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On pace for another NASL Golden Boot, Christian Ramirez harbors USMNT dreams

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Before Minnesota United striker Christian Ramirez was scoring goals for fun and yearning for a chance to prove himself with the United States national team, he was an NCAA center mid ready to quit soccer altogether.

Ramirez, 25, is in the driver’s seat for his second NASL Golden Boot in three seasons, with 14 on the year and 46 since joining the club in 2014. Toss in 14 assists, what’s certain to be a third-straight NASL Best XI spot, and a 6-foot-2 frame, and you’ve got one hot commodity.

[ WATCH: Cahill steals win for Australia ]

But in 2010 he was a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara, struggling to find playing time on a loaded team with Luis Silva (Tigres UANL), Michael Boxall (New Zealand national team), and Danny Barrera (Sacramento Republic).

For a kid who had led the Olympic Development Program in scoring and snared the league’s national golden boot, it was heart-wrenching. He was ready to be done with the sport.

“I was on the verge of it,” Ramirez told ProSoccerTalk. “It was a tough time. I grew up and for everything I had worked so hard for — I had an ODP National Championship, an ODP Golden Boot, a Cal South player of the year — I got to college and I was the last one on the bench. I don’t know if it was the system, or the style of play, or maybe I just wasn’t on the coach’s map. I couldn’t find a place on the field.”

Fortunately, his PDL coaches thought the world of him, just in a different spot. The California native spent the summers after his freshman and sophomore years playing for Orange County Blue Star, and he enjoyed working with John Spencer and Michael Osguera.

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So when he decided to leave UCSB, he found a home with Osguera in the NAIA. After a position change, the goals poured forth like water at Concordia University in Irvine, to the tune of 44 goals and 18 assists in two seasons.

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“He took me under his wing and promised me we’d find that love for the game that I had lost at Santa Barbara,” Ramirez said. “He moved me up front which I really didn’t agree with at the time, growing up and always playing center mid, but he thought I had a knack for the goal and I was always in good areas so he said let’s take away some of your defensive responsibilities and put guys around you that will run off of you and it worked. I had a blast my last two years of college.”

That happens when you adapt to a new position quickly with the skill set of a midfield maestro. Ramirez’s size makes him a handful for defenders, but his vision sets him apart. He says he’s “unorthodox but unselfish,” and loves to assist as much as score.

[ MORE: Yaya Toure to Major League Soccer?!? ]

“I’m not your typical striker,” he said. “I won’t beat anyone in a 40-yard dash. I won’t outjump anyone, but I like to think my soccer IQ is up there with the best. I like to be faster with my brain and my feet, to get in situations where the defense isn’t expecting me to pull the trigger.”

Ramirez began his professional journey with USL side Charlotte Eagles in 2013, scoring 8 goals as a rookie. He signed for United the next season, and tied a league record with 20 goals.

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The Loons haven’t missed the playoffs since he arrived, and are currently on pace to win a wild card spot for this season’s edition. This time, it’s behind manager Carl Craig, an unorthodox employee in his own right.

“He’s guided me in working on my weaknesses and developing my game,” Ramirez said. “At the end of the day he lets me play and lets me figure it out. He gives me the outline, and expects me to go out there and fill that outline out.”

Minnesota is headed for Major League Soccer next year, and Ramirez says the league might not be prepared for what’s coming its way with the Loons’ fan base.

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“It’s been amazing,” Ramirez says. “The Dark Clouds and True North Elite make, like they claim, a weird type of atmosphere. Much different than U.S. soccer is accustomed to. It’s exciting to see them grow each home game with new faces and new chants. It’ll be a new type of fan base for MLS when Minnesota makes the jump.”

Ramirez may or may not be a part of the move. He his contract does not feature an MLS guarantee, and he’s “basically free” after this season. The scorer likes it in Minnesota, but is open to anything that helps him reach his goals.

He’s scored against Sporting KC in the U.S. Open Cup, and has performed well at every level of competition. He’s watched as former teammate Miguel Ibarra went from the NASL to the USMNT and Club Leon, and knows people have noticed his high-volume production. Rumors from MLS destinations to Germany and Sweden have popped up over the past few years, and Jurgen Klinsmann has noticed the striker.

[ MORE: Rossi from Juve to Sporting KC? ]

So, yeah, Ramirez’s career goals are high.

