Eddie Johnson knows the chemistry will come as DC United looks for first points

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EXCLUSIVE – DC United have picked up where they left off last season – at the bottom of Major League Soccer.

One of just two MLS clubs without a point thus far, the 2013 basement-dwellers were looking for goals, goals, and more goals when they signed Eddie Johnson to a Designated Player contract this offseason.

While he – or anyone else – has yet to score for DC, Johnson is adamant that early improvement from their first match to their second is promising enough to ease the players, even if it has yet to ease the fans.

“It’s hard to say ‘oh there’s positives things out of two losses,'” Johnson admitted, “but there’s actually some spells in the games where we got some good possession within the team and in the final third, and it’s just that final pass or two that’s not there right now.  But we know with due time that’s going to come, so that’s why we’re not panicking.”

In a vacuum, the two losses mean little in the big picture of a very long MLS season.  However, following the dreadful nature of last season, it’s hard for fans not to panic after the pair of disappointments: a 3-0 loss to Columbus at home to open the season followed by a narrow 1-0 defeat to Toronto.

(MORE: MLS Preview: Chicago Fire at DC United)

Johnson admitted building chemistry with his new teammates at the head of the DC attack has been harder than expected, especially with fellow newcomer Fabian Espindola, but not for the reasons one may think.

The Argentinian is a talented player in his own right, with MLS Cup experience as well as time with one of the biggest South American clubs in Boca Juniors.  For Johnson, working with a player who has many quality facets to his game has been tough to adjust to.

“It’s been a bit challenging because he’s a very good footballer and someone I very much admire, and I want to make the most of my opportunity in playing with him.  It’s been too bad in two games where things haven’t been clicking for us.

“For me, it’s about trying to figure out how I be effective when he drifts wide when it’s too congested in the final third up top when they really squeeze in and make the field small for us.  It’s how can I still be effective, and develop a communication with him and stay connected with him to give ourselves some real chances to be dangerous in front of the goal.  But we worked on that this week and we’re looking forward to seeing all the hard work we put in training this week trying to play that tomorrow against Chicago.”

Cutting off that connection between the two has been a point of emphasis for DC’s early-season opposition, and so far it’s worked.  Espindola has completed just 65% of his passes throughout his first two games.  While that’s not too uncommon for an attacking player, and it’s not terribly far off his last season percentage of 72%, it’s still not where DC will want his service to Johnson to be.

source: AP
Things haven’t gone swimmingly at DC United in their first two matches, but Johnson and the rest of the squad are putting in the hard work to turn it all around.

But with Chicago coming up at 4pm ET Saturday on NBCSN, it’s a golden opportunity for DC to get off the schneid.   The Fire have just two points through three matches in the young MLS season, and having seen them in preseason twice already earlier in the calendar year, Johnson is well aware of what they bring to the table.

“I’m familiar with their back four and their center backs.  I played with [Chicago defender Jhon Kennedy] Hurtado for two seasons in Seattle and I know what he likes and what he doesn’t like, so I’m going to try and play him and get him into positions he’s not comfortable with, and really going out there and putting them on our terms.”

And most of all, he wants to show the fans that last season is in the past.

“You go two games without scoring a goal or getting shots on goal and everyone starts to panic that the guys aren’t gelling and stuff.  But I feel like every game we’ve gotten better, and it’s just a matter of time that the ball starts bouncing our way.  Really, the focus is more on ourselves than the focus is on Chicago.”

With the focus on themselves, Johnson’s really enjoyed his time working with head coach Ben Olsen.  The pair have history, as teammates on the US National Team from Johnson’s debut in 2004 until Olsen’s retirement in 2007. Now, despite one standing as the boss, the two still share a similar relationship.

“Now playing under him as a coach, nothing has really changed from playing with him and his mentality is still the same.  He’s still a hard worker, he’s a winner at the end of the day, and those are the guys he wants in his team every weekend.  The results haven’t been great, but we know they’re going to come so the more we can stay positive and the more we can stay focused on trying to build and create the identity we’re trying to create here, the more successful we’re going to be.”

