Chelsea move in to scupper Tottenham’s Willian deal

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With Brazilian midfielder Willian in London ahead of a proposed $45 million transfer to Tottenham Hotspur, everyone thought this one was pretty straightforward…

But hold on a minute.

Late on Thursday night, details of Chelsea launching an audacious last-minute bid for Anzhi Makhachkala Willian emerged. And this morning in his weekly press conference, José Mourinho has stated that Willian has picked Chelsea over Tottenham.

What a twist.

In a room somewhere in the InterContinental Hotel on Park Lane, Willian has been making a pretty hasty pro-con list between Spurs and Mourinho’s Chelsea. But he may not have a say in this as Chelsea have reportedly matched and perhaps bettered Spurs’ massive bid. So a move to the Blues looks set to happen.

(MORE: Tottenham closing in on $45 million Willian capture?)

Will the Blues really sneak in under Tottenham’s noses to grab the player many believe to be Gareth Bale’s direct replacement?

I wouldn’t rule this one out. This is Mourinho and Chelsea we’re talking about. The club have proved over the last decade that if Chelsea want to sign a player, they make it happen, regardless of whether or not another London side and Premier League rival has all but sealed the deal.

This new twist leaves 25-year-old Willian in a tricky situation but ultimately he has no say in it. Chelsea’s Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, has apparently contacted Anzhi’s owner with the bid and Chelsea have been after Willian since 2012 when he played for Shakthar Donetsk.

Liverpool were also interested in the attacking midfielder, who can either play out on the left or through the middle, but Brendan Rodgers’ men gave up the chase a long time ago.

Mourinho’s last-ditch attempt to snatch Willian from Tottenham’s grasp is an incredibly gutsy move. But that’s business, and this is business in the world’s most famous and lucrative league. Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas won’t be happy about it, not least because he was Mourinho’s assistant scout at Chelsea for several years and remains good friends with the Chelsea manager.

But there’s certainly no love lost in the race for Willian, and if Mourinho can nip in and grab the tricky Brazilian before his buddy AVB, then so be it. Do they need a new winger? With Eden Hazard, Oscar, Kevin de Bruyne, Victor Moses and many other international players already able to play out wide, it’s a bit of a strange one.

But obviously Mourinho sees it as an area he needs to improve following the solid, yet unspectacular wins against Hull City and Aston Villa to open the season.

There’s still 10 days until the transfer deadline arrives, but it will take some doing to top this saga.

Chelsea expected to let Cahill leave on loan in January

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Gary Cahill is no longer first-choice at Chelsea — anything but, in fact, as he’s played just 21 minutes in the Premier League this season — and the club is prepared to allow its captain to leave on loan in January as a reward for six years of excellent service, according to a report from the Guardian.

[ MORE: Fulham hire Claudio Ranieri after firing Slavisa Jokanovic ]

New Blues boss Maurizio Sarri has used Cahill sparingly thus far — even leaving him out of the 18-man team for Sunday’s draw with Everton — but has praised the 32-year-old for his professionalism and influence as a valued member inside the locker room. For those reasons, Sarri is prepared to do right by one of the club’s most senior members as Cahill seeks regular first-team minutes.

[ MORE: England vs. USMNT preview ]

Cahill’s current contract is set to expire in the summer of 2020, thus a loan in January and an ensuing permanent transfer this coming summer represents the club’s final opportunity to recoup a small fee for a player who will surely garner plenty of interest from within the PL. Having paid under $9 million to sign him from Bolton in January 2012, Chelsea have gotten pretty good value for their initial investment, including two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup, and one Champions League and Europa League title each during Cahill’s spell at the club.

U.S. U-20 men one win from World Cup

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One win.

That’s all the United States’ U-20 men’s national team will need to advance to this summer’s World Cup in Poland and the Pan-American Games in Peru.

[ MORE: Surgery for Mendy ]

The Yanks cruised through group play with a nearly perfect nine days of soccer, the closest of five wins a 6-1 defeat of Trinidad and Tobago.

Competition is a bit tougher in the knockout stage, but Costa Rica and Honduras did the U.S. a massive solid by drawing 1-1 in their opener.

Now Tab Ramos’ kids can qualify for the World Cup with a defeat of Costa Rica on Friday or Honduras on Monday.

The top two teams in each group qualify for Poland, while the Group A winner advances to the CONCACAF U-20 Championship to face the winner of Group B (Mexico, El Salvador, or Panama).

The U.S. has spread the scoring around, lead by 17-year-old Ulysses Lainez of LA Galaxy II (six goals). His former Galaxy Academy buddy, Alexis Mendez of Freiburg has five goals, as does Toronto FC 18-year-old Ayo Akinola.

Atlanta United sits atop Forbes’ list of most valuable MLS franchises

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Atlanta United came up just short of the Supporters’ Shield, but it’s off-the-field success is No. 1 with a bullet.

Giving high marks to attendance and merchandise sales, Forbes places the Five Stripes atop its list of the most valuable franchises in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Surgery for Mendy ]

United sits first, with a valuation of $330 million. Both Atlanta and the second place Galaxy have valuations ahead of the two-least valuable teams combined (Columbus and Colorado). And the Five Stripes are worth twice the individual values of those teams and Vancouver. Full list here, from Forbes.com:

“Last season, average home-game attendance was 48,200, and this year the team is drawing over 50,000 fans per game. In just two seasons Atlanta has already laid claim to the league’s eight best-attended games ever, and nine of the top eleven.”

The margins are fine, relatively speaking, with Atlanta’s advantage over second place LA Galaxy by $10 million. Seattle is third at $310m, with newcomers LAFC at $305m, and Toronto FC at $290m.

Lagerwey staying in Seattle after GM vote

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Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey will stay in his position for four more years after the club’s alliance members voted to keep him in the role.

The Sounders’ have an Alliance Council that can vote its general manager in or out of the job after a set period of time in the position.

[ MORE: Surgery for Mendy ]

Lagerwey, the ex-Real Salt Lake executive, has been in his role as Seattle’s GM since 2015, and led the team to two MLS Cup Finals, winning one.

The club demands 40 percent of alliance members to vote in order for the decision to be valid and only 37.2 percent did so, but the 87.2 percent of voters in favor or retention sent “a clear message” of approval.

The 45-year-old former MLS goalkeeper certainly had the right things to say in discussing his club’s disappointing end to the season. Seattle went on another late season red-hot run, but fell to its rivals in the playoffs.

“You can’t lose to Portland and call the season a success,” Lagerwey said. “You can’t be the only favorite to be knocked out and call it a success. Performance in the playoffs matters.”

Sure, but Lagerwey was able to pull the strings to fix the season, adding Raul Ruidiaz after forward Jordan Morris was lost for the season. He’s a future Soccer Hall of Famer, and Seattle is right to largely acknowledge that with his vote.