Three interesting options: Players to watch in today’s Re-Entry Draft

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The thing that makes it difficult to get too excited about today’s Re-Entry Draft is the nature of the eligible players. All of them are being turned away by their current teams. Lack of performance, high salaries, or just bad fits – these players aren’t being pried away from their clubs. They’re being cast off. This draft is about square pegs being pulled out of round holes.

But among the 50-plus players available today, there are a few who still have promise, whose previous circumstances just didn’t add up for success. They’re still young. They’re still relatively cheap. And they’ve already shown some potential. They’re low risk and likely already have front offices around the league that like them.

MORE: Your Re-Entry Draft primer

From the player list, three names strike me as particularly worthwhile gambles:

source: Getty ImagesPaulo Araujo Jr.
Forward
Real Salt Lake
23 years old
$75,000 salary in 2012
Option declined

Paulo Jr.’s been splitting time between Utah and Fort Lauderdale over the last three seasons. Physically and technically, he has what it takes to be a regular contributor in Major League Soccer, but the output just hasn’t come. Though most of his time has come off the bench, the Brazilian has only six goals in 50 league appearances. As concerning, his production in the second division isn’t eye-openingly better (12 goals in 41 appearances).

He needs to play in a two forward system, but if he has the right players around him, he can be a solid contributor on a decent team – player that can play along the defense, challenge opposition wide, or drop back and help in a withdrawn role.

Then again, if he couldn’t make it at Real Salt Lake, where Jason Kreis has continuously refurbished talent, it’s fair to ask why it’d work elsewhere.

source: Getty ImagesEric Avila
Midfielder
Toronto FC
25 years old
$125,000
Out of contract

Avila is pricey for what he’s produced. Over six seasons in the league, he’s only play 63 games, and the one good team he was a part of (FC Dallas circa 2010) eventually swapped him for forward depth. Is he really worth a six-digit salary that, if you choose him, will have to go up this season?

Perhaps not, though based on what he showed early this season with Toronto, you can imagine at least one front office could be interested and won’t want to let him get to free agency. At the beginning of the season, Avila was among Toronto’s best players, but when Aaron Winter was replaced by Paul Mariner, he lost time in the team, Mariner’s system and style a slight mismatch for what Avila offers.

What he offers is a skilled player who can play wide-to-in. He’s good with the ball at his feet, can create as well as make the smart choices that promote possession. In time, he could score goals.

But everything surrounding Avila is “could,” and at the price, he’s really not a great value. But all it takes is for one general manager to rationalize “if he was a free agent and a bidding war happened, I don’t think I could let him go.” With that mindset, picking the talented former-Gaucho becomes as much about cost-certainty as risk.

source: APIke Opara
Central Defender
San Jose
23 years old
$100,000
Option declined

Opara has all the skills to be one of the better defenders in the league. His athleticism is off-the-charts. He could still develop into one of the most dangerous set piece targets in the league. In San Jose, however, timing was never on his side.

As a rookie, he spent time completing his degree at Wake Forest, which kept him away from the team. Then there were injuries, and by the time he was ready to go, a rebuild San Jose side had restocked in central defense. Without consistent playing time, the former number three overall pick has never shaken the error-prone qualities that accompany most rookie defenders. Given he’s only played 35 games in three years, it’s understandable.

Opara needs a team that can commit to playing him. With Victor Bernardez and Jason Hernandez, San Jose wasn’t that team, but you don’t have to go too far down the draft list to see a number of teams that can afford to take a chance on an all-star caliber talent.

Transfer rumor roundup: Koulibaly to Man Utd, Pulisic to Chelsea

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International breaks seem to ratchet up transfer talk, as players are free from their clubs but not from reporters’ microphones.

Whether on or off the record, stories seem to break with more regularity during these periods. This week is no exception.

[ MORE: Netherlands wins, Germany relegated ]

The Daily Record says Manchester United is being urged to make a big defensive buy from Napoli, with Jose Mourinho wanting to count Kalidou Koulibaly amongst his ranks.

Koulibaly has played every Serie A minute for Napoli this season, and chipped in with five goals in playing more than 3000 minutes last season. He has 29 caps for Senegal, and it’s difficult to believe the Neapolitan side would sell him for less than a defender transfer record.

And while Mourinho has been reported to admire the potential of Eric Bailly, he’s not using him right now and the Ivorian may want out sooner rather than later. Purchased from Villarreal for approximately $38 million, Spurs and Arsenal are both being linked with an equal money move for Bailly.

Mourinho would probably trade Bailly for Alderweireld, but Ed Woodward is unlikely to sanction the age sacrifice.

Newcastle is also being tipped with a move for a Serie A player, though this player has not been in the league too long.

Twenty-three year-old Genoa attacker Krzysztof Piątek is the man Newcastle hopes can revive its attack. He cost less than $5 million in the summer, and The Chronicle says Genoa would expect a profit of around $15m.

Piatek and Koulibaly (Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images)

And how about Christian Pulisic? The Daily Mail says that Chelsea is going to push to get the move through the door in January, with the threat of a transfer ban looming over Stamford Bridge.

