese manager set out to find a powerful, clinical, hulking striker to play the role of Didier Drogba 2.0. Diego Costa, who scored 36 goals in all comps last year for Atletico Madrid, has been donned that man. And, just in case the Brazilian striker doesn’t come good, Mourinho went out and signed Drogba 1.0 as well (although he’s already caught the injury bug).

Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal

In one of the most high-powered signings of the summer, Arsenal broke the bank to bring Alexis Sanchez to North London. Similar to the deal for Mesut Ozil last year, it was one that Arsenal didn’t have to make out of necessity but instead, simply couldn’t pass up. Sanchez enjoyed a brilliant World Cup for Chile and made no secret of his desire to leave Barcelona – where he, like Cesc Fabregas, was under appreciated – to play under Arsene Wenger. How the gaffer will line up his stacked squad is anyone’s guess but expect Sanchez to pop up on the right and left wings, an attacking center midfielder and as a striker.

Luke Shaw – Manchester United

There isn’t a player in the league with more pressure on his shoulders than Luke Shaw, having arrived at Old Trafford this summer on a $50 million dollar transfer fee. For a 19-year-old left back, that’s some serious loot. Then again, Shaw is a big talent, both literally and metaphorically. The question becomes, what kind of impact will he have in year one? Louis van Gaal has already cut him down by publicly noting his lack of fitness and handing Ashley Young a fair shot to win the left-back spot. And, shockingly, the former Villa man has looked quite good in pre-season. Tough times for Shaw but watching him overcome the odds will be a joy.

Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea

Can’t wait to see Fabregas back on Premier League pitches but in Chelsea blue?! That will take some getting used to. The former Arsenal midfielder arrived at Stamford Bridge following a three-year stint at Barcelona where his qualities were not fully appreciated. Now, back on English soil, pundits will be looking to see if Cesc can re-capture the reputation he gained at the Emirates as one of the best play-makers in the world.

source: Getty ImagesRoss Barkley – Everton

Everton made headlines this summer with the $47 million purchase of Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea but equally significant was the re-signing of midfielder Ross Barkley to a new four year deal at the club. Barkley scored seven goals in 38 appearances for Everton last season, beasting opponents with a combination of power, skill and a knack for big goals.

Rumors were rife with Manchester United and Chelsea were in to sign the 20-year-old maestro but in the end Everton was too close to his heart: “This contract means everything for me. It is my dream to play for Everton. This is the club I love and I see it as home.”

Stevan Jovetic – Manchester City

Stevan Jovetic struggled with injury in his first season at City but has been fantastic in this summer’s pre-season. With injuries to Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo heading into the start of the season, look for Jovetic to partner Edin Dzeko up top and to finally make his mark in the Premier League. If the Montenegrin comes good for the Citizens early on, look for him to move out to the wing once Aguero returns from injury.

Enner Valencia – West Ham

Feels like ages since West Ham have had a healthy, proper striker ready to go. Last year they banked on Andy Carroll before injuries struck him down leaving the cupboard bare. This year, the Hammers smartly hedged Carroll (who recently injured himself again) by dropping $20 million on Ecuadorian striker Enner Valencia. The former Pachuca man (18 goals in 23 matches) dazzled in the World Cup, scoring three goals and proving himself a menace to opposition with blazing speed and incredible aerial ability. Here’s to hoping West Ham’s new gem can stay healthy.

Aaron Ramsey – Arsenal

Keep Aaron Ramsey healthy and Arsenal are realistic title contenders. At the beginning of last season the Welsh Wizard was brilliant for the Gunners, using his silky skills to playmake throughout the midfield while scoring eight league goals before the end of November. But in December, injury struck Ramsey and down went Arsenal’s title hopes. This summer he’s healthy and looking as lively as ever with Goonah fans everywhere frothing at the mouth over the prospect of Ramsey, Ozil and Sanchez linking up together.

source: APThibaut Courtois – Chelsea

After two years on loan at Atletico Madrid, the gigantic Belgian returns to Chelsea where one of the most compelling goalkeeping battles of all time is set to commence: Thibaut Courtois v. Petr Cech. Courtois’ size (6′ 7″), split-second reactions and soft hands have seen him rise the ranks of goalkeepers, with many believing he’s No. 2 just behind Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer. But what about Cech? He’s long been one of, if not the best, keepers in the Premier League and he’s not going down without a battle. How Mourinho decides to divide up the playing time and each player’s reaction towards that decision will be an incredibly compelling storyline for the entire season.

Ander Herrera – Manchester United

After multiple attempts to sign Herrera last year, United finally landed the deep-lying playmaker from Athletic Bilbao and he already looks at home in the Red Devils midfield. Lively, with brilliant technique and passing ability, Herrera will play alongside Michael Carrick and, at times, Darren Fletcher, to provide the creative link to Juan Mata. A fantastic signing for Louis van Gaal.

