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College Soccer Update: Conference tourney time!

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It’s that time of year to assess whether your alma mater or favorite program is going to go dancing.

We won’t mess around with the at-large bids, which are heavily-influenced by RPI, but let’s dig into the conference tournament fields.

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America East: Surprising Binghamton will test the mettle of No. 1 Albany in one semifinal, while the other sees Brian Wright and Vermont take on last year’s NCAA darlings in UMBC.

American Athletic: SMU is the No. 1 seed, and hasn’t lost since a Sept. 13 defeat to powerhouse Stanford. If they get past No. 4 Tulas, they’ll get the winner of UConn and USF.

Atlantic 10: Still eight teams in play, including our No. 1 star of this week (See below). George Washington finished a remarkable rise to the No. 1 seed last weekend, while No. 2 Dayton looks mighty dangerous.

ACC: What a conference! In one semi, you have annual power Notre Dame against a Wake Forest side which has looked as impressive as any side in the nation this year. On the other, last year’s darling Syracuse used a Liam Callahan penalty kick to force a match-up with Clemson. Any of these four could win the national title. Game on.

Atlantic Sun: No. 4 USC Upstate and No. 2 North Florida square off Saturday for the title, with freshman Gordon Wild and his 16 goals hoping to lead the upset. And Upstate is playing with heavy inspiration after losing two teammates in a car accident earlier this season.

GoXavier.com
GoXavier.com

Big East: Some massive matches in the semis, with red-hot Xavier mixing it up with Georgetown and last year’s College Cuppers Providence going after former national No. 1 Creighton.

Big South: Sneaky-loaded Radford faces High Point in one semi, while No. 1 seed Winthrop will have to tend with one of the nation’s top scores in Brad Farias and No. 6 Campbell.

Big Ten: Columbus is the venue for No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 Rutgers, with the winner earning a date with the victor of the other semi: Indiana vs. Maryland.

Big West: UCSB and Cal State Fullerton won their divisions, with UC Davis and Cal Poly the wild cards for the semis.

Colonial: Elon has dipped a bit since its lofty start to the season, but is still the favorite to emerge from a bracket with Delaware, Hofstra and James Madison.

Conference USA: Kentucky has a bye with the No. 1 seed, and Charlotte (See Star No. 3 below) is a very dangerous No. 2 seed. Five other teams are alive in the tournament, with South Carolina, Old Dominion, Marshall, Florida International and New Mexico.

Horizon: No. 1 seed UIC gets a tricky No. 6 in Wright State in one tournament semifinal, while No. 2 Oakland faces No. 4 Cleveland State.

Ivy League: Dartmouth is through to the NCAA tournament.

MAAC: Charlie Inverso’s Rider beat No. 25 Monmouth in an thrilling final to win the conference’s outright berth.

Mid American: Tantalizing bracket in one of the more under-the-radar conferences in the country. Akron is widely-expected to win the thing, but then West Virginia snuck into the tournament as the No. 4 seed. Buffalo and Western Michigan tangle in the other semi.

Missouri Valley: SIUE is the first seed and will look to go to another NCAA tournament by holding off a field which includes Bradley, Drake, Missouri State, Loyola and Central Arkansas.

Morris

PAC-12: Jordan Morris and Stanford have already clinched the conference title.

Patriot: No. 1 seed Colgate hosts Lehigh in one semi, while American and Boston tangle in the other.

Southern: Top four seeds are still alive heading into Friday’s semis: UNC Greensboro, Furman, Mercer and Eastern Tennessee State.

Sun Belt: There’s a whole five-team tournament left, but No. 1 Hartwick is favored to go to the tourney for a second-straight season.

Summit League: It’ll be decided Thursday and Saturday. Unbeaten Denver (see Star No. 2 below) is the top seed and faces Western Illinois, with the winner taking on the winner of Omaha and Oral Roberts.

West Coast: It’s win (or draw) and in for San Diego in Saturday’s conference finale at Santa Clara, which needs a win. San Francisco needs a win against Loyola Marymount and a San Diego loss.

