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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.

Scott Parker’s first season as a manager ends in Fulham promotion

Fulham promotion
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after just one season in the EFL Championship, and that means Scott Parker has worked something of a minor miracle in west London.

[ MORE: Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship ]

Parker took on a hefty challenge when he accepted his first senior managerial job last year. Fulham were a virtual lock to be relegated from the Premier League when he was named interim boss in February, and their place in the second division had long since been confirmed by the time he was named Claudio Ranieri’s permanent successor in May. The squad was expensive, bloated and full of players who had no intention of sticking around after relegation.

Given the club’s wealth of resources relative to the rest of the Championship, promotion at the first time of asking was more an expectation than a hope at Craven Cottage. Fast-forward 15 months, and the 39-year-old has quickly proven himself the right man for the job after doing just that — taking Fulham back to the PL by way of Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final.

Promotion may have been sealed on Tuesday, but Parker believes it was earned over a long period of transition and self-reflection by the players, beginning when he first took the job — quotes from the BBC:

“We’ve done what we’ve done tonight, but there’s still improvement, and that’s what makes me so proud and happy.

“For all of the good players and everything you see, what makes me so happy is I see a group of players who only a year ago were struggling psychologically, didn’t have a mindset or mentality.

“I’ve driven this team every single day and what makes me proud is I stood on the touchline tonight and seen a team that represents what I’ve been saying over the last 12 months.”

Now comes the the truly difficult challenge for Parker: after winning Fulham promotion he must assemble a squad of players not only good enough to stay in the PL, but also one full of individuals who want to be at his club and not simply any club that just so happens to be in England’s top division.

Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship

Championship promotion playoff final
Photo credit: @FulhamFC
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after claiming west London derby delight at the expense of local rivals Brentford in Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

It was an incredibly cagey affair — as the Championship promotion playoff final tends to be — that saw the two sides combine for just 17 shots (four on target) through 90 minutes of regular time. In the end, it was the most unlikely of restarts halfway through extra time that sent the Cottagers on their way.

Brentford were nearly the architects of their own downfall early in the first half. FirstIt was a poor back pass from Henrik Dalsgaard that left David Raya in worlds of trouble in the 10th minute, though Fulham were unable to find a proper chance amid the chaos inside Brentford’s box.

Fulham were perhaps fortunate not to go a man down in the 29th minute, when Harrison Reed slid through Christian Norgaard and put studs into the Dane’s ankle. Reed came over top of the ball in a 50-50 challenge and, despite first making contact with the ball, came in with borderline excessive force and in a reckless fashion. Nonetheless, only a yellow card for the on-loan Southampton youngster.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic issues injury update ]

The start of the second half looked like more of the same from the first half: Fulham with an early chance and Brentford scrambling to stay level. Neeskens Kebano curled a free kick around the wall in the 48th minute, likely beating Raya if it was on frame, but only managed to rippled the outside netting.

Championship Golden Boot runner-up (25 goals) Ollie Watkins had the final scoring chance of regular time in the 70th minute as he fired from the edge of Fulham’s penalty area, but Marek Rodak was able to comfortably palm the ball over the crossbar. Still, the first threatening signs of life from the Bees.

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The decisive moment finally arrived in the 105th minute, and it came from absolutely nothing — less than nothing, one might credibly argue. Joe Bryan was tasked with restarting play following a foul roughly 50 yards from goal. Rather than lofting the ball high and to the back post, as Raya so clearly expected him to do, Bryan wrapped his left foot around the ball and whipped it toward the near post — as “near” as it can be from 50-plus yards. Raya was painfully slow to recognize the shot and tried to scramble across the face of goal, but never had a chance of getting anywhere near the ball.

Bryan doubled Fulham’s lead in the 117th minute. It was fast and fluid one-two atop Brentford’s penalty area and the left back tucked it away to seal promotion back to the top flight, and it turned out to be hugely necessary after Dalsgaard poked home a late consolation goal for the Bees with virtually the last kick of the game.

Fulham spent the 2018-19 season in the Premier League but finished with just 26 points in 19th place and were relegated back to the Championship after one season. Only time will tell if they’re able to stay in the top division this time, or if they’re a full-time yo-yo club.

Transfer confirmed: Ferran Torres to Man City for $26 million

Ferran Torres to Man City
Photo credit: Man City
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Reports sending Valencia youngster Ferran Torres to Man City have been burning red-hot over the last 24 hours.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

Man City confirmed their capture of the 20-year-old — one of the brightest prospects in all of Europe — on Tuesday.

Torres, who came through the Valencia academy, tallied six goals and seven assists in 43 appearances (all competitions), including two of each in the Champions League, for Valencia this season.

He broke into Valencia’s first team back in November of 2017, at the age of 17, before establishing himself as a regular over the last two seasons.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

Reports out of the UK claim it will reportedly cost just $26 million to bring Ferran Torres to Man City, plus possible add-ons, as he had just one year remaining on his contact with Valencia. Torres reportedly met with City sporting director Txiki Begiristain earlier on Tuesday, adding further fuel to the fire that a move was imminent.

Torres seems an obvious replacement for recently departed winger Leroy Sane. He’ll join Raheem Sterling as one of only two natural wingers in Pep Guardiola’s squad, offering more tactical flexibility — not to mention, width — after City were fairly limited in the wide areas during the 2019-20 season.

Championship playoff final: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

Brentford - Fulham
Photo byJacques Feeney/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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Fulham – Brentford: Team news is in with the two West London sides set to do battle for a place in the Premier League in the Football League Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

We can hardly wait to find out who’ll claim the 20th berth in the 2020-21 Premier League season in the richest game on earth.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europe ]

Kickoff is at 2:45 pm ET Tuesday at Wembley Stadium.

Team news


Key players

Fulham leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 26 goals were the joint-most in the Championship and more than three times as many as Tom Cairney, second amongst the Cottagers. He’s healthy for the first time after missing the semis with a hamstring injury.

Brentford’s Ollie Watkins scored the same amount of goals as Mitrovic, tying for the league lead, and he’s joined by Said Benrahma’s 17 goals (fifth in the league) and Bryan Mbeumo (eighth). The latter have combined for 16 assists, too. The Bees can sting.

Their seasons

Brentford won a even-straight league games to surge into the mix for automatic promotion but lost their last two, meeting Fulham on 81 points.

As for the Cottagers, Fulham finished the season on a seven-match unbeaten run which included five wins

Their playoffs

Brentford overcame a 1-0 first-leg deficit to oust Swansea City in the semifinal, while Fulham’s first leg win was enough to outlast Cardiff City’s strong second leg in their semi.

Odds and ends

Brentford beat Fulham twice, 1-0 at Griffin Park and 2-0 at Craven Cottage.

The Bees are favored to win the match at +108 odds, while Fulham carries +265 odds of a win.

Prediction

Mitrovic’s availability is huge for a Fulham side hoping to break down the league’s second-stingiest defense. Brentford feels like it’s the superior side but Fulham has been here and Cairney even scored the goal to beat Aston Villa in the 2017-18 playoff final. That experience is an X-factor, but we’ll still call Brentford 2-1 winners.

How to watch Fulham – Brentford

Kickoff: 2:45 pm ET Tuesday
Stream: ESPN+