In addition to his new MLS venture, Johnson is also staring a chance at making his third World Cup in the face. However, as a more experienced player, he believes the two ventures of club and country to him are completely separate entities in his mind.

“If I was younger with no World Cup experience and never having been in this situation before, it would probably be eating me up through these two games not really having opportunities on goal to win games for my teams. But for me, with my experience and being in this situation for the third time now, it’s about taking it one game at a time and staying true to myself, what I believe in, and my abilities.  And if I’m honest with myself at the end of the day putting the work in week in and week out and I can look myself in the mirror and say hey, I’ve been doing all the right things, at the end of the day it’s up to the manager to pick whatever players he wants to see.”

So with the 29-year-old on the squad to take on Mexico next Wednesday, he knows not only is this a chance to earn a trip to Brazil this summer, but it’s also a chance to play Mexico – something that these players never take lightly.

source: Getty Images
Johnson is hoping to make his third World Cup, and has a chance to make yet another impression against Mexico in next week’s friendly.

“It’s not a friendly.  National team call-ups don’t come easy these days, and this is a very important game.  I think a lot of players are going to come into the camp fully focused, committed, and on top of their game, and they’re gonna leave it all out on the field and give themselves a real, real good chance at making the team.  And on top of that it’s our rivals, so any time we play against our rivals it’s about bragging rights and about showing who’s on top of CONCACAF.  [Mexico] are going to have a lot of hunger for revenge, and we’re looking forward to it.”

With making the national team a dream for just about every American-born player, Johnson got nostalgic for a moment when a former club of his was brought up.  As Fulham struggle in the bottom of the Premier League, Johnson hoped the team that gave him the opportunity to play in one of the biggest leagues in the world manages to stay up, just as he did with the Whites six years ago.

“I remember when I first went over in 2008, we were in the same situation at the bottom, and we survived,” said Johnson. “One thing I can say about everyone in that dressing room and organization is they’re fighters at the end of the day, and they’re going to do everything they can to stay up.  So I’m praying for them, I wish them all the best, and they gave me the opportunity to go over and make my dreams of playing in the Premiership come true and I’m forever grateful for that.”

So as DC United look to pick themselves up in the midst of a 14-match winless streak dating back to last year, one thing is for certain: their newly signed forward has the experience and work ethic to get them out of it.  If anyone can scrape DC United off the bottom of the standings, it’s Eddie Johnson.  He just needs a little help from his friends.

Liverpool – Arsenal: How to watch, team news, odds

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Liverpool – Arsenal: Two heavyweights clash at Anfield on Monday (Watch live at 3pm ET online via Peacock) as both team have a perfect record with two wins from two so far.

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Reigning champions Liverpool have perhaps been more impressive as they’ve beaten upstarts Leeds United and then Chelsea, while Arsenal eased past Fulham but struggled past West Ham.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

When it comes to Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta, their playing philosophy as managers could not be more different as Arsenal beat Liverpool on penalties at Wembley to win the Community Shield last month.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of a massive early-season clash as Arsenal look to put down a marker.


Team news: Liverpool – Arsenal (INJURY REPORT)

Liverpool have center back Joe Gomez back fit after he missed the win at Chelsea last weekend, while this game will come too soon for fellow defender Joel Matip and captain Jordan Henderson is also not fit to feature. Thiago Alcantara is not in the squad due to an minor injury, while new signing Diogo Jota is on the bench.

Arsenal have Kieran Tierney back fit for this game, which is a big boost. Gabriel, Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos and Sead Kolasinac all drop to the bench as Tierney, Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and David Luiz start. Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers, Gabriel Martinelli and Shkodran Mustafi all remain out injured.


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Understandably Liverpool are the heavy favorites (-210) given their long unbeaten home record at Anfield. That said Arsenal (+520) do seem a high price after they beat Liverpool during ‘Project Restart’ and also in the Community Shield final. The draw at +360 is intriguing and the value perhaps lies there.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Liverpool – Arsenal prediction

Arsenal have a lot more grit under Arteta and they ware capable of bending but not breaking. This is a huge test for them, though, and Gabriel against the fluid front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane will be his biggest test yet. Arsenal have the attackers to make the most of any more slack defending from Liverpool but I expect Klopp’s side to have just too much in midfield and attack. Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal.


