Leighton Baines out with broken toe, a loss Everton should get used to

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Everton has confirmed that Leighton Baines suffered a fractured toe in Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Liverpool.

The injury means the left-back could face up to six weeks on the sideline.

Speaking on Tuesday morning, Toffees manager Roberto Martinez said: “It has been confirmed that Leighton has got a fracture in one of the bones in his right foot, which is the phalange.

“We need to treat that now and see how it develops. It could mean anything from missing six weeks to being back in 10 days because it depends how the fracture heals.

“It is in such a specific spot and we are going to see how it (the injury) reacts.”

So how difficult will Baines’ injury be on the Merseyside club?

At first blush, quite difficult. Over the last five years Baines has been the heart and soul of Everton. He has been so consistent, in fact, that his exit shortly after half-time on Saturday was the first time the England defender failed to complete a Premier League match since 2008.

Besides consistency, Baines has proven himself to be a weapon on both sides of the ball. An above average defender, Baines’ specializes in creating offensive opportunities down the left side of the pitch. Last year, no player in Europe created more opportunities than Baines, solidifying his partnership with Steven Pienaar as one of the Premier League’s most deadly.

There’s little doubt that Everton are a much less formidable side with Baines out of the squad. But from all indications, that’s a reality that Evertonians should get used to as my sources tell me that a transfer deal for Baines to Manchester United this January is all but done.

United have tried at least twice to buy Baines in the past, the most recent go this past summer when Roberto Martinez rejected a $24.3 million (£15m) bid for the defender. When the window opens this winter, expect David Moyes to come with an improved offer in the range of $29.1-32.4 million (£18-20m) and for Everton to take the money.

Assuming this deal comes to fruition, there’s no time like the present for Martinez to figure out his new defense. There are a few options.

Martinez could opt to change to a back three, something he was well known for during his Wigan days. To play with a back three a squad typically needs three large, fast center-backs. Sylvain Distin qualifies and Phil Jagielka, while not the speediest man in the world, should be able to make do.

Former Wigan center-back, Antolin Alcaraz, is now fit after undergoing a hernia operation and would be a natural fit as the third center-back. Another option is John Stones, who was massively impressive this summer in Everton’s pre-season friendlies.

Utilizing a back three would make Seamus Coleman the odd man out of the defense but the marauding right-back would likely be pushed into the midfield five to back-track and even out the back three in times of peril.

If Martinez chooses to keep a back four, however, Alcaraz or Stones could come into a center-back pairing with Jagielka, with the left-footed Distin moving out to the left-flank. Using Gareth Barry at left-back, as Martinez did against Liverpool following Baines’ injury last weekend, seems unlikely.

Ultimately this is probably a situation that will require Everton to purchase a left-back in the January transfer market. Martinez could make a move for Algerian international and St. Etienne full-back Faouzi Ghoulam, who at 22 years old could develop into a star of the future at Goodison Park. 

One way or the other, the time is now for Everton to kick on without Leighton Baines.

Report: Austin FC hire Reyna as sporting director

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Months after locking in Josh Wolff as head coach, Austin FC is reportedly on the verge of naming one of MLS’ best sporting directors to the same role.

The Athletic reported on Wednesday that Anthony Precourt’s Austin FC has hired Claudio Reyna from New York City FC to be the expansion club’s new sporting director. It’s the second expansion club that Reyna is working for since he joined NYCFC in 2013 as its first director of soccer operations.

[READ: MLS takes big step with All-Star game update]

If true, it’s a shrewd move by Precourt to bring in a man who knows MLS like the back of his thumb, and to pair him with a former teammate from the U.S. Men’s National Team. Wolff’s spent almost his entire career in professional soccer in MLS too, so the club now has two influential individuals who are knowledgable about the league and it’s various roster mechanisms.

