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FC Motown isn’t an ordinary NPSL side, and it shows in Year 1

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To get a full understanding of one of the country’s most exciting clubs, you have to meet Dan Karosen and Scott Kindzierski — co-founders of FC Motown. Those two are only the beginning of what is quickly developing into a rich soccer culture in the heart of New Jersey, though.

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The team name likely sounds familiar, as Motown has quickly risen amongst the ranks of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) elite in just its first season of existence.

Roughly 30 miles from New York City and in the epicenter of the soccer-potent state of New Jersey, FC Motown was founded back in 2012, however, the club’s presence was significantly different than what currently lies before us.

Six years ago, Karosen and Kindzierski — who had previously grown up together and attended Delbarton High School as classmates — found themselves on a local pitch playing in a co-ed sports league.

That was where the the idea for Motown was officially concocted.

The club began competing in the Garden State Soccer League (GSSL), a competitive outlet for a number of top amateur teams in New Jersey. However, it wasn’t long before the duo got the idea to take another leap forward into the realm of competitive soccer, one that the team has managed to conquer in a very short period of time.

Motown merged with the Clarkstown Eagles only this year, after having competed in conjunction with the club in 2017 in the NPSL, to form a side that is on the brink of capturing the league’s title in just its first year.

“The club was generated out of the No-Idea Sports Co-Ed League,” Karosen told Pro Soccer Talk. “We played in that recreation league to have fun and ended up having a really strong team. We wanted to test ourselves at a higher level and joined the Garden State Soccer League.  

“We used their promotion/relegation structure to work up their pyramid and started adding more talent. When we conquered the GSSL we joined the NPSL to test ourselves in a national league, and take another step up the U.S. Soccer pyramid.”

Courtesy: FC Motown

The current Motown squad is led by Dilly Duka and Julius James — two former MLS professionals — who have been cogs for Motown all season as they aim to capture an NPSL title on Saturday. They’re joined by a healthy mix of current and former collegiate standouts that are also complimented by players that previously played in Poland and Uruguay.

That group includes midfielder Matt Nigro, who was recently named NPSL Golden Ball winner (Player of the Year), as well as

Meanwhile, the club’s manager — Sacir Hot — has a professional background of his own after briefly playing for the New York Red Bulls and coming up through the ranks of the U.S. Soccer youth national team system.

That’s what makes Motown such a unique setup. They aren’t the traditional “amateur” club and that’s what makes them so special.

And while NPSL boasts a number of clubs with significant professionals in their squads, most notably New York Cosmos B, Jacksonville Armada U-23 and Miami FC 2, Motown is proving to many other clubs across the league that even the new kids on the block can make noise when competing against the upper echelon.

“This first year has to be considered a smashing success for the club on the field,” Karosen said. “Expectations were very high given our talent level, but beating the Cosmos and making the national final four stamped the season.

“Our primary goal as owners is to give our players a good experience with our club.  Hopefully our talented players enjoyed the season and they certainly all gave the blood, sweat and tears that we asked for them.”

Hot has had to orchestrate how the club balances a compact schedule that features a full NPSL and GSSL schedule, on top of playing several matches in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup.

Without much time to work in training sessions, and the majority of the club working other jobs on the side, like any other lower-level team Hot has somehow found a way to get his club to buy into Motown’s winning mentality, which has propelled them through the entire season.

The diverse mix of talent in the Motown squad is undeniable, ranging from former professionals to a fourth-year medical student.

“Yes, it was only a matter of getting the group of players to buy-in and sacrifice some of their normal 9-5 life tendencies to give us the best chance to win the NPSL title,” Hot told PST. “Hani Nasr (a fourth year medical student) has been able to balance both, and that exemplifies how committed all of our guys are.”

2018 appears to be just the beginning for Motown’s ambitions though. With a club that already features several former professional players, a professional atmosphere is what the organization is seeking.

Courtesy: FC Motown

Motown has already knocked off a New York Cosmos B side that features many players that previously competed with the club’s NASL side in the NPSL playoffs, and now faces another NASL-generated club in Miami FC 2 in their first-ever NPSL final.

Club president Oliver Papraniku has already begun discussions about a potential opening in a league being explored in 2019, which would run through NPSL at a professional level.

While the details of the league are still a bit murky due to the U.S. Soccer Federation’s distinct laws on division classification, which currently constitutes professional clubs as ones in the top three tiers of the American soccer pyramid, Pro Soccer Talk has learned through multiple sources that an NPSL professional league is very much in the works.

“We are currently working on the possibility of joining the new NPSL Pro League in 2019 and also the possibility of working with David Villa’s ‘DV7 group’ on future soccer-related projects,” Papraniku told PST. “We know that FC Motown is in a great area with lots of youth soccer and passionate fans of domestic and international soccer.

“We want to grow FC Motown as a way to help develop talent but also inspire the next generation of young players who come to our games and see a pathway to the pros.”

For now though, Motown benefits from boasting a team that has players that have experience in big matches, with Duka, in particular, playing a key role in the club’s 56 goals scored this season across 17 matches in all competitions.

Before Duka was orchestrating goals for Motown’s potent attack, he was in MLS with a number of top clubs, including Columbus Crew and the New York Red Bulls.

An ankle injury derailed his opportunity to continue in MLS for the current season though, and that’s when Motown became the ideal choice for a player that was born and raised not too far up the road.

“FC Motown’s story is great because we’re a group of players looking for competitive leagues to stay fit and we’re out here competing in a local league making it more competitive,” Duka said.

For any lower-level team, sustainability is the name of the game. And while Motown has a ways to go before it can really establish itself on the U.S. soccer scene, a victory in Saturday’s NPSL final would go a long way towards achieving that goal.

