A rivalry brewing: Bournemouth vs. Southampton

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BOURNEMOUTH — Driving from Southampton to Bournemouth through the foggy New Forest on Sunday, it took just over 30 minutes to get to the Vitality Stadium.

[ MORE: Rodriguez wins it for Saints ]

The road from Southampton to Bournemouth hasn’t been one used for soccer often. They’ve played each other just 24 times in the league in history, making this particular South Coast derby one which has been tough to decipher over the years.

With Bournemouth languishing in the lower leagues for much of their 117-year existence and Southampton ruling the local areas for decades, the power is shifting with upstarts Bournemouth on the up in recent seasons after rising all the way to the Premier League from the fourth-tier.

Yet, as much as most Bournemouth fans want to make this a local rivalry, Southampton’s supporters aren’t too interested. Right now, they don’t see Bournemouth as a legitimate rival despite the Cherries being on level points with them (marking their highest-ever position in club history) heading into this clash.

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Before the game there were whispers among the Bournemouth fans that scuffles had broken out around the town center by the train station with bottles thrown and the police having to sort out the disturbances.

In some instances this rivalry is not a friendly one. For the most part it is.

“The minority spoil it for the majority. I’m very good mates with a lot of Bournemouth fans and their principles are the same as ours. They see it as a friendly rivalry,” Southampton fan Stewart McAlpine said in the away end at the Vitality Stadium.

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Chatting to Andy Poole, a Bournemouth fan sipping on a beer before the game. he acknowledged that this rivalry is still in its infancy but it can become something bigger than it ever has been.

“I think now that we are both in the Premier League it will take on a new meaning where before we were poles apart,” Poole said. “I think people talk it about too much. There is a lot of respect between the two sides and we’ve got a common interest on the South Coast to promote Premier League football. It can only be a good thing.”

For so many years Bournemouth have been seen as Southampton’s little brother. A club which Saints loaned its best youngsters out to for experience and a lower-league team they played in preseason friendlies. That’s not the case any more.

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Last season Bournemouth were promoted to the Premier League and top-flight for the first-time in club history and this rivalry was sent to new levels. Sunday’s South Coast derby proved that.

“F*** Off Southampton, the South Coast is ours!” was the first song from the Bournemouth faithful in the Steve Fletcher Stand and those chants only grew louder as Nathan Ake scored with a brilliant diving header to make it 1-0 to Bournemouth just six minutes in.

The underlying animosity was clear as a Bournemouth fan picked up the ball and threw it away from Saints’ right back Cedric Soares when it was 1-0. When Southampton equalized via Ryan Bertrand‘s lovely finish from the left side of the box there were groans of discontent inside the Vitality Stadium as Bertrand gestured for them to be quiet.

The home fans weren’t happy and the away fans taunted them with a song entitled “I’ve got a shed that’s bigger than this” when referring to the smallest stadium in the Premier League which has a capacity of just over 11,000.

Constant songs about hating Portsmouth, their true rivals from further east down the South Coast, emanated from the away fans throughout the game as Bournmouth’s fans continued to focus on Southampton.

“If you all hate scummers clap your hands” was the chant from the Bournemouth fans after Sofiane Boufal was booked for simulation before half time.

“I don’t really see it is a much of a rivalry because it has always been us versus Pompey,” McAlpine explained. “I think it is a friendly one. We’ve helped them out in the past. It’s nice to see them doing well. Saints fans aren’t really that bothered about Bournemouth. For Bournemouth, they have to have a rivalry with someone and that rivalry is with us. Let them have it. We are the best side on the South Coast.”

Poole, and most Bournemouth fans, believe they can fill the void left by Portsmouth following their relegation to the fourth-tier of English soccer which has left Saints without a main rival.

“It [the rivalry] now has that extra dimension with Bournemouth in the Premier League and Portsmouth waning over the years, maybe we are taking over from where Portsmouth left off,” Poole said.

At half time, there was a further indication of the closeness, at least geographically, of Bournemouth and Southampton, even if the rivalry isn’t as close as others across the Premier League which have much more history. It’s understandable, after all, these teams have now met just three times in the PL.

In a competition between fans on the pitch where they had to spin around on the spot and then take a penalty kick, a man wearing a Southampton shirt took a PK. He was introduced by the stadium PA announcer as someone from Christchurch, a town much closer to Bournemouth than Southampton. Cue boos from the home fans as he scored his penalty kick and celebrated by sliding on his knees. He cared. So too did Southampton’s fans.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

A lively start to the second half saw Southampton take the lead as Jay Rodriguez tapped home. That sparked wild celebrations in the away end and intense frustrations among the home fans. When Rodriguez grabbed his second and Saints’ third with a fine strike, the away fans were even more jubilant as they celebrated a deserved 3-1 win.

Despite Southampton’s dominant win on Sunday’s Bournemouth’s fans are still optimistic they can rule the South Coast in years to come with promise of a new stadium and more investment the longer they can remain a Premier League team.

“We’ve languished in the lower leagues for most of our history but there’s a determination to be a Premier League club for many years. With that comes a bigger ground and more expectation. For the future, who knows? We could be the dominant force on the South Coast,” Poole said, smiling. “Southampton have been the bigger side and had more success. It’s not that far down the road to go and watch football. Bournemouth have always been down in the lower leagues so people tended to go and watch Southampton play when they wanted to see that high standard of football. It’s all changed now and people are going to start migrating back this way.”

Even if that’s the case, Southampton’s fans had the final say on Sunday. And even if they don’t admit it, a win against their neighbors from 30 minutes down the road will make their Christmas dinner taste a little better next weekend.

“We are Southampton, the South Coast is ours!” was quickly followed by “There’s only one South Coast derby!” just to remind Bournemouth’s fans exactly how they felt about his perplexing rivalry.

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.