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Three things: NYCFC flying with Villa, Medina at the helm

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Week 2 of the 2018 MLS season is in the books, and New York City are one of just four teams with six points following Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy.

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Earlier today, I advocated against making any judgments whatsoever about the MLS season before the calendar reads May or June. Barely two hours later, I’m ready to ignore my own advice and tell you that NYCFC are very, very good — largely based upon the entirety of 2017, but also the way they’ve kicked off the 2018 season…

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Medina lessens the blow of losing Harrison

Jack Harrison was, in so many ways, a perfect complement to David Villa, in that he was only slightly less aggressive and quick to transition than the legendary Spaniard. He was an abundant source of secondary goals — a must-have for every team, even ones with a Villa-caliber spearhead.

Everyone was, understandably, unsure how NYCFC would replace Harrison’s final-third production following his transfer to Manchester City. It was a big ask for 20-year-old Paraguayan attacker Jesus Medina to walk straight into an established squad and immediately shoulder the load as Villa’s primary running mate. Through two games, Medina has surpassed expectations by miles and miles.

He scored a goal against Sporting Kansas City last week, and was instrumental in setting up both goals against LA. On the first, it was Medina who got the ball wide right, held up play ever so slightly to allow Villa to move ahead of him, and finally slotted the perfectly timed and weighted through ball to the top of the six-yard box. Villa’s shot was saved, but the rebound came to Anton Tinnerholm, who smashed his left-footed shot off the underside of the crossbar and in.

On the second, it was Medina, alongside Ben Sweat, who chased a bouncing ball deep inside NYCFC’s half and eventually won possession, then turned on the jets as he glided around one defender before playing the pass to present itself, a simple square ball to Sweat at the top of the box. Again, Sweat’s shot was saved, but the rebound fell to Villa with an empty net to mark his 100th MLS appearance with a game-winner.

Medina will probably come up short of Harrison’s numbers in the goals column — maybe even for assists, too — but it’s already very clear that he’s got a brilliant soccer mind when it comes to so many of the little things: his movement off the ball, how to time his runs to maximize the space he creates for others, and a willingness to play within the confines of his own strengths and weakness. For a 20-year-old player of any age, he’s been off-the-charts impressive.

Injuries, ineffectiveness, indifference

We’re only two weeks into the season, and LA have already lost superstar attacker Romain Alessandrini to a hamstring injury last week, starting center back Michael Ciani to an injury of his own on Sunday, and supposed-to-be-star Giovani dos Santos to a complete loss of form and ability, and/or an overwhelming sense of indifference. Dos Santos was subbed off at halftime of Sunday’s game, replaced by Servando Carrasco, a defensive midfielder.

Why would Sigi Schmid do that to his most expensive and centerpiece Designated Player, you ask?

Considering LA have considerably curtailed their free-spending tendencies in recent seasons, it’s not at all outside the realm of possibility that they could look to move on from Dos Santos’ contract, which pays him $5.5 million per year, should he continue in this vein of form.

Yes, we’re going to keep talking about VAR

… until MLS and the Professional Referee Organization gets its head on straight. If you missed it yesterday, I ranted at greater length about Baldomero Toledo and Co.’s refusal to even consult the video review available to him after Los Angeles FC scored what will likely be the most egregiously offside goal this season (since, you know, VAR is in place to correct these kind of mistakes).

On Sunday, barely a day later, another instance where VAR could have fixed a potentially “clear and obvious error” occurred in the 85th minute, with LA trailing 2-1 and threatening to equalize, when Ashley Cole was shown a second yellow card for tripping Villa as he prepared to run into 50 yards of open field.

First things first, yellow cards — not even a second yellow — aren’t reviewable within the guidelines set forth by MLS (goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistake identity). Considering a second yellow has the exact same impact as a straight red, which is to effectively end LA’s comeback bid when Cole appears to have made no contact with Villa, it should be reviewable all the same.

These are simple matters of common sense that, were MLS serious about using VAR as a tool to improve the level of refereeing, could be fixed overnight. They started using VAR roughly two-thirds of the way into the season last year, so what’s an amendment to the guidelines after fewer than two dozen game this year?

Pochettino: “Very happy” with Spurs, taking it day-by-day

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Wouldn’t it be something if Mauricio Pochettino‘s expressed desire to stay at Tottenham Hotspur into the “New White Hart Lane” era and help the club reach the pinnacle of football was genuine?

And really, why should it surprise anyone at all that a rich London club in a fancy new home might just be attractive to a top football mind?

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Pochettino, despite seemingly daily links with Real Madrid and other giant clubs, sure sounds like a man who’d answer those questions with, “Well, yeah” and “It shouldn’t.” From Sky Sports:

“I am very happy at Tottenham. I have four more years on my contract. Maybe 99 per cent of my colleagues have a different mindset. I enjoy it day by day and whatever happens tomorrow will be a consequence of today. But I don’t look at things too far ahead or think very long term. When I signed my contract I did it because I was happy.”

