“2 + 2 = 5” ProSoccerTalk’s exclusive interview with Fulham owner Shahid Khan

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Shahid Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the new top dog at Fulham, is a strict businessman.  At the time of his purchase, he told those in charge at Fulham that they would be free to do their jobs, but if the results weren’t there, he wouldn’t be merciful and kind.

Khan and his epic mustache joined the likes of Randy Lerner, the Glazer family, and Stan Kroenke as American owners in the Premier League.  While he clearly connects his American heritage with the English game, there’s an overwhelming desire to succeed.  The American game is important, but the success of Fulham is now even higher on his list.

It’s clear Khan speaks in the language of business, but he has an incredible passion for not just sports but the fan experience.  He can be seen at Jaguars fan events speaking with eager supporters, and is incredibly accessible to the media.  His ability to market is second to none, and he’s gotten the fanbase in Jacksonville more excited than ever about their NFL team.

Now he’s passing that along to Fulham.  Former owner Mohamed Al Fayed gave everything he had to the club, but he mostly conducted business in private.  Khan respects everything Al Fayed gave to the club, but his approach differs.  The fans are important to him, and it reflects in his actions.

ProSoccerTalk’s Kyle Bonn got to chat with Mr. Khan about his new ownership venture, his feelings on the game in the United States and how he believes the two sports teams he owns will coexist.

With Mohamed Al Fayed having such an integral role in bringing Fulham up to the Premier League, is he going to be sticking around the club in an ambassador or honorary role?

SK: “Well the transition is complete, but he’s a major part of the history of Fulham.  In all likelihood Fulham wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for him, the investment he made, and the love and passion he had.  So he’s a real part of the club and he can be around as little or as much as he’d like.  Even for the last several years he was really not around the club, but he’d be welcome around whenever he’d like.”

source: ReutersWith your ownership of Fulham as well as the Jaguars, do you have an overall plan to cross-promote these teams, and will they be more separate entities or will they coexist strongly?

SK: “They’re definitely separate entities, and you don’t want to have any confusion about that.  But having said that, we have a number of opportunities to have corporate partners that would like to take part in both.  I had several guests at the Real Betis friendly at Fulham who came over to get a chance to work with or sponsor Fulham and then also be able to do it with the NFL game in London or back in the U.S. with Jacksonville.  So we have a unique space that I think is going to help both teams, but there can’t be any confusion – they are on their own.  Both of them we can use a relationship to develop fan bases.  With Jacksonville in London, we had started last year with the Union Jax fan club, and when Fulham happened they picked up several thousand members that day.  Fulham will definitely be playing friendlies starting next year in Jacksonville; it’s a very soccer crazy atmosphere so they’re delighted to have Fulham coming.  There’s opportunity, but both of them have to exist on their own and improve on their own.”

There are American owners in the Premier League, but you are one of the most accessible to the public.  Do you think that with your new connection, you’re in a position to help spread the excitement of the game of soccer to American sports fans and help grow excitement about the game with those who may not have been previously interested?

SK: “I can only speak for myself, but yes.  We have an opportunity where Fulham and the Jaguars stand on their own, but we also have an opportunity where 2 + 2 = 5.  A unique place where we can offer opportunities at both clubs for the fans because of the relationship.”

Soccer has a much larger following in this country than it ever has before, but it still struggles to cement itself in the average American sports fan’s household.  Do you think it could compete with sports like baseball in the near future or is that a hard sell?

SK: “I think putting a quantifying number on it to compare to baseball, I think I’m in no position to answer that, but I can tell you that soccer is on the upswing.  I see that from the number of people I’ve known for years – we never talked about the Premier League or soccer, and now Fulham happens.  In Jacksonville, I talked to people about how they can get Fulham apparel or when is the friendly, so there’s a huge amount of interest.  So soccer in the U.S. is definitely on the upswing, and NBC is on the ground floor with broadcasting the games, and we’re counting on the fact that what NBC sees in soccer is correct.”

Fulham have a legacy of an American connection.  Some fans refer to it as “Fulhamerica.”  Did this attract you to the club at all and would you consider giving a harder look at American players because of this past?

