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Van Gaal redeems himself with faith in youth

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Joe Riley wore the smile of a cat that got the cream. Quite right, too, because in making his first appearance for Manchester United, the 19-year-old who worked his way up through the club’s ranks from the age of six lived an experience that boys the world over would give their eye teeth for.

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“Standing at the side, waiting to come on, just wearing your shirt with your name on the back. It’s always something that any lad going through the system is proud to do,” Riley said after his debut 45 minutes as a second-half substitute in a 3-0 victory at Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup in February.

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“A very good feeling.”

Many United fans, of course, would rather have the here-and-now instant gratification of league and cup silverware. They’re hungry for a return of pulsating entertainment at Old Trafford, not the thin, unappetizing gruel served up too often by United of late.

Still, in the absence of trophies and of coherent, consistent attacking football, the single most redeeming feature so far of Louis Van Gaal‘s two-year tenure as manager has been his heavy use of young players like Riley: born in and around Manchester, hot-housed by the club since they were kids and thrown by the Dutchman into the deep end of first-team football.

This has been both by accident and design. Van Gaal’s history of trusting young players outshines contemporaries such as Jose Mourinho. At Barcelona, the coach gave Xavi Hernandez the first of his record 767 appearances for the club. At Bayern Munich, he made a first-team regular of teenage debutant Thomas Mueller. In striker Marcus Rashford, Van Gaal appears to have unearthed another pearl this season at United.

Cruel accumulations of injuries and, some might argue, a failure to recruit or retain more senior players also forced Van Gaal’s hand. Missing injured first-team players for his first official match in 2014, Van Gaal handed debuts in defense to Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard, both from the Manchester area, and promptly lost 2-1 to Swansea.

Riley, born in Blackpool on the northwest coast above Manchester, came on against Shrewsbury because Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, another Manchester-born product of United’s academy fast-tracked by Van Gaal into the first team, was injured in the first half.

But why Van Gaal has done what he’s done is less interesting than the simple fact he has done it at all. In turning to youngsters in tough times, he is perpetuating one of the club’s finest traditions.

In the 1950s, Matt Busby brought though his “Babes” who helped make him a legendary manager. He gave Duncan Edwards his debut at 17. The 18-year-old Bobby Charlton scored twice on his 1956 debut under Busby – a feat that Rashford, also 18, emulated in his first match this February, a Europa League victory against Denmark’s Midtjylland. And Alex Ferguson had his “Fledglings” – David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and others who made fools of those who argued that United wouldn’t win with kids.

So the half-dozen youngsters debuted by Van Gaal this season and those from last season have much to live up to before they will be worthy of their own “Louis’ lads” tag. Van Gaal – or whoever replaces him should United force him out this summer – should continue what he has started, keep giving young players opportunities to deepen the mark they have made, rather than simply shop on the open market for established stars and relegate the next generation to the bench.

That will allow Nicky Butt, a former Fergie Fledgling appointed in February as head of United’s academy, to keep telling parents in all honesty that the club’s pathway for youth remains well and truly open and that their kids might also get to run on the Old Trafford turf one day.

“Our history shows that if you continually let these kids play together, they’ll just get better and better,” said Tony Park, co-author of “Sons of United,” a history of the club’s youth system, and a United season-ticket holder for 25 years.

When one or two young players break through to United’s first team, “the third one thinks he’s next,” Park added. “All of a sudden, everyone thinks they can do it. You get this groundswell of confidence at the next level down.”

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Of course, first-team places must be earned. Long-term, not all the youngsters Van Gaal has tested will be worth retaining. Some have already moved on. But Rashford, certainly, oozes class. By making Wayne Rooney drop back into midfield to accommodate the teenager up front, Van Gaal has sent the encouraging message that age and experience are secondary to talent. Lingard, Borthwick-Jackson and the strapping, athletic Timothy Fosu-Mensah, recruited at age 16 from Ajax, also look promising.

Seeing youngsters in red might not feel as worthwhile as shiny trophies but is still its own reward.

