Sporting KC on new DP search, Everton talk, 2015 review and more

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Sporting Kansas City’s 2015 season may have ended prematurely with a penalty shootout defeat to the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference playoff round, but that’s given them the opportunity to get the ball rolling for the 2016 season.

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Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk, Sporting KC’s CEO Robb Heineman revealed that SKC’s coaches have been scouting in Europe as plans to add new Designated Players are well under way for the 2015 U.S. Open Cup champs.

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In a wide-ranging interview Heineman also chatted about the Sporting Club ownership group being interested in buying Everton, or any other Premier League club which may come on the market for that matter, plus touched on Peter Vermes’ future at Sporting Park and the development of the U.S. Soccer training facility in KC.

With respect to new DPs arriving in the foreseeable future, Heineman believes that heading to Eastern Europe in particular will bear considerable fruit for the club.

“Two of our coaches have been in Europe already and that is probably going to be our focus,” Heineman confirmed. “We are going to look more at Eastern Europe, Portugal and Spain. We will probably do less in South America this year. Historically we have probably been more South American heavy but I think having brought in Kristzian Nemeth last year and he did such a nice job for us, I think we are going to go back to that well a little bit in Eastern Europe and find a player there. We have a nice relationship with Barcelona B over team and I think we are going to see if there’s some other players in Spain that we can bring in.

“That will be our strategy and I feel like this is an important offseason for us. We tried to make more moves than we made during the summer window and honestly we weren’t able to finalize the deals. That was a little troublesome for us. It is not like we are going to break up our team because we have a good group of core players but I do feel like we have got to reinvigorate that core with a couple of pieces and it is important to go get them this offseason.”

Will those players from Europe be DP players or will Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) come in to play to sign them?

“My expectation would be that a couple of the players we are interested in would qualify as Designated Players from a salary persepective,” Heineman said. “We are not signing [Andrea] Pirlo, we are not signing [Steven] Gerrard, that is never going to be our deal in the current cap structure of MLS where we are going to be signing $5 million annual salary guys. That is just not our formula but these are guys where there will be sizeble transfer fees and they will be Designated Players in terms of their salary. They will be either guys who are either TAM players or Designated Players and we will have to use TAM as a mechanism to work through our current roster cost structure.”

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 14: Sporting KC prepare to take on the Philadelphia Union at Sporting Park on May 14, 2014 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

On the subject of new additions, Heineman confirmed that the ownership group he is part of discussed buying Premier League outfit Everton and, despite saying it’s not upcoming, he wouldn’t rule out seeing them try to invest in or buy a PL club in the future.

“It is not anything that we are actively pursuing and I think part of what we did with the Everton exploration was that we really wanted to learn a lot more about the league and how teams operated. We spent a good amount of time there,” Heineman revealed. “I’m not sure we were ever really close to getting anything today and I don’t sit here today and say ‘gosh, we’ve got to go and find an opportunity in the English Premier League’ and that’s the way the other majority owners feel about it as well. I think we will always be opportunistic. If the right opportunity came our way and the timing made sense then I could see us doing something. It is not something I would say we are striving to do every day but it is also nothing we would turn our back on, for sure.”

With Sunderland, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Aston Villa all currently owned by Americans and the likes of Bournemouth now having U.S. investors and Crystal Palace close to a takeover fronted by Josh Harris, why is owning a PL club so attractive to Americans in particular?

“There is tons of American interest but in relation to Everton specifically I never necessarily knew who else it was, I just knew that there were other parties with whom they were speaking,” Heineman said. “There is a huge trend of American owners getting involved and I could see another two to three American owners jumping in there over the next couple of years, for sure. It is the top league in the world and it is just like any other sports league. You always want to invest in the top opportunity available and I think the Premier League is that in the world of football. That is something that will always be attractive. I think with the increasing content and television rights you see around the Premier League it feels likes that is an investment which will exponentially grow over time. It is one that there are lots of people looking into.”

After confirming that Mike and Cliff Illig who are part of the Sporting Club group and the Illig’s are the main investors, are not individually in the running to buy Everton, Heineman stated that he felt the Sporting Club ownership group would stay together if an opportunity to buy one of the 20 PL clubs arose in the future. He also confirmed they would not be interested in partnering with any PL clubs if the opportunity arose, unless it was a two-way street. 

