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College Soccer Update: Xavier’s giant killers are giants themselves

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Head coach Andy Fleming and Xavier couldn’t change history, but they have certainly eased the sting of last season’s NCAA tournament exit while cementing themselves as both giant-killers and potential giants themselves.

The Musketeers knocked off a second Top-2 team this season when they toppled unbeaten No. 1 Creighton in Omaha this week, partially-avenging the 2-1 loss that knocked them out of last year’s NCAA Tournament in the third round (Xavier beat No. 2 Notre Dame in South Bend on Sept. 15).

“I said we can’t go back and change what happened, but as far as the difficulty of winning in Omaha and beating an unbeaten team,” Fleming said. “If there were eight boxes to check to make up for the loss, we checked off six, which was fine cause we couldn’t (change last season).”

Xavier is 10-4-1 this season, yet another strong run during Fleming’s five years in charge. He took over a side that won five games in the two seasons before he took over, one that saw the national standard for red cards taken.

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Since Fleming was hired in 2010, Xavier has gone 71-32-18. The six-straight double-digit win seasons is a standard for the program, and matches the total number of 10-plus win seasons in the 35 years since he took over. And the Musketeers have rebounded from the reds to become one of the least-carded teams in the country.

Fleming says he looked at Duke basketball for inspiration in terms of representing a university, and Boston University’s hockey program as a powerful program in a non-traditional power sport. And while he thinks others saw “a graveyard” in the open coaching job at Xavier, he wanted to fix the culture of a sleeping giant, one he compared to his last stop in Illinois.

“I saw this as a mini-Northwestern and I thought I could get people to come here,” Fleming said. “We try to develop ‘hires’ and ‘spouses’, people you’d hire into your company or want your kid to marry.”

This season’s star has been the defending, which is little surprise given the Musketeers posted the Big East’s best defense in 31 years last season.

“Defense is our catalyst,” Fleming said. “And Cory Brown, a center back from New Zealand in the U-23 World Cup this summer, is definitely going to leave here as the most-decorated player we’ve had here. He’s a very savvy, experienced player.”

The coach also points to the performance of South Florida transfer goalkeeper Dallas Jaye and U.S. national futsal teamer Walker Andriot, and says the side has seen great offensive contributions from Jalen Brown and Matt Vasquenza.

The side’s progression led Fleming to a pivotal point in any season. He has a physical “key to the team” that he’s passed to them at Friday’s training session.

Fleming has also powered a very personal cause at the school. His daughter Devin was born with Down’s syndrome, and each Spring the side stages “Devin’s Game” to raise awareness for those born with the disability.

“Every time I get asked about it at the right moment it gets me,” Fleming said. “This university exists to take teenagers and make them into adults, and show them perspective and broaden their horizons. To put things in front of them, not the flowers and candy but the challenges. One of the most empowering things and special things is I think this all happened for a reason. In 10-20 years if one of them has something happen with a wife or parent or have a child born with a disability, if I got through to one of them I’ve done my job. Devin has changed everyone’s life.”

Three stars of the week

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1, 2 and 3) Fabulous freshmen playmakers — Wake Forest’s Jack Harrison, Utah Valley’s Aaron Meyer (above) and UCSB’s Geoffrey Acheampong are in the race to lead D-1 in assists. The first two have 11, while Acheampong has 10. West Virginia’s Joey Piatczyc leads the league with 12, but West Virginia may well miss the MAC tournament and provide him few chances to improve on the total.

Other notes

— Creighton’s loss opens the door to a wealth of teams, including surging Wake Forest, Clemson and Stanford.

— Denver looks very good and remains unbeaten at 11-0-3, but will likely fail to leap up the table due to a perceived-soft non-conference schedule.

— Other No. 1s in this week’s poll were: Pfeiffer (Men’s D-2), Franklin & Marshall (Men’s D-3), Florida State (Women’s D-1), Gannon (Women’s D-2), Messiah (Women’s D-3), Rio Grande (Men’s NAIA), Lindsey Wilson (Women’s NAIA), Louisberg (NJCAA Men’s D-1), Genesee Community College (NJCAA Men’s D-3), Eastern Florida State (NJCAA Women’s D-1), Fresno City (NJCAA Women’s D-3).