“Someday hopefully I’ll be able to represent the USA, even just to see where I’m at in that category,” Ramirez said. “In regards to my future, I’m open to anything. I know a soccer’s a business, and I know how cutthroat it is so I’m open to going abroad, I’m open to staying in Minnesota or somewhere else in the States.”

Ramirez is not bothered by the uncertainty, given his past. To go from little used sophomore midfielder to in-demand NASL-topping striker makes a player anything but desperate.

“I’m excited to be in this position. If you would’ve told me six years ago I’d have leverage at the top of the goal scoring charts in the NASL, I would’ve thought you were crazy. I’m humbled to be in the position I’m in, and excited for the options I have moving forward.”

Diego Costa on Luis Suarez: “I’ll fight, he can bite!”

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Diego Costa – Luis Suarez is a frightening partnership up top for Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone, and it appears that Costa has a plan to cause havoc.

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Costa, 31, is known for irritating opposition players and being a master wind-up merchant. With Suarez arriving from Barcelona last week and scoring two and adding an assist off the bench on his debut as Atletico hammered Granada 6-1, it is fair to say Costa is looking forward to playing with the Uruguayan forward.

“He is very good, one of us can do the fighting and the other can do the biting,” Costa said.

Oh, Diego. That is absolute gold.

Costa is, of course, referring to Suarez having a penchant for taking a nibble out of his opponent. Suarez, 33, has been banned for biting players while play for Ajax, Liverpool and Uruguay and although we don’t condone that behavior, it allowed Costa to make that comment, tongue-in-cheek.

Whether or not Suarez will be happy about his past discrepancies being plastered across headlines thanks to his new Atleti teammates is another matter.

And whether or not Costa and Suarez will play up front together is an intriguing topic, as Alvaro Morata was sold to Juventus by Atletico to fund the move for Suarez and it is believed Costa may have to move on too.

Costa did score the opener for Atletico on Sunday and the arrival of Suarez could kick him on as he looks to get back to his best. Diego Simeone coaching an Atletico team led by a forward partnership of Diego Costa – Luis Suarez is something pretty much everyone wants to see. Aside from opposition defenders.

Scoring goals has been a problem for Atletico over the last few seasons as Simeone’s side continue to be solid in midfield and at the back but creating and putting away chances has been tough since losing Antoine Griezmann. If they can score more this season, they will seriously challenge Real Madrid and Barcelona for the La Liga title.

With Joao Felix pulling the strings, Costa and Suarez should have plenty of chances to feast on…

If that doesn’t work, they can go with Diego’s plan.

Man City to sign Ruben Dias for $84 million

Ruben Dias to Manchester City
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Ruben Dias to Manchester City has been confirmed by Benfica, as the Portuguese international center back will complete his $84 million transfer to the Premier League.

Given their 5-2 mauling at home against Leicester City on Sunday, City need defensive help. Big time.

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Dias, 23, is regarded as one of the best central defensive players in Europe and Pep Guardiola’s Man City have moved swiftly to try and address their defensive issues.

In a statement on their website, Portuguese giants Benfica confirmed the sale of Dias as the formalities of the move will now be ironed in the coming days.

“In the first statement (10:59 pm) it informed that it had reached an agreement with Manchester City for the sale of the central defender Ruben Dias for 68 million euros, plus an additional 3.6 million euros, depending on the achievement of objectives related to the sporting performance of the English club. This agreement is dependent on the signing of the player’s sports labor contract with Manchester City.”

Benfica also announced that they have bought Man City defender Nicolas Otamendi, 32, for $17.5 million to replace Dias.

“In the second statement (11 pm) Sport Lisboa e Benfica – Futebol, SAD informed that it has reached an agreement with Manchester City for the signing of the central defender Nicolas Otamendi for 15 million euros. This agreement is dependent on the signing of a sports labor contract with the player and the completion of medical examinations.”

After spending $53 million on center back Nathan Ake already this summer, Guardiola is still trying to fill a Vincent Kompany sized hole in his defense. 12 months on, Man City are still struggling defensively.

Kalidou Koulibaly was linked with a move to Man City but it is believed they couldn’t agree a deal with Napoli and have instead gone for Dias. With Aymeric Laporte close to a return to full fitness, there is no doubt Man City’s defense will improve in the coming weeks and months.

And my goodness, it has to. If Pep Guardiola’s side have any chance of winning the Premier League and challenging for the Champions League they simply have to get better at the back, and the current players have shown they aren’t up to the task. An upgrade on their current full backs will be needed as well as Dias and Ake.

