Will Chelsea’s savvy rebuild win them the Premier League title?

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One of the most famous TV sitcoms in England is called Only Fools and Horses. In that long-standing show the main protagonist is named Del Boy, a South London street merchant who is a wheeler-dealer extraordinaire. No matter what lies in front of him, ‘Del’ always seems to land on his feet.

Right now in West London, Jose Mourinho is proving himself to be a modern day Del Boy.

This summer Chelsea’s manager has performed one of shrewdest overhauls in Premier League history. Veterans Ashley Cole, Samuel Eto’o and Frank Lampard are gone, plus Romelu Lukaku and David Luiz left for a massive profit. In came star striker Diego Costa, midfield sensation Cesc Fabregas, talented goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois back from a loan spell, legendary forward Didier Drogba on a free and Brazilian defender Filipe Luis.

Mourinho managed all that and made a profit Del Boy would be proud of. His squad is now truly starting to take shape.

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Since returning to Stamford Bridge last summer Mourinho has been threatening to overhaul Chelsea’s roster and finally he has done so. One of the greatest coaches in soccer history doesn’t get much wrong, but he should have wheeled and dealed last summer when he arrived. Now that he has, are Chelsea the favorites to win the Premier League? The bookies have them down to win the PL and those chaps usually aren’t too far off the mark. That, plus the optimism of fans in West London, points to the fact that this could be Chelsea’s year.

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Can Jose mastermind more silverware for Chelsea this season? He needs to.

The Blues have not won the PL title since 2009-10, when Carlo Ancelotti was in charge. Mourinho won no silverware last season and the pressure is slightly on the man they call the ‘Special One.’ Chants of “your not special anymore, your not special anyyyymore!’ rang around stadiums last season as Chelsea huffed and puffed their way to a third place finish. Mourinho waved away those shouts from the terraces whenever they arose but he is all in this season. This is his team. The 51-year-old has signed new players and has cast aside plenty of stars to mold his unit together. Last year he brought in the likes of Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah during the season and shipped out the hugely talented Juan Mata. Many questioned what he was doing.

[RELATED: Mourinho: Fabregas is the future]

Mourinho knows what and who he wants and has constructed the strongest squad in the PL over the summer. Now it is all about execution and giving the right players the chance to flourish. He referred to his players as “kids” many times last year and that famous reference to the Blues being ‘a small horse that needs milk to run and jump. Next season we will be ready to race.’

Below is what I think is Chelsea’s best starting lineup, plus seven subs, as Mourinho’s horse is ready to run.

Chelsea’s best starting lineup

Cech

Azpilicueta—Cahill—Ivanovic—Luis

Matic—Ramires

Oscar—Fabregas—Hazard

Costa

Subs: 
Courtois (GK)
Terry
Willian
Schurrle
Salah
Drogba
Torres

source:
New signing Cesc Fabregas has been dubbed “the future of Chelsea” by Mourinho.

This team has the potential to obliterate the PL this season. If Diego Costa settles into life in England quickly, which his style of play and attributes suggest, Chelsea could have the final piece of the jigsaw they’ve been looking for. 25 plus goals from a striker. Fabregas is a genius in a central midfield role and his balls should supply Costa with plenty of chances to score. The problem area at left back has been plugged with Brazilian Filipe Luis and there will be a right ding-dong battle for the goalkeeping jersey between veteran Petr Cech and one of the world’s most outstanding young goalkeepers, Courtois.

When you look at the lineup above and the likes of John Obi Mikel, Marco Van Ginkel and Victor Moses aren’t even making the bench, you know Chelsea got a lot stronger over the summer. After going to the UEFA Champions League semifinal last season, they can do one step further and make the final this season, although you sense success domestically is what Mourinho is after. He wants to win it all and he has to win something during this campaign or his second stint at Chelsea could come to an abrupt end for the man who proclaimed on his return last summer that he wants to remain at Stamford Bridge for 10, 15 years or more.

Mourinho has managed Real Madrid, FC Porto and Inter Milan. He has won silverware at all three but Chelsea is where he became a household name. Just like Del Boy, Mourinho put in the man hours and is a hero because of that. Del Boy slaved away for decades selling whatever he could to get by and one day he hit the jackpot and was worth millions. All his dreams had come true… then he blew it all and he’s back to where he started. South London, hustling to make a living and always trying to reinvent himself. The TV show ended without us ever getting to see if Del Boy made it back to the riches he so craved.

Jose Mourinho is back at Chelsea searching for the silverware he won in his first spell at the club. Unlike Del Boy, we will get to see if Jose succeeds or fails this season and beyond. This season he has gone for broke in search of glory. It’s a case of all or nothing for the ‘Special One’ in the second season of his second stint in charge at Stamford Bridge.

To borrow one of Del Boy’s most famous catchphrases, as it seems rather poignant, “he who dares, wins.”

