Masashi Hara / Getty Images Sport

Vancouver’s Japanese star latest signing to tick all the ‘Caps boxes

1 Comment

Putting all cards of bias and/or opinion on the table right away, I’m an admirer of what Carl Robinson has done at Vancouver since becoming the “fall back” option as head coach.

That started with his bristling at the notion that being second (or third) choice for the job is any sort of big thing, as if there were only 20 coaches going for 20 coaches jobs in the world.

And it continued with his massaging of an array of talent and egos into different roles. When you have successful transitions like the one for Designated Player Matias Laba, whose head must’ve been spinning after being shopped by Toronto FC because of their DP saturation, it’s thumbs up territory.

[ MORE: Villa’s Garde wants to bring Chelsea’s Remy on loan ]

Toss in the smart signings of Octavio Rivero and Kendall Waston, the acquisition of Pedro Morales, and the drafting of Tim Parker at No. 15 overall. Player personnel? Check. The navigation of veterans exits with Jay Demerit and Kenny Miller (two entirely different scenarios, but both tricky)? You’ve had a lot of solid work by Robinson and the ‘Caps higher-ups.

Now the reigning Canadian Championship winners have to find that next level in Year Three of the Robinson era. And because of their success in player personnel, the ‘Caps have earned our leaning toward “This will work” when it comes to new players we haven’t seen play too often.

Enter J-League striker Masato Kudo, scooped up on a free transfer. The goal reel is impressive — the ‘Caps posted a “Top Ten” of his tallies here — and the risk is calculated. He’s 25-years-old and carries the all-time goals record for his club, Kashiwa Reysol, where he’s been since 2009.

From WhitecapsFC.com:

“Masato has a very good goalscoring record and we are always looking at adding to the group,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson. “He has a natural ability to find space in the box, which generates goalscoring opportunities. He is technically good with both feet and, as always required, he is a hard working player. Masato can play as a lone forward, or in a partnership, and is able to play wide when called upon. We are delighted to welcome him and his wife to our club and city.”

Yes, of course, there are risks. Kudo is smallish (a generous 5’10” or a stingy 5’9″) and coming from an entirely different sporting and living culture, but — again — Vancouver has earned our “wait and see” here. And we tend to think we’ll see success.

VIDEO: Messi scores first half hat trick for Barcelona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi scored a first half hat trick for Barcelona against Eibar on Saturday.

Messi, 33, is warming up quite well for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg as he tore Eibar’s defense to shreds to put them 3-0 up at the break.

In a week where Messi and Barcelona have been in the news amid an emergency signing of Martin Braithwaite, a social media spying scandal and plenty of criticism of sporting director Eric Abidal, the Argentine ace got back to doing what he does best.

Barcelona sat in second place in the La Liga table heading into this weekend, one point behind Real Madrid.

Giroud vows “start of a good run” for Chelsea ahead of UCL

Leave a comment

OIivier Giroud knows he’s given Frank Lampard food for thought as Chelsea improved its top four stock with a 2-1 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Giroud scored the first goal in making just his third Premier League start and eighth league appearance under Lampard, and now has two goals in 375 minutes this season. The other came against Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The Frenchman now has 79 Premier League goals, and the ex-Arsenal man will be doubly thrilled to that four of them have now come against Spurs.

“I was lucky the ball came back after hitting the post and I tried to finish,” Giroud said, via the BBC. “It was a good feeling for me, a good moment and I’m so happy for the team to win today. It’s been three months I didn’t start, it’s been a special day for me and all of us.”

[ MORE: Mourinho reacts ]

Giroud said that this was bigger for Chelsea than it was for him, though.

“It was a very important game for us today. I want to talk about the team spirit. We’ve shown great character today. We knew it was maybe a kind of turning point. We lost a bit of confidence. It was nice to bounce back and get this win, a hard win against a rival, so I feel relieved today.

“Tottenham is obviously a rival for the Champions League race, so we are pleased to put them four points behind us. This is the start of a good run, I hope, now we need to focus on the Champions League. This game would be nice for the confidence and for the changing room.”

Chelsea meets Bayern Munich on Tuesday at Stamford Bridge before a trip to Bournemouth on Feb. 29. The breathing room on fifth place is welcome.

Jose Mourinho defends players “trying to do miracles,” explains Dele move

Jose Mourinho
Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tottenham Hotspur boss Jose Mourinho says he can have no complaints with his shorthanded men following a 2-1 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho pointed to the absence of strikers Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane as well as a Champions League match in midweek.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“Look at Chelsea they played a World Cup-winning striker up front, England’s second striker on the bench, and Belgium’s second striker in the stands,” he said, via Football.London. “We had no strikers on the pitch, no strikers on the bench and two in the hospital.”

Chelsea were the much better side on the day, with Olivier Giroud making a statement to Frank Lampard about his ability as a center forward.

And Mourinho felt sufficiently shorthanded on the day, especially given the exhausting 1-0 loss to RB Leipzig at midweek.

“Lucas, Lo Celso, Bergwijn,” he said. “These boys that are playing every minute and trying to do miracles in positions that are not their positions. I cannot complain.”

Mourinho also defended keeping Dele Alli on the bench for the first time in his tenure as Spurs boss.

“We had strange game plans but we needed to have them. Like Lamela who played well, people think I’m stupid that I don’t play him, but he’s constantly communicating with me in the warm-up, can I play or not. He was telling me his feelings.”

Spurs will finish the weekend four points back of the top four and as many as two back of fifth. They have eight days until another big match, March 1 versus Wolves.

Watch Live: Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday

Getty Images
Leave a comment

If you want to follow the scores from every single league across the UK, Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday has you covered from 10 a.m. ET and you can watch it live via NBC Sports Gold.

WATCH SOCCER SATURDAY LIVE 

Jeff Stelling and his panel of esteemed former professional players host the show from Sky’s studios in London and Sky have reporters based at grounds across the UK from the Premier League to League Two and all across Scotland’s four divisions and the Welsh Premier League.

With the National League (fifth tier) also reported on, they literally have every single league covered. There is an intriguing Matchweek 27 coming up in the Premier League in particular.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can also access additional Premier League games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

WATCH EVERY PREMIER LEAGUE GAME

Click on the link above to watch the Soccer Saturday lads in action as a wonderful accompaniment to all of the live Premier League games you can watch across NBC Sports’ platforms.