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

Man United release latest financial results

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Man United have released their latest financial results and revenue has fallen by 20 percent year-on-year, while net debt has also risen.

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What is clear from the results is that not being in the UEFA Champions League has hit United hard but they continue to make money with commercial revenue on the up seven percent.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward revealed the latest results as Man United’s financial might is clear for all to see even.

“We have continued to make progress on our squad rebuild … the foundation for delivering the long-term success that we are all working towards is in place as we implement our plan and our footballing vision with Ole,” Woodward told investors. “We are pushing for a strong finish in the Premier League, the Europa League and the FA Cup as we enter the final third of the season.”

Man United are currently in fifth place in the Premier League table ahead of a pivotal run of games which will decide if they will once again dine at Europe’s top table under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. On the pitch they’ve beaten Chelsea and Watford in the last week without conceding and things are coming together nicely with new signings Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Daniel James and Bruno Fernandes making a big difference. 

Man United face Everton, Man City, Tottenham and Sheffield United in their next four PL games and that will be crucial in deciding if they’re going to reach the Champions League next season. Given Man City’s European ban and the potential for a UCL spot to move down to fifth-place, Man United are exactly where Solskjaer hoped they would be right now.

Below we have a look at the main takeaways form the financial results, which are always a huge talking point among United fans all over the world.

Main talking points from Man United’s Q2 results:

  • Revenues of $218.3 million, down 20 percent year-on-year
  • Operating profit of $47.3 million
  • Commercial revenue up 7 percent
  • Broadcast revenue down 37 percent due to no UEFA Champions League qualification
  • Matchday revenue down 15 percent due to fewer home games
  • Player wages down 9 percent
  • Net debt is $506.9 million, up $94.6 million, 23 percent

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
AP Photo/LM Otero
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

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The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

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LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Eleven to go: Ranking obstacles on Liverpool’s unbeaten path

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Liverpool has won all five of its matches since the last time we evaluated its path to an unbeaten Premier League season.

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Those matches were ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 10th, and 4th on our first rankings of obstacles to immortality, so very little of the heavy lifting has been conducted.

Let’s get something out of the way: If Liverpool is unable to overturn their first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, you can probably etch that zero in the league loss column into stone.

That said, many expect the Reds to overcome that 1-0 disadvantage from Madrid, so here’s where we slot the difficulties moving forward.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

9. Newcastle away, time TBD May 17 — We’re now calling this the easiest date left. Klopp’s men aren’t going to lose an unbeaten season at the altar just because Steve Bruce bunkers down. St. James’ Park is a hassle, but

8. Watford away, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday Klopp probably feels like he’s already playing with house money in the FA Cup, so there’s no reason to think he’ll hand any priority at all to the following FA Cup meeting with Chelsea.

7. Bournemouth home, 7:30 a.m. ET March 7 Situated between Chelsea in the FA Cup and the home UCL second leg versus Atleti, it’s not easy…  but the Cherries have given us less reason to believe they’ll threaten the Reds than any other team besides Newcastle.

6. Aston Villa home, 11:30 a.m. ET April 12Dean Smith‘s desperate Villans will have Villa Park rocking before Liverpool’s possible UCL quarterfinals 2nd leg days later.

5. Burnley home, 7:30 a.m. ET April 25 — Taking place just before a possible UCL quarterfinal first leg, Burnley will try to trouble the Reds in a similar manner to West Ham.

4. Chelsea home, time TBD May 9 — Both the Blues and Reds could be coming off UCL semifinal second legs. Don’t forget that Chelsea took the Reds to the wire in the UEFA Super Cup despite it being very early in Frank Lampard‘s tenure.

3. Arsenal away, time TBD May 2 — Both sides may be days away from needing a result to qualify for the UCL or UEL final.

2. Everton away, 4 p.m. ET March 16 — This may as well be the only match left on the Toffees’ docket that matters more than another, as Carlo Ancelotti and his men know the message they could send regarding the building up of Everton.

Not only that, but Everton has nothing else left to circle, no other competitions, nothing.

1. Man City away, 11:30 a.m. ET April 5 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.