Defoe ready to go, but Toronto FC manager concerned about “bad artificial field” in Seattle

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There’s a lot of buzz around Toronto FC ahead of a big MLS opener out in Seattle this weekend, and head coach Ryan Nelsen has plenty to be concerned about when it comes to players like Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley, Gilberto, Julio Cesar and Alvaro Rey

It’s not just about whether his players are fully fit and healthy, it’s both of those factors travel to and conditions at the venue for Saturday’s opener. Here’s what Nelsen told reporters on Monday.

“You’ve gotta travel and it’s not just an artificial field, it’s a bad artificial field. It’s like playing 1 1/2, 1 3/4 games in terms of damage to your body. So again we’ve got guys who are healthy but don’t have the hardness of fitness under them, which is a concern.”

A foot issue kept Bradley out of USMNT camp, but Nelsen mused that the midfielder has been “overactive” in preparation for his club’s MLS opener, while Defoe’s transition from England and knocks to Gilberto, Cesar and Rey could be magnified by the artificial playing surface.

For his part, Defoe is ready to go, though he admits the artificial surface TFC trained on today was an unusual experience for the former Tottenham man.

“It’s not something I’m used to, to be honest. Even training today, it’s the first time in years where I’ve actually trained on this kind of surface. It’s something you’re going to have to get used to and you can’t really make excuses because it’s the same for both teams, same for all the players.

“I suppose it’s just part and parcel of traveling away and playing on these kinds of pitches.”

Monday was Defoe’s first training session with his teammates, so there’ll be plenty of adjustment this week, weekend and onward, but he said he’s 100 percent healthy and was before he arrived in Canada. Toronto FC visits Seattle at 4:30p.m. ET Saturday.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.