Sunday league in New York rallies around assaulted referee

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I had to share a nice, feel-good moment from my neck of the soccer woods on this fine Sunday in July.

It starts with something heinous, though.

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Let’s begin here: The Buffalo District Soccer League (BDSL) is an 81-team men’s league in Western New York. It also conducts the Tehel Cup, the oldest amateur cup tournament in the United States.

Unfortunately, this post is about neither of the positives associated with those facts, as last weekend saw a player lose control after receiving a red card. The player in question hit referee Mike Crane, leaving the official with a head injury.

It’s not the first time we’ve written about referee assault; Unfortunately, typing the phrase “referee dies” in the PST search tool brings up multiple entries.

Yet the incident understandably caused a stir in the Buffalo soccer community, as the BDSL rallied around Crane and its officials.

Clubs assembled before their matches to take photos with the referee units, tagging each on Twitter with the hashtag #UnitedForCrane.

Let’s hope this post serves as a reminder to all weekend warriors and professional players alike: It’s still just a game.

 

What’s next for growing American would-be pro soccer clubs like Detroit City?

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As our attention switches from international football back to the club game, a new article coming out of Michigan recalls where American soccer was when the American soccer world hit pause for the World Cup in June.

That’s when the United States Soccer Federation rejected billionaire businessman Rocco Commisso’s plea for a 10-year runway to bring the North American Soccer League to Division 1 league status by virtue of a $500 million investment proposal.

As if on cue, a John Niyo article in The Detroit News drags the so-called “closed system” back to the forefront, and his writing on National Premier Soccer League side Detroit City FC makes an interesting case.

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DISCLAIMER: Before we go any further, it’s important to note I operate a club in the same league as Detroit City, and very much admire how they’ve built what they’ve built there. That said, my opinions may be buttressed by that fact but are not birthed by bias.

The would-be Cliffs Notes go something like this: Detroit City FC wants to move from the short-season, semi-pro National Premier Soccer League to a fully professional league with a longer season. The rub is that DCFC currently only has one path and it’s one neither they nor the lion’s share of their supporters would support at the given time.

That’s largely because the U.S. Soccer Federation has only sanctioned two options above the NPSL: The United Soccer League and Major League Soccer. If DCFC doesn’t want to play a part in either of those organizations, it has no other current option. And while Detroit City has continued to bring huge crowds to its restored Keyworth Stadium whether NPSL matches or friendlies against the likes of FC St. Pauli, Necaxa, or Venezia, its next step is currently stuck in a holding pattern despite the club’s achievements.

And — and this is where Commisso’s offer comes back into play — the USSF has no reason to sanction any league that doesn’t go by its current divisional guidelines, which demand a very wealthy owner and specific stadium requirements amongst other things. Infrastructure and fan support can be built, but asking these clubs to hand themselves over to someone with deeper pockets simply to meet a standard is real 2×4 to the gut.

“What you’re doing is awesome, but imagine if instead of you owning all of your success, you found a wealthier person to help you meet our standards?”

As we saw when MLS had its Detroit press conference without DCFC, there is no longer the ability to pretend soccer wasn’t already in town. DCFC may seem like an outlier, and may well be one, having had massive success with big crowds in a stadium they renovated themselves. Yet there’s little doubt there are myriad markets in this giant country that wouldn’t mind trying their hands with something new.

Put plainly, there are 172 clubs in the NPSL and Premier Development League alone, few of whom are in markets with MLS teams. Even eliminating the PDL teams with close relationships to MLS and the USL (The USL owns the PDL), and there are still well over 100 teams in play. Sure, some of those may not have the ambition to grow higher, but they are also currently also shackled by having to compete against the former NASL teams who had no alternative outside of the USL once their Division 2 league shut down last winter.

So Niyo’s article asks a question many have posited in the realms of social media: Why not go outside the structure of FIFA?

From The Detroit News:

Building a league outside the constraints of U.S. Soccer’s “Professional League Standards” could be one option for remaining NASL owners — New York, Miami and Jacksonville — and NPSL teams that are looking to grow pro. Detroit City FC was one of at least a half-dozen NPSL teams — clubs from Boston, Phoenix, Virginia Beach and Boca Raton, Fla. among them — poised to join the NASL with letters of intent last fall. But whatever path a new league pursues, it’ll require strength in numbers — at least 10 or 12 teams — and a geography that makes sense.

It’s a major risk, one that certainly is lined with the hopes that the influencers and money people behind the USSF might blink at significant competition.

But it still requires significant salesmanship: Getting top-notch players to commit to a league which several hampers their international aspirations is a hard sell (The NASL had capped players from 27 caps heading into the 2016 season).

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So, too, is convincing deep-pocketed investors that they are capable of slaying, or at least denting, a big machine which has grown in a dramatic way in the last two decades. If a guy like Commisso, who has since went deep into discussions for a takeover of AC-freaking-Milan, sees the value and necessity of USSF sanctioning, lawsuits or not, certainly most would have the same questions.

