Chelsea players praise Conte for title, turnaround in first season

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One thing is certain without a shadow of a doubt: Antonio Conte‘s players love love playing for him.

[ MORE: Full “Chelsea Champions” reaction, here ]

Following Chelsea’s 1-0 victory away to West Bromwich Albion on Friday, a result which clinched the 2016-17 Premier League title for the Blues, Conte’s players were full of praise for the impact he’s had in his first season at Stamford Bridge.

365 days ago, two months before Conte had arrived, Chelsea sat ninth in the PL table; they would slip one more spot and finish the season in 10th. While they’re all thrilled to have won the PL title already this term, there’s still an FA Cup double to be won.

[ MORE: How Chelsea won the PL title in September ]

David Luiz‘s first spell at Chelsea was full of highs and lows, but the Brazilian left the club in the summer of 2014 amid lots of the latter and returned last summer with fans expecting more of the same. What they hadn’t accounted for, however, was the Conte effect — quotes from the BBC:

“I am happy. Very happy. It is my first Premier League title. When I decided to come back here I dreamed to win the Premier League. I am very happy because my dream came true.

“Tonight was a great game but we did it. We work hard every day to have these moments.”

“[Conte] likes to work, works with passion every day. I am happy for him. He deserves it because he is working hard every day.”

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Perhaps no player has improved more noticeably returned to his own previously great heights than Eden Hazard, who chipped in with 15 goals and 5 assists in the PL this season (just 4 and 3 in 2015-16) — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s amazing to celebrate with the fans. The game was so difficult. We are very happy.

“We talked a lot about the manager already, he is fantastic and we work a lot in training. Full credit to him and the players. We lost to Arsenal and then we went on an unbelievable run.

“That’s when we said that we can win the league.”

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Gary Cahill replaced John Terry as the club’s full-time captain this season as Terry was quickly phased out of the first-team squad early in the campaign. The two England center backs said after the game that they’d share the honor of being first to lift the trophy — quotes from the BBC:

“It feels amazing. It is a special moment. I thought we deserved it over the season. We worked very hard and have been the better team. It is fantastic to wrap it up with a couple of games to go, it is very difficult in this league.

“We didn’t want this to drag on. We had the opportunity today to win the league and it was a pinch yourself moment in the tunnel before we went out.

“We played maybe a bit nervy because we knew what was at stake but showed experience in the end and wore them down.

“We felt confident in the dressing room all season. There is a danger you start believing you are champions when you are not.

“The league is in the bag, it is an amazing achievement for everyone involved. These are moments you need to cherish. I can’t wait to get my hands on that trophy.”

Rojo’s reaction to Sanchez joining Man Utd was priceless

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Speaking to an Argentine publication while on duty, the Manchester United defender shared a number of interesting tidbits.

[ MORE: Young backs Luke Shaw ]

The first, and perhaps funnier one, came from a family visit to Manchester for the Christmas holiday, as Rojo set off a bunch of fireworks in his neighborhood, one he did not realize was shared with United legend Alex Ferguson.

Rojo said Ferguson saw him the next day and congratulated him on “the light show,” with the defender quipping that he thought he might be on his way out of the Old Trafford set-up.

But the more quotable translation comes from the Argentine learning that Chilean superstar and Premier League rival Alexis Sanchez was traded Arsenal red for the same hue at United.

Rojo said Sanchez has turned out to be a lovely guy, but that doesn’t change his initial shock at the news. From TYC Sports, translated by The Mirror,

“Every time we came up against one another, whether in internationals or when United played Arsenal, I would give him a good kicking – and he did the same to me.

“On top of that I used to insult him, and he would reply in kind. So when I learned that he was going to join United I said: ‘Oh, ******* hell, no, now this guy’s going to be here’.”

It likely happens more often than we know, given the competitive nature and furious tackling at the highest level. The old cliche “You’d love him if he was on your team” leaves out the fact that he’s also no longer on the opposition, beating you up.

Not to mention, there’s always that opening conversation, “Hey, that thing I said about your parents…”

Bradley, TFC not freaking over winless start (video)

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Toronto FC is Major League Soccer’s reigning champion, coming off one of the finest seasons in league history, and perhaps the best hope yet for a CONCACAF Champions League title.

It’s also in last place after three Match days in the 2018 season.

[ MORE: Top MLS free agents ]

That’s a tough juggling act, at least emotionally. Given the long and forgiving MLS season, TFC is going to be fine. But the Reds also have a group of players and executives not exactly known for resting on laurels.

TFC has not scored in losses to Columbus and Montreal, but rang up four goals over two matches in knocking UANL Tigres out of the CCL.

So on one hand, yeah, unprecedented success for the club. On the other…

“It’s certainly not ideal to look at the table for the next 13 days until we play again,” Bradley said. “On the other hand it’s been a busy start and we’ve gotta use the time over the next little stretch to regroup mentally, physically for what we hope is a really busy time.”

To recap: Yes, TFC deservedly advanced to next month’s CCL semifinal tie with Mexican monster Club American. No, they aren’t happy to lose a pair of league matches (even if they could’ve easily taken results in both with two favorable bounces).

“Let’s be a little bit honest and also say in the moment that while there have been things in these two league games that haven’t been good enough, we’ve been a little bit unlucky in terms of balls rolling across the goal line and some big chances that we haven’t been able to score on. You have to look at it from all angles. We’re certainly not happy,” Bradley said.