SK: “I think that’s a part of Fulham’s history which I think is great, but Fulham has a lot more that made it the perfect club for us at the perfect time for us.  The Premier League is very competitive like the NFL, so you want to get the best players.  They (the American players) were great for Fulham, but moving forward we want to get the best players.  Hopefully some of them are Americans, that would be a great connection.”

The style of promotion and relegation is so engrained in the fabric of soccer, except here in America it’s somewhat foreign.  Do you think that concept should be applied here to Major League Soccer or other sports in the United States?

SK: “I don’t think it would work.  There’s something very unique about the concept of promotion and relegation, but in the U.S. it doesn’t make sense.  The sport I know, at least from a business standpoint is the NFL.  What makes it unique and exciting year after year is the competitive balance – the draft, a hard salary cap, scheduling, etc – you can’t have those with promotion and relegation.”

Between the Premier League and the NFL, do you see any similarities between the two, and do you have a favorite?

SK: “They have a lot in common. We’re talking about two leagues at the top of their sport.  Obviously very passionate fan bases, large TV or media revenues, so there’s obviously a lot in common.”

Could you see a Fulham player ever being turned into a kicker for the Jaguars?

SK: *laughing* “You know, that is an interesting idea.  (Jaguars kicker) Josh Scobee was talking to me about it last week.  We talk about it for fun when we have a friendly here next year to try that.  Josh actually used to play soccer with Clint Dempsey, so he shared a lot of similarities.  Moving forward, how you evaluate talent can cross the game.  Nobody really knows how they compare but this would be an interesting way of finding out.”

I didn’t know Josh played soccer with Clint!

SK: “He told me he gave up his hopes of professional soccer once he played with Clint, he thought he couldn’t make it, so he figured he’d better get good at kicking a ball for football.”

La Liga: Espanyol up to 2nd, Athletic held again

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The top of the La Liga table is quite something.

While Barcelona continues to lead the way, below them rests nearby Espanyol after the Periquitos defeated basement-dwellers Huesca 2-0 on Borja Iglesias’s third and fourth goals of the season. The Spaniard struck just before halftime to open the scoring, before hitting again just past the hour mark to seal the three points.

Real Valladolid jumped above Real Madrid into sixth with a 1-0 road victory at Real Betis. A 35th minute goal by 30-year-old journeyman Antonioto was enough to earn the win, as Betis popped off 20 total shots, but only four were on target. Takashi Inui had a great chance but whiffed right on the doorstep midway through the second half. With Sunday’s results, Real Madrid dropped all the way down to seventh.

Getafe topped Rayo Vallecano 2-1 to jump into the top half of the table. The eventual winner was a 67th minute own-goal by 20-year-old Sergio Akieme who would have been celebrated for a quality finish tapping home a cross, although it was into his own net.

Finally, first-half goals four minutes apart cancelled out as Athletic Bilbao and Eibar drew 1-1. The home side struck first at Ipurua Municipal Stadium as the referee went to VAR 17 minutes in and found that Inigo Martinez tackled Sergi Enrich in the box, a clear scythe after the Athletic defender anticipated incorrectly the incoming cross. 24-year-old Brazilian Charles completed the penalty with a slow run-up, putting the hosts in front. Four minutes later, the visitors struck back on a fabulous moment of anticipation by Raul Garcia who headed perfectly in front of a streaking Inaki Williams who got behind the defense and put the ball into the back of the net.

Timbers tops RSL to clinch playoffs, Galaxy now controls destiny

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The Western Conference playoff picture has become more clear after the Portland Timbers clinched a playoff spot by topping Real Salt Lake 3-0.

The victory not only secured a berth for Portland, but it also left RSL in a position of vulnerability. The LA Galaxy won at Minnesota 3-1 with Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the scoresheet, pulling within a point of RSL, who is done for the regular season, meaning the Galaxy controls its own destiny.