— Nick DePuy from UCSB leads the nation in goals, with 15 in 18, after scoring three in his last two.

Still, the race for the scoring title remains fairly open:

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Nuno demands ‘immediate reaction’ from struggling Wolves

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Replicating the lofty heights of last season has proven a tough task for Wolverhampton Wanderers through the first month and a half of the 2019-20 campaign, both in the Premier League and in Europe.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 6 ]

After finishing seventh in their first season back in the PL, Wolves began their first-ever Europa League adventure this summer, largely breezing through the qualification rounds to reach the group stage. That part went swimmingly. Thursday’s group play opener didn’t go so well, as Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side fell to Portuguese side Braga at home, 1-0.

Wolves began the PL with three straight draws, conceding just two goals in total. Since then, they have lost two in a row and conceded eight goals.

[ MORE: Man City’s David Silva in “likely” Inter Miami move ]

Again, we’re not even two months into the season, but Santo knows the next few games are going to be hugely important for his side. Not only does he need to keep his players’ heads from dropping during these trying times, but they also need to begin stringing together results, both in the PL and in Europe. Wolves need to bounce back, and immediately — quotes from the BBC:

“This is important. We face the reality and the reality says we not performing well so we have to analyze it and find solutions in the team to improve.

“We must react immediately. We have to take decisions and find solutions for the team because we have to come out of this situation and improve our performance so we can bounce back.”

“We are all disappointed.”

Up next for Santo’s side is a potentially tricky trip south London to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, where the Eagles have already drawn top-six hopefuls Everton and beaten newly promoted Aston Villa.

Kaka urges Neymar to stay at PSG, lead Champions League push

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LONDON (AP) From lifting the World Cup to being named the world’s best player, Kaka ascended the highs Neymar is still chasing.

So after more tumult in Neymar’s career, Kaka has some advice for his fellow Brazilian:

  • Stay at Paris Saint-Germain to lead the pursuit of Champions League glory, and the world player of the year accolades will follow.
  • Keep on maturing and maybe the forward can win a World Cup to avoid being viewed as a failure for Brazil.

“Everybody wants to give some advice or an opinion about his life,” Kaka said in an interview with The Associated Press. “He’s just a 27-year-old guy, a lot of people of the same age make mistakes and improve with that.”

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 6 ]

But Kaka’s opinions and advice could be worth listening to, even for Neymar.

After all, Kaka won the game’s top individual honors in 2007 when he was named FIFA world player of the year and collected the Ballon d’Or after winning the Champions League with AC Milan.

Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, is reeling from being jeered on his return to the PSG side last weekend after sitting out the opening four league games of the season as he pushed for a move back to Barcelona during the summer transfer window. He won’t play in the Champions League until the third group-stage game because of a suspension.

“For him I think it’s good to stay there in PSG for now,” Kaka said at the FIFA20 video game launch. “I think it’s good for him, for the club. I think PSG is always trying to build a great team to win a Champions League, so he can be the leader for this project and in my opinion, it’s good. It will be a great year for him.”

When the FIFA player awards are handed out on Monday, though, Neymar will be far from the Milan ceremony. He has never finished higher than third in the vote for the Ballon D’Or, and still lives in the shadow of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“What I believe that lacks in Neymar to accomplish the world’s best player award is a big team accomplishment,” Kaka said in London. “When he achieves this big team accomplishment, being the leader of this accomplishment — and he has a big chance for it, I am sure of — Neymar will be chosen to be announced as the world’s best player.”

Neymar is starting a third season in Paris after Barcelona could not strike a deal to re-sign the player it sold two year ago for $246 million.

“Maybe at 27, I could have made the same mistakes,” Kaka said. “And so I think this is a great opportunity for him to improve himself and to be better and mature.”

[ MORE: Man City’s David Silva in “likely” Inter Miami move ]

While Neymar has won the French league twice — the minimum expected for a team with lavish Qatari funding — he has not won a European title with the French capital club as he did with Barcelona in the 2015 Champions League final.

Neymar’s only titles with Brazil so far are gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the Confederations Cup on home soil in 2013. Neymar missed the 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals through injury and was part of the team knocked out the 2018 quarterfinals by Belgium. He also missed this summer’s Copa America, which Brazil won without him.