The report says the price may be dropping as Pulisic is now within a season-and-a-half of his contract’s expiry, and Borussia Dortmund having Jadon Sancho to fill Pulisic’s spot if needed.

Finally, longtime Swans defender Angel Rangel could be heading to MLS, according to Football.London, with his current contract at QPR only running through January. DC United and NYCFC are the teams reportedly dueling for his signature alongside Championship clubs Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, and his current club.

Mancini wants to ‘bring Italy back where it belongs’

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MILAN (AP) A year after its stunning elimination by Sweden in a World Cup playoff, Italy is back at the San Siro stadium for another potentially decisive match.

The Azzurri have to beat Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal on Saturday and then hope the European champion does not defeat Poland three days later in order to reach the UEFA Nations League finals.

[ MORE: Netherlands wins, Germany relegated ]

“We would like to advance, and we’ll try to, but the No. 1 objective remains qualifying for the European Championship,” coach Roberto Mancini said on Friday.

Portugal leads Group 4 with a perfect six points, Italy has four, and Poland one.

The group winner advances to the Final Four in June. Poland is already assured of finishing last in the group and will be relegated to League B.

Mancini was hired after previous coach Gian Piero Ventura was blamed for Italy’s failed World Cup qualification.

“I see a team that wants to roll its sleeves up and bring Italy back where it belongs,” Mancini said. “Let’s be clear, we still need some time, but we’re on the right path.”

Defender Giorgio Chiellini is slated to make his 100th appearance for Italy while wearing the captain’s armband.

“I want to celebrate the achievement only at the end of the match,” Chiellini said. “First let’s focus on Portugal, try to bring home three points and provide continuity to the good work done to this point.”

Chiellini retired from the national team in the aftermath of the loss to Sweden but then changed his mind.

“The real disappointment came in June when many of my club teammates left for Russia while I was preparing my suitcases for vacation,” Chiellini said.

Fellow defender Alessio Romagnoli left Italy’s squad on Friday with a muscular injury, and Italy is also without forward Federico Bernardeschi.

Bernardeschi was a key performer in the 1-0 win over Poland last month, lining up alongside Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa.

Unable to use the same lineup, Mancini announced that Ciro Immobile will likely start at center forward.

Italy has had trouble scoring.

The last time the Azzurri scored more than one goal was in May, a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in a friendly , while the last time they accomplished the feat in a competitive match was in June 2017, a 5-0 victory over Liechtenstein in a World Cup qualifier.

Italy next plays the United States in a friendly in Genk, Belgium, on Tuesday.

Mancini announced Chiellini, Alessandro Florenzi, Jorginho and Insigne would be sent home after the Portugal game and Gianluca Mancini and Moise Kean would be called up from the under-21 side.

Mancini and Chiellini both expressed disappointment that Ronaldo, who is taking a break from the national team, isn’t with Portugal.

“It’s always great to face the best players,” Mancini said. “Anyhow, Portugal remains a great squad even without Cristiano.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Netherlands wins, relegates Germany

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Ronald Koeman‘s Netherlands sent Germany into League B, and moved a draw away from the semifinals after taking care of the World Cup champions in the highlight of Friday’s UEFA Nations League matches.

[ WATCH: Salah scores stoppage time winner ]


Netherlands 2-0 France

Georginio Wijnaldum was in a prime position to slot in a rebound after Hugo Lloris made a save on Ryan Babel, and Memphis Depay converted a stoppage time panenka penalty as Netherlands’ win sent Germany into League B.

The Dutch are still alive for A1, and can make the semifinals with a win over Germany on Monday.

Wales 1-2 Denmark

An even match saw Denmark score off a counterattack, with Nicolai Jorgensen supplying the finish off put the Danes ahead of the hosts. Martin Brathwaite made it 2-0 in the 88th minute, with Gareth Bale‘s goal the only Welsh answer a minute later.

Denmark goes top of Group B4, and end Wales’ hopes of promotion to League A. It’s Denmark into the “top flight” next cycle, and the nation is guaranteed at least a playoff spot in qualification for EURO 2020.

Gibraltar 2-6 Armenia

Former Real Salt Lake attacker Yura Movsisyan scored four for captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s side.

Elsewhere
Cyprus 1-1 Bulgaria
Slovenia 1-1 Norway
Liechtenstein 0-2 Macedonia
Slovakia 4-1 Ukraine

Salah scores last-minute winner against Tunisia (video)

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Egypt needs Mohamed Salah, and the Liverpool forward reinforced that fact on Friday in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier versus Tunisia.

Deadlocked at two, Salah burst into the box on the right wing via a 1-2 with Salah Mohsen and used deft move to make enough space to blast a shot home.

[ MORE: England rocks the USMNT ]

It was vintage Salah, right down to the red shirt.

Egypt has qualified for this summer’s tournament in Cameroon and is tied for the top of the group with one match to go. Egypt travels to Niger in March while Tunisia hosts Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland).

Here’s the goal, his 39th in 62 caps for the Pharoahs.