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Southampton’s journey goes full circle

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It was the spring of 2010, March 28 to be exact, when it truly felt like Southampton Football Club was starting to stir back to life.

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In front of 73,476 fans at Wembley Stadium (over 44,000 were Saints fans, plus many more embedded in the away end due to ticketing regulations) a side managed by Alan Pardew which included Morgan Schneiderlin, Jose Fonte, Adam Lallana, Michail Antonio and Rickie Lambert beat Carlisle United 4-1 to win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Seven years later they’re preparing for their first major final since 2003 and just their fourth in the past 41 years, as they face Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Like a host of mid-size clubs in England, Southampton have historically felt they deserve to at least be in the top-flight and to each season challenge the established elite to win a trophy or at the very least reach a Wembley final. Now, after a humbling journey, they’re back to that.

[ MORE: Saints’ EFL semifinal victory vs. Liverpool extra sweet

Back in March 2010 Markus Liebherr (pictured, below) stood alongside the Southampton players lifting the JPT trophy in front of the Royal Box at Wembley. Liebherr single-handedly saved the club from extinction in 2009 when he bought them after they plunged into administration and were languishing in the third-tier of English soccer.

The billionaire businessman sadly passed away at the age of 62 in August 2010, leaving the club in the hands of his family, but as he took photos on his small personal camera of his team celebrating with the JPT trophy, over 44,000 fans celebrated in a sea of red and white at Wembley chanting his name. They knew the journey back to the top-flight, where they had previously spent 27-straight seasons, had begun.

Roll the clock forward seven years and a lot has changed, but a similar sea off red and white will adorn half of Wembley on Sunday as Saints requested a kit change to a special third-kit of white with red. Comparisons to the JPT final of 2010 will be made by many.

The trophy they’re competing for may be different this time around but the same feelings are present. Optimism is in the air for what lies ahead not just this weekend but for the future.

Saints were rescued in 2009 by German billionaire Markus Liebherr. Cortese was his right hand man and controlled the running of the club. Sadly Mr. Liebherr died in 2010, leaving the club in his daughter's hands.
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Liebherr’s legacy lives on (his name is still sung at every game by Southampton’s fans) heading into just the second League Cup final in their 131-year history. Their last appearance came back in 1979 when they lost to Nottingham Forest 3-2, just three years after they stunned Manchester United 1-0 to win the 1976 FA Cup as a second-tier club. Up until this point that was Southampton’s finest hour and the current squad would be held in the same regard if they could beat Man United for another famous final win.

[ MORE: Recapping Saints’ win at Arsenal

All week Saints legends of that 1976 team have popped up on TV, only too happy to acknowledge and talk about Southampton’s one and only major trophy which was won in remarkable fashion due to Bobby Stokes’ second half goal.

For generations of Sotonians that famous win against Manchester United has defined the club. They’ve grown up hearing about tales about Lawrie McMenemy, Nick Holmes, Mick Channon, Stokes, Peter Osgood and Peter Rodrigues. That underdog spirit from ’76 will be in full force once again among their 33,000-plus fans at the home of English soccer this weekend.

Saints are back where they feel they belong.

“It’s about time we should really get to a final,” club captain Steven Davis told Pro Soccer Talk after their quarterfinal win at Arsenal in December, which then led to a semifinal against Liverpool which Saints impressively won over two legs.

Their journey to the EFL Cup final has been just as impressive as they’ve beaten Premier League opposition on every step of the way without conceding a goal, just the second team in history to reach a League Cup final doing so.

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Their journey from a third-tier team in 2009 to a team now consistently finishing in the top 10 of the Premier League and aiming for a third-straight season with European qualification has been arduous, even if it has seemed rapid.

It has been riddled with high-profile departures, changes and lofty expectations. Saints have met most of the latter and dealt with the former admirably.

Behind-the-scenes many have worked tirelessly to drive them back to become an established Premier League team, with Executive Chairman Les Reed taking over the leading role and putting in place an envious scouting network and academy system which consistently produces gems.

Heading into Sunday’s clash against powerhouse Manchester United, the fans, players and current manager, Claude Puel, know that Jose Mourinho’s superstars are the heavy favorites.

They’re fine with that.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 28: Southampton celebrate after winning the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final between Southampton and Carlisle United at Wembley Stadium on March 28, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Of course, Liebherr’s investment in Southampton brought financial wealth and the ability for Saints to build a stunning new training center (the main building of which is named the Markus Liebherr Pavilion) to house its world renowned academy, but it also allowed them to step back to where the fans and club felt they belonged. And then some.

