About those MLS retention funds: They have already been put to significant use

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KANSAS CITY – The MLS “retention fund” mechanism that wandered slowly into public awareness last month has already been put to significant use. It looks like MLS got this one right; just look at how many terrific players have already been tied up to longer deals using the fund established just this year.

So far, 14 MLS men are retention fund kids, including Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler (pictured) and Graham Zusi, FC Dallas center back George John, young New England livewire attacker Diego Fagundez and New York Red Bull midfielder Dax McCarty. (The full list is below.)

The mechanism was designed to allow clubs to re-sign key players to new deals without pricing them into Designated Player territory. It was an effort to avoid damaging attrition, losing players we might classify as “above-average,” or a few we would call “great” or perhaps “potentially great,” to European clubs that might not look glamorous but could offer substantially greater compensation.

Todd Durbin, the league’s VP of Player Relations and Competition, talked to a small group of journalists at Wednesday’s All-Star game on several topics, including the retention fund creation. He said it was a reaction to fears (somewhat unfounded in his mind) that MLS was losing a group of important players to leagues no better than MLS, such as the Scandinavian leagues.

“We decided we needed to come up with a program, or a way of managing that,” Durbin said.

Clubs in salary-capped sports consistently face a push and pull that pits long-term vs. short-term interests. When it comes to high-quality fan favorites, they can always renegotiate contracts in efforts to keep the player around for the long-term. That’s good, right?

Of course – unless it dents the short-term ability to sign additional talent, which can help the here and now of results. The retention fund established a tool that allowed clubs to marry those interests.

Clubs also sought greater personnel stability, talent that added quality on the field and helped keep familiar faces around for the fans.

Zusi and Besler were textbook cases, Durbin said, under contract but in jeopardy of gazing overseas. They were both MLS All-Stars but not, perhaps, quite into DP territory. (Some of that is about positions they play, especially in Besler’s case; center backs are typically not DPs.)

By using some of the retention funds (reported previously but not confirmed to be around $225,000 per club), Sporting Kansas City tied up the two U.S. internationals without hamstring themselves in terms of signing other players, potentially even DPs.

Apparently, this thing is working. From MLS, here is the list of players who have already been re-signed using the new Core Player mechanism, where a portion of the player’s salary does not count against the salary budget:

  • Tony Beltran (RSL)
  • Matt Besler (SKC)
  • Sam Cronin (SJ)
  • Diego Fagundez (NE)
  • Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (SEA)
  • George John (DAL)
  • Juninho (LA)
  • Gershon Koffie (VAN)
  • Dax McCarty (NY)
  • Drew Moor (COL)
  • Chris Pontius (DC)
  • Chris Schuler (RSL),
  • Marvell Wynne (COL)
  • Graham Zusi (SKC)

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.