Southampton prove they’re just fine without Koeman

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SOUTHAMPTON — Ronald Koeman‘s departure from Southampton this summer was meant to signal a lack of ambition.

It was supposed to be a sign that Saints would not be marching on any further and their fans were furious that Koeman, who had previously signaled his intent on multiple occasions that he would stay for one more season at least, left them for Everton.

[ MORE: Saints dominate Everton ]

On his first return to St Mary’s there were boos and jeers for Koeman, with Saints’ fans eager to point out his u-turn in their chants but there was soon a lack of intensity in the animosity after Charlie Austin‘s goal after 41 seconds set Saints on their way to a first Premier League win in five games and moved them on to 17 points, just two behind Everton.

After Southampton’s convincing 1-0 win on Sunday at St Mary’s, — don’t let the scoreline deceive you, despite recent up and down displays, Saints deserved this win — they proved that under new manager Claude Puel they’ve moved on and they’ll be just fine without Koeman at the helm. Of course, one win against a former manager doesn’t mean Saints will continue to march on.

[ MORE: How Koeman’s time at Saints unraveled ]

But getting one over their former boss certainly helped. One fan screamed “redemption!” as he walked out of St Mary’s and past the press conference room during Puel’s interview.

Speaking after the game, Koeman was reflective when asked about the home fans’ overall reaction to his return.

“Everybody is free. We live in a social life. Anybody can give his reactions,” Koeman said. “I know from the players of Southampton, how they react today, the staff, in general, of Southampton appreciate a lot what we did together. That is for me the most important. The rest… okay, that’s football. That is life.”

There were no special mentions or thanks for Koeman in the matchday magazine from Southampton. Simply an acknowledgement from both the new manager Puel and captain Jose Fonte that Koeman would be coming back. That was it.

When the Dutchman left in the summer, it was seen as a major letdown by fans, players and many behind-the-scenes. With a two-year  contract extension all but agreed, Koeman then changed is agent and soon he was demanding to leave for Everton. He was handed a reported $7.5 million per season deal with the Toffees.

Some Saints fans understand that if that kind of money is being offered up, it must be taken. Koeman led them to the UEFA Europa League and a seventh and sixth place finish in each of the last two seasons, their best-ever finishes in the Premier League. They’ve been on the up for seven-straight seasons since being in the third-tier in 2009 and they have always planned ahead with their own philosophy in mind.

Now is no different.

Plus, it’s not like Southampton hasn’t lost players (Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane, Dejan Lovren, Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne) or managers (Mauricio Pochettino) to so-called “bigger clubs” before in the past. They are used to waving goodbye to people and spending the huge profits they’ve made wisely.

Yet, it was the way Koeman went about it which really irked a lot of Southampton supporters. They let Koeman know how they felt but didn’t go overboard. Southampton’s dominance over Koeman’s new side Everton probably helped.

Midway through the first half Koeman sat in his seat with his head slumped downwards and his hands held together. He did that a lot on Sunday.

Then after Everton’s full backs were once again carved apart by Southampton’s wingers, he walked back to his seat shaking his head. The first half was not what he hoped for. At all. It didn’t get much better in the second half either. His team were outplayed and even though they had two or three good chances to score, Saints had many more.

There was also an added layer on his return, which perhaps shed a light on why Saints’ executive director of football Les Reed was finally okay to let Koeman leave in the summer.

Southampton is a club which is proud of its youth academy and bringing players through. Shaw, Lallana, Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are the main names to make it big.

19-year-old Josh Sims is the latest to come through. He made his Premier League debut on Sunday and put in a man of the match display, getting a standing ovation as he was subbed out late on. Koeman spoke scathingly about Saints’ academy and about some of the players not being good enough last January when he was still in charge at St Mary’s. That upset many.

Sims spoke about his debut and his display and he’s proof, along with the man who replaced him, Sam McQueen, that there’s plenty more to look forward to from Saints’ famed academy. No matter what Koeman said.

“I’m delighted for how I performed today. I found out I was in the squad just before kick off and as soon as I knew, the lads were just giving me advice, telling me to just do what I do best – the whole thing was a great experience,” Sims said. “It was a mixture of nerves and excitement before starting but It’s everything you wish for as a kid. I’ve come through the academy here so having the fans sing my name and give me a standing ovation on my debut is a dream come true.”

Even some Everton fans at St Mary’s understood why Koeman’s departure from St Mary’s was met with such animosity but agreed that ultimately it was all about one thing: money.

“It is the nature of the beast.  Money talks,” said Everton fan Gareth Hughes from Porthmadog, who also rated Southampton’s current squad and manager highly. He thinks they will do just fine without Koeman.

But how would Everton’s fans feel if Koeman left them for a bigger team, say his beloved Barcelona, if things went well at Goodison Park over the next few years?

“Nobody is bigger than the club,” Hughes said.

Alex James, also an Evertonian, agreed with that sentiment.

“The club will always be there. Players and managers come and go. In a few weeks after a few wins, everyone will forget about him,” Hughes added.

This win, and performance, will go a long way to doing that for Southampton’s fans. Koeman is now firmly a part of their past as Saints’ well-oiled machine continues to march on no matter which players or managers are at the club.

Sunday’s display from Southampton proved they have well and truly moved on from Koeman.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.