Andy Najar is gone: D.C. United sells Honduran international to Anderlecht

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First Shea. Then Kamara. Now Andy Najar appears to be leaving Major League Soccer. It’s a move that’s been churned by the mill all winter, but in the wake of two other name players leaving MLS before the season starts, Najar’s departure looks like part of a larger trend.

More on later. For now, let’s talk about the deal D.C. United just confirmed. The 19-year-old Honduran international moves to the biggest club in Belgium, Anderlecht, for a reported $3 million. That’s the same team that acquired Sacha Kljestan two-and-a-half years ago, albeit for $750,000.

“I would like to thank everyone connected to the club for everything that has been done to help me and my family since I joined the academy years ago,” Najar said via a release posted to the club’s website. “A special thanks to my coach Ben Olsen and all of his staff. I came to D.C. United and chose #14 because I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

“It has been very rewarding to watch Andy grow and develop into becoming the special player that he is,” said D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper said. “We wish Andy all of the success in the world and we look forward to watching his career blossom.”

Najar, who is part of the team that will face the U.S. when final round World Cup qualifying begins on Feb. 6, is a former MLS Rookie of the Year who made his debut in 2010. During his time in the league Najar’s been gradually shifted from right wing to right back, a position he held in Ben Olsen’s starting lineup as D.C. United finished second in the Eastern Conference.

In the playoffs, an aberrational mistake from Najar incurred a three-match suspension when he kicked a ball at referee Jair Marrufo during the first leg of United’s conference semifinal against the New York Red Bulls. That may be the last act of Najar’s Major League Soccer career.

“Andy is an extremely hard player to replace with our group but I’m excited for him and the opportunity he has in front of him,” Olsen said.

With their portion of the $3 million sale, D.C. will have a chance to go out and get a replacement, and while that player won’t have the emotional attachment to the D.C. faithful Najar developed after coming through as a 16-year-old Home Grown Player, United should have options. Even if they put their new money elsewhere, right backs being what they are, D.C. should be able to make up for Najar’s loss.

Ultimately, they (and the league) got a very good price. Very few right backs in world soccer go for large fees. That Najar is so talented at such a young age manes he’s one of the few a big club like Anderlecht would be willing to take a chance on. Given how few Major League Soccer players could ever hope for such a high evaluation, D.C.’s gets a minor windfall from the sale.

For now, Robbie Russell is Ben Olsen’s obvious replacement, but don’t be surprised if Olsen explores other options. Between Chris Korb on the left and the combination of Perry Kitchen (in 2011) and Najar on the right, D.C.’s head coach has preferred a different type of player at his fullback positions. Now 33 years old, Russell now projects to be as much as a center half as a fullback.

You want the best players possible at each position, but particularly in Major League Soccer, fullbacks are game defining players. In the bigger picture, there are very few Daniel Alves and Ashley Cole-caliber players in the world, and nobody’s projected Najar, talented though he might be, to get to that level.

He might prove worth a few million more one day, particularly if he comes good as a right winger, but if you’re D.C. and planning to keep Andy Najar at right back, you snatch Anderlecht’s $3 million, kiss the lad on the cheek, and tell him to enjoy Belgium.

PSG vs. Dijon among 5 weekend French league games postponed

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PARIS (AP) For the second straight weekend, Ligue 1 leader Paris Saint-Germain will not play after several games were postponed at the request of authorities.

PSG’s match at Dijon on Saturday had initially been maintained, but it was among five weekend games postponed on Thursday after six matches were called off last weekend.

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

Saturday’s match between Amiens and Angers, as well as Sunday’s Brittany derby between Guingamp and Rennes, and Marseille’s home game against Bordeaux, will be played at a later date.

The French league said the reason for the postponements is because police forces are being stretched.

Saturday’s match between Nantes and Montpellier has also been postponed, and the match between Caen and Toulouse will take place on Tuesday.

Nice’s home game against Saint-Etienne – initially set for Friday and then postponed – will go ahead on Sunday.

It leaves Reims vs. Strasbourg as the only match left for Saturday, and Nimes vs. Lille and Lyon vs. Monaco are the only games still scheduled for Sunday.

Strasbourg is in mourning after a deadly Christmas market attack in the city on Tuesday night. A minute’s silence will be held at all soccer stadiums in France’s first and second divisions this weekend in memory of the victims and their families.

The six matches were postponed last week amid security concerns about anti-government protests. Those six matches are rescheduled for Jan. 15-16.