Young backs Man United teammate Shaw to become star

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Ashley Young‘s performances on the field and in training have helped keep Luke Shaw off the field, but the veteran winger sees the potential in Shaw that manager Jose Mourinho may not.

Per the BBC, Young said that Shaw could be among the “best in the world” at his position. Shaw was substituted off at halftime of Man United’s 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup and was publicly criticized by Mourinho after the game, sparking controversy and plenty of conversation in the media over the past 48 hours.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

“I want to see him doing well,” Young said. “It’s like all players, you just have to get your head down and work. He’s a fantastic player. He can be one of the best in the world.”

Shaw has struggled to make an impact and live up to expectations since making a $42 million move from Southampton to Old Trafford in 2014 as a 19-year-old. Shaw has made 99 Premier League appearances over the last four seasons for Man United but he’s been marginalized this season with just seven appearances.

When he moved to Man United, he likely looked at the 2018 World Cup as a goal, in which he could cement his place as the England left back of the future. Now, he’ll almost surely be watching the tournament from home, wondering what went wrong along the way.

Top Free Agents Available for MLS clubs

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We’re three weeks into the season and MLS teams can now take stock in what they have, and what they’re missing.

Thanks to the demise of the North American Soccer League as well as the increased allocation money available to MLS clubs, there are a whole host of MLS-level players who have suddenly found themselves unemployed as we get towards the end of March. Some of these names could very well impact MLS clubs, if not at the very least provide depth.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Let’s take a look at some of the available players who are waiting for a call, in no particular order:

Jermaine Jones

A lightning rod for his play on the field and comments off it, Jermaine Jones is a former UEFA Champions League player with many years of U.S. Men’s National Team experience.

It’s kind of shocking that he hasn’t landed with a club, though part of that could be because the LA Galaxy were ready to move on, his outspoken nature, and the fact that he’d like to stay with his family in Los Angeles.

However, if LAFC or the Galaxy change their mind, or Jones agrees to move to another market, he could absolutely add value in a team’s midfield, either as a starter or a spot starter.


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Jacob Peterson

After a stellar goal-scoring college career at Indiana, Peterson developed into the kind of hard-working, hard-running forward that is perfect in Peter Vermes’ system in Kansas City. While he didn’t always light up the scoresheet, Peterson was always there to provide defensive pressure to opposing backlines, run the channels to open up space for his teammates, and score a few goals himself.

The 32-year-old scored six goals in 21 appearances for Atlanta United last season and could absolutely be a strong option for a club off the bench.

Chance Myers

Peterson’s former teammate at SKC, Myers has never fully found his pre-injury form since he tore his Achilles’s tendon in 2014. The speedy right back made just one appearance for Portland – playing behind the terrific Alvas Powell in 2017, but if he’s finally overcome some of the injury problems, he provides a really experienced, well-tested defender to any club in need of some back line experience.

Simon Dawkins

Dawkins second spell with the Earthquakes didn’t go as well as his first. After spending a pair of seasons with Derby County in the Championship, Dawkins returned to San Jose in 2016 on a Designated Player contract but managed just five goals and two assists over two seasons, with no goals or assists in 2017. If Dawkins is willing to take a pay cut, he’d be a great speedy asset for a team struggling to create offense.

Gideon Baah

The 26-year-old centerback never worked out in two injury-plagued seasons with the New York Red Bulls. Baah was in preseason training with the LA Galaxy but wasn’t offered a contract. If he’s over his injury troubles, an MLS team can do worse than a player capped for Ghana and still in his prime.

Kevin Alston

A former first overall selection who has been called up to multiple January USMNT camps, Alston has been through a lot during his playing career. He’s suffered plenty of muscle injuries but the toughest was when he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare but treatable form of leukemia. Thankfully, Alston recovered and spent the last two seasons with Orlando City, mainly playing for Orlando City B in 2017. If given a chance, Alston provides a very experienced mind as an outside back, and could provide plenty of guidance to a team filled with young players for a season or two.

Bobby Burling

The veteran centerback had his option declined at the end of the 2017 season with the Colorado Rapids but he was part of the Rapids side that defended its way to second in the table. While injuries have shortened his career, Burling could be a solid depth signing for a club in need of a hulking centerback.

Patrick Nyarko

The speedy winger had a rough 2017 after a strong 2016 in the red and black of D.C. United, and was let go at the end of the season. Though he’s now 32-years old, Nyarko can still provide a spark from the wing and change the game off the bench. His goal record and assist record doesn’t lie, with 24 goals and 49 assists in 236 career regular season matches.

Josh Gatt

It appears that the injuries may have finally caught up to Josh Gatt. The former high school prodigy who signed with SC Rheindorf Altach (over a commitment to Indiana University) as an 18-year-old, suffered three successive torn ACLs during his time with Molde. Gatt made his way back to the U.S. and featured for both Minnesota United and the Colorado Rapids, failing to make a difference for either club.

Perhaps the expectations were too high, but if his knee is feeling good, Gatt can provide the kind of game-changing speed that teams desire. Hopefully he can get one last shot.

Danny Szetela

Szetela has enjoyed a brilliant last few years with the New York Cosmos, but with the Cosmos not playing professional soccer in 2018, Szetela should have been a candidate for any club looking for a solid central midfielder. The former U.S. international can still raise his game to the MLS level, and his calmness under pressure will help any club should they pick him up.