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Midseason awards: Overachievers, most to prove, under the radar

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After reaching the halfway point of the 2016-17 Premier League, Pro Soccer Talk is handing out its awards over the next few days.

[ MORE: PST’s full midseason awards ]

Click on the link above for all of the midseason awards, while below we discuss who has overachieved, who has the most to prove and who has flown under the radar.

[ LISTEN: The 2 Robbies, Rebecca Lowe, midseason review


Team who has overachieved most

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Burnley – With the squad they have, the fact that Burnley is within one point of the top 10 is superb. Turf Moor is a fortress.

Nick Mendola’s pick: West Brom – They’ve overachieved the most, but astute Tony Pulis has adapted from his infuriating defensive methods to follow more of a Leicester 2015-16 model.

Matt Reed’s pick: West Brom – It wasn’t impossible believe that this could be a top 10 side but the Baggies have certainly outdone themselves at the halfway stage. While the team is still lacking a signature win, Tony Pulis’ side is in a good spot for the time being.

Eric Scatmacchia’s pick: Chelsea – Chelsea were not among the top echelon of title contenders at the start of the season and now they are the odds-on favorite to win the Premier League. There wasn’t much turnover from last year’s roster that struggled mightily, but a few key additions, most notably N’Golo Kante, and a system change have Chelsea in historic form.

Player who has overachieved most

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Adam Lallana – We always knew he had this quality but he has added goals and assists to his game and is arguably Liverpool’s most important player. A machine.

Nick Mendola’s pick: Theo Walcott – All things considered for an English international at Arsenal, has overachieved on the finishing front with his eight goals.

Matt Reed’s pick: David Luiz – Since making his Stamford Bridge return, the Brazilian has played a massive role in Chelsea’s three-back system. Luiz and the backline have allowed just eight Premier League goals since he made the move back to the PL and the club hasn’t lost since September.

Eric Scatamacchia’s pick: Jermain Defoe – This is not about Defoe’s talent as he has been a productive striker in the Premier League for over a decade, but rather what he has around him. The Sunderland striker has been in great form this season, but is part of one of the worst offenses in the Premier League. Defoe has 11 of Sunderland’s 19 goals and is tied for the team lead in assists with two. He is on pace for one of his highest scoring seasons of his career and every goal will be vital as he appears to be Sunderland’s only hope of Premier League survival.

Coach who has overachieved most

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Antonio Conte – We know he is top quality but without doubt he has overachieved in his first few months in charge. High expectations from Chelsea’s fans now.

Nick Mendola’s pick: Walter Mazzarri – He has overachieved as a manager, though Watford’s drop-off makes this a risky call.

Matt Reed’s pick: Eddie Howe – The Cherries finished 16th a season ago, and while they likely won’t pull off a Leicester-like upset in 2016/17, Howe has done a tremendous job of putting Bournemouth on the map. Wins over Leicester and Liverpool, as well as a draw against Tottenham, has the Cherries well above anybody’s expectations.

Eric Scatamacchia’s pick: Antonio Conte – So much for needing time to adjust to the Premier League. Conte has 16 wins from his first 19 matches in the Premier League and has frustrated opposing sides with his 3-4-3 system. Conte has had great success in his managerial career, but it would have been unfair to expect this type of success so soon for the Italian.


Team with most to prove 

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Manchester United – Mourinho’s men have finally got going in recent weeks but there’s still plenty more to come from them.

Nick Mendola’s pick: Swansea City – They have the most to prove, largely in the transfer market. There’s a lot to prove for a club which fired two managers before you get to a necessary transfer window.

Matt Reed’s pick: Manchester United – Considering the big-time moves at manager and across the pitch, the Red Devils shouldn’t be content with just finishing top six.

Player with most to prove 

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Claudio Bravo – Much has been made of his arrival at City and the subsequent departure of Joe Hart. I’ve yet to see why Bravo was brought in.

Nick Mendola: Paul Pogba – He has been absolutely wonderful for United but will remain under the microscope due to his record transfer and non-English status.