PSG will play its match against Montpellier, rescheduled from last weekend, on Jan. 15, but it may now be pushed back to February since it clashes with PSG’s planned winter training camp in Qatar, home to club owner QSI.

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

Top Premier League storylines for Week 17

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The Premier League begins a run of 50 matches in 18 days when Man City hosts Everton to kick off Week 17 on Saturday morning.

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

That’s a storyline in itself, but here are five we’re closely monitoring this weekend.


You don’t need a storyline when the Red Devils head to Anfield
Liverpool vs. Manchester United, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN 
[ STREAM ]

This one is easy to put in the win column for the in-form Reds against mercurial Manchester United, but be careful: When Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils hit matches like this, they tend to find something out of nothing.

League disappointment to continue for someone at the Etihad Stadium
Man City vs. Everton, 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN
 [ STREAM ]

The champs are no longer unbeaten in league play following a loss at Chelsea, while the visitors rescued a point against visiting Watford. Neither will want to drop points again on the bounce, and Everton could slip behind West Ham with a loss.

West Ham looks to continue its table surge with London Derby
Fulham vs. West Ham United, 12:30 a.m. ET on NBC STREAM ]

Speaking of the Irons, they very much have a chance to continue a run into contention for fifth or sixth. West Ham has won three matches, scoring nine goals, since losing to Man City, and a forgiving run of fixtures continues with Fulham, Watford, Saints, Burnley, and Brighton over the festive season. Could Manuel Pellegrini‘s men be sitting pretty by Jan. 3?

Tottenham aims for third-straight win as hopeful Clarets arrive at Wembley
Spurs vs. Burnley, 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSNSTREAM ]

Sean Dyche‘s Burnley finally picked up its third win of the season with a surprising defeat of Brighton, but going to Tottenham is another story. The Lilywhites are coming off a fine draw at Barcelona to go with two league wins, and the North London Derby loss can be avenged in the League Cup next week. They just cannot overlook the Clarets on Saturday.

Six-point scrap at The John Smith’s Stadium
Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle Utd, 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold STREAM ]

The Terriers are three points behind the Magpies heading into this one. The way the relegation scrap is shaping up, anything less than three points in December could sting come May.

Europa League field: Who can Chelsea, Arsenal draw?

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There are 32 teams left in the quest for two spots at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan, one of which will earn an automatic spot in the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

The intrigue in the field took a hit when Rangers and AC Milan failed to advance, meaning there will not be an Old Firm Derby or Milan Derby inside of UEL play.

And Maurizio Sarri‘s last two clubs, Napoli and Chelsea, are seeded for the Round of 32 draw, so they will not meet for at least one more round.

Both Chelsea and Arsenal can draw anyone from the group of unseeded teams, with no English teams in the field. Arsenal-Celtic? Chelsea-Lazio?

Seeded teams
Bayer Leverkusen
Red Bull Salzburg
Zenit Saint-Petersburg
Dinamo Zagreb
Arsenal
Real Betis
Villarreal
Eintracht Frankfurt
Genk
Sevilla
Dynamo Kiev
Chelsea
Napoli
Valencia
Inter Milan
Benfica

Unseeded teams
Zurich
Celtic
Slavia Prague
Fenerbahce
Sporting Lisbon
Olympiacos
Rapid Vienna
Lazio
Malmo
Krasnodar
Rennes
BATE Borisov
Viktoria Plzen
Club Brugge
Shakhtar Donetsk
Galatasaray

Emery praises Arsenal teen: “His personality is very important”

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Unai Emery played the kids in Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Qarabag on Thursday at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners claimed the top spot in their group.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 1-0 Qarabag ]

Bukayo Saka, Carl JenkinsonJoe WillockEddie Nketiah, and Zech Medley all got meaningful playing time for the Gunners, and Emery specifically liked Saka (17).

Emery, like Arsene Wenger, believes very much in getting experiencefor his kids.

From The London Evening Standard:

“We have a responsibility to every young player to give them chances to train with us,” Emery told Standard Sport. “We are very demanding of ourselves in his performance. We give them these chances in the games like today when we can do that. They show us positive things in every match.

“Today Saka played with a good performance, with a very big personality. We were speaking at half-time, they were trying one-on-one against the opposition. Not every action was good for us but his personality is very important, continuing in the second half to try to do one-on-ones and break lines with his quality.”

Will anyone have made enough of an impact to get some time in the Premier League? We’ll see, but remember that this Gunners system has sent Reiss Nelson on loan to Hoffenheim.

Also, to put this in perspective: Saka was born six days before Sept. 11, 2001. This class of youngster in the Arsenal system is coming, and coming fast.