WAC: Seattle and Utah Valley are your Nos. 1 & 2 seeds, and will get to face the winners of the 3v6 and 4v5 matches on less than a day’s rest after Thursday’s quarterfinals. No. 3 seed UNLV has a gem in striker Danny Musovski.

Three Stars

  1. 11470145Colin Phillips, Duquesne (right) — The redshirt-senior Canadian is making the most of his fifth year. Phillips still plays some back, but his great speed and size has forced coach Chase Brooks to play him up top. All the kid’s done is scored 12 goals and add five assists this season, including five goals and two assists in his last four games. The Dukes get Dayton in the first round of the A-10 tourney.
  2. Denver — Still unbeaten at 13-0-3, the Summit League’s No. 1 team has a 522-plus minute shutout streak moving into the conference tournament. Redshirt-senior Dan Jackson has been at the helm for 10 clean sheets, including the Pioneers’ last five matches.
  3. Brandt Bronico, Charlotte – The midfielder with a killer name has played a massive part in the 49ers charge to No. 24 in the nation. Bronico has 7 goals and 8 assists, and Charlotte has lost just once in its last eight games. The seven wins include victories over South Carolina and New Mexico.

Other notes

— Wake Forest maintains its status as No. 1 team in men’s Division 1, and now has 23 of 24 first-place votes. Clemson has the other.

— St. Francis Brooklyn still leads the nation with a minuscule 0.38 goals against average.

— On the flip side, Dayton has scored more goals than anyone in D-1. The Flyers have netted 46 goals in 18 games.

— Other No. 1 sides: Pfeiffer (Men’s D2), Calvin (Men’s D3), Virginia (Women’s D1), Grand Valley State (Women’s D2), Messiah (Women’s D3).

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).

De Ligt reportedly chooses Barcelona; Klopp set at CB

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Liverpool, Manchester United, and pretty much everyone but Barcelona looks set to miss out on Matthijs de Ligt.

De Ligt, 19, has paired with Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk while in the Netherlands national team set-up, but reportedly is opting to join Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong at Barcelona.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

In the case of Liverpool, Sky Sports says that Reds boss Jurgen Klopp thinks he doesn’t need another center back.

Injuries hit Liverpool’s center backs this season outside of Van Dijk. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were rated highly and combined for just over 2500 minutes, while young Joe Gomez suffered a long-term injury midway through the season.

If all are healthy, Liverpool has decent depth. Yet even Gomez doesn’t have the upside to shake a stick at De Ligt if the 19-year-old was truly interested in coming to Anfield.

I mean, “Are you interested in this 19-year-old captain of a Champions League semifinalist? He’s interested in coming there” usually doesn’t yield a firm, “No.”

As for Barcelona, it will reinforce its back line a year after allowing 36 goals. That’s pretty decent, but the Blaugranas‘ third-highest total of the last decade.

Mkhitaryan assured of safety by Azerbaijan ambassador

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The Europa League Final in Azerbaijan has not been getting a lot of positive press due to fans unwillingness to travel for the event and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s fears of stepping foot in the country.

That’s because Mkhitaryan is the captain of Armenia’s national team, and that nation’s long dispute with Azerbaijan.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

Arsenal, of course, plays Chelsea in the May 29 final, and Mkhitaryan already missed an earlier UEL match against Azerbaijan powers Qarabag. He’s played plenty for the Gunners this season apart from a broken foot, and his absence would not be welcome news for this London Derby of a European Final.

Azerbaijan’s UK ambassador Tahir Taghizadeh has guaranteed safety for Mkhitaryan, and said he’d be happy to personally offer assurances to the Armenian. On the other hand, this doesn’t sound like the most positive messaging, via Sky Sports:

“My message to Mkhitaryan would be: you’re a footballer, you want to play football? Go to Baku you are safe there, if you want to play the issue then that’s a different story. What I can guarantee is that the Azerbaijan government will do everything what needs to be done and provide safety and security for every fan, player and staff member coming to this game.”

By using the phrase “play the issue,” it does launch the discussion firmly into political waters. One thing’s for sure: The issue may be debatable, but whether a player feels safe deserves to be his call and his call alone.