Looking ahead to 2013 in domestic soccer, one story will dominate

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First come the annual stories looking back on the year – and 2012 certainly was as eventful as it could be in soccer, now wasn’t it?

Next will come the pieces looking ahead to 2013. (I just took a look back at my piece from a year ago on the important stories ahead for 2012. Nailed some. Missed some.)

As we begin looking ahead to the important stories of 2013, one will dominate domestically: whether the United States qualifies for World Cup 2014. We will know the answer by November, latest, and probably by October. (With a little luck, Jurgen Klinsmann and his U.S. team may even have that sweetest of tickets punched by early September; the 8th of 10 final round qualifying dates for the United States goes off on Sept. 10.)

So … will they or won’t they?

Will Klinsmann get the United States into its seventh consecutive World Cup, or will domestic soccer supporter infrastructure implode from the worst case sum of all fears, that darkest of scenarios, where the U.S. fails to make the World Cup field. None other than Bruce Arena, the most successful U.S. soccer coach of all time, says it will happen sooner or later.

This piece from national team-centric American Soccer Now says you, the good, sweet, clean U.S. Soccer supporter, are awash in confidence.

Not a massive surprise here, but more than 90 percent of respondents to a high-techy, gizmo of a fan poll say the United States will safely navigate the coming final round and advance into World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.