Kaka was part of the squad that won the 2002 World Cup, and Brazil hasn’t reached the final since then.

“Always for Brazil we have this pressure,” Kaka said. “Because we have won five World Cups, so everyone thinks about the World Cup. So, if you do a lot of good things for the national team but you don’t win a World Cup, maybe you fail.

“I don’t think it’s fair but it’s like this and this is the situation. And Neymar had an opportunity to play in two World Cups and didn’t win one with Brazil. So, our expectation with him is for him to be the guy for the next World Cup for us. I think it’s hard for him but I think every year he’s more mature, he understands his position in the national team better as well and it’s good.”

Premier League Preview: Southampton v. Bournemouth

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  • Early-season mid-table clash on the south coast
  • 10th-place Saints host 9th-place Cherries
  • 0-0, 3-3 draws in PL meetings last season

Matchweek 6 of the 2019-20 Premier League season is upon us, and the proceedings are set to kick off on Friday when a pair of south coast clubs, Southampton and Bournemouth, do battle (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Both sides enter the clash at St. Mary’s Stadium on the back of a victory last weekend in PL action. It’s Bournemouth whose triumph last time out was wildly impressive, though, as Eddie Howe’s side cruise to a 3-1 win over top-six hopefuls Everton at Vitality Stadium. However, Saints have proven a real nightmare of an away day for the Cherries as they’re in search of their first-ever win away to Southampton (15 previous tries, beginning in 1953 – all competitions).

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Southampton secured their most recent victory when they traveled to newly promoted, 10-man Sheffield United. Home form has been a bit worrying for Saints early this season, until you consider they’ve hosted none other than Liverpool and Manchester United at St. Mary’s… until you look back to last season and realize they have won just five of their last 21 at home. On the plus side, Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side has been much improved since conceding five goals in the first two games of the season. Since then, just one goal which came in a 1-1 draw with Man United.

Injuries/suspensions

Southampton: OUT – Kevin Danso (suspension); QUESTIONABLE – Nathan Redmond (ankle), Michael Obafemi (hamstring); PROBABLE – Ryan Bertrand (ankle)

Bournemouth: OUT – Charlie Daniels (knee), Lloyd Kelly (ankle), Dan Gosling (hip), David Brooks (ankle), Junior Stanislas (knee), Simon Francis (fitness); QUESTIONABLE – Chris Mepham (undisclosed), Arnaut Danjuma (foot)


Projected lineups

Southampton: Gunn – Bednarek, Yoshida, Vestergaard – Soares, Romeu, Hojberg – Ward-Prowse, Boufal – Adams, Ings

Bournemouth: Ramsdale – Stacey, Cook, Ake, Rico – Wilson, Billing, Cook, King – Solanke, Wilson


What they’re saying

Ralph Hasenhuttl, on Southampton’s defensive improvement: “This season it’s not the case that we don’t give them any chances, they still have chances because it’s very difficult in the Premier League to not give them a chance. Also the goalkeepers Angus (Gunn) and Alex (McCarthy) make a good development this season and the back five were very concentrated. It is good to see things develop that you have been working on. This can hopefully continue.”

Eddie Howe, on the budding south coast rivalry: “It should be a really feisty game, a really good atmosphere and an entertaining match. Southampton have started very well, too. It’s gaining in everybody’s focus. The more games we have, the more the rivalry will intensify I think. We’ve enjoyed the games against Southampton which have been tight and tough, from both clubs’ perspectives. We’re looking forward to another entertaining match.”


Prediction

Southampton have been far more convincing in their defending than Bournemouth on the attack. It’ll likely be a game of precious few high-value chances. In the end, neither Saints get the elusive home win nor the Cherries get the first victory at Southampton. Final score: 1-1.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Champions League, Europa League return

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle reflect on the opening round of UEFA Champions League and Europa League fixtures.

Manchester City bounced back from their defeat at Norwich. Who is ready to step up and lead Tottenham (8:00)? Liverpool slipped up at Napoli (19:00). There was penalty drama at Chelsea (30:00). The Robbies look ahead to the weekend’s marquee matchup: Chelsea v. Liverpool (37:00), before wrapping up with Arsenal (41:00), Manchester United (45:00), and Wolves’ opening Europa League matches (51:30).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

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