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Q&A with Stoke City’s CEO Tony Scholes

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Stoke City’s CEO Tony Scholes has been at the club since 2004 and has overseen their rise from a second-tier team to a top 10 side in the Premier League and challenging for Europe.

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ProSoccerTalk sat down with Scholes pitch-side at the Britannia Stadium on Monday ahead of Stoke City’s clash against Tottenham Hotspur.

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Scholes revealed plenty about Stoke’s recent rise, their future and expanding their fan base in the United States.

Here’s the Q&A with Scholes.

This season, how pleased have you been with the on-field product? The team seems to be making strides in style of play, lots of plaudits

If I go back over the last 10 years every year we start the season with one objective: to improve. To improve on the previous year. In terms of the first team is it terms of the position in the league, the points total etc. We did a great job in the first few years staying in the league but to improve on that you have to start looking at the top 10. Arguably you have to play in a different way to play in the top 10. What Mark has done since he came in is change the style, change the belief, change the attitude.

As a result of that it has changed the way we are seen by the media, supporters and also importantly players through Europe. The likes of Bojan coming. Go back five years Bojan wouldn’t have come to Stoke City, given the way we played. He just wouldn’t have come. But he met with Mark, liked the way he talked. Bojan has a line saying ‘I knew Stoke wouldn’t be playing long ball, otherwise why would Mark be talking to me?’ By bringing in the likes of him it makes it easier for the likes of Shaqiri, Arnautovic to understand where they would fit in. Once you have one or two of these players are recognizable then it makes it easier even more of them.

What is the long-term vision of the club? Top six every season? Champions League?

We have got to finish this season strongly and hopefully we get another top 10 place. Hopefully we get beyond that and improve on what we’ve got the last two years. But then we start again. Prior to next season we will look at the squad and that is a 12 month affair anyway. We are always looking at opportunities that need to be made and improving the whole squad and the strongest first XI. You look to improve on what we’ve done this year and only if you only improve a little bit every year, you are going to get to where you want to get to.

Are you looking to bring more players from the U.S. and Major League Soccer like you have in the past?

We are in a global league. The majority of ownership groups who are in the Premier League are global and so are the managers and players and supporters. Where we are also global is our recruitment network and where we are trying to attract players from. As a club over the last four years, we have Geoff Cameron who will be playing for us tonight and Geoff has been fantastic for us. An absolute superb player for us and for the U.S. national team. We have had Maurice Edu and Brek Shea. We’ve had a few U.S. internationals here and it is a territory we will continue look in.

Have you seen a big growth in the number of fans in the USA?

Absolutely. As a club and as a team, when we beat Chelsea 1-0 here last November there were over a one million people watching in the States. You guys tell me… I suspect that wouldn’t have happened three or four years ago. There has been growth for us but for the whole of the Premier League. We have done a lot of work over the the last few years, we’ve toured in the U.S. a couple of times and we will look to go in the future as well. Within the next year or so we will certainly be going back. Possibly sooner rather than later.

Orlando City SC is a club you’re close to, correct?

We have a great relationship and I’ve been out to Austin and Orlando and we share best practice. Phil Rawlins is someone who we know well and Adrian Heath is someone we know well too. We have a great relationship with Orlando.

In your dealings with transfers, has it become more difficult for young American players to get work permits?

It has become tougher, not just for Americans, it is actually quite difficult to come and play in England. The visa requirements are tough and the rules have changed with the entry requirements and it is tougher than it used to be. Now the U.S. is one of the higher-ranked nations by FIFA so the percentage of games a player has to have played is smaller. Nevertheless unless they are a U.S. international, it is almost impossible. Unless they have a European passport.

We tried to get Juan Agudelo, a couple of times. Juan didn’t qualify automatically and we went to twice to a work permit appeal hearing at the home office and unfortunately failed both times. He has never been able to come and play in the Premier League. But hopefully he will establish himself as a U.S. international and get a chance to come over in the future and experience the Premier League.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Matchweek 2 is in the books and there is plenty of movement in our latest Premier League player Power Rankings.

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Players from Man City, Liverpool, Leicester and Man United dominate our list, while there are a few surprise names from some of the teams who have surprised us all in the opening weeks of the new season.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t getting in this list!

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.

1. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – New entry
2. Teemu Pukki (Norwich City) – New entry
3. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Up 3
4. Dani Ceballos (Arsenal) – New entry
5. Marcus Rashford (Man United) – Down 2
6. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Down 4
7. Harry Maguire (Man United) – Down 6
8. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) Down 3
9. Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Man United) – Down 1
10. James Maddison (Leicester City) – New entry
11. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – Up 7
12. Anthony Martial (Man United) – New entry
13. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) – Up 2
14. Ashley Barnes (Burnley) – Down 7
15. Chris Basham (Sheffield United) – New entry
16. Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City) – New entry
17. Jordan Pickford (Everton) – Up 2
18. Mason Mount (Chelsea) – Up 2
19. Alexander Lacazette (Arsenal) – New entry
20. Leandro Trossard (Brighton) – New entry

St. Louis awarded MLS expansion franchise

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Major League Soccer is heading to soccer’s spiritual home in the United States of America.

St. Louis, Missouri was awarded an MLS expansion franchise on Tuesday, as it became the 28th team in the rapidly expanding league.

