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West Ham failed Dimitri Payet by not building around him

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Many knew that West Ham had pulled off a coup by signing Dimitri Payet last summer, but it wasn’t clear until a year later what a rare gem they’d found.

After Payet’s stunning debut season in the Premier League, a season that saw him score nine goals and assist 12 more while dazzling England with his brilliant technical ability and sparkling distance shooting, he now finds himself suddenly unwelcome at the gates of West Ham’s new home.

With West Ham 13th in the Premier League table and struggling for consistency, Payet has stunned Hammer fans by refusing to play for the club and asking for a transfer.

From nearly all angles, this is a horrible look from a player who was rescued from Marseille by Slaven Bilic and brought back to life during his time at West Ham. It appears on the surface that the player has turned his back on a club and fanbase that embraced him when life was good. Bilic wasn’t even asked about Payet when he revealed the situation, he simply went off in a press conference, a rare situation that describes just how betrayed by Payet the manager feels.

But a deeper dive into West Ham’s recent past shows why Payet has become disenfranchised just half a season later and why the player may not be shouldering all the blame despite the ugly optics.

This summer, West Ham found itself the proud owner of a legitimate franchise player; a player who suddenly burdens the club with his own expectations. This is not to say Payet gave West Ham any sort of ultimatum, but in this situation, the Hammers now have the expectation to be good enough for such a player. It is the responsibility of the club to perform to the standards of the player, just as it is the responsibility of the player to bring the club his best. In short: they must build around their superstar. We see countless times a club’s best player leave because that club was either relegated or fell below the player’s ambitions.

Dimitri Payet proved last season that he’s better than 13th place in the Premier League, and he’s proving this season that despite the club’s struggles, he is still as good as he was. As a Player of the Season candidate, it’s obviously his responsibility to replicate that form, and he has, leading the Premier League in chances created and key passes and rated the 5th best player in the league by Squawka’s rankings.

Here is where West Ham failed the Frenchman: it is also on the club to provide him with the best environment to replicate that form. Let’s review the ways West Ham went about that process this past summer:

  • They purchased Andre Ayew for $26 million, by all accounts a solid purchase at the time – if not an expensive transaction – but one that has not paid off at all. Ayew has battled injuries and poor service to the return of a single goal in 12 appearances.
  • They spent $13 million on Manuel Lanzini, a player expected to pull some weight off Payet’s shoulders in the attack. Instead, he’s been a significant disappointment as well, dazzling the crowd at times, but coupling those performances with his fair share of horror shows.
  • West Ham spent $8 million on Arthur Makuatsu, a forced purchase after starting the season without a healthy left-back. Makuatsu was bad and then got hurt, and has made just six appearances thanks to the return of Aaron Cresswell.
  • They brought in Sofiane Feghouli, Alvaro Arbeloa, Ashley Fletcher, and Havard Nordveit on free transfers. Feghouli has been good at times but hasn’t been consistent enough to see the field, the 33-year-old Arbeloa has been hurt, Fletcher hasn’t made the squad, and Nordtveit has struggled with discipline.
  • They brought in Simone Zaza, Gokhan Tore, and Jonathan Calleri on loan. Zaza couldn’t even muster a single goal before getting hurt and wanting out, Tore was a solid get but got injured early, and Calleri hasn’t started once and hasn’t seen the field since October.

There’s no doubt the Hammers have had horrible injury luck this season, with Gokhan Tore’s knee operation maybe the most difficult to swallow, but the bottom line is this: the Hammers didn’t do nearly enough this summer to prove they mean business. While other clubs around them got better, West Ham instead looked for value buys and spent big on flops. Subsequently, they have felt the difficult consequences to their actions. The defense has been porous and the service up front has been limited. Dimitri Payet’s 72 chances created are an enormous 52 more than anyone else in the West Ham squad and represent 35% of the team’s total of 204. Simply put, it’s on Payet to do it all, and that’s why he wants out.

Make no mistake that Dimitri Payet’s decision to distance himself from West Ham still reflects poorly on his character. As the second time he’s pushed for a transfer away from a club of significant size (also pushing his way out of Marseille when West Ham came calling), this is clearly heavy baggage he is now forced to lug around the rest of his career. However, the club is not absolved of blame in this situation. Who knows what promises were made to Payet when he signed a contract extension this summer through the summer of 2021. With a new stadium meant to catapult West Ham “to the next level,” little attention was paid to the future product on the field. Fans should be just as disappointed with the board and staff as they are with the player.

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.

WATCH: Spain’s Saul smashes a shot past Italy’s Donnarumma

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Since returning from a loan at Rayo Vallecano, Saul Niguez has been a somewhat under the radar star at Atletico Madrid.

Coming off his best season with Atleti, the 22-year-old Saul is making an even bigger name for himself at the U-21 EURO this summer.

Spain’s Saul scored a hat trick past Gianluigi Donnarumma and Italy on Tuesday, and the second goal was laced with venom.

Getting onto the ball from 30-plus yards out, Saul smashed his shot with enough power that the ball barely had occasion to rotate.

Saul is under contract at the Vicente Calderon through 2022, and has three caps for Spain’s senior team, too. He was rated Atleti’s third-best performer by WhoScored this season.