Portland put together a comprehensive performance, disappointing from RSL’s perspective with the playoffs on the line. 15 minutes in, Diego Valeri chipped in a free-kick and defender Larrys Mabiala made a run at the back post for the tap-in. Portland defended well for the rest of the first half, and while the visitors dominated the first part of the second half, they conceded again past the hour mark through another unlikely culprit in Diego Chara. On the counter, Chara made a storming run down the middle, and after collecting a Sebastian Blanco pass, he touched past a charging Nick Rimando and finished cooly. The third came from Blanco with three minutes to go to put the cherry on top of a solid overall performance.

Los Angeles picked up a vital three points thanks to a ruthless attack. Ibrahimovic headed home a beautiful looping cross from Rolf Feltscher right on the half-hour mark, and the Galaxy went up for good.

In the second half, a ridiculous four-minute stretch saw three goals in succession. First, Ola Kamara was denied on the doorstep by Michael Boxall, but seconds later he poked in an Ashley Cole cross at the near post for LA’s second. The third came just one minute later as Minnesota turned it over in their own defensive third, and Ibrahimovic crossed to Roman Alessandrini for an absurd volleyed finish. Minnesota got a consolation just two minutes later through Angello Rodríguez, but it wasn’t enough.

So, the playoff picture is thus: Portland is in with 54 points. RSL is currently in the playoffs, but their regular season is finished with 49 points. The Galaxy, therefore, sit below the cut line on 48 points but have a meeting with Houston next weekend for all the marbles. They need to win to advance to the playoffs, as a draw would leave them with one fewer win, the first tiebreaker.

Supporters Shield still up for grabs as Atlanta, NYRB both win

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The New York Red Bulls are still in the mix, but Atlanta United has taken a one-point lead into the final matchday of the season as both teams won on Sunday.

Atlanta United topped Chicago 2-1 at Mercedes-Benz stadium. Franco Escobar opened it up early and an own-goal put them ahead for good, keeping pace with RBNY’s win over Philadelphia and leaving them a point ahead at the top of the table.

Escobar’s strike came just eight minutes in, after feeding Josef Martinez near the penalty spot who whiffed and fell down, he latched back onto the loose ball and decided to take it himself, curling one inside the far post. Chicago scored in the 24th minute to level the score, but Atlanta did not relent.

Just two minutes after Chicago’s equalizer, Atlanta was back on top. Chris McCann crossed it from the left edge, and Johan Kappelhof attempted to slide and block the cross at the near post, but instead he redirected the ball into the back of his own net.

New York, meanwhile, kept pace with a 1-0 victory at Philadelphia behind a penalty from Kaku, sending Andre Blake the wrong way. The spot-kick was given on a VAR check that determined Alejandro Bedoya handled the ball.

On the final day of the season, the Red Bulls will host Orlando City, while Atlanta is on the road at Toronto. Atlanta can secure the Supporters’ Shield with a win, but New York can jump them with a win and an Atlanta draw or loss. Should Atlanta lose by one goal and the Red Bulls draw, the teams would be level on points, wins, and goal differential, meaning the significant Atlanta lead on goals scored would give them the advantage.

Rooney scores brace, DC United completes improbable playoff push

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They’ve done it. They’ve really done it.

D.C. United, with just two league wins through the first 19 games of the MLS season, has completed an improbable playoff bid by securing an Eastern Conference berth in the postseason with a 3-1 win over NYCFC on the penultimate matchday of the season.

Wayne Rooney, the catalyst for this amazing turnaround, fittingly scored a brace, including the opener just eight minutes in on a fabulous run from Luciano Acosta down the end line.

Acosta was there to secure the win, doubling the lead in the 24th minute with a long-distance strike into the top-right corner.

Goalkeeper Bill Hamid was required to preserve the lead, getting down low to stop a tight-angle strike from David Villa towards the end of the first half. That would spur D.C. on, as they would seal the deal with a penalty from Rooney in the 74th minute, leaving NYCFC with just a consolation in the 78th minute when David Villa ended the bid for a clean sheet.

The victory caps an improbable second-half run for D.C. United, as they have won five in a row and 10 of their last 15. Rooney has been the leader, earning the role of captain despite just signing this summer, and scoring 12 goals in 19 MLS matches. With Columbus Crew drawing, D.C. jumped all the way up into fourth place with the win.