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Saints splash middle-range cash to sign stars from Europe others don’t want to take a risk on (see: Sadio Mane, Dejan Lovren, Graziano Pelle) then spend time developing them before often selling them on for a huge profit. Their model is admired across the world and both financially and on the pitch it has created great success for a club of Southampton’s size and stature within the Premier League. It’s true that they spent most of their previous time in the Premier League from 1992-2005 battling relegation but now they’re back, they’re hungry to squeeze every ounce of potential out of the club.

Southampton are determined to make the most of their second chance after nearly ceasing to exist.

Sure, this season they’ve slumped a little in the Premier League, with the rigors of their disappointing Europa League group stage exit, an EFL Cup run and untimely injuries thwarting the progress of Puel’s men in the Frenchman’s first season in charge. Yet, they’ve carried on progressing in other ways off the field with huge commercial deals with companies such as Virgin Media, Under Armour and others continuing their impressive growth, plus talk of huge investment from China ongoing.

On the pitch the signings of attackers Sofiane Boufal and Manolo Gabbiadini look like very shrewd investments, once again, while they possess hugely profitable talents in Virgil Van Dijk, Oriol Romeu and Dusan Tadic as a smattering of academy products continue to develop into steady PL players.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25: Shane Long of Southampton (not pictured) celebrates with team mates after scoring his sides first goal during the EFL Cup Semi-Final Second Leg match between Liverpool and Southampton at Anfield on January 25, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Saints have locked down top talent (Tadic, Shane Long, Van Dijk, Davis, Ryan Bertrand) to new deals and the future is looking steady and secure. Yet, there’s just been one thing missing in their rise through the leagues and into Europe over the past few years: silverware.

Speaking to journalists in the tunnel at the Emirates Stadium earlier this year after Saints had beaten Arsenal in the quarterfinal on their march to Wembley, England international Ryan Bertrand explained that the players knew it’s about time the club got back to a final.

“It would be massive [to win the EFL Cup]. For the club, the massive rise that they’ve had from League One, as soon as the switch has turned they’ve seen success after success,” Bertrand said. “It’s not something that’s overdue, the silverware, but it is something that’s about the right time.”

It has taken them time but now they’re back where they believe they should be, a team which can finish just outside the perennial top six and challenge for trophies. On their day Saints can beat any team in the Premier League and they’ve done it in this cup run, dispatching Arsenal and Liverpool in the last two rounds to get to this point.

Whatever happens on Sunday at Wembley, Southampton’s progression into a top 10 side in the Premier League that can challenge for trophies should not be overlooked.

Just under seven years on from winning a trophy solely consisting of teams from the third and fourth tiers of English soccer, Southampton can secure their first piece of major silverware since 1976 and just the second-ever in its history.

It will be a big ask to beat a Man United side which has lost just once in their last 25 games in all competitions, especially without team captain and star central defender Virgil van Dijk and top scorer Charlie Austin who both miss out through injury. But then again, Southampton are used to upsetting the odds and proving everyone wrong.

They’ve spent seven-straight years doing just that.

Sunday’s final represents the biggest stage yet for Southampton to show just how far they’ve come since their second-coming began almost seven years ago at Wembley Stadium.

This journey has gone full circle.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 28: Southampton captain Dean Hammond and goalkeeper Kelvin Davis lift the trophy after winning the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final between Southampton and Carlisle United at Wembley Stadium on March 28, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Gold Cup: Mexico secures place in knockout round with win over Canada; Martinique over Cuba

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The Mexico National Team at the 2019 Gold Cup has been very focused on introducing inexperienced players into the squad, and yet, it was a veteran on Wednesday that reminded everyone how much he still has left in the tank.

Mexico captain Andres Guardado, who came off the bench for the injured Erick Gutierrez in the first half, scored a brace as Mexico held off a surging Canada late in the match. Guardado’s first goal was an absolute golazo from 30-yards out, while his second showcased his poise and calm in the box.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Mexico – as is custom for El Tri – controlled possession and looked very confident on the ball, zipping it around midfield and at times, playing on a faster speed than Canada, it seemed. However, with Canada sitting in a low defensive block, it took until the 40th minute for Mexico to get on the board through Roberto Alvarado finishing into an empty net after a big save from Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan.

Canada pushed higher up the field in the second half and seemed to be turning the tide before Guardado picked up a loose ball – and there may have been a foul on Canada – and el Principito unleashed a rocket that Borjan had no chance to keep out.

Canada made six changes in the starting lineup from its first game and it was the introductions of Scott Arfield, Jonathan Osorio and Jonathan David in the second half that began to get Canada back into the game. A mistake by centerback Nestor Araujo in the 75th minute, trying to be fancy with a Cruyff turn allowed David to advance down the Mexico goal on a breakaway. After a cutback, David played Luca Cavallini in the box and Cavallini scored to cut it to 2-1.