LIVERPOOOL - AUGUST 28: General view of Goodison Park taken during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Everton and Birmingham City played at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England on August 28, 2002. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Speaking of the future, helping SKC’s core group go further than they did in 2015 is crucial but overall Heineman was happy with how the 2013 MLS Cup champs performed this season, even if a familiar slump occurred towards the second half of the campaign.

“We had a good year and going into the season we had expectations to win it all, so to win the Open Cup was obviously for us organizationally, it is a big mantra of ours that we want to win championships, so to have a year we win that championship is important for us,” Heineman said. “The end of the season was disappointing in the fact that we went out the same way we went out last year with our results tailing off towards the end of the year and not advancing in the playoffs. We all look back on it and feel like it was a bit of an opportunity missed. We had a team where if we would have positioned ourselves better with home-field advantage we could have made a deep run in the playoffs. I don’t think I am saying anything every one of our players doesn’t feel, which is that we feel like we could have gone further in the playoffs.”

Heineman admitted that if SKC had finished the season stronger and secured home-field advantage in the playoffs then “the rest of the playoffs set up pretty well for us” and “we really felt like if we beat Portland we were going to play in MLS Cup.” Alas, a gut-wrenching 7-6 shootout loss to Portland ended the season and some questions were raised about the strength of Vermes’ squad which struggled to cope with defensive injuries.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 30: Sporting Kansas City celebrates with the Lamar Hunt trophy after defeating the Philadelphia Union in penalty kicks on September 30, 2015 at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

SKC have earmarked two areas where they feel they must strengthen during the offseason and Heineman admitted the maybe a lack of experience played a part in their downfall in 2015.

“It is interesting because we had depth this season in the respect that we had three rookies who probably overachieved and played a lot of minutes and played quite well for us. At the end of the season those are guys whose engine just are not built to play as many games as they had played,” Heineman said. “There were some games there when we needed to bring a dynamic sub on and we just didn’t necessarily have that available to us. So [in the offseason] we are looking for some depth in the attacking third and obviously we had some injuries tear us up in the back last season so bringing in another high-quality central defender is going to make some sense for us.”

NAPLES, FL - APRIL 04: Robb Heineman of Sporting Club poses with award at the 2013 Forty Under 40 Awards on April 4, 2013 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

With the Sporting Club group seeing their USL franchise making its debut in 2016, the Swope Park Rangers are, in Heineman’s words,  something “we definitely think of it first as a player development tool” and will use it to bridge the gap between their academy and first team while bringing soccer to other communities of KC. Heineman also revealed that a coaching staff “which has been coaching in a domestic league in the U.S.” will be announced on Friday for the Rangers.

“Although we’ve been successful with both Orlando City and Oklahoma City  it hasn’t been a pure player development opportunity for us. Now having the ability for the Rangers and Sporting Kansas City to train at the same time side-by-side on the training field, it will allow us to have a completely different opportunity,” Heineman said. “If you looked over the course over the past few years, it would have been great to have the Rangers for some rehab stints for guys like Chance Myers, Seth Sinovic and Ike Opara trying to make their way back into the squad. We didn’t feel like it was the right thing to send those guys to Orlando or Oklahoma. We are really excited because we have the academy from ages 12-18 but we have had that gap from 19-23 so to have USL there as a reasonably effective development tool, we are feeling very good about that.”

HARRISON, NJ - SEPTEMBER 19: Head Coach Peter Vermes call out from the sidelines during tyhe fgame against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on September 19, 2012 in Harrison, New Jersey. Sporting Kansas City defeated New York Red Bulls 2-0. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls)

Something which has been pretty good over the past few years is the coaching at SKC. Asked about Vermes’ future with many touting him to be the next boss of the U.S. national team, Heineman revealed he’s a fan of what Jurgen Klinsmann is currently doing with the USMNT and pointed towards the fact that the $80 million new U.S. Soccer training complex opening up in Kansas City in 2017 is a big reason for Vermes to stay with Sporting.

“Peter over the course of his career is going to have every opportunity in the world. We have had some teams in Europe who have inquired about him over the course of the last year and some teams in our league, but what has always worked well with Peter and Kansas City is that his approach has always been long-term in nature,” Heineman said. “He has never been a guy who feels like he needs to force a player move in the season because if he doesn’t then he feels like it will cost him his job. We have a good relationship with Peter and feel like he has achieved a good amount here at SKC but he has a good amount in front of him. With the addition of us building this new training facility for the senior team as well as a U.S. Soccer training center, I think he feels that his resources here will allow him to continue to have success. We are proud of the job he has done and we are content that he will continue with us for the long-term.”

With MLS continuing to grow and the re-branding of the Kansas City franchise one of the major success stories of MLS 2.0, Heineman is keen for David Beckham’s potential franchise in Miami to get more time to find a suitable stadium option and is excited about where MLS is heading, long-term.

“David Beckham specifically has been a really important person for our league so us continuing to work with him so he has a long-term standing in our league makes a lot of sense,” Heineman said. “Hopefully everything works out there and his partner, Marcelo Claure, is a friend of ours in Kansas City and we would love to see that group come together. In relation to expansion, there are a number of different cities interested which is fantastic for us as a league but I will let the expansion committee run with that and see what happens.”

Newcastle – Brighton: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Newcastle v Brighton: A pair of sides that impressed on the opening weekend of the 2020-21 Premier League season — but only one of them with anything to show for it — will meet at St. James’ Park on Sunday (Watch live at 9 am ET, online via Peacock).

NEWCASTLE – BRIGHTON STREAM LIVE

Newcastle United were far and away the better side in their season-opening victory away to West Ham United last weekend, while Brighton looked the better part of Chelsea’s equals for 54 minutes but ultimately fell to a 3-1 defeat at the Amex Stadium.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Newcastle v Brighton this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Newcastle v Brighton (INJURY REPORT)

Newcastle will be without five players — Matty Longstaff (thigh), Martin Dubravka (ankle), Fabian Schar (shoulder), Paul Dummett (thigh), Dwight Gayle (knee) — leaving Steve Bruce with an increasingly thin squad, but he’ll be able to trot out the same XI that beat West Ham on Opening Day.

Jose Iquierdo (knee), Florian Andone (knee) and Christian Walton (ankle) have all been ruled out for Sunday, with rising star Ben White passes a late fitness test after picking up a minor injury last week.


What they’re saying

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, on starting with a win: “I’m like everybody else, we all like to get off to a start and we couldn’t have had a better week in terms of results. The players have hit the ground running, which was always part of the reason why we went after who we went after. We’ve got a chance to get off to an outstanding start.”

Brighton manager Graham Potter, on Newcastle: “Newcastle will be strong. They were worthy winners at West Ham and they will be a tough test for us. Impressive, the business they have done. They have added to the squad and they will be really strong. Everyone knows what Andy Carroll brings to the team and physically he is very strong, and aerially he is strong. Him and [Callum] Wilson will be a strong partnership.”


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

There’s almost nothing to separate Newcastle (+160) from Brighton (+185) as the oddsmakers see Sunday’s clash a near-tossup. Even the draw (+210) isn’t far out of line with either side winning.

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

At the risk of placing too much importance upon a game in week no. 2, this one has the feel of an important litmus test for Newcastle. West Ham have been chaotic for quite some time now, but Brighton, despite finishing 15th last season, have appeared far more stable and trending upward under Potter. They’re likely a mid-table side this season, and Newcastle could be, too. In the end, it ends Newcastle 1-1 Brighton.


How to watch Newcastle v Brighton stream and start time

Kickoff: 9 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Leicester City seals Under loan with no obligation to buy

Cenzig Under Leicester
Photo by Loris Roselli/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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Leicester City confirmed the acquisition of Roma winger Cenzig Under on Sunday, giving the Foxes an exciting player one year removed from a breakout season in Serie A.

The 23-year-old Turkish international is reunited with “best friend” Caglar Soyuncu, bringing six goals in 21 caps to the King Power Stadium on a loan with an option to buy.

[ MORE: Jota to Liverpool confirmed ]

Sky Sports says the loan fee is just under $4 million with a $26 million purchase option after the season.

Under scored just thrice for Roma last season after losing his place in the XI during an early-season injury spell, but had seven goals and 10 assists the previous season and joins a Leicester wing corps with Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes amongst others.

From LCFC.com:

“I’ve always wanted to play in England and this is a great opportunity to play in the Premier League. I think I am fast and can create lots of chances for my colleagues. I feel very good because my best friend plays for Leicester City. I am very happy to be able to play with Çağlar and I always watched Leicester’s games because of him.”

Under and Soyuncu were together from 2011-13 in the academy at Bucaspor before both joined Altınordu in 2014 for initial forays into first team football.

If Under’s spell at Leicester is anything like Soyuncu’s, you can bet on that purchase option being snapped up by Brendan Rodgers.