How to watch Liverpool – Arsenal stream and start time

Kickoff: 3pm ET Monday
TV Channel: Peacock
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Fulham – Aston Villa: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

Fulham - Aston Villa
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Fulham – Aston Villa: How early is too early to call a game “must-win” in the Premier League? Perhaps we will find out on Monday (Watch live at 12:45 pm ET, online via Peacock), when bottom-of-the-table Fulham host Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.

FULHAM – ASTON VILLA STREAM LIVE

Scott Parker’s side has had a torrid start to life back in the PL — not at all dissimilar to the way their last stint ended — and find themselves with zero points and seven goals conceded after their first two games. Losing 3-0 to Arsenal on the opening day of the season wasn’t altogether surprising, but following that defeat with four more goals conceded to Leeds United last weekend will undoubtedly have done a number on the Cottagers’ confidence.

Villa, on the other hand, have played just once and secured a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United earlier this week. A win on Monday would see Dean Smith’s side start the season with back-to-back PL victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Fulham – Aston Villa this Monday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Fulham – Aston Villa (INJURY REPORT)

Fulham – No injuries or suspensions

Scott Parker makes three changes as Tom Cairney, Tim Ream and Bobby Decordova-Reid start.

Aston Villa – OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)

Villa are unchanged from the team which beat Sheffield United last time out.


What they’re saying: Fulham – Aston Villa

Scott Parker, on a “must-win” game: “I don’t see it as drastic as a must-win. We want to win. I know it’s either high or low in a drastic world, but we need to stay level and take realism of where we are in the campaign and where we are as a team. We will try everything we can to take some points and be up to the challenge. I don’t think we’re the only team at this present moment in time who have let in some goals in the first two games. It’s not ideal, of course not. Villa at home on Monday is a game we’re going to try to get three points.”

Dean Smith, on needing another signing: “We’re always looking in the market, we’re probably one short in the squad at the moment so we’ll keep looking at that. I think there’s seven days left until the window shuts internationally, another seven days domestically. Our sporting director at the moment has got his finger on the pulse, hopefully we might get one more in and maybe a couple more out.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This one is just about a coin flip with Fulham (+185) ever so slight underdogs to Villa (+150). In a game that could go either way like this one, the draw (+225) might just be the safe middle ground.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: Fulham – Aston Villa

There’s not much to separate these two sides right now, and there likely won’t be much ground between them come the season’s final table. There should be a few goals, but that’ll be more down to poor defending than excellent attacking quality from either side. Fulham 2-2 Villa.


How to watch Fulham – Aston Villa stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:45 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Transfer news: Kante to Man United; Dest to Barcelona

Kante to Manchester United
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In the latest transfer news N’Golo Kante to Manchester United is reported, while USMNT right back Sergino Dest to Barcelona is almost complete.

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Let’s take a look at some of the latest juicy rumors as we’re in the final week of the transfer window.


Kante to Manchester United couldn’t really happen… could it!?

N’Golo Kante is still among the finest holding midfielders in the world, which is why this report from the Daily Mirror seems particularly outlandish.

That said, Kante, 29, has been linked with a move away from Chelsea for most of this transfer window as the French central midfielder continues to be a man in demand. Per the report, Kante would have to take a pay-cut on his $385,000 per week wages.

Frank Lampard and Chelsea know that Kante’s value is extremely high, on and off the pitch, right now and they will also know his value may be at its peak. At times over the last 12 months he hasn’t quite been himself but he’s still been consistently excellent.

Is it time for Chelsea to cash in on Kante to help offset their incredible $300 million spending spree this summer?

Pretty much everyone who watches Chelsea knows this would be a bad idea. If you think Chelsea’s defending has been bad, think how bad it will be without Kante plugging as many gaps as he can in front of the defense. Chelsea fans everywhere are shuddering right now.