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The franchise is expected to enter the league in 2021, along with Austin FC as Inter Miami and Nashville SC are schedule to arrive for the 2020 season.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber was on hand in downtown STL to make the announcement.

Garber was alongside Mayor Lyda Krewson, plus the ownership group led by Andy Taylor and Carolyn Kindle Betz of Enterprise Holdings and Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology and Saint Louis FC, who celebrated their success of bringing top-tier soccer to St. Louis. Kindle Betz will be joined by other female members of the Taylor family, which will make STL the first female majority-owned team in MLS history.

“After two decades of discussion about St. Louis becoming part of Major League Soccer, we are here today to announce it,” Garber said. “Saint Louis, with its incredibly rich soccer history, not only deserves an MLS team but has earned one.”

With the owner of Saint Louis FC, the USL franchise in the Midwest city, also involved in the arrival of MLS it is believed the team name, badge and colors will now be selected.

“Our ownership group has come a long way since we first announced our bid last October at Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club, and it’s an incredible feeling to now be able to say, St. Louis is home to the first official majority female-led ownership group in MLS,” Kindle Betz said. “Our MLS team and stadium will only add to St. Louis’ renaissance currently underway and will provide us with a great opportunity to bring together many different segments of the community, uniting people in their love for the game.”

St. Louis’ Downtown West district is now set to be transformed with the stadium kickstarting a larger development which will include mixed-use retail, restaurants and gathering spaces open year-round to the public.

The ownership group have previously released plans for a 22,500-capacity stadium in the West Downtown neighborhood. Not having a solid stadium plan curtailed the efforts of others to bring MLS to St. Louis in the past, with the city council voting against partial funding for a stadium near Union Station in 2017.

But just when it looked like St. Louis would miss out on the MLS expansion race, they’re in.

With St. Louis losing the NFL’s Rams to Los Angeles, this is a shrewd move from MLS and follows their model of placing teams in major U.S. cities which do not have major league franchises across all sports. It takes the league to 28 teams, with Sacramento, Phoenix and Charlotte said to be among the favorites for the next two franchises as the league aims to expand to 30 teams.

It also helps to link up Midwest cities, as FC Cincinnati, the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, Sporting Kansas City and Nashville SC now have a new rival.

STL has brought in very good crowds for their USL side Saint Louis FC and also USMNT and USWNT friendlies, plus international friendlies between European clubs in recent summers.

Many of the USA’s top talents hail from the STL region (Taylor Twellman, Tim Ream, Brad Davis and Steve Ralston to name a few) and there is a rich soccer heritage in the city, with five of the 11 starters for the U.S. side in their historic 1950 World Cup win against England from St. Louis.

College soccer, amateur teams and former pro teams from St. Louis have all had a major impact on soccer in the USA.

There is now an MLS team to build on that legacy and create new iconic moments in St. Louis.

Report: Beckham stadium site has unsafe arsenic levels

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MIAMI (AP) An environmental analysis shows the proposed site for David Beckham’s Major League Soccer stadium in Miami is far more toxic than previously expected.

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The Miami Herald reports the analysis found arsenic contamination reaching more than twice the legal limit, and surface-level soil samples containing hazardous debris at the Melreese golf course site, where people have played golf for more than 50 years.

The consultant’s report says almost the entire site near Miami International Airport is contaminated by ash from a municipal incinerator shut down long ago.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said Monday night that team officials said the findings could increase cleanup costs to $50 million at the site.

The sprawling $1 billion commercial and stadium complex would serve as home to Beckham’s MLS team, Inter Miami .

Solskjaer to blame for Man United’s penalty kick debacle

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Following Paul Pogba‘s spot kick being saved at Wolves, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s explanation for who will be taking penalty kicks for Manchester United this season was nothing short of astounding.

Asked who was the designated PK taker after Man United’s 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday, Solskjaer revealed they have two: Pogba and Marcus Rashford.

“The two of them are designated penalty takers, it’s up to them there and then – ‘this is mine’” Solskjaer said.

Pogba and Rashford had a brief chat after the former won the penalty on Monday and Pogba took charge of the situation, before having his spot kick saved by Rui Patricio.

The week before, Rashford was brought down in the box and picked himself up to score a penalty kick against Chelsea, and some interesting footage has since emerged showing Rashford, Daniel James, Anthony Martial and Pogba having a mini debate before that penalty kick.

Solskjaer not picking a designated penalty kick taker is causing unnecessary confusion and he needs to make a decision. He needs to rank their top five penalty kick takers one to five, and whoever is the highest ranked player on the pitch when a penalty is awarded takes the kick.

It is so simple but screams of a lack of strength from Solskjaer. His reasoning that certain players may feel more confident at different times is weak.

If the entire team knows that one player is a designated penalty kick taker, it is easy for everyone. There is no debate, no extra pressure and there are no challenges from others who want to boost their stats.

Pogba has now missed four of his last 11 penalty kicks, which isn’t a great record, and Rashford should be the number one penalty taker until he misses. It is as simple as that.

Perhaps this won’t make or break United’s season, but Solskjaer’s lack of clarity contributed to his grabbing one point instead of three on Monday.

Small margins will matter in what is set to be a tight top four battle this season.