Austin FC doesn’t enter MLS until 2021, so locking in Reyna now gives him more than a year of runway towards building an MLS-ready roster. Precourt has surely seen the best-case scenario – Seattle, Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United – where a team loaded with top-heavy talent and good role players can make a deep playoff run in its expansion season. But he’s likely also seen the worst-case scenarios – look at Minnesota United in the past and FC Cincinnati this year.

Bringing in Reyna certainly makes it more likely that Austin FC’s future will lie in the former category.

Chelsea verdict due mid-December in FIFA transfer ban case

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Chelsea can expect a verdict within three weeks in its appeal to overturn a FIFA transfer ban for breaking youth transfer rules.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport said after a hearing Wednesday its ruling is expected in the first half of December.

The month-long trading window for English clubs opens Jan. 1. Chelsea already served half its one-year ban on registering new players during the offseason.

Chelsea is challenging verdicts by FIFA’s disciplinary and appeal committees that the club had 150 violations of rules protecting minors from trafficking. Those cases involved about 70 players.

Chelsea also broke rules prohibiting third-party influence on players. FIFA imposed a fine of 600,000 Swiss francs ($608,000).

The club has denied wrongdoing.

The timeline of this transfer of minors’ case is similar to Barcelona’s appeal in 2014 when CAS upheld a transfer ban on Dec. 30, almost four weeks after a hearing.

MLS takes big step with All-Star Game update

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For the first time since 2004, the Major League Soccer All-Star team has a new opponent.

In a press conference in Los Angeles, MLS commissioner Don Garber and Liga MX executive president Enrique Bonilla jointly made the announcement that the 2020 MLS All-Star Game would test the best players from MLS against the top stars in Liga MX, with the match set to take place on July 29 at Los Angeles FC’s Banc of California Stadium.

The news of MLS taking on the Liga MX all-stars is the realization of an idea that has been floated by fans and media members for the last few years. The annual MLS All-Stars vs. club giant had grown stale in recent years, especially since those clubs weren’t ever incentivized to take the game seriously. Big stars might have only played one half, if at all, as they built match fitness for the start of their seasons in Europe, and it ultimately is a bad marker for MLS.

If MLS really wants to compare itself with other top leagues in the world, then there’s no better an opponent than Liga MX. The Mexican first division has continued to basically wipe the floor with MLS clubs in the CONCACAF Champions League, though this season Atlanta United did triumph over Club America in the Campeones Cup.

In addition, MLS may have a decent chance to beat Liga MX in an all-star game. The talent at the very top of MLS is arguably higher than in Mexico, though the Liga MX clubs are stacked with talent in the middle of the rosters, which is where MLS clubs are exploited year after year. However, if it’s Josef Martinez, Carlos Vela, and Nicolas Lodeiro up front for the MLS All-Star squad, they could have a very good shot to succeed.

“We are so pleased to bring the 2020 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target to Los Angeles, one of the great soccer markets in North America,” Garber said in the press conference. “As we celebrate our 25th season, we wanted to deliver an unique and unprecedented format for our annual All-Star Game. Our first ever game between the best of MLS and LIGA MX’s top players is the perfect way to build on the growing relationship between the two top soccer leagues in the region.”

It’s unclear whether this will be a recurring match in the future. However, moving away from the prior all-star game model will help MLS grow as a league and catch up to Liga MX in the long wrong.

How the USMNT found and kept Dest

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With the stroke of a pen on Gregg Berhalter’s lineup card and the referee’s whistle to finish the game, a 4-1 U.S. Men’s National Team victory over Canada, Sergino Dest officially tied his future to the USMNT. It was arguably the final step in a recruitment that began more than three years ago thanks to a message from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Dave van der Bergh.

Since retiring as a player, the former New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas winger has spent his time coaching youth teams within U.S. Soccer, and in this instance, he was working with then U.S. Under-17 head coach John Hackworth. Hackworth was unavailable for comment on this story.

Dest first came on van der Bergh’s radar from a contact at Ajax, where van der Bergh came through the youth academy, and it led to Dest’s first call-ups to the U.S. U-17s in 2016.