Others to Watch: Mathieu Debuchy (Arsenal), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Callum Chambers (Arsenal), Fabian Delph (Aston Villa), Danny Ings (Burnley), Felipe Luis (Chelsea), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Frazier Campbell (Crystal Palace), Dwight Gayle (Crystal Palace), Yannick Bolasie (Crystal Palace), Jason Puncheon (Crystal Palace), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), John Stones (Everton), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Muhamed Besic (Everton), Jake Livermore (Hull City), Robert Snodgrass (Hull City), Thomas Ince (Hull City), Marc Albrighton (Leicester City), Danny Drinkwater (Leicester City), Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City), Lazar Markovic (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City), Willy Caballero (Manchester City), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Robin van Persie (Manchester United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Remy Cabella (Newcastle), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Daryl Janmaat (Newcastle), Loic Remy (QPR), Jordon Mutch (QPR), Mauricio Isla (QPR), Victor Wanyama (Southampton), Saphir Taider (Southampton), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City), Steve Sidwell (Stoke City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Bojan Krkic (Stoke City), Adam Johnson (Sunderland), Connor Wickham (Sunderland), Jack Rodwell (Sunderland), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City), Ki Sung-Yeung (Swansea City), Bafetimbi Gomis (Swansea City), Jefferson Montero (Swansea City), Wilfried Bony (Swansea City), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham), Ben Davies (Tottenham), Joleon Lescott (West Brom), Chris Brunt (West Brom), Brown Ideye (West Brom), Kevin Nolan (West Ham), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham), Ravel Morrison (West Ham)

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.

MLS playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend

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Time certainly has flown by, and just like that the MLS Cup playoffs are well within sight.

While the Eastern Conference is all locked up in terms of which teams will be in the postseason, seeding can change drastically on the final weekend.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

Meanwhile, the West sees three clubs vying for one final spot in what has proven to be a very intriguing battle over the last several weeks.

All eyes will be on three teams in the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all have an opportunity to move into the sixth spot.

Below, PST takes a look at where clubs can finish in relation to the playoff race.

Eastern Conference

#1 seed: Toronto FC is locked into the top spot

#2 seed: NYCFC — clinches the two seed with a win; Chicago Fire — clinches two with win and NYCFC draw or loss; Atlanta takes two with win plus NYCFC loss/draw and Fire loss/draw

#3 seed: Fire — finishes third with win; NYCFC — takes third with loss to Crew and Fire win; Atlanta — third with win and Fire loss; Crew — finish third with win over NYCFC and don’t overtake NYCFC on GD, plus losses by Fire and Atlanta

#4 seed: NYCFC — fourth with loss to Crew and overtaken on GD, plus Fire win; Fire — finish fourth with loss and Atlanta win, plus NYCFC win or draw; Atlanta — takes fourth with loss and NYCFC/Fire wins; Crew — fourth with win over NYCFC, Fire win and Atlanta loss/draw

#5 seed: Crew — finish fifth with loss/draw; Atlanta — finishes fifth with loss and Crew win; Fire — takes fifth with loss and Atlanta/Crew victories; NYCFC — drops with loss to Crew, Atlanta win and Fire win/draw

#6 seed: New York Red Bulls are locked into sixth spot

Western Conference

#1 seed: Whitecaps — clinch top spot with win; Timbers — finish first with win and Whitecaps loss

#2 seed: Whitecaps — finish second with loss to Timbers; Timbers — second with loss/draw and Sounders/Sporting KC losses; Sounders — finish second with win and Whitecaps win

#3 seed: Timbers — third with loss and Sounders win; Sounders — loss to Rapids and Sporting KC/Dynamo losses; Sporting KC — finish third with win, Sounders loss and Whitecaps/Timbers draw; Dynamo — third with win, Sporting KC loss and Sounders loss

#4 seed: Whitecaps — finish fourth with loss to Timbers, Sounders/Sporting KC wins; Timbers — loss to Whitecaps, plus Sounders/Sporting KC victories; Sounders — finish fourth with loss/draw and Sporting KC win; Sporting KC — fourth with loss and Dynamo loss/draw; Dynamo — finish fourth with win and Sporting KC loss

#5 seed: Timbers — fifth with loss to Whitecaps and Sounders/Sporting KC/Dynamo wins; Sounders — loss to Rapids, plus Sporting KC/Dynamo victories; Dynamo — finish fifth with loss; Sporting KC — fifth place with loss and Dynamo win

#6 seed: San Jose Earthquakes clinch with win; FC Dallas takes sixth with win/draw and Earthquakes loss/draw; Real Salt Lake clinch with win/draw, Earthquakes loss and Dallas loss/draw

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the typically American youngster though, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.