Dias is a confident defender on the ball, which will suit City, but more importantly they need him to hit the ground running and be a dominant defender.

Liverpool – Arsenal: How to watch, start time, odds, predicted lineup

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Liverpool – Arsenal: Two heavyweights clash at Anfield on Monday (Watch live at 3pm ET online via Peacock) as both team have a perfect record with two wins from two so far.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Reigning champions Liverpool have perhaps been more impressive as they’ve beaten upstarts Leeds United and then Chelsea, while Arsenal eased past Fulham but struggled past West Ham.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

When it comes to Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta, their playing philosophy as managers could not be more different as Arsenal beat Liverpool on penalties at Wembley to win the Community Shield last month.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of a massive early-season clash as Arsenal look to put down a marker.


Team news: Liverpool – Arsenal (INJURY REPORT)

Liverpool will be hoping center back Joe Gomez will be fit after he missed the win at Chelsea last weekend, while this game will come too soon for fellow defender Joel Matip. Judging by the early reports, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson should also be fit to start.

Arsenal could have Kieran Tierney back fit for this game, which would be a big boost. Pablo Mari, Calum Chamberls, Gabriel Martinelli and Shkodran Mustafi all remain out injured.


Predicted lineup

Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Thiago, Henderson; Salah, Firmino, Mane

Arsenal (3-4-3): Leno; Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles; Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang


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

Understandably Liverpool are the heavy favorites (-210) given their long unbeaten home record at Anfield. That said Arsenal (+520) do seem a high price after they beat Liverpool during ‘Project Restart’ and also in the Community Shield final. The draw at +360 is intriguing and the value perhaps lies there.

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Liverpool – Arsenal prediction

Arsenal have a lot more grit under Arteta and they ware capable of bending but not breaking. This is a huge test for them, though, and Gabriel against the fluid front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane will be his biggest test yet. Arsenal have the attackers to make the most of any more slack defending from Liverpool but I expect Klopp’s side to have just too much in midfield and attack. Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal.


How to watch Liverpool – Arsenal stream and start time

Kickoff: 3pm ET Monday
TV Channel: Peacock
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Fulham – Aston Villa: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

Fulham - Aston Villa
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Fulham – Aston Villa: How early is too early to call a game “must-win” in the Premier League? Perhaps we will find out on Monday (Watch live at 12:45 pm ET, online via Peacock), when bottom-of-the-table Fulham host Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.

FULHAM – ASTON VILLA STREAM LIVE

Scott Parker’s side has had a torrid start to life back in the PL — not at all dissimilar to the way their last stint ended — and find themselves with zero points and seven goals conceded after their first two games. Losing 3-0 to Arsenal on the opening day of the season wasn’t altogether surprising, but following that defeat with four more goals conceded to Leeds United last weekend will undoubtedly have done a number on the Cottagers’ confidence.

Villa, on the other hand, have played just once and secured a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United earlier this week. A win on Monday would see Dean Smith’s side start the season with back-to-back PL victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

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


Team news: Fulham – Aston Villa (INJURY REPORT)

Fulham – No injuries or suspensions

Aston Villa – OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)


What they’re saying: Fulham – Aston Villa

Scott Parker, on a “must-win” game: “I don’t see it as drastic as a must-win. We want to win. I know it’s either high or low in a drastic world, but we need to stay level and take realism of where we are in the campaign and where we are as a team. We will try everything we can to take some points and be up to the challenge. I don’t think we’re the only team at this present moment in time who have let in some goals in the first two games. It’s not ideal, of course not. Villa at home on Monday is a game we’re going to try to get three points.”

Dean Smith, on needing another signing: “We’re always looking in the market, we’re probably one short in the squad at the moment so we’ll keep looking at that. I think there’s seven days left until the window shuts internationally, another seven days domestically. Our sporting director at the moment has got his finger on the pulse, hopefully we might get one more in and maybe a couple more out.”


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

This one is just about a coin flip with Fulham (+185) ever so slight underdogs to Villa (+150). In a game that could go either way like this one, the draw (+225) might just be the safe middle ground.

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Prediction: Fulham – Aston Villa

There’s not much to separate these two sides right now, and there likely won’t be much ground between them come the season’s final table. There should be a few goals, but that’ll be more down to poor defending than excellent attacking quality from either side. Fulham 2-2 Villa.


How to watch Fulham – Aston Villa stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:45 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock