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2018 World Cup should bring hope for USA

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Watching the 2018 World Cup in the United States of America this summer promised to be a torturous thing.

It has been anything but.

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With the U.S. not qualifying for a World Cup for the first time since 1986, many wondered if the general public, or even general sports fans, would take much notice. Would bars even open early? How exactly would a soccer lover get their fix?

How wrong they could have been.

Over the past few weeks I’ve traveled across the USA and the Caribbean, watching games in bars in New York City, sports books in huge casinos and airport lounges as small taverns in rural America opened early to air the games at the behest of gangs of middle-aged men and their kids and despite the initial reluctance of an ageing barman.

“Hey, are you showing the game?” was heard time and time again in cities all over the USA.

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Good news for the sport in the USA: the excitement and passion for the World Cup is still there, even if reports state that Fox’s viewing figures are down compared to 2014. With the time zone in Russia compared to Brazil far from favorable with early morning kick offs and, of course, the U.S. not being in the tournament, the numbers aren’t that bad. Plus, our Spanish language partners at Telemundo have had roaring success when it comes to viewers of their broadcasts and streams as it became the “biggest livestream sports event in Spanish-language history.”

But back to the actual scene on the ground in the USA and what it felt like to watch games with ordinary Americans who had no real affiliation to a particular nation, despite constant car commercials telling them to root for Germany because of the “frankfurter” or for Iceland to “help with the clap” or Switzerland because of a Swiss army knife.

Actually, scratch that, we all know that U.S. citizens have some loose affiliation to their ancestry roots because that’s just how it is. Germany. Mexico. England. Colombia. Peru. But it was about more than that. Plenty of those nations had huge numbers of fans cheering them on in watch parties such as the one organized by New York City FC of Major League Soccer at the Rockefeller Center in NYC. Not to mention at home or at the office.

Bars were often packed in plenty of the major U.S. cities come lunchtime as fans gathered to watch Mexico stun Germany, England squeeze past Colombia on penalty kicks or Belgium’s stunning comeback over Japan.

The 2018 World Cup delivered dramatic moments which were aired on local news and the fact it only had to contend with the relatively young MLB season meant plenty of the focus was on it. Drinks specials in bars ranged from a pint of Carling for England, Carlsberg for Denmark, Bitburger for Germany or a Kronenbourg for France, while flags were out, jerseys of teams were visible and in places like NYC, as expected, you could watch the games with fans of any nation playing to enhance your experience.

Whole U.S. cities didn’t come to a standstill this summer and they didn’t in 2014 either. But the World Cup was a huge part of summer life for millions of Americans. There’s no getting around that.

There’s also no getting around the fact that not having the U.S. at this World Cup was a missed opportunity to bring in new fans to the sport. That’s something the United States of America still desperately needs despite MLS expanding and TV audiences for European leagues growing year-on-year. Building a bigger fanbase off the back of extreme patriotism is something which has no doubt helped the stature of the game in the U.S. on a four-yearly basis in the past.

The “soccer growth” aspect has been the dark cloud swirling around the USMNT’s failure to qualify for this World Cup. I’ve spoken to the likes of USMNT stars Christian Pulisic and Danny Williams and others about what it meant that the U.S. wouldn’t be at the big dance.

“When I was just a kid watching the U.S. at the World Cup, that gave me so much inspiration, seeing my country and seeing people playing with the U.S. crest,” Pulisic said. “Seeing them compete at a World Cup inspired me so much. Missing out on that is going to be a big thing but that doesn’t mean it’s over for U.S. Soccer. We are still growing a lot and we will do everything we can to be at the next one.”

And even if they don’t qualify for the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, kids are still being inspired. The average American still screamed in wonderment when Nacer Chadli score Belgium’s last-gasp winner against Japan or Cristiano Ronaldo spanked home that free kick against Spain or Harry Kane headed home a stoppage time winner against Tunisia.

The soccer culture in the U.S. has got to a place where you can walk into sports bars and fans will have taken the morning off work to go and watch a meaningless England v Belgium group game and tell you about the club team they play on or their son will talk through his college season while wearing a Chivas jersey and a pair of Manchester United shorts. The soccer IQ of American fans can no longer be questioned.

People cared deeply about the World Cup this summer on American soil despite the U.S. not being there. I saw it with my own eyes. Day after day. In several different cities.

Bars were packed in Pittsburgh for Croatia v England. Airports in the Caribbean were full of Americans applauding when Mexico went 2-0 up vs. South Korea. People went to the sports book and put money on teams like Serbia and Senegal just to get in on the fun. Germany and Colombia fans packed bars every time they played.

To me, this summer brought great hope for the future of the game in this country. It is still not even close to reaching its potential. We all know that hosting the 2026 World Cup will be the true benchmark as to whether or not soccer is going to surge past mainstream American sports league such as the NHL, MLB and NFL.

There is a lot of work to do in the next eight years to even get close to that happening but it’s a possibility as 80 games will be played across the U.S., Mexico and Canada with 60 in the United States as the biggest World Cup tournament in history comes to American soil.

For me, this small tale from my summer spent in the U.S. sums up one of the many reasons why watching the World Cup Stateside filled me with great hope.

I was sat at lunch with over 25 members of my extended family just outside of Rochester, New York last week. A 10-year-old cousin shouted excitedly as the World Cup was casually discussed: “I can’t wait for the 2026 World Cup when the games come here and I can see it!” He will be 17 when that happens with games to be played nearby in New York City and Toronto. He is already inspired after watching the games this summer. He is already looking forward to the next two World Cups.

This World Cup wasn’t a complete failure for the sport in the USA. If anything it underlined just how much the game is growing. Seeing it up close, there is still plenty of momentum behind the game despite the scaremongering about the harm a World Cup without the U.S. would cause.

Even better news for U.S. fans: the World Cup is almost over. Let the road to 2022, and more importantly 2026, begin.

Premier League games in March to be rearranged

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The FA Cup results over the week mean that six Premier League games will be moved from Matchweek 31.

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With Brighton, Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Watford and Wolves all confirmed quarterfinalists in the FA Cup and one of Chelsea or Man United also going through, there are plenty of games which cannot be played on the weekend of March 16.

The Manchester derby between Man City and Man United is the most notable game that will have to be switched, while Spurs’ home game against Crystal Palace (which could have been their first game at the new White Hart Lane) now has to be rearranged.

New dates will have to be arranged and that isn’t easy at this time of the season as UEFA regulations state that Premier League games cannot be played on the same night as Champions League or Europa League matches.

Below is a list of the PL games impacted, and their date is TBA.

Expect a few of these games to take place in midweek in late April or May and they could be pivotal in the relegation, top four and title battles.


Premier League fixtures to be rearranged
Brighton v. Cardiff
Brighton v. Chelsea
Man United v. Man City
Tottenham Hotspur v. Crystal Palace
Watford v. Southampton
Wolves v. Arsenal

Nani arrives in MLS, signs for Orlando City

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Nani has arrived in Major League Soccer.

Orlando City SC announced the Portugal national team star has arrived from Sporting Lisbon on a free transfer and has signed a three-year deal as a Designated Player.

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Nani, 32, will be a huge draw for Orlando as they look to get things back on track after a rough few years in MLS.

Speaking about Nani’s move to MLS with Orlando, EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi was delighted to welcome the experienced attacker.

“This is an exciting day for our organization,” said O. “Nani brings tremendous experience to our roster. He’s a dynamic winger with quality abilities to move and cross the ball, impact games and lead the offensive play.”

The former Manchester United, Fenerbache, Valencia and Lazio winger won the 2016 European Championships with Portugal and appeared at the 2014 World Cup for his national team. USMNT fans will remember his goal against the U.S. in Manaus…

Nani has scored 24 goals in 112 games for Portugal and although his arrival isn’t as big as Kaka leading Orlando in their first three seasons as a franchise, he is a huge get for a team which hasn’t made the playoffs in their four MLS campaigns and finished way off the pace in each of the last two years in the Eastern Conference.

Manager James O’Connor has a mix of youth and experience in this Orlando squad but he must make a fast start in 2019 after winning just two of his 17 games after arriving midway through the 2018 campaign.

Orlando need a total rebuild and Nani’s arrival should shake things up a little, even if a veteran winger may only solve a few of their problems for a few seasons.

New development in David de Gea contract situation

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It seemed like David De Gea‘s future at Manchester United was up in the air, with the Spanish goalkeeper having just over a year left on his current deal and some reports suggesting an impasse had been reached.

But it appears that United are willing to pull out all of the stops to keep DDG around.

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De Gea, 28, has been named United’s Player of the Season in four of the last five campaigns and since Sir Alex Ferguson retired he has bailed United out of sticky situations time and time again.

It has been reported that De Gea would be handed a new five-year deal which would see him pick up the largest basic salary of any current player in the Premier League, and therefore any PL player in history.

Our colleagues from Sky Sports News in the UK have more on the situation regarding De Gea:

United have been surprised at reports they rejected wage demands of £350,000-per-week, as Sky Sports News understands they would be prepared to pay that amount, but agent demands may be driving the price higher still.

In the past few months Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young, Anthony Martial and Scott McTominay have all signed new contracts with the Red Devils and Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward told investors in a call last week that he wants to “finish off the final few as rapidly as we possibly can.”

It is expected De Gea’s deal is at the top of that list, with Ander Herrera and Juan Mata (both out of contract this summer) the other top priorities to tie down to new deals.

De Gea’s importance to United is clear and just as star strikers and attacking players are rewarded handsomely, the value of having a star goalkeeper should not be understated. Even if, historically, they haven’t earned quite as much as outfield players.

The Spaniard has played 347 times for United in all competitions since arriving from Atletico Madrid in 2011, winning the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League.

After almost leaving in the summer of 2015 (United’s staff must do a daily salute to Real Madrid’s dodgy fax machine which scuppered the deal at  the eleventh hour) it is clear he is their most important player. Wonderful displays recently against Tottenham Hotspur and at Arsenal have proven De Gea’s worth, if anyone ever doubted it.

Lovren, Firmino huge doubts for Liverpool v. Bayern Munich

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Liverpool could be seriously shorthanded for their massive UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg against Bayern Munich at Anfield on Tuesday.

[ MORE: PL or UCL priority for LFC? ]

Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino did not take part in Liverpool’s final training session before their game against Bayern to give Jurgen Klopp more selection worries.

It has been reported that Firmino has a virus, while Lovren has been struggling with a hamstring problem and was always going to be a last-minute decision for the clash against the German giants.

Fabinho now looks certain to start alongside Joel Matip in central defense for Liverpool on Tuesday, as Virgil Van Dijk is suspended and Joe Gomez is injured.

As for up top, the likes of Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge could be placed in Firmino’s spot but it is likely Xherdan Shaqiri (if he is fully fit) will come into the team and Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane will switch to a central position in the front three.

Either way, not ideal for Liverpool as they have a huge week with this game against Bayern followed by a massive Premier League game at bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday.

In terms of Bayern’s injury news, Kingsley Coman has recovered from a knock in Friday’s win at Augsburg but Jerome Boateng is out through illness. Arjen Robben is recovering from injury and did not travel with the squad, while Franck Ribery will arrive in Liverpool separate from the team after becoming a father late on Sunday.