Matt Reed’s pick: Jamie Vardy – You could really go with the entire Leicester squad but five goals over the first half of the season surely isn’t where the striker expected to be. It’s beginning to get to the point where the Foxes aren’t just floating above the bottom but seriously in danger of falling into the relegation zone, and Vardy has to improve if his team is to last another season in the PL.

Coach with most to prove

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Slaven Bilic – West Ham must now kick on in the second half of the season after a poor opening 20 games. Bilic must prove that last season was a one-off.

Nick Mendola’s pick: Claude Puel – He has a lot to prove at Southampton, as both Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman have raised expectations for what a Saints boss should be able to do almost regardless of tumult.

Matt Reed’s pick: Jose Mourinho – His second stint at Chelsea had its ups and downs but the Portuguese now has great expectations to turn around a United team that has had more struggles than positives since Sir Alex Ferguson‘s exit from Old Trafford. There’s no question that the Red Devils have talent in the squad, so it’s more a matter of seeing what Mourinho can get out of his roster and prove once again that he is in fact the “Special One.”


Under the radar awards

Joe Prince-Wright’s pick: Ander Herrera – Ask any Manchester United fan what they think of Herrera. You’ll hardly ever hear a bad word about him. He does all the leg work for the flashy stars and has been sublime this season.

Nick Mendola’s pick: Matt Phillips – JPW and longtime readers will be rolling their eyes as I’ve loved him going back to his days in the PL with QPR, but Matty Phillips of West Brom has only gotten better and smarter as a crosser of the ball. At $7 million? Not bad, Mr. Pulis.

Matt Reed’s pick: Jermain Defoe – He’s 34 and still banging in goals left and right, and honestly Sunderland would be buried at the bottom right now if it weren’t for the veteran. Defoe has 10 of the team’s 18 finishes this season and barring some major transfer signings in January the Black Cats will need Defoe to survive the rest of the way.

LA Galaxy’s second Dos Santos signing is a season-changer

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Remember this day, MLS fans, as one that perhaps helped determine an MLS Cup Finalist.

The LA Galaxy have signed Villarreal midfielder and Mexican national teamer Jonathan Dos Santos, and he’s the sort of player who could alter the landscape of the Western Conference.

Like Nicolas Lodeiro to Seattle last season and New England’s addition of Jermaine Jones in 2014, Dos Santos’ move comes with the distinct possibility of elevating LA into the next stratosphere.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

Take the Galaxy’s history of winning, and toss in a midseason coaching improvement from Curt Onalfo to Sigi Schmid, as well as MVP-in-their-own-right caliber teammates Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, and Jelle van Damme.

Don’t sleep on the fact that Schmid might be gathering momentum from inheriting a talented and underachieving roster and a brand new game-changing midfielder, which feels a bit like karmic retribution for Seattle firing him and signing Lodeiro the next day last season. Seattle only went and won the MLS Cup.

Schmid has used any number of formations, but could deploy a 4-3-3 with Jona Dos Santos, Jermaine Jones, and Joao Pedro in the midfielder and Giovani Dos Santos, Alessandrini, and Gyasi Zardes up top (Sebastian Lletget could return at some point, too).

Now FC Dallas is very deep, Sporting KC looks powerful, and Seattle won it all last year — plus, may be adding Derlis Gonzalez?!? — but LA’s move to add Dos Santos creates a quartet of teams with proven mettle (Houston looks decent, too, but I have concerns about their first-time as a unit in the playoffs).

Joey Barton’s gambling ban lowered by almost 5 months

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Joey Barton’s 18-month ban for betting on almost 1,300 soccer-related events has been lowered to 13 months and one week.

Putting aside the hilarity of grown men and women discussing whether an extra week was necessary, the alteration means he’ll be eligible to return to football on June 1, 2018.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

While that still hampers the idea of the 34-year-old playing again — he’ll be 36 when the ban ends — it’s a significant change if he’s open to the idea of returning to the game.