Kante to Manchester United would make sense for the Red Devils who still look badly imbalanced and need a destructive holding midfielder to get their dangerous attacking quartet of Rashford, Greenwood, Martial and Fernandes in the game more.

We would all be extremely surprised if Chelsea sell Kante to a direct rival, but stranger things have happened.

Sergino Dest to Barcelona almost complete

USMNT right back Sergino Dest to Barcelona is edging closer as the Dutch-American defender is said to have agreed personal terms with Barca.

Dest, 19, was chased by both Bayern Munich and Barcelona but his chosen the latter after Ajax agreed a $26.7 million fee with Barcelona.

Per a report from Sky Italy, Dest has agreed a five-year contract at Barcelona and will travel to Spain to complete the deal.

With Nelson Semedo sold to Wolves, Barcelona need a new right back and new head coach Ronald Koeman looks set to make Dest the first signing he has chosen. While manager of the Dutch national team Koeman wanted Dest to switch allegiances from the USMNT but he stuck with the nation he has played for throughout his youth international career despite being born in the Netherlands.

Dest will get plenty of opportunities to play at Barcelona and it will be intriguing to track his development.

Chelsea issue Pulisic injury update; Mendy debut?

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Pulisic injury update has arrived, as the USMNT star is edging ever closer to a return to action for Chelsea.

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The American winger, 22, injured his hamstring in the FA Cup final at the start of August and recently suffered a small setback as he tried to be ready for Chelsea’s opening game of the 2020-21 Premier League season.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s League Cup fourth round clash at London rivals Tottenham on Tuesday, Frank Lampard has the latest Pulisic injury update as new signing Hakim Ziyech is on a similar path.

“Mendy and Chilwell are in the squad for tomorrow,” Lampard said. “They’re fit and we will see whether they start or not. Ziyech and Pulisic are not far away. They are still in their recovery stage so it’s too early for them both.”

It seems like Pulisic could be in line to play his first Premier League minutes of the season when Chelsea host Crystal Palace on Saturday (watch live, 7:30am ET).

This is good news for Chelsea and the USMNT, but also shows that Lampard is being cautious when it comes to the USMNT winger, just like he said he would be when asked last week.

“There’s always a concern about a player’s fitness when the history says there’s been some injuries. Last season we did have them with Christian, I was questioned many times on him, when he did and didn’t play,” Lampard said.  “Of course, when you look at a player with his recent record, you’re trying to find the right balance of getting the best out of him, which we saw in big periods last year, and making sure you don’t overcook him and leave him susceptible to injury.

“Particularly with a player of his explosive pace and balance. It’s a fine line. We’re working on that and Christian’s also very open to that. He wants to play, he’s so hungry to play and he’s very nearly fit now, but it’s certainly something we have to manage with him this season. We’ve all seen the talent and it’s something we want to get right. I’m not saying it’s a fundamental, chronic issue because it’s not, but we want to get as many minutes out of Christian – the really great Christian that we saw lots of last season – on the pitch.”

Pulisic was given the No. 10 jersey over the offseason and Lampard is counting on him to repeat his incredible form during ‘Project Restart’ as he ripped opposition defenses apart.

With Kai Havertz and Timo Werner settling in, plus Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount all scoring in the comeback 3-3 draw at West Brom on Saturday, Lampard has a lot of attackng options. Pulisic should be his first-choice winger, though.

Focusing on his new first-choice goalkeeper, it seems like that will be new signing Edouard Mendy.

Lampard has been very impressed with the Senegalese goalkeeper during his first few days as a Chelsea player and he could make his debut against Tottenham.

“The early signs and the interactions as a man and also on the training pitch have been very positive,” Lampard said. “He’s settled in very well in those few days and we’ve made him very welcome. It’s competition, we know that. He’s a good goalkeeper, we know a lot about him, and we will see how we go.”

Chelsea are getting players back to full fitness and with Mendy set to make his debut and Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell now up to speed and Ziyech on the way, Lampard is close to having all of his new signings playing together for the first time.

That, plus the eagerly-awaited arrival of Pulisic, is great news for Chelsea.