“Ugly duckling into a swan”: Conte’s secret to “instant” success

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Antonio Conte is something of a miracle worker, as his first season at Chelsea — and the subsequent turnaround from last season — has been nothing short of miraculous.

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For his part is restoring the Blues as Premier League champions-elect in 2016-17, Conte’s place in Chelsea lore looks set to be secure by early May. Anything he does in the future — and it does look like he’s building a juggernaut for the long haul — could see his legend one day elevated for iconic status, should he stick around west London long enough.

How, though, did the former Juventus and Italian national team boss do it, and so quickly? From Sept. 24, the day of that embarrassing 3-0 defeat at the hands of Arsenal, Chelsea have been virtually untouchable, losing just once in 18 league games. According to Conte, it’s the “blind faith” placed in him by each and every one of his players — quotes from the Guardian:

“If you compare this Chelsea with the team from last season [when they finished 10th having won the title in the previous campaign] then it’s normal that you’d end up this way: you can’t turn an ugly duckling into a swan in an instant. I’m not a coach who compromises and with my blind faith in the work we’re doing, and in my ideas, I’ve been able to forge straight ahead without worrying about anyone else.”

“My experiences as a player taught me that you will win a lot and lose a lot too and that instilled in me a fierce will to win. Those who are out in front must not falter. It sends a message to those who are following, an increasingly loud message, that we must make the most of this period.”

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — It’s all a mess behind Chelsea ]

Credit must also go to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, and anyone else at the club who played a role in hiring Conte, for selecting the right man for the right job at the right time. Not only do Conte’s tactical tendencies perfectly fit the players at his disposal, but they’ve so clearly responded to his leadership style — versus that of his predecessor, Jose Mourinho, who was fired after a full-squad revolt last winter — and the result is a nine-point lead with 14 games to play in the PL season.

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 it out:

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.

Men in Blazers podcast: Transfer window, USMNT at Gold Cup, RBNY-NYCFC

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Men In Blazers are back with their latest podcast, and the boys are hitting club soccer here and abroad as well as Bruce Arena’s men in the red, white, and blue.

Rog and Davo break down transfer window activity, rumored and real; get a heat check on the USMNT heading into the Gold Cup; and recap the (Ray) Hudson River Derby.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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