Southampton aim to make UEFA Champions League in next five years

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Southampton may be enjoying their best-ever season in the Premier League but the south coast club insists this is only the start.

Executive director Les Reed has targeted “Champions League football in the next five years” for the Saints, as the ambitious outfit continue to make waves in England’s top-flight.

[ VIDEO: Chelsea’s outrageous trick shot ]

Saints’ initial five-year plan ran out last summer and it was made in 2009 when the club was in League One and had just exited administration after being saved from going out of business by Markus Liebherr and his family.

They achieved the goal of that initial plan, reaching the PL, within three years and have since established themselves in the top-flight with an eighth place finish in the standings last season. Now, they need a new target after coming out of a period of transition in tip-top condition.

Southampton are currently fighting it out with Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool to finish in fifth place this season, but Reed (speaking at a charity event for Kick It Out) believes the team can go on to achieve even more.

“We’d like to think we have the structure to reach the Champions League in the next five years,” Reed said. “But it’s important to be established as a top-six club over that period. We seem to set some kind of record every year now. It’s been a fantastic season. For us, we have proven we were not a flash in the pan in terms of the Premier League, we were eighth last year and we still think we can get a top-six finish…

“I would be disappointed if we didn’t make Europe this season, but we have set our own standards now and we are confident over the course of the coming years we will play in Europe and we are confident we are right to have an aspiration to play in the Champions League.”

So, is this five-year plan too ambitious or can Saints actually achieve their goal?

For most of this season they have flirted with the top four when many believed they would be relegation fodder following the departures of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren. Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw and former manager Mauricio Pochettino this summer.

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Can Saints make the next five years as successful as the last?

Instead, new manager Ronald Koeman has led the side to its highest-ever points tally in the PL and they are on the brink of appearing in the Europa League next season. If Saints’ wealthy owners, the Liebherr family, continue to pump money into the club then their goal of reaching the top four will edge closer. However overpowering at least two of the perennial giants of English soccer such as Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham to finish in the top four will not be an easy feat.

[ RELATED: SportsWorld sits down with Saints’ captain, Jose Fonte ]

But Saints are making a name for themselves as they continue to reap the benefits from having an academy churning out top young players, plus a wonderful scouting team who pluck gems from all over the globe for a fraction of the cost they are selling players on for.

The big aim for Saints is now to make that step from challenging for the top six to being a top four team. They’ve been a selling club for many years as the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and many others have been nurtured and then sold. Now, with vultures circling to try and sign the likes of Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin this summer, they most hold onto their star men and augment their squad by adding talented youngsters and key pickups that Koeman can get his hands on from his vast contacts across Europe.

If they can do that, and Koeman sticks around for the next two to three years, Saints could make this habit of surprising everyone a regular occurrence.

Five years is a long time in soccer and a lot can change with personnel, form and the emergence of other teams but if Saints stay focused and have players who believe in the goal to reach the Champions League and are good enough to achieve it, then what’s stopping them from making it a reality?

First Leagues Cup will be an all-Liga MX affair

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Given Major League Soccer’s record against Liga MX sides when both teams are bringing their best players to the party, it’s no surprise that the former has been left out of the Leagues Cup Final.

Instead, Cruz Azul and Tigres UANL will meet on Sept. 18 for the first ever crown in the history of the competition pitting teams from Mexico, Canada, and the United States top flights.

[ MORE: Predicting the USMNT September call-ups ]

Choosing not to play Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jonathan Dos Santos, and Carlos Pavon amongst others, the LA Galaxy fell 2-1 to Cruz Azul in Carson, California, getting an Emil Cuello goal but allowing the below delightful winner from Orbelin Pineda just after halftime.

The Galaxy were in the midst of a nasty four-match fortnight, and opted for this match — a tournament semifinal against a league which has bossed its league — to rest their men. Not a choice we love, but a fair choice given the Galaxy’s mere 4-point advantage on 7th place in the West.

Tigres needed penalties to get past Club America in an absolutely bonkers semifinal.

The match was level at 2 after regulation, with two own goals, a penalty, and a 90th minute red card doled out to Tigres’ Roger Martinez.