However, Guardado, and LA Galaxy winger Uriel Antuna, put the game away for good two minutes later. Antuna got around his defender and centered to Guardado. The wily midfielder took three Canada defenders out of the play with a quick touch to his right, before scoring a deflected goal off the post and in.

Earlier in the evening, Martinique recorded a dominant 3-0 victory over ten-man Cuba. Star striker Kevin Parsemain didn’t score, though he did play a role in Martinique’s third goal with an outstanding back-heel pass.

Copa America: Watch Newcastle’s Almiron sets up Paraguay opener with 60-yard sprint (video)

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For the second time in as many games, Argentina has allowed it’s opponent to score the first goal. This time, it has Miguel Almiron to thank.

Starting with a dummy that lead to a more than 60-yard sprint to the end-line, Almiron showcased his top-line speed, strength, and dribbling ability as he lead Paraguay down the field in transition, eventually crossing into the middle. It was there that Olimpia’s Richard Sanchez met the cross and sliced it home to put Paraguay up 1-0 in the first half.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Atlanta United fans saw plenty of that blazing speed during Almiron’s two years in the U.S. If Newcastle fans get to witness this in person more this coming season, Almiron will be a fan-favorite.

 

 

Transfer Roundup: Neymar to cost $337 million? Could Jorginho follow Sarri to Juve?

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Will he stay or will he go?

That’s the main question surrounding Neymar this summer. If reports out of France – and there are many – are to be believed, Neymar will have to stay.

[READ: Landon Donovan to lead USL franchise]

Le Parisien reported on Wednesday that if Neymar was to leave Paris Saint-Germain this summer, it would cost an insane $337 million (€300 million) in transfer fees. With that price, and UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, it pretty much rules out any club from Europe from signing the Brazilian star. Neymar has recently been linked with a move back to Barcelona, with $112 million and other players reportedly included in a deal from Barcelona to PSG.

There’s so many moving pieces involved in any case. Antoine Griezmann is expected to leave Atletico Madrid, with Barcelona the rumored destination. But if Neymar goes to Barcelona, could Griezmann head to PSG? Meanwhile PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi pretty much called out Neymar for some of his off the field – and on the pitch – antics, likely hurting their relationship.

So while it seems like Neymar – and PSG – may want the relationship to end, PSG won’t miss out on getting its money back.

Here’s more transfer stories from around Europe:


Jorginho to Juventus? 

Jorginho is to Maurizio Sarri like red wine is to a medium-rare steak. They just go great together.

With Sarri moving to Juventus, that raises the question that Jorginho, who moved with Sarri to Chelsea, could move back to Italy this summer. There’s plenty of reasons why it could make sense. Despite playing 56 times for the Blues, including helping lead them to the UEFA Europa League title, he took plenty of criticism from the media and fans for his lack of defensive ability. Fans were also upset with Sarri’s insistence of playing Jorginho at the 6, and not at the 6 or as part of a double pivot with N’Golo Kante. In Premier League games that Chelsea was undone, it was because Jorginho was overrun in midfield.

Jorginho meanwhile could go back to Italy, where he has citizenship, plays for the national team and enjoyed so much success with Napoli.

According to reports out of Italy, Jorginho’s agent said that the player is happy in London, but they would wait and see what happens next from Juventus.

“Chelsea have a four-year contract with the man,” Joao Santos said, via Football Italia. “We’ll wait a few days to figure out whether there is any truth in this interest mentioned in the papers. His past at Napoli won’t be an issue, because Jorginho is a professional. Right now, Jorginho is happy at Chelsea. He found a great atmosphere and we can’t really say that he’d like to go elsewhere, but anything can happen on the transfer market. We’ll wait and see…”

Follow Live: Mexico faces Canada in Gold Cup doubleheader nightcap

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From Mile High USA, Denver, Colo., the 2019 Gold Cup continues with a highly-anticipated matchup between Mexico and Canada.

El Tri is coming off a 6-0 rout of Cuba in the opener at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena last week, while Canada thrashed Martinique, 4-0 in its opener. All of which leads to Wednesday, when an up-start Canada faces a young and firing Mexico in the 10 p.m. ET nightcap.

[ LIVE: Latest Gold Cup scores ]

The LA Galaxy’s Uriel Antuna, a late addition to the squad, scored a hat-trick against Cuba and is one of the many young players getting their first chance to impress new Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino. Meanwhile, Canada is having a recent resurgence, with young stars Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies and Mark-Anthony Kaye all making an early impact.

Meanwhile, Cuba and Martinique now battle it out in the first match of the night from Denver at 8 p.m., with both sides hoping for three points and a chance to emerge from the group in third place. Cuba has already lost one player to asylum in the U.S., but it’s unclear what kind of impact that will have on the team.

Follow along with us on the link above and in the comments below.