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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.

[ MORE: USMNT to host Colombia in October friendly ]

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.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
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Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

3 things learned: Bayern Munich v. Chelsea

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
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Bayern Munich – Chelsea, leg no. 2, looked eerily similar to leg no. 1, played back in late February, with the lone exception being the lack of fans inside the Allianz Arena for Thursday’s dead rubber.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

The eight-time Bundesliga champions were simply too good — and too healthy, by comparison — for Frank Lampard and the Blues to put up a reasonable fight from 3-0 down after the first leg. It was an unceremonious end to Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea, but a foregone conclusion before they boarded the plane back in London.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

With their 4-1 victory on the night (7-1 on aggregate), Bayern will face Barcelona in a sensationally mouth-watering quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Allianz Arena, as the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed in Bayern Munich – Chelsea.


NO DRAMA NECESSARY, BAYERN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS EARLY

Credit to Bayern for their ruthless efficiency and disinterest in letting the tie descend into drama and tension. Robert Lewandowski scored early (10th minute) and Ivan Perisic did the same in the 24th, bringing the aggregate score to 5-0 with 65 minutes left to play. With so many key players out injured, Chelsea had virtually zero chance of pulling off the impossible comeback prior to kickoff, and Hans-Dieter Flick’s side made sure to keep it that way from the opening whistle. Corentin Tolisso put the tie further out of reach late in the second half (76th), and Lewandowski duplicated his side’s three-goal advantage from the first leg not much later.


CHELSEA’S ISSUES STILL AT THE BACK

For all of the development of young players that Frank Lampard was able to realize this season — and for all of the big-money signings either already confirmed or heavily reported to be imminent this summer — Chelsea still have serious questions to answer with regard to their defense. The below highlight is but one small example in a season full of defensive blunders at missed assignments (you’ll find another one below in the next section). Cesar Azpilicueta remains solid, but he’ll turn 31 this month and probably only has another year or two left to function at the UCL level. Reece James and Fikayo Tomori still have some way to go in their development to be UCL-caliber players. The likes of Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have all proven, time and again, they’re simply not at that level and probably never will be. All of that is to say, Chelsea need to execute a full-on rebuild of their defense this summer, or it might not matter how many goals they can score every game next season.


BAYERN’S END-OF-SEASON FORM IS TERRIFYING

Pop quiz: When was the last time Bayern simply didn’t win a game, let alone lost one? The answer: Feb. 9 (19 games ago). And their last defeat? Dec. 7 (28 games). They won all nine of their Bundesliga games following the season’s restart, plus another two in the DFB-Pokal and now the second leg against Chelsea in the UCL. Of course, things will suddenly become far more tricky when 1) the likes of Barcelona and Man City factor into the equation in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, and 2) each round is decided over a single leg rather than the traditional home-and-away format of the Champions League. And still, Bayern have the look of serious Champions League contenders, if not favorites, based on their scintillating form dating back to the start of the calendar year.

VIDEO: Messi shreds Napoli to score fantastic solo goal

Lionel Messi goal video
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Lionel Messi has done, once again, as Lionel Messi is known to do: he has scored another fantastic Lionel Messi goal (video below) in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Andrea Pirlo named Juventus manager | Sarri sacked ]

One, two, three, four, five defenders in his way? So what, says Messi.

One or two decent attempts to tackle the ball away — and perhaps even succeeding on at least one occasion? Again, so what?

He’ll have the ball back, continue on his merry way and tuck the ball just inside the far post, all while falling down, getting back up and falling down again. The goal put Barcelona 2-0 ahead on the night (3-1 on aggregate). Prior to this post being published, he scored again, but the goal was taken away for a perceived handball upon video review.

Surely we’ve discovered a superhuman soccer league we can send him to by now, just to level the playing field a bit more for the actual humans walking planet Earth.

Anyway, here’s the latest head-shaking, smirk-inducing Messi goal video you came to see.