The second Tigres own goal, which came before the club outlasted America 5-3 in penalties, came deep in stoppage.

USWNT lawsuit goes to trial May 5

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LOS ANGELES (AP) A judge has set a May 5 trial date for the gender discrimination lawsuit filed by the women’s national team against U.S. Soccer.

District Judge R. Gary Klausner assigned the date at a hearing Monday in Los Angeles, which came less than a week after mediation between the two sides broke down.

[ MORE: Predicting the USMNT September call-ups ]

The players sued U.S. Soccer in March, alleging institutionalized gender discrimination that includes inequitable compensation when compared with their counterparts on the men’s national team.

The federation claims that compensation for each team is the result of separate collective bargaining agreements, and that the pay structures are different as a result.

The sides had agreed to mediate the dispute after this summer’s World Cup in France. The U.S. beat the Netherlands in July for its second straight title, and fourth overall.

The players and U.S. Soccer had requested a trial date after the Tokyo Olympics, which start July 25.

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Report: Zappacosta off to Roma as Chelsea trusts youth

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Tuesday was a great day to be Reece James.

Not that it hasn’t been a good summer altogether with Frank Lampard in charge of Chelsea.

[ MORE: Predicting the USMNT September call-ups ]

Lampard sanctioned the loan of Zappacosta to AS Roma, which puts James firmly in line for first team reps at Stamford Bridge.

The 19-year-old James has earned his place after two seasons on loan at Wigan Athletic, and Cesar Azpilicueta will either need rest or time at center back at some point.

As for Zappacosta, he was a curiosity buy who was serviceable during his time at Stamford Bridge. At Roma, though, he’ll… also be second choice to club captain Alessandro Florenzi.

Lampard is definitely giving the Blues’ youth a chance to shine during this transfer ban, and this may well be the best opportunity of James’ career.

Predicting the USMNT September call-ups

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The United States men’s national team has just a pair of friendlies remaining before its next CONCACAF competition, the Nations’ League.

Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT will meet Uruguay and Mexico in September, and the looming CNL — you know Berhalter wants some sort of crown given the Gold Cup Final loss to El Tri — certainly hints at a strong XI even with players like Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Tyler Boyd (Besitkas) and Zack Steffen (Fortuna Dusseldorf, on loan from Man City) settling into new digs.

[ MORE: Klopp “couldn’t afford” Coutinho ]

Before we dare to name a 23-man outfit for these matches, we should note that there’s no guarantee every big team will want to release their players in September. But this projection will act under the assumption that his best healthy men will accept invitations or that, at least, Berhalter will invite his best healthy men.

The MLS playoff push may actually force his hand in that Berhalter may respect teams in said playoff race due (though MLS does not have every team playing over the break).

We’ll assume for this exercise that DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle) and Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig) don’t miraculously come fit.

Now for the Big Berhalter Questions (BBQs):

  1. Since Gyasi Zardes has scored three goals and an assist in his last six MLS games and there’s no chance Berhalter ignores him, who will not get a look: Tim Weah (Lille), Tyler Boyd (Besiktas) or … wait, it’s gonna be Boyd.
  2. Wil Trapp has been poor in a USMNT jersey, but has three assists in his last six MLS matches so will he…. book his place, too.

Finally, I’m not going to say that this 23-man roster will be correct, but it will be fun.

Goalkeepers (3)

Zack Steffen (Fortuna Dusseldorf)
Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
Kasey Keller (Millwall)
Pick the guy who you think I should pick here and pretend you like it better than:
David Bingham (LA Galaxy)

Defenders (8)

John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Matt Miazga (Reading)
Aaron Long (West Ham New York Red Bulls)
Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)
Tim Ream (Fulham)
Sergino Dest (Ajax)
Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas)

Midfielders (6)

Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
Weston McKennie (Schalke)
Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
Julian Green (Greuther Fuerth)
Paxtom Pomykal (FC Dallas)
Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy)

Forwards (6)

Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen)
Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC)
Timothy Weah (Lille)
Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Paul Arriola (DC United)
Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)