Premier League Preview: West Ham United

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

Back in the Premier League for a second season after falling to the Championship for one, West Ham United is a perennial contender for mid-table obscurity. London’s East Enders didn’t make many changes from last season, aside from signing Andy Carroll from Liverpool, but he was already at West Ham on loan.

After an up-and-down 2012-13 season, West Ham finished dead center in the standings. Short-lived cup runs allowed the Hammers to focus on league play, where they tied Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool and beat Chelsea, but also lost to Sunderland and Wigan.

Transfers In: GK Adrián (Réal Betis, Spain), F Andy Carroll (Liverpool), F Danny Whitehead (Stockport County, Conference North), D Răzvan Raț (Shakhtar Donetsk, Ukraine)

Transfers Out: M/F Robert Hall (Bolton Wanderers, Championship), F Carlton Cole (released), M Gary O’Neil (released)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: Captain Kevin Nolan has proven to be a steady goalscorer, but if West Ham is going to contend for anything serious this year, Andy Carroll will have to step up for his new (permanent) club. When he played for another mid-level team, Newcastle United, Carroll had no trouble bagging goals, but his form waned after a move to Liverpool.

For strikers, playing well is about confidence and comfort, both of which should be easier to find at Upton Park. His seven goals for the Hammers while on loan last year were one more than he managed to score in nearly twice as many appearances for Liverpool.

Manager: Sam Allardyce enters his third season as West Ham manager. He had a relatively quiet summer after leading the Hammers to promotion from the Championship two years ago and then revamping the roster to finish in 10th place.

Much as the man himself, Allardyce’s teams have a reputation for playing hard-nosed soccer. Though it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing game, it seems to get results in the English game.

Outlook: West Ham’s silence in the summer transfer window could be seen as either a sign of contentment or lack of ambition. However, if the squad it has right now can find some form, a top-10 finish is not out of the question. It’s hard to see any sustained assault on the league — it will probably be another erratic season of results that ends at mid-table — but a long cup run seems more likely for teams that give spotty performances.

(MORE: Read all the Premier League previews for each team here)

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

Adam Davy/PA via AP
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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images
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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE