Photo credit: Atlanta United / @ATLUTD

Three MLS Things: Growing pains in ORL; hat-trick hero

Leave a comment

The third Saturday of the 2018 MLS season is in the books, and we learned a few (more) things along the way.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

One game is just one game; two games is too small of a sample size; but three games is the beginning of a trend…

[ LISTEN: Talkin’ Touches podcast — breaking down Week 2 in MLS ]

Lots of changes, lots of kinks to work out

Inside the last nine months alone, Orlando City SC acquired the following who’s-who list of MLS star-level players: Dom Dwyer, Yoshi Yotun, Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram and Uri Rosell. That’s one half of an uber-talented, but brand new, starting lineup (at a massive cost) — which is to say, Jason Kreis and Co., have made serious changes, and everything isn’t going to coalesce overnight.

Throw in the fact that Kljestan was suspended the first two games, Dwyer has battled multiple muscular injuries since January and is yet to make his 2018 debut, and Rosell didn’t arrive in Orlando until the week before the season opener and hasn’t played either, and you begin to understand how “such a talented team can have just one point from their first three games.”

Saturday’s 2-0 loss away to a David Villa-less New York City FC was frustrating in more ways than just “we’re still figuring things out, but we’re getting there.” Both of NYCFC’s goals resulted from self-inflicted, avoidable mistakes in possession which turned into easy counter-attacking chances going the other way.

Rosell will undoubtedly fix many of Orlando’s problems with regard to ball circulation and defensive organization/transitions, but only upon his arrival into the lineup can his tricky and important integration begin.

NYCFC, on the other hand, have three wins from three games, have conceded just once (while scoring six) and now hold a nine-point lead on the defending champions from Toronto. Oh, and did I mention they looked just fine without David Villa?

Martinez closing in on history

Just 23 games into his MLS career, Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez is one hat trick from tying the all-time record for hat tricks in a career (5 – currently held by Landon Donovan, Stern John and Diego Serna). To put that into perspective, the three aforementioned players made 340, 55 and 124 appearances during their respective MLS careers.

Assuming he doesn’t pick up another long-term injury (he missed 10 games between March and June last year) and/or transfer back to Europe in the summer, Martinez should summit the hat trick-scoring chart by early June. Given the veracity and vigor with which Atlanta engulf their opponents, Martinez scoring at least two more hat tricks this season feels like the safest bet one could make in a league full of constant flux.

Take, for example, Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of the Vancouver Whitecaps, which not only saw the Five Stripes fire 21 shots (4 on target – 100 percent, obviously), but more importantly hold more than 72 percent of possession and limit the visitors to just five shots in total (Kendall Waston was sent off in the 13th minute, leaving the ‘Caps a man short for much of the evening). Jeff Larentowicz has solved most of the problems in midfield and allowed Darlington Nagbe to settle in quickly and thrive. If that trend is to continue, the sky is truly the limit for Tata Martino’s boys, and Martinez will bag goals by the handful.

Where’s the real Sporting KC defense?

Should we be a little worried about the Sporting Kansas City defense, a group which finished 2017 as the league’s stingiest unit and returns its entire back-six in 2018? After conceding just 29 goals in 34 games last season, the group led by past Defender of the Year award winners Ike Opara and Matt Besler has conceded seven goals in their first three games this year.

If it were any other team, and any other group of MLS veterans, with any other coach, I’d be officially worried right now. But, given their (perennial) stake to one of the league’s best defensive records, I remain in a holding pattern, even after giving up another soft/sloppy goal in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.

Sporting head coach Peter Vermes made a fair and valid point following the game, reminding the assembled media that playing more freely going forward — a massive weakness for Sports in recent seasons — comes at the expense of defensive positioning and numbers. Sure enough, they’ve scored seven goals in three games (tied for the most in MLS – all coming in the last two). Sporting scored their seventh goal of the 2017 season on April 29.

Here’s the thing about Sporting’s recent seasons: they’ve been a lock-down side throughout the regular season and never figured out how to consistently score goals, and it cost them plenty of points along the way and ultimately they played on the road in the knockout round each of the last four seasons. That style, which they’ll surely settle back into come playoff time, doesn’t lend itself to playing on the road. Securing a home playoff game, which would the first for the team since winning MLS Cup 2013 at home, is priority no. 1, and Vermes might just be willing to sacrifice a little bit of defense for a whole lot more offense (finally).

How long of a break will Premier League clubs get?

Premier League break
Getty Images
Leave a comment

How long of a break will Premier League clubs get? That is the big question during the significantly shortened offseason between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 season.

In short: not long.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

When Premier League clubs all agreed that the 2020-21 season would kick off on September 12, there was an understanding that clubs in European action will be handed extra time off and could start the season late.

Manchester City and Chelsea are in Champions League action and if they reach the quarterfinal stage (Man City are looking a lot more likely to do that than Chelsea) it is expected they will start next season one week late and if they reach the semifinals and final they will start two weeks late.

The same rule is in place for Manchester United and Wolves who are in Europa League and are both in Round of 16 action this week.

If Chelsea lose to Bayern Munich on Saturday, their season will be over and they will have a 35-day break before the 2020-21 season. That is longer than the 30-day limit but Frank Lampard wants longer.

As for the other 16 Premier League teams for the 2020-21 season, the clubs who finished on the final day of the  2019-20 Premier League season on July 26 will have had 47 days off until the new season begins.

So, there you have it.

A staggered start to the 2020-21 season seems likely as the domestic campaign begins in a few weeks with the Community Shield final at Wembley between Liverpool and Arsenal on Aug. 29.

