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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.

Everton 1-0 Newcastle: Walcott blast has Toffees up to eighth

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Everton earned a 1-0 win against Newcastle on Monday behind Theo Walcott‘s second-half strike at Goodison Park.

The victory puts the Toffees into eighth place, leaping over Leicester City for the time being — as the Foxes have an extra game in hand.

[ MORE: Sweden coach says Ibra must reach out to have shot at World Cup ]

The former Arsenal man broke the deadlock six minutes into the second half when Walcott blasted the ball into the roof of the net following a lofted cross from Yannick Bolasie.

For Walcott, it’s his third goal since joining Everton in 2017/18 from the Gunners.

The visitors had their fair share of opportunities on the day, particularly through Ayoze Pérez, who was active all throughout the match.

Perez nearly broke the deadlock after the half hour mark when he tested goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 31st minute with a diving save in the bottom left corner.

Phil Jagielka came close four minutes later when his close-range attempt narrowly missed the top left corner after Michael Keane‘s flicked header off a corner kick.

The Spanish forward was at it again in the second stanza, and nearly found the back of the net when his header was saved in the center of the goal off of a cross from Kenedy.

Newcastle pushed hard for an equalizer in the dying moments, and even played up a man for a few minutes when Leighton Baines was tended to for a head injury, but the Magpies couldn’t even the score.

Sweden coach: Ibrahimovic must call in order to have chance at World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently raised the stakes when he said, “I am going to the World Cup, yes!” despite having previously declared his retirement from international soccer.

Although the LA Galaxy forward’s comments on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show may not be a clear indication of his involvement in this summer’s World Cup in Russia, Ibrahimovic certainly has an interest in representing his native Sweden once again.

[ MORE: FIFA subjects Morocco 2026 bid to scrutiny ]

Now, all the veteran goalscorer has to do is pick up the phone and call Sweden coach Janne Andersson, according to the manager.

“He can do it,” Andersson told kicker. “But If he changes his opinion, contacts me and tells me ‘yes, I want to be part of it,’ then we’ll sit down and discuss what that would mean, how we play these days and so on. But that’s all speculation.

“I don’t know [if he’d still fit into the team]. But I also don’t think about it. I take the things as they come if they come. If you want to be part of it, you must call me. Easy as that.”

The 36-year-old retired from the international game following Sweden’s involvement in EURO 2016, and Andersson says that he had no intention of calling up Ibrahimovic prior to the media-driven questions surrounding the striker.

Ibrahimovic ranks first all-time for his homeland in goals scored (62) since debuting for Sweden back in 2001.

“Not him, or anyone else who retired. But there’s this media noise,” he said. “I have no problem with those questions [about a possible return]. Not with what he says or what is written in media.”

Several of Sweden’s current players, including goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson recently stated that bringing Ibrahimovic back into the fold may disrupt the rhythm created within the squad — who handled Italy in their World Cup qualifying playoff to reach the final tournament in June.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Watch Live: Everton v. Newcastle

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Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both sitting pretty in midtable.

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Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez have both been around the block a few times but at the moment Allardyce is under pressure and Benitez is working miracles with four wins on the spin as the newly-promoted Magpies have stayed solid defensively all season.

In team news Everton start Tosun, Walcott and Bolasie in attack with Wayne Rooney in midfield.

Newcastle make one change with Islam Slimani making his first start for the Magpies as he comes in for Dwight Gayle.

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