Sure there’s a little hedging there, but this is also an occupation where poor turns of form see managers fired in a hurry. Pochettino would go on to say that Spurs are “overachieving,” and did mention the “investment of other clubs” this season. So there’s certainly gray area for Spurs supporters to consider from these comments.

WATCH: Maurice Edu gives retirement video the cartoon treatment

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USMNT midfielder Maurice Edu formally announced his retirement on Monday with a clever animated video paying homage to his family and career.

The video uses Kanye West’s “All the Lights” before ending with a clever nod to Notorious B.I.G. and an inspirational message.

Edu last played in 2017, appearing in three matches for the Philadelphia Union’s USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel.

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The 46-times capped Edu turns 33 next month and played with Toronto FC before moving overseas to Rangers in Scotland, where he scored a famous stoppage time goal in the Old Firm.

And infamously, Edu had a goal controversially ruled offside at the 2010 World Cup.

Injuries followed him the rest of his career, as Edu had trouble staying on the field in stints with Stoke City, Bursaspor, and Philadelphia. He won three league titles and three cups while in Glasgow.

Edu is now a broadcaster on UEFA Champions League coverage in the United States.

Mbappe, Neymar reportedly won’t try to leave PSG

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Two of the world’s brightest attacking stars look set to stay in Paris for another season, says ESPN.

Kylian Mbappe and Neymar will not angle to leave Paris Saint-Germain in the summer despite big money interest from Real Madrid, who is in the market to spend big on some Galacticos to play with Vinicius Junior.

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The report says Financial Fair Play concerns will dictate a number of sales, with Giovani Lo Celso, Jese Rodriguez, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Thomas Meunier, Layvin Kurzawa, and Christopher Nkunku speculated as possible exits.

Meanwhile, AS reports that PSG is interested in Antoine Griezmann should it get a suitable bid for either Mbappe or Neymar.

It would make some sense for PSG. At 27, Neymar has been fabulous while healthy but has missed long stretches of each of the last two seasons with injury.

Les Parisiens could replace him with Griezmann, a French World Cup hero, who carries a $226 million release clause which AS says will not be negotiated by Atletico Madrid. How much more would Neymar cost Real than that? He went for around $254 million in 2017.

How much different will PSG look next year? Adrien Rabiot seems certain to leave the Parc des Princes, and Meunier is the only player mentioned by AS getting serious minutes under Thomas Tuchel.

What seems more likely is PSG sell its superfluous pieces and put a focus on developing its young players in Ligue 1 play with Neymar, Mbappe, Cavani, and Marco Verratti focusing their eyes on the Champions League

Teen Zaniolo could make Italy debut after stunning season

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Nicolo Zaniolo had not played a match in Italy’s top flight less than a year ago but could make his first appearance for Italy this week.

Zaniolo, 19, has had a breakthrough season and has emerged as one of Serie A’s most promising talents since his move to Roma from Inter Milan last summer.

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He scored his first Champions League goals last month as he led Roma to a 2-1 win at home against Porto in the first leg of the round of 16.

Although Zaniolo received an Italy call-up in September, he did not make an appearance. He could make his debut in the upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Finland and Liechtenstein.

“It’s credit to (former Roma coach Eusebio) Di Francesco, who gave him the possibility of playing almost all the time, in the Champions League and in Serie A, giving him enormous confidence,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said on Monday.

“He is a young lad. He has always done well. It’s clear that when you’re young, you can have moments that are more difficult, but he has talent and now he has the chance to make his international debut and that’s the same for everyone who is here.”

Zaniolo is one of two teenagers in the Italy squad. Juventus forward Moise Kean turned 19 last month.

There are also five players under 22 on the 29-man list.

“What’s interesting in the league is that, compared to four or five months ago, the youngsters are playing more and so they have improved,” Mancini said. “This is a positive thing for them, for Italian football, for the Italy team and the under-21 team.

“I called up a few more players so I can evaluate them and because I don’t know the conditions of all the lads. I also had to leave some out with great sadness.”

One of those players left out was Mario Balotelli.

Balotelli was included in Mancini’s first two squads and played his first matches for Italy since the 2014 World Cup. This is the third consecutive time he has been omitted despite scoring five goals in eight matches for Marseille.

“Mario is still not in optimal condition for the national team,” Mancini said. “He has improved on a physical level. He has a good scoring average and can improve more. We expect a lot from him.”

Also called up was veteran Fabio Quagliarella, who could make his first Italy appearance in nearly 10 years.

Quagliarella, 36, leads Serie A in scoring. The Sampdoria forward has 21 goals, two more than Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo and Milan’s Krzysztof Piatek.

Italy kicks off its qualifying campaign on Saturday against Finland in Udine before hosting Liechtenstein in Parma three days later.

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