Are there enough of the renegade rich to self-sustain a league outside of the MLS-USL set-up, and even get to sanctioning? Probably, as evidenced by Commisso’s belief that he’d be able to go from multi-club ownership of a D-1 NASL to 10 owners within a decade.

And there’s no denying the allure of safety for new markets. NISA founder Peter Wilt left his nascent D-3 league to helm USL soccer in Madison, and it’s easy to envision his safer new venture an almost automatic success.

So would that same group of risk takers be willing to do it outside of USSF sanctioning, without name players?

That’s where DCFC’s status as an outlier might really come into play. For everyone tooting the proverbial horn of MLS’ rapid and impressive evolution in quality — academies and foreign recruitment alike have made the league very entertaining — there’s no doubt that players with the name quality of Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or Carlos Vela still put butts in seats.

Consider this: For all its growth, MLS’ top performing players remain almost overwhelmingly foreign-developed. Using an advanced rating site like WhoScored, the Top 20 finds only two players with any sort of U.S. or Canadian development in their lockers (and that’s being gracious with Kei Kamara, who came to U.S. for college at the age of 20).

You get to No. 23 before another U.S. developed player, Sean Davis, hits the list. It only gets to seven by No. 40 if you allow foreign-born players who largely grew their games in college soccer (including Mark-Anthony Kaye from TFC’s Academy and York University in Ontario).

Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of quality American and foreign talent which would benefit from more jobs.

As DCFC CEO Sean Mann says in The Detroit News piece: “It was frustrating: Why are there so many obstacles? We’re not zealots. We’re not crusaders to reform American soccer. We just want to play at a higher level. We want to naturally grow. And U.S. soccer doesn’t allow that.”

This nation is gigantic, and there are few fans out there who genuinely believe MLS will stop expanding any time soon. In fact, it’s a safe bet that the long play is to one day announce a knockoff of promotion and relegation within the confines of the Major League Soccer umbrella.

The question isn’t who’s right and who’s wrong. Let’s face it: the answers seem likely to fall along the lines of one’s political alliances. Those who fear the risks of the new and unusual will worry about short-circuiting the current path, while the other side will beg to give ideals and theories a chance at practice in the name of something better.

But something does have to change. Soon, more and more major success stories are going to be held short of their goals because of the current structure. Whether that’s Detroit City or Chattanooga seeking a next level and not finding it, or the Sacramento Republic not getting its shot at MLS, or a fan base and market like Columbus getting waylaid by a slimy contract and inaction from on high, they will keep coming into your news feed.

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And if we keep making the mistake of letting these conversations regress to simple “pro-rel” banter, then we’re all going to lose. And it’s going to take a bunch of risk takers who put aside their egos to find common ground.

Here’s a quick way to put the American soccer landscape in perspective: Look at a map. As this sport continues to grow, and the country’s young players are coached and encouraged by generations of fans who were coached and encouraged by fans themselves, the markets for summer sporting entertainment will continue to explode in the United States (with only baseball to compete with them thanks to the given calendar implemented by the USSF).

Are there more than 26 markets fit to host a top-tier side? Yep. Are there more than the 60-plus when tossing in USL (but subtracting MLS reserve sides)? Yep.

And if Commisso’s offer tells us anything, anything at all, it’s that there are figures out there who love the game and have an appetite for something not currently satisfied by the current structure. So either MLS or the USSF is going to announce its plan for a much bigger league with more than a couple dozen markets, or someone is going to challenge from the outside (Of course, both could happen and that would be very intriguing).

Either way, let’s hope it happens before the next guys who want to take up Detroit City’s example decide they’d rather not rattle their skulls against an unnecessary ceiling.

What’s the solution given the current power and success of the USSF? Your takes are welcome.

Nothing to separate Portland and 10-man LAFC

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There was entertainment value in Los Angeles FC’s potential playoff preview with the Portland Timbers on Sunday in the City of Angels, but all that arrived was a scoreless draw.

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Both Giovani Savarese’s Timbers and Bob Bradley‘s nickname-free expansion club remain in the West’s Top Four. PLAFC remains unbeaten at home during their maiden voyage through Major League Soccer.

Adama Diomande came close for the hosts, who finished with 10-men when Lee Nguyen went studs-up on Sebastian Blanco‘s thigh for a pretty easy red card (though it took some time for Silviu Petrescu to produce the red).

VIDEO: France stars projected onto Arc de Triomphe

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If France’s players had any doubt about the level of import their World Cup title had back home, it was erased when their photos were projected onto one of the most celebrated monuments in the world.

The photos of Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and company made their way onto the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, hours after France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup Final.

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The Arc de Triomphe honors those who died in the French Revolution and early 19th century wars, and sits above France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

How humbling must it be for those players to grace such a heavy monument (both in weight and substance).