Barton’s original ban expired in late October 2018, well into a season. From Sky Sports:

The appeal board also agreed: “It was clear that Mr Barton was not involved in any cheating, he did not influence any games and there was nothing suspicious about his bets.

“(The reduction) reflects the overall seriousness of the breaches and also the mitigation of Mr Barton’s addiction.”

Barton’s remarkably controversial career has including several suspensions and imprisonment, but he always found his way back to the field and was very good when in form. After time at Manchester City and Newcastle United, Barton fended off naysayers with stints at QPR, Marseille, Burnley, and a regrettable move to Rangers.

We may see him on the field in August 2018.

FIFA fines Qatar after players’ political support for Emir

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has fined Qatar’s soccer federation after national team players breached rules against political statements by displaying T-shirts of the country’s Emir at a World Cup qualifier.

FIFA says its disciplinary panel imposed a 50,000 Swiss francs ($51,800) fine and reprimanded Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.

[ MORE: Nainggolan staying at Roma ]

The incident happened in Doha on June 13, amid a dispute with regional rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar’s players warmed up for a 3-2 win over South Korea wearing white T-shirts with an image of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to show their support for him.

FIFA says the charges related to “displaying a political image” and “political displays” by spectators.

Report: USMNT’s Arriola drawing transfer interest abroad, in MLS

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Paul Arriola’s motor was constantly running as the United States men’s national team claimed its sixth Gold Cup title, and it could drive him all the way from Club Tijuana to Europe or a prime spot on an MLS roster.

There’s a snag, though.

[ MORE: Everton wins Europa opener ]

Arriola is reportedly wanted by Real Salt Lake and clubs in both the Netherlands and Portugal, but the LA Galaxy has what Goal.com describes a “dubious homegrown player” claim on Arriola, who participated in a minimal of practices with the Galaxy when he was younger.

As you’ll see below, there isn’t much “homegrown” about it and, to its critics, it is peak MLS monopolized tomfoolery. Here’s how Goal describes it:

“He was already a U.S. youth national team player when he traveled the 120 miles from Chula Vista to take part in a handful of training sessions with the LA Galaxy academy and eventually the Galaxy first team.

“The Galaxy are believed to hold a homegrown player claim on Arriola, and would have the right of first refusal on making Arriola an offer if he comes to MLS. The Galaxy’s current salary-cap situation might not allow them to make a serious bid for Arriola.”

But… here’s how the Galaxy described his choosing to sign for TJ instead of a pro deal from LA in 2013:

“It’s a little disappointing,” Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Friday. “He went through our system, we offered him a contract and he decided to move on and go somewhere else. But that’s going to happen. It’s something that has happened before, and it’s something that will happen again.”

Arriola’s response in the same article? “I thank the Galaxy for giving me a wonderful opportunity to train with their first team and be a part of their first team which really taught me a lot.” That doesn’t read as much like he “went through their system.” He played in at least one U-18 game, debuting in October 2012, did more training with TJ in December 2012, and signed for the Mexican side in May 2013.

Should that qualify him as Homegrown?

https://www.transfermarkt.com/paul-arriola/leistungsdaten/spieler/189876

Did Arriola spent significant time with LA, or is it possible the Galaxy might reap rewards from having an already established youth national teamer to practice when he was a kid? Whether you’re okay with that or not, consider that it encourages clubs to pilfer rights without actually registering or training the player.

Not to mention there is no guarantee that playing in the Netherlands or Portugal will be better for his development than MLS. Benfica or Ajax and potential action in European tournaments? Maybe. NAC Breda or Tondela? Maybe not.

Nevermind the quagmire that is American youth soccer clubs’ not earning money from transfer fees, the Arriola drama seems baseless. We don’t know the Galaxy will hold the player hostage, but they would actually be depriving MLS of a talent, as LA would theoretically get nothing should TJ sell him to a European club.

In any event, check out Arriola’s use chart from Tijuana and you’ll see why he’s valued by Bruce Arena as well as his suitors. He’s a Swiss Army Knife. Here’s hoping Tinseltown doesn’t stop him from a proper next step (assuming he’s ready to leave Liga MX).