Serie A: Leaders Inter Milan open door for Juve by drawing Roma

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MILAN (AP) Italian league leader Inter Milan was held by Roma to 0-0 on Friday, giving second-placed Juventus a chance to return to the top.

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The home draw left Inter only two points ahead of Juventus, which can regain the lead when it visits third-placed Lazio on Saturday.The result also wasn’t good for Roma, which moved from fifth to fourth place in the standings but remained nine points off the lead after 15 matches.

Inter forward Lautaro Martinez had one of the game’s best chances when he got past a defender and entered the area in the 68th minute, but his shot was blocked at the last minute. He called for a handball by the defender but the referee let play continue.

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Inter was coming off five straight wins in the league, with its last setback in all competitions last month against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Its last league loss was against Juventus in October, nine matches ago.

Roma was seeking its third straight league win. It had won five of its last six matches since last month.

Inter visits Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Premier League Preview: Man City v. Man United

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  • Man City (3rd) trail Liverpool by 11 points
  • Man United (6th) eight points out of 4th
  • Last meeting: Man United 0-2 Man City

For the first time in recent memory, Manchester City and Manchester United each find themselves failing to meet expectations — by their own respective standards, at least — as they prepare to meet at the Etihad Stadium in the 179th Manchester derby on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Man City, the two-time defending Premier League champions, are looking increasingly unlikely to retain their crown for a third straight season but look a surefire bet to finish in the top-four, which is a place for which Man United would bite your hand off as they currently trail leaders Liverpool by more points (22) than they have points of their own (21).

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

The struggles for United have been all about consistency as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side hasn’t won back-to-back games all season. The Red Devils haven’t won two in a row in the PL since March. On the bright side, United turned in one of their complete performances of the season on Wednesday, spoiling Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford and beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1. Marcus Rashford scored both goals and Solskjaer couldn’t rave enough about his 22-year-old forward after the game. From start to finish, United were the better team and looked in majority control, which isn’t something they’ve been able to say often in 2019.

As for City, they’ve simply been “not good enough” without ever actually being “bad” this season, given Liverpool’s scintillating form (14W-1D-0L thus far). Realistically, City likely need to pick up all 69 remaining points this season, and even then they might still come up short.

Injuries/suspensions

Man City: OUT – Sergio Aguero (thigh), Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee), Oleksandr Zinchenko (knee)

Man United: OUT – Anthony Martial (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: Paul Pogba (ankle), Nemanja Matic (groin), Diogo Dalot (groin)


Projected lineups

Man City: Ederson — Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Angeliño — Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva — Bernardo, Jesus, Sterling

Man United: De Gea — Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Young — Fred, McTominay, James, Mata, Lingard — Rashford


What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola, on the derby: “It’s Man United. I respect what they’ve done for English football, European, and world football. United have huge history and their quality is always there but we must try to beat them. We play against a good team, try to follow the performances we’ve put in and try to win the game. You know my opinion on the title race.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on his derby memories: “It took many years before I played a Manchester derby myself. Of course, Man City are a better team now than when I was playing. … Confidence is a strange thing in football; you can get performances and results like Wednesday night and it boosts it so much. And I know our boys will be up for it. 24 hours less recovery time [than City] shouldn’t matter, you go on adrenaline.”


Prediction

The win over Tottenham was impressive, no doubt about it, but City remain a challenge of an entirely different class, no matter what their points total says. If the title is well and truly gone for Guardiola’s side, then retaining superiority in Manchester will have to suffice. City 3-1 United.

Klinsmann gets first point as Hertha Berlin manager

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann claimed his first point since returning to coaching as his Hertha Berlin team let slip a two-goal lead to draw with Frankfurt 2-2 in the Bundesliga on Friday.

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Hertha was clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute when Sebastian Rode hammered the ball in from a corner for Frankfurt to deny the Berlin team the win.

Hertha is in the relegation playoff spot in 16th and winless in its last six league games, while Frankfurt is 10th.

Dodi Lukebakio gave Hertha the lead with a shot through Frederik Ronnow’s legs. That goal was assisted by Marko Grujic, who later made it 2-0 with a header from a free kick.

However, Frankfurt almost immediately replied with a header of its own from Martin Hinteregger, the Austrian defender with five Bundesliga goals.

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Frankfurt’s fans expressed their disapproval of the video assistant referee after it ruled out two goals for the hosts. There was a rare disallowed own goal when Hertha goalkeeper Thomas Kraft palmed a cross into his own net but was found to have been pushed while jumping.

Klinsmann took over Hertha last week on a temporary deal until the end of the season, after Ante Covic was fired with the team under threat of relegation. Klinsmann hadn’t coached since being fired in 2016 by the United States, and last worked at a club in 2009 at Bayern Munich.

Nigel Pearson appointed new Watford manager

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Nigel Pearson has been appointed new manager of Watford and been handed a very straightforward — but tall — task for the remainder of the season: avoid relegation from the Premier League.

[ MORE: Chelsea transfer ban reduced; can sign players in January ]

Pearson takes over from Quique Sanchez Flores — who only took over from Javi Gracia in September — who left his post at Vicarage Road with the Hornets sitting 20th out of 20 teams in the PL table, already seven points adrift from safety. Pearson’s contract runs through the end of the season.

The 56-year-old Pearson, who last managed in the PL with Leicester City in 2015, was most recently in charge of Belgian side OH Leuven before he was fired in February.

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester ]

Pearson won’t take charge of Saturday’s game against Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold). Interim manager Hayden Mullins will see out the week’s preparations and manage the team before handing the reins to Pearson on Sunday.