“I was tipped off by people at Ajax that there was a player with a dual nationality, and considering that we had been looking at dual nationalities, that I should take a look at him,” van der Bergh said in an e-mail. “I found out about him through the club itself, actually.

“The first time I saw him, I asked for video footage from Ajax, which they gave to me and that was great. Then I asked a really good friend of mine to take a look at him for us. He is somebody I really trust as far as scouting goes, and he said the same things that I thought I had seen. That’s when I decided to tell John Hackworth about him.”

Hackworth and co. brought Dest along slowly, getting him incorporated in the group. He was a reserve in the 2016 Nike International Friendlies as a 15-year-old, with Sporting KC defender Jaylin Lindsey starting ahead of him at the time.

But while the U.S. Soccer Federation was at turmoil at the top – this was just months after Jurgen Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Bruce Arena after his season with the LA Galaxy wrapped up – Dest was making a very good first impression to the coaches.

“I thought that it was unusual,” former U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team coach Tab Ramos recalled in a phone interview. “Normally, our defenders on youth national teams, 1-on-1 they usually have a lot to learn. I felt that Sergino was one of those defenders that never got beat 1-on-1, and that caught my attention.”

Dest wasn’t part of the U.S. U-17s run to the CONCACAF Under-17 final in 2017, but he earned a spot on the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup roster, and it’s where he became a breakout star for American soccer fans. His impact  play from left back or right back added a new element to the U.S. attack and he held his own defensively.

Since then, Dest has continued to progress for club and country at a rapid rate. He helped lead the U.S. U-20s to the CONCACAF U-20 Championship and a run to the quarterfinals at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup, and for Ajax he went from the U-19s in 2017 to Jong Ajax a year later and now a sure-fire starter at right back for the first team in 2019.

“He just became more and more mature,” Ramos said of Dest’s progression as a player in a short span. “He became more of an impact player on the attacking side of the field, and in general I give the players the freedom to express themselves within the context of the way we want to play. I think he was happy with the way we played and it allowed him to express himself, so it worked really well.”

His success in the Ajax first team of course got the attention of the Dutch National Team, who suddenly had an interest in Dest. In the youth stages, it made more sense for Dest to play with the U.S. because he’d have a better opportunity to play at a youth World Cup. The Netherlands hasn’t made the World Cup at U-20 or U-17 level since they hosted the U-20 World Cup in 2005, a shocking statistic considering all the stars they’ve produced over the years.

Suddenly, Dest was being faced with the prospect of competing for playing time on a team that made the final four less than a decade ago and looks to be surging back to prominence, or staying with the only national team program he’d known. The U.S. stepped up its recruitment in September when Gregg Berhalter called Dest in for a pair of matches, first against Mexico and then against Uruguay, where the teenager started both matches. At the same time, his former coach Ramos was keeping in touch with Dest once he decided in October to take more time to make his decision between the U.S. and the Netherlands.

“I continue to be in contact with Serg like I do with many of the players,” Ramos said. “Basically, my recommendation to him was to go with his heart. I feel like, of course you can listen to your agent and you can listen to people in the press, and you can always choose what’s more convenient to you, for your career. But I think the most important thing when playing for a country is to choose where your heart is. That’s basically what I told him.”

Dest made his decision to stay with the U.S. on October 28, and it was a big win for a USMNT program that had lost promising midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez in a similar situation to Mexico. Even bigger, Ramos noted, was that Dest wasn’t born and raised in the U.S., and his main connection with his nation was through the national team itself.

“I’m very proud of that, because it means he has a trust in our program and he’s confident that he’s going to get the most out of his opportunities that he gets here with our program,” Ramos said. “I think it goes to show the great job Hackworth did with him and how happy he was to be with us in the U-20s that he feels like this is his home.

“You have to remember this a kid who never lived in the U.S., he grew up in Holland, and that the closest thing for being home for him has been our youth national teams. I think he felt comfortable. He’s been comfortable and he felt like we took care of him, and he’s been happy. That’s just my feeling.”