Premier League teams will have shorter, more intense preseason campaigns and are unlikely to travel for friendly games, so it will be interesting to see how much rest players actually get over the summer and if teams who get a 2-3 week longer break benefit compared to those clubs in European action.

Christian Pulisic issues injury update

Pulisic injury news
Getty Images
Leave a comment

‘Pulisic injury news’ is probably trending worldwide at this point, and Chelsea and USMNT star Christian Pulisic has an injury update after he damaged his right hamstring in the FA Cup final against Arsenal on Saturday.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Pulisic, 21, scored a superb goal early on and was arguably the man of the match even though he pulled up abruptly in the 46th minute when sprinting free (once again) of the Arsenal attack and then hitting a shot wide.

After being helped off the pitch while clearly in pain, Pulisic was seen hanging around the tunnel area after the FA Cup final and was at least walking on his own.

Posting a message on Instagram following the final, here’s what Pulisic had to say:

“Gave it everything we had. Wasn’t our day. Thank you guys for your support I’ll be back in no time,” Pulisic said.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The fact Pulisic went off injured early in the second half of the FA Cup final severely hampered Chelsea and gave Arsenal the impetus to go on and win the final at Wembley. He has become that important to Chelsea.

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard previously confirmed that Pulisic would not be fit enough to play at Bayern Munich on Saturday in their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg (Chelsea trail 3-0 from the first leg) and would have a scan to assess the damage.

Pulisic’s 2019-20 season is now done and both Chelsea and USMNT fans will be waiting with bated breath for the next injury update as hamstring injuries can be a nasty thing and reoccur easily.

The USMNT star had a few of them at Borussia Dortmund and given his incredible pace it is clear he will be more susceptible to hamstring and upper leg injuries.

Previously Lampard revealed that Pulisic had been working hard with Chelsea’s strength and conditioning coaches in recent months to build up his strength in order to adapt to the Premier League. We’ve certainly seen the results of that work in recent week as he took the Premier League by storm during the restart.

This latest update from Pulisic seems to be very good news as many had feared a lengthy injury layoff for the USMNT star but it seems like he may be ready for the start of the 2020-21 season for Chelsea.

Willian, Chelsea fail to agree new contract terms; Arsenal in talks

Willian to Arsenal
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Willian and Chelsea have failed to agree to terms on a new contract and the Brazilian winger is now in talks with Arsenal over a free transfer.

Multiple outlets are reporting that Willian has rejected a two-year contract offer from Chelsea as he wants a longer deal, as Sky Sports in Italy have more details on the developing situation.

Sky Sport contributor Fabrizio Romano states that Willian’s representatives are now in talks with Arsenal over a contract, while there hasn’t been any contact from Barcelona so far.

Willian, 31, has been a regular for Chelsea this season and Frank Lampard is keen to keep the Brazilian star as his experience will help the younger players develop at Chelsea.

After suffering a small injury, Willian didn’t feature in Chelsea’s FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal over the weekend and Lampard had the following to say about his future.

“It’s his decision so I haven’t got that answer,” Lampard said. “He’s been a great servant for Chelsea and he’s been brilliant for me this season with his input and work ethic but if he decides to move on then we obviously will move on as well. I know the situation from the club’s end so it’s his choice and I respect that.”

It appears that Willian will move on this summer as winger Pedro is also moving on a free transfer to AS Roma, although he did look to severely injure his shoulder in his last-ever appearance for Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

With Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount around, Chelsea have plenty of options out wide and Timo Werner, Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham give them plenty of options centrally with Kai Havertz also potentially arriving this summer.

As for a potential move to Arsenal, this makes perfect sense.

The Gunners have a small transfer budget this summer and Willian gets to stay in London as well as add extra quality to the Arsenal attack. His arrival may mean one of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leave, though, as his wages will not be cheap. That said, if Willian is available on a free, plenty of clubs would love to have him. He is consistent, professional and delivers a steady stream of goals, assist and direct wing play.

Report: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer

Jadon Sancho to Manchester United
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jadon Sancho to Manchester United is moving on as the Red Devils are said to be in talks with Borussia Dortmund over the talented winger.

[ MORE: UCL, Europa predictions ]

According to numerous reports Dortmund still want $140 million for Sancho, 20, but are now willing to accept a smaller initial payment and larger instalments for the England international and want a deal done before Aug. 10.

Our partners in the UK at Sky Sports have some more details on the developing situation:

“Discussions between Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United are ongoing over the structure of the transfer fee for Jadon Sancho as the Bundesliga club appear open to accepting less money up front as part of the deal. Dortmund have not moved from their €120m (£108m) valuation of the England international, but seem to be open to accepting less money up front.

“Ideally, the Bundesliga side would want an initial €100m (£90m) to fund a replacement for the 20-year-old – though it is very unlikely they would spend that amount of money on a new signing, hence the softening of the stance on Sancho’s initial fee.”

The report from Sky goes on to state that Dortmund could sign Kingsley Coman on loan from Bayern Munich in order to replace Sancho. That would be a pretty good deal, all things considered, for Dortmund.

They have Gio Reyna, Erling Haaland, Marco Reus, Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard in attacking areas and have talented young midfielder Jude Bellingham in midfield. As good as Sancho is — and he was brilliant for Dortmund in 2019-20 with 17 goals and 17 assists on 32 Bundesliga games — selling him for close to $140 million in the current market is good business.

Manchester United now know they will be in the Champions League next season and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be rewarded for a third-place finish by being handed one of the top attacking players in the world. Sancho will be a menace out wide with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood as United’s other forward options and Paul Pogba and the brilliant Bruno Fernandes creating just behind them.

After months of speculation, Jadon Sancho to Manchester United looks like it will actually happen.