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Changing of the guard: Veteran DP’s a thing of MLS’ past?

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Ahead of the 2017 season, Major League Soccer is going through a transformative period.

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It will be both exciting and intriguing to see how it plays out.

The emphasis has switched from wedging in as many big name, veteran Designated Players in each market to trying to develop young talent at all 22 clubs.

I already had this column lined up before the new MLS roster rules for the 2017 season arrived earlier today.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 season previews

Major League Soccer announced changes that will help a “continued strategic focus on cultivating young talent” as two more roster spots will be available for Homegrown players and a large chunk ($200,000 to be exact) of Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) can be used to sign Homegrown players to their first pro contracts.

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Okay, so that may not seem like a huge deal now but when you compare it to years gone by there’s definitely an undercurrent both from the league office and front offices across MLS to try and push young players from within MLS academies to the first team.

If you look at the big name “veteran” DPs around the league this season, there are probably four or five (Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, Kaka) you can call genuine veterans. The rest are either approaching their prime or right at the end of it. The goal is to attract a Sebastian Giovinco type from Europe or elsewhere in their prime of their career. We’ve seen the likes of Seattle and Portland look to South America for DPs in their prime and it has worked well recently. Atlanta United is also following this method for their expansion season.

With the departure of Didier Drogba, Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane and Frank Lampard over the offseason, there’s no doubting that these players had the eyes of the world on them whenever they played.

Do MLS teams need these big name players to fill stadiums? It remains to be seen.

Robbie Keane, who is arguably the greatest DP in MLS history as he scored 104 goals in 165 appearances in his five years with the LA Galaxy, is a little concerned the new strategy may not work out.

“I had an unbelievable time there…but they just have to be careful now because some of the big players have left, and at the end of the day people want to watch names – that’s the just the reality,” Keane told Talksport last month. “Myself, Gerrard, Lampard and a few of the other big players are just starting to drift out, and now they’re going down to route where they want younger players who are not really well known.

“That is a good thing I think, but people do want to watch big names. They have to be careful – they’ve set a high standard that they have to keep going and I’m not sure if they go down this route they’ll be able to do that. So I’m a little bit worried about that.”

Is Keane right to be concerned? When you look at the Chinese Super League and what they’re trying to do, then its fits in with MLS’ model. Except, the CSL is spending big money on transfer fees and is paying outrageous wages for the likes of Carlos Tevez, Oscar, Hulk and Jackson Martinez to play in China, most of which are in their prime.

MLS may no longer be the biggest cash cow for veteran players embarking on the twilight of their career after winning everything on offer in Europe. That’s exactly what MLS wants, to move away from veteran DPs, but surely it would still be beneficial for the growth of the league to keep adding big-name players, when possible, who have a large brand and following?

Robbie Keane & Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy
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Time will tell if that’s the case, but it is certainly exciting for fans of the U.S. and Canadian national teams to think that some of their best young talent will now get to play regularly in MLS and test themselves against top players.

Of course, MLS has a window of opportunity to test this out and then if things aren’t working, plenty more veteran DPs will be available from May onwards when their time at top European clubs is up. I’m talking Bastian Schweinstieger, Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Pablo Zabaleta and many others.

There’s no doubt that MLS is trying its best to help young talent come through, and that’s admirable. But there’s also a little uncertainty about how a lack of veteran stars will play out in terms of attracting fans and also any impact it may have on the quality of play. Can a handful of veteran players really make that big of a difference to the success of a league?

We are about to find out.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.