Southampton – Tottenham: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

Southampton - Tottenham
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Southampton – Tottenham: This will be a tight game on Sunday (Watch live at 7am ET, online via Peacock) at St Mary’s as Ralph Hasenhuttl and Jose Mourinho have locked horns three times already in 2020.

SOUTHAMPTON – TOTTENHAM STREAM LIVE

Saints have won the league game, draw an FA Cup game at home and lost the FA Cup replay away at Tottenham and all three of those games were tightly contested encounters. With Spurs having a quick turnaround given their Europa League qualifying win in Bulgaria on Thursday, plus League Cup and Europa League games next midweek, Mourinho may be forced to shuffle his pack.

After losing their opening game of the Premier League, both clubs will want to get back on track quickly.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Southampton – Tottenham (INJURY REPORT)

Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl has Stuart Armstrong back from injury and he starts, replacing the injured Nathan Redmond.

Mourinho has Giovani Lo Celso back fit and he’s on the bench, while this game comes too soon for new signings Gareth Bale and Sergio Reguilon. Tanguy Ndombele starts in midfield and Dele Alli is not in the squad.


What they’re saying

Ralph Hasenhuttl on Southampton not being fully fit to start the season: “We are not playing quick enough at the moment. Not aggressive enough without the ball. We are not at the fitness levels we had last season. This is not surprising we had no pre-season where we could work together. But yes we should go quickly to a different level otherwise it’ll be difficult.”

Eric Dier on Tottenham’s congested fixture schedule: “If you look at the schedule, it isn’t showing any care for players’ physical welfare. It’s common sense really, trying to ask someone to play Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday. It doesn’t seem like there is any care for players’ welfare in that situation.”


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

Southampton are the underdogs (+210) but have matched up well against Tottenham in recent meetings. Spurs are favored (+130) but the draw (+235) looks likely in this one and Mourinho will probably take that given all of their recent games.

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

Danny Ings can cause Tottenham problems and if Saints start quickly, as they like to do, they can catch Spurs out. Tottenham will sit back and then look to hit Saints on the counter and hope the quality of Son, Kane and Co. will see them through. I’m going for a draw. 1-1.


How to watch Southampton – Tottenham stream and start time

Kickoff: 7 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Aston Villa – Sheffield United: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

Aston Villa - Sheffield United
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images
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Aston Villa – Sheffield United: Dean Smith’s new-look Aston Villa begins its Premier League campaign at home to Sheffield United at Villa Park on Monday (Watch live at 1 pm ET, online via Peacock).

Villa has added Bertrand Traore, Emiliano Martinez, Matty Cash, and Ollie Watkins this summer and have been linked to more talent. Of course, it’s just as critical that the club signed Jack Grealish to a new contract.

STREAM ASTON VILLA – SHEFFIELD UNITED LIVE

Blades lost to Wolves to start the Premier League season before falling to Burnley in penalties at midweek in League Cup action.

Getting points against Villa and Leeds the next two fixtures would be a boon to a club that then sees Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City, and Chelsea in four of five league outings.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

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


Team news: Aston Villa – Sheffield United (INJURY REPORT)

Tom Heaton, Wesley, and Bjorn Engels remain out for Villa, while Blades are going to be without Lys Mousset for some time following a foot operation.


What they’re saying

Bertrand Traore on returning to the Premier League with Villa: “I’m very happy to join Aston Villa. I’m happy to be here. I played with JT at Chelsea, I spoke to him. I spoke to the manager, spoke with the sporting director as well and some players I used to play with. I spoke to Nakamba, I talked to him a little bit about the club. Many things made me take the decision to come here. I’m happy.”

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder on competition for places: “You’ve already seen a step up in training and instruction. You have to keep raising the bar and quality of your group. I think there are any shoo-ins to our team. Everybody’s got an opportunity and we talked about that the other night against Burnley. Take the opportunity and don’t waste it. I believe they didn’t.”


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

This one’s as close as it gets, as hosts Villa are +165 to win and the visiting Blades are barely off that at +175. Even a draw nets +220. Anything could happen.

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


Aston Villa – Sheffield United prediction

There are a lot of new pieces with big expectations for Villa, who overcame a slow start to beat Burton Albion well in the League Cup at midweek. Blades haven’t looked right for a few matches now stretching into preseason. It’s tempting to call this one for Villa, 1-0, but 0-0 or 1-1 shouldn’t surprise anyone.


How to watch Aston Villa – Sheffield United stream and start time

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock